Analysis: In what has been a week of political transparency blunders, National leader Christopher Luxon maintains he won’t be making public the investigation into his MP, Sam Uffindell.

It comes after Luxon admitted in a series of interviews last week that those in his party who knew about Uffindell’s assault on a teenager during his time at King’s College, should have told him much sooner.

While Uffindell was initially transparent about the incident when he disclosed it during the application process to be a candidate for the Tauranga by-election, it was those higher up in the party – primarily the board – who chose to keep it from the leadership and voters.

Luxon’s not budging on making QC Maria Dew’s independent investigation into Uffindell’s past behaviour public, not even the terms of reference will be released.

Luxon told the AM Show on Wednesday morning that he wanted it to be “private and confidential” given the nature of the allegations, which could include but may not be limited to, his behaviour at university including allegations he bullied a former flatmate leaving her fearing for her safety.

Because the terms of reference aren’t public it is unclear whether those who have already spoken out publicly will take part in Dew’s investigation, who else might be interviewed, and over what period it is looking at.

History will show that when the Prime Minister stripped Meka Whaitiri of her ministerial portfolios in 2018 after an investigation into allegations she physically assaulted a staff member, the report and terms of reference were released a fortnight later after the Department of Internal Affairs had done the necessary redactions for privacy.

National has been criticised in the past for not releasing a report into its party culture, and subsequently a review of the disastrous 2020 election result.

Uffindell’s disclosure

Possibly the most transparent part of the process so far, depending on the outcome of the Dew report, was Uffindell proactively telling the National Party about the King’s College incident through his candidate application.

It’s still unclear how much detail he passed on and whether he painted himself in a better light than what has since been revealed by the then-13-year-old victim in an interview with Stuff.

According to senior National MP and by-election campaign chair Todd McClay the pre-selection panel, of which he was a member, was handed CVs and applications by the board, which they considered and tested before then making their recommendations.

McClay told media last week that the panel took the incident “very seriously” and questioned Uffindell about it further.

The panel concluded he had “worked hard to be a better person since then,” McClay said.

The pre-selection panel was made up of nine members – five from the local Tauranga electorate, two regional members and two board appointments (one of which was then-president Peter Goodfellow who remains a board member).

Questions have been raised with Newsroom from within the party about who advised Uffindell not to disclose the King’s College assault.

New National Party president Sylvia Wood, who was elected to the position after the by-election but before news of the Uffindell scandal broke, wasn’t on the selection panel but was privy to the information by virtue of being a board member.

Wood’s presidency campaign was run on the basis that the board needed her human resources and employment recruitment expertise following several high-profile issues around candidate selection in the party.

In a statement Wood told Newsroom, “It is now clear [the selection] process could be further improved, and we are looking at how best to achieve that”.

At the heart of that process is the judgment call by Wood and Goodfellow that the King’s College assault should be withheld from the National Party leadership, delegates choosing National’s winning by-election candidate, and Tauranga voters.

It is unclear whether the party, under the board’s direction, plans to improve the selection process internally or seek outside help – an important detail given the transparency issue was a direct result of the board’s decision not to disclose the information.

Wood and Luxon declined Newsroom’s request to be interviewed.

The by-election

Uffindell won the candidacy to contest the by-election for the National Party after 60 delegates chose him – they had no knowledge of the King’s College incident.

The by-election campaign period began and at some point McClay informed a staff member in Luxon’s office of Uffindell’s backstory, but the staffer didn’t pass it on.

Reports have also surfaced that Uffindell had several opportunities to disclose the assault during the campaign, both during a debate and when he was asked by the Bay of Plenty Times about a school suspension.

At the heart of that process is a judgment call by Wood and Goodfellow that the King’s College assault should be withheld from the National Party leadership, delegates choosing the winning by-election candidate, and Tauranga voters.

Questions have been raised with Newsroom from within the party about who advised Uffindell not to disclose the King’s College assault.

During the campaign he was receiving support from the National Party caucus, board, and party and as a wannabe MP would have been carefully managed as to how to answer specific questions.

National’s new MP

The assault revelations came just six days after Uffindell had delivered his maiden speech.

One National Party member told Newsroom Uffindell had been let down by the hierarchy and that it was “poor political management’’.

It’s understood there is split support within the party for the backbench MP and that many were disappointed by the revelation Luxon wasn’t told about it, which they said looks “unprofessional’’.

Another said the “right advice’’ to Uffindell should have been to disclose it when opportunities arose during the by-election and then used it to run a campaign on “wanting to make change’’.

There is also criticism that “nothing has improved”, and Uffindell’s demise is representative of lessons having not been learned from previous selection reviews and self-reflection by the board.

At the time Luxon launched an investigation into Uffindell he said Dew’s report was expected to take two weeks after the terms of reference were confirmed, which was expected to take a couple of days to finalise.

That timeline should see a report due back at the end of next week, at which point Luxon will need to decide the fate of Uffindell and whether he can afford to keep the findings under lock and key.

Ultimately, the party needs to decide which processes failed and who was responsible for them.

Jo Moir is Newsroom's political editor.

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