Gaurav Sharma: Labour MP's week of bombshells, bullying allegations

Labour's Dr Gaurav Sharma dropped bombshell after bombshell in an exclusive interview with Newshub on Thursday night, levelling allegations squarely at the Prime Minister and releasing a secret recording he says proves a late-night meeting of MPs this week determined his fate.

After drip-feeding claims to the media for days, Dr Sharma was punished by Labour this week, suspended from its caucus effective immediately. But there was an opportunity for the Hamilton West MP to return, with a review of his suspension set for December.

But any chance of the backbencher being welcomed back likely went up in flames on Thursday night when he spoke out again by telling Newshub Political Editor Jenna Lynch that the Prime Minister and her office were covering up bullying within Labour.

Labour has rejected his allegations over the past week and Dr Sharma has provided no evidence to substantiate his bullying claims. A spokesperson for the Prime Minister on Thursday night said Dr Sharma's latest actions were another "example of releasing and misrepresenting conversations with his colleagues". It was later confirmed the Labour caucus would meet on Tuesday to consider expelling him.

But Dr Sharma is promising to not go down without a fight, telling Newhub on Thursday he was prepared to be expelled and he was sticking to his principles.

So how did we get here - and what could happen next?

'Rampant in Parliament'

Thursday, August 11

While most political observers last week had their eyes trained on the controversy unfolding within the National Party - newbie Tauranga MP Sam Uffindell admitted violently attacking a student at school two decades ago and faced allegations of terrorising a flatmate - another little-known MP was about to make waves.

Published on the NZHerald website last Thursday, a column from Dr Gaurav Sharma, first elected to Parliament during Labour's 2020 election landslide victory as the MP for Hamilton West, raised concerns about bullying within Labour.

The piece argued that MP-to-MP and party-to-MP bullying was "rampant in Parliament" and that Parliamentary Service - which provides administrative support to MPs and staff - "promoted and facilitated" this by "working behind the scenes" with party Whips, leaders, and the Prime Minister's Office.

Dr Sharma said it was his experience that when an MP raises issues with Parliamentary Service that it "stonewalls the conversation, ghosts the MP and throws them to the Whip's office to be gaslighted and victimised further so that the party can use the information to threaten you about your long-term career prospects". 

He revealed later that day that he had taken his complaints to the Prime Minister's Office last year and "nothing has been done".

Parliamentary Service and the Labour Whips office both responded by saying they had been engaged with Dr Sharma in dealing with issues raised about him by staff members. During that process, hiring for Dr Sharma's office was paused while he received mentoring.

Labour's Gaurav Sharma wasn't well known before this week.
Labour's Gaurav Sharma wasn't well known before this week. Photo credit: Getty Images.

Friday, August 12

The next day, the Prime Minister fronted. Jacinda Ardern disputed allegations of bullying within the party, saying she had seen "no evidence" of anything framed like that. 

Instead, she said a "number of interventions" had been made to try to resolve issues in Dr Sharma's office, but these had "given rise to some issues from Gaurav's perspective". He hadn't "necessarily welcomed" these attempts, she said.

Parliamentary Service, Chief Labour Whip Duncan Webb and the Prime Minister all mentioned the need to support MPs and their staff. There has been a push to improve workplace culture in Parliament following a review which found major holes in processes.

Late on Friday night, as more details emerged about the complaints made about Dr Sharma by staffers, the MP published a lengthy statement on Facebook, making more specific claims of bullying and calling for an independent investigation into his concerns as well as the complaints against him.

The social media post named former Chief Whip Kieran McAnulty as one of those responsible - though the now-minister denies the allegations - and claimed taxpayer money had been misused by another MP. Parliamentary Service later said the money had been used in normal practice.

He didn't provide evidence to back up what he was saying.

Dr Sharma complained there was widespread bullying in Parliament.
Dr Sharma complained there was widespread bullying in Parliament. Photo credit: Getty Images.

Screenshots and a secret meeting

Monday, August 15

The Prime Minister spent her Monday morning media round continuing to dispute the MP's allegations of widespread bullying. 

Back in his electorate, Dr Sharma had spent the weekend at community events and with constituents. But media tracked him down and the MP stuck to his guns. 

Ardern said she hoped to see the issue resolved during the week, but wouldn't commit to any independent investigation into what Dr Sharma was complaining about.

Hours later, as Ardern took to the Beehive theatrette podium for her weekly post-Cabinet press conference, Dr Sharma was back on Facebook.

This time, he shared screenshots he claimed were from other bullied MPs. One said they had wanted to fake a cold to avoid going into Parliament, while another said they feared having "serious mental health" issues being there.

On the face of it, it appeared Dr Sharma had shared the social post to maximise pressure on the Prime Minister, knowing reporters would question her about it. Ardern repeated her previous points that Dr Sharma hadn't agreed with interventions to resolve issues in his office.

She announced the Labour caucus would meet in the week to discuss the situation but wouldn't say what the potential outcomes could be, wanting to leave that for all MPs to decide.

"It does not constitute a full caucus unless everyone is invited, so, of course, for natural justice, of course, Gaurav Sharma would be a part of that meeting."

Tuesday, August 16

Except, on Tuesday, as that caucus meeting was meant to begin, Dr Sharma messaged Newshub. 

He claimed a meeting of MPs had been held the night before, that he wasn't invited, and that they had decided his fate already. 

To provide some sort of proof that MPs had met, he sent Newshub a screenshot of deputy Labour leader Kelvin Davis on Zoom, or some other video-chat platform. It turns out an MP had accidentally sent Dr Sharma a picture with Davis in the corner of the screen.

The screenshot of Kelvin Davis.
The screenshot of Kelvin Davis. Photo credit: Supplied.

When Ardern arrived for her press conference following the Tuesday caucus meeting, she announced MPs had unanimously decided to suspend Dr Sharma, but that the decision would be reviewed in December. 

Dr Sharma himself hadn't turned up - which he later said was because he had prior commitments. Ardern hadn't personally been able to tell Dr Sharma of the decision before addressing media as he hadn't picked up her calls

She said Dr Sharma's recent conduct had breached colleagues' trust, describing the ordeal as "frustrating" and "disappointing". MPs were "very hurt and upset", she said.

Ardern was then questioned over the secret meeting, which she said didn't constitute a formal caucus meeting as not all MPs were present.

She said it had been called as some MPs were concerned about raising questions and issues openly with Dr Sharma being present. By that point, he had a record of making public what were meant to be private conversations.

Ardern rejected suggestions that the outcome of Tuesday's caucus meeting was predetermined.

While there were grounds to expel Dr Sharma, Ardern said Labour MPs wanted to allow for the Hamilton West MP to redeem himself. 


Thursday, August 18

While the Labour caucus left the door open for Dr Sharma to return, his next public comments would go further than anything he had said up until that point.

Following his suspension, the MP, who is normally quite active on social media, went quiet. No official response to the caucus decision was published anywhere. He also never returned the Prime Minister's calls.

But on Thursday night, Newshub broadcast comments Dr Sharma made during an exclusive sit-down interview. An extended cut of the interview was then published online.

During the interview with Lynch, Dr Sharma said there is "something very big going on here" and made claims of a "cover-up". His main point was that an investigation should be held to determine the facts of what had happened.

Dr Sharma spoke to Newshub.
Dr Sharma spoke to Newshub. Photo credit: Newshub.

He provided Newshub with a secret recording he taped of a conversation with another MP following the secret Monday night meeting.

Not only did the MP being recorded say Dr Sharma's fate was "predetermined", that what Dr Sharma faced would be "brutal" and Labour was going to "whack you", the MP also told him he would not get an investigation. 

"She doesn't want to be opened up to QC investigation or anything that could put the gaze on any other issue or any other colleagues. They want it squarely on you," the MP said.

Dr Sharma said that shows Labour has held a "Kangaroo Court". He claimed Ardern is a bully and involved in "trying to cover something".

He also made the claim that Labour held a workshop to teach new MPs how to handle information so it didn't fall into the public's hands. That included on how to get around the Official Information Act. 

"They said the staffing arrangements are done in a way that some staff work part-time for Labour Leader's Office and part-time for Prime Minister's Office and when they want to prevent OIA, they just sort of make it that this is Labour Leader's problem, this is not the Prime Minister's office problem and then they can get away with it."

Dr Sharma didn't provide any evidence to support his allegations.

Newshub provided a number of questions to the Prime Minister's Office about Dr Sharma's claims on Thursday night.

A spokesperson for the Prime Minister said: "On Tuesday the Caucus suspended Gaurav on the basis of repeated breaches of trust. This latest example of releasing and misrepresenting conversations with his colleagues reinforces that decision and will be discussed by caucus".

"As the Prime Minister said on Tuesday we anticipated Gaurav would continue relitigating matters in this way. He has still not responded to our communications about entering into mediation, instead using the media to make his points."

Later, the Labour leader's spokesperson said the caucus would "consider a motion to expel Gaurav Sharma from the caucus". 

"Gaurav has repeatedly breached his colleagues' trust, and caucus was clear that should there be further breaches such as this then further steps would be taken."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has disputed the allegations.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has disputed the allegations. Photo credit: Newshub.

Friday, August 19

It's the day after the interview and Dr Sharma isn't done. 

Participating in interviews with most major media outlets, he repeated many of his claims from the Newshub interview.

He also said he "may or may not" have more secret recordings and that the MP whose recording was shared on Thursday night allegedly supported him. Dr Sharma also claimed that he was aware of at least six Labour MPs who had been bullied.

While there have been no further statements from the Prime Minister's Office, Kieran McAnulty, one of those accused by Dr Sharma of bullying, told AM he completely rejected all allegations.

McAnulty said he had tried as Chief Whip to support both staffers and MPs, acknowledging it is a difficult transition for those entering Parliament. In response to Dr Sharma's claim that he repeatedly shouted at him, McAnulty said he was not one to raise his voice.

However, the now-Emergency Management Minister wouldn't say whether he would welcome an investigation into Dr Sharma's claims, only noting that was a decision for the Prime Minister.

Labour minister Michael Wood, a regular AM guest, also said the party rejected the bullying allegations and that Dr Sharma should take part in mediation.

What comes next?

All eyes will be on Tuesday's caucus meeting.

Dr Sharma told Newshub that he was prepared to be expelled for once again speaking out, but that he wouldn't go down without a fight.

"What I am repeatedly asking for is a fair trial and that is what I am focused on... it is a matter of principle," Dr Sharma said.

"I have up a good career in general practice, or in medicine, to come and do this because I do want to make a difference and I want to change the system for the better. This isn't just about me. This is about other MPs who are being bullied."

It appears likely he will be booted from Labour. But that then raises the question of whether Ardern will write to the Speaker asking for Dr Sharma to be removed from Parliament under the waka-jumping legislation.

If that piece of legislation was triggered - it was introduced by Ardern's Government last term - it would force a by-election. That would be an expense for taxpayers, but also a risky move for Labour given its downwards trends in the polls this year.

Before Dr Sharma took Hamilton West in 2020 - when Labour won a majority of seats for the first time in the MMP era - National had held the seat since 2008. In the decades before, it's swung back and forth between National and Labour depending on the political tide.

Dr Sharma told Newshub he hasn't decided on his future plans yet.

"I haven't even thought that far. I am repeatedly asking for a fair trial here for myself as an elected member for the people of Hamilton West, constituents who have put their faith in the Prime Minister and the party as much as I have."

If Labour didn't force Dr Sharma out of Parliament, he could sit as an independent similarly to Jami-Lee Ross after his falling out with the National Party in 2018.