National Deputy Chief Shane Reti remains silent on issues surrounding Nick Smith’s resignation, repeatedly saying it was a matter between Smith and Parliamentary Services. Video / Mark Mitchell
The National Party is uncertain whether Dr Nick Smith will return to parliament after announcing his resignation while revealing a complaint against him for “verbal altercation” with a member of staff.
His colleagues also denied having any knowledge of the alleged incident or the ongoing investigation.
The veteran MP said on Monday he would leave Parliament on June 10 and revealed that the parliamentary service was investigating “a verbal altercation in my Wellington office last July which was unsuccessful”.
National Deputy Chief Dr Shane Reti said on Tuesday morning that the first time he heard about his colleague’s investigation was through the media.
“I was surprised,” said Reti, speaking for party leader Judith Collins, who was absent as she attended her son’s graduation ceremony.
Reti had spoken to Smith, but didn’t know when, or if, he would return to Parliament.
“All I know is he’s not here this week, there will be discussions over the weekend around next week. That’s a question for Dr. Smith.
“I respect Dr. Smith’s decision not to be here this week while he finds out.”
Smith said he was told on Friday that the investigation and its details were released to the media for publication on Tuesday – that has yet to happen.
“It is not appropriate for labor disputes to be dealt with in public,” Smith said.
“I will state that I regret the incident, I apologized at the time and I apologize again today.
“I have decided that the best course for the parties involved, the National Party, my family and myself is to retire now.”
It is understood that the altercation involving Smith took place with a young staff member who had worked there less than a year before the incident.
It followed on from Parliament’s review of workplace bullying and harassment – the Francis Review – which was completed in 2019 and led Parliament to adopt a code of conduct for MPs and managers and employees of Parliament.
Reti declined to answer any questions regarding Smith’s resignation, including details of the allegations, or whether it was appropriate for him to stay during the election.
The party had no problem with bullying and was not aware of any other similar cases involving MPs and their staff, he said.
Changes had been made since Francis magazine and that work was “in progress,” Reti said.
Reti had spoken with Smith, but it was “a private matter,” he said.
He was unsure whether Smith was on sick leave or annual leave this week, or whether he would return to Parliament before June 10.
In recent years, other national MPs have been accused of intimidating staff in their offices, including Maggie Barry who was investigated twice in 2018 for alleged harassment.
Several national deputies denied that the party had a problem with bullying during its questioning on Tuesday.
Senior party whip Matt Doocey said Smith was a “very loyal and hardworking caucus member.”
He declined to comment on the investigation, but said “we expect a high level of relations between MPs and staff, a high level of respect and professionalism”.
“It’s an individual employment problem. He has owned his behavior and I recognize that.”
Doocey said he was “100 percent” convinced that this was a one-time event.
“We have a very good culture within the National Party,” Doocey said.
Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson said the parliamentary workplace was a very stressful environment.
“It’s fair to say we all know we need to do better. I’m not going to comment specifically on Dr. Smith’s case, but what the journal Francis told us is that we need to improve the culture of the workplace. This will never happen overnight, and it is clear that we still have a lot of work to do.
“It’s a tough environment to work in, and that means we have to work twice to provide a safe working environment.”
House leader Chris Hipkins said the job dispute was up to the National Party.
But of Smith, he said: “He is the longest serving member of Parliament and deserves to be recognized for it.”
Smith said he decided to retire after losing Nelson’s electorate in 2020, but that investigation prompted him to leave now.
Smith’s resignation ends a 30-year parliamentary career – a stint in which he was Cabinet Minister under Jim Bolger, Dame Jenny Shipley and Sir John Key, including Minister of Education, Minister of Building and of Construction and the Minister of Conservation.
He was also briefly deputy leader of the National Party at the end of 2003.
The next candidate on National’s list to enter Parliament is Harete Hipango.
Hipango confirmed to the Herald that she would take the opportunity to return to Parliament to replace Smith.
This will mean that National will have three Maori MPs – Reti, Simon Bridges and Hipango.
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This notice was published: 2021-05-31 23:41:58