Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Peter Dunne: Sam Uffindell affair

Maria Dew KC’s inquiry into the allegations against Sam Uffindell was intended to achieve two purposes. The first was to determine the extent and accuracy of the various allegations made against the MP about bullying and related claims in his earlier life. The second purpose was to enable National leader Christopher Luxon to make a reasonable judgement, based on the evidence, whether Uffindell should be allowed to remain a member of the National Party Caucus.

On the face of it, Ms Dew’s finding that Uffindell “did not engage in the serious behaviour alleged in the media” appears decisive and sufficient for Luxon to reach the conclusion that Uffindell should now be reinstated to the National Caucus. It appears the findings were based on interviews with and written submissions from a significant number of people.

However, a level of murkiness remains, which goes to the second purpose of the inquiry. Because National has consistently refused to make public both the terms of reference for the inquiry and Ms Dew’s report, there will still be questions about what happened. These do not relate to the Dew report itself – Ms Dew’s reputation in such matters is impeccable and above reproach – but more to the way it has been handled by the National Party.

Given the nature of the allegations against Uffindell, it would have been unrealistic to have expected Ms Dew’s report to have been publicly released in its entirety. But it would not have been unreasonable to have expected National to have released at least a set of key facts about the case, with appropriate redactions to protect the privacy of individuals. This would have provided more credibility to Luxon’s reinstatement of Uffindell than is currently the case.

There is a bitter irony that National – which has properly made a lot of noise about the cavalier way in which the present, self-styled “most transparent government ever” treats the release of official information – is now acting in precisely the same way when it comes to releasing information that affects the credibility of one of its own MPs. Any noise National may make in the future about the Official Information Act and Labour’s disdainful approach to it risks looking hypocritical in the face of its handling of the Uffindell affair.

National is not alone though in the hypocrisy stakes on this issue. The Deputy Prime Minister’s unctuous whining about National’s “insensitivity” in releasing the Dew report on the day of the Queen’s funeral reeks of insincerity. After all, Labour has been badgering National for some weeks now to reach a decision on the Uffindell matter. As for the criticism over timing, Labour, with its penchant for ever so carefully stage-managing the release of large tranches of material in response to Official Information Act requests is in no position at all to credibly criticise National for its timing in this case.

National undoubtedly hopes that the Dew report and the consequent decision to reinstate Uffindell to its Caucus draw a line under the issue that allows everyone to move on. The meek acknowledgement from the National Party president that the party needs to improve its processes offer a vague, still faint hope, that it will not get caught in a similar situation in the future.

However, Uffindell still remains the big loser in this whole saga. While he may claim vindication because of his reinstatement, questions remain which look set to dog him for some time to come. For example, what confidence can the public have that manifestations of his previous behaviour will not arise in the treatment of his Parliamentary staff, in the hothouse environment of Parliament, the way they have with other MPs of late? It is not unreasonable to assume that he will be under greater scrutiny than most other MPs. Nor is it clear whether National and /or the Parliamentary Service will be providing additional support to Uffindell to help him through this time.

More broadly, National’s failure to release basic information about the inquiry and the report’s contents leaves Uffindell in an invidious position. Although he has been reinstated following the report, the secrecy associated with it will leave a shadow of doubt about the legitimacy of the outcome, to his detriment.

Unfortunately for Uffindell a propitious moment in time has passed. Had National front-footed the matter by releasing a suitably redacted version of the report, it would have been harder to question the outcome. However, if National was to back-track now and release the report, it would look like it was trying to overcome suspicion it had something to hide.

Although Uffindell has been reinstated to the National Caucus and can get on with being the MP for Tauranga, he will remain tainted, more by the National Party’s handling of the issue, than the allegations which gave rise to the inquiry in the first place.

Peter Dunne, a retired Member of Parliament and Cabinet Minister, who represented Labour and United Future for over 30 years, blogs here:


Ross said...

A guy is a bully as a 16 year old. He admits it and apologizes. He supposedly indulged in some student antics, many years ago and you think he should be
"hung drawn and quartered".

Meanwhile we have a grown man, a very experienced politician and Speaker of the House falsely accusing a staff member of a rape (the guy's career is ruined even though he was subsequently exonerated, at huge expense to the tax payer) and he is continually bullying both within and outside Parliament and he never gets held to account. In fact he gets a plum retirement job so he can be near his family.
Was Mallard condemned? Of course not, it is OK when the left do it.

Anonymous said...

Nevermind Uffindell, which the msm seem fixated upon, what about all the others who've been accused of present day bullying and, more importantly, what about Mahuta and her apparent nepotism? Oh, but going after the latter might put PIJF income at risk and by Labour in effect saying 'there's nothing to see hear' that's somehow good enough.

I do wonder why National don't turn the tables on this nonsense by referencing this? But I forgot, a spine might be required to do that.

From every angle, what a disgrace!

Phil said...

Other than left wing journalists is there anyone in the country who cares what Sam Uffindell got up to as a teenager.

Anonymous said...

Well stone the crows, the Minister is finally being called to account, but I see sister, Tipa is out of the inquiry's ambit - leastwise for the time being? Who would have ever imagined such remarkable talent all-but under one roof? Have we hapless taxpayers been so fortunately spared all the costs of advertising, interviewing, vetting and considering all those other potential applicants and tenderers who it seems would have been punching above their individual weight, or is it something else that is often summarised in one word? We should soon know, but I feel some snow might be in the forecast?