Wellington, July 3, 2023
Prime Minister Chris Hipkins intends to speak to Cabinet Minister Kiri Allan in a couple of weeks about recent claims of past disunity with her staff.
He suggested that the ongoing media interest is a sign of a higher bar for ministerial behaviour than in the past.
Ms Allan has been under scrutiny after a series of concerns about her relationships with staff were raised in the media.
Department of Conservation Director-General Penny Nelson said that one staff member ended their secondment early and that she (Ms Nelson) had raised concerns with Ministerial Services, but no further problems arose and relationships improved.
In answer to an Official Information Act request, National Emergency Management Agency Chief Executive David Gawn also said that he was aware of concerns regarding relationships in Allan’s office, and further action was taken to resolve it.
Late last week, Stuff also reported an anonymous senior public servant as saying that the Minister had yelled and screamed at staff.
National MPs challenged
However, clear details about what happened or who was involved remain scant, and Ms Allan has strenuously denied ever facing serious allegations from staff or ever shouting at staff.
Speaking at a Select Committee last week, she accused National MPs of a “fishing exercise” and challenged them to put to her any concerns about her being able to perform her duties.
Mr Hipkins was on a trade trip to China during the week, but repeatedly stressed that no formal complaints had been laid and “in every ministerial office, from time to time, there will be periods of heightened tension” but he had not had a chance to speak with her directly and at length about the matter.
Speaking after the weekly Cabinet meeting on Monday (July 3, 2023), Mr Hipkins said that he had spoken to Ms Allan briefly but is yet to traverse the matter, which he intended to do after the current recess of Parliament.
“I have indicated to Kiri that we will have a catch-up when I get back from Europe which will be after a couple of weeks. I have suggested to her that she take a couple of weeks off and she is going to do so. Generally speaking, when any Minister has been the subject of intense scrutiny, as Kiri has been in the past few weeks, I would encourage them to take a bit of a breath,” he said.
Ms Allan was also on leave last week, due to her mental health relating to a mix of personal circumstances and external pressures like the effects of Cyclone Gabrielle in her region, until she returned to Parliament on Thursday, June 29, 2023.
After Mr Hipkins’ comments, she posted on social media to clarify that leave was not because of mental health.
“I will take a couple of days off over school holidays because each parent has to as we do not have others that can take care of our child. Please stop conflating my mental health with external allegations,” he said.
Mr Hipkins said that Ms Allan was an “exceptionally talented Minister who has contributed an awful lot to our government, and in the first instance he planned to speak to her about it.
He said that he took accusations about Ministerial conduct very seriously but did not see the need for an independent inquiry.
“I have been very clear with Ministers that my expectation is that they will treat departmental officials and the staff working in their office with respect. The feedback that I have had from the senior levels of the public service is that the relevant Chief Executives are satisfied that any issues that were raised informally were resolved at the time. Where issues are raised informally and the people who have dealt with them have said that they feel they have been dealt with satisfactorily, I do not see the need for there to be a separate layer of inquiry,” Mr Hipkins said.
He said that some people were clearly raising concerns publicly that had not been raised within their organisations.
“It is difficult to form a judgement on that without knowing why. I do not expect Ministers to be absolutely perfect human beings, everybody will have a bad day from time to time, particularly when they are under pressure. The question is what you then do about that.”
He suggested it was a sign of the changing culture at Parliament, in part following the Debbie Francis Review.
“As a former member of the Opposition, I can tell you that allegations of this nature flew around the place all of the time in the nine years and none of them ever made it into the public domain. I am talking about Ministers in the previous government. I think it is good there is more openness and willingness to talk about that. Parliament as a workplace needed to change and the fact that the threshold is now higher is a good thing,” Mr Hipkins said.
Russell Palmer is Digital Political Journalist at Radio New Zealand. The above Report and pictures have been published under a special agreement with www.rnz.co.nz