Whaleoil transcript: Hosking & Ardern on Shane Jones?s conflict of interest & the parliamentary cabinet manual

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Newtalk ZB on demand: Starts at 7:14

NOTE 1:

Having declared the interest, the Minister should either withdraw from the discussion or seek the agreement of colleagues to continue to take part.

NZ Cabinet Manual 2017 clause 2.74(a) Declaration of interest (part)


NOTE 2: Red herrings have been added to this transcript with explanations attached.

Key: Where the text is in red it indicates the presence of a red herring

Mike:

I?m with the prime minister, Jacinda Ardern ? good morning.

Jacinda:

Morning.

Mike:

Did you watch ?Leaving Neverland??

Jacinda:

No.

Mike:

Will you, do you think?

Jacinda:

Ah? look I? I? I don?t get a lot of time? um? for?. but um? look, there?s obviously a lot of commentary around it so I?m definitely getting a flavour.

Mike:

Shane Jones ? scale of one to ten. Ten instantly sackable, one nothing to see here. Where?s his indiscretion sit, do you think?

Jacinda:

At one. You know, it? the?

Mike:

Literally nothing to see here?

Jacinda:

Yeah. Look the minister um? ah? raised um? really early on ah? with the cabinet office director. He phoned them and said: look there?s a? there?s a project coming through the PGF where I know someone involved, um? he knew someone and the project from since the time before he was back in parliament. They gave him advice. They said: look, transfer it over to another minister um? don?t receive the formal briefings? ah? he did all of that. He followed that advice. Ah? there was one meeting which discussed a range of PGF projects in which a question was asked about the project that he answered.  In hindsight he acknowledges had he not been in the room it would have been cleaner cut. Um? but he ultimately has done what he was advised to do to manage the conflict.

Mike:

But he?s in direct breach of the cabinet manual isn?t he, by staying in that meeting?

Jacinda:

No? no, actually, as it happens the cabinet manual isn?t um? black and white ah when it comes to being in the room. It wasn?t strictly necessary but? but look I think that he would. even would acknowledge it would have been easier for him had he just not been in there.

Mike:

Did he let you know?

Jacinda:

Ah I knew about the conflict of interest, yes, because he registered it with the cabinet office. Ah?

Mike:

So he advised you in writing, which is one of the advices.

Jacinda:

No. Well? well actually all ministers knew um ah of the issue. He raised it verbally with the cabinet office and they gave him advice on how to manage it and that?s what he did.

Verbal advice is a red herring. Cabinet manual is clear that Jones should have asked
whether he should leave the meeting before the relevant discussion began.

Mike:

Right.

Jacinda:

Um actually and all the ministers in the room, officials knew, it was? it was documented in the briefing papers that he had that conflict of interest.

Mike:

Why did they let him stay in the room then?

Jacinda:

Ah again, it?s? it?s not um strictly necessary um? again as I understand? some of the ministers had already made decisions on that particular project. Um? I mean?

Mike:

Grant Robertson hadn?t though. He asked specifically, he had worries about the administration of the company?

Jacinda:

He asked a question.

Mike:

And Shane Jones by being in that meeting was able to reassure him of the running of the company.

Jacinda:

He clarified the question he? that was asked, that?s right, um and he acknowledged that he put that into a written question. That?s all out there for everyone to see.  Um ah but he was not a decision-making minister. He hadn?t received the briefings. Um other ministers? um had and were the decision-making ministers.

That Jones was not a decision maker is irrelevant – the fact that he chose to answer a question on a subject that he had disclosed he was conflicted on is relevant.

Mike:

But let me quote you a couple of things from the (indistinct). See I just don?t understand why you have a cabinet manual if you are dismissing all of this. 2.6 says appearance in impropriety can be as important as actual conflicts of interest. Ministers should avoid situations in which they or those close to them gained remuneration or other advantage from information acquired only by reason of their office.

Jacinda:

2.8?

Mike:

2.69. Ministers should take care however to ensure that they do not become associated with non-government organisations or community groups where the organisation receives or requires government funding. That?s a direct breach. And that?s before you get to the declaration of interest. Having declared the interest, the minister should either withdraw from the discussion or seek the agreement of colleagues to continue to take part. So, you?re saying he had agreement?

Jacinda:

Well, again coming back to all of those points that you raised, Mike, you? you?re absolutely right. Those? um? the cabinet manual exists to make sure ah that direct conflicts of interest where someone you might? you know closely might personally benefit from um? a decision being made um ah where they have a connection directly to the project itself. Actually, minister Jones declared he knew someone involved ah? ah? a kaumatua who had been involved, and he knew about the project. Actually, there are degrees when it comes to conflicts and? that? you know, and that kind of connection is the kind of connection a number of ah members of parliament will? will know projects.

To avoid directly answering Hosking’s question on whether Jones sought agreement
of colleagues to participate, the red herring of other ministers being bound by the same manual is introduced.

Mike:

Sure, and so you recuse yourself from the process.

Jacinda:

And he has.

Mike:

He hasn?t. He?s in the meeting giving advice to the minister who signed it off.

Jacinda:

Again, this was a meeting in which an entire package of PGF projects was discussed. He wasn?t ah? in the meeting making a decision? ah? ministers had that delegation, not him. He answered a question.

Red herring repeat.

Mike:

But when asked? it?s? it?s a critical question that? that got four and a half million dollars across the line. And he breached 2.69. Ministers should take care however, to ensure they do not become associated with non-government organisations, of which this is one, or a community group, of which this is one, where the organisation receives, which they did, or acquires, which they did, government funding.

Jacinda:

The ministers that were in the room, three of them had already made a decision. One minister asked a question that he clarified.

Red herring repeat.

Mike:

And the question was: I am worried about the way they run their business. Jones goes: don?t worry, they?re fine.

Jacinda:

Coming back, again, to the connection here, he knows one person involved, a? a kaumatua who I understand has since passed. And he knows the project. The national government knew the project as well, as I understand it.

Mike:

When you say he knew the project, he was touted for a while there as chairman of it.

Jacinda:

He didn?t even know that, to be fair.

Mike:

Well, for god?s sake, how incompetent is that then?

Jacinda:

They?ve acknowledged? they?ve acknowledged? um? that? I think that?s unfair. You?ve casting an aspersion here of a project that?s been involved in a legitimate economic plan which the last government was aware of before.

Mike:

I?ve never been touted as the chairman of anything I didn?t know about. You can?t go about? around and say? these people were touting him as the chairman of the organisation, he?s in a meeting with ministers answering a critical question that gets the money across the line in breach of 2.69 of the cabinet manual.

Jacinda:

No, the cabinet office are the ones who are the arbiters of the cabinet manual. They gave him advice and their view is he has followed it. And I think you?d be surprised Mike, there?s probably quite a few organisations who from time to time might float your name around as patron or what have you and you may not know about it.

Mike:

That?s not true. As I see it?

Jacinda:

You don?t know that.

Mike:

As such, he says, this is quoting him, as such, I have had no formal meetings regarding the Manua Footprints Kupe project since receiving my ministerial warrant. That?s. Not. True.

Jacinda:

He did not meet with the Manua ah? ah? Footprints of Kupe project organisers or organisation. Ah, he, in another written question was? ah? ah? gave an answer that actually did detail the meeting where he made the intervention that you?ve been asking me about. That?s been in the public domain for some time.

Disclosure is not the issue: allegedly not following recommended meeting procedure after disclosure is the problem.

Mike:

So that written answer is not?.

Jacinda:

The reason we are even having this discussion is because all of this information is in the public domain.

Red herring: open and transparent government.

Mike:

It doesn?t? doesn?t make his actions right? it doesn?t make his actions right though.

Jacinda:

Oh, and? and again, but he declared the conflict um and he followed the advice. Yes, he acknowledges it would?ve been better if he wasn?t in that room.

Mike:

So, he hasn?t misled the house?

Jacinda:

Oh, I?m not? I?m not the arbiter of that. But as I say, he?s?

Mike:

Why not? You?re in the house, what do you think he?s misled? as the prime minister of this country do you think? do you think that answer misleads the house?

Jacinda:

He?s interpreted that to mean did he meet with the Manu Kupe project. I think that?s a fair interpretation.  He?s also answered a? a question directly acknowledging the conversation which you?ve asked me about. So, that?s all in the written questions too, it?s all in the public domain Mike.   

Mike:

Do you reckon this goes to backing up your claim that you are the most open, honest and transparent government this country?s ever seen?

Jacinda:

We are having this debate because we?ve put these documents out there and he?s answered questions documenting these conversations. That?s the reason we are having this debate.

Red herring repeat.

Mike:

That?s right. And so, but when upon reading these documents and giving these quotes and reading the cabinet manual it?s a blatant breach of 2.69 and he?s misled the house. That?s what we?ve discovered by having these documents out there. And I?m saying how can you be the most open, honest and transparent government this country?s ever seen?

Jacinda:

No, I am saying you are wrong. The arbiters of the cabinet manual, and where I get advice from is the cabinet office. They have very openly advised me that the minister followed the guidance that they gave. He was the one that contacted them and said: how do I manage this? They gave him instructions and that?s what he?s done.

Were the arbiters of the cabinet manual aware that Jones may not have followed recommended meeting practice after he had declared his conflict of interest?

Mike:

All right.

End of recording.

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