On the 18th of September in Parliament:
Hon Simon Bridges: Has she had any conversations, emails, or texts with Derek Handley since she’s been Prime Minister?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Again, to answer with some accuracy, I would want to go back. [Interruption]
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: My best recollection is that I received, some months ago, a text from Mr Handley mentioning the Chief Technology Officer role, which I do not recall directly engaging with, as that would not have been appropriate.
The correct answer would be there have been 11 texts between Mr Handley and myself – seven from him, and four from me, plus an e-mail.
Hon Simon Bridges: Were the conversations, emails, or texts with Mr Handley about the role of the Government’s Chief Technology Officer, and if so, what was discussed?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I can rule out any direct verbal communication. I haven’t spoken with Mr Handley in at least a year, maybe two. As I say, my best recollection is I received a text message that I didn’t directly engage in. For all other platforms, I would want to go back and check, but I don’t recall directly communicating in regards to that role.
Actually she did engage. He said he was looking at the CTO role and asked for her e-mail address so he could send through his thoughts on the role, She responded with her e-mail address and he sent his thoughts through.
Then on 19 September, which is after she has had a chance to check all her communications:
Hon Simon Bridges: What did Derek Handley’s text message to her say?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Mr Speaker, I would have to go from my recollection. [Interruption]
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: But I can off the back—[Interruption]
SPEAKER: Order! Order! The Prime Minister will resume her seat. This is a matter of some seriousness. It’s a matter which I’ve had a number of representations on and I’m told that the House takes it seriously. I want to be able to hear the answer.
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Mr Speaker, I would have to go from my recollection. But my recollection is that he mentioned that the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) role had been mentioned to him. Again, as I said, I did not directly reply to that message, and it was received in April.
But she did directly reply to that message. She replied with her e-mail address for him to send his thoughts on the role to.
Hon Simon Bridges: Did she flat out ignore his text—not even an emoji?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Mr Speaker, I did not even send an emoji.
She didn’t ignore the text. She replied to it with her e-mail address.
Hon Simon Bridges: Was there more than one text from or to Derek Handley from the Prime Minister?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: The text that I received, again, as I said, was in April. I did not directly reply to that text message on that day or engage with him on the CTO role. On the CTO role, I did not engage with Mr Handley via text message.
She avoids saying there were 11 texts in total. And she did reply to that text message on that day. He sent it on 25 April at 9.33 am and she replied with her e-mail address at 12.03 pm.
Hon Simon Bridges: Well, were there any other texts between the Prime Minister and Derek Handley?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Mr Speaker, as I acknowledged the very moment I was asked this question, I have known Mr Handley for a number of years and have had correspondence with him for a number of years.
Hon Simon Bridges: What other communications by any medium—Gmail, WhatsApp, and the like—were there between the Prime Minister and Derek Handley?
Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Mr Speaker, as a consequence of the member’s question, I have had my office check. Mr Handley sent me an unsolicited email to my private email on 7 June, which I did not open and which I did not reply to. I’m advised by my staff that it informed me that he’d submitted an application for the role. But, again, it was not something I opened, saw, or replied to.
She says her office checked yet she fails to say there were 11 texts since April and the e-mail wasn’t unsolicited. He asked her for her e-mail address and said it was so he could send through starter thoughts on the CTO role, and she sent her address to him. That is hardly unsolicited.
So did the Prime Minister mislead the House? What do you think?
Audrey Young is unimpressed. She writes:
It is becoming a habit – for the second time in three weeks, National leader Simon Bridges has accused Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of misleading the public.
This time she has also been accused of misleading Parliament as well as the public and Bridges has demanded she correct her statements.
Ardern put up a strenuous defence on both counts that there was no need for corrections.
In both cases she was technically correct that she did not tell a lie but in both cases she omitted information that gave an impression that turned out to be wrong. It is becoming a habit.
Anyone listening to the House would have thought she had not engaged with Handley at all. To the contrary she was saying she would check with her staff to see if they could find a job for him, and supplied him her e-mail for him to send through his thoughts on the CTO role.
Until now, the fiasco, mainly over an undisclosed meeting, had reflected badly on Curran but the contagion has spread to Ardern and made the Government look amateurish.
Grant Robertson had to correct an answer in the House today he gave last week on Clare Curran’s emails to Handley and Woods had to retract a suggestion that the severance contract with Handley may have been subject to a confidentiality clause.
Acting Prime Minister Winston Peters swore blind Ardern was blameless of anything and everything.
True, she will not have to correct any answers she has given to Parliament.
But that is almost irrelevant because even if she did, it would not undo the damage she has done to herself.