Walker's resignation 'the only option' - Muller

National Party Leader Todd Muller says Clutha-Southland MP Hamish Walker's decision to resign was "the only option" after he leaked personal details of Covid-19 patients.

Mr Muller addressed media about Walker's resignation as he made a transport announcement in Ashburton this afternoon.

He said Mr Walker made the right decision in resigning.

"This was the only option because, as we have well traversed, the events of the last few days have not reflected from my perspective the appropriate National behaviour and values."

He rejected the suggestion the leak reflected a wider issue of "dirty politics" in the National party, saying it was an isolated incident.

Todd Muller speaks to media in Ashburton this afternoon. Photo: RNZ
Todd Muller speaks to media in Ashburton this afternoon. Photo: RNZ
He also said it was important for people to remember the human element in Mr Walker's resignation.

"This is a man who has given his all for his community and who will be feeling very challenged and disappointed."

"He has worked very hard for his community over the last three years, and ultimately it was an error of judgement - a serious error of judgement that has cost him his career."

The fact the error had cost him his career showed the National Party had high standards.

The National leader said it "simply wasn't true" that others in the National Party were involved.

He said Mr Walker had gone "behind my back" by leaking the patients' details.

Mr Muller reiterated his earlier statement that he only became aware of the privacy breach at midday on Monday.

Mr Muller has announced that if elected National would build a four-lane expressway between Christchurch and Ashburton, but the project will be overshadowed by today's developments on Mr Walker's leaking scandal.

At one point Mr Muller asked journalists: "Any questions about the road?"

Mr Walker's resignation was first reported by Otago Daily Times after sources this morning told the newspaper he would resign.

Mr Walker's statement reads as follows:

"Today I am announcing that I will not be standing for re-election for the Southland electorate at the upcoming 2020 election.

"I wish to thank the people of Clutha-Southland who I have loved meeting, assisting and representing over the past two and a half years.

"I sincerely apologise for my actions. 

"I will be making no further comment."

Efforts to track down Walker today have been fruitless and it appeared he was not at home in Queenstown and a sign at his electorate office in the resort town said he was on annual leave until July 20.

A sign at Hamish Walker's office in Queenstown. Photo: ODT
A sign at Hamish Walker's office in Queenstown. Photo: ODT

A source earlier told the Otago Daily Times Mr Walker was preparing a statement, which was confirmed by another National Party source.

Mr Muller said he had accepted Walker’s decision to withdraw his candidacy for the seat of Southland and not stand at the upcoming election.

"Rachel Bird, the National Party’s Southern Regional Chair, has received a letter from Hamish confirming he will withdraw as the National Party candidate for Southland.

"There was a clear breach of trust, which goes against the values National holds as a party.

"The National Party Board will still meet today to discuss the selection of a new candidate."

Last night, Walker and former National Party president Michelle Boag confessed to being behind the massive privacy breach of Covid-19 patient information.

Selection process for new Clutha-Southland candidate to begin 'almost immediately'

National Party president Peter Goodfellow said the Board met at midday today via videoconference and was advised that Mr Walker had now formally resigned his candidacy for the National Party in the Clutha-Southland Electorate for the 2020 General Election.

"Yesterday evening I received a letter from Leader Todd Muller, asking the National Party Board of Directors to urgently meet and consider some very serious, publicly reported, issues concerning ... Walker.

"A selection process will therefore begin almost immediately to find a new candidate for the [sic] Southland Electorate, and we look forward to a robust and democratic process.

"On behalf of the National Party Board of Directors, I would like to apologise for any distress caused to the individuals concerned as a result of the actions of one of our Members of Parliament"

Nats 'fingerprints all over this' - Nash

Police Minister Stuart Nash believes an investigation will show other National Party MPs or members were also involved in Covid patient data leak.

"I simply can't believe that this is just Michelle Boag and Hamish Walker. There'll be others' fingerprints all over this," Nash told Newstalk ZB this morning.

"Bill English and John Key would have handled this completely differently. This is a National Party problem at this point."

Speaking to the Otago Daily Times in Oamaru, where he was attending a business breakfast at Whitestone Cheese cafe, Muller this morning said he was "hugely disappointed" in Walker's actions. 

"I've made that point known to him and to the country."

"These are New Zealanders who have got Covid, and they deserve their privacy to be protected and the idea that gets leaked out to the media is simply unacceptable, and I have clearly made that point."

Mr Walker did not answer the door at his Queenstown property this morning and it appeared no-one was home.

Muller told Newstalk ZB's Mike Yardley that he was informed Monday lunchtime that Walker was the leaker and after the inquiry was announced, made it clear Walker had to co-operate.

He then sought legal advice and once receiving that, made it public.

Muller wrote to the National Party board last night outlining concerns about Walker's judgment and it was meeting today.

"He's displayed some serious lack of judgement."

"I've made it very, very clear how unacceptable his behaviour was and there was an expectation that this information was to be made public and that he co-operates with the inquiry," Muller said.

Muller said he had lost confidence in Walker.

"I wrote to the board last night setting out concerns I had with respect to his judgement. They're going to meet today and reflect on that."

When asked whether he'd discussed with Walker that he stand down, Muller said: "I certainly requested that he reflect deeply on what sits inside of him and I was very, very clear around my disappointment and very clear around the consequences that happened immediately in terms of the demotion and the loss of the portfolios."

Muller told MediaWorks that Boag's actions "were appalling" and believed the board should also consider her actions. Muller said he wasn't able to strip her of her National Party membership - that was a decision for the board.

Muller said he didn't have "a huge amount" of connection with her, besides the occasional party function.

"She has lost a lot of trust in my mind."

The Labour Party could call it "dirty politics" if they wished, said Muller, and he wouldn't buy into that conversation.

Muller said after he was told Walker was the leaker on Monday, he then connected Walker with his chief press secretary. He then got legal letters and sought legal counsel himself as it had become "very clear" the inquiry needed to be informed.

"I received a notification lunchtime Monday then asked Hamish to connect with my chief press secretary and chief of staff. And then, of course, we found out the inquiry was happening and it became very clear to me, very clear, that we needed to inform that inquiry of what we knew," he told MediaWorks.

"I then shared that expectation with Hamish and then I received legal representation, which of course put me in a position of needing to check my own legal position before I made it very clear that that information needed to become public. That roughly that took 24 hours - it is what it is, that's how it happened. It was never going to be moved from the course that this information needed to be made public and it was."

Hamish Walker.
Hamish Walker.
Muller told TVNZ's Breakfast that Boag didn't tell anyone in the National Party she'd sent Walker the information.

Muller said he was "hugely disappointed, angry actually" about Walker.

They would both needed to face the consequences of their actions, he said.

He was asked whether he would prefer if Walker wasn't the Clutha-Southland candidate and replied: "Yes."

He said he, the National Party and their supporters didn't stand for that behaviour.

Muller said he had "no idea" what the motive was behind the pair's actions.

Walker admits the leak

Walker admitted sending the details of 18 active cases to the Herald and two other media outlets last week while Boag revealed she'd sent the information to him.

Boag said she was sent the information through her role as acting chief executive of the Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust. She has resigned from that role.

Walker sent the spreadsheet containing the patient's private information - including their names, dates of birth and where they tested positive - in response to being called racist.

He believed by naming the patients it would prove he was right the active cases were from "India, Pakistan and Korea", as he'd claimed in a press release.

The spreadsheet did not prove that.

Walker last night claimed he'd sent the document to prove the "serious allegations" he'd made against the Government.

"I did this to expose the Government's shortcomings so they would be rectified. It was never intended that the personal details would be made public, and they have not been, either by me or the persons I forwarded them to."

Walker said he had received legal advice that he had not committed any criminal offence.

"The information that I received was not password-protected by the Government. It was not stored on a secure system where authorised people needed to log on. There was no redaction to protect patient details, and no confidentiality statement on the document.

"By exposing a significant privacy issue I hope the Government will improve its protocols and get its safeguards right."

Former National Party president Michelle Boag. Photo: NZ Herald
Former National Party president Michelle Boag. Photo: NZ Herald
Privacy Commissioner John Edwards said he believed the deliberate leak of the information was illegal and in breach of the Privacy Act.

Muller said in a statement last night he had asked Walker to co-operate fully with the Government's inquiry, headed by Michael Heron, QC.

"I have expressed to Hamish my view that forwarding on this information was an error of judgment.

"While I wait for the result of the inquiry I have transferred his Forestry, Land Information and Associate Tourism portfolio responsibilities to Ian McKelvie."

Boag said she'd made a "massive error of judgment on my part" and apologised for doing so.

"The information was made available to me in my position as then acting CEO of the Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust (ARHT), although it was sent to my private email address.

"This was a massive error of judgment on my part and I apologise to my colleagues at ARHT whom I have let down badly.

"I very much regret my actions and did not anticipate that Hamish would choose to send it on to some media outlets but I am grateful that the media involved have chosen not to publish the 18 names that were contained within it."

Boag said she has resigned her position as acting chief executive of ARHT because of her conduct.

"My actions were mine alone and should not reflect at all on the professionalism, integrity and outstanding reputation of the Rescue Helicopter staff.

"They are an amazing bunch of dedicated community servants and I know they will be very disappointed in me."

State Services Minister Chris Hipkins says investigations will continue, despite the pair's admissions.

It was "disappointing" that there were politicians involved in the leak, he said, and it had a "ring of dirty politics to it".

The Heron investigation will be looking into why Boag had the information.

With Otago Daily Times

Comments

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Has he gone yet?

Mr Walker has taken responsibility for events set in motion at Auckland.

Southern electorates dont deserve to be associated with National 'dirty tricks'.

The big problem is is it shines a light on very relaxed security protocols in government departments. That should be the real story.
But of course Labour party and media party spin will have you believe they are saints

Truth time please - It is irrelevant whether the file was password protected or not in this case. If Boag had a legitimate use of the file and it was password protected, she would have been sent the password. She could have then sent the file and the password to Walker.

Nobody is saying Labour are saints. But you have to ask, "Does National look like a government in waiting?" We've got Woodhouse and the toilet seat saga, Woodhouse making up stories about the two women kissing and hugging strangers, Woodhouse making up the story about a homeless man staying at a quarantine hotel, Muller sweating his way through interviews and clearly not coping with leading, Collins writing a book exposing inside secrets, Bennett jumping ship, Tolley jumping ship, Kaye out of her depth thinking Seymour was Maori. The last time I saw Adams, she was in the house during question time and she appeared to be thinking "What have I done?

Is this the party you want to run the country?

They would have been far better to just lay low. Develop some sound policy and regroup as all parties need to do after 3 terms of government.

Your spin is worse if you glibly ignore the actions of the players.

What does resignation really mean? IS he still entitled to sponge off the NZ Tax payers for years to come? vs If he was sacked a lot of those privileges would be gone, A total sham, remove his privileges.

When your words backfire.
MAGA Muller said this affair is “a reminder these guys can’t manage important things well”. I hope he was looking in a mirror at that time.
And the guy National would have running the Covid response said that it " just goes to prove that this Government is not fit to manage the Covid-19 recovery”.
Come September you have to ask yourself if you want these people to be in charge of your health, because if you elect them, the first thing they will do is to open the borders and let the virus in.
Ad for the people in Hamish Walker's electorate, the same people who selected him are the people who will select your new candidate. It is time for you to stop voting National just because that's the way your father voted.
Hamish Walker has brought shame on every National Party voter in that electorate, in a democracy the responsibility rests on the shoulders of the voters.

True that but voters in that particular constituency will elect anybody wearing a blur rosette no matter what their character. See also Bridges, Yang, et al. Let's hope the new Taieri constituency doesn't make the same mistake, but I'm not holding my breath.

How can Muller say this is a rogue MP? Boag is National party royalty and she fed Walker the information, is he saying that he didn't handle the dirt appropriately? It will be interesting to see if Nash is correct and other people are involved in this, my hunch is that she emailed these details to a number of MPs and the 'rogue' blew the smear campaign.

Not a major-party supporter, but surely no one in National is a source of the leak?
The leak came from the government, National ppl, via the reprehensible Boag, have been on the receiving end of leak, not the source.
Is this shoddy journalism or just an agenda at work...for 50 million

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