More fallout from the Curran affair could follow inspection of her G-mail account

The  Curran  affair has  ended  with the  Dunedin South MP  confessing she could not stand the  “intolerable pressure”  she  had been  placed under.  Voters  may not  care  much  about either her  departure from the Ardern  ministry, nor the  causes  which lay behind it.

But her resignation has  altered the  dynamics  within  the  current  government.  Some of the gloss  has  washed  off  the coalition and – more particularly – has washed off PM  Jacinda Ardern (although she  can claim the  choice  of Clare Curran as a  minister  was made by the Labour caucus,  not by herself).

There  may  be  a  degree of  sympathy  for  Curran  who  – some say – had good instincts  for  the issues within  her  portfolios.  But then there’s  the  old  saying,  if you can’t stand the heat….

The  modern  politician has to be  able  to  withstand  not  just  the heat  within the  parliamentary chamber  but also  that of the social media.  One of the disturbing aspects of the Curran   affair  is   that  she  did not   appear  to  understand  all the protocols  a  minister  is  supposed to  work to; nor  did  she  fully grasp  the standards   she   should have been setting within the portfolio of  open  government which she  held.

It’s  that aspect   which may come back to  bite the government.  The Opposition  is   demanding  a   thorough  scrutiny  of  the private  G-mail account  which she used  for  government  business.

Beyond that  the government  inherits  the  headache which Curran  created  with her plan   to  establish a  new  post of  chief  technology  officer. This   was  an   initiative  which  Curran  had  promoted in  Opposition and which  became  a feature of  Labour Party  policy in the  2017 election campaign.

It  won  favour with  many  in the technology sector,  who  saw  it  as an opportunity  to deliver the  same kind of  authoritative advice to the government as  Sir Peter Gluckman provided in  his role as  chief  science adviser to  the Key-English government.

When the  post  was  advertised it  drew  60  applicants,  some  of  them  very highly   qualified  in their field.  But  somehow none  appeared to  meet requirements   and  a  second  round  was  called.  This drew  an  even stronger  response with more  than  100 applications.

According to  media reports,  that   second round  featured   applications  from some of the country’s  most  respected   figures in the  sector,  who  saw an  opportunity not only to  serve  their country  but  also  to accelerate  the use of technology,  both in business and  in the government  sector.

None  of  those  figures,   however,  seemed to  meet   what Curran  wanted, and  it’s  her  private   communications  with  marketing  entrepreneur  Derek  Handley  which   led to her   demise.

Speculation  persists  that  she intended to   recommend  his   appointment to Cabinet.  There is  even the suggestion  he has got the  role,   but because this is now  in the hands  of  Chris  Hipkins, it is  being reviewed.

Writing  about the issue,  Mike O’Donnell  in the  Dominion Post  said the suggestion  Handley   had got the job “ froze the waters of the private sector  and acted as the catalyst for a yeasty social  media  outburst”.

Given the fast  pace of technology development,  the  long-drawn-out process of appointing  the CTO   in itself is an indictment,  but  if  the  government  persists   with the appointment Curran is said to have lined up, it  could  blow  up in the government’s face with even greater  force than Curran’s own  resignation.

 

 

 

 

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