National’s Tim van de Molen has been censured by Parliament for “threatening behaviour” he directed towards Labour MP Shanan Halbert.
The National MP was found to be in contempt of Parliament last week and apologised for his actions, which included standing over Halbert in a threatening way during a select committee.
The incident caused concern from MPs and Parliamentary staff present and prompted a complaint from Labour’s Rachel Boyack, which Speaker of the House Adrian Rurawhe referred to Parliament’s Privileges Committee for consideration.
Today, committee chairman David Parker confirmed van de Molen’s behaviour could not be condoned or considered acceptable and he was found to be in contempt of Parliament.
Parker acknowledged Parliament was a place of robust debate and conceded some MPs could “lose our rag a bit”, exchanging views in a hostile tone.
However, Parker - citing a report from experienced barrister Wendy Aldred, who reviewed the incident - said van de Molen’s conduct was threatening and impeded Halbert’s ability to discharge his duties as an MP, including being unable to leave the select committee room and enter the House.
National’s Chris Bishop referenced other cases put before the Privileges Committee when distinguishing van de Molen’s behaviour from those who were simply requested to apologise, and he endorsed the recommendation that his National colleague be censured.
Act leader David Seymour echoed Parker in his description of Parliament as a place of “vigorous debate”, but one that devolved when violence occurred.
He hoped future deliberations on whether to censure an MP considered the judgement was reached not because van de Molen was hostile or rude, but because he was “objectively threatening” and undermined the purpose of Parliament.
Green Party MP Golriz Ghahraman opposed Parker’s and Seymour’s characterisation of Parliament as a place of robust debate, saying it masked how such a manner of debate was actually “aggressive”.
She hoped the incident would prompt a conversation about how the way MPs treat each other could be harmful to debate within the House and outside it.
“Because people are watching, and they do deserve better of us.”
The four MPs, all committee members, also addressed another issue brought to the Privileges Committee - Labour MP Michael Wood’s failure to declare shares he held under his name and through a trust he was a beneficiary of.
Wood acquired shares in Auckland Airport and Contact Energy which he did not appropriately declare upon becoming an MP in 2016, resulting in his demotion as a minister this year when the matter came to light. He was forced to make an apology, but was not found in contempt of Parliament.
Debate of Wood’s transgressions included criticism of Registrar of Pecuniary and Other Specified Interests Sir Maarten Wevers, who investigated the issue and found Wood had “damaged his own standing as a member and has also cast a shadow over the entire Register, and the trust and confidence that the public are entitled to expect they can have in their elected representatives”.
Seymour believed Wevers’ comments on the matter to be “incredibly unprofessional” and reflected a “certain zealousness”.
“In my view, he’s really overstepped the mark.”
Part of his criticism concerned an issue that arose during the committee’s consideration which revealed shares held in a trust an MP was a beneficiary of did not need to be declared according to Parliament’s rules - something Seymour believed many MPs would consider to be necessary.
Bishop said he was “a little alarmed” by the tenor of some of Wevers’ language, saying it was up to the House to determine the gravity of offending.
Wevers had no comment when contacted by the Herald, saying he hadn’t yet seen the debate in the House.
Ghahraman advocated for the issue concerning the declaration of shares held in a trust to be assessed in the next term of government, because “we desperately need clarity on the issue”.
Parker confirmed the committee found an apology was the appropriate course of action for Wood.
Adam Pearse is a political reporter in the NZ Herald press gallery team, based at Parliament. He has worked for NZME since 2018, covering sport and health for the Northern Advocate in Whangārei before moving to the NZ Herald in Auckland, covering Covid-19 and crime.