28 Jun 2023

DOC boss confirms poor relationships in Minister Kiri Allan's office

5:09 pm on 28 June 2023
Kiri Allan

Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

The head of the Department of Conservation (DOC) has confirmed a staffer stopped working in Minister Kiri Allan's office early because of a bad working relationship.

The events took place more than a year ago.

In a statement on Wednesday afternoon, DOC Director-General Penny Nelson said she became aware of the problem, and sought support from Ministerial Services.

"I became aware that concerns had been raised about the working relationships with the minister in the office, and that it was not running as smoothly as it might," she said.

"One person chose to end their secondment early due to the working relationships in the office.

"Accordingly, I had discussions with my colleagues, including from Internal Affairs which manages Ministerial Services, regarding support in the office.

"No further concerns were subsequently brought to my attention, and I understand relationships improved."

Nelson directed any further questions to the Department of Internal Affairs. RNZ has sought comment from DIA.

In a statement this evening, Allan said she had "great working relationships with my office crew", however, as occurred in other workplaces there were sometimes challenges with working relationships and the Beehive was no different.

"I value my crew and I have always been clear that I have high expectations of senior public servants, as I do myself. New Zealanders rightly deserve results from the government and my job is to deliver those outcomes."

PM weighs in

In a statement, a spokesperson for Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said there had been no formal complaints raised, and no further issues after work was done to improve the situation.

"Parliament is a high-pressure environment and Minister Allan is passionate about her work, however this has never led to any formal complaints and past issues have been resolved without the need for significant escalation," the spokesperson said.

Speaking from China, Hipkins was asked if he would stand Allan down and whether there were any other instances of this type of behaviour from her before, Hipkins said: "Kiri Allan has taken a bit of leave because she's needed a bit of space and I've absolutely respected that, I've been in regular contact with her".

"I want to acknowledge that the beehive can be a high pressure environment and on occasion, relationships within offices can become strained as a result of that. That's not new and it's something that the Prime Minister's Office both under my leadership, my predecessors leadership, and predecessors under previous governments, have worked hard in order to manage.

"From time to time a minister's office will come under a lot of pressure if their minister is under pressure and there have been instances, as there are with almost every minister, where minister Allan has experiences more pressure in recent times and my office has worked hard to address those (sic)."

There had not been any specific complaints raised with his office about Allan, he said.

"Where there have been any relationship issues, we've sought to resolve those.

"She has indicted to me about a week ago, or might have been just over a week ago that she needed a little bit of space. I absolutely respect that and I actually would far rather that a minister, and MP or anybody else came to me and said hey look I need a bit of space at the moment. I'd far rather they did that than try to box on if they weren't fully in the game."

"No formal complaints have been raised with me."

It was important relationships were managed respectfully and with clear expectations, he said. "And that's my expectation of all ministers."

Asked if he or his Cabinet had discussed Allan's behaviour before, Hipkins said "we always regularly discuss tension and where ministers are under more pressure and under more stress we discuss those things and as a team we help to manage them".

Allan was shifted from conservation to take up the justice portfolio in June last year.

Mental health leave

Allan has been on leave from Parliament this week, and posted on social media today saying she has been struggling with mental health.

"Real talk," she started. "A part of being a politician is the fact our lives are public. When things go well, we celebrate them, when they don't, it's easy to hide away.

"Mental health is something we typically shout about from the roof tops during mental health awareness week. But a part of being a public figure is also to be honest with the public about the tough times too - because if sharing my story can help one other, then I'm glad to have shared."

She said she had been struggling with mental health for the past few weeks, triggered by personal circumstances "as well as other external things" including the recent cyclone.

"Sometimes things accumulate, and I hit a wall a few weeks ago. I kept going, showing up to events, smiling, giving speeches. But about a week ago, I had to be pretty honest with myself."

She said it had been "bloody hard" but she had "reached out" to colleagues, friends and family, and had needed time to get some help and get back on track.

"It felt a little embarrassing admitting I wasn't doing okay. But what followed was an overwhelming response of aroha."

She was now feeling a lot better and would be back at work tomorrow, she said.

Hipkins said ultimately, ministers managed their own mental health. Why Allan asked for space, Hipkins said it would not be fair or appropriate for him to say.

He said to his knowledge there was no connection between Allan taking leave and the allegations.

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