Jacinda Ardern facing questions over former chief of staff's lobbyist role

The Prime Minister is facing questions over her former interim chief of staff who, according to records, never officially stepped aside from his role at a lobbying firm at the time.

A spokesperson for the Prime Minister said on Friday the former interim chief of staff had signed two codes of conduct when he took on the role, and that he filled out a conflict of interest form. 

But there is no official declaration in the New Zealand Companies Office records - a government agency - that shows Thompson stepped aside from the company he was a director at, during that time. 

GJ Thompson spent five months as interim chief of staff to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern between October 2017 and February 2018, assisting the new Government transition into the Beehive.

The Thompson Lewis lobbyist has claimed he didn't do any work for the firm - of which he was a part-owner - while working at the Beehive, and said he wasn't paid either.

Ardern - who knew Thompson from her days working in former Prime Minister Helen Clark's office - has insisted Thompson stepped aside from the lobbying firm during the months he served as her interim chief of staff. 

Her spokesperson said conflicts of interest are a matter for Ministerial Services (MS), and that as per an agreement with MS, Thompson took a leave of absence from his day-to-day duties at Thompson Lewis while he was interim chief of staff.

The spokesperson said they were advised that the arrangements agreed between MS and Thompson reflected the short term nature of the appointment.

Thompson did not respond to Newshub's request for comment on Friday.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has pledged that the Coalition Government would be more open and transparent than previous administrations.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has pledged that the Coalition Government would be more open and transparent than previous administrations. Photo credit: Getty

The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet's manual states that care should be taken "to avoid creating a perception that representatives or lobbyists from any one organisation or group enjoy an unfair advantage with the government".

Thompson Lewis is a lobbyist company, with its website describing it as having "considerable understanding of Wellington and its processes, having spent significant time in senior roles in Government and Opposition, and working with the public sector".

Jacinda Ardern facing questions over former chief of staff's lobbyist role
Photo credit: Thompson Lewis

ACT Party leader David Seymour raised the conflict of interest issue in Parliament on Thursday. He asked Ardern why she said Thompson took a leave of absence from his company during his tenure as interim chief of staff, when there's no record of it. 

Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters, standing in for Ardern, replied: "On behalf of the Prime Minister, because it was and is a fact."

Seymour raised concern about Thompson having access to Cabinet papers during his time as interim chief of staff, while also remaining a director of a company, pointing to the lack of official records. 

He told Newshub: "What's really offensive here, is that the Prime Minister has said, actually he stepped down from those roles, when very clearly he didn't."

Peters said in Parliament that Thompson "did take a leave of absence from these roles". He pointed out that Wayne Eagleson - a former National Party chief of staff to John Key and Bill English - is also a director at the same lobbying firm.

Since there appeared to be no official record of Thompson stepping aside from his role at the firm, Seymour asked Peters if the Prime Minister was suggesting the Companies Office had failed to properly update its records.

But Seymour's question was dismissed by House Speaker Trevor Mallard who said that was "not something the Prime Minister has any responsibility for".

ACT Party leader David Seymour is demanding answers about the Prime Minister's former interim chief of staff.
ACT Party leader David Seymour is demanding answers about the Prime Minister's former interim chief of staff. Photo credit: Newshub

The Companies Office records show that GJ Thompson was officially listed as a company director in August 2016. But there is no record to show he stepped aside during the period he was the Prime Minister's interim chief of staff.

"If the Companies Office website says you're a director, then you have all of the legal obligations to that company, including making sure that you advance that company's interests at all times," Seymour told Newshub.

"He became a director years ago and he continues to be a director now - there's never been a change in that."

Thompson's clients include Huawei, according to multiple reports. It's understood the company assisted in the Chinese vendor's bid to assist in developing New Zealand's 5G network which was flagged by the GCSB in November last year.

Thompson told The Spinoff last year that during his time as interim chief of staff, he "declared the potential conflict at the very outset" and said it was for the Department of Internal Affairs to manage any conflict.

"I stepped out of the business completely. My time in the Beehive was always on a temporary basis so we took careful steps to manage it."

The Prime Minister has also claimed she didn't know who Thompson's clients were when he was chief of staff and that he never discussed them with her as it would be "totally inappropriate".

When Ardern became Prime Minister in 2017, she pledged that the Coalition Government would be more open and transparent than previous administrations. 

Seymour said the Prime Minister "needs to immediately set the record straight" on why there is no record of Thompson stepping aside from his company during his interim role.

Newshub.  

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