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.

 

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.

Inquiry into leak of Bridges’ expenses

I’m not sure whether most of the public will care much about the leaking of Simon Bridges’ expenses, but it seems to have been a big deal for Bridges, for the Speaker, and for political journalists who have given it a lot of coverage.

RNZ:  Inquiry launched into leak on Simon Bridges’ expenses

Parliament’s speaker, Trevor Mallard, said a Queen’s Counsel would lead the inquiry with the help of an employment lawyer and also someone with forensic IT skills.

Mr Mallard said he spoke to Mr Bridges and they agreed there was an issue about the security of information, which could potentially be quite serious.

“The inquiry will look at who forwarded [the information] to whom, and also who else had access to the data which was very specific data at a very specific point in time and who did access it and for what purpose,” Mr Mallard said.

“The general manager of the Parliamentary Service has used his authority to give full access to all of the core Parliamentary Service computers for that purpose, so there is not a question of having to ask people’s permission.

“As far as [MPs] are concerned there are matters of privilege and consent or a waiver will be necessary.”

Mr Mallard said he would ask Mr Bridges to make sure all his MPs signed the waiver allowing access to their computers.

“I’m not putting a start date or a finish date on this inquiry – it might well be the fact that the level of expertise that is coming into it causes someome to put their hand up, because unless they have incredible expertise – they will be identified.”

Asked whether all of the National MPs would sign the access waiver, shadow leader of the House Gerry Brownlee said “yes they will – we’re pretty hot under the collar about it”.

If it turns out an MP has leaked the information – their identity will be made public, but if it is a Parliamentary Service staff member Mr Mallard said that would be an employment matter.

RNZ – Simon Bridges spending leak: Consensus over need for inquiry

Not even Mr Mallard was free of the waiver – although he said it was already on the record that neither he nor his office received the travel expenses electronically, which was how they were leaked to media.

Mr Mallard said there was no escaping cyber experts.

“The inquiry will look at who forwarded [the information] to whom, and also who else had access to the data which was very specific data at a very specific point in time,” Mr Mallard said.

“The general manager of the Parliamentary Service has used his authority to give full access to all of the core Parliamentary Service computers for that purpose, so there is not a question of having to ask people’s permission.”

Mr Brownlee welcomed the investigation and said National had no issues with any of the inquiry’s waiver requirements because they were all “hot under the collar” about the leak.

“Anything that goes into a server stays there no matter what you do with it.”

A Queen’s Counsel will lead the inquiry with the help of an employment lawyer and a forensic information technology expert.

I don’t remember seeing this level of cooperation and determination to identify a leaker.

It’s interesting that Bridges is making such a big deal of it, as his big spending was the focus of the leak.

It would be embarrassing if the culprit turns out to be a National MP, and will ignite inevitable claims of disunity – but if that’s the case Bridges may benefit in the longer term if an enemy within his caucus is outed.

Funnily Newshub – who published the leaked Bridges expenses, yesterday published expense details of all National MPs, but that seems to have been largely ignored. Most attention was given to the leak inquiry.


Newsroom: Will ‘Limogate’ investigation reach top gear?

(I think -gate labels like this are dated and stupid, especially when used for relatively trivial issues).

After all, this was not classified or confidential information: it was already due to be released as part of a wider disclosure regime, with the leaker simply jumping the gun by a few days.

There’s no suggestion that Bridges has been misusing taxpayer money by taking his Crown car on personal joyrides.

After all, this was not classified or confidential information: it was already due to be released as part of a wider disclosure regime, with the leaker simply jumping the gun by a few days.

As for National leader Simon Bridges’ spending, as highlighted by Newshub – the organisation which received the leak – that’s also less than thrilling.

There’s no suggestion that Bridges has been misusing taxpayer money by taking his Crown car on personal joyrides.

It’s not the “what”, but the “who” and “why” which is most intriguing.

Why leak something which is going to be released all and sundry anyway? It seems a high risk, low reward move, given the likely punishment if they’re caught.

The Speaker seems intent on making it a big deal, presumably to warn off other would be leakers.

If someone is caught they may become a major scapegoat for what has been a common part of politics.

Parliament – ‘anti-Māori’ and racism implications

The referencing of referencing family of MPs, plus hints of and MP being ‘anti-Māori,r arose in an exchange in Parliament today, in relation to the appointment of Wally Haumaha as Deputy Police Commissioner. There’s co clear conclusion (to me) but some interesting discussion.

It came out of this primary question:

8. Hon PAULA BENNETT (Deputy Leader—National) to the Prime Minister: Does her Government expect high standards from all Government departments and Ministers?

It starts at 2:36…

Chris Bishop: Does she have confidence in her Government’s professional independence from Mr Haumaha when her police Minister gives him a shout-out in his workout videos, her Deputy Prime Minister attended a celebration on a marae for his appointment as assistant commissioner, her foreign affairs under-secretary has whānau links to him, and he was previously announced as a candidate for New Zealand First?

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Sorry, I am going to go back to that question and not require but ask the member to think very carefully about rewording it. We have had a tradition in this House, wherever possible, of not including the actions of family members—certainly within question time. I’d ask the member to reflect on his question and, if he agrees with me that that is unhealthy, to rephrase it.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Surely we have to have some accuracy in the questioning in this House. Mr Bishop began by talking about what, in effect, is an allegation of witness tampering. So the real issue, sir, for you to judge is: who is this witness who is being tampered that he talked about? The fact is the person is not a witness. The person may be a complainant, and there’s a huge difference. He’s putting the two together quite naively and mistakenly and getting away with it in the House when he should be stopped.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Order! I think if we had the degree of exactitude that the Deputy Prime Minister is advocating, we’d have quite a few members on both sides of the House who wouldn’t be able to answer or ask a single question. Mr Bishop—going back to where we were at.

Chris Bishop: Did the panel convened by the State Services Commission to interview the short-listed candidates for the job of the Deputy Commissioner of Police recommend that Mr Haumaha be the preferred candidate for the job?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I’m not going to get into elements of an issue that is now being independently assessed by an independent inquirer.

Hon Paula Bennett: When the Prime Minister just previously said, as she did yesterday, that, actually, he cannot be either stood down or on garden leave because it would be the decision of the commissioner and that she can’t do it, is she aware that under section 13 of the Policing Act, the deputy commissioner’s role is a statutory appointment that holds office at the pleasure of the Governor-General on the advice of her, the Prime Minister, and that she has the power to act?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: That includes them acting in that role of employment. What the member was asking about was whether I had the ability to stand someone down when there had been no formal process, and we’re undertaking an inquiry to ensure natural justice provisions apply, because the threshold test here is incredibly high. If the member is asking about gardening leave or temporary stand downs, that threshold, of course, is very different, and that is employment matter for the Commissioner of Police.

Hon Shane Jones: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I raise an issue that is troubling a number of us on this side of the House: the regularity with which those of us who enjoy Māori ancestry—and I direct your attention to Speakers’ rulings 39/4-5. I accept in the roundhouse of politics it is tough, but I am particularly irked by the allegation that Mr Bishop made, enjoying private briefings from dissolute elements in the police force, that he has labelled those of us, essentially, by talking about Fletcher Tabuteau and Winston Peters, as somehow not passing the test of parliamentary probity. And I’d invite you to reflect on it, because it will lead to a substantial bout of disorder from the House. Now, I’m not suggesting that Mr Bishop is anti-Māori, and, quite frankly, I don’t care if he is, but it is an important principle, with the number of Māori in the House—whether they’re urban Māori or broader traditional Māori—that you contemplate that situation, because we’re not going to put up with it for one more day.

Hon Paula Bennett: As one of those Māori, there is actually also a convention that we express our conflicts of interest for our whānau and particularly when we are looking at making statutory appointments, and this side of the House has a right to question that.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: Well, yes, I would have made the same point that the Hon Paula Bennett has made, because what Mr Jones is effectively doing is saying that if there is a statutory appointment that involves someone who identifies as being a Māori New Zealander, then that process can’t be questioned and nor can anything that would make the suitability of that person appropriate for that. But further than that, sir, you sat there while Mr Jones referred to another member of this House, effectively, as having some racial bias, and that’s a completely unacceptable thing for him to do.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: The allegation that someone is a cousin and therefore is biased in the choice of someone in a governmental job is so demonstrably false when the person doesn’t go to the lengths to describe how far removed that relationship might be. If he were Scottish or Māori, he might understand that this would include 7,500 people. But no such attempt is made. It’s the insinuation that because that relationship, distant though it might be, nevertheless corrupts the member’s mind in being impartial, and that’s unfair.

Mr SPEAKER: I am in a position to rule. Members may have forgotten that I intervened on Mr Bishop’s question and asked him to reword it, because I thought the tone of it was not consistent with the way that we have gone as a country over the last number of decades. He reflected on that and, despite the opportunity, decided not to repeat the question in that form and I want to thank him for that.

There are a lot of elements of judgment in this. I, of course, don’t want to indicate that people cannot be questioned where there are seen to be untoward influences and of course that is the case, but what I did indicate was that I thought it was particularly important where family matters are being brought into account that people are either very specific or very careful and not general in allegations.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Precedent in rulings in this House are very important, because they do guide the House. I’d ask that you have a look back through, I think, the mid-part of 2015 when a then prominent member of the Opposition, now a very, very prominent member of this House, was asking questions of a Minister of the then Government that related directly to a family member. Those questions were allowed, they stood, and they went on for quite some days. When you’ve gone back over those transcripts and perhaps reflected on the wisdom of the course of action taken by the prominent Opposition member, now a very prominent member of Parliament, could you perhaps bring down a ruling that brings all of these things together. I think the general allegation made against the Parliament by Mr Jones today that it is somehow racially selective to bring up an issue that relates to the appointment of a person who is of New Zealand Māori descent is a very, very backward step for this Parliament.

Mr SPEAKER: I don’t feel any need to bring back a considered ruling on it. I think the matter is pretty clear. Speaker’s ruling 41/1 makes it clear that people should avoid referring to MPs families in their private capacities. It is all right to refer to family members who have official roles, and that is a ruling of long standing. It is also all right where there is a clear intersection of the public business of an MP and a Minister and the actions of a family member, and that is an area of longstanding ruling where there is a suggestion of inappropriate behaviour on the part of a Minister in favour of a family member—that is the subject of questioning in the House and will always continue to be.