Claytons denial from Ministers about the PM gag memo

A curious Claytons denial from two Ministers about the memo sent out by the Prime Minister’s office s that directed them not to have interviews or answer questions about the Friday dump of documents.

Both James Shaw and David Clark said they didn’t personally receive the email, but the news reports clearly stated that the memo was sent to Ministerial offices.  Ministers don’t personally deal with a lot of email. Ministerial staff also manage what interviews Ministers do, and deal with Ministerial statements.

James Shaw was asked on The Nation on Saturday:

“It seems that the Government wants to be transparent by dumping all these documents on Friday afternoon, yet there’s been a directive from the Prime Minister not to talk to the media about it. Did you get that memo, is that the kind of politics you want to play?”

Shaw began his response somewhat awkwardly:

A Ah um I I personally didn’t.  Um my understanding is that that went out to agencies…

Ministers don’t personally deal with a lot of correspondence including emails. They have staff for that. And the news of the memo didn’t say the memo was sent to Ministers: Ministers told to ‘dismiss’ interviews on Covid-19 documents – leaked memo

The prime minister’s office has directed all ministers not to give interviews on a Covid-19 document dump, saying there is “no real need to defend” themselves.

A leaked email, sent to Beehive staff today, directed them to issue only “brief written statements” in response to media queries about the documents.

Clearly this states “sent to Beehive staff “.

“Do not put Minister up for any interviews on this.”

“There’s no real need to defend. Because the public have confidence in what has been achieved and what the Govt is doing. Instead we can dismiss.”

The memo also included “key messages” for Ministers and staff to stick to in their written statements

It looks a bit like another memo may have been sent out with another ‘key message’ directive. On Sunday Minister of Health David Clark had a similar response: David Clark rejects idea Government ministers were gagged following COVID-19 document dump

Dr Clark said he didn’t receive the leaked email and only heard about it once the media reported it.

As with Shaw that doesn’t rule out his office receiving the email. Clark also made the point that he was ‘fronting up’:

At a press conference on Sunday morning where he announced increases to Pharmac’s funding, Dr David Clark said he was fronting media and answering questions on the documents “right now” and he’d also answered additional questions in interviews on Saturday.

“I’m comfortable and confident talking about the release of materials [about] the advice that the Government had received. As a Government, we’ve been transparent about the decisions we’ve made,”

Clark hardly ever sounds confident talking to media, including at this time. And his announcement of the Pharmac funding could have been timed and staged to try to contradict the directives from the memo.  It was a pre-budget announcement, they are typically done as part of the Government budget PR strategy.

One of the memo talking points was “”Evidence shows our decisions were the right ones”.  Clark had a similar response but worded differently.

“I think overaching all of this is the results, and um and you know they speak for themselves…that suggests that going hard and going early was the right strategy”.

Back to Shaw at Newshub: James Shaw defends gag on ministers talking about COVID-19 documents

A Ah um I I personally didn’t.  Um my understanding is that that went out to agencies ah and that is because it is really important in a time of crisis that the Government speaks with one voice, and the prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has been that voice, and I think it’s appropriate she continues to be that voice..

So Shaw defended the intent of the memo – that Ardern is ‘the voice’.

Asked: “So ok, so Ministers can’t talk about their respective areas and it all has to come from the Prime Minister, are you happy with that?”

A very hesitant response from Shaw – a common sign of thinking through what one should say in advance:

“Um, well I am talking about climate change Simon, I’ve been talking about climate change the entire time…

A similar response to Clark, saying he is talking about his portfolio.

Asked “Ok, but in terms of the way of operating are you happy with that, for other ministers as well, you’re buying into that?”

“Well like I said, ah I think it is entirely appropriate at a time of national crisis, the scale of which we haven’t seen since the  great depression and World War 2, that the Government speaks with one voice, I don’t think that there’s anything strange about that at all.”

Again he defends the aim of the memo, for Ministers to avoid talking about the Covid response and contents of document dump apart from with suggested phrases.

It could be a tough campaign for the Greens if they can’t claim any credit for the handling of Covid. Wil they really be happy for Ardern to attract all the votes for that?

Clark and Shaw may be technically correct that they didn’t personally receive the gag email, but they both made similar denials that aren’t really denials.


From NZ Herald:

Former MP Peter Dunne said today that email was a sign this Government was no different from any others in practising 9th floor “grubby” tactics.

While the PM’s office has called the email “clumsy”, Dunne told Newstalk ZB’s Mike Hosking “that doesn’t hide the fact they see themselves as bullet-proof, ‘we don’t need to explain, everyone loves us’.”

“People have not seen [Jacinda Ardern] a control freak before… this reveals the reality. It also acknowledges the fact this is a Cabinet with some mighty weak links, probably more than average.”


More from Stuff:  Beehive scrambled to contain email telling ministers to ‘dismiss’ questions about Covid-19 response

The prime minister’s office now says the email — which was provided to press gallery journalists hours after the Government publicly released hundreds of Cabinet papers — was a “clumsy instruction”.

Stuff can reveal the Beehive asked public servants to delete the email, after it was wrongly sent beyond parliament’s walls.

The email from Rob Carr, a senior ministerial adviser to the prime minister, was sent to the staff of Government ministers and to staff at the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (DPMC) who had worked on making public the documents.

A spokesman for the prime minister on Sunday said it was an error to send the email to public servants, due to the political messaging it contained, however it was “simply intended to be a heads-up” that the documents were being made public.

Again clearly sent to the staff of Ministers, so the Ministers denying receiving it personally are correct but misleading by major omission.

“[The email] was more about not re-litigating the past, and it shouldn’t have been framed as dismissing … It was more a clumsy instruction.”

Sounds to me more like an embarrassing reveal of PM PR procedures.


Tim Watkins: Gagging Order Is Double Dumb: Disrespecting Public Sacrifice & Damaging Brand Ardern

With much power comes much responsibility. And the government has a phenomenal amount of power right now, in the midst of a pandemic that has seen public money propping up the national economy, parliament on furlough and public officials granted special powers. Which is why any talk of gagging leaves such a bad taste.

…All of which is why the gagging order delivered by the 9th floor to ministers on Friday stands out like a sore, distasteful thumb.

It’s dumb on a range of levels.

Morally – or perhaps constitutionally – the New Zealand public has allowed this government at this time extraordinary powers and deserves at the very least in return full and frank information from cabinet. They deserve respect for the sacrifices made, not dismissal. To tell political staff to “dismiss” the questions of journalists working to keep that public informed is deeply cynical and defensive. It’s bad enough in the normal sweep of events; in these troubled times it’s shameful.

New Zealanders haven’t stayed home and saved lives, loss their livelihoods, skipped funerals and put their lives on hold to have questions about how and why decisions are being made dismissed by those paid to serve them.

Second, it undermines the brand.

For Jacinda Ardern, its about being kind and open and different from all those other politicians who, well, aren’t. Through several crises now she has dissolved Labour’s reputation in Opposition for a lack of competence. But key to her political success is this sense that she is not just a power-monger, but a caring and sensible person who gets voters and can be trusted to act in our best interest, even with extraordinary powers.

So for emails to be coming out from her closest advisors implying her office doesn’t trust voters with full and frank disclosure and that those voters’ confidence in her is being taken for granted – banked and exploited – is damaging. Any way you slice it.

Watkins obviously not impressed.

 

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20 Comments

  1. Alan Wilkinson

     /  11th May 2020

    Revealed as manipulating scumbags. Who would have thought.

    I don’t know why Baker is rabbiting on about maintaining level three with the only cases coming of aeroplanes or from known clusters. Does he have a power complex?

    If they don’t go to level 2 this week they will hve revolt on their hands.

    Reply
    • I’ve just posted similar: https://yournz.org/2020/05/11/alert-level-decision-today/

      There’s already a gradual slippage in public commitment to level 3. If they tell us we have to go back up to full level 3, or go to level 2 but with no shopping and compulsory mask wearing (as per Baker) I think there will be a lot of dissent and ignoring.

      Reply
      • I think so. People today are talking about how great it will be to be back to some sort of normality. I think that the PM would be in for a very rude awakening if she tries to keep us in our cages when there are 90 known cases in NZ.

        Reply
    • Gezza

       /  11th May 2020

      Amateurs. Incompetence obviously runs all the way up to the top office in the Beehive.

      Wonder if a “junior staffer” did it?

      Reply
      • “Rob Carr, a senior ministerial adviser to the prime minister”

        Reply
        • Gezza

           /  11th May 2020

          Never heard of her!

          Reply
          • artcroft

             /  11th May 2020

            Never heard of her? Really Jacinda Ardern has been PM for nearly three years now. Leave the pooks alone and get back to the wider world Geza 🙂

            Reply
            • Gezza

               /  11th May 2020

              Here’s the missing z for next time, arty.

              Meantime, take two panadol & call me tomorrow morning if you’re still experiencing reading difficulties. 😉

            • artcroft

               /  11th May 2020

              Sure, what’s your number.

            • Gezza

               /  11th May 2020

              Just call Healthline & explain the problem.

  2. Tim Watkins: Gagging Order Is Double Dumb: Disrespecting Public Sacrifice & Damaging Brand Ardern

    With much power comes much responsibility. And the government has a phenomenal amount of power right now, in the midst of a pandemic that has seen public money propping up the national economy, parliament on furlough and public officials granted special powers. Which is why any talk of gagging leaves such a bad taste.

    …All of which is why the gagging order delivered by the 9th floor to ministers on Friday stands out like a sore, distasteful thumb.

    It’s dumb on a range of levels.

    Morally – or perhaps constitutionally – the New Zealand public has allowed this government at this time extraordinary powers and deserves at the very least in return full and frank information from cabinet. They deserve respect for the sacrifices made, not dismissal. To tell political staff to “dismiss” the questions of journalists working to keep that public informed is deeply cynical and defensive. It’s bad enough in the normal sweep of events; in these troubled times it’s shameful.

    New Zealanders haven’t stayed home and saved lives, loss their livelihoods, skipped funerals and put their lives on hold to have questions about how and why decisions are being made dismissed by those paid to serve them.

    Second, it undermines the brand.

    For Jacinda Ardern, its about being kind and open and different from all those other politicians who, well, aren’t. Through several crises now she has dissolved Labour’s reputation in Opposition for a lack of competence. But key to her political success is this sense that she is not just a power-monger, but a caring and sensible person who gets voters and can be trusted to act in our best interest, even with extraordinary powers.

    So for emails to be coming out from her closest advisors implying her office doesn’t trust voters with full and frank disclosure and that those voters’ confidence in her is being taken for granted – banked and exploited – is damaging. Any way you slice it.

    https://www.pundit.co.nz/content/gagging-order-is-double-dumb-disrespecting-public-sacrifice-amp-damaging-brand-ardern

    Reply
    • Gezza

       /  11th May 2020

      All true. Which doesn’t mean that Jacinda authorised this email memo to go out. Wouldn’t be the first time a Ministerial adviser thought they were able wield the authority of their boss.

      But if she didn’t clear that email as good to go, the person who drafted it was pretty obviously reflecting discussions between the PM & the tiny number of senior colleagues who she does consider competent.

      Reply
      • Yes, it’s almost certain it wasn’t a senior staffer making up a new gag practice that has never been discussed. The PM’s office has described it as ‘clumsy’. It wasn’t clear if that referred to the intent in the gagging order, or sending it out to public servants so that it easily leaked.

        Reply
        • artcroft

           /  11th May 2020

          “It wasn’t clear if that referred to the intent in the gagging order, or sending it out to public servants so that it easily leaked.”

          Perhaps it was an attempt at ‘opaque transparency’ – gag ministers but let everyone know what you’re up to.

          Reply
          • Gezza

             /  11th May 2020

            The way “Rulebreaker” Clark’s been behaving she probably should’ve bound and gagged him. 😐

            Reply
          • Should that be transparent opaquness?

            Reply
            • I find it impossible to believe that the PM didn’t either write (or order the writing of) this email. It sounds like her words, It’s too important for her not to have at least signed it off. I used to write ‘ministerials’ that were not in the same league as this or anywhere near it, but the Minister read and signed them.

  3. Fight4nz

     /  11th May 2020

    Journo’s are spitting the dummy over this? After several decades of reducing News to sound bites and wild sensationalism?
    They have systematically forced this approach on all in politics, or anyone else with a profile eg entertainment, etc. Controlling the message is universal. What’s the big story here?
    The public know this. We see journo’s frothing about trivia constantly and despair that this sort of retrenchment by our representatives is a necessity. Why would this been seen as something different? It has happened and it is supported. Hairsplitting legal arguments or whether our version with salt or better/worse than there’s with pepper.
    Where was this outrage when “I don’t remember” and “No comment, no I haven’t given the texts to the police” was the stock reply?
    Where they can come unstuck, and is IMHO far more critical, is how the exit is handled.
    For once I agree with Al
    “I don’t know why Baker is rabbiting on about maintaining level three with the only cases coming of aeroplanes or from known clusters. ” And 0 – 2 per day. Delay for the 0 regions already damaging.

    Reply

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