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.

Bridges on Woodhouse and Collins on Chelsea Manning

Simon Bridges was asked whether he backed Michael Woodhouse saying as Immigration Minister he would not let Chelsea Manning come to New Zealand to speak, and whether he backed Judith Collins promoting what some have claimed is fake news.

Morning report (RNZ):

Suzi Ferguson: On Chelsea Manning, Michael Woodhouse said he would have denied the visa if he was the minister. Do you back his comments that Chelsea Manning shouldn’t have been able to come to New Zealand?

Simon Bridges: He’s got strong views on that and he’s entitled to them. What I would say is pretty simple. Actually I don’t care where you are on the spectrum, whether you’re hard left, hard right, freedom of speech matters and you should be able to do that. Al of that said, I do think there’s an issue of the immigration rules here.

Now if Chelsea Manning is allowed too come to New Zealand on the rules, good for her. She should get out there and say what wants from the rooftop.

If though what the Government has done is bent the rules for her, I would like to understand why that is, I think it’s a slightly different issue to the free speech one, but look, I feel strongly about, um and I’ll stake my claim on.

Suzi Ferguson: What about Judith Colins comments that Chelsea Manning was a traitor whose actions led to people losing their lives or having them put in danger? That’s not actually true, so do you support her using fake news again?

Simon Bridges: Well I haven’t gone through and read Chelsea Manning’s Wikipedia page, I don’t know the ins and outs of everything that she done.

My basic sense of it is though, she was convicted of very serious crimes. Now President Obama commuted those sentences, but serious matters and that’s really my point.

Bridges trying to divert and seeming to avoid answering.

Free speech is incredibly important, but you also have to have rules…

Suzi Ferguson: Do you back her using fake news though, because it’s not the first time in the last few weeks?

Simon Bridges: I would argue it’s not fake news actually if you look at what Chelsea Manning’s history is and what has happened there. Judith Collins is entitled to say what she said.

Suzi Ferguson: Ok, that’s not actually what was every proven in court.

Ferguson moved on to another topic (identifying the leaker of Bridges’ expenses) and Bridges also left it at that and moved on.

That’s some fairly tame questioning and some vague and weak responses from Bridges.

 

 

David Clark accused of cronyism after appointing another ex-Labour MP

Minister of Health David Clark has been accused of cronyism after he appointed former Labour MP Steve Maharey as new chair of Pharmac, against the advice of officials, and without following State Services Guidelines in considering a pool of applicants.

Clark’s history shows he has been appointed to a number of positions as he has worked his way into politics and up the ladder, and once he became a Minister (in Cabinet) he has made more than one appointment that involves political connections.

Clark is an ordained Presbyterian minister and practiced as one from 1997 to 2000 (he is still a celebrant and performed a civil union for Grant Robertson and his partner in January 2009).

He started his political involvement while working as an analyst for Treasury from 2003 to 2006, and was also appointed to a number of community positions:

  • Campaign hoardings assistance, Wellington 2005
  • Advisor to Hon David Parker 2006 – 2007
  • Dunedin North Campaign Committee member and activist 2008
  • Head of College, Selwyn College, University of Otago 2008 – 2011
  • Member, Finance and Audit Committee Otago Community Trust 2008 – 2012
  • Trustee, Otago Community Trust 2008 – 2012
  • Leith Branch Membership Secretary 2009 – 2011
  • Member, Otago Forward economic development forum 2009 – 2011
  • Dunedin North LEC Deputy Chair 2009 – 2010
  • Dunedin North LEC Chair 2010
  • Member, University of Otago Vice-Chancellor’s Alcohol Advisory Task Force 2010 – 2011
  • Deputy Chair, Otago Community Trust 2011 – 2012
  • Member of Parliament for Dunedin North 2011 – current

After working his way up the Dunedin North Labour Party administration he was selected to replace the retiring Pete Hodgson and won the safe-ish electorate in 2011.

He was appointed Minister of Health when Labour took over Government in October 2017. he made a controversial appointment soon after:

ODT (8 December 2017): Hospital rebuild chairman sacked; Hodgson given job

Health Minister David Clark has sacked the Dunedin Hospital rebuild chairman and appointed former Labour cabinet minister Pete Hodgson to lead the project.

When contacted, Hawke’s Bay consultant Andrew Blair said his role as Southern Partnership Group chairman was “terminated” this week. Dr Clark told the Otago Daily Times the rebuild needed to be led by a local person.

Mr Hodgson, Dr Clark’s predecessor in Dunedin North, served as MP from 1990 to 2011, and held numerous ministerial portfolios in the fifth Labour government.

“As a former minister of health, he understands the complexity of the issues involved,” Dr Clark said.

“He is indisputably a local champion, and  . . . is well connected into health.

Dr Clark’s other move is appointing University of Otago chief operating officer Stephen Willis to the group now led by Mr Hodgson.

So Clark’s university and political connections coming into play there. This left Clark open to criticism, which he got – War of words over Dunedin Hospital rebuild

Former Health Minister Jonathan Coleman says the Government has made the “wrong move for progressing the rebuild” of Dunedin Hospital.

“The announcement of the ultimate Dunedin Labour Party political insider and former Health Minister Pete Hodgson as chair of the Southern Partnership Group is exactly the wrong move for progressing the rebuild.”

Hodgson is probably a good person for the job, but there is a risk of it being seen as cronyism.

Now this week (Newsroom) Clark accused of cronyism over Pharmac appointment:

Steve Maharey, former Labour MP and ex-Education Minister was appointed Pharmac chair on August 1 to little fanfare.

But questions are now being raised about his appointment after it emerged Health Minister David Clark went against the advice of officials in appointing Maharey.

Documents released under the Official Information Act show the Ministry of Health advised reappointing existing chair Stuart McLauchlan for a fourth term.

A report from 3 May 2018 advised Clark, “the Ministry considers sound reasons exist that support the reappointment of Mr McLauchlan”.

“Pharmac is taking on new roles that will have a significant impact on the health sector… They will require Pharmac to develop new capabilities to carry out these new roles,” the briefing said.

It went on to say: “Mr McLauchlan has performed well as the chair and it is advisable to provide for continuity during this period of expansion of Pharmac’s role. This is particularly so, given that a new chief executive has recently been appointed”.

It went on to recommend McLauchlan be reappointed for a further term of three years or, if Clark wished to change the chair, to reappoint him for just one year, while a replacement chair was sourced.

But Clark overrode that advice.

Instead, he informed McLauchlan that he would not be reappointed, and elevated Maharey to the board.

Opposition health spokesperson Michael Woodhouse said the move was “appalling,” and raised questions about the process involved.

While Clark had the right to appoint Maharey, he went against guidelines from the State Services Commission, which advises a position description be filled out and a wide-pool of applicants be sought before appointing board members.

A workflow for appointment processes from the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet shows that the general procedure is to identify required skills and “call for nominations”.

Instead, a statement from Clark said the position “was not publicly advertised, which is within the Board Appointments and Induction Guidelines from the State Services Commission”.

Clark told Newsroom the appointment “followed the standard process for Board chairs and was signed off by the Cabinet”.

But Woodhouse said the process raised issues of cronyism.

“David Clark’s appalling move to remove the previous chair and appoint a former Labour MP to the role, all with no position description, no application process, interview, or any other input into the decision is cronyism at its worst,” Woodhouse said.

Making uncontested appointments, especially when close political affiliations are involved, are risky.

Maharey may chair Pharmac competently and without controversy, but questions could be asked about his credentials. He has been Vice-Chancellor of Massey University since he left Parliament.

He doesn’t seem to have done health as an MP. His responsibilities:

  • 1990-1994 spokesperson of broadcasting and education
  • 1994-1997 spokesperson for labour
  • 1996-1999 spokesperson on social welfare, employment, and tertiary education
  • 1999-2007 he ha\d various portfolios:
    Minister of Social Services and Employment
    Associate Minister of Education holding special responsibility for tertiary education
    Minister of Broadcasting
    Minister for Education
    Minister for Research, Science and Technology
    Minister for Crown Research Institutes
    Minister for Youth Affairs

Nothing health related – but Clark didn’t have much of a background in health either.

If there are no controversies over Pharmac (or the Dunedin Hospital rebuild) this may not be an issue for Clark, but he should take care avoiding too many accusations of cronyism.


UPDATE: more appointments with political connections from Clark – More DHB chair turnover but Health Minister says it’s not political

On Sunday David Clark announced three new board chairs for Auckland DHBs – Pat Snedden will lead Auckland DHB from June 1, Judy McGregor at Waitemata DHB from June 10 and Vui Mark Gosche at Counties-Manukau DHB from Thursday.

At least two of the appointments appear to be politically motivated with Gosche coming into the role having previously been a Minister under the former Labour-led Government.

Gosche was a Labour MP from 1996-2008.

McGregor served as the first Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner for the New Zealand Human Rights Commission between 2003 and 2013 (two terms), appointed by Minister Margaret Wilson and replaced in the role by politician Jackie Blue (a National political appointment).

Pat Snedden was previously also a Labour appointee who says he was politically pushed by National’s Health Minister in 2010 – see Minister pushes health chief out

National’s Woodhouse wants to ban Chelsea Manning from visiting NZ

National MP and former Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse is calling for a ban on US whistle blower Chelsea Manning from visiting New Zealand.

Stuff:  National wants Chelsea Manning barred from New Zealand

National is calling on the Government to bar ex-US army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning from visiting the country next month.

Former Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse said the “convicted felon” should not be allowed to earn money talking about her crimes, and it would “not enhance” New Zealand’s relationship with the US.

Manning, who was sentenced to 35 years in prison for leaking hundreds of thousands of classified American diplomatic and military documents, has two speaking events scheduled in early September.

Her conviction for espionage and computer fraud means she is likely to require a “special direction” from the Government to allow her into the country.

Woodhouse said if an application from Manning had landed on his desk while he was Immigration Minister, he would have denied it, and called on the Government to do the same.

“She is wanting to be hailed as a hero for stealing military secrets and state secrets. She was convicted of very serious crimes.

“I’m a firm believer in free speech. But I don’t believe there is a basis to say that her crimes are victimless. We will never know because of the nature of her offending – whether there are people that were put in harm’s way,” Woodhouse said.

I’m very surprised that Woodhouse and national have chosen this as something to bark at.

I have no idea what a normal Immigration position would be on someone like Manning, but on a free speech basis this stance almost makes me speechless.

Quietly scrapped national health targets, no replacement yet

Health Minister David Clark has decided to quietly scrap national health targets, without debate, without evidence, and without anything yet but a vague promise to replace them with.

There is nothing in the Beehive media releases, but yesterday National claimed Government axes National Health Targets

The Government’s quiet shelving of National Health Targets is bad news for Southland says local MP, Sarah Dowie.

“It is outrageous that the Government has done away with the targets which include a set of six major indicators, which measured DHB’s throughput in surgeries, cancer treatment, Emergency Department waiting times and childhood immunisations, as well as B4 School checks and help for smokers to quit.

“Just as they scrapped National Standards within education, they have done away the Health Targets that ensure public reporting of DHB’s performance with no plan of how to effectively manage and monitor the healthcare of New Zealanders.

“Minister Clark needs to realise that you cannot effectively operate healthcare systems on anecdotal evidence.”

Simon Bridges (RNZ): Ditching health targets is ‘absolutely outrageous’

The targets were put in place by the former National-led government in 2009.

They focussed on six areas: increased immunisation, faster cancer treatment, shorter stays in emergency departments, improved access to elective surgery, helping smokers to quit and raising healthy kids.

Mr Bridges said it was absolutely outrageous that the government had canned the targets.

He said it was a prime area where the government could be held to account.

“Over time dropping the targets, losing the accountability will mean more illnesses and more fatalities in our health system that could have been prevented.”

The Health Minister’s office…

…said the old targets would not be published, and new targets were being developed.

Meaning the old targets are being scrapped,

Acting Prime Minister Winston Peters…

…said National had the wrong end of the stick.

“They are not correct in saying we’ve dropped health targets, we just think those health targets were such a miserable failure that we have to find something that works and that is better, and that’s what we are working on at the moment.”

Peters proves himself incorrect in the same sentence.

Stuff:  How’s your DHB doing? Govt does away with National Health Targets

Public reporting of District Health Boards’ (DHB) performance of procedures including elective surgeries, cancer treatment times and Emergency Department wait times, has been axed.

It also appears a new project to publicly measure elective surgery referrals and rejections has also been quietly shelved, with the Ministry of Health failing to release updated figures since the election.

Health Minister David Clark said the targets created “perverse incentives”, particularly in relation to surgery – but the Opposition said there was no evidence to suggest that’s true.

And while there has been no announcement, the National Patient Flow project – which measured the number of patients being turned away from the operating table – has not released any updated figures since September last year. That project was launched following intense political pressure from Labour, over surgical unmet need.

Clark has given an assurance that more surgeries would be performed, but there was currently no public measure of that.

Just trust Clark’s word, with no numbers?

“As minister, I’m concerned about the perverse incentives that exist under the existing targets, whereby we’ve had what were traditionally cheaper surgeries performed in more expensive environments and so not spending the health dollar as wisely as it could be spent,” he said.

Clark, who has also implemented a complete review of the health sector, said the current system wasn’t “fit for purpose”.

Nationals health spokesperson Michael Woodhouse asked Minister Clark about it in Parliament yesterday.

8. Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE (National) to the Minister of Health: Why does the Government intend to dispense with the national health targets?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK (Minister of Health): The previous Government’s health target data has not been published since August 2017. I want a health system that has honest and transparent reporting.

Woodhouse complained that his question ‘why’ wasn’t answered, but I think it is established under Speaker Mallard in Parliament that avoiding answering is an obvious answer of not disputing what was asked.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: Does he stand by his statement that the targets create “perverse incentives”; if so, what is his definition of “perverse incentive”?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: A good example of a perverse incentive is to recall what happened toward the end of the previous Government’s tenure, when the overall statistics showed that the number of electives was going up, yet in centres like Northland, Auckland, Counties Manukau, Bay of Plenty, and Waikato, if Avastin injections and skin lesion removals were taken out of those pumped-up statistics, the actual number of surgeries was dropping. Despite a growing population, the actual number of surgeries was dropping. That Government should hang its head in shame. That is the result of nine years of underfunding.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: Given that, is it his view that eye procedures designed to save the sight of patients with macular degeneration, or skin procedures aimed at improving the prognosis of cancer patients, are not worthy of undertaking or counting?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: We know that skin lesion removals can be performed for roughly half the price in a primary care setting as compared to being performed in a hospital setting. So it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out that if you can afford to perform twice as many surgeries, more lives will be saved.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: Is it appropriate to describe the saving of more than 700 lives a year by implementing targets to improve emergency department waiting times, as reported in the New Zealand Medical Journal last year, as a perverse incentive?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: I don’t think anyone is saying that about that target. We will continue to monitor a range of measures, dozens of measures, through the Ministry of Health, and the district health boards will be held to account for improved performance.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: What possible benefit to New Zealanders can come from the dispensing with of publicly stated targets that improve surgery throughput, reduce waiting times, improve health, and quite literally save lives?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: I disagree with the member’s characterisation. What we know is that that set of targets was driving a set of behaviours which may have led to the public health dollar being more poorly spent, with health consequences for New Zealanders. By defending a set of targets with perverse outcomes in it, the actual fact is that that member and his former Government may well have been driving poorer health outcomes for New Zealanders.

Audrey Young points out Labour ditches national health targets with no debate on their value

At no point during the election campaign last year did Labour or its coalition partner campaign to get rid of national health targets.

So the decision Health Minister David Clark to drop national health targets came like a bolt.

In fact for the past six years Labour and Jacinda Ardern in particular have insisted there is value in having specific targets in the area of child poverty in order to measure progress.

Ardern won that argument. There has been wide buy-in to that argument, which makes Clark’s decision when it comes to public health the more bizarre.

It was a decision that did not go to Cabinet – and should have.

The least that the new Government could have done was come up with its own priorities or have some new form of accountability in place before ditching the targets.

Quietly dropping the targets without saying so and without debate is a concern, especially when there is nothing in place yet to replace them.

Dominion Post editorial: Trust me, I know what I’m doing

Health Minister David Clark is scrapping National Health Targets that publicly address district health boards’ success or failure in achieving, among other things, reasonable treatment times, numbers getting surgery, waiting times in emergency departments, and immunisations.

Incredibly, the National Patient Flow project, which monitors the number of people turned away from surgery, and which Labour supported while in opposition, also appears to have been sidelined.

In making these changes, he has criticised the “perverse incentives” created by the previous monitoring regime. Also, Labour has intimated that the DHBs and the previous National government padded the statistics with easier procedures, that they gamed the system. Trouble is, there’s no evidence. Just a “vibe”, it seems.

No evidence, just Clark thinking he knows best. That’s a concern, especially in health.

This Government has set aside an extra $31.5 million for elective surgery; Clark insists that will mean more operations and that the performance of the Ministry of Health in delivering those will be monitored.

But we just won’t have the regular, public updates to help verify that.

What we do have is the minister’s assurances that more operations will be done, at lower cost, with more beneficial outcomes.

He appears to be asking us to simply trust him.

Trust a politician? If things don’t go according to plan politicians are notorious for hiding bad news.

Clark had better hope that there is a perceptible improvement or he could come under fire in the future.

Unanswered questions over Hager case

The Police gave Nicky Hager a comprehensive apology and a substantial payout after they admitted overstepping procedures and breaking the law in their investigation of Hager when they tried to find out who the hacker ‘Rawshark’ was who supplied Hager with data from Cameron Slater and his Whale oil website.

There are unanswered questions about whether ‘Rawshark’ was a sole operator or a group, whether he/she/they were hacking from the outside or whether it was an inside job (whistleblower). The police failed to find any of this out, and Hager himself claims not to know.

The police made it clear that Hager was investigated as a witness and “was not a suspect of any offending” (which made their botching of the investigation substantially more troubling).

There is a big unanswered question over why the police went to such great lengths when they have made it clear that Hager was investigated as a witness and not as a possible offender – in contrast to their investigation of another acase where Slater tried to have The Standard hacked.

Tim Watkins goes over the case and in particular asks this in More questions from the Nicky Hager case.

Slater had reported the hack to police and quite properly, the police began investigating. However, they began investigating with such vigour they broke the law and were not honest with the courts. It’s a remarkable series of events that appears to go beyond ineptitude, to something more deliberate.

In a country where victims of burglary often complain about the slow response from police and around the time that the national burglary resolution rate (2015) was a record low 9.3 per cent, it’s curious that police would expend such resources on this computer.

But most notably there were other dodgy dealings with computers in the news around the same time, as well. Dirty Politics itself revealed that Slater and National Party staffer and others had been rooting around in the back-end of the Labour Party website. Hager had alleged that one of those who had been in the site was a staff member in the Prime Minister’s office. While Police admitted in their statement yesterday that Hager “was not a suspect of any offending”, there were questions being asked at the time about the legality of that behaviour. Yet nothing so rigorous was undertaken.

Also around the same time, the victim of Rawshark’s hack – Cameraon Slater – was himself commissioning Ben Rachinger to hack The Standard website to establish whether Labour MPs and staff were anonymously writing for the Labour-aligned blog. Rachinger turned whistle blower, leading to a story by me and Lisa Owen that saw Slater finally charged with attempting to procure a hack. He admitted guilt and received diversion.

Slater had to admit guilt to qualify for diversion, but he later suggested on Whale oil that this wasn’t sincere – if so that would make it misleading the court.

I know from my work on that story and my repeated calls to police how slow they were to act on Slater’s actions.

Quite reasonably, police have pointed out that Rawshark’s actual hack (with the potential for a seven year prison sentence) was a worse offence than Slater’s attempted and failed hack (with a maximum sentence of two and a half years).

But when you consider such extensive efforts on one side (where there was serious public interest in the behaviour of people in and around government) and such reluctance to investigate on the other (where, while embarrassing, the ‘crime’ of writing anonymous blog posts was much the lesser justification for a hack), it does raise questions.

The biggest being: Why?

The next question is who: Who made the decisions to deceive the court and the third parties? Who made the decision to conduct the raid in such a way that breached his rights to journalistic privilege? Who breached the Bill of Rights by their approaches to third parties?

Who in the police was responsible, culpable, is an important question.

The dark shadow hanging over all this is political. The police investigation was into a journalist who had made serious allegations against the sitting government of the day. Those are the times when police have to be at their scrupulous best, their most transparent and their most even-handed. Yet they were not.

If the police don’t clear this up they leave a dark political shadow hanging.

At the very least the public needs clear assurances from Police bosses and the Police Ministers around that time – Anne Tolley and Michael Woodhouse – that the politics at play did not influence the investigation. Without honest and frank interviews addressing these questions, how can the public’s trust in police not be effected.

Police officials have not fully discharged their duty yet.

I agree. Perhaps the media can get some honest and frank answers from Tolley and Woodhouse.

And the police need to front up on this. Unless they do that serious questions will remain.

More from Minister of Health on GP fees promise

Minister of Health David Clark was pushed again today on the apparent decision to not fulfil an election promise to reduce GP fees by 1 July this year.

5. Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE (National) to the Minister of Health: Is it his intention to reduce GP fees for all New Zealanders by $10 per visit by 1 July 2018?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK (Minister of Health): Last year, more than half a million New Zealanders couldn’t afford to visit the GP to get the care they needed. I’m not about to announce Budget details today, but what I can say is that the Government is committed to increasing the number of people that can afford to visit the doctor in the upcoming Budget.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Largely thanks to the curtailment of the question, it was very specific—it specified a reduction and a date—and I don’t think the question was addressed.

Mr SPEAKER: And the question was addressed.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: Does he stand by his comments that Labour having to prioritise coalition commitments with the New Zealand First and Green parties is the reason the policy cannot be implemented from 1 July?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: Coalition priorities will be delivered, and I’m not going to comment further on what will be announced on Budget day.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: Why, then, did he answer an oral question seeking assurance on Labour’s GP fees policy on 16 November, nearly a month after coalition agreements were signed, “That member refers to specific aspects of our policy as announced, and we intend to deliver on it.”?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: We do intend to deliver more affordable care at the level of GP visits. Under the last Government, GP visits went up 44 percent and there was underfunding in the health sector. We are determined to make access to primary care more affordable.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: When he told Morning Report, yesterday, that the Government “needed to prioritise the things that had been promised.”, was he telling New Zealanders the Government saw free tertiary fees for rich families and winter heating payments for retired millionaires as a higher priority than reducing the financial burden of GP visits on low-income households?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: No.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: Well, then, in that case, isn’t the Minister really telling New Zealanders that despite the strong and improving economy the Government inherited, he overpromised, can’t count, and therefore can’t deliver on the pledges he made in Opposition.

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: No.

The transcript referred to from 16 November 2017 is:

Dr Shane Reti: When he said at question time on Tuesday that more people would be able to access affordable primary healthcare, what specific health outcomes will that access deliver?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: We know that when people can access primary care we have more prevention in the system, and that lowers their personal experience of sickness but also lowers cost in the health system.

Dr Shane Reti: What assurances can he give that by 1 July next year he will deliver GP visits that will cost the patient no more than $2 and $8 within the $250 million he promised in Labour’s election policy?

Hon Dr DAVID CLARK: That member refers to specific aspects of our policy as announced, and we intend to deliver on it.

Jacinda Ardern promised on this policy before the election, and Labour now claim they have had to take into account demands of other parties in Government with them. But Clark repeated the commitment as Minister of Health after the coalition and confidence and supply agreements had been made.

Woodhouse appointed to Opposition health role

A National shuffle was required after Jonathan Coleman announced his resignation from Parliament. Simon Bridges has appointed Michael Woodhouse to replace him as Opposition spokesperson for Health.

Michael Woodhouse.jpg

After studying commerce and accounting Woodhouse worked for an accountant, at Dunedin Hospital and for ACC before becoming CEO of the private Mercy Hospital.

He was elected as a list MP in 2008, and became a minister in the National Government in 2013.

It’s interesting (for me anyway) that the current Minister for Health, David Clark, and the new Opposition spokesperson for health have both contested the Dunedin North electorate. Especially so with the ongoing delays in announcing plans for the replacement of the Dunedin Public Hospital.

Woodhouse was ranked 10 on the National list for the 2017 election, but is currently rank #13 after Bridges’ recent appointments. That may change slightly after Coleman leaves Parliament.

1 News: National Party appoints Michael Woodhouse as new Health spokesperson

In two other National Party changes Nikki Kaye has been appointed Sport and Recreation spokesperson and Scott Simpson has been appointed Workplace Relations spokesperson.