Politics, not compassion, wins in leak saga

National leader Simon Bridges and Speaker Trevor Mallard both preached compassion over the leak saga. Laura Walters questions whether their actions backed that up.

When Trevor Mallard announced he was calling off the QC-led Parliamentary-wide investigation into the leak of Simon Bridges’ travel expenses, it seemed to be a move of compassion.

In a country with one of the highest suicide rates in the OECD, knowing who leaked an insignificant portion of a document - due to be publicly released soon anyway - was not worth the threat to this person’s health.

The person at the centre of the saga had texted Bridges, Mallard and a member of the media claiming to be a National MP, and revealing they had mental health issues. They said the investigation would put their wellbeing in danger.

It’s now been revealed the Speaker pushed ahead with an investigation, behind closed doors, in an effort to clear his name, along with that of the staff in his office and Parliamentary Service.

Mallard says it’s “absolutely vital to the integrity of the system that there is a 100 percent level of trust in me, my office and Parliamentary Service”.

From a political perspective, this is understandable. Bridges all but pointed the finger straight at Mallard, repeatedly saying he did not believe the leak had come from within the National caucus or staff.

During the media conference about the text message, Bridges also said his “utmost concern was for the wellbeing of this person”. He then went on to suggest there was a possibility the texter may not be genuine in their claims about their mental health – despite police confirming the person did have a history of mental illness.

He also went ahead with his own investigation, bringing on board PwC, while Mallard turned to KPMG to lead his hunt. The results of National's investigation are expected within a week.

As mental health awareness week draws to a close, it seems political wins, rather than compassion, remain front of mind.

This isn’t to say Bridges and Mallard aren’t genuine when they say they care about the person’s wellbeing, but that isn’t what’s ultimately guided their actions.

Mallard says his decision to keep his own investigation out of the media was due to concern for the leaker.

But if they were in the Mallard camp or Parliamentary Service they would have known about the investigation the second they signed the waiver, and when they were subsequently fired.

If they’re in the National camp they’re already subject to an investigation and the public scrutiny that comes with it.

Mallard’s secret investigation may have saved them from a small amount of public scrutiny but either way, the person would have been enduring an investigation they said could do them harm.

It’s not an easy call for Mallard and Bridges – they feel they need to make sure their houses are in order, publicly and privately. If not, they need to take steps to set things straight.

But the approach to this entire bizarre ordeal has been extreme.

For a leak of expenses that were hardly scandalous, it seems like an awful lot of potential damage to one person’s mental and emotional wellbeing.

With Mallard’s investigation concluding: “There is no evidence that staff in the Office of the Speaker, Mr Speaker, or Parliamentary Service finance and corporate staff released the details of this quarterly expenses disclosure report to any unauthorised parties," this can only end with the saga blowing up in Bridges’ face.

Unfortunately, someone who could have used a bit of help and compassion will also get burnt.

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