Charlotte Bellis MIQ dispute resurfaces, Nats scold jovial diplomat and claim privacy breach

The Charlotte Bellis political dispute reignited today with Gerry Brownlee telling a senior public servant to stop laughing about what National calls a privacy breach.

Meanwhile, a Labour MP accused Chris Bishop of raising the issue in an “underhand” way.

Bellis was unable to secure an MIQ spot despite being pregnant. She was stuck in Afghanistan but after her case made headlines, she was offered an emergency MIQ place.

Bellis’ lawyer earlier this month claimed Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins breached the Kiwi journalist’s privacy by sharing some personal details in a statement.

National MPs Bishop and Brownlee grilled officials at the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee today.

The MPs wondered who told Hipkins what before the minister made public statements about Bellis during the controversy which spawned criticism of the MIQ system.

Bishop asked if and why the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade provided information to Hipkins about consular assistance to Bellis.

The ministry’s deputy secretary Rob Taylor said consular officials contacted all New Zealand citizens known to be in Afghanistan during the Taliban takeover.

“And we have also proactively remained in touch with New Zealand citizens who remain in Afghanistan,” Taylor added.

Bishop asked Taylor if he briefed Hipkins or the minister’s staff.

“It’s not something that I can comment on,” Taylor replied.

The National MPs asked him why not, before Seed jumped in.

“We routinely and properly provide information to responsible ministers, about how we’re managing consular issues in particular jurisdictions. We met all our obligations in this case.”

Brownlee replied: “A minister went out publicly with a very clear statement and the only place we all know he could have got that from is your ministry.”

Brownlee said he was puzzled why officials found it so hard to say they’d contacted the minister.

“By not answering, you’re virtually confirming that anyway,” Brownlee added.

“Well, we can rest there then,” Seed said with a chuckle.

“No, no, it’s not something to laugh about,” Brownlee replied.

Deborah Geels, another Mfat deputy secretary, said it was difficult to answer due to privacy considerations around different cases.

But she added: “We may provide information on a private basis about a New Zealander’s situation in support for an emergency allocation of MIQ.”

Labour list MP Louisa Wall said she was also concerned about privacy issues for Bellis.

“From my perspective, there’s no consent from Charlotte to discuss any of the issues that we have.”

Bishop replied: “That didn’t stop the minister doing it.”

“This has got nothing to do with the minister. We’re here engaging with the ministry and actually it’s pretty underhand for you to have done this in this way,” Wall responded.

Bishop told the Herald he still believed Hipkins breached the pregnant broadcaster’s information.

“The real question is, how did he come to know that information?”

Hipkins this afternoon said he’d received written Parliamentary questions which he’d answer, but there was no point discussing the matter again publicly.

“The individual concerned hasn’t raised anything further with me and I’m not going to raise anything further in the public arena without that initiation from them.”

Hipkins added: “As far as I’m concerned, the matter is finished. A resolution was found.”

Bellis has been approached for comment.

She previously wrote an open letter, published in the Herald, outlining some of her experiences in the preceding months.

Later, her lawyer Tudor Clee said Hipkins breached privacy by sharing details that Bellis had not consented to being made public.

Those issues reportedly included when the minister believed she had arrived in Afghanistan and that she had been offered consular assistance.

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