The Nation: Patrick Gower interviews Bill English
On The Nation: Patrick Gower interviews Bill English
Prime Minister Bill English now says there’s no evidence that his MP Todd Barclay actually did make recordings of his colleague, Glenys Dickson.
English says he’s satisfied that the issue has been handled as well as it could. He says no one comes out of it looking good, but he hasn’t let voters down.
Patrick Gower: Prime Minister, thank you for joining us. Now, this interview is all about trust – whether you can be trusted. It’s about your integrity and your standards. I want to start by asking you to be clear. When did Todd Barclay tell you that he made these recordings? When exactly did he tell you?
Bill English: In a conversation which was related to the police when I was asked about it.
Do you remember when it was? Like how long ago?
It was after the events that occurred, I think, in early 2016. The police inquiry began in March or April I think.
Yeah, but we know from that that you called Glenys Dickson on 6th of February, on Waitangi Day, in 2016 and told her Todd Barclay had a recording of her. That’s correct, isn’t it?
I can’t comment on that in detail.
Sure. But we do know that you did send that text to Stuart Davie on February the 21st where you said in it, you knew there’d been a recording and that you knew there’d been a privacy breach and a pay up. That was on February the 21st 2016. That’s correct, isn’t it?
I told him what had been told to me, letting the electorate chairman, who’s in charge of the local National Party, know what I knew.
So at that point, which is 16 months ago, you knew what had gone on. There’d been a recording, a privacy breach, you’d spoken directly to both sides. Let’s look at some of your public statements that you made after that, because less than a month later, on the 1st of March, asked by media if you’d talked to any of the parties involved, and I’m going to quote you here, you said, ‘No. Not directly.’ Was that a lie? Because you’d spoken directly to both sides.
Look, no. In the first place—
Was it a lie or not?
In the first place, the fact of a recording has never actually been established. The police investigated, came to no conclusion, no court decision.
This is about your question where you’re asked, ‘Had you talked to any of the parties involved?’ And you said, ‘No. Not directly.’ But we know from your own statement that you’d spoken to both parties directly. Did you lie?
At the time there was a confidentiality agreement around the settlement of an employment dispute and a police investigation. I didn’t know what I could and couldn’t say. I did not want to compromise either of those pretty serious processes.
But you could have said that instead of saying what you said, which was potentially a lie, wasn’t it?
I could have explained it better, but that’s 20/20 hindsight. At the time, information that I had I’d passed to the electorate chair and subsequently to the police when they were asking questions.
Okay. So from that day that you knew about the recordings until this week, which is actually 16 months or more—
Well, again, the fact of the recordings has never actually been established. The police investigated it over 10-12 months.
So from the time that you told of the recordings by Todd Barclay and by the person who believed she was being recorded, 16 months or more have gone by. Now, this week, you said that that behaviour was unacceptable. Do you remember saying that? That that behaviour was unacceptable?
Well, it’s referring to what was a whole lot of behaviour going back to early 2015, so over a couple of years.
Yeah, but you said that the recording was unacceptable this way.
The fact of the recording has never been established. But the behaviour I was referring to was over a whole period of time. This is a sad situation — the breakdown of the relationship—
You said the behaviour was unacceptable in reference to the recording.
I said it was unacceptable. The behaviour—
The question here is anyway, there’s unacceptable behaviour and for 16 months you sit by and do nothing. Was that the right and honourable thing to do, Prime Minister?
I think you need to understand here that we had two people that I both knew. Good people who fell out very badly. A difficult employment dispute grows out of that. I was not a part of that dispute at all. That had to be resolved between the employer and employee who both had obligations. Then there was a police investigation. So the matters involved in this would be dealt with appropriately by the people who needed to — the employers. And when the police complaint was made, the police were dealing with it.
But when it happened and you found out about it, you obviously knew then – you surely knew then — that Todd Barclay had potentially done something illegal when he told you about that recording that he’d done.
I wasn’t aware that the activity, whether it was legal or not. I’m not a lawyer. I was concerned about the broader picture of an employment relationship that had gone in a bad way.
Yeah. But when he said, ‘I’ve recorded her,’ you must have known that was potentially illegal. Everybody in New Zealand politics remembers the Teapot Tapes and what happened there. Everyone knows the ramifications of secret recording. And, in fact, you yourself have been recorded secretly before in a National Party conference. You must have known when he said to you, that he’d potentially done something illegal there. You must have known.
When I was recorded there was no legal or criminal action arose.
When the Teapot Tapes happened, Police raided media, you know that. So you must have known there were some potential ramifications.
I’m not a lawyer, and when the matter did arise, it was fairly quickly in the hands of the police. In New Zealand, the way our system works, the police investigate, they then lay charges, then it’s up to a court to actually decide whether the act was actually criminal. That process has not occurred. In New Zealand people are presumed to be innocent till proven guilty. I’m not a lawyer. All that process, the opportunity for that did unfold. It didn’t come to a conclusion.
Sure. So let’s look at the police investigation part of this. On the 27th of April 2016, that was when you gave your police statement, wasn’t it? So, if we look at your public statements about that, on the 21st of March this year, you were asked to clarify your involvement in the police investigation. You replied that you knew the people and did not want to comment further. ‘All I know is that the matter has been resolved.’ Why didn’t you say then that you’d been interviewed by police? Were you trying to hide something? Were you effectively there lying by omission?
This was a police investigation that had gone on for many months through 2016. It came to a conclusion that they weren’t going to lay charges, and in that sense, the issues had been resolved.
Yeah, but you were asked to clarify your involvement. You had been spoken to and interviewed, and you chose not to say that? Were you trying to hide it?
No, I wasn’t trying to hide anything. I was trying to ensure that the processes that all these events had been through, a significant employment dispute, then a eight or nine-month police investigation were respected. Because until these people have charges laid against them and it’s a public matter, or a court decides it’s a criminal matter, they’re innocent of the allegations.
Sure. Let’s look at another statement that you’ve made as well. Because when you were asked, in March again, if Barclay had acted inappropriately you said, ‘All I know is the police investigation is come to an end, so the matter is closed.’ But you knew that he’d told that he’d made the secret recordings, so you much more than the fact that the investigation had been closed.
What I knew is that I had, in response to questions from the police, given them that information. This idea that somehow giving information to the police is a cover-up is ridiculous. The police investigated the whole matter. I don’t know what actions they took. I don’t know what evidence they saw. I don’t know who they spoke to. What I do know is there is no more thorough way for the allegations to be investigated than—
Than with the New Zealand police.
…than to have the New Zealand police.
But what we’re looking at here are your public statements when you’re asked about your involvement, and here’s another from this week. You said you couldn’t remember who told you about the taping when it was later revealed, as you know, that your police statement clearly said it was Todd Barclay. Is that really credible to say that you forgot who told you? Can you understand how people just don’t believe you?
Well, I said what I thought. I went and checked the police statement.
No, but you forgot. Do you think people believe that you forgot?
Paddy, did you want to hear what I had to say? I said what I thought. I went and looked at the police statement, and I clarified the matter as soon as I could.
Here’s another one, then. On your way to Parliament this week in the press conference, you said that you reported this to police. You didn’t. They came to you. Why did you say that?
Well, that was a generalised use of the word, but, again, I’m quite happy with the view. I answered questions from the police and in the course of that I confirm—
But you didn’t report it to police. They came to you.
And I didn’t mean to give the impression that I had initiated it, but the police did already have the texts that I sent, quite appropriately, to the election chairman, letting him know what I knew. Then the police came and asked me, and, really, the interview simply confirmed the content of the texts.
The point that I’m getting at here is these all these public statements that kind of don’t match up. It’s like you’re dodging things. It’s like you’re being shifty, Prime Minister. Were you being shifty all this time?
No, I wasn’t. As someone who wasn’t party to this dispute right from the start, but you all knew the people involved, trying to ensure that the confidentiality of the agreement was respected and that the police investigation was accepted and the result of that was accepted as a thorough investigation of the circumstances, after which no charges were laid. And that sense, there wasn’t an issue. If the police investigate it and no charges are laid, then the assertion that criminal activity occurred appears to be wrong, because there was no criminal process that came to any conclusion.
But with all due respect to all of that, and, actually, I agree to some of that, this is about your answers to these questions. And the thing is some of your answers have just been plain wrong. How can anybody trust anything you say on this?
Look, my role in this is clear. It’s on the record. The material I’ve supplied has been investigated by the police. The issue has now been resolved at a political level. Todd Barclay, as a young guy, has made a brave decision to leave politics because of the situation as it’s unfolded. Our job is to resolve what is actually messy personnel issues within our party, do that effectively so we can get on with governing. I’m not a lawyer.
But aside from your own failures here, basically, to own up to your own role, you also sat by and watched Todd Barclay lie publicly; he lied to senior National Party figures, he lied at his reselection. Is that ok with you that you just stand by?
You’re making that assertion. It’s never been established that the alleged incident around the recording actually occurred. In any case, the discussion around—
He told you it happened.
His selection was carried out because of these events, and all the facts were known to his local electorate. In our system there was no charges laid. There was a confidential settlement of the employment dispute in our system. And local electorate is responsible for the selection of the candidate. They were aware of the background and went ahead and selected him.
Do you not feel that you’ve owed voters more on this now that you look back and we look at all these statements? Do you not feel that, ‘I let the voters down here’?
No, I don’t feel that. I feel that these issues have now been resolved. The original dispute is just between two good people who fell out very badly, and it’s actually been an internal personnel matter. It’s been thoroughly investigated.
Why did he have to leave Parliament, then? Why did Todd Barclay have to leave Parliament? Because nothing had changed in all of this that whole time, except you got caught out. That’s all that’s changed.
No, I don’t agree with that. Todd made his own decision about retiring at the election. I think he came to the view it would be difficult to represent his constituents against the background of all the publicity around this and the different interpretations of the facts of the matter. That was his decision.
Do you feel that you’ve let down your own standards — your own standards of credibility, your own integrity — through this?
Well, look, other people will make a decision about that. I’m satisfied—
No, but what do you feel? Do you feel like you’ve let yourself down?
I’m satisfied that in a difficult situation, knowing the personalities better than a lot of people, that this has been handled about as well as it could. It’s sad. No one comes out of this better than before the events occurred. It’s a shame, a real shame. And I feel that more than most people because I know them, because it was my electorate. The matters have now come through to this point where Todd Barclay’s leaving Parliament. My job as the prime minister is to deal with these issues effectively — everyone knows that employment disputes are messy — and get on with governing in the interests of New Zealand. That’s what we’re doing. That’s why we’ve got a National Party conference this week about an election in three months.
You said then no one’s come out of this, sort of, well, have they?
No, and that’s just because of the basic depth and bitterness of the dispute and the consequences that have flowed from that.
And do you include yourself in that, Prime Minister?
Well, look, it’s much better not to have to deal with these issues. I don’t see any benefit in it at all. But my responsibility as a leader is to make sure they are dealt with, whatever the imperfections of everyone involved, and get on with the job that the public have for us. Because, actually, the public aren’t that interested in our internal employment disputes; what they’re interested in is good government that provides good jobs, incomes and opportunities.
But they’re interested in your integrity, aren’t they?
Well, yes ,they are.
All right, that’s a good place to leave it. Thank you very much, Prime Minister.