Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has removed Clare Curran from Cabinet and has accepted her offer to resign from the Government Digital Services portfolio and Open Government responsibilities, following a second failure to properly declare a meeting.
In February this year Ms Curran met with tech entrepreneur Handley at her Beehive office in her capacity as Minister of Government Digital Services to discuss Mr Handley’s interest in the vacant Chief Technology Officer role.
The meeting took place after the first unsuccessful recruitment round for the CTO. As with approaches from other interested parties, the Minister directed Mr Handley to register his interest with MBIE officials. Applications reopened for the CTO role in May.
The meeting was not recorded in the Minister’s diary and neither the Minister’s staff nor officials were made aware of it.
The meeting was subsequently mistakenly left out of an answer to a recent Parliamentary Question for Written Answer. The meeting should have been included in the answer and the error has been corrected. Ms Curran has advised there have been no other meetings between herself and Mr Handley outside the application process.
"The failure to record the meeting in her diary; inform her staff and officials; and accurately answer Parliamentary questions has left the Minister open to the accusation that she deliberately sought to hide the meeting," Ms Ardern said.
"While this was not the Minister’s intention, this is the second misjudgement and is not in keeping with my expectations, or the Minister’s expectations of herself. As a result I have chosen to remove Minister Curran from Cabinet.
"Transparency is important, even more so for Hon Curran given her Open Government responsibilities."
Minister Curran will retain her responsibilities as Minister for Broadcasting, Communications and Digital Media, and as Associate Minister for ACC, but will now sit outside Cabinet.
Ms Ardern says Dr Megan Woods will take over as Minister of Government Digital Services and Ms Curran’s delegated responsibilities in relation to Open Government will revert to Chris Hipkins, as Minister for State Services.
"I have accepted the Minister's offer to resign her responsibilities relevant to this issue, which clearly she can no longer continue in. State Services Minister Chris Hipkins will take back the Open Government responsibilities which were delegated to Hon Curran, and Minister Woods will take over the Government Digital Services portfolio, which aligns with her Research, Science and Innovation responsibilities.
"The CTO appointment process is in its final stages. Minister Curran will have no further involvement in it and State Services Minister Hipkins will take over that process and finalise the details of the appointment and the implementation of the CTO role.
"Minister Hipkins has asked the State Services Commission to take a look at the CTO appointment process to ensure it has been robust, and that the meeting between Ms Curran and Mr Handley had no bearing on the process or outcome. The SSC will report back next week before the appointment process is concluded."
"I want to express my sincere apologies to Mr Handley who has been brought into this issue through no fault of his own. He is a qualified and capable candidate who has made it through to the final stages of the appointment process based on his talent, experience. The issue is entirely about the Minister’s conduct, not Mr Handley’s."
I have let myself and the Prime Minister down and my resignations today are the consequence of my error- Clare Curran
Ms Curran says she has let herself and the Prime Minister down and her resignations today from the Open Government and Government Digital Services portfolios "are the consequence of my error".
"I omitted to record a meeting with Derek Handley in an answer to a written parliamentary question.
"It wasn’t in my diary because it was set up directly between Mr Handley, subsequently a candidate for the Chief Technology Officer position, and I simply forgot about it when the parliamentary answer was sent out," Ms Curran said in a statement.
"I take full responsibility for not following proper process. The meeting with Mr Handley should have been in the diary and my staff should have been informed."
Ms Curran said she is "committed to making our government more open and ensuring that creatives and innovators in digital services have a voice at the table. I’m proud of the work I have undertaken".
She said she will continue to work hard in advancing the Government’s broadcasting and communications agenda.
Ms Curran arranged the meeting with Mr Handley using Twitter direct messages, her personal Gmail account, and text messages on her cellphone.
Her sacking today comes after Ms Ardern was forced to defend Ms Curran over a meeting with Radio NZ’s Carol Hirschfeld in December, which resulted in Hirschfeld resigning after she initially mislead then-Radio NZ board chair Richard Griffin over the meeting, telling him it was accidental.
That led to Griffin and RNZ CEO Paul Thompson then inadvertently making false statements to a Parliamentary Select Committee over the nature of the meeting - which was in fact pre-planned.