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Ardern sacks Curran from Cabinet over second diary flip-flop

Friday 24th August 2018

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Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has sacked Clare Curran from Cabinet, stripping her of the government digital services and open government roles after she again failed to declare a meeting when answering MPs' written questions. 

Ardern removed Curran from Cabinet and accepted her resignation of the government digital services and open government portfolios, she said in a statement. Curran will keep the ICT/broadcasting and associate Accident Compensation Corp portfolios and will sit outside Cabinet. 

Curran was already on a warning after she failed to declare a meeting with former Radio New Zealand executive Carol Hirschfield in answers to written questions by National MP Melissa Lee. She wore out the PM's patience by not properly recording a meeting with digital advertising entrepreneur Derek Handley, who has applied for the chief technology officer role that Curran was forced to readvertise after the first round of applicants fell short. The lack of paperwork led to incorrect answers to parliamentary questions.

Ardern revealed that Handley is still in the hunt for the CTO position in her statement on Curran's demotion. 

“I want to express my sincere apologies to Mr Handley who has been brought into this issue through no fault of his own," Ardern said. "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."

"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,” Ardern said in a statement. "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."

Curran failed to find anyone among the 60-plus initial applications to fill the CTO role and she met with Handley to discuss his interest in the position. She directed him to register his interest with the Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment. The role was created in part at the urging of Xero founder Rod Drury and was intended to give the government leading-edge, independent advice on national policy that fosters the use and deployment of fast-changing digital technologies.

The State Services Commission will now investigate the CTO appointment process to ensure it was robust and that the minister's meeting with Handley had no bearing on the outcome. Curran will have no role in the appointment. 

Handley set up The Hyperfactory mobile marketing business with his brother Geoff. They attracted American publisher Meredith Corp as a suitor, with the NYSE-listed firm buying a 20 percent stake for US$4 million in 2009. It purchased the remaining 80 percent the following year for another US$4.7 million, with earn-outs of up to US$26 million that weren't paid. 

Handley went on to launch mobile advertising firm Snakk Media, which listed on NZX's small-cap NZAX bourse through a backdoor listing in 2013. He left Snakk's board in 2015 and more recently has been a champion of social enterprise through the Aera Foundation. 

State Services Minister Chris Hipkins will take over the CTO appointment process and assume Curran's open government responsibilities. Megan Woods picks up the government digital services portfolio. 

In a separate statement, Curran apologised for "failing to live up to expectations of transparency" and said she'd "continue to work hard in advancing this government’s broadcasting and communications agenda". 

(BusinessDesk)

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