Stuart Nash’s downfall appears to have had its beginnings with one of the players from the “Dirty Politics” scandals of 2014.
Simon Lusk, a close associate of Cameron “Whaleoil” Slater, one of the key figures in Nicky Hagar’s “Dirty Politics” expose, has been associated with Stuart Nash.
Lusk has failed to respond to a request for comment from POLITIK, but multiple political sources say he has long been associated with Nash.
A Labour MP talked of attending a public meeting with Nash back during the Cunliffe leadership, which had been organised by Lusk.
Lusk, like Nash, is from the Hawkes Bay. He is also an advisor to NZ First leader Winston Peters.
And it is Lusk who apparently introduced Nash to Wellington property investor Troy Bowker.
Their relationship was obviously close.
Bowker’s Facebook page says the pair attended a wedding together in 2019 at the luxury Bay of Islands resort, Eagles Nest.
In the second quarter of 2020, Cabinet considered rent relief for businesses affected by Covid lockdowns.
New Zealand First Leader Winston Peters told POLITIK that he, Shane Jones and Stuart Nash wanted all businesses with less than 50 employees to be eligible. They lost the argument, and Cabinet agreed the relief would apply only to businesses with less than 20 employees.
Nash then sent an email to property investors Troy Bowker and Greg Loveridge saying: “ I am as annoyed (and surprised) about the final outcome of the ‘commercial rent relief package’ as you are”.
In his email, Nash gave some details of the Cabinet discussion, thus breaching Cabinet confidentiality requirements.
“The Platform” radio host Sean Plunket, a friend of Bowker’s, yesterday said that Bowker and Loveridge in 2020 had provided a business journalist, who is now a media advisor to a major political party, with the incriminating email.
Plunket said the emails were provided on the basis that they were for background only and not to be published.
Relations between Bowker and Nash remained good throughout 2020 because Bowker donated to his election campaign in 2020.
But in June 2021, another friend of Nash’s, Sir Ian Taylor Taylor, the founder of Animation Research, famous for the television graphics of America’s Cup races, Golf’s PGA tour, motorsport and snowboarding, put a post on LinkedIn of a Tom Scott cartoon featuring the words “How come NZ excels on the water in yachting, rowing, kayaking etc? Answer: Our ancestral DNA!”
In the post Taylor critiqued National leader Judith Collins’ call for a national debate on making Aotearoa the official name of the country.
“If we are going to have a debate about naming rights, let’s do it fully informed about the amazing feat of the Pacific voyagers who named the whenua where they settled,” Taylor said.
The post spurred a fiery response from Bowker.
“Another example of European NZers not being proud of their own ancestors and sucking up to the left Māori loving agenda. FFS. Wake up NZ,” he wrote.
Bowker cited the Scots, Vikings and Romans building boats “8000 years ago”.
“What percentage Māori are you?” he asked Taylor.
That prompted Nash to announce he would not take any more donations from Bowker.
“I’ve made it clear I won’t be taking any more donations from Troy,” he said.
Nash said the comments made by Bowker were appalling and said ‘it’s not the Troy I know”.
“I have no time for those sorts of comments whatsoever, I don’t believe them.
“I know Sir Ian Taylor, I think he’s a fantastic gentleman. I’ve been doing work with him in the tourism space; in fact, I’ve done quite a lot of work with Sir Ian over the years, and I think he’s fantastic.
“I certainly think the comments were appalling, and I hope he backs away from them, actually.”
But instead, Nash has told friends that Bowker refused to back away and was furious with his comments and their friendship ended.
No one who is connected with this saga seems to know why it took two years from the breakdown in the relationship, with the incriminating email now having been distributed beyond the original recipients, for it to be released publicly.
Plunket said that ACT obtained the email and it was that party who leaked it to Stuff journalist Luke Malpass. (ACT Leader David Seymour says this is untrue; that no one in ACT has actually seen the email.)
Meanwhile, Nash is not out of the woods yet.
He has told RNZ that he does not intend to resign, but the Prime Minister has asked the Cabinet Secretary to review communications between Stuart Nash and his donors.
The review will take place over the next two months.
The review will look at whether there have been any other breaches of cabinet collective responsibility or confidentially, or whether there have been perceived or actual conflicts of interest in communications Stuart Nash has had with those donors.
“The scope of this review will be limited to emails, texts and other messages between Stuart Nash and any declared donor to his campaign,” Chris Hipkins said.
“Stuart Nash has assured me he will fully cooperate and I expect to have an outcome in the coming months prior to the general election.
“In recent weeks I had been given assurances from Stuart Nash that there were no other instances or allegations of misconduct that would be outside of Cabinet rules. Given yesterday’s revelation, I feel it is important to verify this.
However, there are also questions about what the former Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, might have known about the original email.
In response to a question from Opposition Leader Christopher Luxon, Hipkins said: “My understanding is that in 2021, Stuart Nash’s then ministerial office consulted the office of the then Prime Minister on an Official Information Act request release where that email had been identified as part of that release and had been identified as being outside the scope of the review.
“The investigations on that matter that I have undertaken since then indicates that neither the Prime Minister of the time nor the Prime Minister’s chief of staff of the time were made aware of that.”
The danger to all MPs is that this unseemly saga of events is hardly likely to encourage faith and respect for Parliament and politics.
That might worry the Prime Minister more than losing a Minister.