Cabinet Minister Kiri Allan apologises over comments at RNZ farewell for fiancée Māni Dunlop

"I also accept that it could have been interpreted as me telling RNZ how to manage their staff."
"I also accept that it could have been interpreted as me telling RNZ how to manage their staff." Photo credit: Newshub

By Jane Patterson for RNZ

Cabinet Minister Kiri Allan has made a public apology after criticising RNZ's culture and treatment of Māori staff during a farewell event for her fiancée, Māni Dunlop.

Allan says while she was there in the capacity as Dunlop's partner, she accepts there is "not such a delineation in terms of public perception" and also that it could have been been interpreted as "me telling RNZ how to manage their staff or company".

"That was not my intent and it is certainly not my job," Allan said in a statement.

The Cabinet manual makes it clear "ministers must conduct themselves at all times in the knowledge that their role is a public one", and the expectation that they "exercise a professional approach and good judgement in their interactions with the public and officials, and in all their communications, personal and professional".

Speaking at her farewell in RNZ's boardroom on Friday afternoon, Allan took aim at RNZ's treatment of Māori reporters and urged the public broadcaster to have a look at its culture.

Allan prefaced her comments by saying the speech was off the record and delivered in her capacity as Dunlop's partner, not as a minister.

More than 50 RNZ staff had gathered to farewell Dunlop both in person and online, including chief executive Paul Thompson, head of news Richard Sutherland and board member Jane Wrightson.

Dunlop - who presented RNZ's Midday Report - departed the organisation last week after missing out on a position as a presenter of RNZ's flagship news programme Morning Report. Signing off on her final Midday Report show, Dunlop said, "when you don't get the top job, it's time to go elsewhere".

In a statement to RNZ, Allan said she was invited "to Friday's event as Māni's fiancé to speak on her behalf, and the family's behalf, to her employer of 11 years".

"I did so in my personal capacity but I absolutely acknowledge and accept that I am a senior government minister, and as such that "there is not such a delineation in terms of public perception".

"While I don't have ministerial responsibility for the Media and Broadcasting portfolio, I sincerely apologise if any of my comments or reflections said at Māni's farewell made any person feel uncomfortable.

"On reflection, I also accept that it could have been interpreted as me telling RNZ how to manage their staff or company. That was not my intent and it is certainly not my job.

"My sole intention was to speak on behalf of Māni's family," she said.

Under the Radio New Zealand Act 1995 "no responsible Minister or any other Minister... may give direction to the public radio company in respect of a "a particular programme or a particular allegation or a particular complaint", "the gathering or presentation of news" or the "responsibility of the company for programme standards".

In a statement, RNZ's chief executive Paul Thompson said "RNZ welcomes kaimahi into the organisation with either a mihi whakatau or a pōwhiri".

"As is customary, we also farewell kaimahi in the appropriate manner. They are private functions and provide an opportunity for whānau and kaimahi to gather to acknowledge, celebrate and support departing colleagues.

"Farewells include an open invitation for anyone present to whaikōrero and the free expression of views is encouraged. More than a dozen people took the opportunity."

The RNZ statement did not address the criticisms raised by Allan at the farewell.

The Prime Minister's Office also issued a statement saying while Prime Minister Chris Hipkins accepted Allan's apology, "in this instance it would have been better if Kiri, given her ministerial position, had chosen not to take the opportunity to speak".

"She was invited to the event in a personal capacity and was there as a family member and the management of issues involving families of MPs is tricky.

"It's natural and understandable for people to support their families."