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Dunne Speaks - The row over Clare Curran’s emails

DUNNE SPEAKS

The row over Clare Curran’s emails is becoming more and more ridiculous.

No sooner had the former Minister resigned her remaining portfolios than she was admitting there might be more emails on her private email address with chief technology officer prospect Derek Handley than she first acknowledged, but that she was working with the Prime Minister’s Office to correctly identify those to ensure they were properly recorded for the purposes of any request for their release under the Official Information Act. Not only did this admission raise further questions about the reliability of Ms Curran’s memory, but also the intriguing possibility that there might well even be other unrelated items of Ministerial business on her private email account that have yet to be revealed.

Then there is the bizarre radio interview the Prime Minister gave last week, when she knew Ms Curran’s resignation was imminent, but where she gave assurances that her job was safe and that she had no plans to remove her. All technically correct of course, but the very precision of the Prime Minister’s explanation was grossly misleading. Beyond the Curran case, that cynical glibness will raise serious questions about the extent to which any future explanations from the Prime Minister on controversial topics can be taken seriously. The Prime Minister is an intelligent woman, and it is therefore quite baffling that she was willing to put her credibility on the line in this way, especially as the consequences of the folly of her coyness will long outlast the Curran saga.

Next was the extraordinary suggestion from the National Party, in one of the most flagrant disregards for personal privacy, that all Ms Curran’s private emails, personal and otherwise, should be handed over to an independent investigator to determine which were private and which were Ministerial. This sort of approach is more reminiscent of the STASI, and it must be of concern that the National Party, with a previous strong tradition of upholding liberal values like the right to privacy, should even be thinking this way over an issue which, when everything else is considered, is not that important. It raises far more serious questions about National’s commitment to protecting personal privacy in an era where cybersecurity is raising fresh tensions over the boundary between upholding the rights of the individual, and subjugating personal interests to those of the state.

But no-one seems to be interested in addressing what should be the fundamental point of concern arising from the Curran affair. Put simply, there is no excuse for any Minister seeking to negotiate privately a public service appointment with any individual. Clare Curran’s discussions with Derek Handley over the role of chief technology officer were wrong at all levels and should be nullified. After all, it is the State Services Commission which has the specific responsibility for making such appointments in a way that is open and transparent. That is to prevent any suggestion of cronyism or corruption in public sector appointments, which was the spectre raised by Ms Curran’s novel approach. It is of extreme concern that neither the Government nor the Opposition is focusing on this aspect, all the more so when there is already an Inquiry underway into the recent appointment of the Deputy Commissioner of Police.

The role of chief technology officer is an important one. It is at a senior level and the appointee will be the technical interface between the various branches of government and the information technology sector, supplementing and supporting the work of the government chief information officer as the transformation to a digital economy proceeds. To ensure the credibility of this critical appointment the government needs to immediately turn the whole process over to the State Services Commission to start afresh, without either further Ministerial interference or the involvement of Mr Handley.

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