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Clearing the decks

Written By: - Date published: 10:00 am, December 13th, 2021 - 14 comments
Categories: Judith Collins, national, nick smith, Parliament, same old national, workers' rights - Tags:

In June this year Nick Smith resigned from Parliament.  His resignation was abrupt and was caused by the leak of a Parliamentary Services investigation of his treatment of a staff member.

Claire Trevett had some of the details:

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.

The leaked report never surfaced.  At the time I said:

Stand by today as the details emerge.  And wonder in amazement how National managed to keep quiet a potential story about bullying during an election campaign but managed somehow to lose control of the details at a time that suited it best.

Clearly the disclosure helped Collins.  One of her opponents, Smith, was replaced by one of her supporters Harete Hipango.

Then today, six months later, the details of the report broke.

From Steve Killagon in Stuff:

He allegedly shouted so loudly at one Parliamentary worker that spittle landed on their face. He told another: “I am the MP, and you’re just the f…ing secretary.” He was known as a “challenge” to work for. Nick Smith, a veteran of Parliament, protested his innocence, but a damning draft report played a key part in ending his career.

Six months later, the ripples have yet to subside: Smith’s former executive assistant is taking employment action against Parliamentary Services, claiming he was “left as roadkill”. His advocate has called for an official inquiry into Parliamentary Services boss Rafael Gonzalez-Montero, saying that a bullying culture remains rife.

It’s a dispute that begins in January 2020, when a politically-ambitious young man fresh from university secured his first job. He was employed by Parliamentary Services to work in the office of senior National Party MP Nick Smith, the so-called ‘father of the house’, the unofficial honorific for the longest continuously-serving MP.

The man was warned Smith would be “challenging”. At one gathering, when he was introduced as Smith’s EA, another MP yelled “good luck”. They were prophetic warnings.

The report details how the draft report into Smith’s behaviour was circulated in April, and how after input from Smith the final report is, according to the complainant, very similar to the draft.

Smith conceded that he was intense, very productive, demanding and direct.  The staff member is quoted as saying “[s]ome days, he would be fine. But when he gets wound up, he doesn’t stop, he just keeps going, and going and going.”

The article then says this:

The key incident unfolded when the staff member failed to find a phone number for TVNZ reporter Maiki Sherman. Smith wanted to call her after what he felt had been a poor interview. There was an angry confrontation.

Another Parliamentary Services employee walked past, and saw the staffer being “berated and just stripped totally”. She listened in until Smith slammed the door, and reported he was shouting: “That’s not f…ing good enough”, that the staffer said “Nick, please stop you can’t talk to me like that”, and Smith said, “I’ll speak to you however the f… I want to, I am the member of Parliament, I’m an elected official … and you’re just a f…ing secretary”.

The staffer himself recalls the incident as an “onslaught” in which Smith was “slamming his fists on my desk, standing over me” and confirmed Smith said “I’m the MP and you’re just the f…ing secretary” multiple times.

The witness called Whips’ office manager Sue Reid as she left the building, before bursting into tears on the train home. Reid collected Megan Campbell, chief of staff in then-National Party leader Judith Collins’ office, and went to investigate. Campbell told Burt they heard the yelling continuing as she walked down the corridor, and considered the behaviour to be serious misconduct.

The staff member found that his parliamentary services career ended, despite being promised protection during the inquiry.  The witness also no longer works in Parliament.  That place has ended the careers of far too many dedicated people.

Smith claims that the final report does not support a claim of bullying.  I would be interested to understand his definition of the term.

You have to wonder about the timing and source of the leak.  When Smith resigned the leaking of the report was apparently put on hold.  Releasing it now in the pre Christmas period has a definite feeling of National clearing the decks in the hope that 2022 is a better year for the party than 2021.

14 comments on “Clearing the decks ”

  1. Pete 1

    How appropriate too that the photo of Smith, if I'm not mistaken, is of him making one of his big announcements of finding a million hectares or so for new housing in Auckland. Land which meant that there'd be no housing crisis but fleshed out National's bold, positive 'Comprehensive Housing Plan.'

  2. Anne 2

    Bullying and harassment has always been around, but from my experiences it started in earnest in the late 1980s after the restructuring of the Public Service began. It was the first visible outcome of the neoliberal experiment that became apparent although we didn't know it at the time. I was an early victim and the level of abuse came as a profound shock to me.

    This ‘ideological’ experiment allowed plenty of unhindered bullying and other forms of aggressive practices to thrive in offices and work-places. There was nowhere for victims to go for assistance in those days either so most ended up leaving… their careers in tatters.

    Nick Smith is merely a recent example who, because of his political profile, was publicly outed for his behaviour.

    • Obtrectator 2.1

      This ‘ideological’ experiment allowed plenty of unhindered bullying and other forms of aggressive practices to thrive in offices and work-places. There was nowhere for victims to go for assistance in those days either so most ended up leaving… their careers in tatters.

      Yes, I noticed it happen in the course of 1987-88. What shook me was the level of cronyism that suddenly sprang up. Positions that at one time would have been advertised and open to competition were instead filled on the quiet by the manager's mates (or even relatives). The private sector suddenly seemed a healthier place to work.

      I wasn't bullied out exactly, just denied an obviously merited promotion. But it was certainly made clear to me at one stage of the process that attempting to involve the PSA could have what are now called "consequences". Fortunately I was in a high-demand occupation (IT) and had a contact or two I could approach outside.

      • Anne 2.1.1

        The problem with the PSA is that Muldoon had effectively destroyed them and rendered them impotent against the establishment. I did approach them at one point and whilst they accepted that I had been very badly treated, they seemed unwilling or unable to do anything much about it.

  3. Ad 3

    Nick Smith has shifted into the family business at Smiths Cranes and is currently helping out with building NZs largest windfarm.

    His PhD in steep Geotechnical doesn't hurt either.

    • fender 3.1

      Poor them, but maybe if he treats their staff like shit he could be raised skyward by the trousers to cool off.

    • Patricia Bremner 3.2

      Good to know he is now working in a constructive way.

      • Tricledrown 3.2.1

        After destroying most of NZs clean rivers on his watch while at one point being Nationals environment spokes person savagely cutting DOC budget.

        The closest he got to having green credentials was wearing shades of green clothes .

  4. mary_a 4

    To feel superior, these self entitled, arrogant pricks, have a need to bully workers into humiliating, inferior submission.

    Smith's aggressive attitude in this situation, exemplifies this typical sick behaviour of far too many unbalanced individuals put in to positions of power.

  5. Dennis Frank 5

    Rather than a merely providing a superficial overview of the bullying, it would have been better to include the victim's betrayal by the head of Parliamentary Services.

    I mean, really, you think that person has no duty of care?? I know if I were the victim I'd be more devastated by the betrayal.

    Feeling bad due to being shouted at is a more common experience than betrayal. In terms of mental health effects on the employee, being made to feel even more of a victim by your employer than you were by the initial abuser is likely to increase the harm substantially.

  6. peter sim 6

    Hey be fair. natz are born to rule. Rules are for other people.

    Why is Southland lagging in vax? Bill E is not in power. nor his party. Bet all their livestock have been vaxxed.

  7. woodart 7

    it seems that smith has been a prick for years. how does someone with obvious character flaws get selected, then elected for years? surely the nelson nat committee knew what he was like ? what sort of criteria is there ? this question is not only aimed at smith ,but all prospective m.p.s.

  8. Hunter Thompson II 8

    OK, being an MP is not easy but someone has to do it. NS stayed on for far too long and became an embarrassment even to the Natz.

    And the rivers went backyards under his watch, though to be fair, he would have been outvoted in Cabinet even if he wanted to rein in the damage done by National's pro-irrigation policy.

    Tom Scott will be sorry he has gone – see the cartoon in the DomPost "get the dartgun from the truck".

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