Scandals involving junior MPs Sam Uffindell and Gaurav Sharma have reignited debate on cultural issues in Parliament and the National’s candidate selection process, according to Q+A policy panelists.
Lawyer and National Party member Liam Hehir told Q+A there were no good options left for Leader Christopher Luxon after he suspended the newly elected Uffindell from caucus.
“The National Party won’t want to have another by-election – there really aren’t any good options. Ultimately, [Uffindell was] elected by the people of Tauranga to represent them. He has another year to try to convince them of his good character,” he said.
“You know, if he does a good job, I guess he could get over it. But I think the more likely option is that he spends the rest of his term in penance – doing the best he can. he can, and in the end does not raise his hand to be re-elected.”
On Monday, newly elected Tauranga MP Sam Uffindell admitted to beating a 13-year-old boy in a gang attack while in high school – after his victim spoke to Stuff.
RNZ reported an allegation of aggressive bullying from Uffindell’s time at the University of Otago on Wednesday. The MP for Tauranga denied engaging in ‘bullying or intimidating’ behavior at the university.
READ MORE: ‘Serious and concerning’ new allegations against Uffindell – Luxon
National has engaged QC Maria Dew to review the charges and report within the next two weeks.
Hehir felt that Uffindell’s behavior was emblematic of many problematic junior National MPs who had personal ambitions in their political careers.
“In all those problematic MPs the National Party has had, it always seemed like personal ambition trumped that commitment to the common good. I don’t know for sure, but I feel like it is another case.”
Fran O’Sullivan, NZME’s business editor and columnist for the Herald, said the week’s other political scandal highlighted lingering cultural issues in Parliament.
On Thursday, first-term Labor MP Gaurav Sharma launched a campaign against what he claimed was a culture of bullying and gaslighting in parliament – involving party whips.
Later on Friday, the rogue backbench MP posted a 2,600-word Facebook post detailing more grievances and other allegations regarding his time in Parliament.
READ MORE: Labor MPs deny culture of bullying after Gaurav Sharma allegations
The Labor Party has repeatedly disputed and rejected Sharma’s claims. Meanwhile, on Friday, an unnamed former staffer alleged there had been a culture of bullying in the MP’s office, according to the NZ Herald.
The Herald said Sharma did not address the accuracy of specific allegations when granted a right of reply, but that “he declined to extend the contract of one of his former employees because ‘ he was unhappy with their work” and that complaints had been made about the Parliamentary Services employee.
O’Sullivan said the Hamilton West MP’s claims needed to be taken seriously and “clarified”, adding there were genuine welfare concerns for Sharma.
“He had talked about feeling depressed and suicidal [in his Facebook post]and so when the prime minister talked about how they were concerned for his well being i don’t think it was all gaslighting because he himself indicated he had a problem,” she said.
READ MORE: MP Sharma bullying allegations need independent investigation – commentator
“But having said that, it’s an endemic problem around Parliament. We’ve had an inquiry in the past, and we’ve had recommendations to sort out the culture of Parliament. So something has to happen in my opinion.”
Q+A host Jack Tame said it had been a “week of hell” for the parties in Parliament with its concurrent scandals going on.
O’Sullivan said the only silver political understudy in the scandals of the week would be held by ACT’s David Seymour – who has so far avoided any major scandals as party leader in this legislature.
“From a disciplinary perspective, but also staying on message and saying the things that National doesn’t say… around various policies,” she said. “David Seymour has coalesced and wielded a terrific team together”.
The number of ACT voters jumped in the 2020 general election – with the party increasing its number of House MPs by one to 10.