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Gaurav Sharma in the halls of parliament (Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)
Gaurav Sharma in the halls of parliament (Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

PoliticsAugust 19, 2022

Suspension, expulsion… byelection? Gaurav Sharma’s political future, explained

Gaurav Sharma in the halls of parliament (Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)
Gaurav Sharma in the halls of parliament (Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

Over the last week and a bit, Labour has invited the National Party to hold its beer while it demonstrates what a truly problematic new back-bench MP looks like. Andrew Geddis looks over the issues and discusses where things may go to next.

Gaurav Sharma … Gaurav Sharma … remind me?

Up until last week, he was merely the widely-unknown Labour Party MP for Hamilton West. The high point of his parliamentary career to that date appears to have been choosing to get sworn into the House in both te reo and Sanskrit.

But now?

He has become the much more well-known “suspended” Labour Party MP for Hamilton West, following a series of highly public claims alleging intra-party bullying, misuse of public funds, gaslighting, and Satanic rituals being held on the Beehive’s 9th floor every full moon. All with “100s of pages of evidence” to confirm the claims.

Satanic rituals on the Beehive’s 9th floor? Really?

OK – I may have made that last one up.

Look, this is a very serious business. Less frivolity, please.

I guess so … but it all does seem a bit like one of those situations where your flatmate started keeping a meticulous diary of every supposed sin committed against them. “Sunday afternoon at 3.27 pm – used teaspoon placed in the sink and not in the dishwasher. HATE CRIME!”

Well, we don’t really know what went on, do we?

I guess not. However, for now no-one seems to be publicly speaking up to endorse Gaurav Sharma’s account of events. And whatever documentation exists to support it has remained in his files. While those accused – Labour’s whips, its leader, and parliamentary services – have issued the sorts of robust denials that indicate they don’t think there’s anything going to come out later to trip them up. It’s also notable that the media reporting on all of this has been careful to state how little concrete detail there is to back up what Gaurav Sharma is saying, even in terms of off-the-record confirmations from others.

Let’s move on, then. What does being a “suspended” MP mean? Sounds a bit precarious.

Here we need to distinguish between an MP’s role as an MP, and their role as a member of their party “caucus”. The former role is governed by parliamentary rules and statute law (of which more in a moment). The latter role is governed by the caucus’ own rules, including when and how your membership of caucus can be taken away from you.

On Tuesday, Labour’s caucus met and voted to, in effect, suspend Gaurav Sharma from the party caucus “club”. He’s still technically a member of that caucus, and so his vote continues to count for Labour in the House and he’s expected to turn up to do his job in Parliament as a Labour MP. He just can’t come along to the party caucus meetings or share in its decision-making or attend the warm-white-wine-and-cheese-dip socials every Thursday evening.

Hang on … did they really decide to do this on the Tuesday?

That’s a bit of a grey area. Complicating things is the fact that the night before, all Labour’s MPs except Gaurav Sharma held a “not caucus” gathering that sounds like a vent session regarding his behaviour. He’s now claiming (and apparently has a recording of another Labour MP backing him up) that this Monday meeting shows Jacinda Ardern “had already made up her mind, as did the rest of the leadership, and the caucus” about what would happen to him on the Tuesday.

Does that really matter?

Probably not, at least in terms of the law. Even if the Monday night meeting did effectively predetermine Gaurav Sharma’s fate, there’s likely precious little he could do about it. Political parties choosing who is and isn’t a part of their parliamentary team is so closely connected to the functioning of parliament that the principle of “comity” will warn courts away from interfering. And even if a court did choose to tread into this very, very fraught territory, the degree of “natural justice” that can be expected in this most political of environments is minimal-to-non-existent.

So what’s going to happen to Gaurav Sharma now?

Following Gaurav Sharma’s tour of the media this morning, during which he accused Jacinda Ardern of outright lying,  another caucus meeting has been called for next Tuesday. At that meeting, a motion to expel him from caucus altogether will be debated and voted on. And according to some guy called Toby Manhire who writes for an outfit called (checks notes) The Spinoff, “expulsion seems … inevitable”. I guess even a stopped clock tells the right time twice a day.

Alas, poor Gaurav. What then?

Once expelled from the caucus, the Labour Party can inform the Speaker that Gaurav Sharma is no longer to be considered a Labour party MP. And when that happens, under parliament’s standing orders he automatically will become regarded as being an independent MP.

Alone, alone, all, all alone, Alone on a wide wide sea! 

Very poetic. Except. Once the Speaker declares Gaurav Sharma to be an independent MP, Labour will have one less MP than they had following the 2020 election. This fact in itself “distort[s], and is likely to continue to distort, the proportionality of political party representation in Parliament as determined at the last general election.” And that’s important because it provides Jacinda Ardern, as Labour’s leader, the grounds to invoke the “party hopping” provisions of the Electoral Act 1993 and have Gaurav Sharma’s seat in parliament “vacated”. Or, to put it more simply, she can get him kicked out of parliament altogether.

Really? She can do this straight away?

Well, there is a process – Jacinda Ardern would have to give notice she plans to do it, allow 21 days for him to tell her why she shouldn’t, and then she’d have to get two-thirds of her caucus to back her decision to do so. But if she decided to go down this road, there’s no chance her team wouldn’t back her. And the important thing is that the Supreme Court has made it clear that, in the words of the then Chief Justice, if “the member of Parliament continues in Parliament as an independent member or as the member of another party, I am of the view … that there are grounds to invoke the procedures for creating a vacancy in the seat in the House.”

And if he is expelled from parliament?

Then we have a byelection in Hamilton West.

Gosh – what a mess! Really looks like there are no winners from a family squabble, right?

Well, there is possibly one winner. Remember a bloke called Sam Uffindell? Thought not.

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