Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her staff were more closely involved in the appointment of Derek Handley to a senior minister-appointed role than previously suggested, the National Party says.
"We now have the Prime Minister, we have a chief of staff, we have a press secretary, a party president, all involved in this process. The Prime Minister and her office are in the thick of it," National's deputy leader Paula Bennett told reporters today.
The Government today released a large tranche of documents related to the entire process of appointing entrepreneur Derek Handley to the role of government chief technology officer.
They show that as far back as early November last year, Handley was in touch with Ardern, offering his services.
In a text message on November 4, 2017, Handley said: "Rt Hon J! I'm in Auckland next week for two days. Who is best to meet to explore how I can help or what role I could play in support of you? D [Emojis]".
Ardern did not respond.
Handley repeated his offer of help and support to Labour Party president Nigel Haworth. The offer was passed on to Ardern's acting chief of staff Gordon Jon Thompson.
Thompson called Handley on December 22, 2017.
Bennett said Ardern had minimised her role in the appointment process, which resulted in the resignation of Clare Curran as a minister and Handley losing the role and getting a $107,000 payout before he'd even started.
The papers released today show Ardern and Curran shared 23 messages via
WhatsApp on the process throughout 2018, from January 28 until August 24 – the day Curran was removed from Cabinet.
The papers also show Ardern's chief press secretary Andrew Campbell texted Handley on August 23, shortly after Ardern became aware Curran had met Handley in February.
"Hi Derek, It's Andrew Campbell here from Jacinda Ardern's office. I'm her chief press secretary. Could you please call me at your earliest convenience as there is a matter I need to discuss with you urgently."
The pair went on to exchange 13 texts in total around how Curran's departure from Cabinet and release of a limited amount of correspondence between her and Handley would be handled.
It was also Campbell who drafted Curran's statement on September 7 that she was resigning as a minister.
"Hi Clare. Below is my proposed email release to go pout at midday once the PMs one has gone out. It is important that the initial comments are kept very too the point," he wrote in an email to Curran.
Digital Services Minister Megan Woods this week apologised to Handley over the way his recruitment for the government chief technology officer role unfolded.
She said she didn't apologise to Handley for the delay in contacting him but did explain to him that a decision had been made that future communication would come from officials.
"Clearly this was a process that got incredibly messy. We'd already seen a resignation from a minister, that we made an assessment that we wanted all communication with government to be through officials," she said.
The papers released today showed State Services Minister Chris Hipkins texted Handley on September 10 to discuss the CTO role. After a phone call, Handley texted Hipkins the next day asking to speak to him. Hipkins declined.
A spokesman for Woods today said while the Prime Minister was kept informed of the progress she did not play an active role in the process
"Derek Handley himself in the NZ Herald said the messages released clearly show 'there was nothing untoward or inappropriate. There's no smoking gun'.
The spokesman also said the Whatspp messages made it clear Curran independently decided on the preferred candidates in both the first and second rounds of the CTO appointment, and Ardern had no involvement in the shortlisting of candidates.
"Once the PM became aware of the Minister's preference for Derek Handley, she made it clear to Hon Curran that she knew Derek so didn't include herself any further in the process, including noting the relationship at APH (Cabinet appointments and honours committee)."