Nash demoted, PM says 'final warning' after new rule-breaking found

By Will Trafford

Stuart Nash is on his 'final warning' and has been demoted to the bottom of cabinet, Prime Minister Chris Hipkins has said this afternoon but National suggested he should be sacked altogether.

At a hastily arranged press conference, Hipkins said a third situation involving Nash had come to light overnight.

As Napier's MP last year, Nash had apparently asked MBIE's top official to review a health professional's immigration case, without observing proper protocol.

"This latest instance though does demonstrate a pattern of behaviour which does not reach the standard that I expect from ministers."

Nash will move to the bottom of the Cabinet rankings, at number 20, Hipkins said.

"His actions reflect poor judgement but the specifics of each instance do not warrant dismissal from his ministerial post altogether," Hipkins said.

"It's clear from his pattern of behaviour that Stuart is not acting to achieve personal gain from his actions. The cases in questions represent his desire to get things done in his portfolios and on behalf of his communities.

"Stuart does on occasion speak in a more colloquial manner that reflects the sentiments of many people in the community but he does need to take greater care to ensure that what he says and how he says it uphold the standards of a Cabinet minister."

Resignation

Nash resigned as police minister Wednesday after it was revealed he lobbied his 'mate', the police commissioner to appeal a sentence handed out to a criminal.

National and ACT demanded the minister's resignation after Nash - speaking on Newstalk ZB - admitted he had spoken to Police Commissioner Andrew Coster about a sentencing of a criminal he perceived as weak.

“I’ve seen a couple of judgments, and actually one I phoned up the Police Commissioner [Andrew Coster] and said ‘surely you’re going to appeal this?’' Nash admitted to the station.

“I was wandering around telling everyone ‘if you have an illegal firearm, you could face five years in jail’.

“This bloke didn’t have a licence, had illegal firearms, had illegal ammunition and had guns without a licence and he got home detention. I think that was a terrible decision by the judge.”

Nash (although not the minister at the time) then sent a message to the judiciary, saying judges need to “read the room” on crime.

“Society is sick to death of these gang members creating havoc and we want it to be dealt with appropriately but, unfortunately, police don’t determine what happens to them once they get in court.” Nash apparently wrote.

Judicial independence means judges must be able to operate without political interference, and such interference is in breach of the cabinet manual.

Ministers must not “express any views that are likely to be reported if they could be regarded as reflecting adversely on the impartiality, personal views or ability of any judge,” the manual says.

Similarly, government ministers are not to intervene in individual police investigations.

National responds

“Following a long-established principle, ministers do not comment on or involve themselves in the investigation of offences or the decision as to whether a person should be prosecuted, or on what charge.” the manual states.

A minister concerned about a sentencing decision should inform the Attorney General, it says.

National leader Chris Luxon has panned Nash's demotion saying the prime minister should "show leadership" and "remove Stuart Nash from Cabinet immediately".

“A breach of the Cabinet Manual is very serious. Mr Hipkins has failed to show leadership and remove Mr Nash despite serious, repeated breaches," Luxon says.

“New Zealanders expect ministers to hold themselves to the highest standards."

“Not only is Mr Hipkins soft on crime but also he is soft on his ministers too. Mr Nash’s repeated breaches are very serious and for the prime minister to simply say it won’t happen again is not good enough."

Megan Woods has taken on the role of acting Police Minister; Nash will stay on as Minister of Economic development, Forestry and Fisheries.