Labour’s Clare Curran reflects on cabinet sacking and toxic politics

Ex-cabinet Minister Clare Curran has endured plenty in her 12 years in Parliament.

Source: 1 NEWS

In an exclusive interview with The Spinoff, the Labour MP for Dunedin South said her 12 years were marked with what she called toxicity and bullying.

In August last year, she announced her retirement at the 2020 election.

Ms Curran said she’d try to keep her valedictory address positive but she added that her mental health had taken a toll through her time in politics. 

She recalled a National Party Mainland Region conference in April 2012 where she said a photo was posted on Facebook and later sent to her of National MP Michael Woodhouse holding a blue toilet seat with a photo of her face on it.

“I was so shocked when I saw it I have never been able to speak of it publicly because I felt embarrassed. I still feel quite traumatised by it,” she told the Spinoff.

“I imagine whether they have used it or not and it’s a sense of humiliation and weirdness. There’s something sick about that.

“People who are prepared to do that … What else are they prepared to do? They were literally encouraging people to piss on me.” 

When she struggled in Question Time, she said people were “laughing and jeering” and she’d “basically” become a “YouTube meme or something”.

In August 2018, Ms Curran lost her portfolios in digital services and State Services (Open Government) and was sacked from Cabinet. 

The removal from Cabinet and resignation followed two undeclared meetings in her capacity as Minister. She had a meeting with then-RNZ news executive Carol Hirschfeld and another with tech entrepreneur Derek Handley. Mr Handley was interested in the then-vacant chief technology officer role.

In September that year, she resigned as Broadcasting Minister, and her role as Associate Minister for ACC was given to Peeni Henare.

It followed a Question Time session when National MP Melissa Lee pressed Ms Curran about using her personal Gmail account for Government business.

She was put on the spot and bumbled through a response.

After that Question Time, Ms Curran said she received six to eight months of psychological treatment for PTSD.

“I was trying to answer honestly and I couldn’t come up with the words and my mind went blank,” she said of the Question Time session.

“I felt physically that I was going to die because the stress had got so much and there was nowhere else for it to go.”

Over her time in politics, various commentators and bloggers saw her as an “easy picking”, she said.

“Around the time I came into parliament, and even before, I was squarely on the radar of [Matthew] Hooton and [WhaleOil blogger Cameron] Slater and [blogger and pollster] David Farrar.