How Jami-Lee Ross stands in Parliament now

On Tuesday Jami-Lee Ross stated that he intended resigning from the National Party and from Parliament (he said ‘on Friday’). He has since reneged on that commitment. What is his current position in Parliament?

Sitting date: 16 Oct 2018

SPEAKER’S RULINGS

Jami-Lee Ross

SPEAKER: Under Standing Order 35(1)(c), I have been advised by the senior Opposition whip that the National Party’s parliamentary membership has changed and that Jami-Lee Ross is no longer a member of the National Party for parliamentary purposes. Accordingly, under Standing Order 34(5), Jami-Lee Ross is, from 16 October 2018, regarded as an Independent member for parliamentary purposes.

Another seating plan: https://www.parliament.nz/media/5252/house-seating-plan-as-at-17-october-2018.pdf

While that is at the far back of the Opposition side Ross may sit uneasily beside and behind his ex-colleagues. He must be just about the least trusted MP ever.

Officially he still seems to be on two select committees. He lost most of his responsibilities when he went on leave at the start of the month.

Ross has been removed the National Party ‘team’ website page.

Presumably he is still theoretically operating as an electorate MP, but he may be isolated there too.

I don’t know how Ross will be able to function in Parliament or as an electorate MP.

Added:

Newsroom:  National mulls party-hopping action as Ross clings on

National says it is considering its options – including whether to use the controversial “party-hopping” law – following rogue MP Jami-Lee Ross’s decision to cling on to his seat in Parliament.

Earlier in the week, Ross had said he would resign from Parliament on Friday and contest a by-election in his Botany seat as an independent.

However, in an interview with Newstalk ZB and subsequent remarks on Twitter, he said National had “changed the rules”, alleging the party’s involvement in a Newsroom investigation into his conduct towards women, and said he would stay on as an MP and “continue speaking out about the internal operations of the National Party”.

Ross’s decision has now raised the spectre of whether National and its leader Simon Bridges will use the Electoral (Integrity) Amendment Act, legislation it has opposed bitterly, to force their MP out before he does further damage.

Electoral law expert Graeme Edgeler said under the legislation it was up to Bridges and the National caucus, not Speaker Trevor Mallard, to determine whether Ross had distorted and would continue to distort the proportionality of Parliament.

If the caucus voted by at least a two-thirds majority in support of using the party-hopping legislation, after Ross was given the required 21 working days’ notice to respond to his potential expulsion, Bridges could then deliver a letter to Mallard which would trigger Ross’s removal from Parliament and a by-election in his Botany seat.

There will no doubt be more said about what Ross may be allowed to do.

 

Swarbrick putting Ardern, Clark to shame on drug rhetoric and inaction

There are serious and growing drug problems in new Zealand, especially with P (methamphetamine) and synthetic substitutes for cannabis. I have slammed the Government for being shamefully lame as people suffer and die- see  Clark, Ardern shamefully lame not urgently addressing drug problems.

Green MP Chlöe Swarbrick seems to be a lone voice amongst MPs on taking urgent and effective action (where is James Shaw on this?)

thinks quite a lot::

The War on Drugs has not and will not work. Moral crusades are costing lives. Nowhere in the world has been able to get rid of drugs, or reduce drug harm, by ratcheting up penalties.

With the synthetics crisis, Aotearoa New Zealand has an crucial decision: will we do what works, or will we just do “something”?

The easy “something” is to beat the punitive drum, in an attempt to satisfy people we “take this seriously.” Taking drug harm seriously looks like being brave enough to confront decades of evidence and genuinely treat drugs as a health issue.

Treating drugs as a health issue does not look like locking more people up. We actually have ample evidence to show that increasing penalties fills our jail cells, but doesn’t decrease access or supply to drugs.

Look to Methamphetamine, which has under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975 held Class A life imprisonment for decades. There’s been no reduction in demand or consumption, but increases, according to Ministry of Health data.

Evidence demonstrates that the only real way to tackle drugs is to focus on decreasing demand. We have a successful model in the collaboration between Northland DHB&Police, reducing demand for P, shifting resources to health, which we could expand and roll out across the country.

We need to do something, but that something desperately needs to be what works. If we cow to law-and-order rhetoric, if we fail to be courageous enough to pay attention to the research, we’ll repeat our past mistakes.

Repeating our past mistakes is more than not good enough when the evidence shows more of the same will cost people’s lives. Especially when those unnecessary deaths are the catch-cry of those calling for knee-jerk criminalisation.

The believe we need to genuinely treat drugs as a health issue. That looks like ending the War on Drugs. That looks like rejecting greater penalisation, which we all know, because the evidence shows, just won’t work.

Swarbrick could do with more concerted support from other Green MPs on this.

And somehow they need to push Ardern into converting her lofty rhetoric into actual and urgent action. Not just talking about twiddling a bit some time in the future. Urgent reform is required.

Ardern has talked about her government being progressive and wonderful, but she and her ministers are failing to walk the walk on drugs.

Swarbrick is putting them to shame.

The most damaging effects of the waka jumping law will be invisible and immeasurable

It is difficult to know what the effect of the ironically named Electoral (Integrity) Amendment Bill that passed it’s final vote in Parliament this week. We may never know for sure.

We do know that it has made Labour look like Winston’s patsies, especially Andrew Little who had to front the bill as it went through Parliament. And it showed the Greens as far less principled than they had made out for so long while out of government – this could be damaging to them in the next election.

However Audrey Young says that the most damaging effects will be “invisible and immeasurable” in Winston Peters wastes hard-won power on wretched law.

…the party-hopping bill passed in Parliament ahead of the party’s convention can barely be called an achievement, let alone qualify as a proud one.

It has been Parliament at its worst – indulging a powerful politician with an obsession with defectors.

The law is a fetter on dissent, and Peters’ decision to demand its passage as the price of power stands in contradiction to his own history as a dissenter and maverick.

The law will enable a caucus to fire a duly elected MP not just from the caucus but from Parliament if they decide that MP no longer properly represents the party.

The hypocrisy is galling. Peters built New Zealand First on party-hoppers such as Michael Laws, Peter McCardle and Jack Elder.

In those days, Peters was upholding the freedom of any MP to leave a party without having to leave Parliament if their conscience demanded it.

Self-interested hypocrisy is nothing new for Peters.

It was only when party-hoppers left New Zealand First rather than joined it that the notion became objectionable, to Peters. It was only after MMP that what the voters decided on election day suddenly became sacred to Peters.

Essentially, the new party-hopping law is based on self-interest disguised as principle.

It is a draconian solution to a problem of defection that has not existed since those formative days of MMP.

And Labour and the Greens went along with this and enabled it.

New Zealand First did not campaign on party-hopping at all last election but then put it up as a bottom line in coalition talks, while the vast number of bottom lines actually enunciated by Peters in the campaign were surrendered in the horse-trading of coalition talks.

The law does not have the true support of the majority of the House but the Greens have been blackmailed into supporting it against the alternative – a toxic relationship with Peters.

Electoral law changes should have wide support of any Parliament but the law was railroaded through by a party with 7 per cent of the vote because it held the balance of power at the election.

Will Greens learn from being backed into a corner by Peters and then painting themselves in? They could perhaps gain back some of their credibility on being principled it they  don’t campaign next election on a status quo governing arrangement leaving Peters in a dog wagging position.

The most pernicious effect of the new law is not the actual expulsion of an MP from Parliament. Rather, it is the chilling effect it will have on strong, independent thought and voice of MPs within parties and within Parliament. In turn that will have an impact on the selection of MPs.

The most damaging effects of the law will be invisible and immeasurable.

It was the impact on dissent that drew the harshest criticism from Green luminaries Jeanette Fitzsimons and Keith Locke.

Did Green support of this bill go to party membership for a decision? They used to claim that their membership played a part in any important decisions. Surely they must have done that, especially given that it was a change to electoral law, and it had an obvious impact on the party ethos and integrity.

It has been sad to see a raft of new Labour MPs kowtowing to Peters to convince themselves that the law will enhance democracy when it is really a management tool for Peters to keep potentially difficult MPs in check.

One could wonder what threats or promises were made between Peters and Labour and Green leaderships to make both parties roll over on this for Peters.

Dissent has been a strong theme throughout Peters’ career.

He talked about in his maiden speech in 1979 when he lambasted people whom he saw as destructive critics who criticised for the sake of it: “Opposition, criticism and dissent are worthy pursuits when combined with a sense of responsibility. They have a purifying effect on society. Areas in need of urgent attention can be identified and courses of action may be initiated. However embarrassing to community or national leaders, the results are enormously beneficial to the total well-being of the community. The critic I am [condemning] has no such goals. He sets out to exploit every tremor and spasm in society, the economy or race relations, seeking to use every such event as a vehicle to project his own public personality.”

An unkind person might say that Peters has gained power in New Zealand politics by becoming the sort of critic he so despised in his maiden speech.

It is a remarkable achievement to have built a party, and sustained it, and to be at the peak of his political power when most people his age are checking out retirement villages.

It is also remarkable that Peters should be wasting that power on such a wretched law.

And that Labour and especially the Greens have wasted their integrity by enabling the wretched law to pass with barely a whimper.

 

 

 

 

Meka Whaitiri inquiry report leaked, not definitive but damaging

Another leak, this time of the draft report that led to Labour MP Meka Whaitiri being dropped as a minister. So while Jacinda Ardern walks and talks on the world stage this is another problem she left behind still festering.

Audrey Young (NZH) – The minister & the staffer: Leaked report into Meka Whaitiri incident

The incident involving former Government minister Meka Whaitiri and a staff member allegedly left bruising to the upper right arm of the staffer and photos of bruises were produced to the inquiry, a draft report leaked to the Herald shows.

The incident occurred because Whaitiri was unhappy at not having been alerted to a photo opportunity at a media standup with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern during a lunch break at a function in Gisborne.

Other ministers were standing behind Ardern but Whaitiri wasn’t because no one had told her it was happening.

There is no dispute that Whaitiri had words with her staffer for missing the event.

The staff member claims that Whaitiri came up behind her in the foyer of the building and grabbed her arm hard and took her outside when she saw Ardern having the standup.

But Whaitiri denies physically touching her staff member at any stage. There were no witnesses.

David Patten, the Wellington lawyer who conducted the inquiry for Ministerial Services, the employer of ministerial staff, found on the balance of probabilities that the staff member’s version was the more likely explanation.

He found that Whaitiri did not pull or drag the press secretary outside from the foyer of the building where the meeting was taking place.

But he found it more probable that Whaitiri approached the staffer from behind and grabbed her by the arm and that Whaitiri spoke in a raised voice to the staffer.

In evidence to the inquiry, the staff member said Whaitiri had blamed her for missing the media standup with the Prime Minister.

“She grabbed me by the arm and pulled me outside and said she needed to talk to me and when we were outside she raised her voice.

“I wouldn’t say yelled but she did raise her voice to me and asked me if I knew what I was doing in my job and did I realise I’d missed a media opportunity and that that was embarrassing to her because it was her electorate.”

The staffer originally told the inquiry that Whaitiri had pinched her arm but changed that to grabbed.

“It was hard and it scared the living daylights out of me,” she said.

In other parts of her evidence, she said: “She was definitely angry, and was definitely mad that I had screwed up. It scared me a lot and I didn’t want to return to that [work environment].”

Patten questioned the staff member about the bruises, why it took three days to see them and whether they could have been caused by something else such as a door handle.

She said it wasn’t until she was at a meeting with ministerial services on August 30 that they asked if there were any marks and until then she hadn’t thought to look.

Patten’s finding in the draft report is: “The photographs taken by Morag Ingram on August 30 2018 of [the press secretary’s] upper right arm showing a bruise on that arm … are consistent, in my view, with someone being approached from behind and grabbed by a
right-handed person”.

So this issue won’t go away. Even if no further action is taken and Whaitiri remains an MP – she is strongly backed by other Maori MPs – this is likely to keep being used against Labour and questions will keep being asked about Ardern’s leadership.

Audrey Young: Hard to see MP return as a minister

When Jacinda Ardern sacked Meka Whaitiri a week ago, it was on a trust-me basis.

She said she couldn’t tell the country why she had sacked the minister, her first sacking, without breaching the privacy of a staff member who complained about the minister — even though no one has named the staffer.

She relied on a report by a respected barrister, and after reading it Ardern no longer had confidence in Whaitiri as a minister “at this time”.

The draft findings, leaked to the Herald, clearly reveal why Ardern reached the decision she did on the basis of David Patten’s report.

On the balance of probabilities he is inclined to believe that Whaitiri was very annoyed she had not been alerted by her press secretary to the fact that Ardern was holding a standup where we see MPs nodding in the background, that she grabbed her staffer by the arm to say they needed to talk outside, and then pointed out to her in forceful language that it was her job to make sure she didn’t miss out on such media opportunities. The alleged grabbing of the arm and the bruises are the clincher, though Whaitiri denies physical contact.

Realistically it will be impossible for Whaitiri to return as a minister this term. A byelection in Ikaroa-Rawhiti is unlikely unless the pressure becomes too much.

Whaitiri has an unswerving support base in the Māori caucus.

So this leaves things in an awkward situation.

Two days ago (Newshub): ‘Absolutely gutted’ – Meka Whaitiri speaks for the first time since she was fired

Meka Whaitiri has spoken to media for the first time since being fired from her ministerial portfolios on Thursday last week.

She said it’s been a “debilitating time. I’m absolutely gutted by it.”

“I accept the Prime Minister’s decision. I’m going to take time now to reflect and look at ways of improving myself to regain the Prime Minister’s confidence.

“I’ve got a lot of work to do here on behalf of the people of Ikaroa-Rawhiti. I just want to get on with it,” Ms Whaitiri said.

She added she was “humbled” by the support of the Māori caucus.

Ms Whaitiri would not say which aspects of the report she disputes or whether she would contest the 2020 election.

She still has Maori MP support:

Ms Whaitiri remains an electorate MP for Ikaroa-Rawhiti and co-chair of the Māori caucus, alongside Willy Jackson.

Mr Jackson said she is fit to remain co-chair of the Māori caucus.

“The Māori caucus has taken into account the great work that she has done and in terms of our strategies going forward. There’s a heck of a lot of support there.”

That support may or may not be sufficient to make it tenable for Whaitiri to stand again in her electorate. if she does the level of support in the electorate will then be tested and measured, but it will be difficult to measure the impact on Labour party support.

Perhaps, like Clare Curran, Whaitiri just doesn’t have a suitable temperament or the leadership skills required to be a Minister. The question will remain as to whether this also applies to being an MP.

 

 

 

 

Chris Bishop accuses Winston Peters of Wally Haumaha contact

In Parliament’s General Debate today Chris Bishop:

Today I can also reveal that Winston Peters rang Wally Haumaha after the inquiry into his appointment was announced. He gave him assurances, or words to that effect, that things would be OK. That is deeply, wildly inappropriate. Mr Peters needs to explain who invited him to the marae, why he rang Wally Haumaha to assure him that things would be OK despite an inquiry into his appointment, and why he thinks Mr Haumaha should stay in the role while he is subject to two separate investigations, with a third on the way.

CHRIS BISHOP (National—Hutt South): Thank you, Mr Speaker. Well, while the Prime Minister is offshore in New York, desperately trying to shake off the Meka Whaitiri and Clare Curran debacles, there is yet another political scandal she is finding it very difficult to shake. That is the problem of the appointment of Wally Haumaha as Deputy Commissioner of Police. Let me outline what has happened so far.

The term of the Deputy Police Commissioner Viv Rickard expired on 3 June 2018. Cabinet confirmed the vacancy on 7 May and applications closed just eight days later. The candidates were interviewed only six days later by Peter Hughes and Debbie Power of the State Services Commission (SSC) and Mike Bush, Commissioner of Police. My understanding is that Mr Haumaha was asked, in the interview process, words to the effect of “Is there anything in your past that would embarrass the Government?” And he said no. I can also reveal that Mr Haumaha was not the preferred candidate of the panel. The Cabinet paper proposing his appointment does not state that he was the preferred candidate, but he was appointed anyway by the Prime Minister. The big question is “Why?”, particularly in light of what happened next.

After Mr Haumaha’s appointment, the New Zealand Herald broke the news that an officer had told the 2004 Operation Austin investigation that Mr Haumaha had described Louise Nicholas’ allegations as a nonsense and that “Nothing really happened and we have to stick together.” An inquiry was, rightly, ordered by Acting Prime Minister Winston Peters. He must have hoped that the problem would go away. An email released to me says that the Government wanted a short and sharp inquiry. Officials originally suggested an $840,000 inquiry over three months. Cabinet wound that back to $150,000 over six weeks, with just one member.

The first attempt to start the inquiry was a disaster. Emails revealed to me that they couldn’t find anyone to do the inquiry until a few days before it was announced. Pauline Kingi was announced as the inquiry chair but was revealed to have endorsed the subject of the inquiry 23 times on LinkedIn. Finally, the Government did the right thing and appointed an independent QC to run the inquiry. Then further allegations came to light. Three women have accused Mr Haumaha of bullying while working on a joint justice, police, and corrections project in 2016. Those allegations are being considered by the Independent Police Conduct Authority as well as by the Scholtens Inquiry and, possibly, by the State Services Commission.

Here is the question: why will the Prime Minister not stand Wally Haumaha down? Meka Whaitiri was accused of wrongdoing and stood aside. Why will she not do the same for her own appointment? The answer, I believe, lies in the relationship between New Zealand First and Wally Haumaha. He was reported as being the New Zealand First candidate for Rotorua in 2005. The Deputy Leader of the New Zealand First Party, Fletcher Tabuteau, referred to Mr Haumaha as a member of his whānau in his maiden speech, in 2014. Mr Haumaha is the chairman of Mr Tabuteau’s marae at Waititi. The links go further. Close Winston Peters confidante and uncle of Fletcher Tabuteau, Tommy Gear, is also a senior leader on the marae.

Let me talk about the special function on the marae in June last year to celebrate Mr Haumaha’s promotion to Assistant Police Commissioner. Winston Peters was there. He sat next to Wally Haumaha. He told Parliament, in a personal explanation, that he attended the function because he was invited by the police and the Government of the day. He was not. Documents from the police, sent to me, make clear that he could only have been invited by the marae itself. The question is: was he invited by Wally Haumaha or by someone close to him?

Today I can also reveal that Winston Peters rang Wally Haumaha after the inquiry into his appointment was announced. He gave him assurances, or words to that effect, that things would be OK. That is deeply, wildly inappropriate. Mr Peters needs to explain who invited him to the marae, why he rang Wally Haumaha to assure him that things would be OK despite an inquiry into his appointment, and why he thinks Mr Haumaha should stay in the role while he is subject to two separate investigations, with a third on the way. Until those questions are answered, this scandal will continue to dog the Prime Minister and her Government.


UPDATE: Peters has responded (NZH):  ‘Things would be okay’ – National claim Winston Peters called Wally Haumaha about inquiry

However, Peters said he has not contacted Haumaha in relation to the inquiry.

“He hasn’t made a revelation and I’m swatting-off this midge right now,” he said in a statement.

“There is no basis to Mr Bishop’s claim that I rang Mr Haumaha after the inquiry into his appointment was announced, nor have provided any assurances on the matter.”

“I have not called nor had any reason to call Mr Haumaha since the controversy.”

Peters assured the public his office has checked all phone records since the inquiry into Haumaha was announced.

So it sounds like it’s up to Bishop to front up with evidence, or apologise.

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.

Question Time today

There were some testy exchanges in Question Time yesterday – see:

And Chris Hipkins was told by the speaker to front up today with Clare Curran emails.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I will repeat, as a supplementary, my primary question from last Thursday and see if I can get an answer. How many undisclosed emails through former Minister Clare Curran’s private Gmail account are there that relate to the appointment of the Government’s Chief Technology Officer, and what is the content of those emails?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: I have not seen the individual emails in question. They have been handed to the Chief Archivist. Clare Curran has explained to me that the contents of those emails are predominantly post her conversation with Derek Handley where he was offered the job, and related to the scope of the positon. That’s the information that I have to date.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The House is still none the wiser of the number of Gmails—

SPEAKER: Yes, and the member will resume his seat. What I have indicated to the member is that if he asks his question properly tomorrow or at some stage in the future, with sufficient detail, I will expect a proper answer. In fact, I think it would be a good thing for transparency if in answering a specific and detailed and well-worded question, the Minister brought the emails to the House and made them available in that way.

Expect a question from National that invites Hipkins to deliver.

Bridges versus Ardern in Question Time

Some interesting exchanges between Simon Bridges and Jacinda Ardern in parliament today.

3. Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Leader—National) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by all her Government’s policies, statements, and actions?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN (Prime Minister): Yes.

Hon Simon Bridges: Is it the policy of this Labour-led Government to increase the refugee quota to 1,500 a year in this term of Government, as previously announced by her Minister, and if not, what is the Government’s policy?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As I have said many times before, when we’ve made a decision as a Cabinet, that policy will be released. I know that the member is hotly anticipating the decision.

Hon Simon Bridges: Is it the policy of this Labour-led Government to repeal the three-strikes law, as previously announced by her Minister; if not, what is her Government’s policy on this law?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: This Government’s policy is to have an effective justice system, which, unfortunately, we lost under that last Government. We have an increasing prison population and a static crime rate, and that’s why Minister Andrew Little is doing excellent work alongside Minister Kelvin Davis to improve rehabilitation, get the prison population down—which they are already doing—and make our communities safer.

Hon Simon Bridges: Is it the policy of this Labour-led Government to pass the Employment Relations Amendment Bill, as approved by all of Cabinet and reported back to select committee; if not, what changes are being made to the bill?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As the Deputy Prime Minister himself has said in this House, the bill will pass. When it does, we look forward to bringing balance back to the workplace, and making sure that we have a fair go for workers and acknowledge the good work employers are doing to try and lift wages at the same time.

Hon Simon Bridges: Does she agree with her Deputy Prime Minister’s insistence yesterday that this Government was not Labour-led?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: While that member’s caught up on semantics, this Government is proud that a recent survey said that the people of New Zealand had greater confidence in us than in that last Government, and I don’t think they particularly care about descriptors and what was on a website. We have the support of New Zealand. That’s why we’re here and you’re over there.

SPEAKER: Order! Order! I’m going to point out to the right honourable Prime Minister—when she’s finished the other conversation—that I’m here, and she doesn’t refer to me.

Hon Simon Bridges: Speaking of semantics, why are there over 50 references by her Ministers in this Parliament to it being a Labour-led Government?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Because we’re in Government and you’re not.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Could I ask the Prime Minister, as evidence to the cooperative nature of this coalition, if she is aware of it being a fact that since the election—in less than 11 months—1,055 decisions have been made of unity and, since Monday’s Cabinet, more since?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Yes, I understand that to be the case, which is an incredible list of achievements that far outstrips anything that last Government achieved, I would say, in an entire nine years.

Hon Simon Bridges: Why did she say yesterday, in respect of the phrase “Labour-led Government”, “I’ve never used that phrase,”, when Hansard records her using it more than a dozen times as Prime Minister, right in that seat?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I am the leader of the Labour Party. I don’t think anyone on this side of the House has lost sight of that. I am also the Prime Minister of a Government that has a coalition partner and a confidence and supply partner, and I am proud of all of them.

Hon Simon Bridges: When the Prime Minister commented on GDP on Hosking’s show this morning, was the reason she made the mistake that she did because she was distracted by managing coalition differences in her Labour-led Government?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: No. It’s not the first time that Mike Hosking and I have not listened to each other.

Hon Simon Bridges: Does she know the difference between GDP and Crown financial statements?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Yes.

Hon Simon Bridges: Did she know at 8 a.m. this morning?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Yes. Next question.

Hon Simon Bridges: How will her Budget responsibility rules (BRRs) impact on GDP?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: In our minds, of course, it will support them. We need to make sure that we’re delivering responsible governance, and our BRRs were delivered on in the last Budget and continue to show that we’re able to deliver surpluses whilst maintaining Crown spending at around 30 percent and debt to a level of 20 percent.

Also:

2. Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Leader—National) to the Prime Minister: Have she and her Ministers lived up to the commitment to “be the most open, most transparent Government that New Zealand has ever had” in respect of the process for appointing the Government’s Chief Technology Officer?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN (Prime Minister): No. As has been stated at the time, Clare Curran’s failure to accurately answer parliamentary questions about her meeting with Mr Handley did not meet my or the former Minister’s expectation. That is why I accepted her resignation from her open Government responsibilities.

Hon Simon Bridges: What were the communications between herself and Clare Curran on the matter of the Government’s Chief Technology Officer (CTO) appointment, which were confirmed to have taken place by the State Services minister, Chris Hipkins, in Parliament last Thursday?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I would need to go back and check directly, but my recollection is—because, of course, the CTO role was designed to report directly to the Minister but also to have some reporting lines to myself as Prime Minister—that the Minister kept me up to date generally with the process, but only as is would have been appropriate.

Hon Simon Bridges: Were the communications between herself and Clare Curran about the Chief Technology Officer role in the form of emails, texts, conversations, or were they across multiple platforms, and if so, which?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: In order to answer that with accuracy I would need to go back and check across all those platforms.

Hon Simon Bridges: What was the content of the communication between herself and Clare Curran on the appointment of Chief Technology Officer?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As I referred to in my second answer, the Minister kept me abreast generally with the process she was undertaking, because of the anticipated reporting lines, but it was only as appropriate and as Ministers do, from time to time, on significant appointments.

Hon Simon Bridges: Was there an email between the Prime Minister and Clare Curran by way of private Gmail account?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I would need to go back and check any of these questions. I believe that there are Official Information Act requests that have gone into the Minister. Minister Curran has made sure that all of her Gmails have been handed over to the Chief Archivist, which means that they will be subject to the Public Records Act and the Official Information Act. And of course, the Official Information Act covers all my correspondence as well.

Hon Simon Bridges: Given I’m asking the Prime Minister about direct communications by private Gmail between her and her former Minister, does she really expect us to take it that she can’t tell us today?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: What I’m saying to the House is I am happy to answer those questions in detail if the member gives me notice so that I can make sure that I answer them with accuracy. That, I think, is probably fair enough, given that as Prime Minister I will receive hundreds of emails, a number of text messages, and the member’s asking me to recall with some specificity about both.

Hon Simon Bridges: Has the Prime Minister used private Gmail with Clare Curran?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Again, primarily I conduct my business across my parliamentary accounts, but I want to ensure that I answer the member with accuracy, so if he wishes to put them down in detail, then I will do so.

Hon Grant Robertson: Does the Prime Minister recall the following quote: “I have quite a number of emails but because I have my electorate office and others I tend to use a private email address.”—made by John Key, the former National Party Prime Minister?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Yes, I have seen that statement, and that is why I have consistently told the House the most important piece of information here is that all of those forms of communication—be they LinkedIn, Facebook, WhatsApp, text message—are covered by the Official Information Act, because it is mode-neutral, to ensure that we can document to this House where all of that work takes place. That’s exactly what the former leader of the National Party said himself.

Hon Simon Bridges: Has she had any conversations, emails, or texts with Derek Handley since she’s been Prime Minister?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Again, to answer with some accuracy, I would want to go back. [Interruption]

SPEAKER: Order!

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: My best recollection is that I received, some months ago, a text from Mr Handley mentioning the Chief Technology Officer role, which I do not recall directly engaging with, as that would not have been appropriate.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Has the Prime Minister contemplated putting the leader of the National Party out of his misery by leaking the email?

SPEAKER: Further supplementary?

Hon Simon Bridges: Were the conversations, emails, or texts with Mr Handley about the role of the Government’s Chief Technology Officer, and if so, what was discussed?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I can rule out any direct verbal communication. I haven’t spoken with Mr Handley in at least a year, maybe two. As I say, my best recollection is I received a text message that I didn’t directly engage in. For all other platforms, I would want to go back and check, but I don’t recall directly communicating in regards to that role.

Hon Simon Bridges: Did she agree to Derek Handley being offered the job of the Government’s Chief Technology Officer last month, noting that the Cabinet minute of last December states that the appointment would be made by the Prime Minister and the Minister for Government Digital Services?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: The appointment went to the Cabinet appointments and honours committee (APH), where all members of APH make a collective decision. I, of course, am a member of APH where that decision was made. I declared at that meeting my knowledge of Mr Handley.


In a later question Chris Hipkins advised of additional communications Between Curran and Handley. The Speaker advised Hipkins to bring all of Clare Curran’s emails to parliament tomorrow:

11. Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National—Nelson) to the Minister of State Services: What was the date of all communications between Ministers and Derek Handley regarding the appointment of the Government’s Chief Technology Officer in addition to those publically released by the previous Minister for Government Digital Services and up to the time Mr Handley accepted the role?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS (Minister of State Services): I communicated with Derek Handley on Monday, 10 September. Megan Woods has had no communication with Derek Handley. Clare Curran has advised me that she had communications with Derek Handley in addition to those publicly released between the final meeting of the interview panel on 30 July and 24 August. It’s worth noting that because discussion about Mr Handley’s interests was ongoing, the process was never completed.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I will repeat, as a supplementary, my primary question from last Thursday and see if I can get an answer. How many undisclosed emails through former Minister Clare Curran’s private Gmail account are there that relate to the appointment of the Government’s Chief Technology Officer, and what is the content of those emails?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: I have not seen the individual emails in question. They have been handed to the Chief Archivist. Clare Curran has explained to me that the contents of those emails are predominantly post her conversation with Derek Handley where he was offered the job, and related to the scope of the positon. That’s the information that I have to date.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The House is still none the wiser of the number of Gmails—

SPEAKER: Yes, and the member will resume his seat. What I have indicated to the member is that if he asks his question properly tomorrow or at some stage in the future, with sufficient detail, I will expect a proper answer. In fact, I think it would be a good thing for transparency if in answering a specific and detailed and well-worded question, the Minister brought the emails to the House and made them available in that way.

Curran’s emails an ongoing issue

Clare Curran resigned as a minister last week, but issues remain and look like continuing to receive attention.

Andrew Geddis (@acgeddis):

Re Claire Curran’s gmails … I think people are barking up the wrong legal tree. The question isn’t direct application of the OIA, but rather whether she complied with the Public Records Act 2005. Obligations under that legislation don’t end with her resignation.

If she didn’t so comply, then the Chief Archivist can direct Curran to properly record emails that are “public records” … whereupon they will become “official information” that can be accessed.

Now that Curran will no longer be subject to ministerial scrutiny at Question Time in Parliament, attention may switch to Jacinda Ardern and her handling of the Curran failures.

Curran’s inevitable resignation as a Minister

After a woeful effort in Parliament on Wednesday and a no-show on Thursday it looked inevitable that Clare Curran’s position as a minister was no longer tenable, and so it turned out.

The official story is that Curran offered her resignation as a minister to the Prime Minister on Thursday night , and that was accepted by Jacinda Ardern. Whether she needed nudging or pushing or whether it was entirely her decision is unknown.

Ardern’s statement: Clare Curran resigns as Minister

The Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has accepted Clare Curran’s resignation as a Minister.

“Clare Curran contacted me last night to confirm her wish to resign as a Minister and I accepted that resignation,” said Jacinda Ardern.

“Clare has come to the view the issues currently surrounding her are causing an unacceptable distraction for the Government and immense pressure on her personally.

“I agree with her assessment that resigning is the best course of action for the Government and for her.”

Kris Faafoi will become the Minister of Broadcasting, Communications and Digital Media, remaining outside of Cabinet, and Peeni Henare will become the Associate Minister for ACC.

Statement from Clare Curran on her resignation as Minister

“I advised the Prime Minister last night I would resign as a Minister, which she accepted,” said Clare Curran.

“I have come to the conclusion the current heat being placed on me is unlikely to go away. This pressure has become intolerable. For the benefit of the Government, and my personal wellbeing, I believe that resignation is the best course of action.”

Curran gave a brief statement to media yesterday afternoon:

She read a statement:

Today I advised the Prime Minister that I have resigned from all my Ministerial portfolios.

I am, like the rest of you all, a human being, and I can no longer endure the relentless pressure that I’ve been under.

I’ve made some mistakes. They weren’t deliberate undermining of the political system, but my mistakes have been greatly amplified and the pressure on me has become intolerable.

We all bring to our jobs strengths and weaknesses. Our political system should never try to cast people in the same mould.

I was really proud to have served in the coalition government ministry. During my time as a minister I’ve worked hard on issues I’ve really believed in. How to bring more depth, maturity  and sustainability to our media system, particularly publicly funded media, to fundamentally make our democracy stronger.

How to give New Zealanders more confidence and trust in our political system, and the motivation to be active and to understand how they can have their voices heard.

And how to build a productive, inclusive digital society that leaves no one behind.

I’m deeply saddened I won’t be able to do that.

I thank my Prime Minister for the chance she gave me.

I thank all my colleagues and my party for the support, encouragement and solidarity they show every day.

On the question of Gmail use.  I use my Gmail account infrequently for work, and it would have been discoverable, and it hasn’t been used to conceal anything.

And I will continue as the MP for Dunedin South.

She left as soon as she finished, not taking any questions.

So she blames it on “the relentless pressure that I’ve been under”, but she is responsible for much of that pressure.

One apparent discrepancy in her statements:

Ardern’s statement: “Clare Curran contacted me last night to confirm her wish to resign as a Minister and I accepted that resignation”.

Curran’s written statement: “I advised the Prime Minister last night I would resign as a Minister, which she accepted”.

Curran’s spoken statement: “Today I advised the Prime Minister that I have resigned from all my Ministerial portfolios.”

That could be a mistake. It could also be that the spoken statement was written on Thursday (day not night?) and not edited for being given on Friday.

Time will tell whether Curran puts herself forward for Dunedin South in 2020, whether the Labour party selects her, and whether she gets re-elected. It is not a given that she would succeed. Her majorities:

  • 2008: 6,449 (Labour majority  4666)
  • 2011: 4,175 (National majority 1,837)
  • 2014: 3,858 (National majority 2,485)
  • 2017: 8,717 (Labour majority 5,019)

The National candidate from 2011, Jo Hayes, is now a National list MP.

The National candidate from 2014, Hamish Walker, switched to Clutha-Southland in 2017 and won Bill English’s old seat.

ODT:

Tracey Watkins (Stuff):

NZ Herald: