Curran on leave as pressure persists

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

ODT: Questions left unanswered – Curran a no-show

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

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

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

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

Labour Cabinet minister Megan Woods answered questions on her behalf.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That is expected to happen this week.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She stayed at Dotcom’s ‘mansion’.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another Minister in trouble – Meka Whaitiri standing aside

Meka Whaitiri, Labour MP and Minister outside cabinet, has ‘offered to stand aside’ while an investigation is carried out – it has been reported to be what Newshub described as  involving ‘some shoving’.

Newshub: ‘Physical incident’ the reason Customs Minister stood aside 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has accepted Minister Meka Whaitiri’s offer to stand aside from her portfolios, while an investigation is carried out into a staffing matter in her office.

Newshub understands the probe follows allegations of a physical incident with another staff member in her office, which involved some shoving.

It appears to be not an isolated incident in that there are claims that Whaitiri has had an unusually high staff turnover.

Stuff: PM stands Minister Meka Whaitiri aside over staffing issue

Stuff has been told relations in Whaitiri’s office are toxic and she is understood to have been through an entire rotation of staff in the short time she has been in the job.

People who are close to the situation told Stuff on Thursday Whaitiri can be unpleasant and difficult to deal with, but it’s understood Ardern’s actions relate to a specific incident involving a single staff member.

There have been a growing number of questions asked about the number of her staff going through her office.

Doesn’t sound flash.

Today: Prime Minister stands Minister aside

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has today accepted Meka Whaitiri’s offer to stand aside from her portfolios while an investigation is carried out into a staffing matter in her ministerial office.

Jacinda Ardern was advised of the staffing matter last night.

While the matter is being investigated Kris Faafoi will be the Acting Minister of Customs.  Meka Whaitiri’s Associate Minister responsibilities will revert to the lead portfolio Ministers.

“Meka Whaitiri has told me she will be fully cooperating with the investigation, which will be thorough and conducted as quickly as possible,” said Jacinda Ardern.

Because of privacy concerns Jacinda Ardern and Meka Whaitiri will not comment further on this matter while Ministerial Services is carrying out the investigation.

Last Friday Clare Curran resigned or was dumped from Cabinet and lost some of her ministerial responsibilities, but controversially retained the Broadcasting portfolio.

Golriz Ghahraman cops more criticism for inaccurate claims

Green MP Golriz Ghahraman has attracted attention in the past for making questionable claims. She was in the firing line again today over this tweet:

That states: Golriz Ghahraman is the Green Party’s defence spokesperson

I think it’s questionable that she ‘holds the Defence portfolio’. She seems unclear on proper Parliamentary job descriptions.

Oxford: portfolio – the position and duties of a Minister or Secretary of State.

She is Green spokesperson for Defence. She isn’t a minister, nor an associate minister.

And she isn’t the first woman to be defence spokesperson.

Ghahraman has responded to this:

No woman has held the portfolio as full spokesperson (as far as the Parliamentary Library records confirm. Associates aren’t full spokes persons. I had no idea it was a thing before being contacted about it tbh. But there you go).

But again, she isn’t a minister or an associate minister. She can’t even claim to be shadow minister 9not a common term in New Zealand) – that is Opposition MP Mark Mitchell (National’s Spokesperson for defence).

And she isn’t the first female spokesperson for defence either – @GraemeEdgeler :

No-one is disputing Heather was Associate Minister of Defence. Golriz was disputing that Heather Roy was ACT’s (full) defence spokesperson. Golriz is wrong. There is a single 2005 press release from ACT listing Heather as ACT’s Defence Spokesman. That resolves the claim.

Ghahraman is getting a reputation for not being a particularly solid MP. She is floundering online.

Labour fundraising in private clubs

Labour tried to make a big deal about some National fundraising, but they seem to be doing the same sort of thing, and are looking like they have been caught with their hands in the biscuit jar.

Stuff in 2014: Does Cabinet Club buy influence?

Party funding is back under the spotlight after two ministers ran into trouble over their links with wealthy donors amid revelations National operates a ‘Cabinet Club’ offering access to top ministers in exchange for cash.

Last week National’s $1000-plus Cabinet Club dinners were in the gun, though there were counter-accusations, laced with claims of hypocrisy, that Labour offered chinwags with MPs for $1250 a pop.

The Greens have had a couple of stabs at greater transparency. The first, through Sue Kedgley’s Lobbyists Register Bill, has lapsed. Now the Greens are pressing for a ministerial disclosure regime. Co-leader Dr Russel Norman estimates John Key had raised more than $1 million from his “club” appearances.

“John Key claims the Cabinet Club is part of the normal political donations process. Cash for access to the inner circle of the Government is not normal,” Norman said. “It is democracy for sale.”

National MP Tau Henare says the Left is trying to curb National’s fundraising ability because it is jealous National can raise more. And National president Peter Goodfellow insists there is no quid pro quo for donations.

Newshub in April 2017: Labour launches exclusive ‘President’s Club’

The Labour Party has launched an exclusive secret society called The President’s Club for those who donate big bucks to the party.

It opened for business two weeks ago, with the primary role of luring in big cheques from wealthy Labour supporters.

It’s Labour’s version of National’s Cabinet Club, which sees exorbitantly-priced tickets sold for exclusive dinners attended by Cabinet ministers of the Crown.

Labour president Nigel Haworth says The President’s Club differs from Cabinet Club because Labour MPs aren’t involved, and aren’t used to lure in donations in exchange for access.

But Labour are charging big bucks, and using Ministers as an attraction. Stuff yesterday: Labour hosts business and lobbyists at $600-a-head dinners in exclusive private clubs

Finance Minister Grant Robertson gave a post-Budget speech at a $600-a-head Labour fundraiser at the exclusive Wellington Club, drawing comparisons to the previous National Government’s “Cabinet club” scandal.

According to several attendees, about 40 people, including party supporters, business figures and corporate lobbyists, attended the dinner hosted by Labour president Nigel Haworth on Wednesday, at which Robertson was the key

The Cabinet manual states: “holding ministerial office is regarded as a full-time occupation and is remunerated as such. Accordingly … accepting additional payment for doing anything that could be regarded as a ministerial function is not permissible”.

This means that if Robertson was attending in his ministerial capacity, rather than as an MP, Labour would be unable to use the event as a fundraiser.

Labour dance on the head of an MP pin…

…but get pinged for it.

Redacted document dump, closed communications by Open Government minister

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

ODT (NZME):  Curran releases information on RNZ saga

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Curran declined to comment this evening.

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

Climate Change Committee announced, significant omissions

James Shaw, Minister for Climate Change, has announced the members of the Interim Climate Change Committee. The members have a wide range of relevant experience, but notably there is no farmer or oil and gas industry or transport representation.


The Minister for Climate Change today announced the membership of the Interim Climate Change Committee, which will begin work on how New Zealand transitions to a net zero emissions economy by 2050.

“We need work to start now on how things like agriculture might enter into the New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme (NZETS), and we need planning now for the transition to 100 percent renewable electricity generation by 2035,” says James Shaw.

“The Interim Climate Change Committee will begin this important work until we have set up the independent Climate Change Commission under the Zero Carbon Act in May next year.

“The Interim Committee will consult with stakeholders and hand over its work and analysis to the Climate Change Commission,” Mr Shaw said.

Committee members have been chosen because of their expertise across key areas related to climate change: agriculture, agribusiness, climate change science and policy, resource economics and impacts, Te Tiriti o Waitangi, te reo me ona tikanga Māori and Māori interests, international competitiveness, and energy production and supply.

Dr David Prentice, the Interim Committee Chair, was most recently the CEO and Managing Director of infrastructure firm Opus International Consultants.

He led his company through the Global Financial Crisis and has a sound understanding of economics and international markets.

He is joined by Deputy Chair, Lisa Tumahai, who has significant governance experience and is Kaiwhakahaere of Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu. She is a person of significant mana and standing in the Māori community.

The committee members are:

  • Dr David Prentice, Interim Committee Chair
  • Lisa Tumahai, Deputy Chair
  • Dr Harry Clark, a New Zealand expert on agricultural greenhouse gas research
  • Dr Keith Turner, former CEO of Meridian and professional director
  • Dr Jan Wright, former Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment
  • Dr Suzi Kerr, an internationally renowned expert in the economics of climate change policy and emissions trading.

“If we want to help lead the world towards meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement, we must create a moral mandate underpinned by decisive action at home to reduce our own emissions.

“Setting up the Interim Climate Change Committee is a great step in that direction,” says James Shaw.


Typical Green style gender balance with a significant Māori position. generally it seems a reasonable mix of experience – but notably, no farmer representative, and neither is there any representative from the oil and gas industry or from transport interests. I think these are major omissions.

Shaw speech to IPCC Working Group on Land

Minister of Climate Change James Shaw has given a speech at the opening of an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Working Group on Land being held in Christchurch this week.

On Climate Policy:

Our new Government has made the commitment that we here in New Zealand will hit this target by the very beginning of the second half of the Century, in the year 2050.

Across Government we are setting targets for different sectors consistent with this commitment.

For example, we aim to be producing 100 percent renewable electricity generation by 2035, or sooner.

One recent estimate suggests that $19 billion of assets are at risk from sea level rise and flooding events – including 5 airports, 50 kilometres of rail, 2,000 kilometres of road and 40,000 homes.

Another report estimates that “the costs of weather events to New Zealand’s land transport network alone have increased in the last 10 years from $20 million a year to over $90 million annually.”

Quite literally – we cannot afford to ignore climate change and do nothing about reducing our greenhouse gas emissions.

That government report (Climate Change Adaptation Technical Working Group) I released last year explains why, because, the report says, “Overall, the cost to New Zealand of climate change impacts and adapting to them are expected to be higher than the costs of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”

In other words, it’s more cost-effective to transition to a net zero emissions economy than pay for the repairs and clean ups.

So we plan to lock that commitment into law with the Zero Carbon Act.

On land use:

We are a small country with a big reliance on agriculture.

No other countries include agriculture in their emissions schemes so we’re considering largely uncharted territory here.

But when I was at COP23 in Bonn last November, a number of countries, who are starting to realise they’ll also have to deal with agricultural emissions soon, asked me what we’re planning.

Given New Zealand has such significant agricultural emissions, and given we have a long history of agricultural innovation and adaptability, we need to look at the issue and look at it as quickly as possible if we want to catch the crest of that particular wave.

So, we will establish an interim Climate Change Committee to begin work on the agricultural emissions question until we’ve established the full Commission under the Zero Carbon Act around the latter half of next year.

On trees:

We intend to see one billion trees planted over the next 10 years.

It’s about getting the right mix of slow-growing indigenous tree plantations combined with much faster growing exotic species.

The right mix and locations will bring a number of benefits:

  • There’s carbon sequestration. NZ indigenous trees are incredibly efficient as carbon sinks, but they’re slow to get there.
  • Another benefit is restoring biodiversity with the right planting in the right areas.
  • Water quality can be improved and sedimentation run-off controlled.
  • And forestry can stabilise erosion-prone land. Currently we lose 200 million tonnes of soil to the sea every year.
  • Plus, it promises a lot of jobs in parts of New Zealand that need them.

Conclusion:

New Zealand is embarking on the kind of reform and transformation we haven’t seen for more than 30 years.

As Minister for Climate Change, I am proud that New Zealand is hosting you, and I am proud of the work New Zealanders do in the IPCC and other international climate forums.

30 years ago New Zealand took a moral stand against nuclear weapons and has worked internationally since then for international non-proliferation and disarmament.

Our Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has called climate change the nuclear free moment of this generation.

If we want to help lead the world towards meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement, we must create a moral mandate underpinned by decisive action at home to reduce our own emissions.

The science and evidence base that you people in this room build, and the very important work you do to communicate it to policy-makers is fundamental to what I and my political colleagues must do.

The science is settled; largely thanks to the work of the IPCC; both in collating the evidence and in communicating it.

It is now up to politicians, business leaders and communities to make the hard decisions about what to do to reduce emissions and to adapt to the changing climate.

 

Q&A – join the Zero Carbon conversation

Climate Change Minister James Shaw has announced “From today New Zealanders can register their interest in being part of the Government’s consultation on what the Zero Carbon Bill should look like”.

If you don’t think ‘zero carbon’ is practical or feasible can you be a part of the conversation?

Sign up to join the Zero Carbon Bill conversation

“We know many New Zealanders want to be part of the discussion on how we reduce our emissions and want to be kept updated in the lead up to formal consultation starting around the end of May.

“So we’ve set up an online registration process on the Ministry for the Environment website for individuals or organisations who want to be kept informed between now and then.

“You don’t have to register to be part of the consultation. Anyone can make a submission. And we’re planning lots of activities before and during the consultation process to ensure everyone knows how they can make submissions and be part of the national conversation on climate change and the Zero Carbon Bill.”

The Zero Carbon Bill will be a cornerstone of New Zealand’s transition to a low emission climate resilient future that will help us achieve our international commitments.

“This whole transition has to be shared by all of us. Consultation has to be with New Zealanders across the country; from farmers and factory workers, to iwi and innovators. We want everyone’s thoughts and ideas.”

The consultation will also cover the role of the new independent Climate Change Commission.  The Commission is intended to take a long-term non-partisan view, provide independent advice to the government of the day, and ensure New Zealand stays on track to meet its climate change goals.

“I’d encourage anyone who’s interested in being part of the discussion on the Zero Carbon Bill to sign up at the Ministry for the Environment’s website here. And tell your friends to sign up too.”

The sign up page: Have your say on the Zero Carbon Bill

What to expect

Zero Carbon Bill

  • The Government has signalled that it will introduce a Zero Carbon Bill in late-2018 to provide a vision for how we transition to a sustainable and climate resilient future.

  • The Bill will see New Zealand put a bold new emissions reduction target into law, and establish an independent Climate Change Commission to keep us on track to meet our goals.

  • Consultation on the Zero Carbon Bill will open in late May. Information on the Bill’s proposals will be released at that time.

So it seems that it’s a bit early to be having a conversation about it.

Shaw will be having a conversation this morning on Q&A.

Shaw first has announced a new Green policy – they are going to give all their ‘patsy’ questions in question time to the Opposition. He says the Government questions are a waste of time, and Question Time should be about holding the Government to account.

This isn’t just talk, it is real action and it’s positive for Parliament, and Shaw and the Greens deserve credit for doing this.

This follows a Green commitment to publish their MP’s diaries as a move towards more open government.

These are fundamental democratic changes that the Greens can differentiate themselves from the other Government parties on.

Shaw was adamant that it isn’t an olive branch towards National.

Advice on Pike River Recovery Agency

Andrew Little, Minister Responsible for Pike River Re-Entry, has released advice on establishing the Pike River Recovery Agency.


Pike River Recovery Agency advice released

Minister Responsible for Pike River Re-entry Andrew Little has released advice on the establishment of the Pike River Recovery Agency, Te Kāhui Whakamana Rua Tekau mā Iwa.

Mr Little says the Government is committed to being open and accountable, and there will be continued transparency as work progresses on the manned re-entry of the Pike River Mine drift.

“We’ve been up front with the families and public on what we are doing and that remains important in terms of trust and confidence in this process and its robustness.  That’s the sort of openness that this Government is committed to in how we work.

“The families have been clear that safety and transparency are priorities for them and we’re working side by side with them, making sure that they, and their experts, have a voice throughout this work.

“The decision to establish the Pike River Recovery Agency is an important milestone so people should see the information surrounding that decision. Once the agency’s up and running, it will operate on a transparent basis, making sure relevant information is in the public arena.”

The Pike River Recovery Agency will be established on 31 January 2018 by Order in Council. It is expected that the agency will create and execute a plan for complete recovery of the drift by the end of March 2019.

The documents released include the 20 November Cabinet paper and advice provided by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) ahead of the decision to create a stand-alone government department to plan for decisions on the manned re-entry of the Pike River Mine drift.

The documents are available at: 

Big wins, big ambitions, big challenges

NZ First have had some big wins in their negotiations with Labour, winning support for major policies and winning some big portfolios. With a lot to do for a small party they will have big challenges living up to their ambitions.

Ministerial responsibilities for the NZ First MPs:

Winston Peters

  • Deputy Prime Minister
  • Minister of Foreign Affairs
  • Minister for State Owned Enterprises
  • Minister for Racing

Foreign Affairs usually involves a lot of international travel and long absences from the country, which will have to somehow be managed alongside Deputy responsibilities, which include stepping in for the PM when she is unavailable (out of the country).

State Owned Enterprises could be interesting, given NZ First aims to but back partially sold assets.

Racing is a bauble.

Ron Mark

  • Minister of Defence
  • Minister for Veterans

Defence could be a challenge, given Green opposition to military spending and engagement. National may need to back up NZ First and Labour on Defence.

Tracey Martin

  • Minister for Children
  • Minister of Internal Affairs
  • Minister for Seniors
  • Associate Minister of Education

With Jacinda Ardern’s stated interest in children issues (she is Minister for Child Poverty Reduction) she will need to work with Martin.

Martin will also have to work closely with incoming Minister of Education Chris Hipkins.

Shane Jones

  • Minister of Forestry
  • Minister for Infrastructure
  • Minister for Regional Economic Development
  • Associate Minister of Finance
  • Associate Minister of Transport

This is a huge workload for someone regarded as not being particularly industrious. He will need a lot of help.

Fletcher Tabuteau

Parliamentary Under-Secretary to the
– Minister of Foreign Affairs
– Minister for Regional Economic Development

It looks like he will either be an apprentice to Peters on Foreign Affairs, or he may have to cover for a heavy workload if Peters wants to share the load. There could also be a big workload assisting Jones in Regional Economic Development.

Five of the nine NZ First MPs have jobs in Government, so they don’t have a big back-up crew, just four other MPs, two of them new to Parliament.

Big jobs, big challenges.