Only hours after State Services Minister Chris Hipkins boasted about transparency in an announcement about proactively releasing Cabinet papers, he was anything but transparent in Parliament.

For two weeks, National MP Nick Smith has tried to get information about former Minister Clare Curran's Gmail account after she admitted using it during the appointment of Derek Handley as Chief Technology Officer.

When Smith asked again on Tuesday, Hipkins suggested Smith would have to rely on the Official Information Act request to find out what was in those emails, saying they had been handed over to the Chief Archivist but he did not have them.

Smith quite rightly objected to taking such a path.


Fortunately for democracy, Speaker Trevor Mallard did too.

He ordered Hipkins to have the emails ready to produce by yesterday's Question Time should National ask for them again - which of course it would.

Allowing Hipkins to get away with it would effectively set a precedent for all ministers to fob off tricky questions by saying the MP asking should use the OIA process.

That would completely undermine Parliament's Question Time.

Question Time gets a bad rap in many quarters and much of it is indeed rhetorical flourishes and puffery.

But this week also showed the value it could have, should an Opposition use it well and a Speaker be vigilant and firm.

We are not amused: Speaker, Trevor Mallard during Question Time. Photo / Mark Mitchell
We are not amused: Speaker, Trevor Mallard during Question Time. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Unfortunately for democracy, it turned out the Speaker did not have the power to order the emails be released. Nor apparently did the ministers in question.

Mallard's request for the emails prompted a letter from Archives NZ, saying it was yet to assess whether the emails met the threshold for "public records" and even if they were, they would remain under the control of Curran and therefore might not be available under the Official Information Act unless Curran agreed.


Mallard's response amounted to that delicate one-fingered emoji, pointing out former ministers had a responsibility to provide their successors with ministerial related communications because their successors had a responsibility to Parliament to ensure accountability was met, and that had nothing to do with the Official Information Act.

So when National duly asked again for the emails, both Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Finance Minister Grant Robertson, said that would have to wait for the Official Information Act process to run its course.

Robertson, who was standing in for Hipkins, listed the dates and a brief outline of the emails - but apparently does not have the emails themselves even if he were inclined to release them.

The hiring of Handley and then scrapping his appointment before he even began is the messiest mishap of the new Government so far.

The best Labour can hope for is to deal with the fallout efficiently and without being cute about it.

Labour had no doubt hoped the Handley episode would be tidied away with the departure of Curran.

But as long as the contents of those emails remain a secret so too will the suspicion the Prime Minister is somehow involved, or there is something else damaging in there.

After a rough few weeks, Ardern had at last started to try to address the good news versus bad news balance by bringing Winston Peters to heel on the refugee quota.

But she will still be gasping with relief when she gets on a flight to New York on Saturday.

She did not improve matters herself by muddling a question from Newstalk ZB's Mike Hosking about the upcoming release of the quarterly GDP figures.

The worst thing was not the muddling up, although that was bad enough.

It was giving her rivals a stick with which to beat her - the underlying impression she did not have her head around the economy.

In that regard, Ardern's predecessors John Key and Bill English did her no favours - New Zealanders had come to expect that a PM could answer detailed economic questions without pause.

It was likely disappointment with herself that resulted in Bridges' finally managing to rattle her in Parliament.

Ardern fended off the first questions with a quip, but as Bridges continued to ask whether she had known the difference between the two sets of figures, he eventually got what he had been hoping for.

"Yes, Mr Speaker, next question please," she replied curtly.

The Speaker did not oblige with this less than subtle SOS to move on. Bridges was already on his feet to ask another with a triumphant grin on his face.