Rennie: It's time to apologise over Erin Leigh

  • Breaking
  • 21/09/2011

By Duncan Garner

Remember Erin Leigh? You may not.

Here's a quick synopsis. She worked at the Environment Ministry in 2006 as a communications consultant and witnessed Labour Party Ministers David Benson-Pope and David Parker's complete politicisation of the Department. Benson-Pope was sacked for lying over his role in getting rid of a completely competent and professional woman whose partner worked for the National Party. Then enter Parker the new Minister. Parker hired Clare Curran (now a Labour MP) as an "independent consultant" in the Department, to run the PR team - he claimed she was politically neutral.

In my opinion it was so Labour could control and run the messages the Department was sending out. Leigh left in the end - disgusted with what she witnessed, but stayed silent until I rang her in 2007. Leigh ended up speaking out, she was a brave and consummate neutral public servant - who witnessed something that was wrong. But the Labour Party, supported by the so called "neutral" public service management, brutally attacked her, her work and her reputation. Leigh took the Crown to the Supreme Court and last week she finally won.

It's a precedent setting judgement. To read her take on this fight click on the Q and A she has provided Kiwiblog.

But the judgement leaves many questions unanswered.

Firstly, Leigh in my view deserves an apology, and a payout to not only cover costs, but to reflect damages. This has destroyed her in many ways.

The apology must first and foremost come from the State Services Commissioner Iain Rennie.

He needs to make good on all the rhetoric he and his Department talk about every day about ethics and the neutrality of the public service. A real and brave leader would stand up Iain. Make good on all your talk, and all your workshops. Because without an apology from you on behalf of the public service, your talk is cheap Iain.

I have always believed that consecutive State Services Commissioner's haved protected and covered the backsides of the Government of the day - that's their role - despite all their hollow talk of neutrality.

Mark Prebble covered Labour's butt in this case, and documents I have prove Rennie was heavily involved behind the scenes in this one too. He must front and apologise on behalf of the Crown to Leigh immediately. Will he do it? I doubt it.

Mark Prebble should scratch his conscience and do it too.

If they won't then the head of the Environment Ministry should stand up and do it. But he won't get that past his boss Rennie.

David Parker should also acknowledge his role in all this and openly apologise to Leigh. Clare Curran should do the same.

Trevor Mallard's apology at the time was half-hearted, coming out stronger now Erin Leigh has won her case certainly wouldn't hurt.

In conclusion this was a sorry chapter in the history of the public service - and it was driven by the Labour Government. It was a dark chapter in Labour's last 18 months in office. This goes to the heart of a proper and neutral public service. Leigh went to court and won. She is out of pocket, it crushed her in so many ways. Now is the time to put it right. It was a David and Goliath battle. Leigh took on the State and won. Now the State needs to say sorry. And Mr Rennie, that starts with you.

source: newshub archive