Requests for University of Auckland and Other Experts to Provide Public Commentary on Covid-19

Matthew Hooton made this Official Information request to Jacinda Ardern

Currently waiting for a response from Jacinda Ardern, they must respond promptly and normally no later than (details and exceptions).

From: Matthew Hooton

Dear Prime Minister

This is an OIA request.

In a determination issued on Christmas Eve, the Employment Relations Authority (ERA) refers to a Professor and an Associate Professor from the University of Auckland being "asked by ... the Prime Minister’s Office to provide [public] commentary [on COVID-19], in their roles as employees of the [University of Auckland]".

See the determination at https://www.employment.govt.nz/assets/el... and in particular paragraph 18.

I take the ERA's use of "Prime Minister's Office" to mean your office situated primarily on the 9th floor of the Beehive and funded by Ministerial Services, and not the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet or your electorate office. My request applies to this narrow sense of "Prime Minister's Office", but does include you as part of "the Prime Minister's Office". It also excludes the time that one of the academics appeared at one of your media conferences via video link.

It seems to me to be at best uncommon for a Prime Minister or their Office staff to directly ask an employee of an independent Crown entity (or even a department) to provide public commentary on a contentious matter concerning government policy "in their roles as employees" of that entity, at least without making any such a request through the Chief Executive (in this case the Vice Chancellor of Dean).

I am sure you would agree that such a request coming from the Head of the Government or a staffer in the office of the Head of Government, which is the Crown entity's major funder, might place the employee of that Crown entity in a difficult and perhaps uncomfortable position where they would feel a sense of obligation to comply, even if this was not your or your staffer's intention. This is therefore a high public interest in establishing the nature of any such requests, if indeed they have ever occurred at all, and what policies or practices are followed with respect to such requests.

To facilitate this information becoming public, I make the following requests for information. Please respond to each request individually. That is, if there is a reason one request must be refused, please do not automatically extend this to the other requests.

1) Is there any formal or informal policy or generally understood position on whether you or your office staff should ever directly request an employee of an independent Crown entity such as a TEI (as opposed to a department) to provide public commentary in their roles as employees of that entity, rather than to make any such a request through the Chief Executive (in this case the Vice Chancellor)? If so, what is it?

2) Do you or your office staff recall ever directly requesting that the applicants in the determination referred to above provide public commentary on Covid-19 in their role as employees of the respondent?

3) Do you or your office staff recall ever directly requesting that the applicants in the determination referred to above provide public commentary on Covid-19 in any other role? If so, what was that role, if any?

4) If the answer to 2 and 3 is "yes", I make a further request for:

i) the criteria under which the applicants were chosen to be the experts approached to provide public commentary
ii) the dates (exactly or roughly) on which the requests were made
iii) any written documentation of the requests
iv) information on why the requests were made, and what sort of commentary was requested

5) Do you or your office staff recall ever directly requesting that anyone other than the applicants in the determination referred to above provide public commentary on Covid-19 in their role as employees of a Crown entity?

6) Do you or your office staff recall ever directly requesting that anyone other than the applicants in the determination referred to above provide public commentary on Covid-19 in any other role? If so, what was that role, if any?

7) If the answer to 5 and 6 is "yes", I make a further request for:

i) who was approached, and the criteria under which they were chosen to be asked to provide public commentary
ii) the dates (exactly or roughly) on which the requests were made
iii) any written documentation of the requests
iv) information on why the requests were made, and what sort of commentary was requested

Thank you for your attention to this matter. Please reply as soon as reasonably practicable, and in no case later than 20 working days after today's date.

Yours sincerely

Matthew Hooton

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From: Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern

Kia ora

 

Thank you for taking the time to get in touch with Prime Minister Jacinda
Ardern.

 

Our office is currently closed for the Christmas and New Year holiday
period. We will be checking emails intermitently during this period until
we re-open on 10^th January 2022 and will be back in touch if necessary
after that date.

 

Below are links to key contact information that you may find useful during
our closedown period:

 

COVID-19

For urgent queries around Managed Isolation availability and/or exemptions
go to miq.govt.nz  

Requesting an emergency allocation:
[1]https://www.miq.govt.nz/travel-to-new-ze...
/

To make a complaint or request a review of your application:
[2]https://www.miq.govt.nz/about/contact-us... /.

 

For information on COVID-19, including the latest updates, go to
covid19.govt.nz

 

If you are concerned that someone is not following the COVID-19
requirements, you can report it here:
[3]https://forms.police.govt.nz/forms/covid...

 

Information about the COVID-19 Protection Framework can be found here:
[4]https://covid19.govt.nz/traffic-lights/c...
 and guidance for businesses can be found here:
[5]https://www.business.govt.nz/covid-19/  

 

Current locations of interest are set out at
[6]https://www.health.govt.nz/our-work/dise...
. We encourage anyone who has been at one of the locations of interest at
the time specified to self-isolate and call Healthline on 0800 358 5453.

 

You can find the nearest testing centre to you at
[7]https://www.healthpoint.co.nz/covid-19/  and your nearest vaccination
centre at [8]https://www.healthpoint.co.nz/covid-19-v... . You can
also book your vaccination at [9]https://bookmyvaccine.covid19.health.nz/
 or by calling 0800 28 29 26.

 

To get your My Vaccine Pass online head to
[10]https://mycovidrecord.health.nz/  or for help over the phone you can
call 0800 222 478 between 8am and 8pm, 7 days a week. Those pharmacies
giving COVID-19 vaccines can also help with My Vaccine Pass face to face,
and can be found here:
[11]https://www.healthpoint.co.nz/covid-19-v...
 .

 

For immigration and visa advice

Contact the call centre which is open  6:00am Monday to midnight on
Saturday (NZT).

 

[12]https://www.immigration.govt.nz/contact

 

For urgent housing or benefit enquiries:

∙             Call 0800 559 009 (for under 65)

∙             Call 0800 552 002 (for over 65)

 

Information on Work and Income’ opening hours over the Christmas and New
Year Period is available here:
[13]www.workandincome.govt.nz/about-work-and-income/news/2020/christmas-new-year-holiday-information.html

 

If you need treatment or support for your health or wellbeing:

 

The following options are available:

Healthline – You can call Healthline for health advice on freephone 0800
611 116 at any time, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Healthline staff
can advise you on the best thing to do in your situation, including which
services are near you and open.

 

1737 – If you need to talk to someone about how you are feeling, you can
call or text 1737 for free at any time to talk to a trained counsellor.

 

Mental health crisis teams – If you are concerned that someone is going to
hurt themselves or someone else, you can all your local mental health
crisis team. A full list of numbers is available here:
[14]www.health.govt.nz/your-health/services-and-support/health-care-services/mental-health-services/crisis-assessment-teams

 

For Police assistance in an emergency call 111.

 

For everything else use 105.

You can also make a report online at [15]105.police.govt.nz,

 

 

Thank you again and best wishes for a safe and happy Christmas break.

 

 

Office of the Prime Minister

 

 

 

 

 

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From: Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern

I am writing on behalf of the Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, to acknowledge receipt of your Official Information Act request.

Your request will be responded to under the provisions of the Official Information Act 1982.

Yours sincerely

Dinah Okeby
Office of the Prime Minister

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Things to do with this request

Anyone:
Jacinda Ardern only: