Derek Handley releases his texts with Clare Curran

For some reason that is as yet unclear the Government resisted releasing communications between Clare Curran and Derek Handley, but Handley has now released the texts himself. These seem largely innocuous – “there’s no smoking gun” – but raise questions about what Jacinda Ardern claimed in Parliament.

NZH – CTO bungle: Emails, texts between Derek Handley, Clare Curran and Jacinda Ardern revealed

Entrepreneur Derek Handley said no one from the Government has told him why he was dropped as New Zealand’s chief technology officer after he’d accepted the job.

“There’s nothing untoward here, the actual recruitment process was really robust, I’ve nothing to hide,” he told the Herald in an exclusive interview.

In the face of persistent questions, speculation and innuendo over the recruitment, Handley sat on the sidelines and says he was waiting for the Government to clear things up.

But he says it’s been “open season” on him after his contract was terminated and the Government has chosen to keep a lid on his text messages and emails with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and former Minister for Government Digital Services Clare Curran.

Handley is today releasing his messages with Ardern and Curran to “clear the air” and says it clearly shows “there was nothing untoward or inappropriate” in them.

“There’s no smoking gun,” he said.

No one from the Government has explained to him why his contract was terminated on September 12.

“I think the average New Zealander in my situation would expect a lot more, whether it was from the Government or another organisation,” he said.

Stuff: Jilted CTO candidate Derek Handley disappointed by lack of explanation from Government

Entrepreneur Derek Handley says he has still not been given an explanation from the Government on why it withdrew its offer to appoint him as the country’s first chief technology officer.

“Neither have I heard personally from Minister Hipkins, Minister Woods or the Prime Minister during this challenging time, which has been disappointing from a Government that highlights compassion and kindness as hallmarks of their leadership,” he said in a statement on Tuesday.

Handley’s statement made it clear he was unhappy about how he had been treated.

“In a small country such as ours, we need as many energetic and passionate people as possible to work together to shape our future,” he said.

“The handling of the chief technology officer appointment and subsequent fall out in the last four weeks is likely to be be discouraging to anyone from the private sector contemplating making a contribution to New Zealand through a Government role,” he said.

Handley released a timeline of his dealings with the Government over the appointment, which was put on hold after it emerged that Curran had met privately with Handley in February and then “omitted” to mention that in response to a parliamentary question asking her to list the meetings she had had during the month.

Stuff have a detailed timeline of communications that suggest that Ardern may have misled Parliament – she was careful in how she spoke but left herseld iopen to further questioning – Handley de-jobbed, Government de-monied, Ardern statements debatable.

Plus:

 

Meka Whaitiri dropped as Minister, remains an MP

It’s been a busy day in politics.

The Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced today  that following an inquiry into allegations she assaulted a staff member Meka Whaitiri has lost her ministries.

Meka Whaitiri will be removed as a Minister with immediate effect Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said today.

The decision was made after receiving a report into an incident that occurred on 27 August in Gisborne, involving Meka Whaitiri and one of her staff.

“While the facts are in dispute, the report says an incident occurred. Meka Whaitiri continues to contest details of the incident, but there are elements which are agreed,” Jacinda Ardern said.

“For privacy reasons I don’t wish to divulge further details of the investigators report as it is an employment matter and protecting the privacy of the staff member involved is paramount to me.

“Based on the context and conclusions of the report, I no longer have confidence in Meka Whaitiri as a Minister at this time, and that is why I have taken the action I have.” Jacinda Ardern said.

Meka Whaitiri was stood aside from her portfolios on 30 August while the investigation was undertaken.

Kris Faafoi will retain the role of Minister of Customs and Meka Whaitiri’s Associate Minister responsibilities will sit with the lead portfolio ministers. There are no plans to undertake a Cabinet reshuffle.

With Curran already out that leaves a lean female line up for Labour.

Faafoi also picked up some of Curran’s workload so is going to be a very busy minister, but still outside Cabinet.

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.

More Curran emails, Handley offered job, O’Connor told off

This story keeps on rolling. Clare Curran has admitted ‘there may be more’ emails, and it is claimed that Derek Handley was offered the job of Chief Technology Officer but that was put on hold when the Curran story started coming out.

Stuff:  Clare Curran admits ‘there may be some more’ Derek Handley emails not yet released

Former Communications Minister Clare Curran says there “may be some more” emails between her and job applicant Derek Handley that have not been released.

When Curran was fired from Cabinet she proactively released a chain of emails, texts, and Twitter direct messages between her and Handley setting up the meeting.

But one of Handley’s emails indicates that other communications may have been exchanged, at one point saying he wants to check “one final time” about the meeting and that he appreciates Curran might not have the time to respond to his “emails”.

It’s also not clear where Handley got Curran’s mobile number or got direct instructions on how to access the Beehive after-hours, when the meeting took place.

Asked if she had released all of her emails with Handley on Tuesday, Curran said “there may be some more”.

“They are the full chain of emails that related to the meeting I had with him in February,” Curran said. “There may be some more.”

Curran said she was archiving all of her Gmail messages that were related to ministerial matters and they would be discoverable to journalists under the Official Information Act.

That sounds like an open invitation to journalists to make OIA requests to see the emails.

RNZ:  Clare Curran tells PM she will make Gmails available

Former government minister Clare Curran has assured Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern she is archiving all emails she sent using her personal Gmail account.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said today work-related emails on Ms Curran’s G-mail account would be saved as official records and be discoverable under the Official Information Act.

Stuff: Derek Handley was offered CTO job before it was put on hold, says source

Entrepreneur Derek Handley was offered the job of chief technology officer by the Government, according to an informed source, raising the question of whether he could be entitled to compensation if the appointment is not now confirmed.

The recruitment process remains in limbo after former communications minister Clare Curran admitted last month that she had “omitted” to disclose a February meeting with Handley when responding to a written parliamentary question.

Handley was understood to have been selected as the preferred candidate for the $400,000 job as the country’s first national chief technology officer (CTO), but it was not previously clear whether he had actually been offered the role.

An informed source said he had been, but had no information on whether he had then accepted.

The appointment process is believed to have been stopped in the same week that he was due to be announced as the successful candidate.

Meanwhile, Jacinda Ardern scolds Ohariu MP Greg O’Connorfor saying things could have been handled better…

ODT (NZME): MP told off for Curran resignation comments

Labour backbencher Greg O’Connor has received a “stern phone call” from Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern after criticising her handling of Clare Curran’s resignation.

O’Connor told Heather du Plessis-Allan on NewstalkZB today that Ardern’s handling of Curran’s decision to resign on Friday “could have been done better”.

“Yeah it could have been done better, I don’t think anyone will disagree with that. I’ll tell you what, it will be done better next time,” he said.

A spokesman for Ardern confirmed that Ardern gave O’Connor “a stern phone call” about his comments tonight.

“She has relayed her disappointment to Greg O’Connor around his remarks, and he has affirmed his support and confidence in the Prime Minister,” the spokesman said.

…but separately admits that she could have been handled things better.

RNZ: Lessons to be learned from Curran controversy – Ardern

At her post Cabinet briefing she was asked whether she could have handled the whole situation better.

“I, on reflection, can learn from some of the things along the journey of government. I don’t think you’d want a leader that couldn’t learn from the past.”

I wonder if she told herself off.

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.

Ardern battered by difficult week

‘Below the Beltway’ only lists some of the problems faced by Jacinda Ardern this week:

DOWN
Curran – Um, ah, um….um. 
Her response to questions about her use of a personal email address wasprobably the most woeful performance ever by a minister in response to questions in the HouseShe has paid the price.

Ardern – After raising hopes, Ardern avoided ruffling diplomatic feathers and found excuses not to meet refugees detained on Nauru.

Winston Peters – He pulled the rug out from under Ardern on the refugee quota at a time when he knew it would get maximum exposure.

These weren’t the first difficulties Ardern had to deal with – she got some criticism (and quite a bit of support) for requiring a special flight to Nauru so she wasn’t away from her baby for too long.

Peters throwing his political weight around and making Ardern look impotent may have been one of the most damaging in the long run.

Newshub:  Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern caves to Winston Peters after refugee remarks

The Prime Minister appears to have caved into Winston Peters over the Government’s pledge to increase the refugee quota – putting the plan to take an extra 500 every year in jeopardy.

That’s despite the government already funding two new accommodation blocks to house them.

Ms Ardern arrived in Nauru to an environment of confusion over her Government’s refugee policy, courtesy of Winston Peters.

Fran O’Sullivan: Jacinda Ardern faces growing challenge of Winston Peters

Winston Peters and Jacinda Ardern are in danger of moving towards a co-prime ministership in all but name.

It won’t be formally described that way. But the New Zealand First leader — who is officially Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister — is demonstrating that he is prepared to go against Ardern if she announces policies that are either not already announced in the Speech from the Throne or are not contained in the coalition and support agreements which Labour signed following last year’s election.

She appears to have caved in to Peters over the Government’s pledge to increase the refugee quota.

Not only did this not look good this week, Peters is not going to go away, and neither will his fondness for pushing his political weight around – or more accurately, getting away with more than he deserves with a 7% share of the vote (so about a 14% vote in Government).

Meka Whaitiri is an ongoing awkward situation too – she appeared in parliament this week when it suited her, but avoided Question Time scrutiny all week.

On top of this Ardern also appeared weak over the Clare Curran meltdown. Her half demotion two weeks ago was questioned as not going far enough for what looked like an ongoing problem. She stood by through Wednesday’s embarrassment in Parliament, and Labour’s fumbling after Curran failed to show up on Thursday.

And Ardern was almost the biggest story on Friday when Curran resigned as a minister – the resignation was no surprise as it looked inevitable.

But Ardern’s misleading comments before the resignation became official received a lot of attention.

Technically Ardern may be ‘correct’ in what she said, but she must have known she was leaving an erroneous impression with what she said and more importantly, what she failed to say.

Her ‘openness and transparency’ took a hammering, with some justification.

NZH: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told two radio stations she was not firing Clare Curran

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern gave two radio interviews this morning without revealing that Clare Curran had resigned from her position as a minister.

On Newstalk ZB, Ardern said she had not considered firing the Broadcasting Minister over a series of mis-steps.

“No, because I think she’s paid her price.”

And in a light-hearted interview on the entertainment-focused Radio Hauraki, when asked, “Are you going to fire … Curran,” the Prime Minister said, “No”.

When asked to elaborate, Ardern said Question Time in Parliament “is a pretty heavy environment … ministers have good days and bad days”.

Describing the core of the issue in Curran’s case, she said: “When you strip it back she neglected to put something in her diary. There are not many places people would get such a backlash over that.”

When asked by reporters about her comment to Newstalk ZB, Ardern said: “The question that I was asked this morning was whether I’d asked her to resign, and the answer was no.”

Officially at least Ardern didn’t ask Curran to resign, Curran offered her resignation and Ardern accepted it. But Ardern failed to disclose the resignation.

When the resignation was announced later in the day media reported that Ardern had lied. The Prime Minister’s office must have got busy getting them to ‘correct’ this. David Farrar, whose Kiwiblog must be considered significant media by Ardern’s media team, details how this played out, which includes the sending out of an edited transcript:

Ardern later tried to explain her misleading responses. NZH:

Talking on Newstalk ZB tonight, Ardern said that if she had said yes to the questions asked of her this morning, it would not have been a fair representation.

“The question I was asked, to be fair, was whether I was sacking her”.

“I hadn’t received her resignation at that point. I hadn’t moved the warrants on. I hadn’t called or even spoke to the ministers who needed to take over the job. I hadn’t informed the cabinet office and so that would have been absolutely premature.

Premature to advise on those aspects, yes. But

“Once all that was in place I was in a position to make clear what she had decided to do.

“Making it sound as though I had instigated it would have not been a fair reflection.”

“I don’t like to mislead. I like to be accurate in my language, but at that point, I’m not even clear the minister had told her family.”

If she had been clear and transparent and explained that Curran had offered her resignation and had not been asked there would have been no problem – except for Ardern’s spin team perhaps.

So the week started of challenging Ardern, and the succession of issues she had to deal with were relentless.

There is a positive for Ardern. Under just her own pressure Curran crumpled, but Ardern weathered a much wider storm, battered perhaps but not broken.

Claire Trevett: Clare Curran the canary in the mine for Jacinda Ardern

As with cats, ministers resort to fight or flight responses when the pressure goes on.

On the fight side are those who emerge tougher than tungsten from the pressure. They ride things out as best they can, take the consequences handed down, whether justified or not, and wait for a better day to dawn.

Judith Collins is one exhibit, Bill English and Helen Clark are others who have the intestinal fortitude to forge through hard times and ultimately triumph.

John Key also.

Ardern hasn’t forged through and triumphed, but she appears to have the fortitude to deal with adversity and carry on leading – as much as Peters allows her to lead of course.

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:

 

Curran on leave as pressure persists

A week after being dumped from Cabinet (but keeping the Broadcasting portfolio) Clare Curran is still under pressure, so much so that she took leave from Parliament yesterday rather than face more questions.

ODT: Questions left unanswered – Curran a no-show

It is not known when under-fire Dunedin South MP Clare Curran will return to Parliament.

The Minister of Broadcasting, Communications and Digital Media was a no-show in the House yesterday, a day after she gave a fumbling performance over questions about her use of a private email account.

In oral questions, National MP Melissa Lee again wanted to ask the minister if she stood by all her answers to oral and written questions.

Ms Lee sought leave to hold over her questions until Ms Curran was present but her request was denied.

Labour Cabinet minister Megan Woods answered questions on her behalf.

Woods didn’t actually answer any questions – this was a poor play by Labour.

Ms Curran did not respond to calls and her staff have told media she would not be available today either.

She has gone to ground, leaving a mess that so far Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has not addressed anywhere near adequately.

But Ardern (actually Chris Hipkins) is at least addressing the use of private email accounts by Ministers. Newstalk ZB: Curran takes leave as focus turns to email use

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is making sure ministers know her expectations around the use of personal email accounts being used for Government business, after Broadcasting Minister Clare Curran was caught out by the practice.

There is nothing in the Cabinet Manual, the rulebook for ministers, about the use of alternative email accounts.

But Minister of Ministerial Services Chris Hipkins said today that Ardern had asked the Cabinet Office to issue guidance on the use of alternative email accounts by ministers to clarify the issue.

That is expected to happen this week.

“There is nothing specifically in the Cabinet Manual about use of alternate email accounts. However, ministers, in the vast majority of cases, use the parliamentary email for ministerial/government business,” Hipkins said.

“There are very practical reasons why ministers sometimes use Gmail … It is good practice on these occasions to CC any Government business emails to their parliamentary emails. It is important to note also that Gmail use is subject to relevant transparency legislation: OIA, Public Records Act,” Hipkins said in a statement.

It is remarkable this hadn’t been dealt with already, but use of Gmail is only a part of Curran’s problem. Her confidence looks shot, and she has become a festering liability for Ardern’s Government.

I think Curran does ok as an electorate MP, but she has had a less stellar political career away from Dunedin.

She became embroiled in controversy in Parliament before becoming an MP. Wikipedia:

In May 2006 Curran was appointed to a contractual role within the Ministry for the Environment following a recommendation from Environment Minister David Parker’s office to provide communications advice on the Government’s climate change strategy. This appointment was the subject of an investigation by the State Services Commission into the appropriateness of Curran’s engagement. The report found that the Ministry had failed to adequately identify Curran’s conflict of interest with respect to her relationship with Minister Parker.

The report found that a staff member in Parker’s office had described Curran as Parker’s “right-hand woman” and in an email to Environment Ministry Chief Executive Hugh Logan, and recommended that Curran meet with Logan to discuss communications. Logan resigned as Chief Executive of the Ministry hours before the State Services Commission’s report into the Curran affair was released.

She denied links to Kim Dotcom’s Internet Party in 2014: Curran again denies links to Dotcom

Dunedin South MP Clare Curran has again been forced to deny she is the electorate MP aligned with Kim Dotcom’s Internet Party.

Ms Curran was originally outed as an MP who had visited the internet mogul but in her role as Labour’s associate ICT spokeswoman, she could have been seen as just doing her job.

She stayed at Dotcom’s ‘mansion’.

Speculation has abounded about Mr Dotcom’s claims he has signed up an electorate MP to stand for his party in the September 20 election.

”I can categorically state ‘it’s not me’. I have been confirmed as the Labour candidate in Dunedin South.

It was remarkable she was given the Open Government portfolio when she has had conflictions with openness going well back – she was one of the MPs whose overbearing control made the Labour ‘Red Alert’ blog a farce, banning people who posted things she didn’t like, including Labour Party members.

It is impossible to know how MPs will measure up as Ministers until they are given a chance. She was elected in 2008 in Dunedin South, so she had more than enough experience as an MP.

She has rendered Labour’s ‘Open Government’ a farce.

Curran simply hasn’t been good enough. She has made a major hash of things at least twice now, doing things she should have known better about. She seems to think that rules and appropriate conduct as a Minister don’t apply to her.

It’s hard to see her retaining her position as a Minister. Ardern has already been criticised for her half handling of Curran late last Friday, and ‘the optics’ have deteriorated significantly since then.

Whether she will recover enough to be able to chug along as an electorate MP is yet to be seen, but she is not a good look for Labour at a time they have a number of unfavourable issues seriously questioning their competence.

Ministers using private email accounts

The issue of Ministers using private email accounts while doing their jobs was raised in Parliament yesterday, when Minister of Broadcasting Clare Curran struggled answering questions from National’s Melissa Lee – see Curran struggling with confidence and memory.

Melissa Lee: Does she use a personal email account or accounts to conduct any official business?

Hon CLARE CURRAN: From time to time, I have used my Gmail account. When using it, I adhere to my obligations as a Minister.

Melissa Lee: What Government business has she conducted via her Gmail account?

Hon CLARE CURRAN: To the best of my recollection, I haven’t used my—I’ve answered Official Information Act (OIA) responses and personal and parliamentary questions correctly, and, to the best of my recollection, you know, that’s what I’ve done.

Without being prompted on the Official Information Act Curran must have recognised it could come up.

Avoiding having to provide communications through OIA requests has previously been said to be a reason why a Minister might use a private email account. It is a serious issue if Ministers use private emails to deliberately avoid their OIA obligations.

The Speaker Trevor Mallard then made this comment:

SPEAKER: And I’m going to rule that the member, between the primary and the supplementary answer, certainly answered that to my satisfaction. I mean, I think all of us know that there’s no restriction on members or Ministers using Gmail accounts. I think all of us know that a large amount of the foreign affairs business of the previous Government was carried out by Gmail.

That’s alarming. Is there really no restriction on Ministers using private email accounts when doing their jobs?

This came up as far back as 2012 when Activists hacked McCully’s emails

Labour says revelations Foreign Affairs Minister McCully’s email account was hacked into is a wake-up call and raises serious questions about what was sent to the private address.

The Telecom Xtra account was broken into by international hackers’ collective Anonymous, potentially revealing sensitive Cabinet information and cable traffic from foreign posts.

McCully had asked that official emails be forwarded to that account while he was overseas in April last year.

Prime Minister John Key said he was aware of the breach and warned other ministers to be more careful, particularly about passwords.

Key didn’t seem to have a problem with McCully using a private account, just that he may have had an insecure password.

Interestingly:

Labour’s information technology spokeswoman Clare Curran said she was “bemused” to learn the minister was having emails forwarded to a private accounts.

“There are questions to be answered.”

If it was easier for the minister to access a private account when he was overseas, that was an issue that needed to be addressed by Parliament’s information technology department.

But it was concerning if there was another reason, she said.

“What sort of correspondence would be going on between a minister and officials through a private account that wasn’t subject to the Official Information Act?”

From time to time the Parliamentary email system was unable to be accessed, Curran said.

“(But) given he holds a ministerial position, is it sensible to be using another email account which is so obviously that you’re a minister?”

She was aware six years ago of the potential to use “a private account that wasn’t subject to the Official Information Act”, but on other matters, like having private meetings, Curran’s memory has been a bit suspect so maybe she forgot this by the time she became Minister of Broadcasting, Communications and Digital Media, Minister for Government Digital Services and Associate Minister of State Services (Open Government) – she lost the Digital Services and Open Government portfolios two weeks ago due to her indiscretions.

I’d be surprised if there are not clear guidelines if not rules by now on the use of email accounts by Ministers.

Security is an obvious issue, especially after McCully had his private email account hacked.

And security and transparency of email accounts has received international attention when Hillary Clinton’s emails were hacked and leaked to (successfully) try to derail her presidential campaign.

It pales in comparison to the email controversy surrounding former United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, during her 2016 presidential run against US President Donald Trump, but has raised similar questions over security and transparency of information.

https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/106851077/embattled-minister-clare-curran-struggles-to-explain-using-personal-email-for-government-business

After that major security breach surely the new Zealand Parliament has ensured the our Ministers have secure email accounts to conduct their business.

And our Official Information Act was obviously on Curran’s mind yesterday. She referred to it indirectly and directly four times:

Hon CLARE CURRAN: From time to time, I have used my Gmail account. When using it, I adhere to my obligations as a Minister.

Hon CLARE CURRAN: To the best of my recollection, I haven’t used my—I’ve answered Official Information Act (OIA) responses and personal and parliamentary questions correctly…

Hon CLARE CURRAN: I worked with my office to ensure that I am responding appropriately to OIA requests and parliamentary questions.

Hon CLARE CURRAN: I have reviewed my processes with my office. I reassure that member that I’ve released information in accordance with the OIA.

And her final answer:

Hon CLARE CURRAN: As I’ve said, I have reviewed processes in my office, including with the former Government digital services.

I’m not sure what she means by “the former Government digital services”, but whoever runs email and communications systems for Ministers (and MPs), and whoever sets rules for communications and information storage for Ministers, surely must have secure systems and clear rules on use of email accounts.

I don’t know what official systems Ministers and MPs use for emailing. This from 2016 in Parliamentary Service defends blocking email between MP and Fairfax journalist:

Parliamentary Service told Hipkins the email he tried to forward was picked up by the secure system because he “sent it to a domain that does not use SEEMail” – in this case, Fairfax.

SEEMail is the agency used by Parliamentary Service for MPs and staff emails.

“SEEMail is an all of government secure messaging system that we subscribe to. SEEMail classified messages can only be sent to-from approved government departments and agencies,” Parliamentary Service wrote.

Their public email addresses must be in a different system too this.

They can’t just leave it to Ministers to do as they see fit.

Curran struggling with confidence and memory

Not a great effort from recently demoted (but still a Minister) Clare Curran in Question Time today.

Her lack of confidence shows. “To the best of my recollection um ah ah  I’ve haven’t um I haven’t used my um I have I’ve answered um OIA ah ah OIA responses and personal um and Parliamentary questions correctly and to the best of my recollection um ah you know that that has that’s what I’ve done.”

This dooesn’t show in Hansard: “To the best of my recollection, I haven’t used my—I’ve answered Official Information Act (OIA) responses and personal and parliamentary questions correctly, and, to the best of my recollection, you know, that’s what I’ve done.”

“To the best of my recollection” is not very reassuring from Curran, since her recollection (at best) has let her down twice leading to her demotion from Cabinet

From Hansard in February:

Melissa Lee: Does she stand by her answer to written question No. 19129 (2017) in regard to meeting with board members or staff of TVNZ or RNZ since 1 December?

Hon CLARE CURRAN: Yes.

Melissa Lee: How can she stand by that answer when she failed to mention her breakfast meeting with RNZ head of content Carol Hirschfeld on 2 December?

Hon CLARE CURRAN: I have a range of discussions, informal or otherwise, with many people in a range of portfolio areas.

And last week::

Clare Curran removed from Cabinet

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has removed Clare Curran from Cabinet and accepted her offer to resign her Government Digital Services portfolio and Open Government responsibilities, following a second failure to properly declare a meeting.

In February this year Minister Curran met with Mr Derek Handley at her Beehive office in her capacity as Minister of Government Digital Services to discuss Mr Handley’s interest in the vacant Chief Technology Officer (CTO) role.

The meeting was not recorded in the Minister’s diary and neither the Minister’s staff nor officials were made aware of it.

The meeting was subsequently mistakenly left out of an answer to a recent Parliamentary Question for Written Answer. The meeting should have been included in the answer and the error has been corrected.

“The failure to record the meeting in her diary; inform her staff and officials; and accurately answer Parliamentary questions has left the Minister open to the accusation that she deliberately sought to hide the meeting.” said Jacinda Ardern.

It’s difficult to see how the Prime Minister can have confidence in Curran as a Minister.

The transcript from  today’s Question Time doesn’t look as bad as the video:

Question No. 12—Broadcasting, Communications and Digital Media

12. MELISSA LEE (National) to the Minister of Broadcasting, Communications and Digital Media: Does she stand by all her statements and actions?

Hon CLARE CURRAN (Minister of Broadcasting, Communications and Digital Media): Yes, in their context.

Melissa Lee: Does she use a personal email account or accounts to conduct any official business?

Hon CLARE CURRAN: From time to time, I have used my Gmail account. When using it, I adhere to my obligations as a Minister.

Melissa Lee: What Government business has she conducted via her Gmail account?

Hon CLARE CURRAN: I just answered that: from time to time, I’ve used my Gmail account. And I’ve—[Interruption]

SPEAKER: Sorry, sorry. Can members on my left be quiet, and I want the Minister to start her answer—

Hon CLARE CURRAN: Can the member repeat her question?

Melissa Lee: What Government business has she conducted via her Gmail account?

Hon CLARE CURRAN: To the best of my recollection, I haven’t used my—I’ve answered Official Information Act (OIA) responses and personal and parliamentary questions correctly, and, to the best of my recollection, you know, that’s what I’ve done.

Melissa Lee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The question specifically asked what Government business the Minister has actually conducted using her Gmail.

SPEAKER: And I’m going to rule that the member, between the primary and the supplementary answer, certainly answered that to my satisfaction. I mean, I think all of us know that there’s no restriction on members or Ministers using Gmail accounts. I think all of us know that a large amount of the foreign affairs business of the previous Government was carried out by Gmail.

Melissa Lee: What steps has she or her office undertaken to ensure any correspondence she receives in her Gmail in-box relating to her portfolio is recorded in accordance with official record-keeping practices?

Hon CLARE CURRAN: I worked with my office to ensure that I am responding appropriately to OIA requests and parliamentary questions.

SPEAKER: That’s—I think the member will have another crack at that, because that didn’t cover the entire question. The member might want to repeat the question, so the Minister understands it.

Melissa Lee: I will repeat the question, sir. What steps has she or her office undertaken to ensure any correspondence she receives in her Gmail in-box relating to her portfolio is recorded in accordance with official record-keeping practices?

Hon CLARE CURRAN: I have reviewed my processes with my office. I reassure that member that I’ve released information in accordance with the OIA.

Melissa Lee: Why did she state, “My staff have access to my email accounts and assess whether the correspondence falls under my ministerial portfolios.” in the Minister’s reply to written question No. 19442?

Hon CLARE CURRAN: Well, because they do.

Melissa Lee: How many email accounts has she used for ministerial business other than those listed on the Parliament, ministerial, Beehive, or Labour Party websites?

Hon CLARE CURRAN: As I said in answer to the first supplementary, from time to time I’ve used my Gmail account. When using it, I adhere to my obligations as a Minister

Melissa Lee: What discussions has she had with the coalition Government’s former Minister for Government Digital Services about record-keeping practices?

Hon CLARE CURRAN: As I’ve said, I have reviewed processes in my office, including with the former Government digital services.