I will not say sorry: Mallard digs in

By Paula Oliver

Senior Cabinet Minister Trevor Mallard is refusing to apologise to a whistleblower who he attacked as incompetent and sad, despite the Environment Ministry yesterday saying her work was "of good quality".

Mr Mallard appeared in the Wellington District Court on Monday to face an assault charge, and yesterday his week got worse when the basis for his attack on communications consultant Erin Leigh came under question.

Ms Leigh last month went public with concerns that the Environment Ministry was being politicised by the Labour-led Government.

She started work for the ministry as a contracted consultant in 2005, and left in May last year.

Ms Leigh's claims were raised in Parliament late last month, prompting Mr Mallard to claim that she had "repeated competence issues", had needed to fix up the piece of work she was doing six times, and was "sad".

Yesterday, Environment Ministry chief executive Hugh Logan issued a surprise statement saying he was concerned that advice given to Mr Mallard by the ministry had led to a reflection on Ms Leigh's work "that was not intended".

"As chief executive, I was responsible for that briefing," Mr Logan said.

"I did not take it or intend it to reflect on Ms Leigh's professional ability or her performance under contract to the ministry.

"The events which have followed show that the note could be, and was, interpreted in this adverse way."

This had led to public and personal consequences for Ms Leigh and the ministry, Mr Logan said.

"Both personally and on behalf of the ministry I apologise for what has occurred, and I regret the public attention which has been generated."

Mr Logan said Ms Leigh's work was professional and of good quality.

The National Party immediately called on Mr Mallard to apologise for his attack on Ms Leigh, but the minister stood firm.

"I don't think I need to apologise," he said. "I acted on advice."

He interpreted the advice in a way not intended by Mr Logan, but that was a matter for Mr Logan to sort out.

"Clearly the advice I have received was not clear enough for an answer in Parliament, and that's something we're working through."

What was in the advice given to Mr Mallard is unknown because Ms Leigh does not want the documents to be made public.

She told the Herald yesterday that this was because information in the briefing was untrue and defamatory.

She would not say if she was considering legal action against the ministry, and did not want to comment on Mr Logan's apology.

Mr Mallard's refusal to apologise gained support from State Services Commissioner Mark Prebble.

Dr Prebble said he yesterday advised the Government he had seen the information given to Mr Mallard and "the basis for the comments can be found in that information".

Mr Logan's apology was the third he has made in less than a month.

Last month he apologised for his role in the Madeleine Setchell employment issue, and a week later he had to tell Mr Mallard that information he gave him for an answer to a parliamentary question was wrong.

National Party State Services spokesman Gerry Brownlee yesterday said Mr Mallard must apologise immediately to Ms Leigh.

"The Ministry for the Environment didn't use the information publicly, Trevor Mallard did. His refusal to apologise is an outrage."

THE STORY SO FAR

* Communications consultant Erin Leigh went public with concerns that the Environment Ministry was being politicised.

* The National Party seized on the claims, and challenged Trevor Mallard about them in Parliament.

* Mr Mallard attacked Ms Leigh, saying she had competency issues and was "sad".

* Environment Ministry boss Hugh Logan said the advice he gave Mr Mallard about Ms Leigh was not intended to reflect on her ability or performance.

* Mr Mallard refuses to apologise for the attack, citing State Services Commissioner Mark Prebble's view that his comments were understandable because of the advice he received.

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