The ‘grey area’ of political and non-political work done by parliamentary staffers

When politicians talk about ‘grey areas’ in separation political from non political work done by the staff of MPs they to an extent are correct – much of what an MP does has political connotations. But I think that MPs and parties have also used ‘grey areas’ as a way of excusing pushing boundaries on what work staffers can do. I know that at times these boundaries have been deliberately exceeded.

This can get tricky for parliamentary staff, whose jobs caan be reliant on the political success of the MPs they work for.

Misuse of parliamentary staff is one of the issues raised in the allegations of bullying and inappropriate use of staff made against National MP Maggie Barrie.

NZ Herald: Bridges says Barry management was no cause for concern, welcomes advice on definition of ‘political work’

National Party leader Simon Bridges said there is “an area of grey” in terms of what constitutes political and non-political work by parliamentary staffers and he welcomed scrutiny by the review into bullying at Parliament.

“Where there is a parliamentary purpose, it is clearly acceptable,” Bridges told the Herald.

“But it is really important the Parliamentary Service ensure that MPs and staff know where the line is so that the rules are followed.

“That does require Parliamentary Service to make sure they are educating and showing us the way.”

That’s putting the responsibility on staff. They should be clear about what sort of work they are required to do, and what sort of work is outside their job description.

He was commenting in the light of claims by a former staff member of North Shore MP Maggie Barry, that staff were expected to conduct party-political work such as writing the MP’s regular column including on the Northcote by-election and pamphlet for a National Party conference for over 60-year-olds.

Electoral law expert Andrew Geddis…

…says that MPs pressing their staff into doing political work gave them a far greater advantage in elections than non-MPs and the situation may need closer scrutiny.

“Taxpayer funding to hire MPs’ staff is given so that they can do their jobs as elected representatives, not to help them win re-election,” said Geddis, a professor of law at Otago University.

“If it gets misused for party purposes, sitting MPs get a massive advantage against their unfunded challengers.”

This is one of many financial and logistical advantages for sitting MPs and established parties. Free travel is another.

This can get tricky. Bridges was criticised for clocking up a big travel bill in his tour of the country earlier this year. It is important for the Leader of the Opposition communicate and connect with people around the country, but this is also a form of preliminary election campaigning. And their staff are involved in this.

Another electoral law specialist, Graeme Edgeler, said staff were allowed to be political to quite a large extent and it would boil down to what been in their employment contract.

A press secretary working for the National Party would be writing political press statements attacking the Government and calling for, say, Minister Iain Lees-Galloway to be sacked.

A primary role of an opposition MP is to criticise and attack Ministers, so staff helping with this are an integral part of the political process.

That would be a parliamentary staffer paid by Parliamentary Service doing a clearly political job.

“You are allowed to employ people to be highly partisan…according to parliamentary rules, the employees that you have can be expected to be highly partisan.”

He said there would be limits about how partisan a staffer could be and that assisting an MP for a parliamentary purpose would exclude seeking votes for the MP or fundraising.

Being political is what politicians do, so their staff can’t be disconnected entirely from it.

As Edgeler points out, the biggest issue here may not be that staff do political work, but the imbalance of power and the advantage this gives incumbent politicians over candidates who wish to challenge them – another very important part of our democratic process.

And incumbent MPs are the ones who are involved in making the employment rues for their staff.

Meka Whaitiri inquiry report leaked, not definitive but damaging

Another leak, this time of the draft report that led to Labour MP Meka Whaitiri being dropped as a minister. So while Jacinda Ardern walks and talks on the world stage this is another problem she left behind still festering.

Audrey Young (NZH) – The minister & the staffer: Leaked report into Meka Whaitiri incident

The incident involving former Government minister Meka Whaitiri and a staff member allegedly left bruising to the upper right arm of the staffer and photos of bruises were produced to the inquiry, a draft report leaked to the Herald shows.

The incident occurred because Whaitiri was unhappy at not having been alerted to a photo opportunity at a media standup with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern during a lunch break at a function in Gisborne.

Other ministers were standing behind Ardern but Whaitiri wasn’t because no one had told her it was happening.

There is no dispute that Whaitiri had words with her staffer for missing the event.

The staff member claims that Whaitiri came up behind her in the foyer of the building and grabbed her arm hard and took her outside when she saw Ardern having the standup.

But Whaitiri denies physically touching her staff member at any stage. There were no witnesses.

David Patten, the Wellington lawyer who conducted the inquiry for Ministerial Services, the employer of ministerial staff, found on the balance of probabilities that the staff member’s version was the more likely explanation.

He found that Whaitiri did not pull or drag the press secretary outside from the foyer of the building where the meeting was taking place.

But he found it more probable that Whaitiri approached the staffer from behind and grabbed her by the arm and that Whaitiri spoke in a raised voice to the staffer.

In evidence to the inquiry, the staff member said Whaitiri had blamed her for missing the media standup with the Prime Minister.

“She grabbed me by the arm and pulled me outside and said she needed to talk to me and when we were outside she raised her voice.

“I wouldn’t say yelled but she did raise her voice to me and asked me if I knew what I was doing in my job and did I realise I’d missed a media opportunity and that that was embarrassing to her because it was her electorate.”

The staffer originally told the inquiry that Whaitiri had pinched her arm but changed that to grabbed.

“It was hard and it scared the living daylights out of me,” she said.

In other parts of her evidence, she said: “She was definitely angry, and was definitely mad that I had screwed up. It scared me a lot and I didn’t want to return to that [work environment].”

Patten questioned the staff member about the bruises, why it took three days to see them and whether they could have been caused by something else such as a door handle.

She said it wasn’t until she was at a meeting with ministerial services on August 30 that they asked if there were any marks and until then she hadn’t thought to look.

Patten’s finding in the draft report is: “The photographs taken by Morag Ingram on August 30 2018 of [the press secretary’s] upper right arm showing a bruise on that arm … are consistent, in my view, with someone being approached from behind and grabbed by a
right-handed person”.

So this issue won’t go away. Even if no further action is taken and Whaitiri remains an MP – she is strongly backed by other Maori MPs – this is likely to keep being used against Labour and questions will keep being asked about Ardern’s leadership.

Audrey Young: Hard to see MP return as a minister

When Jacinda Ardern sacked Meka Whaitiri a week ago, it was on a trust-me basis.

She said she couldn’t tell the country why she had sacked the minister, her first sacking, without breaching the privacy of a staff member who complained about the minister — even though no one has named the staffer.

She relied on a report by a respected barrister, and after reading it Ardern no longer had confidence in Whaitiri as a minister “at this time”.

The draft findings, leaked to the Herald, clearly reveal why Ardern reached the decision she did on the basis of David Patten’s report.

On the balance of probabilities he is inclined to believe that Whaitiri was very annoyed she had not been alerted by her press secretary to the fact that Ardern was holding a standup where we see MPs nodding in the background, that she grabbed her staffer by the arm to say they needed to talk outside, and then pointed out to her in forceful language that it was her job to make sure she didn’t miss out on such media opportunities. The alleged grabbing of the arm and the bruises are the clincher, though Whaitiri denies physical contact.

Realistically it will be impossible for Whaitiri to return as a minister this term. A byelection in Ikaroa-Rawhiti is unlikely unless the pressure becomes too much.

Whaitiri has an unswerving support base in the Māori caucus.

So this leaves things in an awkward situation.

Two days ago (Newshub): ‘Absolutely gutted’ – Meka Whaitiri speaks for the first time since she was fired

Meka Whaitiri has spoken to media for the first time since being fired from her ministerial portfolios on Thursday last week.

She said it’s been a “debilitating time. I’m absolutely gutted by it.”

“I accept the Prime Minister’s decision. I’m going to take time now to reflect and look at ways of improving myself to regain the Prime Minister’s confidence.

“I’ve got a lot of work to do here on behalf of the people of Ikaroa-Rawhiti. I just want to get on with it,” Ms Whaitiri said.

She added she was “humbled” by the support of the Māori caucus.

Ms Whaitiri would not say which aspects of the report she disputes or whether she would contest the 2020 election.

She still has Maori MP support:

Ms Whaitiri remains an electorate MP for Ikaroa-Rawhiti and co-chair of the Māori caucus, alongside Willy Jackson.

Mr Jackson said she is fit to remain co-chair of the Māori caucus.

“The Māori caucus has taken into account the great work that she has done and in terms of our strategies going forward. There’s a heck of a lot of support there.”

That support may or may not be sufficient to make it tenable for Whaitiri to stand again in her electorate. if she does the level of support in the electorate will then be tested and measured, but it will be difficult to measure the impact on Labour party support.

Perhaps, like Clare Curran, Whaitiri just doesn’t have a suitable temperament or the leadership skills required to be a Minister. The question will remain as to whether this also applies to being an MP.

 

 

 

 

White House versus John McCain

Reuters: McCain’s daughter slams White House aide’s ‘he’s dying’ comments

Meghan McCain on Friday questioned how the White House aide who disparaged her ailing father, Republican U.S. Senator John McCain, during a meeting, still has a job.

Kelly Sadler, a White House communications aide, dismissed Senator McCain’s objection to President Donald Trump’s nominee to be CIA director, Gina Haspel, by saying that it “doesn’t matter, he’s dying anyway,” a source familiar with the closed White House meeting told Reuters.

Speaking on the ABC show “The View,” which she co-hosts, Meghan McCain said she wanted to inform Sadler that her father’s battle with brain cancer has made her realize the meaning of life was “not how you die, it is how you live.”

“I don’t understand what kind of environment you’re working in when that would be acceptable, and then you can come to work the next day and still have a job,” McCain said.

Several of McCain’s fellow Republicans on Capitol Hill have condemned Sadler’s remarks.

Jeff Flake, Arizona’s other senator and a frequent critic of the White House under Trump, tweeted an article about the comments and wrote: “There are no words.”

Iowa Senator Joni Ernst tweeted that the United States should “treat this war hero and his family with the civility and respect they deserve.”

Sadler’s comments were reported the same day that a guest on Fox Business Network, retired Air Force Lieutenant General Thomas McInerney, suggested McCain divulged critical information to the North Vietnamese after being tortured.

 A network spokesperson said McInerney would no longer be invited on the Fox Business Network or Fox News.

The Hill: White House official calls Meghan McCain to apologize for remark about father

A White House official called Meghan McCain on Thursday to apologize after she mocked Sen. John McCain’s  cancer diagnosis during a meeting earlier in the day, a source told The Hill.

In a statement, the White House did not deny that Sadler made the remarks, which came amid a discussion of Haspel’s nomination to lead the CIA and McCain’s opposition to it.

“We respect Sen. McCain’s service to our nation, and he and his family are in our prayers during this difficult time,” the White House said.

“People have wondered when decency would hit rock bottom with this administration. It happened yesterday.

John McCain is a genuine hero – a man of valor whose sacrifices for his country are immeasurable. As he fights for his life, he deserves better – so much better. Given this White House’s trail of disrespect towards John and others, this staffer is not an exception to the rule, she is the epitome of it.

Ours children learn from out example. The lingering question is whose example will it be. I am certain it will be John’s.”

– Joe Biden

This may seem like a storm in a swamp, but it is in a context of disrespectful president who has attacked many people. This is Donald Trump speaking about McCain during the presidential campaign:

“I supported him for president. I raised a million dollars for him, that’s a lot of money. I supported him, he lost, he let us down, but you know he lost and i never liked him as much after that cause i don’t like losers.

But…he’s not a war hero. He’s a war hero ’cause he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured ok I hate to tell you.

More recent context: Hatch Apologizes to McCain for Suggesting Trump Should Attend His Funeral

The New York Timeshad reported over the weekend that the ailing McCain has specifically said that he does not want Trump to come to his funeral, preferring Vice-President Pence to attend instead. This makes complete sense, considering that Trump has ridiculed McCain both for his service in Vietnam (“I prefer war heroes who weren’t captured”) and his legislative record, with McCain returning fire.

Utah senator Orrin Hatch apologized to John McCain on Tuesday after suggesting on Monday that the ailing senator should invite President Trump to his funeral, even though McCain has made it clear that he doesn’t want Trump there.

Hatch said on Monday that McCain’s wish for a Trump-free ceremony was “ridiculous,” drawing the ire of Meghan McCain.

“I’d like everybody to take a collective breath and chill out on my dad for a second — especially Orrin Hatch,” McCain said on The View, which she co-hosts.

Hatch then had a change of heart.

“I agree with the daughter,” Hatch told the Washington Post on Tuesday, in a strange turn of phrase. “I shouldn’t have said anything yesterday. I agree a hundred percent with her.” The Post reported that Hatch had also sent McCain a letter expressing his regrets.

A shit fight over a dying Senator does nothing to enhance an awful image of US politics.

An once this shows how much one small remark can impact on both the news cycle and on one person’s reputation and potentially her career.

Green problems continue

A battered Green party seems to have taken another hit with one of their top staff stepping down and another either stepping or being pushed sideways.

Whatever the reason, a month out from the election this has to be disruptive and an indication of ongoing repercussions in the party after a damaging few weeks.

NZH: Top Green Party staffer resigns just weeks out from election

The Green Party has been hit by more turmoil after its political director resigned with just weeks to go until the election.

The resignation of communications specialist Joss Debreceny follows the departure of the party’s chief of staff Deborah Morris-Travers, although she will keep working for the Greens on a special anti-poverty project.

Responding to Herald inquiries, Shaw said he had reluctantly accepted Debreceny’s resignation.

“Joss has given tireless, loyal support and made an important contribution to the Green cause, and I am deeply grateful for that.”

Shaw said Morris-Travers’ move out of the chief-of-staff role was to take up a “special projects” role, including providing policy advice on ending poverty in New Zealand.

“We are keen to utilise Deborah’s expertise on the rights of children, as well as tapping into her past experience as a member of Parliament,” Shaw said.

“Joss and Deborah are superb operators. As these changes are operational issues it would be inappropriate to make any further comment.”

One could wonder how involved these two staff members were in the Metiria mission on poverty, and the handling of the PR disaster.

One could also wonder whether they are deserting a sinking ship, or if they have been thrown overboard.

Robb on Little: “You always know when someone is going places”.

Retiring Parliamentary staffer Shona Robb says that she thought from day one that Andrew Little would be “going places” and looks forward to seeing him in “the big role” in 2017.

Stuff reports – MPs’ long serving staffer retires after four decades:

After 39 years, six prime ministers and hundreds of MPs, Shona Robb has called time on her career. And as Parliament’s longest serving staffer clocked off for the last time yesterday, her silver wrist-watch stopped.

She started work in the Opposition typing pool in September 1976 – before Parliamentary Service was established and construction of the Beehive was finished. MPs Todd Barclay, David Seymour, Jacinda Ardern, Nikki Kaye, Julie Anne Genter and Simon Bridges were yet to be born.

Working for MPs for 39 years is a huge achievement.

Robb makes some interesting comments about Andrew Little – see the video from 1:12

But the last few years working with Andrew has been pretty special indeed, and you always know when someone is going places, and I think I knew from day one.

So I’m really backing this man and I hope that, you know, in 2017 he’s going to take the big role. So we’ll be there to see you do that.

There’s also some interesting visuals involving Grant Robertson while Rob was saying that.

LittleRobertsonRob

Well done Shona for a long career in Parliament. We’ll see in a couple of years if Little gets the big role as she anticipates.