Wednesday, December 05, 2007

A very expensive smear

Last month we learned that Climate Change Minister David Parker had grossly overstepped his authority and demanded that the Ministry for the Environment (which provides support for his portfolio) hire a particular individual in order to represent his personal political agenda. This was already utterly unacceptable, but the government's response was even worse: when questioned about it in the House, Environment Minister Trevor Mallard stood up and used the cover of Parliamentary Privilege to smear the whistleblower, saying that she had "repeated competence issues".

Mallard based his smear on advice from his Ministry. However, MfE Chief Executive Hugh Logan has just come clean and said that advice was wrong and that they had not intended it to reflect on Erin Leigh's performance or professional ability. They've since apologised to Leigh, as they should, and it will be very interesting to see whether Mallard does the same. Not that that should save him. His attack on Leigh for reporting wrongdoing by a Minister was unconscionable, and a clear attempt to bully her and other public servants into silence. And that is not something any Minister of the Crown should be doing. I do not like bullies and thugs, and I do not believe they are morally fit to sit in Cabinet.

Meanwhile, it seems that the person with "repeated competence issues" is not Leigh, but her former boss Hugh Logan. His past screwups are enough to raise doubt about his suitability to serve as a senior public servant, and now he’s just put the government on the hook for defamation. While Mallard is absolutely protected by Parliamentary Privilege from any comeback for his remarks, Logan and the Ministry are not. And the latter have just admitted defaming Leigh to a Minister, in a way which has had a significant effect on her life and business. In short, the government's response could turn out to be a very expensive smear indeed...