Double Whammy for Government

Broadcasting Minister Clare Curran (left) and Associate Environment Minister Eugene Sage. Photo: Lynn Grieveson

In the space of a few hours, the heads of two Crown Entities reappeared before select committees to correct or clear up misunderstandings largely created by their new ministers. The unusual scenes cap a difficult month for the Government as it tries to escape the mire of bad news it has found itself stuck in.

COMMENT: It seems the Government really can’t catch a break.

In a stuffy, packed select committee room at Bowen House, more political fault lines were exposed yesterday as RNZ’s chair Richard Griffin and chief executive Paul Thompson appeared to explain why they had inadvertently misled Parliament.

Those in power would have been hoping the appearance would put the lingering scandal involving broadcasting minister Clare Curran to rest after she met with former RNZ head of content Carol Hirschfeld for coffee.

But instead, the hearing turned into media candy, as a clearly frustrated Griffin angrily batted away questions about why he had given an early heads up to a National MP and the contents of a voice message left by Curran about his appearance.

“Are you having trouble understanding?”, he retorted at one point.

Across the road in Parliament House just an hour later, journalists again gathered to watch another chief executive appear before a select committee. 

While at pains to point out that he was not appearing to correct the record like his counterpart at RNZ, the Environmental Protection Agency’s boss Dr Allan Freeth faced his own barrage of pointed questions from MPs.

This time the source of the problem was Eugenie Sage, another new Minister who has faced several weeks of questioning about whether she played any part in the eventual resignation of the EPA’s chief scientist Jacqueline Rowarth.

After initially telling Parliament she had met with Freeth to discuss Rowarth’s controversial comments about irrigation, she was forced to correct herself and reveal she had mixed him up with the chief executive of a different ministry.

Facing a barrage of questions from National MPs led by former Environment Minister Nick Smith Freeth was also clearly frustrated during some testy exchanges, interrupting at one point to remind National MP Sarah Dowie of his proper title: “I’m a doctor, thank you.”

The finer details of these mini political sagas will fail to register with the public but they are like catnip for the press gallery who have pursued the Curran saga in particular doggedly.

A resulting cascade of stories, combined with missteps such as the mishandling of the Labour youth camp complaints and Shane Jones’ crusade against Air New Zealand, have deeply gouged the Government’s teflon veneer.

The unusual, symbolic situation did not go unnoticed in Parliament's corridors as a particularly poor way to end another poor week for the Government

As Newsroom’s Tim Murphy wrote, its newly-assembled PR machine has some serious work ahead of it.