Government appointed Speakers are always contentious, but Mallard…

…is the one currently in the gun for being tough on National MPs, and particularly struggling to tolerate Leader of the Opposition Simon Bridges. And National are getting more vocal (reckless) in criticising Mallard’s protection on Government MPs, particularly Jacinda Ardern.

Bridges and Gerry Brownlee were turfed out of Parliament by Mallard yesterday – see Bridges, Brownlee ordered out of Parliament – which shows that the intolerance and antagonism is unlikely to diminish.

Why would Ardern need paternalistic protection of the Speaker? From what I’ve seen she is capable of standing up for herself quite adequately in Parliament.

Audrey Young (NZH): Bridges punishment was fair but Mallard’s intolerance is an ongoing problem

Parliament’s Speaker, Trevor Mallard, has an inbuilt bias against National Party leader Simon Bridges and a soft spot for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

That much has been clear since Mallard took the chair just over a year ago. Bridges gets under his skin.

But what is also clear is that Bridges crossed a line in the House today and cannot credibly object to having been thrown out by Mallard.

No one is complaining that Bridges and Brownlee got turfed out yesterday – least of all Bridges. He has used the additional publicity to voice his accusation that Mallard protects Ardern.

It was during questions to the Government about the Karel Sroubek case that Bridges accused Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of “ducking and diving”.

Such a description is not unusual in the cut and thrust of politics, and barely raised anybody’s eyebrow – except Mallard’s.

Mallard stood up to object – we don’t know whether he was about to make Bridges withdraw and apologise and put him on a final warning.

But before he could mete out punishment, Bridges said: “Here comes the protection.”

That was the offending phrase and that got him ejected from the House – and for that there can be no objection.

It crossed a line. It can be easily argued that Mallard was too quick to leap to the defence of Ardern after she was accused of ducking and diving – not that she requires any help from Mallard in the chamber.

Mallard crossed a line the day before.

Mallard’s intolerance was on display yesterday when he referred to Bridges’ questions as “smart-arse” which is also an appalling lapse by a Speaker to the Leader of the Opposition.

Mallard did apologise for that remark.

And during an exchange with Brownlee, he basically agreed that tighter standards apply to Opposition questions than to answers by Government Ministers.

He can’t stand a bit of cross-house banter and he seemed personally offended when MPs interject in the second person.

The sadness of Mallard’s speakership is that he had hopes of inserting himself less into Question Time than other Speakers, but he is doing the exact opposite.

On Newshub this week, Winston Peters tried to suggest that Mallard was not behaving like a Labour MP, but that is not true. It is impossible to take the politics out of the politician.

It would be difficult for Mallard – a Labour Party member since 1972, a Labour MP since 1984 (with a one term break when he lost his seat in 1990), a member of the Labour-led Cabinet from 1999 to 2008, and a parliamentary colleague t of Ardern’s in Pa – to  become totally impartial.

On a good day, when he is in a good mood and does not expect perfection, when he is in a mood to help the Opposition hold the Government to account, Mallard is the best of Speakers.

His stewardship of the House as the Opposition sought answers from the Government over its decision to exempt Te Arai Development from the Overseas Investment Amendment Bill was exemplary.

The stakes were high. He bent over backwards to be fair to all. It was the House at its best because Mallard was at his best.

Unfortunately, the good days don’t come often enough.

The last couple of days were not good for Mallard.

Today may be different – neither Ardern nor Bridges will be in Parliament today. But Brownlee may be.

 

Bridges, Brownlee ordered out of Parliament

Simon Bridges and Gerry Brownlee were turfed out of Parliament today by the Speaker, Trevor Mallard, in another sign of an ongoing battle between them.

Bridges was not getting the answers he wanted from Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, and when Mallard rose Bridges said “Oh, here comes the protection.”

An overreaction from Mallard?

An attention seeking stunt?

Whatever, it is unlikely to change much.

This is how it panned out.

Question No. 2—Prime Minister

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

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN (Prime Minister): Yes.

Hon Simon Bridges: Why did she assert last week that Mr Sroubek’s estranged wife, quote, “changed her tune”, and that she is, quote, “the National Party’s informant”?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I assume the member is referring to responses made on my behalf. To answer the question, the Deputy Prime Minister, at the time, was making reference to information that I believe at that time was already raised in the public domain. Certainly, the first I knew of that information was when it was raised with me by the media.

Hon Simon Bridges: What does she say to the claim by Mr Sroubek’s estranged wife and family that her Government’s statements have been beyond appalling, and have caused immense stress and feelings of utter hopelessness in the estranged wife?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Again, the first I knew of some of those issues was when they were raised with me by the media, and I have seen some reports since then. My expectation would be that if we had information brought to us that raised concerns around her safety, we act appropriately on that. When that issue was first raised with me, I told the Minister directly about that issue, and I understood he followed that up. My understanding is that is what has happened in each case that concerns have been raised with us directly.

Hon Simon Bridges: Can we be clear that she’s rightly distancing herself from statements made on her behalf that this woman was the National Party’s informant?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: What I’m pointing out is that—

Hon Simon Bridges: Oh, so you’re not?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: —my first knowledge of some of these issues was when they were already brought into the public domain, and that whenever we’ve had issues—

Hon Simon Bridges: What’s that got to do with anything? Do you stand by the statements or not?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: —of concern raised, we acted appropriately—

SPEAKER: I don’t know how many times I have to tell the Leader of the Opposition: when he interjects, he is not to do it in the second person.

Hon Simon Bridges: Does she think that tarnishing a victim’s reputation by inferring they were politically motivated, and pushing her to feel utterly hopeless, aligns with her kinder, more compassionate style of Government?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: The first time I heard any such connection was actually in a media report—I think, my recollection is, on Radio New Zealand. That was the first time I heard that statement. I’d have to say, if there’s genuine concern about protecting that individual’s privacy, we would not be having this question in the House right now.

Hon Simon Bridges: How did Immigration New Zealand get the home address of Mr Sroubek’s estranged wife, given there was a police safety plan in place—facts known only to the police?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I obviously have absolutely no involvement with Immigration New Zealand’s following up on issues or concerns or, indeed, interviews or questioning. It wouldn’t be appropriate for me to have that knowledge or that level of involvement.

Hon Simon Bridges: Does she agree with her police Minister on this, who did have a view, that, quote, “There are some people who just need to be kept safe, and there is no way that anyone apart from police should know where that is.”?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I think there’s appropriateness to the statements the police Minister was making. In fact, my understanding is that when he’s been informed of issues, he’s dealt with that entirely appropriately.

Hon Simon Bridges: Is it OK that two police detectives and Immigration New Zealand turned up at the estranged wife’s home address, unannounced, to obtain a changed statement from her, leaving her feeling “extremely vulnerable, exposed, and under threat.”?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Obviously, I wouldn’t have knowledge of some of the level of detail that the Leader of the Opposition is raising. My advice would be that if these are issues that have indeed occurred, it would be appropriate, I think, for the Minister of Police to put them to the police and have them follow up independently of him. It is an operational issue; it is appropriate for them to respond. There’s also an independent police complaints process if there has been anything that’s occurred that has been questionable or should be followed up on.

Hon Simon Bridges: Will she answer whether it’s OK that two police detectives and Immigration New Zealand turned up at the estranged woman’s home address, unannounced, to obtain a changed statement from her, leaving her feeling “extremely vulnerable, exposed, and under threat.”?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As I’ve said, I simply cannot know exactly what’s happened in this scenario. What I am laying out are all of the appropriate channels that are available for the member to ensure that this is looked into appropriately, because that is not something I will have detail on. I also want to point out that if this individual is feeling vulnerable, they should be supported, and canvassing these issues openly, here in this House, I don’t think is one way of doing that.

Hon Simon Bridges: Has the system let down the estranged wife of Sroubek?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I would have to be intimately involved in every level of detail in order to know that. What we do need to make sure is that if there are complaints there that need to be made, they are followed up on appropriately, and I’m sure Ministers will ensure that that is the case if the member brings those complaints directly to them.

Hon Simon Bridges: When will the Opposition get the representations made to the Government on Sroubek’s behalf?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Obviously, this is a case that is still potentially subject to legal challenge. The Minister of Immigration has put out the information that is available at this point, but at the same time there is a process still to be gone through.

Hon Simon Bridges: Does she know personally any of the people who have made these representations?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I am not privy to the representations in the case that have been made, and nor would it be appropriate for me to be privy to the representations or the process that immigration independently conducts in these situations.

Hon Simon Bridges: When will career criminal Karel Sroubek leave this country?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: When this process is complete. Obviously, the Minister of Immigration has made public his decision.

Hon Simon Bridges: Does she anticipate it will now take years, given the court case that will ensue?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I am not going to answer a hypothetical on this case. The Minister has issued his decision; now there’s a process to be run.

Hon Simon Bridges: Has she entirely washed her hands of anything to do with the Sroubek fiasco, and is she ducking and diving to get out of its way? [Speaker stands] Oh, here comes the protection.

SPEAKER: No—the Leader of the Opposition will leave the House.

Hon Simon Bridges withdrew from the Chamber.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: Struck a raw nerve.

SPEAKER: He will be followed by the shadow Leader of the House.

Hon Gerry Brownlee withdrew from the Chamber.

This was followed by National MPs walk out of debating chamber (RNZ):

A large number of National Party MPs have walked out of Parliament this afternoon during question time.

And Parliament continued without them.

Stuff: National leader Simon Bridges kicked out of the House after questioning PM on Sroubek

Fronting media after his expulsion, Bridges doubled down on his accusation the Speaker was protecting the Prime Minister from scrutiny.

“I was trying to ask the Prime Minister serious questions about the Sroubek fiasco. She wouldn’t answer and the speaker leaped to protect her – I called him on it. I said ‘here comes the protection,’ ” Bridges admitted.

Criticising the Speaker in such a way is a fairly serious breach of the parliamentary rule-book. But Bridges said it was in the public interest to break the rules in this instance.

“What I’ve seen is a Prime Minister who hasn’t answered serious questions. Here, we’re talking about a victim, we’re talking about very serious matters there should be answers to that she knows about or should know about as Prime Minister.”

Bridges said the walkout was not planned or coordinated.

“No, certainly none of this was my intention. My intention today has been to ask serious questions about Sroubek, about the estranged wife who feels like she has been targeted, that she is a victim of being called by Winston Peters effectively a National Party informant.”

Mallard said he had been reflecting on the supplementary question when he rose and it was out of order on at least two counts.

“As I rose, he questioned my impartiality.”

 

 

Rankin, Ardern, Peters respond to Parliament’s bullying and harassment review

The behaviour of MP versus MP is not included in the Review into bullying and harassment at Parliament, it is dealing with staff only, but it has raised the issue of poor behaviour from MPs.

The Speaker Trevor Mallard’s past behaviour in Parliament has been pointed out, including a conviction for fighting with another MP and attacks on a consultant. In 2007 Mallard pleads guilty to fighting, says sorry to consultant

Mallard pleaded not guilty to an assault charge, but today pleaded guilty to the lesser fighting charge and agreed to pay $500 to the Salvation Army’s Bridge drug and alcohol programme.

Shortly after the conclusion of the hearing, Mallard apologised in Parliament to Ms Leigh, who he had been accused of unfairly attacking under parliamentary privilege.

And yesterday, in response to Mallard launching the review – ‘He was a bully’: Christine Rankin accuses ‘crude’ Trevor Mallard of bullying

Former Work and Income NZ chief executive Christine Rankin says she was subjected to a campaign of bullying from senior ministers who wanted her out – and that Speaker Trevor Mallard was among them.

“I think anyone can look back on my situation 18 years ago and accept that it was the biggest bullying situation that has ever happened in this country that we know of,” she told Newshub.

She says she was taunted and comments were made about the way she looked. She claims she was even told that her earrings were a “sexual come-on”.

“Incidents have occurred over many years in these buildings which are unacceptable,” said Mr Mallard when announcing the inquiry earlier this week.

Ms Rankin says she was relentlessly bullied by senior Labour Party ministers after they took power in 1999, and that group included now-Speaker Mr Mallard.

“He was a bully,” she told Newshub. “They were all bullies and they revelled in it.”

She says ministers would whisper and laugh about her during meetings – with Mr Mallard using language that still makes her too uncomfortable to repeat.

“He was crude and rude and it was directed at me.”

Mallard has probably changed a lot since then, especially since he took on the responsibility of Speaker. His past behaviour shouldn’t stop him from addressing that sort of behaviour now. Tolerance of harassment has significantly diminished.

Parliament should set an example (a good example) to the population, and the review is a good to do this.

Hopefully MPs will learn something from it. Robust debate is an essential part of a healthy democracy, but in the past MP behaviour has gone far further than that with attacks on opponents capable of being seen as bullying and harassment.

Quite contrasting reactions from Jacinda Ardern and Winston Peters.

NZ Herald: Winston Peters has ‘no idea’ why bullying review into Parliament is taking place

Most MPs welcomed the review, including Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who said Parliament was not immune to such issues.

“It is high pressure. There’s long hours. There’s no excuse, though, for that to result in poor behaviour, so it’s worthwhile to undertake this exercise,” Ardern said.

But someone’s nose seems to be out of joint – or perhaps there are feelings of guilt.

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters has poured cold water on Parliament’s review of workplace bullying and harassment, saying he has “no idea” why it is taking place.

Peters said he had not been consulted, adding that being told in advance did not amount to consultation.

“I’ve got no idea why this is being requested by the Speaker at all. I have not been consulted on that matter, so I’m not prepared to make any comment at all.”

Asked if he supported the review, Peters said: “We’ll find out when the review happens.”

He joked that the media had subjected him to bullying.

“I’m going to tell the interviewer that the only person being seriously bullied around this place for a long time is one Winston Peters – by people like you.”

Given Peters’ use of the media to attack people that’s ironic.

And given Peters’ manner towards journalists trying to interview him the question of bullying could easily be put to him – but Peters has long used attack as a form of defence.

At least Mallard has recognised moves to address and reduce poor MP behaviour, seemingly having learned from his own mistakes and unsatisfactory behaviour in the past.

If anything Peters is getting worse now he is in one of the most powerful positions he has attained in Parliament. A sense that his longevity in Parliament gives him some sort of right to act as he pleases highlights how out of step his combative and cantankerous approach is in the modern world of politics and in society in general).

Review into bullying and harassment at Parliament

The Speaker, Trevor Mallard, has announced an external review into the bullying and harassment of staff at Parliament.

Note that this doesn’t address behaviour between MPs in Parliament or via the media, and it doesn’t address bullying and harassment of MPs by media.


Independent review launched into bullying and harassment at Parliament

Speaker of the House, Rt Hon Trevor Mallard, announced today that an independent external review into bullying and harassment of staff within the Parliamentary workplace will take place.

“Bullying and harassment are not acceptable in any workplace. It’s important that people at Parliament feel respected, safe, and supported each day coming to work,” the Speaker said.

The review will begin in early December 2018 and is expected to take at least four months to complete. It will look to:

  • Establish whether bullying and harassment (including sexual harassment) has occurred and, if it has, the nature and extent of this towards staff employed or engaged since the 51st Parliament (since October 2014). This includes contract staff, who regularly work on precinct, and former staff who no longer work in the Parliamentary workplace.
  • Review how previous complaints have been handled; whether policies, procedures, and related controls are effective; how they compare to best practice and the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015; and whether there are any barriers to reporting or making complaints
  • Assess the culture of Parliament as a place to work and allow for consideration of other matters brought up in the review.

A draft report, with findings and recommendations, will be presented to the Speaker and the Chief Executive or General Manager of participating Parliamentary agencies. Following the delivery of the report, the agencies will consider how to action the report’s recommendations.

At an appropriate time, the report will be made public.

Who is leading the review?

Debbie Francis, an experienced consultant and independent external reviewer, will carry out the review. Debbie has previously led performance improvement reviews at Parliament, and elsewhere on behalf of the State Services Commission. Her recent work on bullying and harassment at the New Zealand Defence Force will be of particular value to this review.

The Speaker is sponsoring the review and will work with the agencies for which he is responsible to address the findings.

Participating in the review

The review will provide current and former Parliamentary staff with an opportunity to share any relevant experiences of bullying and harassment, including sexual harassment, within the Parliamentary workplace. The review covers people employed or engaged by the Parliamentary Service, Ministerial and Secretariat Services, and the Office of the Clerk since the 51st Parliament.

 

Nonsense over written questions

National have been criticised for the number of written questions they have been submitting to Ministers. But National claim that Ministers are refusing to answer questions and avoiding answering questions, forcing National MPs to write multiple versions of very similar questions.

I think it’s sad to see such petty use and abuse of democratic processes. I think the responsibility is largely on Ministers to live up to their transparency hype.

RNZ: National’s written questions blitz at a new level – professor

A barrage of written questions from the National Party is heaping pressure on ministerial offices, prompting one to restructure and a government agency to hire a new staff member.

In the year since forming the government, ministers have received 42,221 written parliamentary questions from National MPs. That’s around 800 a week, or 115 a day, weekends included.

Several ministers have been caught tripping up over the process – which the National Party calls incompetence.

But Auckland University Emeritus Professor Barry Gustafson said the exercise appeared to be more of a fishing expedition than anything to do with policy.

That’s an odd comment from a professor. There’s more to effective Opposition than querying policy. Aren’t written questions basically there to enable fishing expeditions?

“They cast a hundred or thousand hooks into the sea and hope that they’ll pull up one fish.”

The opposition was searching for inconsistencies in ministers’ answers or something they could develop to embarrass the government.

“It’s getting well away, when you do that, from the original intention of written questions – which was to hold the government accountable on major policy matters and actions.”

“…and actions” is an important addition there.

The actions of two Ministers have already resulted in them stepping down or being sacked.

A spokesperson for Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway said his office had requested additional staffing to deal with the high volume of written questions and official information requests.

“This was unavailable so the office restructured to employ a staff member to coordinate responses,” he said in a statement.

There have been important questions to ask about the deferral of an extradition.

Housing Minister Phil Twyford said the KiwiBuild unit in the new Ministry of Housing and Urban Development had to hire someone with the primary job of answering opposition questions.

Mr Twyford said he was committed to answering questions properly as they were an important part of the parliamentary process.

But he said “there’s no doubt that the volume and the trivial nature of some of the questions is a deliberate tactic by the opposition to tie up government staff resources.”

I think there’s quite a bit of doubt about Twyford’s claim.

National housing spokesperson Judith Collins stood by every one of her questions.

Opposition MPs had to ask very specific questions when a minister refused to answer broader questions properly, Ms Collins said.

“You end up having to send maybe five or six questions, when one decent answer was all you actually wanted.”

I’ve seen examples of this.

I thought the Greens were supposed to be into transparent Government.

Other ministers’ offices had pulled people off their usual posts in various ministries, which Prof Gustafson said was a waste of taxpayer money.

“You’re going to clog the system up with a lot of quite trivial and unnecessary [questions].

So who should decide which questions are too trivial? It certainly shouldn’t be left to the Ministers.

Prof Gustafson said both sides were guilty.

In 2010 the Labour MP Trevor Mallard, now Parliament’s Speaker, wrote and sent 20,570 questions to National ministers.

While Mr Mallard would not comment on whether he thought that was appropriate, he said he had noticed that “ministers who proactively release material are subject to fewer questions”.

In other words, Ministers who are transparent don’t get hassled with so many questions. Ministers who try to play avoidance games get more questions. There’s a simple answer there.

National MP Chris Bishop (@cjsbishop):

Here are some things written questions are used for:

  1. To find out who Ministers are meeting. Because that matters.
  2. To find out what papers they’re getting. Because that matters (I usually then OIA ones I’m interested in).
  3. To see what they’re taking to Cabinet
  4. To get stats. Eg how many new police have been hired by new government. Because they made promises around that.
  5. To track how the govt is going on fulfilling its commitments in the coalition document. Eg thanks to written questions we know that Stats Minister James Shaw as done absolutely nothing about starting a review of the official measures of unemployment, even though it’s in the coalition document.
  6. To dive further into detail behind Ministerial answers in the House, where supps are severely limited.
  7. To get the government to provide evidence for statements they make. What Ministers say matters. And the proof for statements (or lack of it) matters.

In short, written questions are bloody important. We’ve asked a lot, cos we’re working hard. Written questions brought down Claire Curran and have provided material for innumerable press releases and oral questions.

Good government matters. Good opposition makes governments perform better. Written questions are a vital tool of Parliamentary accountability.

I thought the Greens had committed to something like that, but James Shaw or his staff don’t appear to be practicing what they have preached.

All parties play games and play the system in ways they think will help them achieve what they want.

National were bad in how they played Official Information requests. But this Government is looking like they could be worse, despite ‘promising’ to be better.

What I think the main problem here is – we have a Government that claimed they would improve transparency, that they would be the most transparent government ever, but their actions suggest the opposite.

Protest over Parliamentary prayer

There was a sizeable protest at Parliament yesterday against the removal of ‘Jesus’ from Parliament’s prayer (I think that ‘god’ should also be removed from it).

‘Judas Mallard’ is rather over the top.

In January: New parliamentary prayer a compromise, says Mallard

One of the first things Trevor Mallard did after being appointed Speaker last year was to update the prayer read out at the start of each question time.

Mr Mallard said the reference to Jesus was a Christian one, and he wanted the prayer to be more inclusive of other religious beliefs.

He said the prayer was still a work in progress, and he will “keep thinking about”.

There had been consultation and feedback from MPs across the Parliament.

The majority, he said wanted a secular prayer, but he has settled on what he described as a “compromise”.

Yesterday: Protesters push to put Jesus back in Parliamentary prayer

Today’s rally was arranged by the group Jesus for New Zealand and included prayers by pastors from a number of evangelical churches.

Event organiser Ross Smith said New Zealand had a Christian heritage that he did not want erased.

“It’s a legacy. The principals and the values that are in this nation are based on our Christian-Judea roots.”

Removing the name would destroy those roots, he said.

New Zealand is supposed to have democracy separated from religion, has largely moved on from traditional Christian practices.

It is also important to note that some significant principals and the values that are in this nation are based were pre-Christian Aotearoa.

Petition of Pastor Ross Smith for Jesus for NZ – Include Jesus Christ in Parliamentary Prayer

Petition of Pastor Ross Smith for Jesus for NZ, That the House of Representatives revise the Standing Orders to provide that the parliamentary prayer must include the name of Jesus Christ

Stuff: Parliamentary prayer rally calls for speaker to reinstate references to Jesus

Mallard said in a statement that he had no plans to make further changes to the Parliamentary prayer but respected the views of those who protested at the rally.

What about praying for no religious prayer in Parliament? Will that work?

 

Mallard and Parliamentary Services cleared of Bridges leaked

A lack of evidence connecting Trevor Mallard or Parliamentary Services to the leak of Simon Bridges’ expenses makes more of a mountain out of what looks increasingly like a mole in the National Party.

RNZ:  Bridges’ expenses inquiry narrows down possible leakers

Mr Mallard initially called a Parliamentary inquiry into the leak but that was overtaken by political events.

His inquiry ended in August after RNZ revealed the person claiming to be both the leaker and a National MP contacted Mr Bridges and Mr Mallard pleading for it to be stopped for the sake of their mental health.

Subsequently, a National Party inquiry was launched – the findings are expected in the next week.

Mr Mallard arranged a forensic investigation of emails and relevant databases connected to his office and those staff involved in the preparation of the expenses – about 20 staff in total.

KPMG, who carried it out, has concluded there is no evidence that Mr Mallard or any Parliamentary Service finance staff were responsible for the leak.

“On the basis of this independent review there is no evidence that staff in the office of the Speaker, Mr Speaker or Parliamentary Service finance and corporate staff released details of this quarterly expense disclosure report to any unauthorised parties,” the report said.

This doesn’t surprise me – why on earth would Mallard or anyone in Parliamentary Services leak expenses information that was due to be officially released a few days later? It defies logic.

With those possibilities ruled out that leaves National MPs and their staff or someone in the National Party.

Mr Bridges has repeatedly insisted none of his MPs were responsible but now that Mr Mallard has all but cleared his own name, his office staff and the Parliamentary Service staff involved in the preparation of the expenses, the finger of blame is pointing to the National Party.

The National Party’s own investigation is being led by PWC and Simpson Grierson.

It will consider both the original leak to Newshub and the subsequent text sent by someone citing mental health issues.

PWC will conduct the forensic work and lawyers at Simpson Grierson will be responsible for filtering what information is and is not passed onto Mr Bridges and his deputy, Paula Bennett.

So this bizarre issue will keep festering away for Bridges for a while yet.

If the leaker is discovered and revealed to be a National MP that will be tricky for Bridges to deal with.

If Bridges decides not to reveal the outcome of the inquiry it will be tricky for Bridges.

It’s hard to see a good outcome for Bridges. He may have created a mountain of a mess from a mole in his party.

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.