Barbara Kuriger unlikely to ever be Agriculture Minister after not recognising 'obvious' conflict of interest, Christopher Luxon says

Barbara Kuriger is unlikely to ever be Agriculture Minister after she made a "serious lapse of judgement" by not recognising an "obvious" conflict of interest she had, National leader Christopher Luxon says.

Kuriger, the Taranaki King Country MP, on Thursday night resigned her portfolios, including agriculture, after not registering a conflict of interest she had due to an ongoing family dispute with the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI). 

Luxon wouldn't go into the specifics of the dispute, but made it clear it would be inappropriate for Kuriger to stay on in her roles given the conflict of interest it created.

"I think when you've got a personal dispute with MPI and as a spokesperson for agriculture, there is an obvious conflict of interest," Luxon told media at a press conference. "It wasn't registered, it wasn't recognised and it wasn't well managed." 

The National leader said it is "highly unlikely" Kuriger will hold any agriculture portfolios in the future. 

If National took power after next year's election and Kuriger still held the agriculture role, it's likely she would have become the Agriculture Minister, which works with MPI.

Todd Muller is now the acting agriculture spokesperson and Luxon said he intends to do a wider caucus reshuffle later in the year. 

"I think Barbara has a lot to offer our team and our caucus, and we'll leave the door open for her," Luxon said.

Barbara Kuriger.
Barbara Kuriger. Photo credit: Getty Images.

In a statement, Kuriger said her family had been in a dispute with MPI "over events that occurred in 2017". This "created a blurred line with my portfolio responsibilities", she said.

"Although the dispute is, for me, a personal matter which I have endeavoured at all times to keep separate from my professional role, I accept there has been a conflict of interest which I should have recognised sooner, and managed."

Newshub understands the matter relates to the prosecution of Kuriger's son. 

Tony Kuriger plead guilty in 2020 to charges of ill-treatment of cows on an Eketāhuna farm between 2016 and 2017. Charges were dropped against his father, the MP's husband.

MPI was involved in the investigation into the animals' welfare. More than 20 cows had to be euthanised and more than 70 were treated for lameness. 

Luxon said on Friday he was aware of the court case but only learnt there was an "ongoing" dispute with MPI and the "full extent" of it during a conversation with Kuriger on Thursday night. He claimed the matter was raised with his office by a third party "about a week or so ago".

He believes National has "moved incredibly quickly". 

"Barbara also recognises and accepts this is the right course of action. It was her decision to resign those portfolios. But again, I think it speaks very strongly to a party that I said, when I became the new leader, I was putting standards in place and I have high standards on my team. That's what we're demonstrating."

Luxon wouldn't say whether he pushed Kuriger to resign the roles.

"We had a very good conversation going through the full detail of it all last night and it became apparent maintaining and holding on to those portfolios was untenable, and Barbara made the decision to resign those portfolios."

Luxon said he spoke to the party caucus on Friday morning about Kuriger's resignation.

"I think this is a very good reminder to our caucus and our team to have disclosures and to make sure any conflicts of interest are well managed," he said. 

Muller previously held the agriculture portfolio before he launched a coup against then-National Party leader Simon Bridges

Last year, Muller announced his intent to resign from Parliament after admitting to bad mouthing another National MP to a journalist. The person who alerted party leadership to Muller's behaviour is reported to have been Kuriger. Muller has since decided to stay on as an MP.

"Todd is incredibly capable. He's hugely respected in the agriculture sector. He'll be able to bring our agriculture caucus together," Luxon said on Friday.