Former Commerce and Consumer Affairs Minister Paul Goldsmith says he was not aware of bullying allegations made against outgoing Retirement Commissioner Diane Maxwell.
However, he did know about the high staff turnover in her office.
Goldsmith reappointed Maxwell for a second term as Commissioner in 2016.
When asked about the Newsroom story in which more than a dozen former staffers raised concerns about Maxwell’s poor management, Goldsmith said it was, “it was all news to [him]”.
He said that early in Maxwell’s first term as Commissioner, which began in 2013, there was high turnover.
“There was high turnover when she came in and she restructured the whole thing, so clearly there was a turnover,” he said.
He said the turnover appeared to be a result of changes Maxwell was making at the Commission.
“She was moving away from a television advertising model to a different model, requiring different people and that’s the sense I had of it,” he said.
But Goldsmith said the fact the high turnover continued after Maxwell’s initial restructuring was first revealed to him in Friday’s Newsroom story, as were the allegations of bullying.
“It appears, looking at your article, that it continued longer than you’d expect but at the time I certainly didn’t have any suggestion of what was suggested,” he said.
He said when the time came to reappoint the role, it appeared Maxwell had been doing good work, which fit with the “social investment” ethos of the Government. Along with other colleagues, including MP Alfred Ngaro, the decision was made to reappoint Maxwell.
“There were a number of my colleagues who were very keen on the work she was doing and she’d done one term and brought through fairly substantial changes and in the normal course of events you’d want to give somebody a bit of extra time to carry that through,” Goldsmith said.
Ngaro told Newsroom that he had been impressed with the “community approach” Maxwell had been taking to her role of educating people about retirement savings.
“Some of the work around financial literacy she was doing in our local communities and it really made a difference,” Ngaro said.
He said he was not aware of any allegations of bullying
“My experiences with Diane were very positive,” he said.
A culture of bullying
Newsroom revealed on Friday that Maxwell had not been reappointed to a third term as Retirement Commissioner. This was confirmed by Commerce and Consumer Affairs Minister Kris Faafoi.
Faafoi said he notified Maxwell her contract would not be renewed for a third term two weeks ago.
“Two terms is a significant commitment and after two terms it is appropriate to go to the market to re-appoint for the next term. This was shared to the Commissioner two weeks ago,” Faafoi said.
The previous Commissioner, Diana Crossan, served a term of 10 years, being appointed in February 2003 and stepping down in January 2013.
Faafoi told Newsroom on Thursday that he had received an anonymous letter about Maxwell on Tuesday, after he had made the decision not to reappoint her.
The letter raised concerns about Maxwell and her time at the Commission and prompted Faafoi to seek further advice.
Maxwell’s tenure at the Commission was marked by high staff turnover. Newsroom revealed today allegations that much of that turnover was a product of bullying and intimidation.
Newsroom’s story noted that staff feared reprisals for speaking out. One former staff member told Newsroom that a group of senior staff wrote a letter to the State Services Commissioner outlining their concerns over Maxwell’s leadership, but they lost their nerve over fear for their jobs and did not send it.
Today, the State Services Commission confirmed they had no record of any complaints being made against Maxwell.
Health and performance issues are the role of the Commission’s monitoring agency, MBIE.
An MBIE spokesperson confirmed they had not received any formal complaints from current or former employees of CFFC.
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