Meth house victims being compensated, unfathomable response from Collins, Bridges

People who were unnecessarily evicted from state houses due to extreme testing for methamphetamine contamination will be apologised to and compensated.

Housing NZ to right meth testing wrong

A report by Housing NZ into its response to methamphetamine contamination shows the organisation accepts its approach was wrong and had far reaching consequences for hundreds of people, Housing and Urban Development Minister Phil Twyford said.

“Housing NZ acknowledges that around 800 tenants suffered by either losing their tenancies, losing their possessions, being suspended from the public housing waiting list, negative effects on their credit ratings or, in the worst cases, being made homeless.

“Housing NZ is committed to redressing the hardship these tenants faced. This will be done on a case by case basis and the organisation will look to reimburse costs tenants incurred, and make discretionary grants to cover expenses such as moving costs and furniture replacement.

“They will also receive a formal apology from Housing NZ.

“This is what government accountability looks like. Housing NZ are fronting up, acknowledging they were wrong and putting it right.

“The approach to methamphetamine from 2013 by the government of the day was a moral and fiscal failure. Housing NZ had been instructed by then ministers to operate like a private sector landlord. This led to the wellbeing of tenants being ignored.

“Even as evidence grew that the meth standard was too low, and ministers acknowledged it wasn’t ‘fit for purpose’, the former government continued to demonise its tenants. At any time they could have called for independent advice. Our Government is choosing to do the right thing.

“Under the helm of chief executive Andrew McKenzie, Housing NZ is a very different organisation. It has a new focus on sustaining tenancies, being a compassionate landlord and treating drug addiction as a health issue. This whole sorry saga would not occur under the Housing NZ of today.

“The meth debacle was a systemic failure of government that hurt a lot of people. Our Government is committed to putting this right,” Phil Twyford said.

It was a debacle, and good to see genuine efforts to compensate in part at least.

It is difficult to fathom the National response. Judith Collins:

In Parliament today:

2. Hon JUDITH COLLINS (National—Papakura) to the Minister of Housing and Urban Development: Is it acceptable for Housing New Zealand tenants to smoke methamphetamine in Housing New Zealand houses?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD (Minister of Housing and Urban Development): Methamphetamine is, of course, illegal and is doing immense damage to communities across New Zealand. Our Government does not condone the smoking of methamphetamine anywhere; however, the member needs to understand the counterfactual: it is not acceptable for the Government—for any Government—to throw tenants and their children on to the street and make them homeless. We recognise that making people homeless does not solve a tenant’s problems or help people overcome addiction; it just moves the problem to somewhere else and makes it worse for the person involved, their family, their children, the community, and the taxpayer.

Hon Judith Collins: Where meth testing showed residues exceeding previous standards, can this meth have gotten into Housing New Zealand houses any way other than smoking or baking meth?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: No, but there was no consistent baseline testing done by Housing New Zealand over those years. There is no way of knowing whether the hundreds of people who were made homeless under this policy had any personal responsibility for the contamination of those houses. Frankly, I’m shocked that the member, who used to be a lawyer, would think that that is OK. Is this the modern, compassionate face of the National Party?

Hon Judith Collins: When he said that “800 tenants suffered by … losing their tenancies,” is he saying that these 800 tenants were all wrongfully evicted from Housing New Zealand houses?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: It depends what you mean by “wrongfully evicted”. Clearly, some of the 800 people—and I believe many of those people—had their tenancies terminated and were evicted without natural justice, without proper evidence of the case, on the basis of a bogus scientific standard. All of those people—all of the people who were evicted, bar some for whom the standard of contamination was more than the 15 micrograms per 100 centimetres that Sir Peter Gluckman recommended as a sensible standard—were convicted on the basis of a scientific standard that the previous Government allowed to persist for years on the basis of no scientific evidence that exposure to third-hand contamination posed any kind of health risk to anybody

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: There are many contradictory reports swirling around on this issue, but one that I’ve seen that makes a lot of sense is where, and I quote, “people were unfairly removed. If that’s the case, they should be compensated, and Housing New Zealand management should answer for it.” That’s exactly what today’s report does, and that quote is from Judith Collins.

Hon Judith Collins: Will people who smoked meth in Housing New Zealand houses now be given $2,000 to $3,000 compensation?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: The point of the compensation is to compensate people who wrongly had their tenancies terminated and their possessions destroyed and who, in some cases, were made homeless. Those are the people who will receive a payment under the assistance programme.

Hon Judith Collins: Will people who sold meth in Housing New Zealand houses now be given $2,000 to $3,000 compensation?

Hon PHIL TWYFORD: No.

I have no idea who Collins is trying to appeal to by highlighting a problem that happened under the National-led government.

Simon Bridges joined in as he barked at a number of passing cars today.

Alleging “compensation for meth crooks” is a fairly crooked attack.

Little ducking for cover over changes to bail, parole and sentencing laws

Being ‘tough on crime’, prison numbers, and law and order have long been a political football, with successive governments pandering to populist demands for fear of being seen as responsible for awful crimes.

The Labour-led government has an ambitious goal of reversing the prison population by 30%, and have already had some success in reducing them slightly (following on from initiatives started under the previous government), but some difficult decisions will have to be made to come close to meeting their target.

If bail or parole laws and sentencing directives are relaxed it will only take one high profile crime to be committed by someone who otherwise could have been contained in prison for the political football to become a head high tackle on the Minister of Justice and the government responsible.

It is a lot less dramatic and more difficult to quantify to promote that recidivism may be reduced and crimes may have been prevented by better treatment and rehabilitation of offenders.

David Fisher (NZH): Andrew Little ducks for cover as National forecasts tragedy from justice reform

The battle lines are drawn on crime and justice reform and Minister of Justice Andrew Little is in a bunker.

It’s not a great place for a first-term minister but the National Party has driven him there by virtue of how it has stolen a march on precious territory over contested ground.

The struggle Little faces is over possible changes to bail, parole and sentencing laws.

Labour had pledged to cut the prison population by 30 per cent in 15 years and Little has talked of possible changes to those laws.

To meet that target, experts in the field agree those laws will need to be changed.

But Fisher says that Little has been avoiding talking about how this might be done, giving Opposition MPs free shots.

Interviews with leader Simon Bridges and Corrections spokesman David Bennett have seen the National Party politicians repeatedly refer to the Government considering changes to bail, parole and sentencing laws.

It was a possibility Little raised early in the debate around criminal justice reform.

While he might not wish to talk about it now, the National Party will do so – and its message is in lock-step across MPs.

Bridges: “He has to reduce the prison population by a third because he’s not building the prison beds and that really leads inevitably to a softening up of the bail, sentencing, parole laws.”

Bennett: “If they are going to relax those bail and sentencing laws and parole laws they should front up to the NZ public now.”

In forecasting those changes, those politicians have forecast what they say is the human cost if those changes are made. There has been no evidence presented to support these statements.

Bridges: “If the bail-sentencing-parole laws are softened up, there will be many more victims of crime that (Little) and Jacinda Ardern will be responsible for.”

Bennett: “They’re talking about relaxing the laws which would be to early release offenders. They are going to release criminals into the community and put victims and other potential victims at risk”.

Bridges: “If Andrew Little gets his head on bail, sentencing and parole changes, the consequences will be dire. I have no doubt if Andrew Little gets his head there will be an uproar in New Zealand over time as the victims of crime become more and more apparent.”

Bennett: “What they are looking at doing is reducing those rules and they’ve said many a time that is their intention, and if they do it then that increases the risk because there are more people out.”

Over the past 20 years, both Labour and National have responded to a public “tough on crime” appetite by ramping up bail, parole and sentencing laws.

It’s going to be very difficult for Little to get the balance right if he makes changes to the law. He will be hit with any failures, whether justified or not.

And he also faces a challenge getting coalition support, with NZ First already pulling the 3 strikes repeal rug from under him.

With Bridges’ past experience as a lawyer and  also prosecutor it would have been good to see him working positively with Little to find better ways of dealing with crime and punishment without increasing risks, but he seems to have chosen a partisan path instead. That’s a real shame.

There’s a lot at stake, but as usual on law and order issues it looks like politics and populism will as difficult to beat as crime and prison numbers.

Bridges versus Ardern in Question Time

Some interesting exchanges between Simon Bridges and Jacinda Ardern in parliament today.

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

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN (Prime Minister): Yes.

Hon Simon Bridges: Is it the policy of this Labour-led Government to increase the refugee quota to 1,500 a year in this term of Government, as previously announced by her Minister, and if not, what is the Government’s policy?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As I have said many times before, when we’ve made a decision as a Cabinet, that policy will be released. I know that the member is hotly anticipating the decision.

Hon Simon Bridges: Is it the policy of this Labour-led Government to repeal the three-strikes law, as previously announced by her Minister; if not, what is her Government’s policy on this law?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: This Government’s policy is to have an effective justice system, which, unfortunately, we lost under that last Government. We have an increasing prison population and a static crime rate, and that’s why Minister Andrew Little is doing excellent work alongside Minister Kelvin Davis to improve rehabilitation, get the prison population down—which they are already doing—and make our communities safer.

Hon Simon Bridges: Is it the policy of this Labour-led Government to pass the Employment Relations Amendment Bill, as approved by all of Cabinet and reported back to select committee; if not, what changes are being made to the bill?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As the Deputy Prime Minister himself has said in this House, the bill will pass. When it does, we look forward to bringing balance back to the workplace, and making sure that we have a fair go for workers and acknowledge the good work employers are doing to try and lift wages at the same time.

Hon Simon Bridges: Does she agree with her Deputy Prime Minister’s insistence yesterday that this Government was not Labour-led?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: While that member’s caught up on semantics, this Government is proud that a recent survey said that the people of New Zealand had greater confidence in us than in that last Government, and I don’t think they particularly care about descriptors and what was on a website. We have the support of New Zealand. That’s why we’re here and you’re over there.

SPEAKER: Order! Order! I’m going to point out to the right honourable Prime Minister—when she’s finished the other conversation—that I’m here, and she doesn’t refer to me.

Hon Simon Bridges: Speaking of semantics, why are there over 50 references by her Ministers in this Parliament to it being a Labour-led Government?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Because we’re in Government and you’re not.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Could I ask the Prime Minister, as evidence to the cooperative nature of this coalition, if she is aware of it being a fact that since the election—in less than 11 months—1,055 decisions have been made of unity and, since Monday’s Cabinet, more since?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Yes, I understand that to be the case, which is an incredible list of achievements that far outstrips anything that last Government achieved, I would say, in an entire nine years.

Hon Simon Bridges: Why did she say yesterday, in respect of the phrase “Labour-led Government”, “I’ve never used that phrase,”, when Hansard records her using it more than a dozen times as Prime Minister, right in that seat?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I am the leader of the Labour Party. I don’t think anyone on this side of the House has lost sight of that. I am also the Prime Minister of a Government that has a coalition partner and a confidence and supply partner, and I am proud of all of them.

Hon Simon Bridges: When the Prime Minister commented on GDP on Hosking’s show this morning, was the reason she made the mistake that she did because she was distracted by managing coalition differences in her Labour-led Government?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: No. It’s not the first time that Mike Hosking and I have not listened to each other.

Hon Simon Bridges: Does she know the difference between GDP and Crown financial statements?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Yes.

Hon Simon Bridges: Did she know at 8 a.m. this morning?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Yes. Next question.

Hon Simon Bridges: How will her Budget responsibility rules (BRRs) impact on GDP?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: In our minds, of course, it will support them. We need to make sure that we’re delivering responsible governance, and our BRRs were delivered on in the last Budget and continue to show that we’re able to deliver surpluses whilst maintaining Crown spending at around 30 percent and debt to a level of 20 percent.

Also:

2. Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Leader—National) to the Prime Minister: Have she and her Ministers lived up to the commitment to “be the most open, most transparent Government that New Zealand has ever had” in respect of the process for appointing the Government’s Chief Technology Officer?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN (Prime Minister): No. As has been stated at the time, Clare Curran’s failure to accurately answer parliamentary questions about her meeting with Mr Handley did not meet my or the former Minister’s expectation. That is why I accepted her resignation from her open Government responsibilities.

Hon Simon Bridges: What were the communications between herself and Clare Curran on the matter of the Government’s Chief Technology Officer (CTO) appointment, which were confirmed to have taken place by the State Services minister, Chris Hipkins, in Parliament last Thursday?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I would need to go back and check directly, but my recollection is—because, of course, the CTO role was designed to report directly to the Minister but also to have some reporting lines to myself as Prime Minister—that the Minister kept me up to date generally with the process, but only as is would have been appropriate.

Hon Simon Bridges: Were the communications between herself and Clare Curran about the Chief Technology Officer role in the form of emails, texts, conversations, or were they across multiple platforms, and if so, which?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: In order to answer that with accuracy I would need to go back and check across all those platforms.

Hon Simon Bridges: What was the content of the communication between herself and Clare Curran on the appointment of Chief Technology Officer?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As I referred to in my second answer, the Minister kept me abreast generally with the process she was undertaking, because of the anticipated reporting lines, but it was only as appropriate and as Ministers do, from time to time, on significant appointments.

Hon Simon Bridges: Was there an email between the Prime Minister and Clare Curran by way of private Gmail account?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I would need to go back and check any of these questions. I believe that there are Official Information Act requests that have gone into the Minister. Minister Curran has made sure that all of her Gmails have been handed over to the Chief Archivist, which means that they will be subject to the Public Records Act and the Official Information Act. And of course, the Official Information Act covers all my correspondence as well.

Hon Simon Bridges: Given I’m asking the Prime Minister about direct communications by private Gmail between her and her former Minister, does she really expect us to take it that she can’t tell us today?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: What I’m saying to the House is I am happy to answer those questions in detail if the member gives me notice so that I can make sure that I answer them with accuracy. That, I think, is probably fair enough, given that as Prime Minister I will receive hundreds of emails, a number of text messages, and the member’s asking me to recall with some specificity about both.

Hon Simon Bridges: Has the Prime Minister used private Gmail with Clare Curran?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Again, primarily I conduct my business across my parliamentary accounts, but I want to ensure that I answer the member with accuracy, so if he wishes to put them down in detail, then I will do so.

Hon Grant Robertson: Does the Prime Minister recall the following quote: “I have quite a number of emails but because I have my electorate office and others I tend to use a private email address.”—made by John Key, the former National Party Prime Minister?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Yes, I have seen that statement, and that is why I have consistently told the House the most important piece of information here is that all of those forms of communication—be they LinkedIn, Facebook, WhatsApp, text message—are covered by the Official Information Act, because it is mode-neutral, to ensure that we can document to this House where all of that work takes place. That’s exactly what the former leader of the National Party said himself.

Hon Simon Bridges: Has she had any conversations, emails, or texts with Derek Handley since she’s been Prime Minister?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Again, to answer with some accuracy, I would want to go back. [Interruption]

SPEAKER: Order!

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: My best recollection is that I received, some months ago, a text from Mr Handley mentioning the Chief Technology Officer role, which I do not recall directly engaging with, as that would not have been appropriate.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Has the Prime Minister contemplated putting the leader of the National Party out of his misery by leaking the email?

SPEAKER: Further supplementary?

Hon Simon Bridges: Were the conversations, emails, or texts with Mr Handley about the role of the Government’s Chief Technology Officer, and if so, what was discussed?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I can rule out any direct verbal communication. I haven’t spoken with Mr Handley in at least a year, maybe two. As I say, my best recollection is I received a text message that I didn’t directly engage in. For all other platforms, I would want to go back and check, but I don’t recall directly communicating in regards to that role.

Hon Simon Bridges: Did she agree to Derek Handley being offered the job of the Government’s Chief Technology Officer last month, noting that the Cabinet minute of last December states that the appointment would be made by the Prime Minister and the Minister for Government Digital Services?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: The appointment went to the Cabinet appointments and honours committee (APH), where all members of APH make a collective decision. I, of course, am a member of APH where that decision was made. I declared at that meeting my knowledge of Mr Handley.


In a later question Chris Hipkins advised of additional communications Between Curran and Handley. The Speaker advised Hipkins to bring all of Clare Curran’s emails to parliament tomorrow:

11. Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National—Nelson) to the Minister of State Services: What was the date of all communications between Ministers and Derek Handley regarding the appointment of the Government’s Chief Technology Officer in addition to those publically released by the previous Minister for Government Digital Services and up to the time Mr Handley accepted the role?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS (Minister of State Services): I communicated with Derek Handley on Monday, 10 September. Megan Woods has had no communication with Derek Handley. Clare Curran has advised me that she had communications with Derek Handley in addition to those publicly released between the final meeting of the interview panel on 30 July and 24 August. It’s worth noting that because discussion about Mr Handley’s interests was ongoing, the process was never completed.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I will repeat, as a supplementary, my primary question from last Thursday and see if I can get an answer. How many undisclosed emails through former Minister Clare Curran’s private Gmail account are there that relate to the appointment of the Government’s Chief Technology Officer, and what is the content of those emails?

Hon CHRIS HIPKINS: I have not seen the individual emails in question. They have been handed to the Chief Archivist. Clare Curran has explained to me that the contents of those emails are predominantly post her conversation with Derek Handley where he was offered the job, and related to the scope of the positon. That’s the information that I have to date.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The House is still none the wiser of the number of Gmails—

SPEAKER: Yes, and the member will resume his seat. What I have indicated to the member is that if he asks his question properly tomorrow or at some stage in the future, with sufficient detail, I will expect a proper answer. In fact, I think it would be a good thing for transparency if in answering a specific and detailed and well-worded question, the Minister brought the emails to the House and made them available in that way.

Bridges steps up after Ardern drops out of Newshub Nation

Yesterday Jacinda Ardern pulled out of two scheduled interviews, citing ‘a diary problem’.

Newshub:  Prime Minister pulls out of Newshub Nation and Q+A weekend appearances

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has cancelled her planned appearances on both Newshub Nation and TVNZ’s Q+A this weekend, saying there was an issue with her diary.

Ms Ardern’s chief press secretary told Newshub Nation on Wednesday the Prime Minister would not be appearing on the show because he got the date of the interview wrong.

“There’s been bit of a diary issue in my team. There’s no question I remain very much available for any issue of the day,” Ms Ardern said on Thursday.

“This was a simple diary issue.”

Justifiably that was views with some scepticism.

It’s the third time the Prime Minister has pulled out of a scheduled interview with Newshub Nation in the past year. The other interviews were planned for August and February.

The Government is dealing with fall-out from Clare Curran’s resignation, the inquiry into Meka Whaitiri allegedly assaulting a staff member, and apparent ructions over employment lawthe refugee quota and Crown-Maori relations.

Failing to front up leaves Ardern open to accusations of avoiding scrutiny when the going gets tough, again justifiably.

Pulling out of prime interviews tends to annoy media. Newshub have responded with:

National Party leader Simon Bridges will appear on Newshub Nation in Ms Ardern’s place.

Ardern and her spin machine can hardly complain about that.

That could be misleading, Bridges is not “currently polling at just ten percent”, unless Newshub have just done a new poll. The last Newshub,Reid Research poll was 17-24 May (9%) and the last 1 News/Colmar poll 28 July – 1 August (10%). A lot has happened in politics since then. Ardern returned as Prime Minister after the last of those two polls.

This is an opportunity for Bridges to take advantage of Ardrn’s absence, if he is capable of doing that.

Simon Bridges says he ‘doesn’t take it lightly’ that he is only polling around 10 percent as leader but says ultimately it’s the party vote that count.

He’s right, but will continue to be battered by low leadership polling.

He says he ‘doesn’t really think about’ the person who leaked his expense.

The questioning around polls, leadership and the leak were largely a pointless exercise.

Bridges stepped up as well as a damp blanket can.

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.

 

 

National target Government over committee can kicking

The National opposition has increased criticism on the Government over the many working groups, reviews, inquiries and committees they have set up. Labour has tried to play down the assistance they have sought.

The big news from Jacinda Ardern’s business confidence speech yesterday was the announcement of the setting up of a ‘business advisory council’. A chairman only has been announced so far.

This was a day after National launched this Twitter campaign:

Simon Bridges reacted to the Business Advisory Council announcement:

This means a third of the economic announcements so far from this Govt are working groups.

That brings the total number of working groups set up by this Govt on business issues to 10 & counting. This gives businesses no certainty.

I think the PM needs a new rubber stamp. The “set up a committee” one is wearing out.

The Government have a problem reacting to this, as the results of the many committees will not be known for months or years.

The Opposition campaign has been running for months.

The bill for the Government’s constant outsourcing of its job to 152 working groups and reviews has reached $170 million so far, with a third still to be costed, National Leader Simon Bridges says.

What’s worse is the Government doesn’t know the cost of over a third of the 152 working groups and reviews announced to date.

“This is a Government caught badly unprepared and New Zealanders are now paying an exorbitant price. And now we know Ministers are ordering reviews and setting up groups without even knowing what they will cost, while the reviews are coming back with recommendations for more reviews.

The Government has sometimes responded.

I saw Ardern disputing National’s numbers last week but can’t find coverage of that.

Every Government sets up external groups too help them research and set policies and to investigate issues of concern. When National took over Government in 2008 they used a lot of committees etc.

But it does seem that there have been a lot announced since the Labour led Government took over last year, and national will no doubt keep highlighting any new ones.

The Government will have to get some tangible outcomes, but that may be some time off yet.

One of their major reviews is on the tax system, but whatever that recommends Labour has committed to make no tax changes this term.

The Government is at risk of being seen as synonymous with committee can kicking down the road. Until they start getting tangible outcomes from all these advisory groups and reviews the Opposition are likely to keep hammering away.

Bridges leak saga continues

It is amazing to see how the leak a few days early of Simon Bridges’ expenses has become such a big and persistent story.

Newshub (Tova O’Brien) kicked the story off, framing it as a big scandal of overspending. But it has become more a scandal of leaks, and now of why the Speaker Trevor Mallard suddenly called of a planned inquiry, why he involved Jacinda Ardern, and why Bridges and National are being so persistent in pushing for a resolution.

Last Friday O’Brien became strangely indignant that RNZ gave the story new legs, ironically citing concern over the welfare of the leaker her provided her with the story she broke, but Newshub have now given the story another nudge (but via Jenna Lynch): Simon Bridges still unconvinced expenses leaker is a National MP

The National party will launch its own secret internal investigation into who leaked Simon Bridges travel expenses.

On Friday, Speaker Trevor Mallard ditched his inquiry, telling National it was an internal matter for them to sort out.

Even though most signs point to the leaker being a National MP, Mr Bridges still isn’t convinced.

Newshub must know who the leaker is. O’Brien must know at least. They quote Bridges:

“I will do my best and the National Party is united in doing its best to get to the bottom of who the leaker is”

The text – which was sent days earlier to Mr Bridges, Mr Mallard and Newshub – asked for the inquiry to be abandoned, citing ongoing mental health issues.

The leaker’s text provided three specific details of closed-door National Party caucus meetings, yet Mr Bridges remains stuck on the idea the leaker came from outside his party.

“It may not be a National MP or a National Party staffer,” he says.

That doesn’t sound “stuck on the idea the leaker came from outside his party”.

Ardern: “This is a matter for the National Party”.

Bridges: “Well why, on what evidence, on what basis does she say that?”

A fair question. Why does Ardern know with certainty it’s a matter for only the National Party?

Newshub: “Despite the leaker’s text providing specific details of closed door National Party caucus meetings, Bridges isn’t convinced.

Newshub displayed what looks like a mock up of the start of the text message:

That is curiously worded and vague.  Newshub do not give further details would that indicate the knowledge claimed proves they are a member of the National caucus. Jenna Lynch on National’s inquity:

“Because it will be internal, even if the Nats do find the person responsible they may choose to keep that a secret, so we may never  learn the identity of the leaker…unless of course, someone was to leak that.”

An odd closing statement. ‘We’ the public may never find out who the leaker was, but ‘we’ the Newshub (or at least O’Brien’) must know who it is.

And questions are being asked about what Mallard and Ardern know about the identity of the leaker too.

NZH: Jacinda Ardern admits speaking to Trevor Mallard about leak inquiry but says it was perfectly innocent

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has confirmed she spoke to Speaker Trevor Mallard last Friday before he announced the cancellation of the inquiry into leaked travel expenses but says their conversation was to advise her of his decision.

“It was not a dialogue,” her spokesman said. “She did not have any input into the decision.”

She did not know who the leaker was and she did not have any conversation with the Speaker about who it might be, the spokesman said.

So she must have based her statements like “This is a matter for the National Party” on what Mallard told her.

National leader Simon Bridges, who also received the text, has suggested Mallard was influenced by Ardern’s public comments when she said it was an internal matter for National and should be dealt with sensitively.

Shadow leader of the House Gerry Brownlee said today there had been no need for Mallard to advise the Prime Minister of his decision to cancel the inquiry.

“On what basis did he do that?”

Mallard had said he believed the leak came from National and the Prime Minister had said it should be dealt with sensitively, said Brownlee.

“On what basis do they make that statement? Do they know? And are they simply not telling us because of some commitments around parliamentary security and diplomatic protection security.”

Brownlee said if Mallard knew who the person was who leaked the document and sent the texts, he should tell National.

“He has made it very clear that his concerns are about the well-being of the individual concerned and we would share that concern and want to do something about it.”

“Most MPs are pretty incensed that the Speaker has gone out and effectively pointed the finger at our caucus and made a couple of pretty serious accusations – one of extreme disloyalty and another of a problematic mental illness.”

The police have been in contact with the leaker, but won’t give further details:

“We reiterate our comment from Friday that Police will not be disclosing any information about the identity of the individual for privacy reasons”.

“We also reiterate that Police assessed the information supplied [by Simon Bridges about the text] as a mental health issue requiring an immediate response.

“It is not subject to other investigative steps. We are not going to discuss any matters regarding specific steps taken regarding the welfare of the individual. “

I’m not sure it’s clear how the police found out the leaker’s identity, as it has been claimed the contact was made via an anonymous phone. Were they able to track the source to a specific office in Parliament? A specific residence in Wellington? or somewhere else?

Timeline (NZH):

August 13 – Newshub publish story based on Simon Bridges’ leaked expenses.
August 15 – Speaker Mallard agrees to hold inquiry.
August 16 – Bridges, Mallard and Newshub receive anonymous text message allegedly from National MP pleading for inquiry to be called off on mental health grounds.
August 17 – Bridges talks to mental health experts and tells police about text on advice.
August 19 – Police tell Bridges they have identified and contacted texter (won’t name them) and that the person is getting support.
August 23 – Mallard names Michael Heron QC to conduct inquiry.
August 24 – RNZ reveals texts were sent previous week to Bridges and Mallard; Ardern and others comment publicly.
August 24 – Mallard cancels inquiry.

The day the text was sent was a Thursday. Parliament wasn’t sitting so MPs may or may not have been at Parliament.

How did the police find out who the leaker was.

Were the three texts identical? Did Bridges or Mallard tell the police who it was? Or did they identify themselves only to O’Brien and she told them?

Last Friday:

But also:

O’Brien has said she was sent the same text message:

I was sent the same text message Simon Bridges and Trevor Mallard were sent last week by the leaker of Bridges’ expenses.

The leaker’s message was simple, in their words:

“There is no security breach in the parliament or problem to be fixed in the system.”

“Just say you know there is no security breach”.

They shared anecdotes from National Party caucus meetings that only National Party MPs would know in an attempt to prove that they’re an MP, and that the leak shouldn’t be dealt with at a Parliamentary level overseen by a Queen’s Counsel or High Court judge.

But Bridges and other National MPs say they are not convinced it proves it was a National MP.

Newshub chose not to report on the text message after we received it last Thursday. I held grave concerns for my source’s safety and wellbeing.

I would like to make it clear that when I was leaked Simon Bridges’ expenses I was completely unaware of my source’s history of mental health issues.

With some details of the text having been cherry picked, leaked and then discussed by Simon Bridges we have made the decision to release other elements to balance and include our source’s voice.

She refers to both “my source” and “our source”. She at least must know who it was – and as a journalist should protect the identity of her source.

But can she be sure the person who sent the text was her source? Did she verify it with them perhaps?

More importantly given the current state of this saga, does Mallard know who it is? It would appear so given his apparent confidence that it’s only an internal National Party problem now. So did he get a different text?

And why is Bridges and National so driven to keep this story alive and identify the leaker?

If there is a National MP with serious mental health issues, and/or who has said their life was at risk if the inquiry continued (effectively blackmailing Mallard), this is surely a concern of parliament and therefore of the Speaker.

The way things are now, if it is a National MP, then National have a major problem. It would mean they have an MP with serious mental health issues and/or threatened the Speaker.

And they have someone in their caucus who has leaked relatively trivial information to attack their leader. That makes things very awkward for Bridges and National, knowing that whatever caucus says could be leaked again. No wonder they want to identify the leaker.

UPDATE (Tuesday pm):

Bridges keeps pushing on leak, challenges Speaker and PM

Simon Bridges seems determined to keep the leak of his expenses issue alive.

NZH: Simon Bridges says if leaking issue is not resolved, Trevor Mallard is to blame

National Party leader Simon Bridges has lashed out at Parliament Speaker Trevor Mallard for cancelling an inquiry into the travel-expenses leak 24 hours after confirming it was going ahead, and suggested he had been influenced by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

He said if Mallard or Ardern had any new information, they had a duty to share it with National.

If the issue remained unresolved, National blamed Mallard, Bridges said.

This is upping the ante somewhat. That’s a serious accusation aimed both at Mallard and Ardern. It pretty much guarantees that the Speaker will not be able to walk away from the inquiry and wash his hands of the issue.

On Thursday last week Mallard named Michael Heron QC to conduct the inquiry into the leak.

On Friday afternoon Mallard cancelled the inquiry – more than a week after the alleged leaker sent a text pleading not to hold the inquiry.

That did seem to be an odd sudden reversal of Mallard’s position.

“Nothing had changed fundamentally on the Friday other than that the Prime Minister said it was an internal matter for the National Party,” Bridges said.

“Surprise, surprise, Trevor Mallard then changed his position.

“I know of nothing that gives any good reason for his change unless the Prime Minister or he knows something we don’t and if they do, they should be sharing it with the National Party,” he said.

“I believe he is obliged as Parliament’s Speaker, not a partisan one, to tell us what he knows unless there is an exceptional reason not to.”

This should force Mallard too do something in response.

Mallard appointed Heron to conduct the inquiry, despite having received the text the previous week.

The existence of that text was not revealed until last Friday – and later that day Mallard issued a statement cancelling the inquiry.

The statement said: “The text is from someone who is clearly very disturbed and today’s publicity will almost certainly make that worse.”

Mallard said the person who sent the text was the leaker. “He or she has details of events that it is unlikely anyone outside the National Party would be privy to.”

So a day after appointing a QC to conduct the inquiry Mallard has reversed his decision based on his judgement that it would be “unlikely anyone outside the National Party” would be involved. That seems quite unusual.

Speaking on Friday, Ardern said the inquiry should be stopped if it was proven the individual had mental health issues, and it was an internal matter for National.

“I would want to deal with that internally but that is a matter for the leader of the National Party.”

“If indeed this is an issue that’s come out of the caucus, and if there are indeed mental health issues, it would strike me it needs to be dealt with really sensitively. It is perhaps best dealt with internally than externally.”

This was also an unusual involvement of Ardern, saying much the same thing that Mallard had said in justifying scrapping the inquiry.

It does seem odd that Ardern and Mallard are saying much the same thing. The Speaker is supposed to act independent of any party.

It seems to be high risk for Bridges to escalate this issue into a likely confrontation with the Speaker, given that whatever the outcome this is an awkward issue for him and National.

Does he have information that he hasn’t disclosed that justifies his challenge of both Mallard and Ardern? He has as good as accused them of collusion in scrapping the inquiry.

This is all becoming increasingly messy, and seems to be far from over.


Bridges is just now being interviewed on RNZ.

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

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

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

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

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

On Curran

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

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

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

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

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

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

On the Bridges leaker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Something for journalists to get to work on.

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

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

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

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

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

And neither can the Prime Minister.

 

Bizarre and more bizarre expenses leak – questions unanswered

It was a bizarre day yesterday as revelations and media conferences added information but raised further questions in the already odd case of the leaked expenses of Simon Bridges.

Just one bizarre part of yesterday’s unfolding was Tova O’Brien, the Newshub journalist who broke the story in the first place after being provided with leaked information, riding a high horse criticising RNZ for adding to her story yesterday, claiming insensitivities when someone was a significant mental health risk.

The inquiry into the leak has been called off, but National party internal inquiries should be continuing, as should journalist inquiries.

Sam Sachdeva (Newsroom): Fittingly strange end to leak scandal  – I don’t think it is anywhere near the end of the leak saga, but there is a good summary:

Speaker Trevor Mallard’s decision to call off an investigation into the leak of MPs’ expenses, following a text message from the leaker saying their health was at risk, has put an ellipsis rather than a full stop on “Limogate”.

As first reported by RNZ, the anonymous texter contacted National leader Simon Bridges and Speaker Trevor Mallard last week, urging an end to the investigation due to fears it would worsen their serious mental health issues.

The texter claimed to be a National MP, providing evidence which supposedly could only have been obtained if that was in fact the case.

The original decision to leak the expenses to the media only days before they were due for release was puzzling enough.

Then there was Bridges’ reaction, initially brushing off the media attention only to change his mind and call for a High Court judge to look into the matter (he got a Queen’s Counsel instead, with Michael Heron QC in the job for all of 24 hours).

In a week where news presenter Greg Boyed’s death has put the spotlight on New Zealand’s high rates of depression and suicide, responding with anything other than sensitivity and care would have been cruel.

We have been assured that the leaker was having mental health difficulties but whose life should not be at risk any more if it ever was (it’s unknown whether the plea to end the inquiry was genuinely fraught, or was an attempt at a form of emotional blackmail.

On balance, you could argue both Bridges and Mallard made good decisions: Bridges in contacting the police so they could identify the person and provide support, and Mallard in deciding that the leaker’s wellbeing outweighed any benefits of pushing ahead with an inquiry.

Bridges disagrees with the Speaker’s call, but if there is any question of someone’s health being at risk then that is what should be the top priority.

While Bridges suggests the integrity of Parliament is at sake, Mallard’s reading of the text has led him to conclude that it is almost certainly a member of National’s caucus or wider staff who is responsible.

I think that Bridges must make it publicly clear what the outcome is. If a National MP tries to quietly resign in a while it will be immediately seen as to have a connection, or at least suspected.

If it is a staff member or someone else who is not an MP, failing to reveal details leaves all 56 of the National MPs under suspicion. That is unfair on them.

For the ultimate good of the culprit, and for the good of the National caucus, we need to be told more.