Ahead of a vote on whether to expel Hamilton West MP Gaurav Sharma from the Labour caucus, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says the party does not intend to trigger the waka jumping law to force him out of Parliament altogether.
Ardern said it would be up to Labour's caucus to decide whether to expel him on Tuesday morning after his repeated attacks on those in the party and releases of caucus information to the media.
If expelled, the party could try to use the waka jumping law to force him out, but Ardern pointed to the cost of a byelection.
"That is not something at this stage that we are intending to discuss or indeed to trigger. Top of mind for us is not to cause undue expense for the taxpayer. That doesn't pre-determine the decision that will be taken by caucus, but at this stage we haven't got any intention to discuss that legislation or to discuss triggering it."
Triggering that law would require the party to show Sharma was distorting the proportionality of Parliament – something that could be hard if Sharma keeps voting with Labour on legislation.
Ardern acknowledged that people in Hamilton West who voted for Sharma were doing so because they wanted Labour representation, and that was why they had tried to engage him in mediation and started with a suspension rather than expulsion.
Ardern said she encouraged him to go along to the caucus meeting to get the natural justice he had said he wanted – but pointed out he had refused to attend the earlier caucus meeting to suspend him, and had not taken up any other chances to engage, including a mediation process.
Ardern said the heart of the issue was not Sharma's initial public statement but the conduct after that point - including Sharma's refusal to take part in any efforts to sort the problem out.
Sharma told the Herald he had not yet thought about whether he would resign or stay on as an independent MP and was instead focused on trying to get an investigation into bullying claims against himself and his own allegations that he was bullied by former chief whip Kieran McAnulty.
"My point remains the same, why haven't we investigated such a big claim and for [Ardern] to say there's no threshold been met to do an inquiry, that sounds so bizarre."
Asked how she felt about the claims Sharma had made about her, Ardern said what she found most difficult was claims Sharma had made about other MPs who she knew were working hard and capable.
"I cannot reconcile the way these individuals have been described by Gaurav Sharma and I find it very hard to see them being attacked. When it comes to me I rely on the fact that I hope that over time people have gotten to know me."
Sharma was suspended from the caucus last week after making a string of public statements alleging bullying by Labour's whips over staffing management issues.
He was warned he would be expelled if he continued his attacks.
Ardern was also asked about Sharma's latest bid to prove his claim MPs were being coached in how to avoid the Official Information Act: releasing a screenshot of a message from minister Kiri Allan to caucus urging them to ring a minister before lobbying them on a matter in writing.
In the message, Allan wrote "All correspondence is OIA-able and if we are being lobbied on issues by colleagues, especially where we haven't had a yarn, things unfolding through OIA process less then desirable [sic]."
Sharma claimed the message contradicted Ardern's recent comments that her Government was committed to honouring the spirit of the Official Information Act (OIA).
"There is a problem here with accountability, with transparency," Sharma told the Herald.
A spokesperson for Allan said in a written statement that Allan was "simply offering an opportunity for new caucus member to discuss the process to ensure they were aware of it."
"The message sets out that if an MP sought to lobby the Minister in relation to a statutory decision she was making then that would be official information and would be subject to the OIA."
Ardern said Allan was raising the issue that lobbying on a decision a minister was making could be inappropriate and it was better to check first whether or not it would interfere with a minister's decision-making process.
"She makes decisions often where she needs to make sure nobody compromises that decision making. It's only appropriate to remind MPs that it wouldn't be appropriate to lobby a decision-making minister, and if you do, of course it would be information that would be released."
She said it was "cynical" to suggest that the lobbying would still happen but there would not be a paper trail. "We can be judicially reviewed on the basis we make decisions. We do need to be sure we undertake those decisions with due caution."
Ardern had little appetite for trying to identify the other MP in a phone conversation Sharma released to media, saying she did not want to get into a "tit for tat" over a secret recording.
"I don't think the fact it happened in the first place was appropriate. Also, it happens to be my personal opinion this was most likely someone who believed they were helping in what is a very difficult situation for the Labour team."
She did not believe it pointed to wider discontent in the backbench, saying there was a lot of support for the MPs.
She again ruled out an independent investigation Sharma has called for into his allegations of bullying, and into claims made both by him and against him by staff. Ardern said there was nothing to substantiate it, and it would come at significant expense and cause stress for the staff who would be dragged into it.
Sharma had not taken part in last week's online meeting in which he was suspended by a unanimous vote, saying later that was because of his concerns the outcome had been pre-determined in a secret meeting the Labour MPs had about him the night before.
'Not my intention' to engage with protesters - PM
Ardern said she did not intend to engage with the protesters coming to Parliament tomorrow, and urged them to keep things "peaceful and lawful."
Security measures around Parliament have included blackout curtains on the lower level Beehive windows, road closures and barricades aimed at keeping protesters from getting near Parliament.
However, Parliament's grounds will be open to them other than the forecourt just in front of Parliament.
Asked if the measures were disproportionate, Ardern said it was a balance between the right to protest and preventing another situation like that in February and March when the grounds were occupied for 23 days.
"We did have a recent experience that came at great expense to Parliament and its grounds, so it's only natural to see those extra assurances in place to make sure that protest occurs in a way that doesn't leave significant damage in the aftermath."
She said that was the way to ensure democracy without imposing on the lives of those at Parliament and in the nearby vicinity.
She ruled out the snap election they were calling for.
"No, perhaps you might wish to ask them on which basis. I'm not entirely sure of the purpose of the protest, either, but that's for them."
Brian Tamaki told the Herald today that his group had no intention of occupying Parliament, he expected it to be over by about 2pm and he and his supporters did not want any violence. However, he said he could not be held responsible for what other groups tagging onto the protest might do – members of Voices of Freedom and others who took part in the earlier protest are also in Wellington.
On whether she was concerned about far-right or extremist groups piggybacking off the protest, Ardern repeated that her main concern was a peaceful, lawful protest.
"Of course there is concern if you look out, as we've seen in the past, hateful messaging, derogatory messaging around ethnic or religious communities, or indeed disinformation. Of course that is a concern."
She said the threats being levelled at politicians and the media were a concern, but it was a matter for Police to follow those up – not for politicians to be involved in.
Asked about YouTuber Avi Yemini, who has been denied entry to NZ to attend the protest, Ardern said she knew only what was in the public domain, and it was not something she had any prior awareness of.
She did not believe it would have been at the level that required a ministerial intervention to block entry, but would be by Immigration.
Business as usual for Kiwibank after buyout - Robertson
Finance Minister Grant Robertson said the Government's decision to buy Kiwibank outright would be "business as usual" for the bank's customers and staff.
This morning, Robertson had announced the Government would be buying KiwiBank for $2.1 billion under a proposal to acquire 100 per cent of Kiwi Group Holdings - the parent company of Kiwibank and NZ Home Loans.
The transaction needs Reserve Bank approval first - KGH is currently 53 per cent owned by New Zealand Post, 25 per cent by the New Zealand Superannuation Fund, and 22 per cent by the Accident Compensation Corporation.
Robertson said the paths of NZ Post, ACC and the SuperFund had diverged from when they initially took on shares.
He said SuperFund's wish to take on a majority share had not aligned with the Government's wish to keep the bank in 100 per cent New Zealand ownership - something that would be the case with the Government buy-out. He said it would be independently governed and run at arm's length from the Government.
Asked why the Government needed to own a bank given there was already a lot of competition in the sector, Robertson said while Kiwibank was not as large as others, it was important to have a bank for which all the profits stayed in New Zealand.