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Gaurav Sharma suspended from Labour caucus

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates, bringing you everything you need to know for Tuesday, August 16. I’m Stewart Sowman-Lund, you can reach me via email on

The agenda

  • Rogue Labour MP Gaurav Sharma has been suspended from caucus, effective immediate.
  • PM Jacinda Ardern said this was a unanimously agreed to decision.
  • Act wants to see the three strikes law reintroduced and taken a step further.
  • Brian and Hannah Tamaki have been fined $250 each for their involvement in an anti-government protest.
  • Covid-19 update: 533 now in hospital, 4,811 new cases.

Gaurav Sharma suspended from Labour caucus

Welcome to The Spinoff’s live updates, bringing you everything you need to know for Tuesday, August 16. I’m Stewart Sowman-Lund, you can reach me via email on

The agenda

  • Rogue Labour MP Gaurav Sharma has been suspended from caucus, effective immediate.
  • PM Jacinda Ardern said this was a unanimously agreed to decision.
  • Act wants to see the three strikes law reintroduced and taken a step further.
  • Brian and Hannah Tamaki have been fined $250 each for their involvement in an anti-government protest.
  • Covid-19 update: 533 now in hospital, 4,811 new cases.
Aug 16 2022

‘Trust has been broken’: Labour MP Gaurav Sharma suspended from caucus

Gaurav Sharma in October 2020 (Photo by Lynn Grieveson – Newsroom/Newsroom via Getty Images)

Rogue Labour MP Gaurav Sharma has been suspended from the party’s caucus effective immediate.

That means Sharma will remain the MP for Hamilton West and continue to attend parliament. However, he will not be allowed to participate in any caucus events.

Speaking at parliament this afternoon, prime minister Jacinda Ardern said the suspension was agreed to “unanimously” by caucus. Despite “numerous attempts” to engage Sharma, he did not appear at today’s emergency caucus meeting. “I note he did find time to speak to media,” said Ardern.

The prime minister she had called and messaged Sharma today with no response. “Unfortunately I was unable to talk to him directly. It, of course, would be my preference that I would’ve been able to share the decision of his team members directly. He has not provided me with that opportunity. I hope this is not the first he’s heard of it.”

The suspension will apply at this stage until December, and he could then return to caucus if this was deemed appropriate. “A sense of trust has been broken through repeated breaches of our caucus rules over the past five days,” said Ardern.

On the bullying and harassment accusations made by Sharma, Ardern said she had seen “nothing to substantiate the claims”. She added that “Gaurav has a very different view about what are essentially the same facts”.

Gaurav Sharma in October 2020 (Photo by Lynn Grieveson – Newsroom/Newsroom via Getty Images)

After the Francis report, “the focus of reforms in this area has been to intervene early, to prevent breakdowns in relationships, and to support both staff and MPs to be the best possible employers. Had the interventions not been made, I believe there could be the chance we would be facing very different accusations, and that could include negligence on behalf of staff.”

The past week has seen headlines dominated by the allegations levelled by and against Sharma. Ardern said “we’re all here to do a job” and she didn’t want to see MPs continually “talking about themselves”.

On the so-called “secret” meeting convened last night, Ardern said it was not a formal meeting and therefore Sharma was not invited to attend. “One of the issues of misconduct was that unfortunately Gaurav had been sharing the contents of meetings publicly and that meant people didn’t feel they were able to raise questions and discuss issues with colleagues… people didn’t think they could speak openly because meeting content was being shared.”

The meeting last night was described by the prime minister as “an informal opportunity for issues of concern to be raised in a safe space”.

Despite Sharma not appearing at today’s caucus meeting, Ardern said due process was followed. “[Sharma] was advised of the time, because he helped select it, before any other member of caucus was.” The meeting was delayed owing to efforts to contact Sharma. “We have made efforts to convey this information to him directly.”

Ardern said the process had been undertaken in keeping with “natural justice”.

The decision to suspend Sharma rather than expel him allowed for a return to caucus in the future, the prime minister said. “This is a message to Gaurav, that he is still a Labour member of the team but we have expectations that he follows the same rules as everyone else. And if he does that, there’s a pathway back. If he doesn’t, he will be expelled.”

Gaurav Sharma and Jacinda Ardern on the campaign trail.

Watch: Jacinda Ardern to reveal fate of embattled MP Gaurav Sharma

Jacinda Ardern in August last year (Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

Jacinda Ardern will front a 4.30pm press conference where she will reveal the political future of Labour MP Gaurav Sharma.

We’ll have rolling coverage once the PM starts speaking. Stay tuned.

Thanks to Stuff for the livestream.

Simon Gault’s tomato sauce has sold out

Image: Tina Tiller

One day. Just one day is all it has taken for tomato sauce fanatics to buy up the last remaining bottles of Simon Gault’s sugar-free version of the classic New Zealand staple.

Visitors to were today greeted with a “sold out” sign for his bottles of ketchup. That means there are none left, and there won’t be any more.

Tomato Sauce
The ‘sold out’ sign is up.

Gault yesterday told The Spinoff he was pulling his sauce – a product that is “100% sweetened by vegetables” – off shelves and wouldn’t be making any more because of the costs involved in a sugar-free product. “Vegetables cost more than sugar does,” he says. “You can’t just have a pet project that loses money all the time.”

The host of Why Are We Fat? spent three years developing his ketchup and says he did it because he wanted to offer a healthier alternative to the sugar-laden alternatives that dominated market share. But consumers balked at the price, and he found it wasn’t selling. “It’s probably cost us a couple of hundred grand,” he said. “We haven’t made a cent out of it.”

Gault told The Spinoff there were 84 bottles left, which he was selling at the discounted price of $7.49, and once they were gone, they’re gone. Now, they’re definitely gone. Expect bottles to show up on TradeMe – probably for a little more than $7.49 – at any moment.

Housing and climate dominate Wellington Council debate

(Photo: Shanti Mathias)

Candidates running for the Pukehīnau/Lambton Ward in Wellington had a debate this afternoon hosted by the Victoria University Student Association (VUWSA). Staff writer Shanti Mathias was there. 

Lured by the promise of free Subway sandwiches, an audience of students in the capital watched councillors Iona Pannett, Tamatha Paul, and Nicola Young, as well as hopefuls Jane O’Loughlin, Ellen Blake, Afnan Al-Rubayee, and Jonathan Markwick. 

Given the student audience, housing was a key issue, with candidates divided over the role of heritage housing. “I think we need to bowl all heritage housing to be honest,” said Paul, a former VUWSA president, to applause.

Pannett, a long-term councillor who has lost her Green Party endorsement in part because of her position on preserving heritage housing, said that housing cost was dictated by the market and that it was an “absolute myth that building extra houses will make it more affordable”. Young said that denser housing along the Johnsonville line would be unviable as the trains are like “Thomas the Tank Engine” and couldn’t support more commuters. 

Pannett, Paul and Al-Rubayee said that they would adopt all or part of the policy platform suggested by advocacy group Renters United. Of the seven candidates present, only Markwick and Young said that they were not open to the idea of rent controls. 

On the topic of climate change, which the council has already declared an emergency, candidates agreed that the issue was urgent. The role of transport for mitigating climate change was noted, with O’Loughlin saying that a light rail line to Island Bay would be an expensive “white elephant” that would delay short term progress in transport. Most candidates were cautiously supportive of the “free fares” campaign, but Al-Rubayee said that paying drivers more should be a priority. Paul said that the housing crisis was linked to the climate crisis facing the city. 

When asked how they had travelled to the debate, Paul said she had taken an Uber; Pannett a bus; O’Loughlin the cable car; Young and Blake walked; Markwick had ridden a bicycle; and Al-Rubayee said that she had been dropped off by her mum. 

All candidates said they were vaccinated and that they had no backing from or connection with the Freedom and Rights Coalition. 

Read more of our local elections coverage here

Gaurav Sharma claims his fate was pre-determined during secret meeting

Gaurav Sharma and Jacinda Ardern on the campaign trail.

Labour MP Gaurav Sharma is currently facing his caucus in an emergency meeting called to discuss his fate.

But, in a message sent to various media, the backbench Hamilton West MP has alleged the outcome of today’s meeting had been pre-determined. He has claimed caucus met last night to discuss his future, but said he wasn’t invited to be part of conversation.

Many of Sharma’s main bullying allegations have been levelled at MP Kieran McAnulty, who told 1News it was a “sad, sad situation”.

He denied the claims made about him. “It is pretty upsetting to be accused of these things, but it’s not stacking up,” he said. “I’ve got the backing of the prime minister and the caucus; they recognise that I take claims about the treatment of staff pretty seriously.”

Jacinda Ardern is expected to speak at 4pm – we’ll have the details.

Police confirm four people fined over disruptive anti-government protest

Freedom and Rights Coalition protestors walk down the motorway on-ramp at Newton Gully in Auckland, onto the southern motorway

Police have confirmed four people have faced infringement notices in relation to a July 23 protest that blocked traffic on a major Auckland motorway.

Brian and Hannah Tamaki have self-identified as two of those to have been charged – both received $250 penalties for walking on State Highway One. According to a police spokesperson, an additional two infringements were issued to “identified protesters”.

They added: “Police continue to review video footage of the event and progress enquiries to identify others, including drivers of vehicles who impeded other traffic, together with other vehicle related offences.”

A second protest two weeks later did not make it onto the motorway due to an increased police presence.

Freedom and Rights Coalition protestors walk down the motorway on-ramp at Newton Gully in Auckland, onto the southern motorway

Covid-19 update: 533 now in hospital, 4,811 new cases

Image: Toby Morris

There are 533 people in hospital with Covid-19, a slight dip on yesterday’s figure. The area with the highest number of hospitalisations – 77 – is Waikato, with 64 in Waitematā.

The seven-day rolling average of hospitalisations has also dropped down to 556 from 645 one week ago.

Another 4,811 community cases of Covid-19 have been reported overnight. That’s a jump on yesterday but still significantly lower than several weeks ago. The seven-day rolling average of community case numbers today is now 4,073 – last Tuesday, it was 5,120.

There are now a total of 1,782 deaths confirmed as attributable to Covid-19, either as the underlying cause of death or as a contributing factor. The seven-day rolling average increase in total deaths attributable to Covid-19 is now 13.

The overnight death toll has risen by 21, which takes into account that 27 deaths have been removed from the overall count. The number of Covid-attributed deaths has risen by 32.

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Brian and Hannah Tamaki pinged for motorway protest

Brian Tamaki at an anti-lockdown protest in the Auckland Domain in October 2021. (Photo: Phil Walter/Getty Images)

Brian and Hannah Tamaki have been fined $250 each for their involvement in an anti-government protest that blocked a major Auckland motorway.

As the Herald reported, the Destiny Church pair were fined specifically for walking on the motorway – but police previously warned further charges could be possible.

The July 23 protest departed from Auckland’s Domain before walking onto State Highway One near Newmarket, bringing traffic to a standstill. A second protest two weeks later attracted a larger police presence and did not make it onto the highway.

The Spinoff has approached police for further comment on the fines.

Brian Tamaki at an anti-lockdown protest in the Auckland Domain in October 2021. (Photo: Phil Walter/Getty Images)

New documentary follows an unlikely group of West Coast crime-fighters

The Knight Owls (Photo: Hex Work Productions)

When a small West Coast town saw a rise in crime, a group of mates decided they’d had enough. They formed their own community patrol, and now while everyone in Westport is sleeping, the Kawatiri Knight Owls keep watch. These unlikely heroes put themselves on the front line in a battle against crime, determined to make a difference in their own unique way.

Meet the dedicated volunteers who spend their nights driving the streets to keep their neighbourhoods safe, and the locals whose lives were changed when a community decided to look out for each other. Documentary special The Knight Owls arrives on The Spinoff today, made with the support of NZ On Air. 

‘Invercargill is ready to embrace change’, says broadcaster turned mayoral hopeful

Newstalk ZB Nights host Marcus Lush (Photo: Supplied)

Bluff-based broadcaster Marcus Lush has set his hopes on becoming Invercargill’s next mayor – and thinks there’s a desire for change in the city.

The Newstalk ZB host joined a crowded field for the top job last week and will face long-serving incumbent Tim Shadbolt who has announced a 10th bid for role.

An unscientific poll of candidates in the city, reported on by Stuff, placed Lush on top with 35% of responses (412 out of 1192) ahead of current deputy mayor Nobby Clark who received 210 votes. Shadbolt came in third with 146.

Of course, as an informal poll it doesn’t necessarily indicate the direction of the mayoral competition. But Lush told The Spinoff he was buoyed by the result. “There is a very real sense that Invercargill is ready to embrace change,” he said.

Lush, who became a councillor last year, intends to keep hosting his late night ZB show even if he wins, though acknowledged that the mayoralty would be a full-time role. Clark questioned to Stuff whether voters wanted a “celebrity” mayor or someone who could “get some serious stuff done”.

Bernard Hickey: A tax cut policy that is boomeranging

Chris Luxon addresses the 2022 National Party conference in Christchurch (Photo: Screengrab)

This is an extract from an article first published on Bernard Hickey’s newsletter The Kākā.

1News/Kantar poll out last night showed that two in three eligible voters do not support National’s plan to cut the 39c top rate of tax for those earning over $180,000, with just 25% supporting it and 10% saying they don’t know or didn’t answer.

Amongst National Party supporters, 49% opposed the tax cut plan and 41% approved it. Those groups of eligible voters who are more likely than average (25%) to support National’s plan to cut the top rate of tax included:

  • National Party supporters (41%)
  • Those with a household income of more than $150,000 (36%)
  • Men 35-54 (33%)
  • Aucklanders (32%).

Those groups of eligible voters who were more likely than average (65%) to oppose National’s plan to cut the top rate of tax included:

  • Green Party supporters (90%)
  • Labour Party supporters (81%)
  • Wellingtonians (77%)
  • Women aged 55+ (76%)
  • Those with a household income of between $30,001 and $70,000 (75%).

So what? – This poll suggests National’s attacks on what it calls Labour’s “fiscal profligacy” and “addiction to spending” may be creating some cognitive dissonance among those potential National voters wondering if tax cuts that will go mostly to those already $600b richer under Covid will actually reduce the Budget deficit and remove inflationary pressures.

The bottom line – The assumption that opposition leader Christopher Luxon’s policy released soon after his November 11 election to the National leadership was responsible for National’s surge in the polls over the summer may be wide of the mark. National has yet to release a fully costed Budget policy that includes both the taxation and spending side of the accounts. Releasing one without the details of the other is causing some angst and confusion, even among its own supporters.

Subscribe to read more of Bernard Hickey’s reporting and analysis on The Kākā.

Pressure builds for urgent rent freeze, more accommodation support

Image: Getty Images/The Spinoff

The government’s facing pressure to do more to help struggling New Zealanders with their accommodation.

The Human Rights Commission has called for a temporary rent freeze to be introduced, similar to what happened over the first six months of the Covid-19 pandemic. This approach would be coupled with an immediate increase to the accommodation supplement.

Paul Hunt, the chief human rights commissioner, said he was very concerned that students and low income New Zealanders may be sacrificing their “fundamental human rights” in order to pay rent.

“The government of the day has to ensure all New Zealanders can meet their basic living needs. The cost of living payment doesn’t go far enough to address unaffordable rents faced by many low-income renters,” Hunt said.

It’s a proposal that’s so far been backed by the Greens, with co-leader Marama Davidson saying a rent freeze should be followed by “permanent and meaningful changes” to the way we rent.

“A home is considered unaffordable for someone to rent if they need to spend more than 30% of their income to keep the roof over their heads…The shocking fact that this is the reality for nearly one in every two people who rent,” she said.

“These people are struggling to pay the bills as rents continue to rise. It should be enough of a reason for any government to act.”

A rent freeze (Image: Getty Images/The Spinoff)

Act wants to bring back the three strikes law – with a difference


Act wants to see the three strikes law reintroduced and taken a step further.

The party’s launched a series of new law and order policies this morning, including a specific three strikes law for burglary offences.

Nicole McKee, Act’s justice spokesperson, said burglaries were often premeditated and could cause both financial and psychological harm to victims.

“There were 289,000 burglaries over the past year. Weak sentencing for burglary means there’s little motivation for people to report burglaries, and little reason for police to give them priority. It also means there’s no deterrent for people to stop committing them,” McKee said.

“Offenders who repeatedly violate other people’s homes and privacy and take possessions that other people have worked hard for

Other tenets of Act’s plan include new infringement notices for youth offenders and a review of who qualifies for electronic monitoring.

Labour MPs to hold emergency meeting to discuss Sharma claims

Gaurav Sharma (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

Labour MPs will gather on Zoom at 2.30pm this afternoon for an emergency caucus meeting to discuss the issue of Gaurav Sharma.

The renegade Hamilton West MP has made numerous unfounded allegations of bullying within his party and parliament. These were first made in a surprise opinion piece in the NZ Herald last week and followed up by a pair of lengthy Facebook posts.

So far, the party and the prime minister have denied the allegations made.

It’s expected Sharma will be part of today’s caucus meeting as a form of “natural justice” where he will discuss his accusations and face questioning from his colleagues.

Jacinda Ardern will front a press conference at 4pm to discuss any decisions made by the caucus.

Gaurav Sharma (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

Whittaker’s new te reo packaging praised for being… normal

Whittaker’s new te reo packaging (Image: Facebook)

If you spend time online you’ll realise there are quite a few bad people lurking in the comments. This week, Whittaker’s has unveiled a subtle rebrand to its creamy milk chocolate – it’s been translated into te reo Māori as Miraka Kirīmi.

Of course, that’s only something to celebrate. And while most of the online commentary has been positive, there’s been the expected response from a select few as well. I’d avoid the Facebook comments if I were you.

Māori language commissioner Rawinia Higgins said those complaining were behind the times. “The reality is that the rest of New Zealand has already taken that step. We know that eight in 10 of us see te reo as part of our identity as a Kiwi while one in three of us can speak more than a few words of Māori,” she said.

“Young New Zealanders are helping to drive change. They are not threatened when they see or hear te reo, they see te reo as absolutely normal.”

On Facebook, Whittaker’s said it hoped the label “contributes to revitalising te reo in New Zealand”.

Miraka Kirīmi is a limited edition, produced to celebrate Te Wiki o te Reo Māori in mid-September. You can grab a block from Monday until stock runs out.

Whittaker’s new te reo packaging (Image: Facebook)

The Bulletin: Aucklanders need to halve the distance they drive within eight years

Auckland Council’s Transport Emissions Reduction Pathway (TERP) was released yesterday. As Stuff’s Todd Niall reports, Aucklanders will need to halve the distance they collectively drive within eight years in order to meet emissions reduction goals to curb climate change. Public transport use also needs to rise nine-fold. Mayor Phil Goff described the plan as “radical” saying it will need Aucklander’s buy-in to be realised. “In Auckland, the biggest single source of carbon pollution is our transport system, which accounts for more than 40 percent of our region’s overall emissions,” he said.

The plan outlines 11 areas for change including electriyfing 30% of the city’s vehicles and raising the share of all trips made by public transport, cycling and walking from 17% to 62% by 2030.

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White supremacist wants place on Christchurch school board

Philip Arps was sentenced to 21 months in prison for sharing a video of the Christchurch mosque terror attack. (Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon)

A white supremacist who spent two years in jail for sharing footage of the Christchurch mosque attack has put himself forward to be on the board of Te Aratai College.

The Christchurch school was formerly named Linwood College and is in close proximity to one of the mosques targeted in the 2019 shooting. The school’s principal, Dick Edmondson, confirmed to RNZ that Philip Arps was on the list of people vying for a position on the board.

If Arps’ name is familiar to you that’s because he’s been a vocal member of the anti-government movement. He was arrested in Picton when he tried to visit Wellington for the occupation outside parliament earlier this year.

Back in June, the reopening of Te Aratai College drew a protest crowd because of Jacinda Ardern’s appearance. Arps encouraged his followers to attend the protest and claimed his son was a student at the school.

Edmondson told Stuff that Arps was “legally entitled to stand for the board and has done so”.