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August 21, 2017 | by  | in Politics | [ssba]

Political Round Up

Green Party Leadership

Metiria Turei resigned her position as co-leader of the Green Party on August 9, saying at a press conference “the intensity of those [media] attacks has become too much for my family.” Co-leader James Shaw supported Turei, saying “frankly, I am kind of over the level of interrogation she has received.”

Turei noted that the scrutiny of her family had been “a whole different level of investigation than Bill English got,” referring to when English claimed accommodation expenses available to ministers in 2009, despite living in his own house in Wellington at the time.

Turei’s resignation came after further revelations into her benefit fraud had been released, and just before a dismal poll result for her party.

When she was studying and raising her child, Turei told Work and Income that she was the sole supporter of her child, but anonymous sources who were close to Turei told media that Turei’s daughter was actually financially supported by her grandparents at the time. They said it was “galling for our extended family” to hear Turei’s claim of being her daughter’s sole provider. The veracity of these sources could not be confirmed, however.

In the hours following Turei’s resignation, a Reid Research poll was released which showed the Greens down 4.7 points to 8.3%. A UMR poll published the following day put the Greens at 8%. The dramatic fall was likely caused by both the “Jacinda Effect” and negative reaction to Turei’s ongoing benefit fraud story in the media.

Two days prior to Turei’s resignation, Green MPs David Clendon and Kennedy Graham threatened to resign if she did not step down. “We do not believe that lying to a public agency […] can ever be condoned,” they said. The Greens caucus backed Turei, and Clendon and Graham left the party.

Graham later asked to rejoin the party following Turei’s resignation, but was refused by the party executive because he had “breached the Party’s Candidate Code of Conduct in a serious manner” when he delivered his ultimatum.

Turei will continue to campaign for the Greens but will no longer be a list member of the party. James Shaw will be the sole leader of the party until a new co-leader is decided upon next year.


Auditor-General Resignation

Auditor-General Martin Matthews resigned on August 3, following an investigation into a fraud case which occurred at the Ministry of Transport (MOT) while he was CEO. The investigation was ordered following pressure from MPs in March when emails detailing the fraud were leaked to the press.

Matthews was in charge of the MOT in 2013 when Joanne Harrison, a senior manager, defrauded the Ministry of over $725,000 by forging invoices using her own bank account for the billing information.

The fake invoices were amateurishly produced, and several senior staff members noticed it and emailed Matthews to voice their concerns. When Harrison was confronted, she convinced Matthews that no wrongdoing had taken place, and in August 2014 Matthews told her that “no further inquiry or action is required.”

According to emails released to media under the Official Information Act, Harrison organised an office restructure the same month, through which the whistleblowers were made redundant. The sacked employees became suspicious, with one telling media: “I’ve got no doubt […] they’ve probably covered themselves — the way they do when they do restructures.”

Labour’s Sue Moroney called for an investigation into the affair in March 2017, a month after Matthews became Auditor-General. An official inquiry was launched under the direction of Sir Maarten Weevers. The report was completed on August 3.

After seeing the contents of the report, Matthews resigned, saying “The issues and speculation about how I handled matters in relation to the fraud […] made it untenable for me to continue in this role.”

The report was not released to the public; Speaker David Carter considered that Matthews’ resignation was sufficient.

Because of the report’s secrecy, it is unclear to what extent Matthews knew of the fraud. The refusal to release the report outraged some MPs, with Winston Peters saying, “you cannot have an inquiry that goes to that level at some significant expense into such a high office and then keep the findings secret from the taxpayer.”


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