Release of Curran emails in bungled Handley appointment deferred to OIA

On Tuesday the Speaker told Chris Hipkins to front up in Parliament with Clare Curran emails on Wednesday, but Hipkins himself failed to front up (he has gone on parental leave). Instead Grant Robertson advised that emails would only be released under the official Information Act.

This means the emails will be delayed and subject to possible redactions, but it also means the bungled appointment of a Chief Technology Officer will drag out for another month or two.

Jacinda Ardern responding to Simon Bridges in Question Time yesterday:

3. Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Leader—National) to the Prime Minister: Will she release today all communications between herself, her staff, and her Ministers in respect of Derek Handley and his proposed appointment to the role of Government Chief Technology Officer?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN (Prime Minister): Mr Speaker, my office has received a number of Official Information Act (OIA) requests, including from the Opposition, and is working on a response to those. We will release that information in accordance with the provisions of the Act once it has been compiled and once it has been processed.

Hon Simon Bridges: What did Derek Handley’s text message to her say?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Mr Speaker, I would have to go from my recollection. But my recollection is that he mentioned that the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) role had been mentioned to him. Again, as I said, I did not directly reply to that message, and it was received in April.

Hon Simon Bridges: Was there more than one text from or to Derek Handley from the Prime Minister?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: The text that I received, again, as I said, was in April. I did not directly reply to that text message on that day or engage with him on the CTO role. On the CTO role, I did not engage with Mr Handley via text message.

That is potentially evasive. She said she did not respond “on that day” and “I did not engage with Mr Handley via text message” but that leaves a number of possibilities open.

Hon Simon Bridges: Well, were there any other texts between the Prime Minister and Derek Handley?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Mr Speaker, as I acknowledged the very moment I was asked this question, I have known Mr Handley for a number of years and have had correspondence with him for a number of years.

“I have known Mr Handley for a number of years and have had correspondence with him for a number of years.”

Hon Simon Bridges: What other communications by any medium—Gmail, WhatsApp, and the like—were there between the Prime Minister and Derek Handley?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Mr Speaker, as a consequence of the member’s question, I have had my office check. Mr Handley sent me an unsolicited email to my private email on 7 June, which I did not open and which I did not reply to. I’m advised by my staff that it informed me that he’d submitted an application for the role. But, again, it was not something I opened, saw, or replied to.

Again that leaves other possibilities open.

Hon Simon Bridges: When will the text, and that Gmail she’s referred to, be released?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Mr Speaker, as I said in my primary answer, my office is currently working through the OIA that was received, and we will reply in accordance with the Official Information Act.

So Ardern has had correspondence with Handley over a number of years. She has revealed that she received a text from him in April regarding the CTO job, and an email in June but suggests she replied to neither but doesn’t categorically deny responses or other communications.

Nick Smith also had questions for the Minister of State Services Chris Hipkins but curiously (there could be a valid explanation) he wasn’t in Parliament, so Grant Robertson answered on his behalf.

10. Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National—Nelson) to the Minister of State Services: What are the dates and the contents of the work-related emails to and from former Minister Hon Clare Curran’s private Gmail account, in relation to the appointment of the Government’s Chief Technology Officer, that he referred to as having been handed over to the Chief Archivist in yesterday’s Oral Question No 11?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON (Acting Minister of State Services): Mr Speaker, as I informed your office, this will be a slightly longer than normal answer. There are three email exchanges. The first: on 11 August, where Derek Handley emails Clare Curran about the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) position and questions about the role of the CTO, including resourcing for the role and potential conflicts of interest. On 14 August, Clare Curran replies to that email, confirming a call to discuss these matters. On 15 August, Derek Handley replies to that, confirming times for the call.

The second exchange: on 19 August, Clare Curran emails Derek Handley regarding logistics around the next step on the process of appointment, including the content of any public statements that might be made, and refers to contract discussions with the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA). On 20 August, Derek Handley responds to that email to Clare Curran about those issues, including the contact he has had with DIA and management of conflicts of interest.

The third exchange: on 21 August, Clare Curran emails Derek Handley regarding issues that would be on the work plan of the CTO and attaches some relevant background documents on those issues. On the same day, Derek Handley responds to Clare Curran, acknowledging the material and referring to the discussions that he is having with DIA.

I have sought and received an assurance from the former Minister that these email exchanges will be made available for release subject to the normal Official Information Act (OIA) processes.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Will he publicly release or table those emails today, given his responsibilities as the “Minister of Open Government” and this Government’s commitment to be the most open and transparent ever?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: I believe I have explained the dates and the contents of the emails today. As I said at the end of my primary answer, those emails will be released in accordance with the rules of the OIA.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Was there any inappropriate content in any of those emails between Mr Handley and Clare Curran over the appointment that influenced the Government’s decision to not proceed with Mr Handley’s appointment?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: The Government’s decision not to proceed with the appointment does not relate to those emails.

That leaves other possibilities open.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Does he agree with the statement “The only conclusion that can be drawn from Ministers using private Gmail addresses for Government business is that they have something to hide.”, a statement made by Chris Hipkins in opposition; if so, what were Minister Curran and the Prime Minister doing having Government business communicated through a private Gmail account?

Hon GRANT ROBERTSON: One of the things we learn on becoming Ministers is that we receive a lot of correspondence from a lot of different sources to a lot of different places, and, as I quoted in the House yesterday, Sir John Key, the former Prime Minister, acknowledged his use of a private email address for ministerial business.

A diversion to ‘Key did it too’, but no response or denial to “what were…the Prime Minister doing having Government business communicated through a private Gmail account”.

So this saga will stretch out further, as we now await the release of communications under the OIA.

In the meantime suspicions of a less than open and transparent government with questions of competency remain.

Curran communications from NZH Grant Robertson reads outline of Clare Curran emails but no release

  • August 11 – Handley emailed Curran and asked questions about the role of the CTO, including resourcing for the role and potential conflicts of interest.
  • August 14 – Curran replied, confirming a call to discuss those matters.
  • August 15 – Handley replied, confirming times for the call.
  • August 19 – Curran emailed Handley regarding logistics about the next step of the appointment, including content of any public statement and refers to contract discussions with the Department of Internal Affairs.
  • August 20 – Handley replied, about those issues including his contact with DIA and managing any conflicts of interest.
  • August 21 – Curran emailed Handley about any issues that would be on the work plan of the CTO and attached relevant background documents.
  • August 21 – Handley emailed Curran, acknowledging receipt and referring to his discussions with DIA.

Is it normal for a Minister to be that involved with an appointment to a job?

Claire Trevett (NZH): Ministers’ evasion on emails release undermines Parliament’s Question Time

The hiring of Handley and then scrapping his appointment before he even began is the messiest mishap of the new Government so far.

The best Labour can hope for is to deal with the fallout efficiently and without being cute about it.

Labour had no doubt hoped the Handley episode would be tidied away with the departure of Curran.

But as long as the contents of those emails remain a secret so too will the suspicion the Prime Minister is somehow involved, or there is something else damaging in there.

Curran messed up and eventually resigned, but there’s a real risk that Ardern will be tainted by this mess as well.

30 Comments

  1. Maggy Wassilieff

     /  September 20, 2018

    Open and transparent… well, we can only hope so.

    What were Clare and Jacinda jacking up for their old mate?

    Bit of a Media kingdom for their besties?

  2. Alan Wilkinson

     /  September 20, 2018

    There was a bizarre claim somewhere that the archive law overrides the OIA and Curran’s emails remain her property. Is that true and if so how is that justifiable?

    • Gezza

       /  September 20, 2018

      Dunno who made that claim but I’d be gobsmacked if it did. I’d put that one in Winston’s category of: “Don’t know what they are talking about” and hope that it wasn’t him,

    • Nookin

       /  September 20, 2018

      Alan, the Public Records Act (pursuant to which records are archived) does not provide for immediate release. Some documents are held for years before release. Penny Bright was always adamant that the Act ensured public access. It doesn’t, except to the extent that the obligation to maintain records means that there is information that can be requested under OIA. I was concerned when I read that Curran was happily archiving everything. “Archiving” is not the same as “releasing”.

      There is something rotten going on. Why has the government defied the Speaker? Why is the PM using weasel words? They are intent on hiding something while, at the same time, chosing their words carefully to avoid them coming back to bite them on the bum.

      • “They are intent on hiding something while, at the same time, chosing their words carefully to avoid them coming back to bite them on the bum.”

        That’s certainly how it looks to me.

        And if the emails are eventually released full of redactions the perception of intent to hide will grow,

  3. Nookin

     /  September 20, 2018

    As soon as someone says “I did not directly reply”, alarm bells ring.

    If she did not respond directly, then how did she respond?

    Did she get Clark to respond? Did she get Curran to respond? Did she enthusiastically mention the application to Curran. If she was ruling out any communication of any sort then surely she would have said that she did not respond either directly or indirectly. The fact that she denies direct response only leaves the door wide open.

    • Alan Wilkinson

       /  September 20, 2018

      Yes, it clearly implies she passed it on somewhere with attached comments/instructions.

    • Corky

       /  September 20, 2018

      Nookin, you got something cookin. Ardern is close to having accusations of corruption levelled at her. Aunty would never had let her dirty dealings become public like this.

      • Gezza

         /  September 20, 2018

        Bloody amateurs. National would not have gone about it this way. There are better ways.

  4. David

     /  September 20, 2018

    Ardern was very evasive and I expected a bit more from a former crown prosecutor Bridges. Didnt she previously say she hadnt had any contact with Handley for a year perhaps two.

    • She certainly revealed more yesterday, albeit very carefully.

      Bridges did a lot better than usual with this questioning, his prosecutor experience obviously helping.

      • Gezza

         /  September 20, 2018

        His performance is patchy. But I agree I think it’s improving. His strangled diction/accent that was wincingly painful to the ear when he was interviewed after Ardern’s Big Facebook Pep Talk wasn’t so bad in Parliament’s Kweschun Toym yesterday.

        (I found myself idly wondering that night if anybody innocent had ever pled guilty just to get out of there and away from that accent.)

        • Kitty Catkin

           /  September 20, 2018

          If anyone pleaded guilty for that reason, serve them right.

          I think that people underestimate him.

          • Gezza

             /  September 20, 2018

            (It was tongue-in-cheek Kitty, you should know my sometimes teasing style of humour by now. 😉 I think that you may be right. I can’t stand his accent but he might be starting to lift his game and get some traction, and he sometimes doesn’t grind in my ear so badly . The next set of polls are going to be very interesting indeed.)

            • Kitty Catkin

               /  September 20, 2018

              I know….he must be getting used to speaking on camera, I think, as he does sound better.

              Or bedder as our PM would say; now thad’s really annoying and grading.

      • Blazer

         /  September 20, 2018

        ‘Bridges did a lot better than usual with this questioning’…surely he’s known for some time he was a prosecutor…why would it ‘kick in’ now?

    • Warren

       /  September 20, 2018

      Prosecutors speak slowly and carefully as they are used to the court recording staff and sometimes if they speak to fast they are asked to slow down by the judge so that the recording staff can keep up. It is less needed now that the courts use electronic means to record the proceedings. I must prefer his means of speech to the gable of some ministers such as Lees-Galloway

      • Kitty Catkin

         /  September 20, 2018

        Of course; that should have been obvious, but it wasn’t to me. He is very good in this way; I think that he would be a very good lawyer.

      • Gezza

         /  September 20, 2018

        He’s not so good at departing from his script or list of supplementaries when suddenly presented with a killer opportunity to do so – and he can overdo repeating a mantra unnecessarily. Bud he’s lerning. The problem for him is that so are they. There’s been some game-lifting going on with some Cabinet Ministers. Even Phil Twyford has managed to sound credible countering roading questions.

  5. High Flying Duck

     /  September 20, 2018

    Chris Hipkins is away on paternity leave, so nothing sinister in him not being in parliament.

    There are definite hints of Handley being hand picked for this role by Ardern and/or Curran. More to come it seems.
    If there isn’t, the government are doing their very best to look as guilty as possible as they do everything by the book.

    • Blazer

       /  September 20, 2018

      reminds me of Fletcher being ‘hand picked’ by Key for the spy agency…was not a friend,then was,can’t recall…can’t remember,hadn’t spoken to him recently,just an acquaintance….

      • High Flying Duck

         /  September 20, 2018

        Except they weren’t really friends, and Key didn’t appoint him. Also, the public servant heading the SSC who did appoint him strongly defended the appointment whereas in this case, SSC were bypassed. Otherwise identical!

        “Iain Rennie said the panel which appointed Ian Fletcher to head the country’s electronic spy agency was not influenced by his relationship with the Prime Minister or a phone conversation John Key had with him.
        The State Services Commissioner said in a statement the panel was aware the two knew each other when it made the appointment in 2011.
        He said the panel was made up of people of high standing in the state services whose integrity is beyond question.
        Mr Rennie says he’s outraged there have been baseless attacks on the credibility of Mr Fletcher’s appointment, describing him as an outstanding public servant proven in Australia and the United Kingdom. He said it is not essential to have a military or intelligence background to do the job.”

        • Alan Wilkinson

           /  September 20, 2018

          Blazer and mud – natural companions.

          • Blazer

             /  September 20, 2018

            ‘Except they weren’t really friends, and Ardern didn’t appoint him. ‘

            • High Flying Duck

               /  September 20, 2018

              Didn’t she? You know this how? – did they release the emails to you and you alone?

            • High Flying Duck

               /  September 20, 2018

              Context – the CTO appointment was to be made jointly by the Prime Minister and Minister for broadcasting, communications, digital media and government digital services, and was to report to both.

            • Blazer

               /  September 20, 2018

              how do you know ‘ yourself re your earlier post.

            • High Flying Duck

               /  September 20, 2018

              You are seriously wondering how I made the broad leap to:

              “There are definite hints of Handley being hand picked for this role by Ardern and/or Curran. More to come it seems.”

              From the appointment cabinet paper that reads:

              “Appointment and accountability of the role:
              A Ministerial advisory group is appointed by a Minister or Ministers and accountable according to its terms of reference. A joint appointment by the Prime Minister and me would be consistent with our manifesto policy. ”

              Handley emailed his CV to Ardern’s private email address to get the ball rolling -3 days after applications closed.

              He had secret conversations and meetings with Clare Curran out of work hours and with no staff present.

              He texted and emailed Jacinda, but she doesn’t recall the text or whether she replied, and she definitely never opened the email…

              And I never mentioned they were friends – that was you on Key.

          • Kitty Catkin

             /  September 20, 2018

            If he was a brother’s friend, it would be hard to remember how well one actually knew him. I remember my brother’s friends, but not whether I knew them or knew who they were…one meets people, but after all that time, who could be 100% sure that they had known the person, met them or known who they were?

  1. Release of Curran emails in bungled Handley appointment deferred to OIA — Your NZ – NZ Conservative Coalition