Sir John Key has praised National MP Nick Smith for his career after Smith announced he was resigning from Parliament, revealing a complaint against him for a "verbal altercation" with a staffer.
In a statement, Smith said he would leave Parliament on June 10, and revealed Parliamentary Service was investigating "a verbal altercation in my Wellington office last July that has not concluded".
"I was advised on Friday that the inquiry and its details have been leaked to the media for release tomorrow. It is inappropriate for employment disputes to be litigated in public.
"I will put on the record that I regret the incident, I apologised at the time and I apologise again today.
"I have decided the best course of action for the parties involved, the National Party, my family and myself is to retire now."
It is understood the altercation was with a young staff member who had worked there for less than a year prior to the incident.
It followed Parliament's review into bullying and harassment in the workplace – the Francis Review – which was completed in 2019 and led to Parliament adopting a code of conduct for MPs and Parliamentary managers and staffers.
Smith said he had decided to retire after losing the Nelson electorate in 2020, but that inquiry had prompted him to leave now.
It brings an end to Smith's 30-year parliamentary career - a stint in which he was a Cabinet minister under Jim Bolger, Dame Jenny Shipley and Sir John Key, including Education Minister, Building and Construction Minister and Conservation Minister.
He was also briefly deputy leader of the National Party in late 2003.
Sir John Key said while Smith himself would acknowledge the "ups and downs" in his political career, he was one of the hardest working MPs Key had known.
"In my time as leader, few worked as hard and with as much passion as Nick. We all have faults, and Nick would acknowledge his political career has at times had its ups and downs but if the test of a good MP is one that makes a difference and leaves a lasting legacy, then he passed with flying colours."
Smith said he intended to rejoin his family's crane and construction businesses in New Zealand, Australia and in the Pacific.
The next candidate on National's list to enter Parliament is Harete Hipango.
Hipango has confirmed to the Herald that she will take up the opportunity to return to Parliament to replace Smith.
Former MP Hipango said she would take up the chance to return to Parliament, as the next person on National's list.
She said it was not for her to comment on the reasons for Smith's departure. "My focus is just readying myself for duty."
That will mean National has three Māori MPs – deputy leader Shane Reti, Simon Bridges and Hipango.
Asked if she was comfortable with Collins raising issues such as the He Puapua report, the Māori Health Authority and claims the Government had a "separatism by stealth" agenda, Hipango said she did not wish to comment on that.
She said she had not read the He Puapua report, but she was aware it was aimed at fulfilling the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
"I think it's fair to say I will be articulating and expressing a view within caucus and amongst my colleagues on some of these issues. I will bring a voice – sometimes the voice can just get a little bit drowned. Democracy is about the numbers, but at least I will be voicing it. And it's about the relevancy of the National Party to Aotearoa New Zealand."
Hipango, who was a lawyer prior to becoming an MP, said she had made the decision not to go back into practice and had not worked since leaving almost a year ago, and that had been difficult.
Collins thanked Smith for his "30 years of service to New Zealand".
"Nick has been a dedicated MP to Nelson, and the wider New Zealand public, for three decades. I would like to acknowledge his career and to wish him all the best for the future."
Collins described the veteran as a "hardworking and extremely competent minister" in the fourth and fifth National governments.
"As there is an ongoing investigation into an employment dispute, it would be inappropriate to comment further on that matter," Collins said.
A spokesperson for Parliamentary Service said only that it did not comment on employment matters when asked if it was checking to make sure the leak did not come from within the agency.
Smith was the last of National's so-called "brat pack" MPs from the 1990 intake, along with Bill English, Tony Ryall, and Roger Sowry. The four are still close friends.