November 30, 2023

‘Careful what they wish for’: Why political journalist thinks Nats shouldn’t have asked for release of text message about Allan

Watch: Lloyd Burr and Joe Davis speak to AM on its daily panel.

Newshub political reporter Lloyd Burr has warned National to be careful about what they wish for following the request for a text message about Minister Kiri Allan to be released. 

National Party public service spokesperson Simeon Brown requested the text message to be made public as part of an Official Information Act request into Allan’s conduct or behaviour. 

The text message was between Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment chief executive Carolyn Tremain and Kānoa head Robert Pigou and had been identified as within scope. 

But Tremain refused to release it to protect free and frank exchange of information between officials, which saw Brown complain. 

After a review by Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier, he ruled a text message between department heads about Allan would not be released.

Boshier said releasing the message would not meaningfully contribute to public debate and it’s important for chief executives to be able to communicate effectively.

With the election just over three months away, Burr warned National’s request might come back to bite them. 

“I think National should be careful what they wish for because one day they’re going to be in government and they’re going to have a similar thing to this,” Burr said when appearing on AM’s daily panel on Wednesday. 

“Surely there’s got to be a line in which when you talk to a fellow head of government that is private when you’re talking about either ministerial concerns you’ve got. 

“I mean, it’s easy when you’re in opposition to call for pure transparency, just like Labour promised when they first came in. The most honest and transparent government and that’s been a stumbling block for them right along, so they’ve got to be careful.” 

But Nanogirl Labs CEO Joe Davis, who was appearing alongside Burr, backed National’s request.  

“I can understand why the opposition wants to know and I’m very pleased there are people asking the tough questions and trying to hold to account,” Davis said. 

“I also think there’s a reason that we have an Ombudsman to make these decisions.”

National stands by request – Luxon 

National Party leader Christopher Luxon was questioned about the request on AM on Wednesday.  

He told fill-in co-host Isobel Ewing he stood by National’s request for the text message to be made public as it’s his party’s job as opposition to hold the Government to account. 

When questioned if he thought it was a sensitive situation, Luxon said it’s about the behaviour of ministers and National needs to hold them accountable. 

“The bigger issue here is following Stuart Nash, Meka Whaitiri, we’ve had Jan Tinetti, Kiri Allan and now Peeni Henare, what we see is a government that is broken and we see a government where ministers have a blatant disregard for the rules, don’t seem to understand conflicts of interest and the responsibilities they have under a Cabinet Manual,” Luxon said. 

“That is really important to New Zealand because we are a country that is renowned for good governance and good government and it really gets back to the integrity of ministers. 

“So we are doing our job, which is to hold ministers accountable for their policies and their behaviour. But ultimately the person who has to hold them accountable is Chris Hipkins and he’s not doing that.” 

Allegations about Kiri Allan

Allan has been in the headlines a lot over the past three weeks, with allegations about her treatment of staff. 

A public servant with years of experience told Stuff Allan “yelled and screamed” at her during a phone call and was so loud staff in the office could hear her. Allan has “strongly” rejected the accusations. 

Those allegations came after the Department of Conservation confirmed a staffer seconded to Allan’s office chose to leave amid concerns about working relationships there more than a year ago. 

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins and fellow Labour MPs have stood by Allan, saying there haven’t been any formal complaints made about her. 

Hipkins has previously said he stood by Allan saying he had confidence in all of his ministers.

“I am not going to comment on rumours… I understand that my office was alerted to the Official Information Act request that was released to the National Party a couple of weeks ago,” he said. “I wasn’t aware of the specifics of that request until it was raised a couple of days ago.”  

Watch the full interview with Lloyd Burr and Joe Davis in the video above.

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