National MP Maggie Barry says a workplace investigation cleared her of bullying charges and is vehemently refuting claims from former parliamentary staff that she expected them to do work for the National Party - which would be unlawful.
And she has hit back at being recorded without her knowledge, and has asked Parliamentary Service to look into the matter.
The Herald revealed that Parliamentary Service had investigated claims from two former staff in Barry's office earlier this year who said that Barry swore at and belittled staff.
The Herald has also seen messages from Barry appearing to request political work be completed during office hours, such as writing her column "Maggie's Messenger" and completing a "Super Blues" brochure for an over-60s National Party conference.
A recording of Barry appeared to show her telling a former staffer that writing brochures on office time was "legitimate", while acknowledging that Parliamentary Service investigators would not be impressed.
Addressing media this morning, Barry conceded that her parliamentary staff have done National Party work, but it was in their own time and using their own email addresses.
"I never asked parliamentary staff to do party work," she said.
"I've been a Member of Parliament for more than seven years. I definitely understand the distinction."
Flanked by National MPs Nikki Kaye and Simon O'Connor, Barry strongly disagreed with descriptions from former staff that she was "terrifying" or "toxic", and invited anyone with that view to lay a complaint with Parliamentary Service.
"I'm not toxic. If someone wants to come forward and say that I am, let them ... take it through the appropriate channels.
"I create a positive environment for all staff. When people come to work, I have high expectations of myself and of my staff, but I believe you always treat people with respect, and that's what I've endeavoured to do in all of my workplaces over a long period of time.
"I welcome the scrutiny around these allegations. I refute them entirely, and I do not accept there has been bullying or harassment in my workplace. I am not that kind of employer."
Asked if the Parliamentary Service investigations cleared her of wrongdoing, rather than simply had no finding of bullying or harassment, Barry replied: "I certainly was [cleared]."
National leader Simon Bridges backed Barry, and was satisfied that National had the right workplace culture.
"The truth is Parliament isn't for everyone – it's pressure, it's long hours, it's all of those things," he said.
"We don't want to lose our sense of humour, where a flippant remark will be taken out of [context] here, there and everywhere."
Asked if he was implying that Barry's former staff were taking jokes out of context, Bridges said he was making general comments "in a context of taping and all of these things that are going on, and have gone on".
He called on Parliamentary Service to clear up the "grey areas" about what Parliamentary Service staff could and could not do.
Barry said she was happy to talk to the Francis Review into bullying at Parliament, which was recently announced by Speaker Trevor Mallard.
She has also asked Parliamentary Service about being recorded by a former staffer, who said he did so after being asked by Parliamentary Service to document any inappropriate behaviour.
"I just asked them to clarify if I was taped, and other staff members, and without our knowledge within the workplace. It's an important issue for them to address," Barry said.
"It is a little odd and unfair to answer allegations anonymously and to be taped without my knowledge."
The former host of Maggie's Garden Show said she was not aware of any bullying claims from people who worked on the show, or from her staff when she was a minister.
"I would be surprised because they've never surfaced before."
She questioned the motivations behind the allegations and said that a claim from one former staffer to keep a file on a political opponent was "a little over-egged".
"Every MP will probably have an idea of people who are politically active in their own area, particularly in campaign time.
"It's not some kind of secret file. It's just information about what people have said in the public domain so that it's altogether in one place."