Benson-Pope resignation statements in full

Following the resignation of David Benson-Pope today, statements were issued by Mr Benson-Pope, Prime Minister Helen Clark and the State Services Commission. The full published statements are below, as well as an edited transcript of Helen Clark's verbal statement to reporters:

Prime Minister Helen Clark's statement to reporters

I have this morning accepted David Benson-Pope's resignation as a Minister. I have signed a letter to the Governor-General advising him to withdraw the warrant.

I accepted it because it was an issue of confidence around the credibility of statements that have been made, and I don't intend to let that continue to be an issue.

From the time I returned on Monday I wanted to know the full facts around the issue. I was led to understand that the conversations with the chief executive made it clear that it was the chief executive's job to determine employment matters. That clearly was not the case.

I think the important thing is to uphold the standard around what is accepted of Ministers. What we have seen is a part of the full story being told and perhaps a series of technical answers to questions.... When I compare what I know now with answers given to questions... I know this is not a situation that can be sustained.

Q. Disappointed?

A. I am disappointed because I expect more. I expect people to put the full facts out there. My purpose since returning has been to get the full facts out there.

Q. Last night he didn't want to resign. What has happened?

A. What happened yesterday was obviously I was aware of the answer that was given in Parliament. That answer had to be given in Parliament because the chief executive was bound to say, if he was asked questions, that that was what was said. What I had seen up to that point was not inconsistent with that, but when I began to see what had been said to journalists that was clearly inconsistent.

I haven't spoken to him today. I would expect him to offer a resignation in these circumstances.... The key point is that he was asked whether Mr Logan was aware of his views about the issue. Clearly he did make it clear to Mr Logan but he told journalists that he had not.

Obviously I will be appointing acting ministers today.

I think the party and the government have been let down. He is actually a very capable minister but with capability has to go credibility in dealing with sensitive issues.

As of today I will make temporary appointments and in the fullness of time think about permanent replacements.

Q. Can he stay in Parliament?

A. That's going to be something he and his electorate committee need to reflect on.

Q. Can he come back to cabinet?

A. People have been known to work their way back but of course in general with our cabinets they are elected by their peers. Their peers take a close look at the person's background.

Helen Clark's official statement

The Prime Minister this morning announced that Hon David Benson-Pope has offered his resignation from all portfolio positions.

The Prime Minister has forwarded advice to the Governor General to accept that offer.

"The way in which certain issues have been handled this week has led to a loss of credibility and on that basis I have accepted Mr Benson-Pope's offer to stand aside," Helen Clark said.

"I regret that this has happened, because Mr Benson-Pope has been a capable and hard working minister. Issues this week, however, leave no alternative," Helen Clark said.

Benson-Pope's statement

"It is with considerable regret that I have tendered my resignation from Cabinet," David Benson-Pope said today.

"I believe I have served the community and my colleagues well, but I am not prepared to allow a sideshow to be prolonged, which detracts from the issues we face as a nation.

"While I do not believe I did anything inappropriate in relation to the employment issue at the centre of recent media attention, I do not want this controversy to divert attention from the huge successes of this government. People will make their own judgment of my actions and it is right that they should.

"I have had more than my fair share of personal abuse and attack from the opposition, their fellow travellers and parts of the media. No one should underestimate the toll that this has on family members. I would urge opposition politicians to focus on policy not personality.

"My own family aside, there is nothing more important to me than the continued success of this Labour-led government led by Helen Clark, and it is for that reason I take this step today.

"I want to thank the staff who have served me so well and the staff of the Ministries and departments who do so much to support communities up and down the country.

"I look forward to spending more time in Dunedin - the electorate and city which I am so proud to represent.

"I will continue to work to ensure the return of the best government this country has seen in a very long time," said Mr Benson-Pope.

Mr Benson-Pope will not be making any further comment on the matter.

Iain Rennie, Deputy State Services Commissioner's statement

The State Services Commissioner, Mark Prebble, and I have commented about the principles behind the advice that has been provided to Hugh Logan, the chief executive of the Ministry for the Environment.

There has been some suggestion that the principles around managing conflicts of interest have changed, or been extended. This is not the case. The three principles that have informed our advice to Mr Logan are consistent with long standing State Services Commission guidance:

1. That, as the chief executive of the Ministry, he must act in accordance with section 33 of the State Sector Act - and act independently in matters relating to employment decisions on individual employees.

2. That the State Services Commissioner has a statutory obligation to provide guidance around standards of integrity and conduct and conflicts of interest.

3. That issues of conflicts of interest, actual, potential or perceived need to be actively and carefully managed by chief executives, where senior public servants in sensitive roles are concerned.

As Hugh Logan said, the decision as to whether there was a potential conflict in this case was his and his alone, to make.

Hugh has been clear as to his understanding of this, and equally clear that he was not subject to improper influence in his decision.

During my discussions with Mr Logan in preparing my July 20 briefing for the Minister of State Services, I wasn't made aware of the full details of Mr Logan's recollections of his conversation with Mr Benson-Pope.

Mr Logan volunteered his full recollections to me earlier this week. In hindsight, it would obviously have been desirable for this to have been made clear to me before this week.

However, viewed in the context of all Mr Logan's actions in coming to a view about the potential conflict of interest, and how he should manage that issue, the most recent information does not alter my judgement that Mr Logan made his own decision.

With regard to the wider issue of conflict of interest, I want to stress that it was the nature of this specific role and the particular nature of Madeleine and her partner's professional positions that led to Hugh's decision that there was a potential conflict of interest to be managed.

The particular circumstances in this case meant that Hugh Logan was quite right to respond to a query from his Minister's office, and under the 'no surprises' principle, that he was managing an issue involving a potential conflict of interest.

Chief executives need to take great care in this area. They need to maintain their working relationship with their Minister and meet their obligations under the law and the long standing conventions that guide the behaviour of politically neutral public servants.

The outcome from this matter, however, has not been good for Madeleine Setchell. The subsequent publicity has not been good for the Ministry for the Environment. And it has not been good for the reputation of New Zealand's politically neutral public service.

Madeleine Setchell's experience in the Ministry for the Environment is something that I am deeply concerned about. I want to stress that Hugh Logan's decision should have no impact on Madeleine's ability to get employment on merit in the State sector.

In terms of the Ministry for the Environment, I need to be satisfied about the chief executive's management of the critical employment issues. I am not yet in a position to make that judgement.

Accordingly, I have asked that Hugh Logan provide me with a report on the following employment processes, covering:

* the reasons why he was not made aware of the potential conflict at the time Madeleine's appointment was made;

* the steps taken to manage the potential conflict; and,

* any proposals to improve the Ministry's processes to ensure that this type of issue does not recur.

As some of the information that has been collated to date - and the likelihood of similar material in Mr Logan's report to me - will be touching on confidential employment matters, I will not answer questions of this nature today, nor release any of this type of material in any published report.

It is my intention to ensure that Madeleine Setchell is given the opportunity to provide her input into the process to ensure we have a comprehensive account of the lessons that can be learned and shared in order that this is not repeated.

The lessons from the report will be made public, and I aim to be in a position to do this as soon as is practicable.

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