Jan Tinetti not guilty of contempt, powerful Parliament committee says - but she will have to say sorry

Jan Tinetti not guilty of contempt, powerful Parliament committee says - but she will have to say sorry
Photo credit: Newshub.

Labour's Jan Tinetti has not been found guilty of contempt over her delay to correct an inaccurate statement she made in Parliament.

The Privileges Committee has just delivered its verdict, finding that her failure to quickly correct the statement meant the House was misled. 

"During this time, the House was impeded in the performance of its functions. We recommend that the minister be required to apologise to the House for her conduct," the committee's report says.

Tinetti apologised in the House on Thursday afternoon.

However, the committee has accepted Tinetti's actions arose from a "high degree of negligence on her part" and not from an intention that the House be misled.

"On this basis, we do not find the minister guilty of a contempt of the House."

The committee's report says Tinetti's initial answer in Parliament was "misleading".

"In this case, the minister’s answer gave the House a wrong impression about whether she had played a part in the timing of the release of data by the Ministry of Education. Her answer suggested that she had not influenced the timing, when the evidence shows that she had."

It is the committee's view that the delay in correcting this answer - which was close to 10 weeks or 13 sitting days - meant the House was "impeded in its ability to hold her to account over her policies and actions".

Tinetti "strenuously denied" deliberately misleading the House, the committee says. 

"Although some of us find parts of her evidence unconvincing, all members of the committee accept that there is an appropriately high bar for making a finding of intent to mislead, which is not met in this case."

While she didn't deliberately mislead the House, the fact the House was misled and impeded could be considered grounds for contempt, the committee says.

It says the minister did not make sound judgements or appropriate inquiries after giving her answer and being briefed by her staff.

"However, we accept that the minister’s actions reflected a high degree of negligence on her part, rather than any ill intention. It is our view that a finding of contempt should be reserved for the most serious of cases. For these reasons, we do not find she committed a contempt of the House.

"We wish to stress, however, that we consider that the minister’s actions reflect a significant error of judgement. We consider that the minister is deserving of criticism for having failed to correct her misleading statement when she had been informed of the information that later led her to accept her answer was inaccurate.

"Her actions and the impact of them on the House’s operations are serious and it is for that reason we consider that the minister should be required to formally apologise to the House."

The full report can be found here.

What led to this?

In December, the Ministry of Education had the latest school attendance data ready, but emails obtained by Newshub show Tinetti's office wanted the release delayed until the day after the minister announced a $74 million truancy package. This happened about two months later.

During Question Time in February, Tinetti was asked to categorically state she played no part in the delay of the release of school attendance information and replied by saying she already had and it was a decision for the Ministry of Education for when to release the data.

Following that exchange, her office informed the minister it had been involved with the data's release.

According to the Speaker, Tinetti received a letter from him on May 1 telling her the answer needed to be corrected, which she did the next day. Newshub went on to reveal the office's involvement in the attendance data release on May 4. 

At the end of May, the Speaker said the answer should have been corrected as soon as Tinetti became aware of the inaccuracy. Tinetti claims she didn't know her answer needed to be corrected until the Speaker's letter.

The Speaker said the matter would be referred to the Privileges Committee to determine whether the "delay in correcting an inaccurate statement in this instance amounts to contempt". 

Tinetti appeared before the committee earlier this month saying it was an error of judgement not to inform Parliament of the inaccuracy and she corrected the error at the earliest opportunity. She stressed that she did not intend to mislead the Parliament.