Labour's Gaurav Sharma caucus meeting: Rebel MP expelled

Dr Gaurav Sharma has been expelled from the Labour Party caucus.

It comes after he made unsubstantiated claims about his own party, including of widespread bullying, that the Prime Minister is involved in a cover-up of that, and that the party is consciously trying to skirt freedom of information laws.

Labour has rejected all of Dr Sharma's allegations, but has not agreed to an independent inquiry into them or complaints against the MP from staffers. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says the situation has arisen from Dr Sharma not welcoming interventions to resolve issues within his office.

These live updates have now finished.

2:15pm - Dr Gaurav Sharma sits at the back of the House (top left) after being expelled from the Labour Party caucus.

Dr Sharma sits at the back of the House after being expelled.
Dr Sharma sits at the back of the House after being expelled. Photo credit: Newshub.

2pm - We are streaming Question Time above if you wish to watch.

1:50pm - Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says from Labour's perspective the Gaurav Sharma matter has been resolved. He is now an independent, Ardern says.

The overwhelming sentiment from the caucus was one of sadness but the team "wished him all the best for the future," Ardern says.

The Labour caucus found Dr Sharma had brought the party into disrepute and hadn't followed proper processes, she says. 

Using the waka-jumping legislation hasn't been ruled out, she says, but it's not something Labour has considered yet. Where possible it is best to avoid by-elections as it causes unnecessary disruption and costs, she says.

A Labour MP will be assigned to Hamilton West in case constituents wish to approach Labour rather than Dr Sharma in the future.

Ardern isn't surprised someone abstained from the vote. She says Dr Sharma had friends in the caucus until his recent actions and there is sadness among MPs. But she isn't concerned about the abstention.

1:35pm - The Prime Minister won't be far away. We've placed the livestream in the video component above. It will start shortly.

1:20pm - The Prime Minister will speak ahead of Question Time at 2pm. We will stream that above. She did previously release a statement on Dr Sharma's expulsion, which can be found below.

The Labour Whips have confirmed on the vote to expel Dr Sharma, there were 62 votes cast - 60 were in favour, one was opposed and one abstained. On the second vote to refer the matter to the wider Labour Party, the vote unanimous. Dr Sharma was present for the first vote and able to vote. He was not present for the second vote.

12:10pm - The Prime Minister's Office has released the letter it has sent Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier in response to him seeking assurances that it was fulfilling its Official Information Act obligations. That followed Gaurav Sharma alleging MPs were taught at a panel session how to get around the OIA.

The letter, from Chief of Staff Raj Nahna, says that Boshier's request was "based on allegations which misrepresented this panel discussion". The workshop was instead "part of a series of regular development opportunities for MPs on a range of matters".

The session wasn't dedicated to the OIA, but about the different roles of the Labour Leader's Office and ministerial offices.

"Given how busy ministerial office staff are with supporting their ministers, it was suggested to MPs that they reach out to staff in the Labour Leader's office for assistance in the first instance."

The letter says a MP asked about how information sent to ministerial offices is covered by the OIA. They sought clarification as "MPs often have to manage sensitive information from their constituents".

"It was explained that information relating to ministerial responsibilities is covered by the Act, while information about constituent and caucus matters is not generally covered. Additionally, that ministerial staff are able to assist in both instances and any concern about information being released should not prevent MPs from seeking assistance.

"We believe this point was misunderstood, or perhaps misrepresented, by Dr Sharma."

The letter goes on to outline the Government's commitment to transparency and how it supports MPs to understand their obligations.

11:50am - Picking up on some of Dr Sharma's comments, he says the meeting "was tense".

"People have their own viewpoints and I acknowledge that. People have their own emotions on all sides," he said.

He wouldn't say he was treated fairly.

"When I was talking about what actually happened with the bullying or the staffing issues, I was repeatedly told that's not the point we are discussing, we are just discussing your expulsion and your suspension," Dr Sharma said.

"I haven't been able to talk about those issues, which led me to that point."

He denies he is entitled and arrogant, and doesn't believe those are fair labels for someone asking for an investigation.

Asked if he regrets his actions, he says he was left with no other option after trying to work through the proper processes over the last year.

11:45am - Here is the statement we've just received from Labour leader Jacinda Ardern:

The Labour Caucus has voted to expel Dr Gaurav Sharma from caucus, effectively immediately.

The Caucus also voted to refer the matter to the New Zealand Council of the Labour Party for them to consider any further disciplinary action.

The decision means Dr Sharma will no longer receive support from the parliamentary party or have access to or participate in caucus in any way. He will have the right to attend any select committee, but will not be a member of one.

"Gaurav Sharma has been expelled for his repeated and calculated breaches of caucus rules over the past 12 days," Labour Party Leader Jacinda Ardern said.

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

"It's worth remembering the root cause of this fallout was multiple members of Gaurav's staff raising issues with his management.

"For over a year the Labour Whips and the Parliamentary Service have sought to resolve these concerns with Gaurav. Rather than accept the issues raised or the need to take steps to address them he has consistently contested the process.

"Labour and the Parliamentary Service would have been negligent if we had failed to act on the concerns that were raised by staff, but this example does highlight how difficult improving the situation for staff can be if an MP does not fully engage. We also believe the process was protracted.

"As a Labour team we remain committed to ensuring that Parliament is a positive place for our staff. We have however highlighted to the Speaker areas where we believe that the new procedures under the Francis Review could be improved, and asked that he consider whether these recent events could be a case study to help improve these processes.

"There are definitely things to be learned from this episode, but none of it justifies the recent behaviour of Gaurav.

"From Labour's perspective, this decision now concludes this matter. Our focus remains on the significant issues New Zealanders are grappling with and our responsibility to serve them – not the interests of an individual MP," Jacinda Ardern said.

11:35am - Dr Sharma says he's on a "path of truth" and all he wants is an independent investigation. He says he is not calling for people to be fired.

He hasn't decided whether he will stay on as an independent MP. He will take time to think about it and listen to his constituents.

Dr Sharma says he can provide "black and white" evidence to substantiate his claims. He is yet to do that publicly.

Asked what was the worst bullying he faced, Dr Sharma gives the example where Kieran McAnulty asked for a meeting, but he never turned up as he was celebrating the America's Cup win.

11:30am - Dr Sharma has just left the caucus meeting. He says he got the chance to speak, followed by other MPs. There was then a vote.

He says the caucus has voted to expel him. He says there was one vote not to expel him and an abstention.

The MP says no one really wanted to talk about they had arrived at this point. 

He continues to call for an independent investigation.

"When I tried to raise the examples, when I tried to talk about my concerns, the specifics, I was told I can't talk about it," Dr Sharma says.

He says MPs only wanted to discuss the expulsion.

"Why is there not an independent investigation against me to see if I have bullied staff, as people has claimed? Why isn't there an independent investigation against Kieran McAnulty as he should have a chance to clear his name."

11:05am - Dr Gaurav Sharma made a large number of unsubstantiated allegations last week. From his Monday afternoon Facebook post as the Prime Minister took to her press conference podium, to accusations of a secret meeting, to his Newshub interview, it was an eventful week.

Find a wrap of the week here, including Labour's response to Dr Sharma's claims.

10:40am - Parties are now in their caucus rooms. We're expecting a statement from Labour once they've made a decision on the future of Dr Sharma.

10:30am - On the Maria Dew investigation into Sam Uffindell, Christopher Luxon is expecting a report back within a week or so. He will then explain the decision. Luxon says he will keep the report private.

Luxon says whether Labour holds an investigation into bullying allegations raised by Dr Gaurav Sharma is up to the Prime Minister. He believes it is "right" for National to investigate the Uffindell allegations.

10:25am - We are waiting to hear from the National Party, who are also entering their caucus meeting.

The Labour caucus meeting is underway. Newshub political reporter Amelia Wade is outside and says that Dr Sharma was pacing back and forth while he waited for the expulsion motion to come up. He wasn't allowed into the meeting until that point.

10:10am - Dr Ayesha Verrall confirms she attended a "professional development session" earlier this month as a member of the class of 2020. She says there was a "discussion of how the OIA works". 

Dr Sharma alleges Dr Verrall played a key role in that session, where he claims MPs were coached on how to keep information out of the public's hands.

Dr Verrall says that is incorrect. She says during the session she was asked questions "as a minister".

10am - Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says the meeting is an opportunity for caucus to "share their views and their concerns". She will chair the meeting, but allow others to speak.

She rejects that other MPs are too scared to come forward with their bullying allegations. 

Ardern says Dr Sharma will have the opportunity to speak before MPs vote on whether to expel him.

Dr Sharma has made statements that are "blatantly incorrect" and he has referred to staff, MPs and others who haven't had a chance to defend themselves, Ardern said.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Photo credit: Newshub.

9:50am - Kieran McAnulty, who Dr Sharma has said is a bully, is speaking to reporters flanked by other MPs from the 2017 intake.

"It is really awful to be accused of something that isn't true," he said.

It's been really tough to see it play out in the public and there are no grounds for Dr Sharma's allegations, McAnulty says.

If there is an investigation, he will participate. But that's a decision for the Prime Minister, he said.

He says "he's not a bully" and has received support from other MPs.

"I have never bullied anybody," McAnulty says.

If an allegation is made, you should back it up, he says. Dr Sharma is yet to provide any evidence that McAnulty is a bully.

He is speaking as Dr Sharma arrives at Parliament.

9:45am - Duncan Webb, the Chief Labour Whip who has been subject to some allegations, tells reporters that he has never yelled at an MP. He takes his job "really seriously" and believes he has done it to the best of his ability.

He says he will listen to Dr Sharma at the caucus meeting and then make a decision on whether he trusts him.

Webb says the role of a Whip is to nurture MPs and support them at Parliament. He believes Dr Sharma has been treated well. He rejects claims he is a bully.

"I don't think there is a failure on the part of the Whips team."

Duncan Webb.
Duncan Webb. Photo credit: Newshub.

9:40am - Labour MPs are heading into their caucus meeting. We should hear from the Prime Minister and other senior ministers shortly.

Labour MPs entering caucus.
Labour MPs entering caucus. Photo credit: Newshub.

9:35am - Here are some comments being reported from other MPs:

David Parker has described Dr Sharma's actions as "attention-seeking behaviour" and he doesn't believe there are grounds for an investigation.

Priyanca Radhakrishnan said she does not trust Dr Sharma at the moment, but wants to see what happens at caucus. 

Helen White, who was an employment lawyer before entering Parliament, said she is "really sad" about what's happened.

"I'm really proud of the process we've taken, it's really conciliatory."

9:30am - We've added Newshub's full interview with Dr Sharma at Wellington airport on Tuesday morning to the video above.

9:25am - Dr Gaurav Sharma almost certainly will be expelled from the Labour caucus on Tuesday morning. Labour said last Thursday that it would consider a motion to expel after Dr Sharma sat down for an interview with Newshub, making a number of allegations against the party. 

If he's expelled, he will sit in Parliament as an independent MP until the next election. The Prime Minister could write to the Speaker asking for the waka-jumping legislation to be triggered, booting Dr Sharma out of Parliament. However, Ardern said on Monday that she's unlikely to do that.

9:05am - Labour minister Michael Wood tells reporters it will be up to caucus to decide Dr Sharma's fate. He says an expulsion motion is on the table but "we will work through a proper process around that before anything is decided".

"There are real concerns about his behaviour and the lack of trust caucus colleagues have in him... it is very hard to trust someone when we have seen some of the behaviour over the last week," he said.

Wood said issues could have been resolved through mediation.

Labour minister Michael Wood arriving at Parliament.
Labour minister Michael Wood arriving at Parliament. Photo credit: Newshub.

8:50am - Dr Sharma on Monday released a message from senior MP Kiri Allan about speaking to ministers before sending correspondence which may be picked up through the OIA.

But Ardern said there's "nothing inappropriate with reminding MPs around what is the most appropriate way to deal with a minister who has decision-making rights".

Read more here.

8:35am - Labour MP Camilla Belich is among a number of MPs who say they don't have trust in Dr Gaurav Sharma ahead of the caucus meeting.

8:30am - Labour ministers and MPs will head to their caucus meeting just before 10am. It's unclear yet how any outcome will be communicated afterwards. But we will cover it in these live updates when it comes in.

8:15am - Dr Sharma has arrived in Wellington. He tells Newshub he will attend the caucus meeting. As he walks through the airport, bystanders pat him on back in support.

"The man... keep it up," they say.

Dr Sharma says he wants to "talk about what has happened".

"What I am asking for is a fair investigation and a fair trial," he said.

"A chance to clear my name... but also a chance for Kieran McAnulty to clear his name."

Kieran McAnulty denies allegations of bullying. 

Dr Sharma will provide further details to an independent investigator if one is appointed.

What will he tell the Prime Minister at the meeting?

"I am just wanting to present my side of the story and talk about what has happened... all I wanted was an opportunity to be heard and an independent investigation."

He claims MPs and ministers have come to him in recent days to say they have been bullied. Again, no evidence has been provided.

Dr Sharma arrives in Wellington.
Dr Sharma arrives in Wellington. Photo credit: Newshub.

8:10am - Jamie Strange, the Hamilton East MP, was asked by Newshub at Wellington airport if he has ever been bullied.

"I am not going to talk about that today," he said.

8:05am - Speaking to Newstalk ZB earlier, Dr Sharma said the Prime Minister and Labour aren't interested in the wellbeing of their caucus or doing an independent inquiry. He says he has provided evidence - however, he's yet to show any evidence of bullying.

Dr Sharma says an inquiry would allow himself as well as his alleged bully to clear their names.

He's been invited to the caucus meeting, but is still considering whether to appear in person or via Zoom.

"I'm not saying I am not going," he said.

Asked if he will participate in some way, Dr Sharma said: "Yes, that is what I am considering doing."

He suggests he has little faith in the process after the secret meeting last Monday.

Glen Bennett arrives in Wellington.
Glen Bennett arrives in Wellington. Photo credit: Newshub.

7:55am - Labour's New Plymouth MP Glen Bennett has just arrived at Wellington airport.

Asked for his thoughts on Dr Sharma's actions, he said: "That is something we will be discussing this morning at caucus. Kia ora."

On whether he will vote to expel Dr Sharma, he repeated that was a discussion for caucus.

Bennett said he had never been bullied within the party or shouted at by Whips. 

"Not at all. No. I have been really supported actually. It has been awesome."

Asked if he had been coached around the use of the OIA, Bennett said the party had "conversations about lots of things".

7:50am - Kia ora, good morning, and welcome to Newshub's live updates.

Labour MPs are starting to arrive in Wellington and at Parliament ahead of the party's caucus meeting to decide the fate of Dr Gaurav Sharma. We will be bringing you comment from MPs as they arrive. Ministers will speak to media just before 10am prior to the caucus meeting.