Labour bullying allegations: Expelled MP Gaurav Sharma says he's on the 'path of truth', but unclear where his political career is going

Dr Gaurav Sharma entered Parliament on a red tidal wave of support for Labour. But nearly two years on from the 2020 election, he's been booted from the party caucus and his future as a politician remains up in the air.

Alone in his green seat at the back of Parliament's debating chamber, Dr Sharma spent Tuesday afternoon's Question Time sitting closer to the ACT Party than his now-former Labour colleagues.

Another MP exiled to the back of the House, AKA political Siberia, was Jami-Lee Ross after his spectacular falling out with National in 2018. Ross stayed on as an independent MP, taking the occasional call to speak in the House, before failing to be re-elected with his Advance NZ party in 2020.

Whether Dr Sharma's political career follows a similar route is unclear. He says he's yet to decide what road he will take, but he is on the "path of truth". 

"I think asking for an independent fair trial is something that all New Zealanders should have the right to ask for, whether you work in Parliament or you work anywhere else," Dr Sharma said on Tuesday when asked if he will continue to call for an investigation into bullying claims despite being expelled. 

"Why should I not have the right to ask that, whether I'm a member of the caucus or not a member of the caucus?"

The Hamilton West MP has spent the last 12 days publicly accusing Labour MPs of bullying, the Prime Minister of conducting a cover-up, and the party of teaching politicians how to circumvent freedom of information laws. He wants an independent investigation into his concerns. 

He hasn't provided any evidence of being bullied or that there are widespread workplace culture issues. The MP has, however, released recordings and screenshots of private conversations he believes shows he has support within the caucus. 

Labour's denied his claims, saying the situation has arisen from Dr Sharma taking issue with interventions from the Parliamentary Service and Whips to resolve staffing issues.

The party says the threshold for an inquiry hasn't been met, with minister David Parker going as far as to call it "attention-seeking behaviour" by Dr Sharma.

Now that he's been expelled from the caucus, Dr Sharma sits as an independent MP for Hamilton West. 

Ardern hasn't ruled out writing to the Speaker to invoke the waka-jumping legislation - which would force Dr Sharma out of Parliament - but it hasn't yet been considered. As Dr Sharma is an electorate MP, he can't simply be switched out for another candidate on the list. 

"I think where possible, it's best to avoid [by-elections] because it does cause unnecessary disruption and focus of resource into contest outside of an election cycle and it does it does come at a cost," Ardern said on Tuesday.

It is also possible Ardern wants to avoid a by-election as Hamilton West jumps back and forth between National and Labour with the political tide. With polls showing Labour's support trending downwards, it's not out of the question that National could win the seat.

Dr Sharma could resign as an MP himself which would also lead to a by-election. Winston Peters famously resigned as the Tauranga MP in 1993 after issues with National, causing a by-election which he won, gaining a mandate from the electorate to stay in Parliament as an independent. Peters, though, didn't face any serious competition for the seat.

Dr Sharma sitting at the back of the House alone.
Dr Sharma sitting at the back of the House alone. Photo credit: Newshub.

Dr Sharma told reporters he needs to think about his future. 

"It's not a decision I want to hurry either way. Obviously my constituents will have stuff to say about it. I've obviously been hearing from them in the last few days. So that's not something that I'm going to rush either way."

On top of expelling Dr Sharma from the Labour caucus, MPs also voted to refer his actions to the wider party. President Claire Szabó said its top council will soon meet and decide whether to investigate.

"If an investigation is agreed, Labour's process provides anyone responding to a complaint a full opportunity to provide their perspective on the complaint," she said.

"It also provides respondents the option to provide feedback on our panel’s draft report and findings, and a further opportunity to put their case to New Zealand Council if they face potential disciplinary action."

Possible sanctions include censure and expulsion from the party. That would mean he can't stand again as a Labour candidate.

Ardern said the expulsion - the first from the Labour Party since Chris Carter was kicked out in 2010 - was due to Dr Sharma bringing the party into disrepute and not following proper party process.

"When Gaurav went public about his staffing issues 12 days ago our response was one of concern," she said.

"We attempted to offer support and find a way to resolve his concerns. We offered mediation and a pathway back for him.

"Despite providing an opportunity to resolve his issues and to rebuild trust he has repeatedly demonstrated that he no longer wishes to be a member of the caucus. His consistent and ongoing breach of the caucus rules has resulted in the complete loss of trust by his fellow Labour MPs."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has rejected Dr Sharma's allegations.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has rejected Dr Sharma's allegations. Photo credit: Newshub.

What happens within caucus usually stays within caucus, but Labour has confirmed that of 62 votes cast on the motion of expulsion, 60 were in favour, one was opposed - presumably Dr Sharma - and one person abstained. 

Asked about that abstention, Labour leader Jacinda Ardern said she wasn't concerned. She said prior to his recent outbursts that Dr Sharma had had friends in the caucus and there was sadness amongst MPs "that we had arrived at this point".

"It does not surprise me at all that there will be those who are saddened this is what it has come to," she said. 

Dr Sharma was on Tuesday asked what the worst instance of bullying he has faced was. He said there were several examples, but settled on an occasion when he says Labour's then-Chief Whip Kieran McAnulty invited him to a meeting, only for the senior MP to not turn up as he was celebrating the America's Cup win. He said staff shouted at him.

McAnulty rejects Dr Sharma's allegations and said on Tuesday there a "simple principle at play".

"If you make an allegation, you should back it up. You shouldn't then turn to the person that is being alleged and say, prove that I am wrong. It doesn't work that way."