Former National staffers have spoken out about outgoing MP Nick Smith, telling Newshub that his alleged irrational and verbally abusive behaviour was Parliament's "worst-kept secret".
The lights were on but no one was home at Dr Smith's place in Nelson on Tuesday or next door at his electorate office. The resigning MP slipped away from 30 years of Parliament without a peep.
His former long-held constituents were pretty unfazed.
"I think that's quite a good thing really, time to move on," said one woman Newshub spoke to.
"He's been an interesting character to have in Parliament, I'll say that much," a local man added.
Dr Smith announced his resignation in a statement on Monday night, citing an employment issue over a verbal altercation - no more detail than that.
National Party deputy leader Dr Shane Reti didn't know much more.
"The media announcement yesterday afternoon was actually the first time I was made aware," he said on Tuesday.
Details about the incident are vague but Newshub understands the verbal altercation was with a male in their 20s who worked in Dr Smith's office.
Newshub has been told the incident occurred at the peak of National's election year troubles, just after Judith Collins became leader.
The party had just been through Hamish Walker leaking sensitive COVID-19 patient details, the Andrew Falloon scandal, and a leadership change in a matter of weeks - its senior MPs were dropping like flies.
It's not known what the yelling was about but Newshub has been told both parties were shouting and that it didn't last long. Newshub has also been told it wasn't the staffer who made the complaint.
Dr Reti doesn't think the party has a problem with bullying.
"No, I don't believe so."
His answer echoed by other MPs.
"No," said Matt Doocey, "Not that I'm aware of," said Nicola Willis, "Of course not," said Maureen Pugh.
Even former leader Simon Bridges said he's not aware of any bullying.
"No, I don't think so."
Newshub spoke to a number of former National Party staffers - some dating back to the 1990s - who'd either been directly affected by Dr Smith's behaviour or witnessed it. None would speak on the record.
Here's what they said:
- "Smith was notorious for that red mist"
- "One of the most difficult assholes I've ever worked for"
- "I have no fond memories of that guy"
- "He was prone to bouts of extreme verbal anger towards other ministers and staff. It was out of the ordinary even then. But we didn't complain because we were Gen Xers. We should have"
Newshub understands the Parliamentary Service inquiry into Dr Smith called a number of his former staffers. But most Newshub spoke to said they shouldn't have needed to - that Dr Smith's behaviour was well-known by every National leader dating back to Jim Bolger.
One said: "Nick's irrational and verbally abusive behaviour towards his staff was one of Parliament's worst-kept secrets. Everyone from Ministerial Services, Parliamentary Services, the Prime Minister's Office and the bullying inquiry knew about it yet Nick's staff continued to be collateral damage."
Former National Government press secretary Ben Thomas says staffers can often find themselves in a difficult position.
"In a normal workplace, if you've got a bad boss, you can fire the boss. You can't fire elected representatives," he told Newshub.
Dr Smith declined an interview with Newshub.