Jacqui Van Der Kaay: Broken trust led to sacking

Jacqui Van Der Kaay: Broken trust led to sacking

Stuart Nash’s assurances to Prime Minister Chris Hipkins that there were no further examples of him breaching the Cabinet Manual became meaningless with the release of emails from Nash sharing Cabinet discussions with business people.

The Prime Minister had no choice but to sack Nash as a Minister with immediate effect. As he said it was “absolutely inexcusable” and an “utterly unacceptable situation”.

Not only had Nash broken the rules, but he had also breached the Prime Minister’s, and his Cabinet colleagues, trust.

The rules that govern how Cabinet operates are a crucial part of New Zealand’s democratic system.  New Zealand’s Cabinet is made up of 20 Ministers who collectively make decisions that run the country.

And it’s the word collective that matters. Members of New Zealand’s Cabinet are collectively responsible for its decisions. As a group, they respect what is decided by the collective and the discussions remain confidential. Nash broke both principles.

Sharing Cabinet discussions outside of Cabinet is a breach of the highest order, as evidenced by the Prime Minister sacking Nash within two hours of finding out about the emails.

Collective responsibility is a central element of New Zealand’s Westminster system of government. A system the country has adopted from the United Kingdom.

The Cabinet Manual states:

The principle of collective responsibility underpins the system of Cabinet government. It reflects democratic principle: the House expresses its confidence in the collective whole of government, rather than in individual Ministers. Similarly, the Governor-General, in acting on ministerial advice, needs to be confident that individual Ministers represent official government policy. In all areas of their work, therefore, Ministers represent and implement government policy.

Not only did Nash publicly share information that was discussed in Cabinet, but he also expressed his view that he didn’t agree with the decision that was made. In doing so, he undermined the Government.

Like his previous breaches that became public two weeks ago, it didn’t matter that the emails were from 2020, he broke the rules and they exist to ensure the Government can function effectively.

The rules governing how Cabinet operates are outlined in the Cabinet Manual. Their importance to how our democracy operates cannot be understated. Quite simply, there could not be a more important rule book to follow.

Making the situation worse, he shared the information with business people who had financially supported his campaign to be Napier’s MP. The Prime Minister has also asked Nash to consider whether he should remain an MP.

When this scandal first broke, it seemed a matter of if, not when, further revelations about Nash would come to light. By the time the Prime Minister had given Nash his final warning there’d already been three breaches.

It’s hard to know why Hipkins’ left the door open then, but doing so meant that the media, the Opposition, and anyone else who may have been less than impressed by Nash’s behaviour would look for further evidence of his rule-breaking.

And so, it has come to pass. But there were no more passes for Nash.


Jacqui Van Der Kaay is a PhD student at Victoria University of Wellington. She is a former journalist, holds a Masters degree in Political Science from Victoria University of Wellington and has a specialist interest in political leadership, voter behaviour, immigration and how social media affects democracy.