Why Housing New Zealand Chief is shy of the Media

Craig McCulloch

RNZ, Wellington, July 1, 2018

Housing New Zealand (HNZ) Chief Executive Andrew McKenzie granted just two one-on-one media interviews in his first 20 months in the role.

Mr McKenzie has repeatedly refused to speak to journalists about a major report into methamphetamine contamination in homes.

He eventually gave a flurry of interviews on the subject in early June, including to RNZ, but only after pressure from the public and media.

In response to a request under the Official Information Act, Housing NZ said that Mr McKenzie had given two interviews prior to June.

“One was with [now-Managing Editor of Newsroom Pro] Bernard Hickey in 2016, the other with the New Zealand Herald in 2017.”

Mr McKenzie took over as HNZ’s Chief Ein September 2016.

Lengthy Interview

The latest state sector salary figures have yet to be released, but Mr McKenzie was paid at least $450,000 in his first nine months in the job.

HNZ said that on top of the two one-on-one interviews, Mr McKenzie was also ‘involved’ in a lengthy interview with the NZ Herald about the Auckland Housing programme.

The statement said Mr McKenzie also responded to media questions at that programme’s launch in Auckland last year.

Mr McKenzie also offered to go on a radio station ‘on one occasion’ in May 2017 to discuss the Banff Avenue housing development, but the offer was declined, the statement said.

Determining factors

HNZ said several factors determined who fronted for media interviews including timeliness and a manager’s availability.

“Any issue of major significance for Housing New Zealand would likely see the chief executive or deputy chief executive give an interview. However, the majority of media requests to Housing New Zealand relate to an operational matter or a redevelopment focused query. That is why Housing New Zealand regularly uses the general managers … as key spokespeople for on-camera media requests.”

In late May, the country’s top scientists revealed there had never been a documented case of someone getting sick from third-hand exposure to meth and there was no point in testing homes or evicting tenants.

Chief Science Adviser Sir Peter Gluckman said New Zealand had been gripped by hysteria, meaning HNZ had needlessly kicked hundreds of people out of state houses.

When Mr McKenzie eventually gave interviews more than a week after that report’s release, he apologised to tenants who “had their lives disrupted.”

Public accountability

National Party Housing Spokesperson Judith Collins said speaking to reporters was “part of the job” for Chief Executives to ensure public accountability.

She criticised Mr McKenzie for failing to give interviews about the meth report until a week after its release.

“If I was the minister, I would have been critical of the Chief Executive’s lack of fronting. Frankly, the best thing to do is get straight out there when there is any issue, because if you don’t, it just gets worse,” she said.

Ms Collins highlighted Corrections Head Ray Smith as a state sector Chief Executive who often spoke to the media.

“Ray was always able to front on issues and when you’ve got highly contentious issues going on… it’s difficult if you can’t rely on your chief executive to be able to front as well as yourself.”

Minister confident

In a statement, Housing Minister Phil Twyford said he was confident that Mr McKenzie was doing a good job.

“I hold Andrew McKenzie to account for making Housing NZ the best public housing landlord it can be. From time to time he needs to front in the media as he did on the meth testing issue.” Mr Twyford said.

Craig McCulloch is Political Reporter at Radio New Zealand.Indian Newslink has published the above Report and Picture under a Special Agreement with www.rnz.co.nz

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Photo Caption:

Housing New Zealand Chief Executive Andrew McKenzie

(Photo for RNZ by Matthew Hutching)

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