Hercus out as Fraser tells all

By Ainsley Thomson

One director has resigned and another is fighting allegations that he leaked damaging information after a damning portrayal by Ian Fraser of turmoil within the TVNZ board.

Former Labour Cabinet minister Dame Ann Hercus' resignation was announced within hours of Mr Fraser's account to a parliamentary select committee yesterday of the events that led him to quit as TVNZ chief executive.

It is the second time Dame Ann has resigned from the board - a year ago she left in protest against the doubling of newsreader Judy Bailey's salary to $800,000, but was persuaded to change her mind.

Mr Fraser yesterday accused the Prime Minister of leaking Bailey's final-year salary, which Helen Clark's office denied.

In his hour-long testimony Mr Fraser portrayed the board as dysfunctional and meddling, and alleged that director John Goulter, a former head of Auckland International Airport, had orchestrated a campaign to undermine him and head of news Bill Ralston.

Mr Fraser said that since Mr Goulter's appointment to the board in June there had been a series of stories "seeded" in the media that were designed to question his and Mr Ralston's competence.

"That media buzz, which I believe can only have come from a source or sources on the board, was aimed at, I believe, destabilising me.

"And I have to say it had some effect."

Select committee chairman Shane Jones asked: "Are you saying that John Goulter is a gusher?"

"What I am saying," said Mr Fraser, "is that over the three months since his arrival there has been a series of stories in the news media relating to my competence, Bill Ralston's competence and the fact that this member of the board is on our tail over those matters of competence and management.

"Now, as I say, that could be a coincidence."

Last night Mr Goulter, tipped to be the next chairman of the TVNZ board, rejected the allegations, saying there was "not a shred of truth to them".

"Possibly Mr Fraser was confusing questions from a new board-member on matters of process and accountability, as criticism."

The finance and expenditure select committee, which is conducting the inquiry into TVNZ, will ask Mr Goulter to appear to give him the opportunity to clear his name.

Helen Clark's most senior political adviser, Heather Simpson, will also be asked to appear after National MP John Key alleged she had contacted an executive at TVNZ and asked for a copy of Ian Fraser's contract.

Helen Clark herself was drawn into yesterday's drama when Mr Fraser said she had broken the news of Bailey's pay rise.

The Prime Minister's office said the news was broken in a newspaper report from an unnamed source, but that the source was not Helen Clark.

Dame Ann said in her resignation letter, which was dated December 8, that she believed she was doing the board and the appointing shareholding ministers a service by resigning.

Dame Ann was mentioned throughout yesterday's hearing. Mr Fraser, who is being paid $300,000 for six months' work with TVNZ, said he had been involved in a "spat" with her this year, and board chairman Craig Boyce said he had suggested to the shareholding ministers that she be replaced by a director with financial expertise.

Act leader Rodney Hide called last night for the entire TVNZ board to resign. 


Directors in line of fire

Accused - John Goulter
* Former Auckland International Airport managing director accused by Ian Fraser of undermining him and TVNZ news head Bill Ralston. Mr Goulter, a Reserve Bank director and a prominent figure in business circles, denounced the allegations last night. "I absolutely reject it," he said.
* He suggested Mr Fraser was seeing questions about accountability as criticism.

Resigned - Dame Ann Hercus
* A lawyer turned Labour MP who became the first female Police Minister, Ann Hercus pulled the plug for a second time on her membership of the TVNZ board.
* She has been named as the director who blew the whistle on Judy Bailey's salary. Last night Prime Minister Helen Clark said there was "a level of dysfunction with the board and the management and the sooner this is resolved the better."

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