Heat in the House after more emerges on handling of Stuart Nash's email

The National Party has accused the Government of a "conspiracy" and a "cover-up" in response to the Prime Minister's Office admitting it knew two years ago about the email that eventually got Stuart Nash sacked.

Despite an official information request from the Newsroom website, officials chose not to release the email, because they say Nash was acting as an MP when he sent it, not a minister.

That's even though he was acting as a minister when he took part in the Cabinet discussion he leaked to his donor.

A super-sarcastic campaign on Thursday called on the Prime Minister to introduce pay transparency laws.

But it was a very different issue of transparency dogging him - why Nash's now-infamous email leaking Cabinet details to donors was not released two years ago.

"I think a mistake was clearly made here but ultimately that does not distract from the fact it was ultimately Stuart Nash's information release," Chris Hipkins said. 

"It was Stuart Nash who wrote the email. It was Stuart Nash who'd done these things. It was Stuart Nash who should have alerted me to them."

It was Nash who paid the price for sending that email, getting the sack on Tuesday.

But on Thursday the focus changed to who knew what about the email and when.

The Prime Minister's Office released a timeline.

On June 8, 2021, Nash's office received a request from Newsroom asking for all correspondence between himself and a list of donors.

In late July, his office told the Prime Minister's deputy chief of staff Holly Donald and a senior advisor about the email, saying they believed it was outside the scope of the request because he wasn't acting as a minister when he sent it.

"These were not staff who were trying to act in any underhanded way," said deputy Prime Minister Carmel Sepuloni. "They failed to realise the significance of what was in front of them."

But National deputy leader Nicola Willis said: "Heads have to roll here."

In March 2022, the Ombudsman - that's the official information watchdog - wrote to Nash, investigating a complaint.

Nash's office replied to the Ombudsman with a copy of his email, telling him the email was sent in his capacity as a Labour MP, not as a minister.

But the information Nash shared with his donors was obtained around the Cabinet table - and he was there because he was a Minister.

"They broke the law in order to keep that letter from the public," said Willis. 

Asked if the Government has broken the law, Sepuloni said: "No, there has been a minister who has breached Cabinet responsibility and he is no longer a minister."

The Nats were kicking off in the House, with Willis claiming there is a "stench swirling around their Government". 

Under absolute parliamentary privilege, Willis said: "A culture of coverup" and "a conspiracy between a minister's office and the Prime Minister's Office". 

Speaker Adrian Rurawhere ruled that out of order. 

Finance Minister Grant Robertson said: "Nicola Willis stood up in the House and impugned the integrity of people who cannot answer back. Mr Bishop, that is a disgrace."

Sepuloni said: "It's certainly not a cover-up."

The Government clearly claiming this was a stuff up, rather than a cover-up.

Amelia Wade Analysis

The Chief Ombudsman discontinued his investigation into the complaint about the Official Information Act reponse after speaking with Newsroom.

He told Newshub that in light of Thursday's developments, he'll decide his next steps after speaking with the complainant.

The Government said this sequence of events has to be considered in the context of the record number of Official Information Act requests it got after COVID and staff were going through thousands of pages of documents.

It's clearly piling all of the blame on Nash - because he wrote the email and it is ultimately ministers who sign off information releases.