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PM forced to confront bullying allegations within Labour

It’s Monday, August 15 and welcome back to another week of news with The Spinoff’s live updates. I’m Stewart Sowman-Lund, you can reach me via email on

The agenda

  • Rogue Labour MP Gaurav Sharma claims misspent taxpayer funds ‘hushed’.
  • Ardern says nothing to substantiate claims of bullying made by MP.
  • New footage shows extensive damage to Auckland’s St James Theatre.
  • The rolling average of new Covid-19 cases and related hospitalisations has dropped yet again.

PM forced to confront bullying allegations within Labour

It’s Monday, August 15 and welcome back to another week of news with The Spinoff’s live updates. I’m Stewart Sowman-Lund, you can reach me via email on

The agenda

  • Rogue Labour MP Gaurav Sharma claims misspent taxpayer funds ‘hushed’.
  • Ardern says nothing to substantiate claims of bullying made by MP.
  • New footage shows extensive damage to Auckland’s St James Theatre.
  • The rolling average of new Covid-19 cases and related hospitalisations has dropped yet again.
Aug 15 2022

Gaurav Sharma shares texts from other ‘MPs who were also being bullied’

Gaurav Sharma (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

Labour’s renegade MP Gaurav Sharma has posted further allegations to his Facebook page, timed with the start of the prime minister’s scheduled post-cabinet press conference.

It meant that Jacinda Ardern was forced to answer questions about an unfolding news story, effectively in real time.

Sharma’s latest post included screenshots purportedly from other MPs within Labour that have also faced bullying. Like Sharma’s last Facebook message, today’s included reference to MP Kieran McAnulty who Sharma had previously labelled the “main bully”.

“These are some of the messages from MPs who were also being bullied,” wrote Sharma. “One of the MPs spent almost three hours in tears talking about how they were being treated. Others asked me how to fake a Covid test so they didn’t have to come to parliament because of how much they were scared of being bullied.”

The Hamilton West MP said he had provided these screenshots to the prime minister’s office last year – but McAnulty was since promoted.

The latest post ended with: “It’s a sad day for our democracy.”

Gaurav Sharma (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

Speaking at parliament, Ardern confirmed an emergency caucus meeting had been called for this week to address the ongoing situation. “We have always been concerned about ensuring that the wellbeing of our MPs is front and centre,” she said. “Our job is to make sure that we always have wraparound support for our caucus.”

Ardern said there was also an obligation to look after an MP’s staff and that was part of the reason she wouldn’t go into detail regarding the allegations.

For the purposes of “natural justice”, Ardern confirmed Sharma would be invited to this upcoming caucus meeting. She would not provide details on what disciplinary action he would face or whether it was a “foregone conclusion” he would be dumped by the party.

On whether McAnulty was a bully, Ardern said she hadn’t seen anything to “substantiate” the claims but acknowledged there had been a “disagreement”.

Another 120 NZDF personnel to help Ukraine war effort

Photo: Phil Walter/Getty Images

The government has confirmed another deployment to help Ukraine in its fight against the Russian invasion.

This time, 120 Defence Force personnel will travel to the UK where they will help train Ukraine soldiers. It follows a previous deployment of 30 NZDF personnel back in May. The New Zealand team will not enter Ukraine itself.

“New Zealand has been clear that we will continue to answer the call of Ukraine for practical support as they defend their homeland and people against Russia’s unjustified invasion,” prime minister Jacinda Ardern said.

“We know that one of the highest priorities for Ukraine right now, is to train its soldiers, and New Zealand is proud to stand in solidarity alongside a number of other countries to answer that call.”

The deployment will enable two infantry training teams to equip Ukrainian personnel with the core skills to be effective in frontline combat, said Ardern, including weapon handling, combat first aid, operational law and other soldier skills.

The prime minister has so far not visited Ukraine but told media today that New Zealand would continue to support the war effort.

On Wednesday, an interview by Today FM’s Tova O’Brien with Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskyy will air. It’s expected that interview will include a reiterated call by Zelenskyy for Ardern to visit his country.

PM to face questions over bullying claims

Jacinda Ardern. (Photo by Mark Mitchell-Pool/Getty Images)

Jacinda Ardern is about to face further questions on the allegations of bullying levelled at two of her MPs.

Former staffers of backbenchers Gaurav Sharma and Anna Lorck have both spoken out to the media on alleged bullying they experienced while working at parliament. On the flipside, Sharma has accused other MPs from within Labour, and the Parliamentary Service, of bullying.

You can find a livestream of Ardern’s 3pm press conference on RNZ here.

Cash rate poised for yet another rise

Ethnic minorities in Aotearoa are struggling with the rising cost of living. (Getty Images)

It feels like only yesterday the official cash rate jumped up and yet here we are preparing for the next hike.

The Reserve Bank will reveal any changes to the OCR on Wednesday afternoon, and expectations are that it will rise once again. In fact, it’s being predicted there will be another 50 basis point rise – which would bring the cash rate to 3%.

Harbour Asset Management senior portfolio manager Shane Solly told the NBR it was possible this could be the last 0.5% rise after a string of double increases.

“We may be nearing the point where the rate hike degree is less than it has been, so less than half a percent increases, possibly back to just a 25-basis point increase,” Solly said, suggesting that the economy was starting to cool.

The central bank has so far forecast that the OCR will peak at around 4% next year. But ANZ chief economist Sharon Zollner told Stuff that could be optimistic – and a 4.5% peak wasn’t out of the question.

(Photo: Getty)

Covid-19 latest: Cases up on yesterday but daily average continues to fall

Image: Toby Morris

The rolling average of new Covid-19 cases and related hospitalisations has dropped yet again.

There are 3,387 new community cases of Covid today and 536 current hospitalisations, including 13 people in intensive care. While today’s number of new cases is slightly up on yesterday, the rolling average continues to call. Today it’s sitting at 4,230 while last Monday it was 5,288.

The hospitalisation average is now 570, down from 660 one week ago.

As noted in this morning’s edition of The Bulletin, yesterday’s Covid total was the lowest in six months – meaning it’s not entirely surprising there’s been a minor jump today.

There are now a total of 1,750 deaths confirmed as attributable to Covid-19, either as the underlying cause of death or as a contributing factor. In the past seven days there have been an average of 14 deaths confirmed each day as being attributable to Covid-19.

Overnight, the death toll has grown by 12 but the Ministry of Health has so far not directly linked these to the virus.

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Parliamentary Service refutes Sharma’s claim of misspent taxpayer money

Photo: Getty Images

A Labour MP’s claim that misspent taxpayer money was kept quiet has been refuted by the Parliamentary Service.

It’s claimed that the matter, raised by Hamilton West MP Gaurav Sharm, was looked into already and the spending was found to be within the rules. Parliamentary Service chief executive Rafael Gonzalez-Montero told Stuff a complaint was made last year.

“It related to a Wellington-based staff member travelling to a member’s electorate office for the purpose of team building and assisting the wider team. This is normal practice for many members when establishing a new team which has staff dispersed in different regions,” Gonzalez-Montero said.

“The service determined that this expenditure was for parliamentary business and so allowed by the Speaker’s directions, which are the rules that guide expenditure by members,” he said.

Sharma has so far provided no evidence for his claims of bullying or misspent funds within parliament and the Labour caucus.

While the prime minister has not revealed whether Sharma or his claims will be investigated further, she will likely face questions on the subject at today’s post-cabinet press conference.

The Fold: Rex Woodbury on all the ways Gen Z is changing the world

We say it a lot, but this really is a must-listen for anyone hoping to reach the new wave of risk takers and decision makers. Gen Z is making and consuming media in ways and at a pace that can be difficult for older generations to understand. They’ve never known a world without digital connection at its core and we’re on the precipice of massive societal change as a result. New York-based Rex Woodbury writes a tech-meets-culture Substack called Digital Native, and Duncan Greive is obsessed.

Also obsessed is Duncan’s friend, and real life Gen Z legend, Lucy Blakiston (Shit You Should Care About). This week the pair team up to interview Rex about why we’re in the early stages of multiple major shifts and what it all means for media and society as a whole from this very moment on.

Follow Duncan Greive’s NZ media podcast The Fold on Apple PodcastsSpotify or your favourite podcast provider.

Footage shows extensive damage to Auckland’s St James Theatre

Graffiti smothers the Queen Street-facing wall of Auckland’s St James Theatre. Photo: Chris Schulz

When thieves broke into Auckland’s St James Theatre recently, owner Steve Bielby initially thought it was just another break-in by opportunists. It’s happened regularly since the much-loved and popular live music venue was closed in 2016 for renovations that have since stalled over funding delays.

It wasn’t until Bielby returned from overseas and visited the boarded-up building himself that he realised just how bad the damage was. “The latest break-in is far more sophisticated,” he told The Spinoff at the time. “They were there for a few days and had trade skills to be able to do what they did.” Copper wiring was stolen, along with rare and priceless artefacts, including a bronze statue.

Now, new footage released by Chlöe Swarbrick, the MP for central Auckland, shows just how badly damaged the mothballed St James is. Water is seeping through the building, causing fungus to grow across carpets and floors. The dome that sits above the main floor has started to collapse. Spray-painted graffiti covers the foyer that’s already been restored.

“At first we sort of thought it was a bit of vandalism and a couple of items stolen,” Bielby tells Swarbrick in the three-minute tour. “As we got into it, it’s a lot worse than that. They’ve stolen gutters, flashing, all the electrical wiring, the copper water pipes, everything out of the building.”

Swarbrick is using the incident to lobby the government to provide the extra funding the St James needs to continue its renovation work. With $15m of funding already approved from Auckland Council, along with $1.5m from Heritage New Zealand, the project needs another $15 million to get going. The project was recently separated from a proposed neighbouring apartment block to lower risk and help entice investors.

“We are one government decision, one budget commitment, away from being able to revive the St James – a once-in-a-generation opportunity to provide the space and place the creatives and community in our city deserve,” says Swarbrick. “This decision can’t be kicked down the road anymore, with recent break-ins and damage exposing the building to weather and rain, meaning it’s fast accumulating foundation-eroding dampness.”

Bielby says the latest break-in means it’s time to decide whether or not the project can move forward. “We’ve gone from having this building that was safely mothballed to, we don’t have years left to solve this problem. “I think we’re no longer having a mothballing conversation. It’s at that point where we say do we do it, or do we not do it?”

A petition urging Kiri Allen, the associate minister of arts, culture and heritage, to commit to the extra $15 million of funding can be signed here.

Ardern says nothing to substantiate claims of bullying made by MP

Gaurav Sharma and Jacinda Ardern on the campaign trail.

The prime minister is standing behind MP Gaurav Sharma despite claims of bullying levelled at and by him, saying there has so far been nothing to substantiate the claims.

Sharma penned an op-ed in the Herald last week in which he accused those within his own party and parliament of bullying. In a follow-up missive posted to his Facebook, the Hamilton West MP named caucus colleague Kieran McAnulty as the “main bully”. However, at the same time, Sharma has faced allegations that he was in fact the bully.

Speaking to Newshub’s AM, Jacinda Ardern said Sharma would stay in caucus. “This comes back to the fact that there were accusations made by staff members around the conduct of an MP [Sharma]. Rightly, the whips and Parliamentary Services intervened because this was not just one case there was more than one case, so it gave them grounds for intervention,” said Ardern.

“The MP [Sharma] has not agreed with those interventions. I have seen nothing to substantiate the claims that have been made against these MPs in the way they have intervened.”

A separate bullying claim was raised against Labour MP Anna Lorck by a former staffer. Ardern told RNZ that she would not be commenting on this as it was an employment issue and should be addressed through the relevant channels.

Asked whether any other MPs were facing bullying claims, Ardern said there were 237 staff employed across the 65 Labour MPs. “There will be from time to time issues in those employment relationships,” she said.

The Bulletin: Government giving councils power to run public transport

The government is announcing new rules today that will let local councils take over and run public transport services. As the Herald’s Thomas Coughlan reports, the government is scrapping the Public Transport Operating Model (PTOM). The PTOM has prevented councils from owning and operating their own public transport services if they wanted to access subsidies from Waka Kotahi’s National Land Transport Fund.

As Coughlan points out your buses might carry council branding (AT in Auckland or MetLink in Wellington) but the services are contracted out to private companies to run. Transport minister Michael Wood said he hoped the change would help councils address the current bus driver shortage, saying the emphasis on cost-cutting had driven down driver pay and led to an exodus of drivers.

Want to read The Bulletin in full? Click here to subscribe and join over 36,000 New Zealanders who start each weekday with the biggest stories in politics, business, media and culture.  

Rogue Labour MP claims misspent taxpayer funds ‘hushed’

Gaurav Sharma (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

It’s a fresh news week, but the stories of alleged bullying within the Beehive aren’t going anywhere. Two new developments on the Gaurav Sharma saga have popped up on news sites this morning – I’ll break those down in a minute.

But first: the state of play. On Friday evening, the backbench Hamilton West Labour MP posted a 2,600 word essay to his Facebook claim in which he levelled serious allegations within his own party. He singled out Labour caucus colleague Kieran McAnulty as the “main bully” and also suggested an unnamed Labour MP was involved in the misspending of taxpayer funds.

Today, RNZ has reported that Sharma stands by his claims of inappropriate spending – and claimed he faced bullying after raising the red flag. Parliamentary Services said they looked into the claim, but Sharma told the outlet “they definitely did not investigate it”. The the misspending, he claimed, was “hushed”.

He added: “I was told by then Junior Whip Duncan Webb that what I did was wrong and I should be ashamed of myself… I was then told by Duncan Webb that an accusation like this could mean that the government could get into trouble, lose the election etc and such issues needed to be contained rather than discussed freely.”

Meanwhile, over on the Herald, it’s been reported that members of Sharma’s Hamilton West team have written to the Beehive asking for a full investigation into the bullying claims made by the MP. They’re standing by him, despite reports at least three staff members have lodged their own complaints of bullying against Sharma.

“Given the serious concerns he has been raising for a long time, we hope [there is] an independent and in-depth inquiry into his claims and give him the fair trial he deserves,” said the letter, signed by 20 staff members of the Hamilton West electorate committee.

The Labour Party has not yet decided whether to investigate or whether, on the flipside, Sharma will face punishment for bringing the party into disrepute.