Former Chief Human Rights Commissioner Paul Hunt blindsided by Justice Minister's announcement on live TV

Newshub can reveal former Chief Human Rights Commissioner Paul Hunt was blindsided by Justice Minister Paul Goldsmith's announcement on live television that he wouldn't be reappointed.  

On December 8 last year, Goldsmith went on AM and said he wouldn't be reappointing Hunt to the role. It came after Goldsmith told Newshub he would be making changes at the Human Rights Commission (HRC).  

According to the Ministry of Justice, Hunt had been told the day prior by Secretary for Justice Andrew Kibblewhite that he wouldn't be reappointed when his term finished in January.

But he was yet to hear from Goldsmith – the minister who makes the decision – and texts between Hunt and Kibblewhite obtained by Newshub show the Commissioner wasn't expecting the news to be made public by the minister at that stage.    

In one text message on December 8 obtained under the Official Information Act, Hunt told Kibblewhite the HRC had been contacted by Newshub about Goldsmith's comments on AM that morning. 

"Jamie Ensor is now contacting us saying the minister has said he will not reappoint me. We're blocking the journo, saying nothing," Hunt said.  

Hunt relayed Goldsmith's AM remarks to the Secretary.  

"Is that what he said?" Hunt asked Kibblewhite. 

About four hours later, Hunt messaged again. 

"Pse reply if you can Andrew becos I'm fending off journos! If the Minister has publicly said I'm not to be reappointed, that's ok, I just don't wish to accidentally muddle matters."   

It wasn't until later that day that Goldsmith would formally write to Hunt saying he wouldn't be reappointed. 

Goldsmith told Newshub this week that he believed he handled the announcement appropriately.  

"The Secretary of Justice alerted him to the fact he wasn't going to be reappointed and when I was asked questions about it in the media, I responded appropriately," the minister said.  

Asked if Hunt should have been told the news was going to be made public, Goldsmith said: "No, I think it's perfectly appropriate how we handled it."   

After hearing of Goldsmith's comments on AM, Hunt also emailed his HRC team confirming he had asked Kibblewhite for "clarification" about them.  

Later, Prudence Walker, the Disability Rights Commissioner, emailed: "Surely a no surprises approach works both ways".   

That's a reference to the no-surprises approach officials are meant to take with ministers, whereby they brief them on any information that they may need to be across or aware of. 

Saunoamaali’i Dr Karanina Sumeo, the Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner, messaged Hunt after speaking with Kibblewhite herself.   

"I challenged him about the minister's comments in the media that he would restructure the Commission which I thought was I appropriate (sic) and potentially unhelpful for our staff who've just endured a change process," she said.  

She agreed to stay on and be the acting Chief Human Rights Commissioner while a replacement was found.  

After Hunt received his letter from Goldsmith, he wrote to some in his team that he believed they were "now at liberty to go public when we wish" and he thought a short statement should be prepared.  

As Justice Minister, it was for Goldsmith to decide whether Hunt should be reappointed at the end of his term or if a new Chief Commissioner should be found.   

A paper from the Ministry of Justice to Goldsmith shows that the minister formally decided on December 3 not to reappoint Hunt.  

Newshub asked Goldsmith on December 7 about Hunt's future, but Goldsmith said he wanted to speak to Hunt first as "that's the appropriate way to go".   

He didn't do that before the AM appearance.