Muller addresses latest leak developments

National party leader Todd Muller knew Michael Woodhouse had received private patient details but failed to tell media when grilled on the issue yesterday.

The Dunedin-based list MP and National Party Health spokesman told RNZ this morning he informed Muller on Tuesday evening he had received emails from Michelle Boag containing private information.

Dunedin National list MP Michael Woodhouse (left) and National leader Todd Muller during a visit...
Dunedin National list MP Michael Woodhouse (left) and National leader Todd Muller during a visit to ADInstruments' Vogel St headquarters on Monday. Photo: Peter McIntosh

Despite this when grilled on the issue yesterday Muller said he had not asked his MPs whether they had received confidential information as Walker had.

"The issue is sorted from my perspective," he told reporters yesterday.

Speaking at a media stand-up at 12.30pm at Rotorua Heritage Farm Muller said no other MPs have received leaked information about Covid-19 patient details from former National Party president Michelle Boag

Muller said on Tuesday evening he was given a "heads up" from Michael Woodhouse that he had been given information that "sounded similar" to that given to Walker.

"The next day I had a chat with Michael and we agreed it would be appropriate for him to circle back to Michael Heron and make him aware of that, in case it would be useful for his inquiry."

"From my perspective these are very different issues, you have Hamish Walker releasing private, personal and sensitive information to the public which has cost him his political career."

Woodhouse on the other hand did not act on the information he was given and deleted it. 

"Looking back and I've made this very clear to my caucus, there should be a requirement that if you do receive information of a personal and sensitive nature it should be brought to my attention."

Muller's comments come after another turbulent morning, with Boag quitting the party after revelations she sent Covid-19 patient details to Woodhouse.

Woodhouse said he did not pass on the private details, which included names and demographic information of patients, and had since deleted them.

He told RNZ there was "no inconsistency" with Muller's comments to media.

He said the information was not the same as what Boag released to Clutha-Southland MP Hamish Walker, who announced he was standing down this week after passing on the information to media.

Boag has this morning announced she has quit the party following the revelations she had also sent private information to Mr Woodhouse, saying she had developed an "unhealthy relationship" with politics.

Woodhouse also acknowledged to RNZ he only deleted emails, which were sent between June 21 and 25, after the issue became public this week and about the same time an inquiry into leaked private details led by Michael Heron QC was announced.

Asked if it was appropriate to delete information which could be pertinent to an investigation, Mr Woodhouse said: "You can look at both ways."

He said he deleted the emails "for the sake of the security of the information".

Former National Party president Michelle Boag. Photo: NZ Herald
Former National Party president Michelle Boag. Photo: NZ Herald

He did not contact Boag to express concern about her releasing the emails, as he believed the information was widely available to people involved int he Covid-19 response.

He also said he had no inkling a National party source could have been responsible for the leak when he criticised the Government over the issue on the weekend.

This was because he could not see why an National MP would leak such information.

"It remains inexplicable to me why Hamish Walker did that."

After talking to Muller on Tuesday night, Woodhouse discussed the next steps with fellow National MP Amy Adams on Wednesday and determined to inform Heron QC about the emails.

In a statement sent to media earlier, Woodhouse said:

"Between June 21 and 25 I received four unsolicited emails from Michelle Boag containing information that, while not the same information that is the subject of the onquiry led by Michael Heron QC, was similar insofar as it contained patient details.

"Michelle told me she received this information through her role with the Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust and I was led to believe it was circulating among a number of other health agencies.

"I recognised that the information in those emails was private so I did not share it with anyone else and I subsequently deleted them.

"I have made contact with Mr Heron to provide details to him in the event that it may be relevant to his Inquiry. If he deems it to be relevant I will cooperate fully with the Inquiry.

"I can confirm that Michelle Boag is not the source of any previous information released by me in relation to the Government’s Covid-19 response."

Muller didn't ask MPs about Covid data

Yesterday, Muller said he had not asked any of his MPs, including Woodhouse, whether they had received the information Boag had sent Walker.

Asked why he hadn't asked Woodhouse, Muller said: "It's very clear from our perspective there's a conversation that's occurred between Michelle Boag and Hamish Walker. We are confident from what we can see that the issue here relates to Michelle Boag and Hamish Walker."

For that reason, Muller said he had not sought assurances from his MPs that they did not have the confidential data. "The issue is sorted from my perspective."

At no point in yesterday's media stand-up did Muller mention that he knew Boag had sent Covid patient information to Woodhouse.

He said there was no issue with "trust and confidence" in the National Party.

"My MPs know exactly what's expected of them. What we saw was a very unacceptable issue [with Hamish Walker].

"We dealt with it and it's resolved."

He said that Walker leaking the confidential details of 18 active Covid cases last week to media did not reflect National Party values.

National deputy leader Nikki Kaye told the Herald this morning she had not received any confidential information about Covid patients from Boag, who used to be part of Kaye's campaign team.

Boag acknowledges 'unhealthy relationship with politics'

In a statement Boag said the last few days "have underscored for me the unhealthy relationship I have developed with politics".

"For 47 years, I have devoted much of my professional and personal life to supporting the party that for me has always represented the ultimate kiwi values of hard work, reward for effort, self-reliance and compassion. Unfortunately this passion has put me on a self-destructive path."

"This was confirmed for me as I wrote to Michael Heron QC last night to advise him that towards the end of June I had sent several emails to Michael Woodhouse comprising notification of a small number of then new Covid19 cases. My decisions to share this information were wrong, driven by my distorted view that providing that information would help the National Party to hold the Government to account. In fact it was harmful, not helpful, and it is time that the National Party and I parted ways."

She said since joining the National Party at 18, she had tried "sometimes way too hard" to support the party.

"The last few days have underscored for me the unhealthy relationship I have developed with politics," Boag said in a statement.

Boag said had felt the need to defend any National Party perspective.

"My strong sense of obligation to others has manifested itself in extensive work for charities and individuals in need over many years, but in respect of the National Party, my loyalties have severely clouded my judgement. I was always available to defend, to support and to advocate for the party and its MPs.

"I have become an unhelpful distraction in the current political environment. I apologise to all those who have been collateral damage in my quest, both inside and outside the party and I deeply regret my actions.

"I hope my resignation will allow the party to get on with its vital task of setting out its pathway for New Zealand's future in the upcoming general election. I will be making no further comment at this time."

How the Walker patient leak saga unfolded

Walker said on Wednesday that he will no longer stand in the Clutha-Southland seat.

"I sincerely apologise for my actions. I will be making no further comment," Walker said on Wednesday.

He had passed on the information to media to defend a statement he had released which was slammed by the Government as "racist".

He had raised concerns about people flying in from "India, Pakistan and Korea" to be quarantined or placed in managed isolation in the south, but he didn't acknowledge that only New Zealanders could fly in.

He confessed to being behind the privacy breach on Tuesday, saying in a statement that he did it to "expose the Government's shortcomings so they could be rectified".
His statement said he'd sent the document to show the information wasn't password-protected or stored on a secure system which only authorised people could access.

After learning of Walker's role in the scandal, Muller immediately stripped the MP of his portfolios and said he would be commenting further because of the ongoing Michael Heron QC inquiry.

But the following morning, Muller said that he didn't have confidence in Walker and had written to the National Party board to have him removed as the Clutha-Southland candidate.

Walker then stood down as the candidate before the board held a meeting.

Boag stood down from her role as acting chief executive of the Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust - the role in which she'd received the patient's information - as well as from her role in Kaye's campaign.

She said on Wednesday she had made a "massive error of judgement on my part".

Today she quit the party altogether.

NZ Herald and ODT

 

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