25 Sep 2018

PM accused of misleading parliament over Handley texts

3:57 pm on 25 September 2018

The prime minister is facing accusations she misled Parliament after tech entrepeneur Derek Handley released copies of texts between them.

Derek Handley

Derek Handley has released correspondence he had with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and former minister Clare Curran. Photo: Supplied

It is the latest twist in the ongoing controversy surrounding the now-abandoned Chief Technology Officer position.

Mr Handley - who was paid out when his job offer was withdrawn - has released copies of his communications with Jacinda Ardern and former minister Clare Curran.

Ms Curran lost the portfolio in August after failing to record a meeting with Mr Handley, and has since resigned as a minister altogether.

Now the focus is on Jacinda Ardern.

She told Parliament she'd had a text from Mr Handley about the CTO role, but did not reply to it.

"The text that I received, again, as I said, was in April. I did not directly reply to that text message on that day or engage with him on the CTO role."

She went on to say she had known Mr Handley for a number of years and had declared that to Cabinet's Appointments and Honour's committee.

The communications show she did respond to a text asking for an email address so he could send her his thoughts about the CTO role - her response is redacted.

Speaking from New York, Ms Ardern insisted she had not misled the House, saying as soon as he mentioned the CTO position, she did not respond.

"He said that he wanted to come back to New Zealand and get involved; at the point I had no idea he was interested in the CTO role, that is why I did not engage with him from the moment he mentioned it."

When asked about her response to his request for an email address Ms Ardern said he already had all of her contact details, and never tried to hide the fact she had had various communications with him.

National's leader Simon Bridges said Parliament had been misled.

"The prime minister said there was... one text, she said she didn't even dignify it with a response... and the picture presented by the texts is anything but - actually there's been a conversation there in some details, it's been a very different circumstance to what she told Parliament."

The government had been "anything but" open and transparent, he said, as it was taking a "very long time" to release all the relevant communications when Mr Handley had been able to do it in "moments".

Ms Curran said she was working to release all communications under the Official Information Act.

It was Mr Handley's right to release the texts and email, she said, but there was a different process for the government.

"One of the obligations I had was to respect the integrity of the processes with regards to him."

She did not believe this had been embarrassing for the prime minister.

"No - I think this is part of what happens when there is a controversial issue and when transparency is actually occurring."

In a statement, Mr Handley said the whole process had been disappointing and would likely discourage others from the private sector to come forward for a government role.

Part of that disappointment was not hearing directly from either the minister who had taken over the portfolio, Megan Woods, or the prime minister herself, during what he said was a challenging time for him.

Ms Ardern said while the appointment process was being dealt with it was appropriate all communications were with officials.

"Of course now that we're on the other side of that, I do think it's appropriate for someone to make contact with him and to apologise for the process he's been caught up in."

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