The homeless man in the hotel story

Last week National MP Michael Woodhouse claimed that a homeless man had tagged on to a line of people checking in to  Covid isolation facility (hotel) and got two weeks of food and lodging. Woodhouse cited ‘a very reliable source’ but provided no evidence.

Because isolation was a shambles this was seen as plausible. People on Twitter said it was a good thing that a homeless man was housed and ‘he’ was congratulated (even though the Government had been providing accommodation for homeless people through and since the lockdown).

The story has also been backed up by journalist Barry Soper who has also claimed to have ‘a very reliable source’. So it seems likely someone has told the story separately to an MP and a journalist.

Another undisputed story last week added a bit more weight to the possibility. The Ministry of Health reported that a man arriving at Auckland airport got in the wrong queue and successfully checked inn to the wrong hotel. This seems to have only been discovered when the man tested positive for Covid several days later.

So the story seems feasible, despite media citing some people in isolation saying it would have been difficult to pull off, saying they were cordoned off (all the time?) and had to provide a credit card when checking in.

This story had faded away, until Ashley Bloomfield raised it at a media conference on Tuesday, saying that the Ministry had investigated, including scrutinising surveillance footage (I”m not sure how that would discover someone unless they were obviously dressed like a homeless man). Bloomfield said it may be just an urban myth, and this was given a bit of media attention.

Again the story may have faded away, but for some reason yesterday a letter from Minister of Whatever Megan Woods to Woodhouse demanding details and evidence was leaked – I doubt Woodhouse would have gone public with it.

This created a bit of a media and social media diversion. Woodhouse and National leader Todd Muller said they stood by the story, but thee media should understand Woodhouse can’t reveal a confidential source.

This was raised at The Standard yesterday, perhaps coincidentally – National is relentlessly negative about the country’s Covid response – but The Standard has been relentlessly negative about National while ignoring the major Government and Ministry of Health issues over the last few weeks. They have been in diversion overdrive.

It is very unlikely both Woodhouse and Soper would dream up the same story, so it must have been provided to them. By whom and why?

I guess it’s questionable whether Woodhouse should have gone public with the claim without producing evidence. However opposition MPs don’t have the ability to investigate things like this so it’s common for them to put this responsibility on the Government, who then decide whether to ignore it or act on it.

In the whole scheme of things this is a bit of a sideshow. Later yesterday David Clark dragged the focus back to the wider shambles as well as the shambles of his political career, but that’s another story.

RNZ: Story of homeless man sneaking into 5-star isolation hotel remains a mystery

 

 

Quarantine debacle escalates as Woodhouse allegations confirmed

Widespread anger was expressed after it was revealed that tow women who were granted a compassionate exemption from quarantine travelled from Auckland to Wellington on Saturday before testing positive for Covid-19, breaking a 24 day run of no new cases in New Zealand.

In a show of no confidence in the Ministry of Health handling of quarantines Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern appointed a military leader to review and oversee the quarantining.

A number of people came claiming poor procedures in quarantine.

It turns out that testing of people arriving in the country from overseas were not required to be tested, it was optional.

But it gets worse. It appears that the public have been misled after an allegation made by National spokesperson on health Michael Woodhouse that the exempted women didn’t travel from Auckland to Wellington with no contact with anyone has been confirmed.  Apparently they got lost on the Auckland motorway and met up with friends.

Yesterday Director General of Health Ashley Bloomfield did not front up to media, instead emailing a statement (there was no update posted on the Covid website).

From The Spinoff live updates:

On yesterday’s cases, director general of health Ashley Bloomfield said in an emailed update, “As director general of health, I have overall system responsibility for the health operations of our self-isolation facilities and exemptions.

“In this instance, these individuals should have been tested prior to leaving the managed isolation facility.

“I am taking responsibility for ensuring this does not happen again.

“We have put in place a number of actions to provide the public and government assurance that anyone arriving into New Zealand does not pose any risk from Covid-19.”

“There is one family member isolating with them who is being monitored daily by the local public health unit. The Ministry of Health is managing wider contact tracing from the National Contact Tracing unit.

“We are treating anyone on the flight or in the facility at the same time as the cases as if they are close contacts who have potentially been exposed. We are getting them all tested and isolated until a negative result is received.

“At this point, there are 320 identified close contacts. The majority of these will have been contacted by the end of the day. All of these people will be encouraged to get a test.”

The ministry is confident no contact was made with anyone on the women’s journey between Auckland and Wellington, the update said. “The actions of these two individuals have been exemplary in terms of following health advice and the agreed plan on departure from the facility. I want to thank them for their cooperation and ask that their privacy  continues to be respected during this time.”

Ardern did front up to the media:

The prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, has addressed media on why yesterday’s two new cases, both New Zealand citizens, were allowed out of managed isolation before being tested.

She said it was “an unacceptable failure of the system”.

“From the beginning we have taken an extraordinarily cautious approach at the border … that is also why we required tests to be undertaken at those facilities – one at day three and one at day 12.

“That should have happened in the cases we learned about yesterday, it did not and there are no excuses. It should never have happened and it cannot be repeated.”

Blame did not lie with the two New Zealand citizens returning from the UK, she added. “It is totally unacceptable that procedures we were advised were in place were not. Our job now is to fix that.”

Ardern said she would leave it to director general of health Ashley Bloomfield to determine where responsibility landed and if anyone’s job would be threatened.

She said she was not considering sacking the health minister, David Clark. “The minister is in exactly the same position that I am, we both find what has happened here unacceptable, it is counter to what we were told was happening… He is part of fixing this issue, not part of the problem.”

Ardern was critical of the pressure she said was coming from “a wide range of quarters, not least from some of my colleagues on the other side of the house” to loosen the border. “We have always said that we needed to be cautious. I utterly stand by that.

“This is a growing pandemic, not a slowing one, and we should be extraordinarily careful, and I send that message to the opposition.”

But the Opposition responded with an allegation in Parliament.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: Were the two individuals, confirmed with COVID yesterday, accompanied on their drive to Wellington, and, if not, how can he be 100 percent sure that they did not stop during the trip?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: They were not accompanied, and I am assured that they have been the kind of people, and have demonstrated, that they have followed the protocols in place with their self-isolation plan.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: Has he seen reports that the two individuals went the wrong way on their journey to Wellington and came into close contact with the people who gave them directions?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: No, I have seen no evidence of that.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: Was he aware that the good Samaritans who assisted them were rewarded with a kiss and a cuddle, and would he consider that to be a close contact?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: I would be deeply concerned if that were the case. I have been assured that there was no contact on their journey to the place where they visited their relative in the Wellington region.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Has he been advised of the details and facts behind the allegations in that last question?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: I have not. I have certainly asked the question about whether there was any contact at all, and I have been assured that there was no contact along the way. So I have certainly not heard that report, and if the member has actually heard that and not passed it on, that would be very deeply concerning.

Last night from Stuff:  Ministry of Health confirms women with Covid got lost and stopped on drive from Auckland to Wellington

The Ministry of Health has confirmed two women diagnosed with Covid-19 after leaving a managed isolation facility in Auckland did not drive non-stop to Wellington.

Health officials had insisted they did, but Stuff revealed the pair got lost, stopped and met someone.

Politicians had questioned the validity of the claims but the Ministry of Health responded to Stuff late on Wednesday to say that the journey between Auckland and Wellington, taken by two New Zealanders with Covid-19 who returned to New Zealand to see their dying parent had been confirmed.

“Upon leaving the Novotel in a private vehicle provided by friends, the women got lost on the Auckland motorway system.

“On realising this they phoned the same friends who supplied the vehicle, who met and guided them to the correct motorway, so they could go in the right direction. As part of this the pair were in limited physical contact with the two friends for approximately five minutes.”

In addition, health authorities had been informed of instances where friends have made contactless deliveries of food or care packages to the women while they have been in self-isolation in recent days.

The packages were contactless deliveries and the friends who had delivered the packages had taken all appropriate precautions to maintain physical distance, the statement said.

“As such there is no risk to the community from these interactions.”

A second interview with the sisters was conducted by the local public health unit on Tuesday evening and there were subsequent interviews on Wednesday.

The statement says the information was communicated to the Ministry of Health on the afternoon of Wednesday 17 June.

When Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was asked for a comment on the revelation, she did not address the issue or that officials had been misled.

A spokesperson for the prime minister reiterated to Stuff what she had said earlier – that there had been an unacceptable systemic failure with the case.

“The government is focused on cleaning it up as quickly as possible and fixing the problems that led to it.”

Woodhouse was criticised on social media, I saw the usual ‘attack the messenger’ nonsense on Twitter, and also at The Standard, but there was also anger expressed there, see from here.

It appears that Woodhouse has been vindicated.

Also:

Something is up with this case.

https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/national/419252/ministry-confirms-women-with-covid-19-did-stop-on-trip

The Novotel Ellerslie is literally on top of the Southern motorway jammed hard up against the Greenlane interchange. Apparently they got lost between the hotel and the motorway, a drive less than 500m…yeah, right.

Someone is still lying.

There may be more to come out on this.

The Ministry and the Government should have fronted up with the correct information. This has turned out to be a further embarrassment for the Ministry of Health and the Government.

Stuff: Furious PM sends in military to review and oversee border controls after two new cases.

Ardern said the bungle was completely unacceptable and the “rigour” of the military was needed to sort out what was going at the border.

She appointed assistant chief of defence Air Commodore Darryn Webb to review and oversee border management from here on out.

“We need the rigour, we need the confidence, and we need the discipline that the military can provide,” Ardern said.

He would be able to use the military to make sure the border was being properly handled.

“It is totally unacceptable that procedures we were advised were in place were not. Our job is to fix that.”

“There is no room for error.”

It appears to be a litany of errors and incompetence.

That looks like a major vote of no confidence in Ashley Bloomfield (or throwing under a bus), and in the Ministry of Health.

This isn’t quite hero to zero, but it is a major denting of public confidence in Government and Ministry handling of the pandemic. Minister of Health David Clark has had a poor public relationship, nothing more from him since he expressed ‘frustration’ and ‘disappointment’ over the quarantine debacle before the latest revelations.

I don’t trust the getting lost story. I think it’s more likely a deliberate meeting contrary to specified conditions of exemption.

So this is likely to require Ardern to front up and try to repair the damage.


NZ Herald: Woman who MP claims ‘kissed and cuddled’ Covid travellers attended Auckland gym class days later

An Auckland woman who an MP claims “cuddled and kissed” two Covid-19 infected British travellers attended a “hands-on” training at her local gym yesterday morning.

According to a Facebook post by Felicia Alkin, the owner and founder of Highland Park’s Lioness Gym for Women, the unnamed member was in contact with the two women on Saturday.

She did not know they were positive until yesterday afternoon, Alkin said.

Alkin says she has now cancelled her classes and appointments, and decided to self-isolate with her family, until the gym member – who underwent testing this morning – had tested negative.

Contact tracing will now be a headache for the Ministry.

And the flow on effects of quarantine incompetence and laxness by the women are significant.

The Covid-19 Public Health Response Bill under urgency in Parliament

The Covid-19 Public Health Response Bill is currently progressing through Parliament under urgency. So far just the National Party has opposed the Bill.

The Bill gives the Police the legal ability to walk into anyone’s home without a warrant, so there are risks to civil rights and liberty.

It is being rushed under urgency to try to make the move to Level 2 tonight legal, but it leaves open the question about whether the first move to Level 2 in March may have been illegal.

David Parker:

“This bill creates a bespoke legal framework to support the Government’s future efforts to limit the spread of COVID-19 in New Zealand.

The bill will give police and other authorised enforcement officers clearer powers to enforce the orders, consistent with the graduated approach police have taken to enforcement to date. Those powers sit aside along voluntary measures, public health, and other guidance.

This bill creates a power to enter premises, a power to direct people, to stop activities that are in breach of the order, a power to close roads and public places, and a power to close businesses operating in breach of the rules for 24 hours. Clause 23 allows a constable to enter a private dwelling house without a warrant only if they have reasonable grounds to believe that people have gathered there in contravention of an order and entry is necessary to give a direction to cease the activity.”

Michael Woodhouse:

“I find myself in the situation of going, within an hour and a half, from commendation to condemnation for this piece of legislation—both in its process and in its executive overreach. I would go so far as to compare the Prime Minister to Rob Muldoon. She is Rob Muldoon with slogans and kindness.”

I am, frankly, astounded that a Government that purports to be open and transparent, to be kind, and to give the country, the public, the credit for the amazing work that they have done, still increases further and further into their freedoms and their lives.”


Attorney General David Parker introduced the Covid-19 Public Health Response Bill yesterday:

This bill creates a bespoke legal framework to support the Government’s future efforts to limit the spread of COVID-19 in New Zealand. This is designed to last for a maximum of two years although can be brought to an end earlier if the threat passes.

New Zealanders have been on a precarious journey combatting this virus. We’re not at our final destination yet, but together we’ve made extraordinary progress through the largely voluntary efforts of our people, who accepted the need for unprecedented actions to isolate ourselves in bubbles to cut off the chains of infection.

We went hard and we went early to fight a virus for which there is currently no vaccine and no cure. We know it can hide and spread through those with no symptoms, and around the world we’ve seen the devastation and loss of life it can cause, especially in aged care and in dementia units. We’ve negotiated difficult terrain and have broken the chain of community transmission.

In the meantime, we’ve improved our stocks and supply lines for polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test kits and reagents as well as personal protective equipment (PPE) supplies and distribution. We’ve ramped up testing and the quality and capacity of track and tracing. We’ve minimised the damage the virus would have otherwise done to our people and to our economy.

To date, restrictions at alert levels 3 and 4 were given legal effect by notices under section 70 of the Health Act, in conjunction with the state of emergency under the Civil Defence Emergency Management Act and the Economic Preparedness Act. To support alert levels 3 and 4, the Director-General has issued notices to close premises, except those providing essential services, prohibiting congregation in outdoor places, and require people to remain at home in their bubble except to access essentials and to exercise. These orders are lawful under the Health Act, and the restrictions proportionate to the scale of the COVID-19 threat.

I think there’s doubt about that, as pointed out here: New legal framework for Alert Level 2 to be introduced today

That said, some aspects of the Health Act do need to be modernised and adapted, and this is particularly true for the detailed level 2 measures, which are not well suited to the existing Health Act and Civil Defence Emergency Management regime. This bill provides new enforceable measures that don’t depend on a state of emergency being in force.

We went into Level 2 and Level 3 before the State of Emergency was announced in March.

The bill will give police and other authorised enforcement officers clearer powers to enforce the orders, consistent with the graduated approach police have taken to enforcement to date. Those powers sit aside along voluntary measures, public health, and other guidance.

This bill creates a power to enter premises, a power to direct people, to stop activities that are in breach of the order, a power to close roads and public places, and a power to close businesses operating in breach of the rules for 24 hours. Clause 23 allows a constable to enter a private dwelling house without a warrant only if they have reasonable grounds to believe that people have gathered there in contravention of an order and entry is necessary to give a direction to cease the activity.

We acknowledge that it is unusual—though not unprecedented—for a constable to have warrantless power of entry into a private dwelling house. This is due—the fact that it is unusual—to the high expectation of privacy that citizens have in these places.

The extraordinary risk posed by COVID-19—I will cover instances in later speeches; I haven’t got time to detail that now—and the fact that it can be spread readily in large social gatherings, whether in public or in private, justifies the power in these circumstances and the limits it places on rights.

There are safeguards in the bill so that a constable must report every time a warrantless entry power is exercised, summarising the circumstances and the reason why the power needed to be exercised.

This bill will create a new infringement offence regime. Some breaches will be dealt with as an infringement offence, and an intentional breach will be a criminal offence which may result in a fine or imprisonment on conviction. An infringement offence regime gives police another graduated step in their enforcement options where the breach is not serious enough to warrant criminal prosecution.

The bill also amends the Civil Defence Emergency Management Act 2002 to ensure a nationally consistent approach to the response and to management of risks arising from COVID-19, and to better deal with concurrent emergencies that are not COVID-19 but which might arise during the period of the COVID-19 response.

We believe this legislation is needed to appropriately continue our response to the unique and unprecedented challenges of COVID-19.

Simon Bridges in reply:

… it’s with regret that I say we have on this side of the House in the National Party, real concerns with this bill. You’ll hear from other members of National about, I am sure, civil liberty concerns—concerns with our freedoms as a people that have been long fought for—in the speeches and contributions. I want to simply place on record my concerns in two areas, really, but four for completeness: funerals, tangi; churches or places of worship; enforcement; and the length of time that this bill—or law, as it will, I think, become—applies for.

…this bill, in coming here, has had very limited scrutiny. There will be, as it becomes law, no select committee. It’s a case of, on this side of the House—I don’t know about the support parties in Government—us having it for less than 24 hours. I think it was Geoffrey Palmer who lamented this Parliament being the fastest lawmaker in the West. Dare I say it, to the members opposite, in recent times we have got it wrong; passing things that we didn’t even know we were passing. So the room for error in this bill, I suggest, is incredibly high, given the legal complexities.

Michael Woodhouse:

I find myself in the situation of going, within an hour and a half, from commendation to condemnation for this piece of legislation—both in its process and in its executive overreach. I would go so far as to compare the Prime Minister to Rob Muldoon. She is Rob Muldoon with slogans and kindness.

I’m old enough to remember carless days, wage and price freezes, reducing the road speed limit from 100 kilometres to 80 kilometres per hour — that’s right: SMPs — by an executive that road roughshod over this parliamentary process. Even they pale into comparison with the influence and executive fiat that is being exerted on this country by this bill.

I am, frankly, astounded that a Government that purports to be open and transparent, to be kind, and to give the country, the public, the credit for the amazing work that they have done, still increases further and further into their freedoms and their lives.

Let’s be very clear. If there was a question about whether the level 4 and level 3 lockdown was legally allowed under section 70 of the Health Act—and that is a question yet to be answered—then there’s no doubt that the sort of influence that the Government wants to have in level 2 is not. So if the Government wants to act in this way, it does need to pass legislation. But, as I said in my previous intervention, that is the very time when this place matters most, when the rule of law matters most, and where changes to that law need to be carefully thought through, well-considered, consulted on, robustly debated, and definitely not rushed through.

Now, the Minister of Health, very clearly says there is haste—understandable. But this Government has had three months. I think this Government did get legal advice that said that there was a question mark over their ability to act at level 3 and 4, and, clearly, they wanted to continue to impose themselves on New Zealanders’ lives under level 2 in a way that was entirely inconsistent given what we heard about what level 2 would look like. And so they’re going to pass that bill.

But not even the Minister of Health knows his own legislation, because he said in his speech that he will have to consult with the Director-General of Health. Actually, the bill doesn’t say that; it says quite the opposite. At subclause (2) of clause 9, on page 5, when making a section 11 order, “Nothing in this section requires the Minister to receive specific advice from the Director-General about the content of a proposed order or proposal to amend, extend, or revoke an order.” So he doesn’t need to consult the director-general, and not even Dr Clark knew that.

 I’m sad that at this stage in the process the National Party cannot support this bill, because we want this to be a team of 5 million, but it’s the Government that is racing off in a direction that we cannot support, curtailing the freedom of New Zealanders without their right to have their say. Unless there are material changes to it, which will be signalled, it will be difficult to support this subsequently.

Ron Mark spoke for NZ First but his speech was mainly an attack on National with little altention given to the Bill.

Julie Ann Genter for the Green Party:

I rise in support of this bill.

This bill, I think, is absolutely necessary to ensure that all New Zealanders will benefit from the period of lockdown that we’ve already been in, and will benefit from being assured that that the rules will be able to be enforced. Because even if the vast majority of New Zealanders embrace these rules and want to stop the spread of COVID-19, it would only take a small number who ignore the rules to cause an outbreak that could quite quickly become very serious and cause us to have to move back to a stricter level.

So, of course, the vast majority of New Zealanders support the actions that have been taken thus far. I think they will absolutely respect the rules in level 2, which are not at all arbitrary, but absolutely informed by what is going to prevent the spread of the illness.

Many people were pushing boundaries if not overstepping them under Level 3 over the last two weeks.

Of course, the Green Party would always prefer that there would be a select committee, even a very short one, and we would’ve liked to have seen that. But we also understand the need for urgency right now, given the move to level 2 at—was it at midnight on Thursday morning or 11:59 Wednesday? So recognising that this is a very, very short period of time and that there was a desire to move back to level 2 sooner rather than later, then we can understand this.

But the Bill didn’t have to be only introduced to Parliament the day before the we go back down to Level 2.

David Seymour (ACT):

I rise on behalf of ACT in support of this bill to its first reading. The reason ACT supports the COVID-19 Response (Further Management Measures) Legislation Bill is very simple. It’s about the rule of law, and the rule of law matters because if it means anything to be a New Zealander, it is to live freely under democracy and the rule of law: to be able to send representatives to this House to make laws that are clear, that we can read for ourselves and understand what the law is. Having the rule of law protects the weakest people in our society because they can see it written down and it applies equally to every person.

But, unfortunately, I can only support this bill to the first reading, through this urgent process, because it has some real problems. I can understand the Government going through urgency. I won’t relitigate the issues that got us here, except to say that it has been four months–actually, nearly four and a half months–since it became clear to countries such as Taiwan that there might be an issue.

The idea that this has all suddenly happened and the Government has to rush Parliament through urgency now is a poor reflection on the preparedness of the Government. But, no matter, we’re here, and we have to rush this through urgency so we can get to level 2 lawfully and quickly. Understood.

There was a lot of debate over the severe restrictions on funerals still.

The Bill looks certain to pass, probably today, with the support of Labour, NZ First and the Green Party and possibly ACT.

First and second reading votes were the same:

  • Ayes 64 New Zealand Labour 46; New Zealand First 9; Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand 8; ACT New Zealand 1.
  • Noes 56 New Zealand National 55; Ross.

Hansard (Tuesday): https://www.parliament.nz/en/pb/hansard-debates/rhr/combined/HansDeb_20200512_20200512_34

Hansard (Wednesday: Tuesday, 12 May 2020 (continued on Wednesday, 13 May 2020) – Volume 745

 

 

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.

David Clark’s responses to written questions – Speaker: “the breach was so blatant”

Audrey Young at the Herald, in scores of Ministers, rated Minister of Health David Clark one of the three poorest performs at 4/10.

Evidence today that supports claims that Minister Clark is may be out of his depth and performing poorly.

In Parliament the Speaker awarded the Opposition an additional 12 supplementary questions due to blatant breaches in responses to written questions by the Minister Clark.

SPEAKER’S RULINGS

Written Questions—Responses

SPEAKER: Before we come to questions, I have received a letter from the Hon Michael Woodhouse raising with me the responses to written questions he has received from the Minister of Health. I note the Minister and his office have been under considerable pressure as a result of having up to 1,500 questions lodged on a single day. However—[Interruption] The member is running a risk of a multiplier effect here. However, Dr Clark’s response to some of the questions is not acceptable.

The replies refer the member to another reply, and that reply refers him on to another reply. In one instance, the member would have had to make his way through 22 separate replies which do not answer the question before finally reaching the answer. That approach falls far short of the standard of accountability required to the House of Ministers.

The matter was compounded by the answer that was ultimately provided, which stated that the matter was an operational one and that the member could use the Official Information Act 1982 to request the information sought. There is no convention that Ministers are not answerable for operational matters in the agencies falling within their portfolio areas—Speakers’ ruling 160/3. In fact, that’s a key part of the role of a Minister. The House’s own rules for seeking information and its entitlement to receive information exceeds that under the Official Information Act—Speaker’s ruling 177/6. Where a written question seeks an unreasonable level of detail, it is open to a Minister to reply that the cost entailed in answering the question is not consistent with the public interest—and, in fact, Ministers have on occasion done that, from both sides of the House.

Our question system is based on the assumption that Ministers will try and give informative replies—Speaker’s ruling 178/5—and to account to the House for the public offices they hold. In this instance, I expect the Minister to lodge fresh answers to the questions—14351 to 15621 and 15974 to 16132—and, if it is necessary to use a single answer to reply to multiple questions, then the replies should refer directly to the substantive answer.

The Opposition has been denied the opportunity to hold the Government to account through this series of written questions. Therefore, I’m awarding the Opposition an additional 12 supplementary questions to be used today or tomorrow.

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS (Leader of the House): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I don’t want to raise any issue with the substance of the ruling that you have just made merely one of the process, as somebody who has lodged complaints along the nature of the one that Mr Woodhouse has made in the past. In the past, Speakers have adopted the practice that, before a Speaker would rule on a matter of written questions, the member would first have had to make a formal complaint to the Minister who lodged the answers in the first place. Then, second of all, the Speaker themselves would raise the matter with the Minister before issuing a ruling such as you have. My understanding is that you no longer follow that process. It would seem to me that if there is a sanction going to be applied, there does need to be some process of raising the matter with the Minister’s office before that sanction is applied so they have the opportunity to correct it where an error has been made.

SPEAKER: I’m happy to respond to that. In the vast majority of cases that’s a process I’ve followed. If the member has a conversation with the Minister on his right, he will understand that it’s followed quite regularly. But, in this particular case, the breach was so blatant that—and I hesitate to use the word which I’ve gotten in trouble for using in this House before, but such a blatant breach, in two ways, of Speakers’ Rulings and the Standing Orders—I felt that having that conversation was unnecessary.

Bridges and MPs deliver attacks on lack of delivery

With his leadership of National under ongoing scrutiny, Simon Bridges went on the attack in Parliament yesterday.

I don’t care for that sort of politics so will leave that speech at that, apart from saying that I don’t think it will save Bridges from being dumped as leader sooner or later (it doesn’t look like he will volunteer to step down).

He did a better job with one of Natikonal’s primary attack lines, the alleged lack of achievement by the Government in what Jacinda Ardern referred to as the year of delivery.

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

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN (Prime Minister): Yes.

Hon Simon Bridges: Does she accept that under the previous Government, job creation was at 10,000 per month, yet in the last three months, job growth has fallen by 4,000—that is, it’s gone negative?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I notice that the member has very specifically drawn on a quarter-to-quarter comparison because what he doesn’t want to say is that the unemployment rate, as it’s being announced today, is at 4.2 percent, the second-lowest level in 10 years. What he doesn’t want to say is that wages grew 3.4 percent over the year; that the underutilisation rate—again, we want to make sure that people, when they’re in employment, are working as much as they want to be working—fell to 11.3 percent, the lowest underutilisation rate since December 2008; and the NEET rate fell—not as much as we’d like, but it has fallen—and the number of employed people rose 38,200 from a year ago. The member has compared one quarter to the next because that was the only number that he felt comfortable raising in this House.

Hon Simon Bridges: So will she answer the question: does she accept that under the previous Government, job creation was at 10,000 per month, yet in the last three months, job growth has fallen—that is, has gone negative—by 4,000 people?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: For the quarter, yes. However, if we’re looking at the average change in employment, it is, of course, in the positive and over 10,000. Again, I notice that the member, when he was in Government, tended not to use quarter-on-quarter either.

Hon Simon Bridges: Does she know that the reason Statistics New Zealand gave for the unemployment rate falling in the last quarter was because people were deciding to leave the labour force—that is, to go on a benefit?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: That is actually not correct. If someone goes on a benefit, by default they are termed unemployed and would show up in the unemployment statistics, which have gone [Interruption]—if surveyed, they would indeed be regarded as unemployed, and the unemployment rate has gone down. Secondly, I also acknowledge that when the numbers came out, Statistics New Zealand said they saw a rise in men aged over—

Hon Gerry Brownlee: Don’t just make it up.

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: —this is actually from Statistics New Zealand, Mr Brownlee, if you’d like to tune in—55 leaving the labour force in order to go into leisure time—perhaps a suggestion, Mr Brownlee.

Hon Simon Bridges: How does she explain unemployment down but benefits strongly up?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Yes, there’s been a variation of 0.2 percent in the benefit numbers. Again, however, when we look at the percentage of those of the working-age population receiving a main benefit, even where it is now in the March quarter, which is at 9.5 percent, that is lower than it was in every year from March 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017, under the last Government. So, yes, of course we want to keep those numbers coming in a different direction, but, again—relative to the last Government—in better shape.

Hon Simon Bridges: Does she accept that under the previous Government, 60,000 people came off benefits, yet in the last 12 months, there were 13,000 more people on the benefit?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Yet, I say again, despite that, we are still at a lower rate than under the last Government. Of course we maintain the aspiration that we want to see people in work. That’s why we have Mana in Mahi, where we are supporting those who are on unemployment benefits to go into work and supporting employers to take them on in apprenticeships. That’s why we’ve got our driver-licensing scheme, where those on youth payments are eligible for free driver-licensing to help them get into work. And it’s why just this week, Ministers announced the work they’re doing with the building and construction sector. We do want people in meaningful work, and we’re taking meaningful action to make it happen.

Hon Simon Bridges: Why are there 13,000 more New Zealanders on the job seeker benefit under her watch?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Of course, I prefer to use the proportion of working-age population, but, again, even then I have said there has been a 0.2 percent increase. We have seen, according to the Ministry of Social Development, some softening in the areas around construction, from memory. So those areas where we have seen problems around our sector is where we’ve seen also job issues, and that’s why we’re doing the work to try and make sure those individuals have the skills to go into those areas of work.

Hon Simon Bridges: Will the Government’s $1.5 billion mental health package be announced pre-Budget or on Budget day?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: All Budget announcements, of course, sit with the Minister of Finance and the Government. We don’t give time lines on what is in and what is out, and nor am I going to confirm the totality of those Budget amounts.

Hon Simon Bridges: Does she agree that it’s a failure that the Ashburton District, with an unemployment rate of 1.8 percent, saw a 20 percent increase in the number of people on the job seeker benefit in the last year?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Again, my preference would always be to look at some of that individual, regional data myself, because sometimes it does give us patterns around what’s happening for industry areas. Of course, we don’t wish to tolerate growth in any of those areas; that’s why we’re taking very specific initiatives in very specific regions and employment areas in order to try and turn such numbers around. I would again say, though, this is a day where we’ve, again, had the second lowest unemployment rate in a decade, matched only by the lowest in a decade, which we achieved two quarters ago. This is a time for celebration for the country, that we are doing well in the face of some international headwinds which are not positive.

Hon Simon Bridges: If unemployment being down is so good, why are benefits up 13,000 people?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I’ve given multiple answers to this question. Regardless, again, of those rationales, we are taking individual efforts to make sure that in those areas where we have job need we are matching those on a benefit in a way that we just did not see under the last Government. And that is the right approach to get our benefit numbers down.

Hon Simon Bridges: Does the Welfare Expert Advisory Group report, due to be released on Friday, recommend the removal of most or all benefit obligations and sanctions?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Look, I welcome the question from the member, because I’ve noticed some statements being made around sanctions which are just not accurate. There have been no changes to the sanction regime. We have, however, ensured that Work and Income is following the existing policy. So I cannot make any statements around whether or not that kind of rigour was applied to our system before, but it is being applied now. The sanctions themselves, however, have not changed. The second point is that the Welfare Expert Advisory Group—you’ll be able to discuss and debate their recommendations once they’re released.

Hon Simon Bridges: Will her Government not only “remove excessive sanctions in the welfare system” but, as the Speech from the Throne states, also “go further”?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: We have been very open as a Government around some of the discomfort we’ve had with some of the sanctions that exist, for instance, naming of children—the penalty that applies for, particularly, women in those circumstances. That’s something we’ve been very open about. With sanctions, of course, we’ve always been mindful about the impact of them on children in particular. But again, in terms of any announcements, you’ll have to wait until the Government formalises its response.

Hon Simon Bridges: If she and her Government have made no secret of the fact that they’re uncomfortable with the sanctions and obligations, why have no changes been made, and will changes be made when the Welfare Expert Advisory Group report and the Government’s decisions come back?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I was simply flagging a particular sanction that at least Labour and the Greens have been on record on for a number of years. When it comes to announcements, the member will have to wait.

Hon Simon Bridges: So can I confirm that she is uncomfortable with the sanctions and obligations that are in place on benefits today, as she, I think, just said?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: No. The member completely misinterpreted my statement and he knows it.

Hon Simon Bridges: Is the current system and what we’ve got in place right now—

SPEAKER: Order! Order! I’m just going to remind the Prime Minister that she cannot accuse a member of deliberately misleading the House, and I think she just did.

Hon Simon Bridges: Is she then saying that the benefit arrangements around obligations and sanctions today are fine as they are?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: We have not changed them—they have not been changed. We’re just making sure that Work and Income applies them appropriately.

Hon Simon Bridges: Well, what’s the point of the Welfare Expert Advisory Group then?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: The member will see the results in due course.

A problem with this line of attack is that many voters probably don’t care much about what a Goverment doesn’t manage to do.

Bridges launched into an attack on (lack of) delivery in the opening speech in the General Debate.

GENERAL DEBATE

Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Leader of the Opposition): I move, That the House take note of miscellaneous business.

You know, when they play the political gold back over the last few years, that last interchange is bound to be there. That was something special.

There’s one thing we need to remember about this Government in 2019, and that’s that the Prime Minister has said, and she’s made it quite clear, that this is the year of delivery. That’s what it is: it’s the year of delivery. Actually, yesterday, she said—[Interruption]—Grant Robertson—it was the year of striving. That’s where she was—the year of delivery—and so far, we don’t have even a roundabout to Shane Jones’ house that’s been delivered.

So what has the Government delivered?

Hon Members: Nothing.

Hon SIMON BRIDGES: And in the economy, as Amy Adams has made quite clear in this House, we’ve gone from 4 percent growth to 2 percent growth, and today, we saw what that means: 4,000 fewer jobs in New Zealand at the moment. In poverty, more beneficiaries, more hardship, and more housing grants in their thousands, and that in the year of so-called delivery is an absolute shame. And the members over there think it’s a joke that the economy is worse, that poverty is worse, and that the cost of living is getting higher and higher.

The clowns on the other side think that somehow it’s a bad thing if, in the National Party, we highlight, in the year of delivery, that they’ve got no plans, no policies, they’ve achieved absolutely nothing.

Amy Adams continued:

Hon AMY ADAMS (National—Selwyn): Well, it has not been a great start to the year for the Government, you’d have to say, has it? I mean, here we are, in January, the Prime Minister came out proudly and said, “Well, never mind the first, sort of, 14, 15 months of our term, this is going to be the year we get some stuff done.” Then what did she do the very next day? The first item of business in the year of delivery, she came out and said, “Do you know all those KiwiBuild targets? Yeah, nah, just kidding, we’re not actually having those, because we can’t meet them.” So that was the first item of delivery.

Then on Friday, we’ve got the Welfare Working Group coming out. Again, about another $2.5 million of a long working group with all of the worthies in a room trying to figure out how to fix the working group, and I can tell you now, there will be zero action on the recommendations of that report. I tell you now, it’ll be another report where the only delivery this Government knows how to do is set up a working group, consult, consult, and then do nothing; a do-nothing Government.

This isn’t the year of delivery; this is the year of deterioration.

Then look at today with the revelations from Nicola Willis: waiting times for special education services and early education, this Government told us that 76 days is too long, they would halve them. What’s happened? They’ve almost doubled. That is not improving, that is not delivery, that is not well-being; it is total and utter incompetence and it is letting down the people of New Zealand. It is the very opposite of well-being.

This is not the year of delivery; this is the year of debacles. It is the year of decay. It is the year of actual well-being getting worse and worse under this Government, and I have no doubt that the people of New Zealand see through the spin

…So if this is the year of delivery, then the rest of this country will be saying “Bring on the election.”, because the incompetence, the failure, the debacles, and the arrogance we’re seeing from this Government isn’t helping the well-being of New Zealanders at all.

Michael Woodhouse continued:

Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE (National): There is no better illustration of the non-delivery of this Government in their year of delivery than in the health sector. Last month, I went to the Southern District Health Board’s board meeting, where I found out that on a year-to-date basis, their elective cardiac surgery target was behind by 45 percent. They had only achieved 55 percent of their year-to-date target.

For the first time in 10 years, we are on track to do fewer elective surgeries than in the previous year on both a numbers and a case-weighted basis, and yesterday, in question time, the Minister said that it was going to get worse. Another 2,300 elective surgeries have been cancelled this week alone as a consequence of the junior doctors’ strike. He also said that he was aware that there had been people who had been cancelled not once, not twice, but even more than that.

So it’s not overstating it to say that in this year of delivery, people’s health and even their lives are at risk as a consequence of this Government’s mismanagement of the health sector.

Remember Dr Clark wailing and gnashing his teeth in Opposition at a survey that showed that one in seven New Zealanders were not able to go to a GP because of affordability? And what’s happened—the number of people who can’t afford to go to the GP has gone up, not down. Over this Government’s time, it’s gone from 14.3 percent to 14.9 percent—non-delivery.

Well, I’m going to make a prediction: at the end of this month, in Budget 2019, there’s going to be no money for Dunedin Hospital. This is from a Minister who, in Opposition, petitioned the previous Parliament that the Government should have started the rebuild of Dunedin Hospital in 2017 and, two years later, not a thing—non delivery.

The removal of national health targets that the Minister said created perverse incentives has created even more perverse incentives. People could be dying, because the Minister does not want to set expectations for throughput of our DHBs—non-delivery in surgery; non-delivery in cancer care. We had Blair Vining standing at the Cancer Care at the Crossroads conference where his wife said her husband would be dead if he had kept to the appointment that the Southern District Health Board had given them. This is a Government that is not delivering and it’s not got its priorities right.

Lawrence Yule:

LAWRENCE YULE (National—Tukituki): General debates about are about bringing things to this House that matter and that are important to your electorate and are important to New Zealand. I’m going to use my short time to highlight a really significant issue in my electorate and in my city of Hastings in this year of supposed delivery from this Government. That is around housing.

In 2016, the Hon Phil Twyford, as a member of the Opposition, said he wanted a state of emergency declared around housing in New Zealand. On 23 May, in an answer to question No. 6 in 2018—almost one year ago—he was critical that the waiting list for State houses in Hastings had gone up by 86 percent.

On 1 May this year—this day; nearly half-way through the Government’s year of non-delivery—we have one hectare of vacant land in Hastings completely serviced and ready to go and no houses on it.

From Stuff in January:  Jacinda Ardern says 2019 year of ‘delivery’ for Government

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has told the Labour caucus 2019 will be a year of “delivery” for the Government.

“For us domestically it doesn’t really matter what the international community does or says, it only matters what we deliver”.

Attacks on lack of delivery look likely to continue.

However attacks on Bridges for lack of delivery as National leader also look likely to continue.

 

 

 

 

 

Sroubek texts to Ardern released under OIA

Texts to the Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern about the decision to grant Kaerl Sroubek residency were requested under the Official Information Act.

RNZ:  Texts to prime minister about Sroubek released

A text message from social justice campaigner Richie Hardcore to the prime minister thanked her for granting Czech drug smuggler Karel Sroubek residency.

Jacinda Ardern’s office released the text message following pressure from the Opposition last year.

The text message was in response to Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway granting Sroubek residency.

The minister subsequently issued him a deportation notice after new information came to light.

Mr Hardcore’s text said he and his friends wanted to pass on their respects and praise for the residency decision and, while Sroubek had made a “bunch of really bad choices”, deep down he was a good guy.

Ms Ardern didn’t respond to the text, which was sent at the end of October, not long after Sroubek’s case hit the headlines and it was revealed Mr Lees-Galloway took less than an hour to approve his residency.

A second text message was also received by Ms Ardern on 9 November from convicted fraudster Alex Swney.

It said: “U r too polite to say it but I will – Bridges & the Nats r being bastards about this Sroubek saga. I want to assist with information I hve included in an email I hve copied u in on. If I can please advise [redacted] … Best – Alex.”

Swney spent time in prison with Sroubek.

A spokesperson for Ms Ardern…

…said the government was deporting Sroubek and “Ministers did not have all the critical information when making the first decision, but now that we have all the info he is being deported”.

“This correspondence proves the PM had no involvement in this case or any of the decisions made about it. Text messages to her were sent after the first decision. They were unsolicited and not replied to.

“People write to the prime minister and offer their opinions about government decisions every day. She can’t control their opinions but has taken the step of changing the phone number she’s had for years, to limit unsolicited contact on her phone.”

Surprising it has taken over a year to switch to a more private phone number.

National Party immigration spokesperson Michael Woodhouse:

“Why was Sroubek’s main supporter texting her directly to pass on his ‘respect and praise’ over the decision to allow Sroubek to stay in New Zealand in spite of Sroubek’s criminal history and the fact he came here on a false passport?”

“Why was one of Sroubek’s fellow inmates – Alex Swney – texting and emailing the prime minister information on the case, which has only now been revealed in spite of months of questioning? And what was that information and what is her relationship with Mr Swney?

“The whole thing stinks. Karel Sroubek should never have been granted residency, the government should never have tried to keep it secret, and the prime minister should not be involved in any way in such a decision, especially ones which allowed a convicted criminal to remain in New Zealand.”

Ardern’s office:

There had never been an issue with releasing the messages, “but [we] wanted to get guidance from the ombudsman to make sure we don’t infringe on others’ rights to privacy, the spokesperson said.

“Given that advice we are happy to release them now.”

On Friday afternoon, a time favoured for releasing unfavourable information, texts have been released.  Ardern is heading to Europe, which will increase the impression that she is avoiding fronting up on this issue.

Matthew Hooton was one of those who requested that the texts be released.

 

 

Sroubek -> Hardcore -> Ardern – pressure builds for full disclosure

The Opposition have been pressuring Iain Lees-Galloway and Jacinda Ardern on the Karel Sroubek deportation issue for over a month. National have obviously been trying to connect Ardern to the original decision by Lees-Galloway not to deport Sroubek after he completed his current prison sentence.

Today in Parliament, and immediately afterwards,  some dots were joined.

9. Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE (National) to the Minister of Immigration: Other than Karel Sroubek’s lawyer and family members, who made representations on his behalf in respect of the deportation liability that was the subject of the Minister’s decision on 19 September 2018?

Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY (Minister of Immigration): I can confirm that amongst the information I considered on 19 September were letters of support from family, friends, business associates, and fellow sportspeople. Alongside the letters of support were sworn statements by a private investigator and a lawyer in the Czech Republic regarding the Czech justice system in Mr Sroubek’s circumstance. I do not consider it in the public interest to release the names of those who provided support or information regarding Mr Sroubek. Some have requested anonymity, and I consider it likely that naming people would expose them to unwarranted attention. None of those who made representations were known to me; none were MPs or former MPs, or MPs’ partners. I am unaware if any of the people had or have links to any political party.

That sounds carefully worded. Later:

Hon Michael Woodhouse: Has he seen any reports of the Prime Minister confirming that there were no “direct” representations to him; and, if so, what indirect or informal representations were made, including from MPs’ staff or supporters?

Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: None.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: Did Richie Hardcore, a former martial arts champion, make representations in support of his application not to be deported?

Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: As I said, I do not consider it in the public interest to name specific individuals, and I’m not going to do it by a process of elimination either.

 

Afterwards from NZ Herald: Karel Sroubek supporter texted PM after residency initially granted

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern received a text from a Karel Sroubek supporter after the Czech drug-smuggler was initially granted New Zealand residency, but she did not respond.

During Question Time today, National’s immigration spokesman Michael Woodhouse asked Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway if Richie Hardcore, believed to be a friend and supporter who met Sroubek through kick-boxing circles, had supported Sroubek.

Lees-Galloway would not answer, citing a lack of public interest, but after Question Time a spokesman for Ardern confirmed that Hardcore had texted the Prime Minister after news broke of Sroubek being granted residency.

“The Prime Minister received a text message from Richie Hardcore following media coverage of the first decision about Karel Sroubek that acknowledged the decision. She did not respond to the text.”

The spokesman said that Ardern and Hardcore were acquaintances and she had known him for years through his public advocacy work.

She did not know whether Hardcore had advocated for Sroubek, the spokesman said.

So that is a new development, but Ardern appears to be being not entirely open and transparent with her disclosure.

Muay Thai. Boxing.Drug & Alcohol Harm Reduction.Public Speaking. Occasional Media Comment Maker. Politics.Punk. Hardcore. Hip Hop. Day Dreamer.Idealist

Early last year, the Greens had political connections with Hardcore.

From 4 April 2017: Greens unite celebs and Kiwis in ‘fresh’ campaign video

Continuing its push to engage the younger voter, the Green Party’s new campaign video features plenty of fresh, recognisable faces amongst its regular roster.

Hunt For The Wilderpeople‘s Taika Waititi pops up via an iPad, as well as social commentator Richie Hardcore and comedians including Chris Parker and Alice Brine.

Greens co-leader James Shaw said the campaign signals a “fresh, new look” for the party.

The video features a surprising array of Kiwis for a political campaign. As well as actors and celebrities, the party says it went on the road to include regular New Zealanders in the video.

“The people who were keen to be involved and the resulting campaign is testimony to the incredible range and depth of Green supporters in this country. This campaign demonstrates who we are and what we stand for,” co-leader Metiria Turei said.

20 August 2017:

 and 

Phil Twyford’s Facebook page from 16 August 2017:

Join Jacinda Ardern​, Richie Hardcore, Carmel Sepuloni and Phil Twyford at ZEAL in Henderson this Saturday 2pm at Let’s Talk with Jacinda​ – an event organised for West Auckland youth by West Auckland youth. It’s time for a change. It’s time for the future. It’s time to talk! #LetsDoThis
(Authorised by Andrew Kirton, 160 Willis St, Wellington.)

Hardcore’s Facebook page 26 August 2017:

Richie Hardcore
Oh my god I love the way Jacinda conducted this interview; she’s so intelligent and articulate, I can’t wait for her to be our Prime Minister leading a Labour Green Government. ❤️💚

@RichieHardcore 23 April 2018: @NZClarke Welcome home bro, rise above and all that! NZ’s a terrible place to have more than 4 people know your name! Stay positive! 💛

Remember that lees-Galloway said in Parliament today:

I am unaware if any of the people had or have links to any political party.

This may just be a bunch of coincidental connections, but I think that Ardern needs to provide a full disclosure (open and transparent) about what sort of association she and Gayford have had with Hardcore, and whether there has been any link via Hardcore to the Sroubek deportation decision.

NZ Herald:

National leader Simon Bridges said tonight that Ardern had not been upfront and it was time she told the whole story.

“She’s only told us this much because of our relentless questioning. It beggars belief to say that this would be the first contact that she has had with Richie Hardcore about this case.”

Bridges said Ardern should release the full text message, and asked why Hardcore would have sent a text if she didn’t know who Sroubek was.

“For total clarity, the Prime Minister should appear in the House tomorrow and make a Ministerial Statement about her associations with Richie Hardcore, Sroubek and any of their other associates.”

Ardern has avoided addressing this openly, which has increased speculation and suspicions. Last week in Parliament when Bridges accused her of ducking and diving the Speaker Trevor Mallard stepped in and kicked Bridges out of the House.

But National are likely to keep coming back to this until Ardern fronts up openly and provides credible disclosure. Otherwise, it will look increasingly like she has something she wants to hide.

 

Sroubek affair continues to dog Lees-Galloway

Minister of Immigration Iain Lees-Galloway has made a mess of deferring the deportation of Karel Sroubek, and has made more of a mess of the handling of it when it was pushed by National.

He now admits he didn’t read the whole report given to him before making a very important decision about someone’s future, and he made the decision within about an hour. This seems to contradict assurances he gave to Jacinda Ardern that he had given the matter “careful consideration”, which could put her in a difficult position.

In Parliament today:

Question No. 2—Immigration

2. Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE (National) to the Minister of Immigration: Did he meet with officials on 19 September 2018 to discuss the deportation liability of Karel Sroubek, also known as Jan Antolik; if so, at what time?

Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY (Minister of Immigration): Yes, at 4.30 p.m.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: Can he confirm he first considered Karel Sroubek’s case on 19 September 2018, as indicated in his answer to written question 27289?

Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: Yes.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: Can he confirm he wrote to Karel Sroubek’s lawyer confirming his decision to grant residency that same day?

Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: I understand that the letter was post-dated to that day, but I am advised that it was sent on the 21st.

SPEAKER: Backdated, I think the member means.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: Can he therefore confirm it took him less than an hour to make his decision to grant residency?

Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: As the decision maker, it’s important that I base my decision on accurate and robust information. Immigration New Zealand prepared a comprehensive file, detailed information, which I used to make that decision, following exactly the same process that that member used when I made that decision. I made that decision on that day.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. A helpful elucidation of the process which did not address the question, which was “Can he confirm he took less than an hour to make that decision?”

SPEAKER: Well, I’ll ask the Minister to have another go at it. I mean, days don’t finish at half past five., but carry on.

Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: I made the decision on that day using the information that I had available to me.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: Why was this decision, one which the Prime Minister has said he gave “careful consideration to” and was “a very difficult decision”, decided just minutes or hours after being presented to him?

Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: Because I used the comprehensive file that was prepared by Immigration New Zealand and presented to me. As a decision maker, it is important that I base my decision on accurate and robust information. Publicly available information may be wrong or unfairly prejudicial. That’s why it is important to have a robust process to prepare the information for my consideration.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: Is it common practice for him to consider cases to, in his words, “weigh matters of public safety and the criminal behaviour of the individual involved” just minutes or hours after being presented to him?

Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: I used the same process that the member used when he was Minister.

RNZ: Immigration Minister made Sroubek decision in just one hour

Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway has admitted he took only an hour to decide to let Karel Sroubek stay in New Zealand and did not read the entire case file.

In response to questions in Parliament, Mr Lees-Galloway confirmed he made his decision on the same day he received the file.

He later told reporters he took “an hour or so” to make up his mind and said that was “much, much longer” than he’d taken on other cases.

“I took the time that I felt was necessary. I certainly asked questions. I certainly looked closely at different aspects of the file,” he said.

Mr Lees-Galloway said he went through the summary with his officials, but admitted he did not read the file in its entirety before making his decision.

“I read the aspects of the file that I felt were necessary to make the decision that I made.”

The minister defended his decision-making, saying he followed the exact same process as the previous government.

“This is the usual process for these decisions.”

Mr Lees-Galloway said he’d since read the full file “several times” and stood by the decision he made on the basis of the information provided.

Asked whether in hindsight he would have taken more care and time, he insisted he was “thorough” and had given the case “due consideration”.

“That’s the job.”

It appears that Lee’s-Galloway did not do a thorough enough jonb in making his decision, and has done an awful job of dealing with the flak.

Also today Sroubek put out a media statement:

Following the Minister of Immigration recently cancelling my liability for deportation there have been numerous reports and statements about me made to and reported in the media.

Much of what has been said about me and my circumstances does not present the true picture.

In 2010 I faced charges. I was properly acquitted at trial, as were all of the other people charged. Comments made about that case in the media are not balanced, and in particular do not reflect that the key prosecution witness’ evidence was discredited.

The National Deputy leader by her questions in Parliament has implied I may have had something to with an alleged burglary of a property I have an interest in. The allegation I was involved in that burglary is completely without foundation. I was not involved in the burglary.

Until New Zealand Immigration reports backs to the Minister and I have had the opportunity to respond to him on any issue he may wish to raise I will be making no further comment or statement.

And National are not backing off.

Immigration Minister to reconsider Sroubek residency decision

Minister of Immigration Iain Lees-Galloway announced that he would reconsider the decision to grant residency to illegal immigrant and convicted drug importer Karel Sroubek after National brought up ‘new information’ in Parliament yesterday.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern had suggested that media ‘read between the lines’ on the decision and it was assumed that residency was granted because Sroubek feared for his safety if he returned. However it has been revealed that he has returned to the Czech Republic voluntarily since coming to New Zealand. This suggests that the safety concerns may have been overstated, and he may not have informed officials of his travel.

Both Lees-Galloway and  have pointed their fingers at immigration officials for not providing complete information.

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

Hon Simon Bridges: Why did her Government grant residency to Karel Sroubek?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Again, to correctly categorise the decision that was made, my understanding is that he already had residency, albeit in an incorrect name.

Hon Simon Bridges: What is her response to the Dominion Post this morning, which said, “So yes, prime minister, we have read between the lines. Our reading of it suggests that Sroubek is a person of poor character, a criminal who cannot be trusted, who arrived here under false pretences. He should be deported. You have got this wrong.”?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Again, as that member should know given that when he was in office there were roughly 100 deportations cancelled. From time to time to time Ministers do have information put in front of them that makes for very difficult decisions. I have seen information that would suggest, from the information reports, that they have been in very similar circumstances.

Hon Simon Bridges: Isn’t it clear that her Government has prioritised a dangerous criminal’s welfare over public safety, contrary to her statement that any further offending actions by Karel Sroubek “sits with this individual … anything further is off the minister’s conscience and it’s on theirs.”?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: That is being made absolutely clear by the Minister. He has put into writing that anything further would mean that he would automatically be deported. On the face of it, of course, it looks like an obvious decision, which demonstrates that from time to time, Ministers in this position do receive additional information. What we have to make sure is that that information that the Minister makes the decision on is consistent and clear, and that’s for officials to ensure that they have provided that.

Hon Simon Bridges: Isn’t it the case that since the early 2000s, Karel Sroubek has been back to the Czech Republic, and doesn’t that make any decision by Iain Lees-Galloway ridiculous?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: The Minister made the decision based on the information he had at the time, and he is no different to any other Minister of any political persuasion. They have to deal with the information provided to them by officials. If there is information that contradicts the basis on which the Minister made the decision, then that would be for him to go back to the officials and seek further advice. I would have an expectation that he would do that.

Hon Simon Bridges: Did she and the Minister not know he had been to the Czech Republic since the early 2000s, and is she going to fess up they just got this clearly, badly wrong?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Every Minister does rely on the advice that they are provided by officials, and the Minister is no different in that regard to the last Minister, who overturned 108 deportations. We are all, as Ministers, reliant on the information we are provided. Again, if there is anything that contradicts the information that’s been provided, it is for the Minister to go back to officials, and it would be my expectation he would do that.

Winston Peters jumped in to try to support Ardern, and tried to divert blame to the National Government. His initial efforts were ruled out of order, and responses by National MPs were disproportionately punished by the Speaker.

Rt Hon David Carter: Because it’s not your job—

SPEAKER: That’s six. Any more?

Hon Gerry Brownlee: Yeah, OK. It’s worth it.

SPEAKER: That’s 10 supplementary questions that will be taken from the National Party today.

But Peters was allowed to rephrase.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: On the basis of information being given to this House in good faith, has the Prime Minister been appraised of the number of times this man came back into the country, and who was the Government at the time?

Ardern briefly took the opportunity to take a swipe at National but switched back to the more serious matter before her.

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Obviously, members will draw their inference from the fact that we have only been in Government for 12 months. Again, though, I reiterate that a Minister would make a decision based on the information in front of him, and we would all have a fair expectation that if there is information to contradict that, we would expect the Minister to go back to his officials.

The next question also addressed the issue.

2. Hon MARK MITCHELL (National—Rodney) to the Minister of Justice: What is New Zealand’s process for extraditing Czech nationals to the Czech Republic, and what stage is the application for extradition of Karel Sroubek, also known as Jan Antolik, at?

Hon ANDREW LITTLE (Minister of Justice): The Czech Republic is able to make an application for extradition of one of their citizens, and any application is made under the Extradition Act 1996. There is a process that usually starts with an application being made through diplomatic channels. It goes to the Minister of Justice in New Zealand. It is an application ultimately determined by the District Court on the grounds of eligibility, and then the final decision on whether or not an extradition is made is made by the Minister of Justice of the day. On the second part of the question, despite the Czech Republic indicating to the New Zealand Government in 2015 that it had an interest in Mr Sroubek, no formal application for extradition has been made.

Hon Mark Mitchell: Why is the Parole Board aware of an extradition request?

Hon ANDREW LITTLE: I’m not responsible for the determinations of the Parole Board.

Hon Mark Mitchell: Did the Minister speak with the immigration Minister ahead of the Minister approving residency for Karel Sroubek?

Hon ANDREW LITTLE: No.

Hon Mark Mitchell: Was the Minister aware of any controversy around Karel Sroubek before the Minister of Immigration granted residency?

Hon ANDREW LITTLE: No, and there’d be no reason for me to have been so.

Hon Mark Mitchell: If officials advise there is sufficient evidence to support an extradition request, will he extradite Karel Sroubek back to the Czech Republic?

Hon ANDREW LITTLE: That member will be well aware that it would be entirely inappropriate and not in the public interest for me to comment on any case that may be the subject of an extradition application.

It became a triple whammy.

4. Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE (National) to the Minister of Immigration: Does he believe he has considered all relevant factors in deciding to grant residency to Karel Sroubek, also known as Jan Antolik?

Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY (Minister of Immigration): Shortly before question time today, I became aware that information may exist that appears, on the face of it, to directly contradict information that I used and relied upon to make that decision. I am now taking advice on my options and need to consider the veracity of the new information that has been made available to me.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: Did all of those factors include submissions from Czech Republic officials about any statements Mr Sroubek had made relevant to them, and, if not, will he be also asking the Czech officials to provide submissions?

Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: Given the potential new information that I have just become aware of, I do not intend to make any further comment on the information that I was provided. I need to take advice, and I need to carefully consider the way forward from here.

So a commitment by Lees-Galloway to reconsider the residency decision due to new information becoming available.

This issue was already awkward for the Government. It has now become embarrassing. One would hope that a minister would do as much as possible to ensure he had all relevant information before making an obviously contentious decision.

National have called for the Minister to resign over this, but I think that’s a silly overreach. This looks more like a stuff up than anything like a sackable offence. Perhaps sloppy, but probably not a misuse of ministerial powers.

So Lees-Galloway should learn a lesson from this and be a more careful minister in the future.

This is a bit of a blow to Government credibility, but probably isn’t a major. However it reinforces National’s campaign that keeps claiming the Government is soft on criminals.