Senior Twyford staffer owned lobbying firm while working for Minister

Author
Jason Walls, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Wed, 22 Jan 2020, 3:22PM
A senior adviser to Cabinet Minister Phil Twyford remained sole director and owner of a public affairs and communications company while working for Twyford for two years. Photo / Mark Mitchell
A senior adviser to Cabinet Minister Phil Twyford remained sole director and owner of a public affairs and communications company while working for Twyford for two years. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Senior Twyford staffer owned lobbying firm while working for Minister

Author
Jason Walls, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Wed, 22 Jan 2020, 3:22PM

A senior adviser to Cabinet Minister Phil Twyford remained sole director and owner of a public affairs and communications company while working for Twyford for two years.

Barry Ebert, according to the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA), worked as a Specialist Ministerial Adviser to Twyford from October 2017 until a few weeks ago.

He also worked for the Labour Leader's Office.

While he was working for Twyford, he remained the director and owner of Three Point Two Communications, according to Companies' Office records.

In fact, the Three Point Two website still lists him as the director of the PR firm.

In a statement to the Herald, Ebert said he disclosed this to DIA – his employer – and they were aware of his directorship "from the outset".

He said "no conflict of interest arose" and said that "no Government relations work was undertaken for anyone during the whole period".

At this stage, it is unclear as to whether Ebert did any PR work for Three Point Two while his was working for Twyford – clarification has been sought.

A spokesperson from the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) confirmed that Ebert was employed by the department as a Specialist Ministerial Adviser to Minister Phil Twyford.

"During Mr Ebert's tenure, a dual arrangement was established with the Parliamentary Service [and Ministerial Services] in order for Mr Ebert to support the Labour Leader's office."

The firm advertises "advocacy and lobbying" services helping clients "stay several steps ahead of your competitors and the regulators".

The spokesperson said this sort of dual arrangement was not uncommon.

However, they said that as part of the recruitment process, Ebert informed DIA that Three Point Two had not been actively trading since October 2017.

DIA, the spokesman said, accepted this.

Despite this, the Three Point Two website remains up and lists Ebert as its Managing Director.

"…Ebert provides almost 30 years public affairs and communications experience in the private and public sectors in New Zealand, Australia and the United States," the website says.

It also lists Ebert's email and mobile phone number on the "contact us" section of the website.

When contacted by the Herald this morning on the phone number listed on the Three Point Two website, Ebert answered.

Companies Office records show that the company filed its annual returns on August 1 last year.

The records show the company is still registered and Ebert is the sole shareholder.

Requests for comment were sought from Twyford, but a spokesperson deferred any questions to DIA.

Ebert worked full time between October 2017 and August 2018 and then part time from August 2018 until January this year.

He left the job in recent weeks.

This is not the first time issues of conflicts of interest at a senior level of Government have been raised.

Gordon Jon (GJ) Thompson, who founded the lobbying firm Thompson Lewis in 2016, was appointed as Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's interim Chief of Staff in late 2017.

Thompson took a leave of absence from his firm while he was working it Ardern's office, but according to documents released to the Spinoff under the official information act (OIA), Thompson did not identify the names of his firms' clients.

In a statement, Thompson said any potential conflicts of interests were declared and managed at the time.

"I took a leave of absence from the firm. The arrangements made reflected the short-term nature of the role."

Ardern said she was comfortable with how the conflict of interests was managed but National Leader Simon Bridges said the situation "did seem wrong".

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