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Setchell saga back in the news

Published: 10:07AM Wednesday November 14, 2007 Source: ONE News/Newstalk ZB

The government has come under fire again over the employment of Madeleine Setchell.

A report into her hiring and firing at the environment ministry has revealed the Ministry of Agriculture also knocked back a job application from Setchell because of her relationship with a senior National Party staffer.

But former cabinet minister David Benson-Pope has been cleared of any wrongdoing. The States Services Commissioner's report comes four months after Benson-Pope stood down as environment minister following the row that erupted over the controversial sacking of Setchell.

Don Hunn's report found that although Setchell's employment was "managed poorly", Benson-Pope responded "well within the norms" on such matters.

"The Chief Executive for the Ministry for the Environment has testified that he arrived at his own view on how to deal with the employment issue that arose and that the Minister's views did not determine his employment actions," the report said.

Setchell had been hired by the Environment Ministry as a media adviser after having told them she was in a relationship with John Key's press secretary, Kevin Taylor. A worker in the environment minister's office had concerns about Setchell's link to the National Party leader and rang the ministry to question the relationship.

Days later Setchell lost her job. The report has revealed that soon after she left she was turned down for a similar job at the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. Ministry boss Murray Sherwin had sought advice from his Agriculture Minister Jim Anderton before turning down her application.

State Services Commissioner Mark Prebble has questioned whether that was necessary.

"I believe that Mr Sherwin should have made his own decision and then told the minister," says Prebble.

The report says Setchell had "suffered significantly" as a result of the management errors but the compensation she had subsequently received had been adequate.

However, poor management had resulted in the expenditure of taxpayers' money and therefore Environment Ministry Chief Executive Hugh Logan would not be getting a performance pay this year which could be up to $50,000. Prebble is in the unusual position of punishing himself for his mistakes, docking $10,000 from his $400,000 salary.

Prime Minister Helen Clark has criticised Logan, saying Setchell never should have lost her job. She says it is quite clear from the reports that Logan consistently ignored advice from the State Services Commission on how to handle the matter.

But the government is standing by Prebble. State Services Minister David Parker says he does not defend the mistakes made but indicated Prebble has his support and to sack him would be an over-reaction. He says calling for his head would be disproportionate to his mistakes.

The report found Logan made "significant errors" with Setchell's hiring and firing but cleared him of axing her at the request of Benson Pope.

"I'm sorry for what's happened, with the benefit of hindsight the ministry could have handled this better, I should have handled this better," Logan says.

The report also stated that there were lessons to be learnt from the Setchell case, particularly around the political views of public servants and how they were generally not relevant to their employment and managing conflicts of interest involving family members and relationships.

"Though there has been and was widespread speculation suggesting that Mr Logan may have improperly sought to meet the minister's political priorities while making an employment decision there is no evidence of such behaviour," Prebble says.

Setchell has refused to comment on the reports which are also critical of the fact she received a confidential pay out.

Click here for the full report

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