NZ First Leader Winston Peters is sympathising with Stuart Nash and defending him but dodging questions on whether he would be welcome in New Zealand First.
Prime Minister Chris Hipkins last night sacked Nash from the Cabinet after an email he had sent to two of his campaign donors divulged details of a Cabinet discussion.
By convention, all Cabinet discussions are secret.
Nash sent the email to two property developers who had been donors to his campaigns.
Both, Troy Bowker and Greg Loveridge have also been substantial donors to New Zealand First.
Last night NZ First Leader Winston Peters said the debate which Nash reported on had seen the two New Zealand First Ministers, Peters and Shane Jones, support him against Grant Robertson over the eligibility criteria for a commercial rent relief scheme proposed during Covid in June 2020.
The issue was how many employees would be the cut-off to determine eligibility.
The original proposal before Cabinet was that the relief would apply to all businesses with fewer than 50 employees.
But Peters said Treasury and Robertson wanted that lowered to 20.
In the email to Bowker and Lawrence, Nash said: “I lost this argument around the cabinet table when it was suggested by David Parker and supported by Winston and Shane (even though I pointed out that it would include, for example, Rebel Sport in Napier) versus the 50 employee number.”
“We wanted under 50; Nash, me and Shane,” Peters told POLITIK last night.
Peters argued that by extending the rent relief, more businesses would be able to be kept going.
He quoted Margaret Thatcher: “It’s far easier to keep a business going than trying to start one.
Ultimately though, Cabinet agreed that the relief would apply only to businesses employing less than 20.
Clearly, any move which extended the rent relief would have benefited commercial property investors whose tenants might have been facing difficulties becaue of the Covid lockdowns.
Hipkins said Nash’s actions were a clear breach of Cabinet’s collective responsibility and Cabinet confidentiality.
“Stuart Nash has fundamentally breached my trust and the trust of his Cabinet colleagues,” he said.
“His conduct is inexcusable.
“In addition, the two recipients of the email were donors.
“Troy Bowker and Greg Loveridge, via GRL Holdings Ltd, have both donated to Stuart Nash.
“They are also commercial property owners who had an interest in the Cabinet decision.
“That crosses a line that is totally unacceptable to me.
“I expect ministers to uphold the highest ethical standards, and his actions raised a perception of influence that cannot be allowed to stand.”
Hipkins, who appeared shaken but angry at his hastily called press conference last night, said that he had become aware of the situation shortly after 5. 00 p.m. and immediately called Nash to his office.
Nash offered to resign, but Hipkins refused to accept the resignation.
“I did not accept it, and I indicated to him that I was going to dismiss him,” Hipkins said.
“I think that this is a serious matter.
“It’s a very clear case of breaching Cabinet’s collective responsibility and Cabinet confidentiality.
“The fact that that he disclosed this information to his donors adds to that significantly, and so in my view, this was the only appropriate course of action for me.”
Nash has long been regarded as close not only to NZ First but also to the property investment industry.
As a consequence, he shares some donors with NZ First.
One of the recipients of the email, Wellington property investor Troy Bowker, has also been a big donor to New Zealand First.
Bowker was a strong opponent of Labour’s proposal for a capital gains tax in 2019 which NZ First also opposed.
In 2017 he gave $5000 to Nash for his campaign and doubled it in 2020 to $10,000.he has been much more generous to NZ First.
In 2019 he gave them $24,150; in 2020, $29500, to which his company, Caniwi Management, added another $29,500 and in 2021, $30,000.
Loveridge is not only an investor in his own right but is also the managing director of Robert Jones Holdings.
Loveridge’s investment company, GRL Holdings, gave Nash $5000 in 2017, and Tirohanga Holdings, a Robert Jones company of which Loveridge is a director, gave $5000 in 2020.
Again this group, all associated with Bob Jones, were more generous to NZ First.
In 2020, GRL Holdings gave NZ First $20,000 and Tirohanga Holdings $25,000.
That intersecting web of financial connections between Nash and NZ First and his known friendship with both Peters and Shane Jones raises questions about whether he might leave Labour for NZ First.
Last night Peters was ready to defend him.
“The only mistake he made was to share his thoughts, and sometimes in a transparent democracy, we should be allowed to do that,” he said.
But Peters refused to answer directly when asked whether there would be any room for Nash in NZ First.
Hipkins was also not willing to be specific about Nash’s future.
“I’m sure Stuart will be reflecting on his position over the next weeks. I will leave him to make further comment on this,” he said.
Media: “Have you asked him to do this reflecting, or is that something that he’s doing?”
Hipkins: “ Yes, I did. And I am confident that he will.”
That sounded like a confidence that Nash would retire from Parliament at some point.
National Leader Christopher Luxon said last night that Nash should leave Parliament “tonight”, and National would be ready to fight a by-election in Napier.
Because any resignation would occur within six months of the dissolution of Parliament (September 6), a by-election need not be held provided 75 per cent of MPs agreed.
Luxon’s comments suggest National might not, which will be enough to persuade Labour that Nash should stay till at least the general election on October 14.
But either way, Nash’s career with Labour is over. His only possible lifeline would be NZ First.