It’s standard practice for Ministers and Prime Ministers to wear different “hats” in the course of their work. Work done as a Minister can obviously be separate and distinct from an MP’s ordinary functions on behalf of the constituents in their electorates. If a person calls their local MP to discuss a local problem, that person is hardly likely to want that discussion to be released to all and sundry under the Official Information Act.
Likewise, John Key is Prime Minister, a Minister, leader of the National Party and electorate MP for Helensville. The internal running of the National Party is separate and distinct from the running of the country, just as his role of dealing with constituency matters is distinct from his role of Prime Minister.
Unfortunately, sometimes the dividing lines can get a little fuzzy. John Key yesterday refused to answer the following Parliamentary question from Russel Norman:
“How many times since November 2008 has he spoken with blogger Cameron Slater on the phone and how many times, if any, has he texted him?”
John Key’s response?
“None in my capacity as Prime Minister.”
Apparently, any phone calls made by Key to Slater were in Key’s capacity as leader of the National Party, rather than Prime Minister. It all seems very ‘angels dancing on the head of a pin’. After all, if Key calls Slater to discuss information that Key would like circulated via Slater’s blog, and that information has come Key’s way because he’s Prime Minister or Minister of a certain portfolio, surely the call cannot simply be classified as National Party business and therefore exempt from Parliamentary questioning or the OIA?
Just because something is in the interests of the National Party, it doesn’t mean that the OIA does not apply. After all, the alleged leaking of information by Judith Collins to Cameron Slater was in her role as Minister of Justice, and any documentation relating to the leaks must surely be subject to the OIA (although see this post at No Right Turn regarding the failure by Collins’ office to log Slater’s OIA requests).
Dishing dirt to bloggers hardly seems an activity that occurs completely outside of a Ministerial or Prime Ministerial ambit. John Key needs to get his hats in order.
The NZ Herald reports that Parliament’s Speaker, David Carter, has ruled that John Key should have answered at least one of Russel Norman’s questions:
However, onewhere Dr Norman asked if Slater was correct when he said Mr Key had told him the mother of a car crash victim was “the same woman f-ing feral bitch that screams at him when he goes to Pike River meetings” should have been answered.
The question “made a connection to the actions of the Prime Minister in response to Pike River Mine Tragedy,” Mr Carter said. “A connection having been made to a matter of ministerial responsibility an informative answer should be given.”