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PoliticsJune 26, 2017

‘No point asking me all these questions’: Bill English in his own words on the Barclay affair


The Todd Barclay affair has plunged the new prime minister into his first major political maelstrom, leading to claims of contradictory statements. Do they add up? Here’s our trawl of the key remarks.

Text messages from Bill English to then Clutha-Southland electorate chairman Stuart Davie, February 21, 2016, via Newsroom: “[Barclay] left a Dictaphone running that picked up all conversations in the office. Just the office end of the phone conversations. The settlement was larger than normal because of the privacy breach … He and Glenys [Dickson] settlement large to avoid potential legal action. Had to be part paid by prime ministers budget. Everyone unhappy.”

On how he knew about the secret recordings, morning of June 20, 2017 (more than two hours after Newsroom had broken the story), to parliamentary reporters: “I can’t recall where that came from.”

On how he knew about the secret recordings, afternoon of June 20, to parliamentary reporters: “I made a statement to police, the police investigated it, the investigation was completed and as far as I was concerned those issues have been dealt with … In that statement I said to the police that Todd Barclay had told me that he had recordings of his staff, criticising him.”

On the change from “can’t recall” to “Barclay told me”, Q&A, TVNZ, June 25 (recorded June 23): “I said what was in my mind at the time. Then I went to check the police statement and clarified what I’d said to the police, released the statement as soon as I could.”

On whether it was plausible that he couldn’t recall, TVNZ, June 25: “Well at the time, it’s what I said. All sorts of people had said all sorts of things … I knew that I had been questioned by the police. I went and got the police statement, which I had not looked at for a long time, and said, when it was clear what I had said there, then I clarified the matter publicly.

On whether there is a recording, the Nation, Three, June 24: “The fact of a recording has never actually been established.”

In case you missed it, he also said in that interview: “The fact of the recordings has never actually been established.” And, “the fact of the recording has never been established.” And, “it’s never been established that the alleged incident around the recording actually occurred.”

On whether there was a recording, Three, June 26: “I don’t know whether it was or wasn’t. I can only do what I did, which is the right thing to do, and that is take part in the police investigation and communicate to them what I knew.”

On whether Barclay had offered to play him the recording, press conference, National Party conference, June 25: “Did he offer to play me the recording? Ah, yes he did.”

On whether it was contradictory to say a recording may not have been made yet Barclay offered to play him the recording, Three, June 26: “They’re not different. The facts of this are pretty straightforwad. There was a discussion with me, from Todd Barclay. I notified that to the electorate chair … then gave a statement to the police when the police inquiry started. At the end of the police investigation, which is the highest standard, a higher standard than the media, to investigate these things, I don’t know who they talked to, but at the end of it they decided not to lay charges.”

On whether a tape still exists, Three, June 26: “I don’t know. I can’t know. I don’t know.”

On whether English had spoken to Barclay about contradictions between the MP’s public statements and what the MP had told him, Breakfast, TVNZ, June 26: “I expressed my concerns to him about the whole thing. I don’t have a record of a specific conversation, and I’m not going to say I had a specific conversation, because it may turn out I got the date wrong, or I got the content wrong, so I would have to go and check.”

Asked if he was aware of any specific problems between Barclay and his former staff, RNZ, March 1, 2016: “Oh, no.”

Asked if he had spoken to any of the parties involved in the resignations, via Newsroom, March 1, 2016: “No, not directly”.

Asked about that March 2016 answer, Three, June 24: “At the time there was a confidentiality agreement around the settlement of an employment dispute and a police investigation. I didn’t know what I could and couldn’t say. I did not want to compromise either of those pretty serious processes.”

Whether he knows how much Glenys Dickson was paid, AM Show, Three, June 26: “No. There was a confidential agreement. And even if I did know, I couldn’t say it. I mean, I don’t know, I was not a party to the confidential employment settlement, I was not involved in that … Whatever happened in that situation, I have no idea.”

On how he knew the settlement was “larger than normal” if he didn’t know anything about the settlement,  post-cabinet press conference, June 26: “I was just repeating what someone had mentioned, which was being said.”

On the way information is being divulged, Breakfast, TVNZ, June 26: “I’m answering the questions I get asked, and then you say that’s too much … I’m simply reflecting on the fact that when I’m being asked questions about this, all the detail around this whole episode has been the subject of a 10-month police investigation …”

On whether anyone in the National Party had asked Barclay to delete the tapes, RNZ, June 26: “Look, we could go into a whole lot of these sort of questions … There’s a whole lot of the detail about this I simply don’t know. It’s all been covered by a 10 month police investigation. I didn’t set out to investigate the issues because that was being covered by the police.”

On whether the tapes have been handed to police, RNZ, June 26: “I have no idea. There’s no point in you asking me all these questions. I knew one thing about it, which was the conversation I had with Todd Barclay. I passed on the contents of that conversation to the relevant people …”

On whether he might have stood up in parliament and expressed no confidence in Barclay had the MP not announced he was resigning his candidacy, RNZ, June 26: “Well, that’s just speculation, I mean the matter’s been dealt with how it’s been dealt with.”

Susie Ferguson: “But was that something that you were considering?

BE: “Well again, that’s just speculation. The fact is the issue has arisen, he’s ended up making a decision

SF: “I understand that’s what’s happened. But nonetheless is that something you were contemplating?”

BE: “Look. that’s just speculation.”

SF: “I understand it’s speculation, prime minister, but, I would imagine, that you’d be the one person in a position to say whether that was or was not something that crossed your mind.”

BE: “As I said, it’s just speculation. We dealt with the circumstances as they arose.”

To pretty much every question on the issue at post-cabinet press conference, June 26: “I don’t have anything to add to what’s already been said.”

On his energy for the issue, Hosking Breakfast, Newstalk ZB, June 26: “Let’s just tick off this Todd Barclay thing as quick as we can, cause, jeez, I’m getting worn down by it.” Clarification: that wasn’t Bill English, it was Mike Hosking.

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