The controversial MP says his former party put a target on the minister’s back, but Melissa Lee insists there was no concerted campaign.
The MP who exited the National Party in a tailspin attack on former leader Simon Bridges has publicly apologised to Clare Curran for his role in the treatment she received from the opposition in 2018, asking why parliamentary politics drives people to “enjoy the destruction of others so much”.
In an exclusive interview with Donna Chisholm for The Spinoff published this morning, Curran speaks openly about her resignation, and the attacks she faced. “People could see that mistakes were made but they were mistakes and I paid an incredibly high price. I was set upon by what felt like a pack of dogs to tear me to shreds,” she said.
Curran said she had undergone six to eight months of psychological treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder after a disastrous afternoon in parliamentary question time. “It was the worst nightmare in front of everyone. I remember a sensation of pressure that built up, and quite honestly, during those first few days I felt like I was literally going to die. I felt physically that I was going to die because the stress had got so much and there was nowhere else for it to go,” she said.
Writing on Twitter, Ross – who has himself been accused of toxicity and bullying in his time in parliament – said: “I had such mixed emotions reading this. You would have to be heartless, or so partisan that you’re now devoid of humanity, to not feel empathy for Clare. But at the same time, I recall being on the other side when it was all happening.”
Ross, now an independent MP, continued: “I was in the 8am strategy meetings when we were deciding to throw everything we had at her. I was in the morning procedures meetings as Melissa Lee would share what her latest hit on Clare was going to be. Clare was a weak link. National wanted to break her. And we did. Watching those question time answers, from about 10 metres away, you could pinpoint the very moment her career ended. I can only now imagine what it felt like. But at the time all we felt was excitement and success.
Attempts by Ross to implicate Bridges and the National Party over donations went awry earlier this year, when Ross himself was one of four individuals charged by the Serious Fraud Office in relation to alleged deception over the funds. The case is ongoing.
Of the Curran episode, Ross today concluded: “Parliament turns normal people in to savages. Another human was going through probably the most traumatic experience they’ll ever go through. Clare lost her job, reputation, her mental well-being. What were we doing? Laughing. Backslapping. Praising the destroyers. We were awful. Yeah, accountability is important. But why enjoy the destruction of others so much? Do we really need to revel is someone else’s downfall? Sure, we all signed up for what Parliament is. But why did we also sign up for forgetting decency when we walked in the door? Sorry Clare.”
Speaking to the NZ Herald today about the story, National MP Melissa Lee, formerly Clare Curran’s shadow in the broadcasting portfolio, said there was no targeted campaign against her.
“I know she has talked about some of this before, it can be difficult in parliament, there are issues related to being a woman, and me personally as an ethnic minority. I do feel for her, what she had to go through with mental health issues, and I am glad she got help.
“But she still can’t skirt around the fact this all happened as result of her incompetence, being a senior cabinet minister, responsible for openness and transparency, and she herself could not set an example. There was no campaign against her, I was asking the questions, as is my duty as an opposition MP.”
In the same Herald article, Michael Woodhouse, who Curran revealed had once won a debating trophy in the shape of a toilet seat with an image of her on it, is quoted as saying: “To be honest I cannot really remember it, and I don’t think an eight-year-old photo is a burning issue of the day.”
Former Green MP Holly Walker, who details the punishing environment of parliament in her memoir The Whole Intimate Mess tweeted: “I have so much empathy for what Clare Curran went through. Guarantee there are more former MPs out there with PTSD, anxiety, depression and burnout.”
The Bulletin is The Spinoff’s acclaimed daily digest of New Zealand’s most important stories, delivered directly to your inbox each morning.