Clare Curran and the brutality of politics

I don’t think Clare Curran was cut out to be political. After working in Parliament she managed to get herself into a fairly safe Labour seat in Dunedin South, and was a fairly committed and decent electorate MP, but she never seemed a good fit for party or Wellington politics. And she ended up being brutalised by it.

Actually, not by ‘it’. by people.

Some of it she brought upon herself as she tried to message manage in social media. She was involved in Labour’s attempt at a blog that gradually banned people.

But once Labour got into Government and Curran became a minister, people in the National Party, MPs, targeted Curran and help destroy her political career.  and Cameron Slater and others who see destroying people as a game.

She also made some dumb decisions so her demise was partly self inflicted, but dirty politics came close to destroying her as a person.

The Spinoff:  ‘I physically felt like I was going to die’: Clare Curran opens up on politics, toxicity and trauma

Curran says she was a top target for the likes of rightwing blogger Cameron Slater and lobbyist and commentator Matthew Hooton throughout her four terms. “They hated me.” In some of his many posts about her, Slater described Curran as “something dreadful” and “dumber than a bag of hammers”.

That’s fairly mild by Slater’s standards.

Curran commissioned research on coverage of her from September 30, 2017 (the week after the general election) to October 27, 2018. Of the 509 (non-broadcast) articles about her, 139 were negative blogs on Cameron Slater’s WhaleOil site. The Otago Daily Times produced just 62 articles.  Slater produced the most articles about Curran – more than twice as many as any other writer.

Curran seems a bit obsessed with Slater’s attacks, but that shows how relentless he was in trying to destroy someone. remember that at this time he had been distanced by National, and was promoting Winston Peters and NZ First, so this was probably just combat sport to him. Until he got involved in the crash and burn of Jamie Lee Ross (sort of supporting Ross but that may have been more to try to damage National).

Ross has responded to Curran’s revelations via https://twitter.com/jamileeross

I had such mixed emotions reading this. You would have to be heartless, or so partisan that you’re now devoid of humanity, to not feel empathy for Clare. But at the same time, I recall being on the other side when it was all happening.

I was in the 8am strategy meetings when we were deciding to throw everything we had at her. I was in the morning procedures meetings as Melissa Lee would share what her latest hit on Clare was going to be.

Clare was a weak link. National wanted to break her. And we did. Watching those question time answers, from about 10 metres away, you could pinpoint the very moment her career ended. I can only now imagine what it felt like. But at the time all we felt was excitement and success.

Parliament turns normal people in to savages. Another human was going through probably the most traumatic experience they’ll ever go through. Clare lost her job, reputation, her mental well-being. What were we doing? Laughing. Backslapping. Praising the destroyers. We were awful.

Yeah, accountability is important. But why enjoy the destruction of others so much? Do we really need to revel is someone else’s downfall? Sure, we all signed up for what Parliament is. But why did we also sign up for forgetting decency when we walked in the door? Sorry Clare.

At least he has said sorry two years later, but MPs and party hoodlums seem to get caught up in the dirty politics game.

There’s a big difference between holding the Government to account and trying to politically and mentally destroy people. Slater only does that because he was part of a party that has done that for a long time.

Curran received six to eight months of psychological treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder after that disastrous afternoon. “I’m not Shane Jones. I didn’t have a pat answer. I don’t do bluster and I was trying to answer honestly and I couldn’t come up with the words and my mind went blank. It was the worst nightmare in front of everyone. I remember a sensation of pressure that built up, and quite honestly, during those first few days I felt like I was literally going to die. I felt physically that I was going to die because the stress had got so much and there was nowhere else for it to go.”

At times, she admits, she thought she might even quite like to die.

Very sad to see her get to a dark place like that.

Curran says within weeks of the formation of the coalition government in 2017, a person she won’t name told her that she was the main target for the opposition. “Around the time I came into parliament, and even before, I was squarely on the radar of Hooton and Slater and [blogger and pollster] David Farrar. I had a disproportionate amount of focus on me. I was seen as an easy picking.”

Openly at least Farrar (on Kiwiblog) wasn’t anywhere near as relentless or nasty as Slater, but the two are seen by some to work in tandem – Farrar continued to support Slater even after the latter fell out with National.

I don’t know what Hooton’s involvement was. I would have to see evidence before I will see it as more dirty politics, Curran seems to have been very sensitive to any sort of criticism, and may see it all as trying to get to her.

She says senior National MP Nick Smith labelled her “Goebbels” after her 2006 paper to a regional Labour Party conference, in which she discussed how the party could reframe public debate and resonate with voters by communicating with “values-based” language. When she became a minister in 2017, she says her efforts to reform public broadcasting faced “hostility and disdain” from media commentators.

That sounds like more super-sensitivity to criticism of Curran’s performance as a minister.  Political journalists have their faults, but they can usually pick when ministers aren’t up to the job.

I don’t think Curran was up to being an effective Minister – just a few people in each government end up being very capable ministers, the rest turn out to be ok or mediocre or poor. There’s no way of knowing until they try, but the success rate of ministers (and leaders) isn’t high.

Curran can see why they might see her as a weak link and, in the manner of a pack of lions hunting a gazelle, pick her off from the rest of the herd. She accepts that’s a reasonable strategy to embarrass a government. “Oh yeah, and I’m not angry about that. This is the business we are in. But there was a coming together … In my opinion there was a view within the press gallery that they were on board with that.

“I have strengths but I also have weaknesses and one of those is that in the political arena, I’m not a great orator. I’m not hugely quick off the mark. You are either naturally good at it or you have to learn how to do it at question time.”

It wasn’t just her lack of skills at speaking, despite her training in PR. Lack of confidence and lack of being on top of her  portfolios, and making basic mistakes not just once but repeatedly, and not being open as Minister of Open Government all contributed to Curran’s downfall.

Curran’s beef seems to be not with the fact that she was held to account, but that the persistence of the pursuit was out of order. Asked why she did what she did, she replies: “Tell me what it was that I did”, seeming still not to grasp why an apparent lack of openness – even if unintended – is especially problematic for the minister for open government.

It’s fair enough to hold her accountable for her mistakes, she says. “It’s the kind of accountability that you get held to, it’s inequitable for some people. It became apparent to me reasonably quickly, by February, around the time of the Carol Hirschfeld scrutiny, that it was an unrelenting focus.”

Because she wasn’t handling her job well. There will be no respite for a wounded minister, and there shouldn’t be.

Perhaps part leaders and Prime Ministers should be much more on to this and either support or demote poor performers and those who are mentally struggling.

What Curran highlights is three things:

  • MPs promoted to ministerial roles may or may not step up to the workload, responsibilities, and pressure.
  • Prime Ministers should deal more quickly with under performing or struggling Ministers.
  • Politics is often a nasty, dirty brutal game of deliberate attack and attrition, and it needn’t and shouldn’t be.

Dunedin’s problem MPs

There has been a poor record with Dunedin MPs this century.

David Benson-Pope asked to be relived of his portfolios in 2005 after he was accused of bullying as a teacher, resigned as a Minister in 2007 and was not selected to stand in his Dunedin South electorate in 2008.

Metiria Turei in 2017.

Clare Curran in 2018

David Clark lost portfolio and was demoted to the bottom of Cabinet in 2020 and would have been sacked as a minister altogether if not for the Covid-19 pandemic (his knowledge as Minister of Health was deemed important enough to retain him in a crisis).

David Benson-Pope was a Labour Member of Parliament for Dunedin South from 1999 to 2008, and a Cabinet Minister from 2005-2008.

May 2005: Benson-Pope steps down as bully inquiry looms

David Benson-Pope stood down from the Cabinet last night until an inquiry decides whether he administered cruel punishment to former pupils and assaulted one of them.

The allegations were raised again last night on TV3 after three of the five accusers identified themselves. One included a man who says that as a 14-year-old he had a tennis ball stuffed in his mouth. They were all students of Bayfield High School in Dunedin, where Mr Benson-Pope taught for 24 years. They say there are other witnesses to some of the alleged incidents.

The accusations against him include throwing tennis balls at students to keep them quiet, striking a pupil with the back of his hand and making the pupil’s nose bleed at a school camp, and caning a student hard enough to draw blood.

Mr Benson-Pope asked to be relieved of his portfolios, the compulsory education sector and fisheries.

Helen Clark referred to the allegations as “the start of what is a rather ugly election campaign, where a desperate and dateless Opposition will drag out whatever it can to smear the character of whoever they can”.

Benson-Pope was reelected in 2005, became a Minister in the next Labour-led government but had more problems, leading to his resignation as a Minister in 2007. From Wikipedia:

After a week of intense pressure focusing not only on the allegation that his staff had acted improperly, but also that he himself had misled Parliament, the media and his Prime Minister about his knowledge and involvement, Benson-Pope offered his resignation from Cabinet at noon on Friday 27 July 2007. Subsequent investigations by the State Services Commissioners Hunn and Prebble make it clear that neither the Minister nor his staff acted in any way inappropriately.

Prime Minister Helen Clark accepted the resignation, saying: “The way in which certain issues have been handled this week has led to a loss of credibility and on that basis I have accepted Mr Benson-Pope’s offer to stand aside”. An editorial commented “Not for the first time, he and the Government have been embarrassed less for what he has done than for his inability to simply say what he has done.”

Benson Pope sought the Labour nomination for Dunedin South for the 2008 election but was replaced by Clare Curran.

Metiria Turei was a Green list MP based in Dunedin North from 2002 to 2017, becoming Green co-leader in 2009. In the lead up to the 2017 election she admitted to benefit fraud over a period of three years in the early 1990s and after the Green Party plummeted in the polls she resigned as co-leader and withdrew from the Green list, stood in the Te Tai Tonga electorate only and failed to get back into Parliament. Wikipedia:

Turei resigned as co-leader of the Green Party and as a list candidate for the 2017 election on 9 August 2017, saying that the “scrutiny on [her] family has become unbearable.” She stated that her intention was to not return to Parliament after the election. Not being on the list meant that, if she failed to win the electorate of Te Tai Tonga where she was standing, she would not return to Parliament after the election. During August, the Green party fell in opinion polls to around the 5% threshold, below which there wouldn’t be representation in Parliament, and Labour’s new leader, Jacinda Ardern, generated such a turnaround that by the end of the month, Labour overtook National in the ratings.

“Metiria Turei’s spectacular own goal in admitting to benefit and electoral fraud not only effectively ended her career but also took down two of her colleagues, savaged a healthy poll rating and led to Labour’s changing of the guard and reversal of fortunes.”
— Clare de Lore, New Zealand Listener

Clare Curran took over in Dunedin South from Benson-Pope in 2008 and became a Cabinet Minister in the Labour led government in 2017. Wikipedia:

In late March 2018, Curran became the subject of media attention after it emerged that she had secretly met with Radio New Zealand broadcaster and senior manager Carol Hirschfeld on 5 December 2017 outside of parliamentary business. Curran initially claimed the meeting was coincidental but later admitted it had been pre-arranged. These revelations led to Hirschfeld’s resignation from her position as senior manager at Radio NZ. The meeting was related to the Labour-led government’s plans to expand public broadcasting through Radio New Zealand.

On 24 August 2018, Prime Minister Ardern dismissed Curran from the Cabinet after Curran acknowledged that she had kept a second meeting off the records. In February, Curran had met with tech entrepreneur Derek Handley at her Beehive office to discuss his interest in the vacant Chief Technology Officer role. Curran had failed to disclose the meeting in her ministerial diary and to inform staff or officials about it. Curran apologized to the Prime Minister for her actions and also resigned from her positions as Minister of Government Digital Services and Minister of Open Government. Curran kept her Broadcasting, Communications and Digital Media and associate ACC portfolios.

On 5 September 2018, Curran “appeared flustered” and “stumbled over her answers” when answering questions during question time from opposition National MP Melissa Lee regarding Curran’s use of a personal Gmail account for Ministerial use.[34] Two days later Curran resigned as a Minister of Broadcasting and Associate Minister of ACC, saying she could “no longer endure the relentless pressure I’ve been under”.

On 27 August 2019, Curran announced that she would be retiring from Parliament and not seek election at the 2020 general election.

David Clark became Labour MP for Dunedin North in 2011. He became a Cabinet Minister in the incoming Labour-led government in 2017. As Minister of Health he had a key role dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020. New Zealand was put into lockdown on Thursday 26 March. A week later it was revealed that Clark had driven to a mountain bike park for a ride during the lockdown, a marginal action under the lockdown rules.

Clark avoided interviews and said little for four days until he revealed that in the first weekend of the lockdown he had driven 20 km with his family to a beach, which clearly breached the rules and the repeated requests from Prime Minister Ardern.  Statement from the Prime Minister on Dr David Clark:

“Yesterday evening the Health Minister advised me of his trip to a beach during the lockdown and offered his resignation,” Jacinda Ardern said.

“Under normal conditions I would sack the Minister of Health. What he did was wrong, and there are no excuses.

“But right now, my priority is our collective fight against COVID-19. We cannot afford massive disruption in the health sector or to our response. For that reason, and that reason alone, Dr Clark will maintain his role.

“But he does need to pay a price. He broke the rules.

“While he maintains his Health portfolio, I am stripping him of his role as Associate Finance Minister and demoting him to the bottom of our Cabinet rankings.

Journalists see his ministerial career at least as untenable after the Covid-crisis, or after the next election. Asked after this if he would stand for reelection Clark has been non-committal.

That’s a poor record from Dunedin based MPs over the past 15 years.

It hasn’t been all bad.

Pete Hodgson was Labour MP for Dunedin North from 1990 to 2011 And was a Cabinet Minister in the Clark led government from 1999 to 2008, including as Minister of Health. He is now working on behalf of Clark managing the Dunedin Hospital rebuild.

Michael Woodhouse has been National list MP for Dunedin North from 2008 to the present, became a Minister outside Cabinet in 2013 in the Key Government and served various ministerial roles through to 2017.

Current senior Ministers in the Ardern Government Grant Robertson and David Parker are based elsewhere now but have strong connections to Dunedin.

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.