Labour says it's been dealing with issues between staff and MP Gaurav Sharma amid bullying allegations

Labour's Chief Whip says his office has been working with Dr Gaurav Sharma on issues between the first-term MP and members of his staff.

Dr Sharma on Thursday launched a stunning broadside against his party, claiming the Parliamentary Service "promoted and facilitated" bullying, including between MPs, "by working behind the scenes" with party Whips offices, leaders' offices and the Prime Minister's Office.

"If anything, in my experience, when an MP raises serious concerns the Parliamentary Service steps back, 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 wrote in a NZHerald column.

In a statement on Friday, Duncan Webb said the Whip's office "became aware of issues between Gaurav and some of his staff a year ago". It's been working with the MP and recently paused hiring staff "with the intention of providing further assistance before more staff were hired into his office", Webb said.

"At all times the Whip's office has acted in good faith and sought to work constructively with Gaurav and the Parliamentary Service to ensure he has good support available to address issues between him and his staff," Webb said.

Webb and Parliamentary Service met with Dr Sharma "in good faith to progress these issues as recently as yesterday, he was fully represented at that meeting".

"We are mindful these are ongoing relationships, so we must respect individual’s privacy, but we will continue to seek a resolution with Gaurav in the coming weeks."

Parliamentary Service Chief Executive Rafael Gonzalez-Montero on Thursday night said it had worked closely with the Labour Whip's office to "address employment matters with Dr Sharma". 

"We do what we can to support all our MPs, and we acknowledge the triangular employment relationship at Parliament is complex," he said.

"It is also important to make it clear that the Service cannot direct MPs what to do and how to act. MPs are elected representatives of New Zealand’s citizens and that would impinge on New Zealand’s democracy, and the free right of MPs as elected representatives of New Zealand’s citizens."

Gonzalez-Montero said Parliamentary Service had a responsibility "to promote a healthy and secure culture within our workplace, and we have made significant progress on this following the 2019 External Independent Review into Bullying and Harassment in the New Zealand Parliamentary Workplace".

Labour Chief Whip Duncan Webb.
Labour Chief Whip Duncan Webb. Photo credit: Getty Images.

Dr Sharma is yet to comment further to the media, but on Facebook shared screenshots of messages he received from former Labour MP Darien Fenton. Fenton told him she was "appalled by you (sic) ill discipline in mouth off in the media" and he should have gone to the Public Service Association, which she is a member. 

He replied questioning whether Fenton is "still on the party payroll" and that she should "mind your own business".

"I have made multiple complaints through proper channels, including to the PMO [Prime Minister's Office] over the last 1.5 years and nothing has been done," he said.

Dr Sharma said it was "appalling" that Fenton, as a former MP and a union representative, was wanting "to victimise me instead of asking the party what they did about the bully".

Appearing on AM on Friday morning, Labour's Michael Wood said he hasn't ever encountered bullying within the party caucus.

"I've been an MP that's worked at all levels of the party over the last five years and there's actually a really supportive, collegial atmosphere but, look, when issues get raised like this, you have to deal with them empathetically - you have to take them seriously." 

Labour MP Anahila Kanongata'a-Suisuiki, who is Dr Sharma's office neighbour, said on Thursday evening she had no idea he felt that way and was surprised by the bullying allegations he made.

"I am saddened that that's his experience. I'm his office neighbour. It did come as a surprise to me and I am just sad he didn't share as a neighbour. I felt that I could be someone he could confide in."

Labour minister Willie Jackson said they are going to have ask Dr Sharma himself about the allegations of bullying, but he does not think there is bullying within the political party.

"I have never seen it in my life. You're going to have to talk to him but I have never seen it. We are great whānau."

A first-term MP, Dr Sharma entered Parliament in 2020 after winning the electorate of Hamilton West away from National during Labour's landslide victory at that year's election. He was previously a General Practitioner and is now a member of the Health Select Committee in Parliament.

The allegations come just days after National found itself answering questions over newbie MP Sam Uffindell. It was revealed on Monday that Uffindell had violently attacked a younger student at King's College when he boarded there more than 20 years ago. It was then alleged Uffindell terrorised a flatmate at university, something he rejects.