Curran’s problems with RNZ will extend into next week

The story about resignation of RNZ journalist and manager Carol Hirschfeld, and the survival (for now) of Labour MP and Minister Clare Curran, who gave an impression she was saving her career by throwing Hirschfeld under a bus, will move to more chapters of Easter and next week.

And there could be more for Curran to deal with. There were suggestions in Parliament yesterday that she may be subject to a breach of privilege complaint.


Question No. 10—Broadcasting, Communications and Digital Media

10. MELISSA LEE (National) to the Minister of Broadcasting, Communications and Digital Media: Who from her office contacted Radio New Zealand on two occasions to raise the issue of the inconsistencies in Carol Hirschfeld’s account of the circumstances of their meeting?

Hon CLARE CURRAN (Minister of Broadcasting, Communications and Digital Media): Immediately following the Radio New Zealand (RNZ) annual review in select committee on 1 March, a member of my staff alerted RNZ to inconsistencies. That was further reinforced with RNZ last week. It is not my practice to name individual staff members. I take full responsibility for my staff acting on my behalf.

Melissa Lee: Who at Radio New Zealand did her office contact on those two occasions?

Hon CLARE CURRAN: My understanding was it was the communications manager at RNZ.

Melissa Lee: How did the member of her office contact Radio New Zealand on those two occasions?

Hon CLARE CURRAN: By telephone.

Melissa Lee: Did she or anyone from her office contact Carol Hirschfeld to inform her that the circumstances of their breakfast meeting had been misinterpreted to the select committee?

Hon CLARE CURRAN: No.

Melissa Lee: When she found out on 1 March that the circumstances of their meeting had been misrepresented to the select committee, why didn’t she bring that to the attention of the select committee?

Hon Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I just would like to receive some reassurance. There is a very clear Speaker’s ruling that if a matter is the subject of a breach of privilege complaint, it cannot be raised in the House. If a breach of privilege complaint has been raised about this then it cannot be the subject of questions.

Mr SPEAKER: I can deal with that without referring to whether one has been or not. One can’t refer to a breach of privilege complaint, but the matters which might be contained in the complaint can still be the subject of questioning. Ask the question again, please.

Melissa Lee: When she found out on 1 March that the circumstances of their meeting had been misrepresented to the select committee, why didn’t she bring that to the attention of the select committee?

Hon CLARE CURRAN: I think it was appropriate for my staff to inform RNZ of an accurate account of events.

Melissa Lee: How many text messages has she exchanged with Carol Hirschfeld since the Astoria meeting?

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I just want to ask the member to have a—oh no, I’ll let the member answer because I was probably slack earlier in letting her ask about Carol Hirschfeld when she wasn’t the subject of the question. Could you repeat the question? Thank you.

Melissa Lee: How many text messages has she exchanged with Carol Hirschfeld since the Astoria meeting?

Hon CLARE CURRAN: None.


This looks like a continuation of a methodical attempt to skewer Curran. I’m hearing chat that Curran is at risk of being caught out on some of her statements.

Apart from that, of particular note from that exchange:

Melissa Lee: When she found out on 1 March that the circumstances of their meeting had been misrepresented to the select committee, why didn’t she bring that to the attention of the select committee?

Hon Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I just would like to receive some reassurance. There is a very clear Speaker’s ruling that if a matter is the subject of a breach of privilege complaint, it cannot be raised in the House. If a breach of privilege complaint has been raised about this then it cannot be the subject of questions.

Mr SPEAKER: I can deal with that without referring to whether one has been or not. One can’t refer to a breach of privilege complaint, but the matters which might be contained in the complaint can still be the subject of questioning.

That’s the words that Mallard spoke, but it doesn’t show some hesitation and what appeared to be careful phrasing.

No…I I I I I c…I can deal with that without referring to whether one has been or not. One can’t refer to a breach of privilege complaint, but the matters which…..ah, ah which might be contained in the complaint can still be the subject of questioning.

It’s not difficult to make some assumptions from that.

Some of this will come up in parliament next week at a select committee hearing (delayed from yesterday): RNZ bosses to correct statements at select committee

RNZ has been recalled to a parliamentary select committee after the board chairman and chief executive misled it this month.

Chief executive Paul Thompson and board chairman Richard Griffin appeared for RNZs annual review, where they faced questions about a meeting between Broadcasting Minister Clare Curran and RNZ’s then-head of news Carol Hirschfeld.

Ms Hirschfeld had repeatedly insisted to Mr Thompson that the meeting, held at a Wellington cafe in December, was coincidental.

Mr Thompson and Mr Griffin backed those assertions, but texts later showed the meeting had been arranged about a week beforehand.

Texts actually showed that Curran tried to arrange a meeting starting a month before the meeting,almost as soon as becoming Minister.

Ms Hirschfeld resigned this week over misleading the chief executive about the nature of the meeting.

Mr Thompson and Mr Griffin will return to the committee next Thursday to correct their original statements.

In the meantime, Curran is scheduled to front up on Q&A on Sunday:

Curran has been keen on establishing a free to air linear TV channel via RNZ. Hirschfeld is also thought to be interested in this approach. This is at a time that traditional type broadcast television is fading in favour of on demand streamed content. Thompson and Griffin are thought to prefer a different approach.

What Curran wants, what she can secure budget funding for, and what RNZ see as their best way forward, are all now going to be more difficult to work out.

It will be an interesting interview. It seems odd that Curran might volunteer herself for this sort of scrutiny at this stage of proceedings.

 

36 Comments

  1. chrism56

     /  March 30, 2018

    And you can go back to the original written question that Ms Curran had to correct. https://www.parliament.nz/en/pb/order-paper-questions/written-questions/document/WQ_19129_2017/19129-2017-melissa-lee-to-the-broadcasting-communications.
    How many “informal” meetings take a month and several text exchanges to organize?
    Now Ms Hirshfield has been comprehensively shat on, I suspect the discussion of that coffee meeting will come out.

  2. Blazer

     /  March 30, 2018

    The S.I.S needs to step in and torture Curran and Herschfeld if necessary to find out exactly what gossip they indulged in and what their coffee preferences…are.

    • Nothing like that is necessary, there is a drip drip drip of criticism from all directions. Like:

      Ms Curran may not have been aware of RNZ’s internal policies about who she could and could not meet, but she should have been aware of the wider constitutional context and the guidance in the Cabinet Manual about communications between ministers and public servants. Even the most senior state services employees need to maintain their distance from government – independent, required by law to give free, frank and fearless advice to ministers.

      At the PSA we support our members in the state services to retain their neutrality and their integrity. If New Zealanders are to trust their public servants – and their elected representatives – there needs to be that separation. Integrity isn’t always easy, but it is mandatory. So is transparency. If the public service’s reputation suffers, New Zealand suffers.

      Ms Hirschfeld has paid the price. In these situations, sadly, the public servant generally does. The consequences for Ms Curran are, as yet, unknown. At the very least, Labour needs to learn from this, and fast.

      Glenn Barclay is national secretary of the New Zealand Public Service Association

      • Corky

         /  March 30, 2018

        Lol, how quickly things have reverted back to Andy’s reign as leader. They’re back to shooting themselves in the foot. But worse, the media is rediscovering how much fun it was to put the boot in Labour. Grim times ahead for Jacinda.

        • PDB

           /  March 30, 2018

          ‘Lipstick on a pig’ ring a bell?

          • Blazer

             /  March 30, 2018

            no but a ..’bellend’…does.

            • PDB

               /  March 30, 2018

              You seem a shadow of your former self Blazer – if Bill English was called a ‘rock’ then Ardern should be referred to as the ‘pebble’ – kicked around and trodden over on a regular basis though polishes up well.

            • Blazer

               /  March 30, 2018

              [Deleted]

      • Blazer

         /  March 30, 2018

        ‘Cabinet ministers should not be approaching public servants’….really!!

        • chrism56

           /  March 30, 2018

          The inanity behind your comment shows why the left never understood governance. It isn’t a command and control environment, much as they want it to be.

          • Blazer

             /  March 30, 2018

            so you maintain National cabinet ministers have never approached Peter Hughes…well do you?

            • chrism56

               /  March 30, 2018

              You are showing your stupidity yet again Blazer – an all too common occurrence with you. All contact between Ministers and public servants needs to be through the Chief Executive. That is the Cabinet Manual directive. What is Peter Hughes – oh, the chief of the Chief Executives – I mean, Doh!

            • Blazer

               /  March 30, 2018

              @Chrism..thanks for confirming Hughes is a publc servant…’‘Cabinet ministers should not be approaching public servants’..Spinoff.

            • chrism56

               /  March 30, 2018

              Your losing your form Blazer. Where are the squirrels about John Key? And you should actually learn to read the full article rather than the part that PG posted.

        • Gezza

           /  March 30, 2018

          It’s the Nixon Effect, Blazer. There are rules or conventions around such meetings with RNZ executives to prevent any impropriety or impression of impropriety. Either or both Curran & Hirschfeld demonstrated incredible naivety, or they really were playing footsie with the Board meant to be out of the loop. But to both deny the meeting initially has been the worst thing they could have done.

        • Ray

           /  March 30, 2018

          There are strict rules about this Blazer, as there should be, you don’t seem to understand why but Miss Curran did know them as her scrutiny of Te Ururoa Flavell meetings in 2014 shows.
          https://www.waateanews.com/waateanews?story_id=OTc3OA==

        • Willful stupid Blazer. You know very well the rules for Ministers talking to public servants below the CE of the Agency. Stop blowing smoke around and focus on the issue – and explain to me why it is appropriate for Ms Curran to set up a meeting with Ms Hirschfeld without the RNZ CE knowing about it and approving it.

        • chrism56

           /  March 30, 2018

          To stop Blazer from pedantically arguing black is white, here is the Cabinet Manual wording “if an employee wishes to communicate privately with a Minister about a matter concerning the agency by which he or she is employed, the Minister should ensure that the employee has first raised the matter with the agency’s chief executive. ” That is what the PSA Secretary paraphrased.
          Both Ms Curran and Ms Hirshfeld knew this – they lied and were caught out lying. Misleading Parliament is a serious offense. MPs that do it have to resign by convention. But what is the bet Ms Curran will have to be dragged kicking and screaming from her well paid sinecure?

      • Gezza

         /  March 30, 2018

        Says something for the msm.

        They’ve always maintained their role is to hold the government of the day to account without fear or favour.

        Either they WILL take time out from running endless lifestyle magazine articles & photo shoots & so that could be true, or they really ARE just excited into a frenzy by any sniff of blood in the water, no matter who the unfortunate wounded animal is.

        • PDB

           /  March 30, 2018

          I still think in general the MSM has been relatively soft on the (non) answers/ (non) leadership from Ardern on recent matters but have obviously not extended that generosity to other members of the new govt.

          • Gezza

             /  March 30, 2018

            Maddie Setchell has not been forgotten.

            • PDB

               /  March 30, 2018

              Winston probably did the new govt no favours by threatening to take some reporters to court over the pension overpayment story.

            • chrism56

               /  March 30, 2018

              And Erin Leigh & Hugh Logan. She is a serial killer, but rates herself highly as a communicator.

            • It seems Maddies, real and fictional, should avoid politicians Gezza?

              “Daddddddddddddddddddyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy”

              Seems metaphorical buses or fictional trains/roofs are bad things for Maddies to encounter…

          • alloytoo

             /  March 30, 2018

            It would appear that some former Ardern chair leaders have discovered that it’s too easy not to take potshots at the COL.

            HDPA and Barry Soper seemed to have turned……..

    • Pathetic Blazer. Just pathetic polluting the site with that sort of inference. grow up

  3. chrism56

     /  March 30, 2018

    Ms Curran wouldn’t have volunteered to go on Q&A. She would have been told to. How she handles the pressure will determine if she keeps her job.
    It has all the shades of H1/ H2 back in charge.

  4. To merge two separate quotes from the Minister: it was a high level discussion, in an informal meeting. Try and get your head around that.

  5. chrism56

     /  March 30, 2018

    Even Gordon Campbell and Bryce Edwards want Claire Curran sacked! http://werewolf.co.nz/2018/03/gordon-campbell-on-clare-currans-dim-future/
    http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=12023212 So it isn’t just a RWNJ issue and it looks like Blazer is the only one defending her

    • High Flying Duck

       /  March 30, 2018

      I think he sees a kindred spirit.

      • chrism56

         /  March 30, 2018

        HFD -What – an incompetent, hypocritical, vindictive haranguer with no sense of guilt or shame? Come to think of it – there are a lot of similarities. Have they ever been seen in the same room together?

  6. Tracey Watkins:

    It’s debatable whether Ardern could have done more over the debacle that forced the resignation of Radio NZ head of news Carol Hirschfeld over a coffee meeting with the Broadcasting Minister, Clare Curran.

    While the story is grabbing most of this week’s headlines, it will disappear as quickly as it surfaced unless – as the gossip doing the rounds in Wellington suggests – new information emerges from next week’s select committee hearing with the RNZ board chair and chief executive.

    It’s no secret that there are swirling suspicions at RNZ that Hirschfeld was being informally auditioned for promotion as Curran ran into headwinds at RNZ over her lofty ambitions to remake it as a linear public service TV channel.

    Ardern has put Curran on the mat and got an assurance that no such matters were discussed. Any deviation from those assurances would be enough for Ardern to sack her, which probably wouldn’t do her leadership any harm.

    Either way, the Curran problem will be tidied away sooner rather than later.

    https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/opinion/102725353/What-goes-up-must-come-down-Jacinda-Arderns-popularity-tested

  7. John Bradbry

     /  March 30, 2018

    Important to establish where possible is exactly who instigated the Curran/hirschfeld meetings, for what purpose and process. Not discountable so far is hirschfeld ‘undermining’ potential, or not atcmb.