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Political e-mail gossip stings workers

October 20, 2001 

Two parliamentary secretaries have been suspended pending inquiries into e-mail gossip about moves to unseat Jenny Shipley when she was National leader.

One secretary worked temporarily for National's Albany MP, Murray McCully, who played a key role in the Bill English coup against Mrs Shipley.

The other is the permanent secretary of Napier-based list MP Anne Tolley.

It is understood that, while Mrs Shipley was overseas, the pair e-mailed each other about the prospect of a coup.

Considerable public speculation at the time suggested that Mrs Shipley's leadership was under threat and a week after her return, on October 8, she resigned.

The more serious allegation is that an e-mail was sent to a third party outside Parliament by Mr McCully's secretary.

It is thought to have divulged information about a meeting between Mr English, as acting leader, Mr McCully, party president Michelle Boag and several members of Mrs Shipley's staff.

It is said to have been an ordinary scheduled meeting but was construed in the e-mail to the unknown recipient as a plotting one.

The secretary's computer was shared and the correspondence was detected by one of Mrs Shipley's staff shortly after Mrs Shipley returned from overseas and while she was still National leader.

The pair were suspended that week.

Mr McCully's secretary was employed temporarily from a parliamentary pool because his permanent secretary was overseas getting married.

Mrs Tolley's secretary, Denise Cush, has worked for various National MPs, including Mrs Shipley and Mr English.

Denise Cush would not comment yesterday.

Nor would Mr McCully.

Mrs Tolley said: "The only comment I would be prepared to make is that my secretary is, as I understand it, suspended at the moment and Parliamentary Service are handling any arrangements with her."

Parliamentary Service general manager John O'Sullivan said he did not comment on individual staffing matters.

"If any issues are under investigation that's a matter between me as employer and employee."

Asked what the policy was for communications between staff or between staff and outsiders, he said staff followed codes of conduct, a general code and a computer-use code.

Sometimes it was perfectly appropriate to e-mail third parties with information.

By AUDREY YOUNG, Copyright © 2001, New Zealand Herald

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