A top-flight academic selected for a key national security appointment was quietly let go weeks after he was meant to start in the role after an unrelated media story raised concern at the heart of government.
Otago University's Professor Richard Jackson had been told he had a role leading a national Centre of Research Excellence to fight violent extremism.
Documents released through the Official Information Act show it was intended Jackson would start on March 1.
That same day an article appeared in the Otago Daily Times revealing a critical review of the National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies where Jackson had been director.
Jackson, an internationally recognised expert in conflict studies, told the Herald he was then dropped from the role.
"It was very disappointing because I think I had a lot to offer."
On June 3, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced Professors Dr Joanna Kidman and Paul Spoonley as co-directors of the Centre of Research Excellence for Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism, He Whenua Taurikura.
Kidman and Spoonley were two of four people on the hiring panel put together by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet that chose Jackson as the preferred candidate. Kidman was appointed for three years and Spoonley for a year as an interim co-director.
At the Beehive launch event, Ardern said the centre was in response to a recommendation by the Royal Commission into the March 15 attacks that New Zealand conduct its own research into violent extremism.
She said the centre went beyond that recommendation by creating a "dedicated centre".
"After the tragedy of 15 March it was clear to all New Zealanders that we had to do everything in our power to stop this ever happening again. I believe this centre will help us to be a more resilient, inclusive and safer Aotearoa New Zealand."
Documents released through the OIA material show Jackson was one of six chosen from an initial field of 28 applicants who interviewed for the role in November.
Kidman and Spoonley helped select Jackson as the preferred candidate from the short-list of six people. The others on the appointment committee were DPMC's strategic coordinator for counter terrorism in the National Security Group, Andy George, and National Security senior policy adviser Julia Macdonald.
Jackson was invited for a second interview on November 23, the same date the panel and DPMC had decided to shift the role to one with co-directors. The OIA material showed Jackson was told this and agreed to it at the second interview.
Then, on December 17, Kidman expressed an interest in the job herself. She applied on January 20. The DPMC summary of events provided to the Herald said: "Once her application was received, she was immediately removed from the selection panel and played no further part in any selection decisions."
DPMC's summary said Kidman "was subject to the same rigorous appointment processes as other applicants". A new panel, with an academic replacement for Kidman, interviewed and then appointed her to the co-director role.
The OIA summary to the Herald said "additional information came to light" about Jackson and his "'suitability for appointment". It said the information emerged "during the due diligence process" but didn't provide a date for when that happened.
However, an email from George to Kidman on February 18 in which she was told she had the job appeared to show Jackson had the role and was going to start in less than a fortnight.
George's email said DPMC was "trying to aim towards a 1 March start date" for Jackson. "We also need to collectively plan a public announcement."
DPMC's OIA summary said new information about Jackson led to a third interview with the panel on March 17.
"Following this interview, the selection panel determined that this candidate was not suitable for appointment, and they were informed of this decision."
The OIA material said Spoonley was then verbally approached to take on the role of interim director to help set up the centre. The governance board - yet to be announced - would appoint another director in that time.
Jackson said he alerted DPMC to an Otago Daily Times article from March 1 which reported elements of an internal university review into the department he had led since 2017.
The ODT story highlighted "conflict" at the centre for "Peace and Conflict Studies", saying it was "dysfunctional".
It was also critical of the approach to biculturalism at the centre. Jackson said: "The article gave the impression that was the main thing."
The appointment guide for the Centre of Research Excellence role placed significant weight on incorporating a Māori world view.
"That article made them balk. Could you appoint someone who - when you Googled them - that article was the first thing to come up? It is the world we live in - you have to appoint people who have a clean media image."
"The issue for me, partly, is that it was a media story that screwed things up and hurt a lot of people," said Jackson. He said the confidential, internal review was a standard university process.
Jackson said he believed the story mischaracterised the content and status of the review as one of many carried out by the university. "They [DPMC] felt the story was reason enough I not be appointed."
DPMC acting deputy chief executive Dan Eaton said March 1 was an "indicative start date" and was "subject to a formal arrangement being agreed with their university for their employment as director and the candidate's subsequent confirmation in the role".
He said negotiations were still underway with the university and Jackson on March 1. No contract had been signed. He said the Prime Minister's office was not briefed on the appointment process.
A spokeswoman for the Prime Minister said neither she or Government ministers were involved in the hiring process.
"This was done to ensure the independence of the centre."
Kidman said would not comment on the appointment process. Asked about her work and the centre's intent, she highlighted research on prejudice on marginalised groups in New Zealand and abroad, and work studying racism in New Zealand.
"Currently, we're seeing an upswing in violence or threats of violence against Māori communities, ethnic groups, members of the rainbow community, and those belonging to faith and religious communities, and we need to find ways of addressing this.
"I stepped forward for the role of co-director because of my background in researching sites of violence and to make a contribution to this very important area of public good research."
Spoonley did not respond to a request for comment. A distinguished professor, he provided key evidence to the March 15 Royal commission and had written on social cohesion, diversity, racism, the far right, white supremacy movements and anti semitism.
A spokeswoman for the University of Otago said there was no inquiry into the leaking of the review report to the Otago Daily Times.
Otago Daily Times editor Barry Stewart said the newspaper stood by its reporting.