Who is Darleen Tana, and why is she quitting the Greens?

The Green Party is calling for its wayward MP Darleen Tana to resign – but there’s a chance she could stay on as an independent.

Wait, who is Darleen Tana?

Until the weekend, Tana was a Green MP. Her campaign for the Tāmaki Makaurau seat was unsuccessful, but she entered Parliament at 13th on the list after last year’s general election.

Former migrant workers made allegations of migrant exploitation against her husband Christian Hoff-Nielsen’s e-bike business over the way they were treated, and lodged complaints with the Employment Relations Authority.

The party was first made aware of the allegations in February and initially removed her from the small business portfolio.

They suspended her on 14 March, after further accounts suggested Tana had known about the accusations and may even have been personally involved, and announced her suspension the following day.

They commissioned an independent investigation from barrister Rachel Burt, but that has taken more than three months to report back to the party.

During that time, further accusations have been made against Tana’s husband’s company and against her personally.

The Electoral Commission has also referred Tana to police for not including a promoter statement in an election advert – but that is largely unrelated to the other accusations against her.

Burt reported back to the party about 9.30pm on Friday.

The Greens’ convened a caucus meeting at 1.30pm on Saturday, summoning all its MPs.

What happened at the meeting?

The Greens say they informed Tana of the caucus meeting and invited her to make her case.

All the MPs were informed that the co-leaders “would be seeking their endorsement for our recommendation to request Darleen Tana’s resignation from Parliament”.

Tana showed up to make a presentation, supported by her lawyer and one other person.

Before the party could decide whether to back the co-leaders’ recommendation, Tana wrote to the party’s secretary and chief of staff, notifying them she was resigning from the party.

The other MPs were informed of this, and unanimously voted to request she resign from Parliament as well as from the party.

Co-leader Chlöe Swarbrick says the report shows Tana’s behaviour is “completely at odds with our party’s values, policies and kaupapa”.

Wait, so is she resigning or not?

Tana has resigned from the Green Party and will no longer represent the Greens in Parliament.

However, it is unclear at this stage if she is also resigining from Parliament or will instead remain as an independent MP.

Parliament’s rules allow MPs who have left their party to stay on as independents in some cases, although there is a law which was brought in with the aim of restricting that: The party-hopping law.

Party hopping law?

The Electoral (Integrity) Amendment Bill – known more casually as the ‘party-hopping’ or ‘waka-jumping’ bill – made changes to the Electoral Act 1993 so that, if an MP resigns from their party in certain circumstances, they are automatically removed from Parliament.

However, the way the law was set up meant specific conditions needed to be met for the MP to be removed from Parliament.

The MP in question – in this case Tana – could send the Speaker of the House a signed notice saying they have resigned from the party they were elected for, and that they wished to be recognised as an independent MP or an MP for another party.

However – as was seen when Meka Whaitiri left Labour to join Te Pāti Māori – the MP could simply choose not to word a notice to the Speaker in that way.

Alternatively, the leader of the party in question could send a similar notice, saying the MP in question “has distorted, and is likely to continue to distort, the proportionality of political party representation in Parliament”.

But that notice would also need to be worded specifically to meet the requirements of the law, and the Greens could simply decide not to use it.

While the Greens voted in support of the law as a requirement of their agreement with Labour when it was passed in 2018, they made it clear at the time they did not support it from an ideological point of view, describing it as a “dead rat” they had to swallow.

Then co-leader James Shaw said supporting it was the most difficult decision the party had to make in that year.

“Whilst we are uncomfortable with this bill, the provisions that we’ve negotiated… have gotten us to the point where we’re willing to let this bill pass,” he said.

What happens next?

There are a few possibilities.

Tana could give in to the Greens’ request, and choose to resign her seat as an MP. This could take place any time between now and the next election.

Alternatively, she could choose to remain.

As former Labour MP Gaurav Sharma experienced, being an independent MP is not easy. Unlike him, Darleen Tana is also a list MP, without an electorate.

If she decides to stay on, it’s possible the Green Party decides to go against its previous stance on the party-hopping law, and use it to remove Tana as an MP from Parliament.

Given their identity as a party which stands on its principles, this seems unlikely – but it’s not impossible.

In either of these scenarios, Tana would exit her seat and be replaced by the next person on the Green Party list, presuming they want it.

If Tana chooses to remain as an independent, and her resignation from the Greens does not meet the requirements of the party-hopping law, she could stay on until the next election.

However, if police find she has broken the law and she’s sentenced to two or more years in prison, she would need to resign.

Tana has not yet responded to requests for comment.

Who would replace Tana?

If Tana leaves Parliament before the cut-off date before the next election, she would be replaced by Benjamin Doyle, who stood for Hamilton West in last year’s election.

Hamilton West was Gaurav Sharma’s seat. Sharma ran unsuccessfully to retain it in a by-election, losing to National’s Tama Potaka.

Doyle is a former high school teacher who went on to become a kaupapa Māori researcher at University of Waikato, and uses they/he/ia pronouns.

According to the news on Radio New Zealand

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