The announcement that Clutha-Southland National MP Hamish Walker would withdraw from re-election was inevitable. However, it still leaves his party under immense pressure, and leader Todd Muller looking for a place to put a foot right.
If Walker's disclosure of private information was disgraceful - particularly for the people named in the list - his motive was even more deplorable. Further, his actions immediately after being outed, were appalling.
It began when Walker rashly declared that New Zealanders were at risk of exposure to Covid-19 by people flying in from "India, Pakistan and Korea". The citing of select nations raised understandable questions of racism. Walker, stinging from the criticism, sent personal details of people tested positive for Covid-19 to several media outlets, including the Herald.
According to one journalist who received the information, it proved nothing - apart from Walker's poor judgment - as the list did not include nationality or where the patients had flown from.
His actions, after being exposed for the illicit information-sharing, only compounded the offence.
"I did this to expose the Government's shortcomings so they would be rectified," he sniffed. "The information that I received was not password-protected by the Government. It was not stored on a secure system where authorised people needed to log on. There was no redaction to protect patient details, and no confidentiality statement on the document."
Herald political editor Audrey Young spoke for many when she wrote: "The gall of it."
AdvertisementAdvertise with NZME.
By 12.22pm yesterday, Walker had less to say: "Today, I am announcing that I will not be standing for re-election for the Southland electorate at the upcoming 2020 election," his short statement said. "I wish to thank the people of Clutha-Southland who I have loved meeting, assisting and representing over the past two and a half years."
And then, finally, the six words which should have been the first: "I sincerely apologise for my actions."
Unfortunately for National, Walker will see out this term and his presence is a reminder the party cannot simply draw a line under the affair.
Muller, who was informed of Walker's indiscretion on Monday, sat on the information for 24 hours while an inquiry was being launched to discover the truth. He then described the leak as "an error of judgment". By yesterday morning, even Muller could see the public outrage and he had no choice but to refer Walker to the National Party board. The inquiry is yet to be called off.
Compounding the party's position is the role of former president Michelle Boag, who waited until Tuesday to admit she passed the confidential information to Walker after receiving it in her capacity as acting CEO of the Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust.
Boag has long been a key strategist for National. Until yesterday morning, she was working on deputy leader Nikki Kaye's campaign team. As of late yesterday, she was still an "approved visitor to Parliament" with her lobby firm Boag Allen Svg. The "PR maven" was also prominent in the Muller takeover of the National Party leadership.
Boag's involvement points to an own goal of electorally disastrous proportions.