Does the Ardern government have a ticking time-bomb inside its ranks?
PM Jacinda Ardern’s first priority on her return from Nauru would be an all-out effort to find out and defuse it.
Her government may even have called for officials from its intelligence agencies to do some cyber checks.
The problem emerged in Parliament when Clare Curran, already stripped of her Cabinet ranking for failing to disclose sensitive meetings on issues related to her portfolios, put in another abysmal performance at question time on Wednesday.
Answering National MP Melissa Lee, she revealed she had used a personal Gmail account for official Government business.
All ministers are understood to have a security clearance, and Curran’s portfolio in communications means she did have some responsibilities relating to cyber security and secure information.
It is unclear whether any sensitive materials were handled on her personal account. If they had been, it could mean they were open to cyber attacks by foreign agents.
According to Stacey Kirk on Stuff, Curran stumbled over her answers in Parliament, as she was forced to admit Government business was conducted on her personal email.
She was not forthcoming with a response about why she used her Gmail account for official business from “time to time”.
To the question “what Government business has she conducted via her Gmail account” (Kirk reported), Curran appearing flustered as she claimed she’d answered the question, only to be told by the Speaker she had to answer it directly.
She then pleaded for Lee to ask it again and then answered:
“To the best of my recollection, um, ah, ah, I haven’t, um, I haven’t used my, um I’ve answered um OIA, ah, ah, OIA responses and personal, um and parliamentary questions correctly and to the best of my recollection, um, ah, you know, that, that has, that’s what I’ve done.“
There is little doubt Curran has become an embarrassment for the government and poses a risk to the authority of the PM.
Some commentators say Ardern was lenient in retaining Curran in her ministry, perhaps because of earlier close associations.
Any further performances like that on Wednesday can only compound the Curran misery for the government and – more particularly – for Ardern.
The meeting that led to Curran’s demotion was with well-known entrepreneur Derek Handley over the role of the Government’s chief technology officer (CTO).
If Handley is confirmed in the post, he will carry a stigma that will almost certainly be difficult to overcome.