Fran O’Sullivan on why Jacinda is wrong in her protection of Curran

Fran O’Sullivan wrote this piece last week and for some reason I missed it.

It is very good and shows precisely where Ardern’s defence is lacking in her protection of Clare Curran.

She writes:

The Prime Minister endeavoured to explain the affair away by suggesting Curran’s error was simply not to disclose the meeting when she was questioned about it by a National MP.

“The minister had apologised to me for the lack of transparency from the very beginning around the fact that the meeting occurred, and the fact it was not included in that original written question. It should have been.”

Ardern went on to assert there was nothing wrong with the pair meeting.  

“The primary relationship is between the minister and the board. The minister is very clear on that. But it is not unusual for ministers to meet with those who work within Crown entities generally.”

In fact, the Prime Minister is way out of the park.

Section 3.81 of the Cabinet Manual is explicit. It says, “if an employee wishes to communicate privately with a Minister about a matter concerning the agency by which he or she is employed, the Minister should ensure that the employee has first raised the matter with the agency’s chief executive”.

Curran did not do that.

She should have ensured that Hirschfeld got permission from her boss Thompson and/or Griffin before meeting her at Wellington’s Astoria restaurant.

The Prime Minister and Curran could argue that the 3.81 rule focuses on what should occur if “an employee wishes to communicate privately with a Minister” – rather than what the situation would be if the impetus for the meeting came from the Minister. But that is splitting hairs.

The line is obvious.

End of quote.

Not that obvious to the Minister for Open Government who tried to hide the meeting. Fran continues:

And in RNZ’s case this rule is doubly important as Curran has allowed a situation to develop where the perception is that she used the key RNZ news executive as her back channel into the corporation.

This compromised Hirschfeld. But it also resulted in an unfortunate perception that the pair had been consorting outside of the usual governance norms on RNZ’s future – and options for a new public service television channel which on her past track record she could reliably expect Hirschfeld to support.

It’s notable that while Hirschfeld has to some extent thrown herself under the bus, it is the RNZ executive who is paying the price for these sins of omission – not Curran.

End of quote.

Curran should be gone, but she will cling on for as long as possible. Labour’s thinking is that it is too early for a scalp. Their thinking is wonky. Ardern should have used this as an excuse to place a head on a pike as a warning to other ministers.

The tide has turned on the government, and the Prime Minister has her mind on other private matters, hence the lack of focus and error-ridden handling of these issues.

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