Newsroom Pro's 7 Things: Russell McVeagh's long delay; Wellbeing Budget, Education reforms; Census woes

In this morning's email we detail the delay in the reporting of cases of sexual misconduct to the Law Society by Russell McVeagh, as well as looking under the hood of the "Wellbeing Budget".

1. Russell McVeagh's long delay

Russell McVeagh took nearly nine months to report cases of sexual misconduct in 2016 to the Law Society, meaning the firm could be in breach of the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act on whistleblowing procedures.

Newsroom's Farah Hancock, Melanie Reid and Sash Borissenko reported this morning on Newsroom the details of Russell McVeagh's eventual disclosure of incidents of sexual misconduct against interns by its staff, and how the Law Society first found out about the cases from the interns themselves.

Its president, Kathryn Beck, confirmed in an interview with Newsroom that it first became aware in September 2016 of the Russell McVeagh summer clerk allegations of sexual assaults which occurred in December 2015 and January 2016.

“There was a meeting in confidence in early September between [the Society’s executive director] and one of the young women and her representatives. That is the first time that any of this appears to get on the horizon.”.

The timing is critical. Russell McVeagh knew of the allegations first in December then again in January. Lawyers automatically become obliged to report behaviour that amounts to misconduct to the Society “at the earliest opportunity.”

The firm says it undertook a detailed ‘internal’ investigation and the two lawyers accused by the clerks left Russell McVeagh.

The Society’s governing legislation prevents it confirming if someone has complained to it. But Beck’s confirmation that the victim first raised the matter in September and that was the society’s first knowledge of the matter is telling.

It could be, but will not be made public, that Russell McVeagh or another party subsequently made a complaint, but not before September.

Legal experts have told Newsroom the lawyers at the firm who knew of the misconduct had to take it beyond the firm’s walls and to the Society.

Kathryn Dalziel, a Christchurch lawyer who both lectures in legal ethics at Canterbury University and co-authored a book “Ethics, Professional Responsibility and the Lawyer”, was clear.

“If the Law Society first heard about this from one of the complainants eight to nine months after the events, then this suggests the Russell McVeagh partners who knew about it failed to report the matter to the Society at the earliest opportunity which is their duty under our professional rules of conduct and client care,” she said.

Rule 2.8 of the Lawyers Conduct and Client Care Rules 2008 provides, compulsorily, that “a lawyer who has reasonable grounds to suspect that another lawyer has been guilty of misconduct must make a confidential report to the Law Society at the earliest opportunity.”

See the full article on Newsroom.

2. Under the hood of the Wellbeing Budget

Newsroom's Sam Sachdeva interviewed Treasury Secretary Gabriel Makhlouf yesterday about how Treasury was preparing for the 2019 Wellbeing Budget that Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Finance Minister Grant Robertson previewed earlier this month.

Makhlouf told Sam his goal was to design a framework which “governments of whatever political colour” can measure themselves against and be assessed on by voters.

He said the Treasury would later today release papers on three of the four “capitals” it is looking at - natural, social, and human - with a paper on fiscal capital to be released later in the year.

It would also release a paper on what a potential wellbeing framework could look like, and another delivering an official Treasury view on the project.
The papers were designed as “discussion documents” designed to gather feedback on the Treasury’s work to date.

“We’re humble, we don’t pretend we know all the answers...what we’re trying to do is to encourage thought, contributions, responses from them to help inform our thinking.”

Makhlouf said the Treasury was aiming to develop a set of possible “indicators” for the four capitals by the end of the year.

See Sam's full story here,
which was published first on Newsroom Pro.

3. Census IT issues ahead of March 6

Newsroom's Christchurch correspondent David Williams has been digging into Statistic NZ's IT issues identified with just weeks to go before the Census on March 6.

Census passcodes are arriving in the mail, advertisements are running and field staff are knocking on doors. But in the rush towards March 6, the census’ IT team hit yet another serious problem which was only resolved last week, David reports.

The red flag went up just before Christmas. According to the December 15 weekly “dashboard” for the census IT programme – released to Newsroom under the Official Information Act – there was a serious new issue.

An unnamed New Zealand company providing scanning software, used to scan census forms and send the data to Statistics New Zealand’s system, missed its deadline. As Christmas loomed, there were worries about the proposed new delivery date, at the end of January.

That was not in time for what is called “end-to-end testing” timelines, put in place to ensure “the solution will work in time” for the census, held on March 6.

An external project manager was appointed immediately.

“That was a sensible and cautious thing to do,” the head of New Zealand’s 2018 census, Denise McGregor, told Newsroom yesterday. While scanning paper forms isn’t part of the main IT system – responsible for funnelling data and for directing field staff to addresses up and down the country – McGregor said “it was still a serious issue, which is why it was red-flagged”.

The external project manager tasked with fixing the scanning problems enacted twice-weekly meetings with the company in January. Meanwhile a “smoke test” to see how data would travel between the two systems identified defects.

Final system testing was scheduled for February 5, about a month before the census.

See David's full story here on Newsroom.

4. The end of Tomorrow's Schools

Newsroom's National Affairs Editor Shane Cowlishaw covered the announcement yesterday of the widest education reforms since Tomorrow's Schools gave much more control to school boards of trustees.

Shane reports the potential reforms include the scrapping of boards of trustees, more money being pumped into infrastructure and a pivot away from assessment-based learning.

See Shane's full article on Newsroom Pro, where it was first published yesterday.

5. How to fix democracy

British philosopher A.C. Grayling is speaking at Writers & Readers at the New Zealand Festival in Wellington next month and the Auckland Writers Festival in May. He spoke to Newsroom's Thomas Coughlan about what is wrong with democracy and how to save it.

In an an era when Donald Trump is elected US President and Russian troll factories helped the Leave campaign win Brexit, Thomas and Grayling range over democracy's current ills and how they could be fixed.

It's a fascinating look at the theory and practice of democracy, including how it is applied here.

I'd recommend a click through to this Long Read from Thomas.

6. Briefly in the political economy...

When rates rise - US mortgage applications fell 6.6 percent in the last week and are now just 3.5 percent higher than at the same time a year ago as US homebuyers reacted to a rise in 30 year mortgage rates to a four-year high of 4.64 percent from 4.57 percent a week ago. Longer term US market interest rates have risen on fears inflation is picking up as unemployment nears rock-bottom and the Government increases its deficits and borrowing by over US$1 trillion per year because of tax cuts and military spending increases. (CNBC)

7. This morning's political links

These are available in the morning email.