The Claire Curran saga, the expelling (or non-expelling) of Russian spies, new laws and an RBNZ shake up – a lot happened this week; here’s what you might have missed

The Claire Curran saga, the expelling (or non-expelling) of Russian spies, new laws and an RBNZ shake up – a lot happened this week; here’s what you might have missed

For many of us working within the confines of Parliament, it has been anything but a short week.

Scandals and stuff-ups have dominated the news cycle, while the House was in full swing and legislation made its way through readings and into law.

In fact, it was very much a “blink and you’ll miss it” couple of days.

So here’s a quick recap of what you might have missed and why it’s important.  

Secret meetings and Curran events

Without question, the biggest story of the week was the resignation of RNZ executive Carol Hirschfeld.

Normally, this sort of story wouldn’t get any attention outside of a few industry publications.

But its political element brought it firmly into the limelight.

As was revealed this week, Hirschfeld lied to her bosses about a meeting with Broadcasting Minister Clare Curran. The RNZ exec had maintained for months the meeting was unscheduled and the pair ran into each other by chance.

This was not the case – the meeting had been booked and later revealed texts between Curran and Hirschfeld show they had been planning to meet up for weeks.  

But why does this matter?

After National’s Broadcasting Spokeswoman Melissa Lee got whiff of the meeting, she was on the warpath.

At a recent select committee, she asked RNZ chairman Richard Griffin about the meeting. He said that it was nothing more than a coincidental meeting in a busy Wellington café.

This meant that, inadvertently, Griffin had lied to the select committee based on assurances given by Hirschfeld.

After hearing about Griffin’s comments in the select committee, Curran’s office contacted RNZ to set the record straight about the nature of the meeting.

On Tuesday morning, Hirschfeld resigned.

RNZ will receive the lion’s share of a $38 million package from the Government for the development of a free-to-air TV arm.

Hirschfeld was said to be enthusiastic about the prospect. It is not known what the pair talked about in the meeting, but it’s been speculated Curran was gauging the feeling of the RNZ top brass.

But as the saga unfolded, attention turned to Curran – who had originally said, in response to a written question in December, no meeting had occurred.

She later corrected this to an “informal breakfast” not indicating it was a pre-arranged meeting until after news of Hirschfeld’s resignation broke earlier this week.

She has since apologised to the Prime Minister and has said she believed she had acted “naively.”

PM Jacinda Ardern has not sacked her – but this is no doubt a situation which will continue to unfold when the House resumes next week.

Russian spies? What spies?

The fall out from the attempted murder of a former Russia/UK double agent on British soil has led to more than 100 Russian diplomats (alleged to be spies) from countries around the world being expelled.

But none from New Zealand.

Why would New Zealand not be on the same side as the likes of the US, UK and Australia on this issue? Well, according to Ardern it’s because there are none here.

“We've gone through the SIS to ensure we don't have any of those present in New Zealand. If we did, they would be expelled in the same way our partners have,” Ardern said.

The comments have been mocked in foreign media outlets.

Security Analyst Paul Buchanan told RNZ New Zealand is now laughing stock and the expelling of the spies in other countries was a symbolic gesture.

“Certainly the [Russian] Embassy has intelligence officials. They are known to the New Zealand authorities, and those are exactly the people that are being expelled in other countries.”

National’s Trade and Foreign Affairs Spokesman Todd McClay has taken aim at Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters, suggesting his Russia friendly rhetoric was impacting the country.

Late on Thursday afternoon, the Prime Minister announced it impose travel restrictions on individuals expelled by other countries following the Salisbury attack.

In the House

It was a busy week both inside and outside the House this week.

The legislation that would see the bright line test extended to five years from two years passed its third reading and will become law within the next few days.

The controversial Auckland fuel tax bill had its first reading as well.

Former Finance Minister Steven Joyce also addressed the House for the last time in his valedictory speech.

The public gallery was full of familiar faces, such as former Prime Ministers Bill English and John Key.

Historic changes at the Reserve Bank

Adrian Orr took the helm of the central bank on Tuesday but not before signing a new Policy Targets Agreement with the Finance Minister.

As expected, employment was added to the Reserve Bank’s mandate with the central bank now having to target "maximum levels of sustainable employment.”

An official Monetary Policy Committee board was confirmed with seven members. But National’s Finance Spokeswoman Amy Adams says there is a chance it can become a political issue, as the Minister of Finance gets to appoint three members.

Is that… is that David Seymour?

Yup. The first promo for Dancing with the Stars dropped this week. I haven’t got much to add, just enjoy the picture.

We welcome your help to improve our coverage of this issue. Any examples or experiences to relate? Any links to other news, data or research to shed more light on this? Any insight or views on what might happen next or what should happen next? Any errors to correct?

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I think Labour has benefited from the Aussie ball tampering scandal working in their favour as a distraction, nicely occupying the nightly news and headlines instead of them (overly).

"An RNZ source told Stuff there was a suspicion within the state broadcaster that Curran was using the meeting to get information about potential road blocks to Labour's multi-million dollar plan to start an RNZ TV channel, ahead of a planned meeting with the board and senior staff, including Hirschfeld.

Hirschfeld is thought to support the plan while board chair Richard Griffin and chief executive Paul Thompson do not."

The "conversations" Clare and and Carol had will never be made public: so much for the Minister of Transparency...