Was Nick Smith within his rights to write a reference for a friend and ACC client on ministerial letterhead while ACC minister?
Embattled MP Nick Smith has resigned all of his Cabinet portfolios.
The MP for Nelson has been embroiled in a controversy over a letter he provided to friend Bronwyn Pullar while he was still ACC minister which was used to advance her ACC claim.
"I made not one error of judgement but two in dealing with a conflict of interest in respect of a friend," he told Parliament this afternoon.
He said doing the letter was an error and "more so" doing it on ministerial letterhead.
Dr Smith said it was the "proper" thing to do to resign.
"Mr Speaker I want to put on the public record that I did not interfere in any way, in my view, in the judgement calls ACC made about that person's claim, but I do accept the signing of those two letters is not up to the standard that Parliament expects of its ministers."
An emotional Dr Smith said he would serve out his term in Parliament.
Dr Smith said his speech in Parliament was hard, and the fiasco has been difficult for his family.
"I messed up and I just apologise to all those people that I let down," he said.
"I want time with my family to reflect on my future. Obviously, prior to the 2014 election, I'll make a decision as to whether to continue as an elected representative," he said.
The portfolios he resigned from are climate change issues, environment and local government.
Prime Minister John he had accepted Dr Smith's resignation "with sadness".
"As the minister said himself he exercised poor judgement in supporting an ACC claimant while ACC minister," Mr Key told Parliament.
“I have always expected high standards from my ministers - and I will continue to do so. Dr Smith has been a hard-working and diligent minister, but perceptions do matter and he knows he has let himself down."
Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee will pick up the local government portfolio, Commerce and Broadcasting Minister Craig Foss takes climate change issues and Attorney General Chris Finlayson takes environment.
Dr Smith was seen on a flight to Wellington by a Fairfax reporter writing a resignation note on, ironically, on ACC branded note paper.
NZ First leader Winston Peters yesterday told Parliament it was "a shabby little case, involving blackmail, sex, [and] a minister with a conflict of interest''.
However, Dr Smith today rejected Peters' claim.
"What I have openly done is acknowledged that Bronwyn Pullar was a friend, that I knew her because she was a volunteer of the National Party in Auckland and I knew her from her work as a marketer in the fruit exporting business.''
He had made it clear in the letter Pullar was a "good friend'' and told her in two previous letters that as ACC minister there was no way he could advise the Corporation on her claim.
The third letter was written on the basis of supplying a reference on her state of health prior to her cycling accident in 2002.
"You always walk this difficult line as a minister. You do have friends, you do have family, where is that line? In hindsight it was an error, as the letter could be misconstrued.''
Smith said the only people in politics who didn't make mistakes were those who didn't do anything.
The letter had not resulted in Ms Pullar getting ACC entitlements, he said.
Key reiterated his comment yesterday that Smith had made an "error of judgement".
The comments prompted media questions about Smith's relationship with Pullar.
''I have an absolutely wonderful wife, I have four wonderful children ... I have been loyal to my wife during the entire period of our marriage and that I will be till the day I die. I love her and my family so much.''
Ms Pullar was at the centre of a massive privacy breach by ACC, which emailed her names and details of 6752 claimants, including sensitive sexual-abuse cases.
She was a former National Party activist and was supported by a friend and former party president Michelle Boag when she met senior ACC representatives in December to discuss her case and the emailed list.
- Nick Smith – a member of the so-called "brat pack" from the National government of the 1990s that also included Bill English, Tony Ryall and former MP Roger Sowry – has had a chequered history in Parliament:
- In 2000 he used parliamentary privilege to accuse a Nelson lawyer of hounding a woman into bankruptcy over an unpaid bill.
- It later turned out that the woman, Debbie Mills, had a string of convictions including theft, shoplifting, two excess breath alcohol charges, two for driving carelessly and three for driving while disqualified.
- In 2003 Dr Smith was dumped as National's deputy leader just weeks into the job, after being sent home on stress leave when colleagues reported him acting oddly. He had apparently been living on energy drinks after surviving on little sleep following a leadership coup.
- In 2004, Dr Smith was found guilty of contempt of court after publicly intervening in a custody battle on behalf of a couple who later lost their appeal for custody of their 7-year-old son, whom the court described as having been seriously traumatised in early life.
- It was was not the first time Dr Smith intervened in a Family Court dispute – he also publicised the case of a family who lost control over their children after leaving the Exclusive Brethren.
- He has also been embroiled in legal battles including a $15 million damages action related to statements he made about timber treatment. A defamation case against him was settled out of court.
Comment: Nick Smith's fall from grace
Comment: Nick Smith letter a step too far
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