I have hesitated in writing this post and thought it might be better to leave the subject for now. But it appears that it will not blow over quickly and the Standard has in the past reported on similar events and is a repository of information about left wing politics in Aotearoa.
Last week Labour backbencher Gaurav Sharma penned an opinion piece for the Herald that has attracted attention.
In it he refers to member on member bullying. No specifics were provided. He concluded:
Crucial to addressing the bullying issue in Parliament is the role of the Parliamentary Service – which is supposed to be an independent and neutral organisation to provide support to MPs. Their own mandate states that “due to the nature of the organisation, Parliamentary Service staff must uphold the highest standards of integrity and trust. We take pride in the fact that we assist members of Parliament to carry out their roles. As well as displaying high levels of integrity, the Service looks for people with political acumen, exceptional customer service skills and an ability to work collaboratively”.
In my opinion, if only this was true.
He seems to be sensitive to bullying and mentioned it twice in his maiden speech.
About his education at Auckland Grammar he said:
I was bullied at school, but Mr Hawkes and Mr Schmidt taught me to stand up against bullies.
And he made this unusual allegation against an unnamed surgeon which if true should have resulted in the attention of the authorities:
When I was at the university, a prominent paediatric surgeon bullied me for months and said, “You people come to our country, I will kill you and ruin your career.”
To his recent column Labour and a former staffer responded and some specifics have been provided. Again from the Herald:
A former staffer to Labour MP Dr Gaurav Sharma has spoken out about an alleged culture of bullying that existed in his office, which they claim was so bad it forced them into needing counselling.
The staffer, who the Herald has agreed not to name, described the Hamilton West MP as “controlling” and believed Sharma tried to isolate his staff from other Labour parliamentary staff in Hamilton.
The staffer alleged that by the time they arrived in Sharma’s office, he had already had bad relationships with staff. They said they tried to quit almost immediately, but he talked them into staying.
The staffer said they were reduced to tears within weeks of beginning work, and eventually Parliamentary Service was able to secure counselling for them after they began to feel depressed and considered self-harm.
“I’ve never cried at work before but this guy had me in tears – he couldn’t process my emotion and didn’t want to deal with it. He more or less told me ‘you need to get hard and handle this’,” the staffer claimed.
The behaviour described was pretty controlling and caused immense stress to the staff member. And Sharma even interfered in the staff member’s right to speak to their manager.
The staffer said they just “let everything out” when speaking to their manager.
“I told her everything I had been experiencing in the office,” the staffer said, adding that Parliamentary Service and the Labour Party had handled the incident well.
“I had to go to counselling.
“I’ve never been depressed or wanted to harm myself. I’m a happy person who has always been positive. I had never known about mental health,” the staffer said.
Sharma has responded in a post that suggests the best thing for him would be to take some time off and rest. From the Herald:
“Slowly I fell into a cycle of stress, depression and lack of hope as I found myself stuck. I remember one of my former patients sending me very kind message on World Mental Health Day about how I had helped her as a doctor a while ago.
“I thought to myself about how despite listening to and assisting many of my constituents with bullying and harassment issues, I had to put a bold face up as I struggled everyday with the thought of contemplating suicide,” he said.
Eventually, Sharma claims he raised his concerns about bullying with the Prime Minister’s Office.
“I took with me hundreds of pages of evidence – emails, timelines, issues etc to explain my case,” he said.
Sharma said he engaged a lawyer to make his case.
“I was open about this to the Parliamentary Services and the Labour Whips from the moment I hired the lawyer but they thought I was bluffing,” he said.
At a meeting yesterday, Sharma claimed Labour laughed in his face. He said this meeting prompted him to go public with his concerns in his column.
“[They] laugh on my face saying in front of my lawyer ‘how will you even sue us, you have no legal rights’ while repeatedly refusing to investigate anything I have said or investigate me for any issue,” he said.
That last sentence shows some very practical legal advice was given by Duncan Webb who is an experienced lawyer. And the allegation of misappropriation of Parliamentary Services resources has also been investigated and addressed by Parliamentary Services head Rafael Gonzalez-Montero. From the Herald:
Gonzalez-Montero told the NZ Herald that was raised last year and he had looked into it and considered the spending was for parliamentary business and within the rules.
“It related to a Wellington-based staff member travelling to a member’s electorate office for the purpose of team building and assisting the wider team. This is normal practice for many members when establishing a new team which has staff dispersed in different regions.”
The Hamilton West LEC is standing behind Sharma. I commend their loyalty. It was not too long ago that my LEC and I were involved in a not too dissimilar situation.
But the merits here look shaky. Repeated staff difficulties suggest that an MP lacks that most basic of skills which Labour MPs should have in abundance and that is the ability to treat their staff with respect.
And while we are on the subject of bullying the definition appears to have been changed dramatically. Tukituki MP Anna Lorck has also been accused of bullying staff for, checks notes, getting staff to move furniture and driving her when she had a few wines. The complaints are evidence of a septic relationship, not of bullying.
Everyone needs to have a breather and a cup of tea. It has been an extraordinarily tough few years and I am afraid the strain is showing. And to all Parliamentary Services staff can I repeat Darien Fenton’s advice and join your union.