Poor Simon cannot buy a trick right now.
Last week he chose the very unwise tactic of attacking Dr Ashley Bloomfield.
A fiery select committee meeting today saw National leader Simon Bridges accuse Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield of attempting to control information flow.
It was an assertion Dr Bloomfield rejected, saying communications with the public around Covid-19 had been “absolutely fundamental”.
During the meeting, Dr Bloomfield was questioned by Mr Bridges over communications from the Ministry of Health.
“Here’s the point, the Government suspended the OIA (Official Information Act) and we’ve been waiting over two weeks for your department to answer written questions,” Mr Bridges said.
“Why don’t you answer simple health questions to the one parliamentary committee on this remarkably significant issue?
“I’ll be quite frank with you: I don’t think it’s a resourcing issue.
“I think it comes down to one simple thing. You don’t want to answer because you want to control the information flow and do this in a time and a way convenient to you and the Government,” Mr Bridges said.
Dr Bloomfield said he rejected that assertion.
“Part of my role as a public servant, and I’ve been one for many years, is to ensure there is good information and right from the start of this response we’ve been very open and communicating very regularly with the public.
“However, if there is an issue I will personally take that up with the clerk of the committee, with what is the questions still outstanding and I will work with my team to get those responses as soon as possible.
“Communications with the public have been absolutely fundamental and I made myself available on almost a daily basis to media because I felt that was an incredibly important part of ensuring all New Zealanders knew what was going on.”
Dr Bloomfield did go and check. And he has taken the unusual step of issuing a public response, which given the personal nature of the attack is nevertheless perfectly appropriate.
The text of the letter follows:
On 6 May 2020, following your questions at the Epidemic Response Committee (ERC), I undertook to check the timeliness of responses provided by the Ministry of Health to questions from the Committee.
Requests come to both the Ministry and the Minister. In both situations the Ministry endeavours to provide timely, factual and accurate responses. Sometimes the turnaround time expected by the committee is very tight.
I have been advised that when I most recently appeared in front of the Epidemic Response Committee there were no outstanding responses.
During the hearing, it was suggested that the government has suspended the Official Information Act and the ERC has made multiple requests for information from the Ministry that it is waiting for.
I can assure the Committee that the Ministry of Health has not received any direction that the Official Information Act 1982 has been suspended and we continue to respond to OIA requests based on the Official Information Act 1982.
Every effort is being made to ensure people receive information as soon as it can be reasonably provided, which includes the large amount of information that the Ministry is proactively placing online.
If any Committee Member has a concern about a specific request made to the Ministry, please let me know.
Please note that given the importance of, and public interest in, this matter, I will make this response available on the Ministry of Health website.
Bridges should be pleased that there is a cap of 10 people meeting socially in Covid level 2. If the National Party Caucus was in a room together I suspect that its collective frustration would boil over.
[Name corrected, doh – MS]