Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has sacked Clare Curran from Cabinet, saying she has paid a hefty price after failing to properly declare a meeting for the second time.
Curran has also resigned her roles as Minister for Government Digital Services and Associate State Services Minister for Open Government – but will keep her broadcasting portfolio as a minister outside of Cabinet, despite a failure in that role earlier in the year.
Speaking to media late on Friday afternoon, Ardern said she had decided to demote Curran after she did not record a meeting with Derek Handley, a candidate for the newly created chief technology officer (CTO) role.
The meeting took place in February, but was not disclosed in response to a written question in March as she had not informed her staff or recorded it in her diary.
Ardern said she was comfortable with Curran meeting a candidate for the CTO role despite overseeing the appointment process.
“People all the time who wish to look into the potential of applying for roles will seek further information from potential employers – the issue here is Ms Curran failed to record that meeting and failed to subsequently include it in a written question.”
While the omission was not malicious, Ardern said it was the second misjudgment – the first being her failure to declare a meeting with former RNZ broadcaster Carol Hirschfeld – and “not in keeping with my expectations”.
“She simply cannot recall the reason why it was not included in her diary…that’s not good enough, that’s why she’s been removed from Cabinet.”
‘A hefty price to pay’
State Services Minister Chris Hipkins would take on Curran’s open government responsibilities, while Megan Woods would take over as Minister for Government Digital Services, Ardern said.
Asked why Curran had not been sacked as a minister entirely, Ardern said the demotion was “a proportionate response”.
“This is a hefty price to pay for not recording a written question, when she answers thousands of these in any given month.”
While the CTO appointment process would not be restarted, Hipkins had already asked the State Services Commission to investigate whether it had been robust, and that Curran’s meeting with Handley had not affected the process or outcome.
Speaking to media in Dunedin, Curran said she was “very sorry for what has happened”.
“I’ve let myself down, I’ve let the prime minister down, I’ve let my government down. I apologise for the distraction this has caused to my government and I just want to put my head down and focus now on my portfolio…and do the best job I can.”
Curran said the meeting with Handley was not a job interview, but a discussion about his interest in the CTO role and about “issues regarding technology in general”.
Documents released by Curran’s office show the meeting with Handley was arranged by both direct messages on Twitter and a private Gmail account used by Curran.
She did not explain why she had used a private email account and not her ministerial email address, saying it was “just another mode of communication”.
“I don’t know how unusual that is, but that’s been made public so it’s accountable and it’s on the public record.”