Curran’s partial dumping news survives the weekend

The news conference late on Friday afternoon announcing that Clare Curran had been dumped from Cabinet but retained two portfolios has been widely seen in media as a cynical attempt to bury the news in the weekend. This appears to have been unsuccessful.

NZH:  Minister Clare Curran’s forgotten meeting to cost her $46,000 a year in lost salary

By being kicked out of cabinet, by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Curran’s annual salary drops from $296,007, to $249,839, the salary of ministers outside cabinet.

As well as being removed from cabinet, Curran resigned from her government digital services portfolio and her open government responsibilities. She remains Minister of Broadcasting, Communications and Digital Media, and Associate Minister of ACC.

So half the ministerial responsibilities and a bit less pay.

Jonathan Milne:  Public can have no confidence in broadcast minister – and neither can Prime Minister

But still, the Prime Minister retains confidence in her to serve New Zealand as broadcasting minister.

This is surprising, because it is the second time Curran has been caught out failing to disclose meetings with high-profile broadcasters – first Radio NZ’s news boss Carol Hirschfeld, now Sky TV director Derek Handley.

Both meetings came as the Government prepared to take significant decisions affecting those broadcast organisations: whether to fund Radio NZ to set up a new public service TV channel; whether to support Government MP Clayton Mitchell’s private member’s bill guaranteeing New Zealanders free-to-air sports.

So it is not just Curran’s performance in the open government and digital services portfolios that should be called into question, but also her transparency as broadcasting minister.

Curran keeping Broadcasting has raised a number of media eyebrows.

NZ Herald Editorial: Jacinda Ardern has ‘sacked’ her first minister

Now she has been demoted for a second offence of a similar nature. She met businessman Derek Handley to discuss something to do with the Government’s appointment of a chief technology officer. This time the meeting was in her Beehive office at a time, 8pm, when staff were not present and the meeting was not recorded in her diary.

A month later she failed to disclose the meeting in answer to a parliamentary written question from a National MP. The Prime Minister learned of this last Monday and announced Curran’s dismissal from the Cabinet on Friday afternoon.

She made it clear that, once again, Curran’s wrongdoing was not the meeting but the failure to properly record it and report it to Parliament when asked. That, said Ardern, created an “impression and perception that lacks transparency and is not something I will tolerate, particularly from a minister for open government.”

It might be wondered in passing, whether open government was well served by the decision to announce Curran’s fate on Friday afternoon when all attention was going to be on events in Canberra.

Curran remains Minister of Broadcasting and a minister overseeing the Accident Compensation Corporation. Apart from a drop in salary and status, she has not lost very much. If she is not up to task of a Cabinet minister, she should not be a minister.

Ardern needs to do what prime ministers must do when a person they have appointed is not up to job.

Kate Hawkesby: More concerning than a flaky Clare Curran is a soft Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern

Two token portfolios taken off her – Government Digital Services and Open Government removed from her watch, and getting lumped outside Cabinet.

But she gets to keep her plum roles as Broadcasting and ACC Minister. Why?

Strong leadership is always more desirable than someone willing to offer lots of second chances to a recidivist offender.

I would have thought the fact Derek Handley is on the board of Sky TV is all the ammunition you need to fire your Minister of Broadcasting.

So what are you waiting for Prime Minister?

That last article was republished in the ODT (who covered Curran’s demotion extensively in their Saturday edition as she is a Dunedin MP).  They are running an online poll:

Has Clare Curran paid a fair price for twice failing to properly declare meetings?

  • Yes: 18%
  • No she has been treated to harshly. She should have stayed in Cabinet: 2%
  • No she has not been treated harshly enough. She has stuffed up too many times and should no longer be a Minister: 80%

That is at best only a rough indication of public opinion, but it’s a rough look for Curran on home turf.

I expect that this issue will be raised at this afternoon’s weekly media conference with Ardern.

 

 

Bridges leak and Curran semi-demotion: more to come?

The two big political stories of the week (in New Zealand) may not be over yet.

News of Clare Curran’s semi demotion was dumped late on Friday, and that raised suspicions by media, as it should have. They may get more out of the story yet – or Curran may have learned from her second similar stuff up and become an uncontroversial minister outside Cabinet.

There has to be more on the Bridges expenses leaker who played a mental health card, as well as suggesting their life was at risk if the leak inquiry continued. The speaker Trevor Mallard stopped the inquiry, which raises more questions.

Stacey Kirk:  The foreboding sense there’s more to come in two capital scandals

On Curran

The self-styled “most open and transparent Government ever” has just ushered in its first ministerial sacking: former Minister for Open Government Clare Curran for less than transparent practices.

Curran mislead the House and failed to disclose a meeting she held with entrepreneur Derek Handley, who expressed an interest in becoming the country’s first chief technology officer.

It’s her second offence of an almost identical nature and while it was at best a sloppy administrative oversight, it’s left both her and the Government open to accusations of dishonesty.

Ardern had no choice but to sack her from Cabinet, but has left the door open for her re-entry as Curran retains ministerial warrants for broadcasting and ACC. And as her first major disciplinary act, not cutting the cancer entirely could be a decision Ardern comes to regret.

This story could now fade away, unless Curran does something else to attract adverse attention.

Ardern has established a reputation as being prepared to act against erring Ministers, eventually but not particularly decisively.

On the Bridges leaker

The case of the Bridges leak is so far from closed.

Which is why the decision by Speaker Trevor Mallard to call off the investigation makes little sense. But there doesn’t seem to be much about the saga that makes sense anymore.

One thing we know is there a person who has mental health issues, who may not be coping in the role and cannot possibly be getting all the help they need because no one knows who to provide it to.

The leaker sent texts to both Bridges and Mallard last week and it goes without saying, all mental health claims have to be taken at face value. By all accounts National acted swiftly to ensure the right approach was taken under the circumstances; engaging professional mental health advice and police.

But mental health issues are not a free pass to avoid accountability either and Mallard’s decision makes it hard to shake the impression that Parliament’s institutions are now that much more susceptible to manipulation or worse, blackmail.

Mallard has absolved himself of any responsibility for a mental health meltdown. These sorts of threats are unlikely to happen often if at all again, but it leaves questions hanging.

In a statement, Mallard seemed to suggest that the case appeared to be closed and Parliamentary Service all but absolved. Not quite.

None of the questions that prompted the inquiry to be called, have been answered. While it does at least seem more likely than not that the culprit was within the National caucus, it is not proven.

This story can’t just be swept under the carpet in the hope that it will be forgotten.

Whether it was a National MP or not, suspicion hovers over all of them.

As the axe fell on Curran and the leak investigation, Ardern and Mallard probably thought they were taking decisive action to draw the curtains on separate sagas they clearly did not want to be involved in.

Instead, a foreboding fog of unfinished business is settling in the air.

Something for journalists to get to work on.

Jonathan Milne already has worked on it:  Public can have no confidence in broadcast minister – and neither can Prime Minister

Both meetings came as the Government prepared to take significant decisions affecting those broadcast organisations: whether to fund Radio NZ to set up a new public service TV channel; whether to support Government MP Clayton Mitchell’s private member’s bill guaranteeing New Zealanders free-to-air sports.

So it is not just Curran’s performance in the open government and digital services portfolios that should be called into question, but also her transparency as broadcasting minister.

It is entirely possible that the words “free-to-air” or “piracy” were never mentioned in that evening meeting in the Beehive office; that Curran and Handley were focused on his application for the role of Chief Technology Officer of NZ Inc.

But with no notes of the meeting disclosed, no advisers present, and a track record of unreliable answers from the Minister to Parliament itself, the public can have no confidence.

And neither can the Prime Minister.

 

Clare Curran voluntarily dumped, partially

In the traditional time for releasing news you want buried in the weekend, Jacinda Ardern and Clare Curran gave slightly different versions of Curran’s demotion today for repeating a failure to properly record a meeting.

Ardern says 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.

Dr Megan Woods will take over as Minister of Government Digital Services and Ms Curran’s delegated responsibilities in relation to Open Government will revert to Chris Hipkins, as Minister for State Services. Minister Curran will retain her responsibilities as Minister for Broadcasting, Communications and Digital Media, and as Associate Minister for ACC, but will now sit outside Cabinet.

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. This meeting took place after the first unsuccessful recruitment round for the CTO. As with approaches from other interested parties, the Minister directed Mr Handley to register his interest with MBIE officials. Applications reopened for the CTO role in May.

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. Ms Curran has advised there have been no other meetings between herself and Mr Handley outside the application process.

“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.

“While this was not the Minister’s intention, this is the second misjudgement and is not in keeping with my expectations, or the Minister’s expectations of herself. As a result I have chosen to remove Minister Curran from Cabinet.

“Transparency is important, even more so for Hon Curran given her Open Government responsibilities.

“I have accepted the Minister’s offer to resign her responsibilities relevant to this issue, which clearly she can no longer continue in.

So Ardern accepted an offer to resign, but removed her, or something like that.

The demotion from Cabinet but loss of only some of her portfolios must have been at least discussed, it’s hard to see Curran offering to resign exactly as Ardern dictated.

Curran’s statement:

So she is still promoting her retained responsibilities. Some have said it is a bit of a Claytons dumping.

And it has been pointed out that it’s a bit cynical for Ardern to claim “Transparency is important” when she waited until late on a busy news Friday, with the Bridges leak fiasco and Australian leadership fiasco dominating news.

I don’t think the loss of Open Government will disappoint many people, Curran has failed to live up to her responsibilities in a number of ways. She is probably a popular demotee.

I’m not sure how will Chris Hipkins will fit with the open Government role alongside his job as Government Whip.

 

 

Minister embarrassed by Advisory Group failing to keep minutes

Minister of Broadcasting, Communications and Digital Media Minister, and Associate Minister for ACC and of State Services (Open Government) Clare Curran has been embarrassed by a letter that shows an advisory group she set up failed to take minutes at meetings when they found out they would be subject to the Official Information Act.

In Parliament today:

12. MELISSA LEE (National) to the Associate Minister of State Services (Open Government): Has she provided any guidance to State agencies and Government bodies about best practice to achieve open and transparent Government?

Hon CLARE CURRAN (Associate Minister of State Services): No, and that’s because the State Services Commissioner provides leadership to the State services on these matters.

Melissa Lee: How concerned would she be if she were to learn that a Government-appointed body had decided not to minute their meetings because those minutes could be subject to the Official Information Act?

Hon CLARE CURRAN: Well, the State Services Commissioner provides, as I said, leadership to the State services. Some examples of that: guidance is provided on the Official Information Act (OIA) to increase public access to information, there is guidance on providing free and frank advice and codes of conduct for staff in ministerial offices, as well as speaking up guidance—so a range of advice on a range of matters. So that’s good advice to the State services, and if there are instances of concern, then I suggest that she raise them with the State services.

Melissa Lee: Is she concerned that the ministerial advisory group appointed by the Minister of Broadcasting, Communications and Digital Media to decide the future of public media funding in New Zealand has decided not to keep minutes of their meetings because they would be subject to the Official Information Act?

Hon CLARE CURRAN: I’m not aware of that, but what I would say is that that the ministerial advisory group has provided reports to the Minister, which will be provided in due course publicly.

Melissa Lee: Is it open and transparent for the public media ministerial advisory group responsible for millions of taxpayers’ dollars for public broadcasting to no longer take minutes of their meetings in order to avoid being subject to the Official Information Act?

Hon CLARE CURRAN: I think I’ve already answered that, but I’ll repeat that ministerial advisory groups provide advice to Ministers—that’s what they’re set up to do. That advice is made public to the media in due course as the process goes through.

Melissa Lee: Is it open and transparent for the public media ministerial advisory group responsible for millions of taxpayer dollars for public broadcasting to no longer take minutes of their meetings—

Hon CLARE CURRAN: I’m unaware of any allegation of that sort. My understanding is that my ministerial advisory group is providing reports to me which will be made public in due course. I’m unaware of that matter that that member is raising.

Melissa Lee: I seek leave to table a letter dated 19 June 2018 from Te Manatū Taonga, which is the Ministry for Culture and Heritage, and the 27 February 2018 minutes of the public media advisory group, released from the Minister’s office under the OIA.

Mr SPEAKER: Is there any objection to those documents being tabled? There appears to be none.

Documents, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.

A screenshot of the minute recorded.A screenshot of the minute recorded. Photo credit: Screengrab/Newshub. (more…)

Government says it has no plans to reform the Official Information Act

Concerns of abuse of the Official Information Act by Government Ministers have been growing for years.

Last December: Clare Curran is planning a few shake-ups

Broadcasting aside, Curran has also been given the newly created role as the Minister in charge of ‘open government’.

Falling under her Associate State Services portfolio it’s a natural fit for Curran who during her years in opposition was a loud campaigner for greater transparency.

She repeatedly criticised the National-led coalition for refusing to improve government practice in the area and for gaming the Official Information Act (OIA).

But, of course, when the shoe is on the other foot those strong views can sometimes mellow.

Curran was apparently “half-hearted” when asked by the Otago Daily Times if she agreed the OIA was being manipulated for political purposes but is clearer now that it has happened in the past, but won’t in the future.

How can she be sure that a Labour Minister won’t do the same thing a year or two down the line, once they’re feeling more secure in their power?

“Through better processes and protocols being in place that we all sign up to and agree to. I don’t think it is being made to agree to it (formally), it’s about a will and getting things right.”

To push through this change, she and Justice Minister Andrew Little will review the Act and previous recommendations from the Law Commission and the Ombudsman and take a policy to Cabinet.

While the final result may not be a major legislative change, Curran is supportive of a former Labour Private Member’s Bill that called for the Ombudsman to be given the power to fine departments and Minister’s offices that inappropriately withheld information.

Real change will take time, she says, with a culture shift within the public service needed.

“To change the way that advice is provided, to the way in which it is released to the public, is not something that can be turned around overnight.

“It’s hugely frustrating, it means that people feel there’s a deliberate attempt to keep every piece of information withheld from public scrutiny. That is the thing that has to be turned around.”

But it now appears that no review of the OIA will happen.

NZ Council for Civil Liberties: Disappointment as Government says it has no plans to reform the Official Information Act


Contrary to reporting last year, it seems that the Government currently has no plans to reform the Official Information Act.

At the time we wrote to Ministers Clare Curran and Andrew Little expressing our support for such a reform. We have finally had a response from Justice Minister Andrew Little that:

Although a review of the Official Information Act is not presently under consideration by the Government, such a review is possible at some point in the future.

Chairperson of the NZ Council for Civil Liberties, Thomas Beagle says:

We’re very disappointed that the Government won’t be reforming the OIA, it’s a vital tool in holding governments to account. The OIA has been steadily weakened over the years by both changes in how government works, and gaming of the law by Ministers and public servants.

Among other things, the Council would like to see serious consideration given to:

  • Further encouragement for extensive pro-active publication of documents.
  • Removing commercial sensitivity as a ground for withholding information, particularly for outsourced government services.
  • Giving the Office of the Ombudsman more resources and powers to enforce the Act.
  • Restricting the use of the “legal privilege” grounds to times when matters are actually before a court.
  • Reducing Ministerial interference with OIA requests.

We believe that the Official Information Act does need substantive reform, and that the reform process should include significant public consultation and participation. “The Official Information Act needs to be updated so that it can continue to be used to deliver open and transparent government in service of our democracy. We call upon the Government to reconsider its position and start the OIA reform process now,” says Thomas Beagle.

Redacted document dump, closed communications by Open Government minister

Clare Curran has dumped a pile of documents related to the RNZ saga on journalists tonight.

ODT (NZME):  Curran releases information on RNZ saga

The office of Broadcasting Minister Clare Curran has released a raft of documents, text messages and other information, including a voicemail left on her phone by Radio New Zealand chairman Richard Griffin.

The documents, loaded on to the Beehive website late today, are Curran’s response to requests made under the Official Information Act in the wake of the resignation of RNZ’s former head of content Carol Hirschfeld.

The large wad of documents contained many redactions but no smoking gun.

It looks like the Minister of Open Government has closed down the barrel.

One text exchange, released today but with identifying information redacted, said: “If it comes up again the answer will be that it was arranged at short notice. It’s clear from talking to her that it was not spur of the moment.”

The response came back: “Can you send a copy of the staff announcement please.”

Today’s release of information includes a text from Curran following her voice mail which says: “Hi Richard I have left a voicemail message re a written correction to the select committee that is needed today. Can you please advise you have received the message and it can be done. Thanks.”

Griffin then left a message for Curran which said: “Good afternoon Minister I just picked up your call this morning, and your text. The fact is we agreed last … I agreed last Monday with the Chairman that we would appear … we have since requested such an action and on Tuesday amended the appearance date from 1 o’clock today to 9am next Thursday. I can only suggest you have a word with the Chair if necessary but, we’ve already got a signed deal with them to have it on 9 o’clock on Thursday and we’re taking legal advice … we took legal advice yesterday with Hugh Rennie QC so that’s where the situation is from my point of view. The same applies to the message I got from Paul James today. Call me back if you’ve got a problem. Cheers.”

Curran declined to comment this evening.

The Minister of Broadcasting and Minister of Open Government has closed down communications.

Labour, Green MPs block holding Curran to account

The Government that promised more openness and transparency has taken another step backwards, with Labour and Green MPs on the Economic Development, Science and Innovation Committee voting against asking Broadcasting Minister Clare Curran to appear before it to clarify unanswered questions about her meeting with ex-RNZ employee Carol Hirschfeld and her communications with RNZ chairman Richard Griffin.

NZH: National members blocked from getting Clare Curran to appear before committee over meeting with RNZ Carol Hirschfeld

National was blocked from asking Broadcasting Minister Clare Curran to appear at a select committee to clear up unanswered questions around her communications with former RNZ executive Carol Hirschfeld, a report says.

The Economic Development, Science and Innovation Committee released its report
today on a briefing in which the committee was inadvertently misled by RNZ chairman Richard Griffin and chief executive Paul Thompson about a meeting between Curran and Hirschfeld last December.

A minority report by the five National Party members of the select committee said questions remained unanswered regarding the appropriateness of communications initiated by Curran, with Hirschfeld and Griffin.

Curran’s behaviour was potentially in breach of parliamentary standing orders covering “intimidating, preventing, or hindering a witness from giving evidence, or giving evidence in full, to the House or a committee”, the National members said.

The National members also sought to invite Curran to the committee to give her the opportunity to clear up the unanswered questions.

“Regretfully, this resolution was not supported by other members of the committee, once again leaving the matter unresolved.”

The National members of the committee – chairman Jonathan Young, Andrew Falloon, Paul Goldsmith, Melissa Lee and Parmjeet Parmar – said they felt Parliament itself had been impugned by the inadvertent misleading of the committee by RNZ and actions of the minister.

The MPs who blocked holding Curran to account:

  • Paul Eagle (Labour, Rongotai)
  • Tamati Coffey (Labour, Waiariki)
  • Michael Wood (Labour, Mt Roskill)
  • Deborah Russell (Labour, New Lynn)
  • Gareth Hughes (Greens, list)

Coffey had a surprise win against Maori Party leader Te Ururoa Flavell in last year’s election.

Eagle, Wood and Russell scored fairly safe Labour electorates – Wood got into Parliament in a by-election in 2016 after Phil Goff resigned, while Eagle and Russell are first term MPs. Russell was rated as a good prospect as an MP, but she is putting party before principles here.

Hughes keeps a low profile in Parliament these days – Greens are also supposed to be strong supporters of open and transparent government and of holding the government to account (going by James Shaw’s comments in handing Parliamentary questions over to National) but joining the blocking of holding Curran to account suggests big talk, walk away from responsibilities.

Tn the whole scheme of things this isn’t a big deal, but it leaves a cloud over Curran’s ambitions to significantly boost RNZ, and she is likely to be reminded of this embarrassment whenever she tries to do anything on open government.

The final commitment in the Labour-Green confidence and supply agreement:

20. Strengthen New Zealand’s democracy by increasing public participation, openness, and transparency around official information.

Labour and Greens have weakened democracy through their weasel blocking in the committee.

Newsroom: When ‘open government’ becomes a joke

Curran isn’t just the Minister of Broadcasting, Communications and Digital Media but the Minster of Government Digital Services and Associate Minister for ACC and Open Government (via a State Services portfolio).

Open Government now becomes something of a joke under Curran at a time when we need it to be the very opposite.

What’s important now is RNZ and the many other initiatives Curran is involved with don’t keep on paying the price for her mistake. Curran’s copybook may well be blotted but she presides over portfolios that are far too important for us to allow that stain to spread.

That was on 2 April. Labour and Green MPs on the committee have spread the stain further.

Most of the public won’t know or care about this festering, but it remains hovering over Curran, and it is a confirmation that Labour and the Greens are in Government more for themselves than for integrity.

Griffin won’t voluntarily hand over Curran recording

After a weekend and a bit of pondering RNZ chairman Richard Griffin has advised that he won’t hand over a recording of a phone conversation between he and Clare Curran, despite acknowledging this is in breach of a select committee directive.

It’s hard to know whether he is staunch in protecting the recording, or is wanting the select committee to demand more strongly that it be handed over.

NZH: RNZ chairman Richard Griffin won’t hand over Broadcasting Minister Clare Curran’s voicemail

RNZ chairman Richard Griffin says he has no intention of handing over a voice message left on his mobile phone by Broadcasting Minister Clare Curran.

“No, I have no intention of handing it over, so I’m in breach of the select committee directive,” he told the Herald.

He declined to comment further, saying a letter outlining the reasons why had been sent to the Economic Development, Science and Innovation Select Committee.

The committee had requested the voicemail and other communications between the Minister and Griffin following his and RNZ chief executive Paul Thompson’s appearance last week to correct the record over a meeting between RNZ’s former head of content Carol Hirschfeld and Curran.

Select committee chairman Jonathan Young said the committee would meet on Wednesday to review last week’s hearing.

He said a number of issues would be canvassed. Whether to ask Hirschfeld to appear would be discussed only if it was raised by a committee member.

National MP Melissa Lee, who has driven questions over the meeting, said she had not yet had a chance to review the committee documents so would not say whether she would raise the possibility of Hirschfeld appearing.

So this issue will get another airing after the select committee meeting tomorrow.

Griffin had offered to resign, doesn’t want to stay at RNZ

As soon as Clare Curran was appointed Minister of Broadcasting chairman of RNZ Richard Griffin offered to resign, but she asked him to stay on ‘during the transition’.

Griffin has been chairman for nine years, three three year terms, but does not want to have a fourth. It is unlikely he would be offered another term anyway.

ODT (NZME): RNZ chairman offered resignation to Clare Curran

“I proffered my resignation to her the day she was appointed. I think it was the honourable thing to do,” Griffin told the Weekend Herald.

Curran, he said, was gracious and asked him to stay on during the transition to the new Labour Government.

“It’s no secret Clare and I aren’t exactly bosom buddies but I thought it was a reasonable thing to ask and I was happy to do so given that it was going to be a difficult time for all of us.

“But not quite as difficult as it has turned out to be.”

Griffin’s third term as chairman of the RNZ board finishes at the end of April, nine years in all. He doesn’t anticipate an invitation for a fourth, nor would he want one.

“No I would not,” he said emphatically. “I think I’ve run my course and I’m sure they do too.”

He said he was very embarrassed and at times was noticeably annoyed when questioned at the select committee meeting on Thursday, and his annoyance also comes through in an interview with the Sunday Herald.

His biggest regret of his nine years with RNZ? “The last few weeks.”

“I really regret that a great talent and an interesting woman is now having to suffer the slings and arrows. I’m sorry for her. I believe that Carol thought her loyalty to the Minister checkmated her loyalty to the company and I can understand how that could happen.

“I don’t know what possessed her and I don’t know what possessed the Minister. It’s such a pity.”

He has seemed reluctant to criticise but lets a bit out here, suggesting that Hirschfeld’s loyalty to Curran was why she kept lying. On Curran – “I don’t know what possessed the Minister”.

Griffin seems undecided on whether to hand over the recording of a phone call from Curran to him. This would clarify who is being straight on what Curran said to Griffin, and whether Curran tried to encourage Griffin not to appear before the committee.

The recording either clears Curran of trying to block Griffin’s appearance at the select committee to set the record straight on her meeting with Carol Hirschfeld or it could damn her if, as Griffin claims, she suggested it would be better for him not to appear and that a letter would suffice.

Griffin will spend this weekend at his home in Ruby Bay, west of Nelson, deciding whether to voluntarily hand over the voicemail on his mobile phone.

He had asked RNZ to retrieve the voicemail after it was requested by the Economic Development, Science and Innovation Select Committee following his and RNZ chief executive Paul Thompson’s appearance on Thursday.

But even as efforts were being made to extract the voicemail, Griffin was reconsidering. He worried that refusing to hand over the recording could further damage RNZ but said there was nothing to be achieved by releasing it.

“I will decide over the weekend,” he said.

He seems torn between protecting RNZ’s reputation and causing more of a ruckus, but there is guaranteed to be more attention given to this tomorrow as media will wanting to know if he is going to voluntarily comply with the request to hand over the recording.

On Friday:

If Griffin doesn’t decide to hand it over he could be compelled to by the Speaker. Trevor Mallard has been involved in controversial situations involving Curran in the past:

Stuff: Whistleblower wins defamation appeal

The woman who accused Labour MP Trevor Mallard and a top public servant of destroying her reputation has won an appeal to the Supreme Court.

In 2007, whistleblower Erin Leigh accused Mallard, then Environment Minister, of defamation.

This was after she raised questions about political interference and alleged former minister David Parker pushed for Clare Curran to be appointed to a communications role with the Ministry.

All three Labour members involved are currently sitting Members of Parliament.

At the time Mallard was asked an oral question on the matter in Parliament and spoke negatively about Leigh.

He told the House she had “repeated competence issues” and said Curran had been appointed to “fix up the mess”.

That’s a long time ago, but is somewhat ironic in the present situation.

In its decision released today, the Supreme Court found Gow’s interaction to be covered by qualified privilege but said he could not face a defamation claim unless Leigh could prove he acted with ill-will.

“The issue is whether the public servant, or whoever else communicates information to the Minister, needs more than qualified privilege in order to enable the Minister, and the House as a whole, properly and efficiently to deal with parliamentary questions.”

The Court found that was not necessary and said it was a “no bad thing” that public servants were prevented from acting with ill-will when advising a minister.

“It is very much in the interests of the proper functioning of the House that those communicating with a Minister in present circumstances, whoever they are, have a disincentive against giving vent to ill will or improper purpose.”

Also ironic.

Stronger leadership required from Ardern as Government wobbles

It has been a wobbly few weeks for the Government, with problems and embarrassments involving all parties, Labour, NZ First and the Greens. A common factor is what looks like weak leadership from Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who has supported her own faltering MPs and dismissed problems from her support party ministers, saying mistakes will be made and they just need to be learnt from.

RNZ: Govt ‘will try to weed out mistakes’ – Ardern

Jacinda Ardern said mistakes will happen from time to time.

“With all of these cases they are, within context, issues that easily occur when you have an extraordinary amount of workflow coming through”.

“We will try to weed out mistakes wherever they may occur and prevent them from happening.”

“Ministers of all stripes make mistakes we’ve just got to make sure we correct them quickly.”

To an extent she is right, mistakes will happen and they need to be corrected – but too many mistakes are surfacing in a short period of time. The Government (and Ardern) risk an air of incompetence taking hold.

The most prominent mistake maker recently has been Clare Curran, who has featured in a lot of news for two weeks now. And it may not be the end of it yet, if RNZ’s Richard Griffin is forced to hand over a phone call recording.

ODT editorial: Fuller explanation needed from Curran

Ms Curran had nine years of Opposition in which to formulate her strategy in her much-beloved broadcasting and communications roles. Her role in open government and transparency was expected to pave the way for easier access to official information.

However, this has not been the case.

Ms Curran has survived in her job, despite at first not owning up to what was a planned, rather than casual, meeting.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern accepted Ms Curran’s explanation she was not seeking to undermine the RNZ chairman Richard Griffin, a National Party appointee, or chief executive Paul Thompson.

New Zealanders are still in the dark about exactly what Ms Curran was planning.

It behoves Ms Curran to  set the full record straight. She seems to be hiding details, and a senior RNZ executive has resigned. Ms Ardern has been tolerant and could well have made an example of Ms Curran.

Unless she takes some firm action before she takes maternity leave, the situation may become even worse when NZ First leader Winston Peters takes over as prime minister in her absence.

The ODT also points out other problems:

Ms Ardern is being badly let down by those around her. Apart from Ms Curran, New Zealand First ministers Shane Jones and Ron Mark have been called to account for their comments or actions. The Green Party Minister for Women, Julie Ann Genter called for old white men to make way in boardrooms. And the head of the Environmental Protection Agency Dr Alan Freeth was called before a select committee to talk about his interactions with Associate Environment Minister Eugenie Sage.

More from Stuff’s Below the beltway: The week in politics

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Clare Curran

The Prime Minister is maintaining she is still confident in Curran, and to Curran’s credit she’s continued to front the media to discuss the ongoing RNZ saga. But calling board chair Richard Griffin – even if the call was as innocent as she claims – about his select committee appearance smacks of political interference. It was also a great way to give legs to a story that was beginning to die out.

Phil Twyford

Twyford is one of the more reliable ministers to deliver wins, but his big transport re-alignment was badly signalled and badly managed. By announcing the excise tax increase as “10c over three years” – instead of “3c a year for three years, just continuing what the last guys were doing” – he handed the opposition an easy attack line. Combining this news with the ambitious transport plan just meant the actual transport plan got lost in the conversation.

Eugenie Sage

Sage is another minister one doesn’t expect to see in trouble very often. But emailing the head of the crown entity a critical opinion piece about their chief scientist with the subject line “great article” is a good way to get yourself into trouble, especially if the opposition found out. Giving Nick Smith a chance to look good attacking you is quite an achievement.

Add to that the Young Labour camp sexual harassment allegations – any inquiry into that may be reported on while Ardern is off-duty, with it being likely the Party management will try to handle outside of the parliamentary wing.

So there are a lot of mistakes to be corrected – and there is no clear sign that that is happening. Ardern is increasingly looking like more talk than action.

As has been mentioned, she is planning on stepping aside in June for six weeks when she has her baby. That’s just two months away, with her government’s first budget due out in later May. A lot will be riding on how that is presented and how their spending plans shape up.

And there is no guarantee that the baby will wait until June. Ardern has a busy life, which raises risks of stress, pregnancy complications and possibly an early birth.

One would hope that a Prime Minister could step aside for any reason and the Government would keep functioning without any problems, but it’s hard to have confidence this will be the case.

Winston Peters will take over as Acting Prime Minister. He has been a problem for Ardern over his odd motives over Russia. Three of his MPs have featured in the wobbles – Ron Mark, Jenny Marcroft and especially Shane Jones, plus an unnamed Minister (alleged to be involved in the Marcroft incident). Peters has been just trivialising these problems.

There are more weaknesses in Labour below Ardern. Kelvin Davis has been virtually anonymous as deputy since he made a mess of supporting Ardern during the campaign last year. He also has to make what is likely to be an unpopular decision soon on a new prison to cope with growing numbers locked up.

Robertson will be busy before and after his first budget, and is yet to prove himself.

The only Labour MP I can think of with sufficient experience and credibility to step up is David Parker, and as Minister of Trade he spends a lot of his time travelling around the world.

So Labour and the Government are looking weak, almost out of their depth in turbulent water, and especially given the ongoing revelations of mistakes they are vulnerable to falling from favour.

Ardern needs to show some stronger leadership, and hope that in her absence not too many mistakes are made.

We may get through this ok, but at the moment the Government wobbles are looking worrying, with a real risk wheels may fall off.