John Key

Accidentally like a martyr

John Key has his share of supporters over his repeated pulling of a waitress’s hair – Mike Hosking (surprise!) and the Minister for Women, to name but two examples. As Louise Upston, the Minister for Women, stated:

“As the Prime Minister has said his actions were intended to be light-hearted. It was never his intention to make her feel uncomfortable. He said that in hindsight it wasn’t appropriate, and that is why he apologised.”

Well, to my mind it’s harassment, pure and simple, and an abuse of a position of power. And to those staunch defenders of the PM, who speak of light-hearted tomfoolery and the like, I refer them to the following TEDx talk by Laura Bates, founder of the EverydaySexismProject.

John Key’s behaviour crossed a line, and he deserved to be called out for it. After all, attitudes and behaviours don’t change unless we call people out for transgressions. And when the story first broke, I doubt there were many people who didn’t cringe to themselves and think, “That’s more than a little weird. And slightly creepy.”

However, once the disbelief and laughter dies down – and much laughter was certainly had at Key’s expense – there’s the question of over-reaction. If the response from Key’s enemies is seen as over-the-top, Key becomes the victim.

When serial litigant Graham McCready (which is precisely how he was described on 3News last night) pops his head up to file a complaint, John Key gains a little sympathy.

When Winston Peters starts asking why police haven’t already charged Key with assault, people think things might be going a little too far.

When Herald and Stuff comment threads start labelling the Prime Minister a sexual deviant, people begin to tune out.

Now I’m not trying to minimise John Key’s behaviour. As I’ve said, I consider it harassment and an abuse of power. He’s become a laughing stock, which may well prove his political undoing in time – the first big crack in the armour.

Most importantly, the issue of harassment and sexism is being openly discussed across the country. Key has got it in the neck from The National Council of Women and the Human Rights Commissioner Jackie Blue, both of whom have had well-worded, reasoned contributions to the discussion.

Nonetheless, when the commentary goes beyond the reasoned, martyrs can be accidentally created.

Rachel Glucina and journalistic ethics (or the lack thereof)

As everyone knows, John Key yesterday became an international laughing stock thanks to his penchant for stroking or yanking women’s ponytails. The blog that yesterday outed the issue kept the waitress’s name secret – her account of John Key’s actions at the cafe where she worked was anonymous. Turns out it didn’t take long for her name to hit the headlines, thanks to the actions of NZ Herald gossip columnist / wannabe-real-journalist Rachel Glucina. You might remember Ms Glucina from Dirty Politics

An excerpt from Nicky Hagar's book Dirty Politics.

An excerpt from Nicky Hager’s book Dirty Politics.

The waitress has detailed her account of Ms Glucina’s overtures here, and, if true, Glucina’s actions (and, indeed, the actions of her editor, Shayne Currie) reflect appallingly on the Herald. Here’s the long and short of it:

  • The Parnell cafe, Rosie, in which this all went down, is owned by Hip Group.
  • Rachel Glucina’s twin brother, Henry, is employed by Hip Group.
  • Ms Glucina, through her brother, therefore personally knows the owners of Hip Group, Jackie Grant and Scott Brown.
  • During a speakerphone conversation with Glucina, the Hip Group owners introduce Glucina to the waitress as a PR expert. (Glucina is in fact in PR. According to her LinkedIn page, she is a director of ‘Pink PR’, specialising in ‘Media strategy, product planning, brand development, public relations’.) During the speakerphone conversation, Glucina’s last name is not mentioned. The waitress agrees to make a joint statement in order to protect her employers’ reputation. She also agrees to a photo being taken of her with her employers, to show they all still had a good relationship.
  • While everyone waits for Glucina to send through the draft statement, the waitress discovers Glucina’s last name. Alarm bells begin to ring. In fact, the waitress googles Glucina, and discovers the headline “Who is Rachel Glucina and why is John Key always phoning her up?”.
  • The waitress’s employers admit that Glucina works for the NZ Herald, but state that Glucina was not acting in her capacity as a journalist.
  • Upon contacting Glucina again, Glucina abruptly claimed that was acting in her capacity as a journalist. Despite the waitress then revoking permission to use the photo or her comments,  the story ends up in the Herald.

Given the ethical questions regarding Ms Glucina’s conduct, Shayne Currie has released a statement (then removed the statement from the Herald website, then re-released it…):

Rachel Glucina approached the Hip Group yesterday, after The Daily Blog broke the story. She knows the Hip Group owners personally. Glucina wanted to follow-up The Daily Blog post and urged the couple to front-foot the issue. She spoke to the couple and the waitress over the telephone. Regardless of any confusion over the initial approach, all three agreed they wanted to make a public statement. They also agreed to pose for a photograph and a Herald photographer was dispatched. They were told by the photographer that the photo would be appearing in the Herald. Herald editor Shayne Currie also spoke to the owners of the Hip Group yesterday afternoon following a call from a PR firm that had already been helping them. “When I spoke to the owners, they told me they had initially thought Rachel was working on a statement to go to all media, along with the photograph. “Given the situation, I wanted to absolutely ensure they knew this interview and photograph were for the Herald. To further ease any concerns, we took the very rare step of agreeing Rachel should run the quotes past the parties before publication. “By then, no one was in any doubt that the article, quotes and photograph would be appearing in the Herald.”

Note the phrase, “Regardless of any confusion over the initial approach, all three agreed they wanted to make a public statement”. And “When I spoke to the owners, they told me they had initially thought Rachel was working on a statement to go to all media, along with the photograph”. Is it just me, or does that corroborate the waitress’s story regarding Glucina’s actions? Why would the owners think a Herald “journalist” would be working on a statement that would go to all media outlets? Herald journalists write for the Herald. They don’t send their stories off as statements to Fairfax et al. “Initial confusion”? For instance, Glucina had told them she was acting as a PR expert? Glucina’s actions smell distinctly rotten, and given her previous Dirty Politics involvement, some on the left have posited that Key and his office must have contracted Glucina for a hit job on the waitress. It’s a conspiracy theory that doesn’t ring true. Key has apologised (albeit with a healthy dose of victim-blaming) and will simply want the story to disappear as soon as possible. He’s been humiliated on an international level, and will want nothing more than for the fuss to die down. Attacking the waitress guarantees that the story will have legs. This is all about Glucina trying to get a scoop, and, at this stage, she appears to have made it very clear that she’s not concerned about letting niceties like journalistic ethics get in her way.

Dinner at Donghua’s

Remember when David Cunliffe and Labour were under all sorts of fire for their links to Donghua Liu? There were questions about $100,000 worth of apparent donations from Liu to the Labour Party (an issue which seemed to collapse under the weight of some dubious NZ Herald reporting and Mr Liu’s somewhat impaired ability to recollect specifics); and Mr Cunliffe was being stitched up regarding his failure to recall a letter written on behalf of Liu eleven years previous.

Here was what Bill English had to say last year, as he put the boot into Labour:

“In the next few days the Labour Party has to come clean about every contact with Mr Donghua Liu and every donation from him… The reason the Labour Party has to explain all those contacts and donations is that no one trusts what David Cunliffe says about the donations and the contacts with Mr Donghua Liu.”

Well, all of the time that National was needling Labour about alleged undisclosed donations from Liu, there was a $25,000 undisclosed donation to National.

It’s been revealed that National’s Botany MP, Jami-Lee Ross, received a $25,000 donation from Mr Liu in August 2013. It’s only just being disclosed by Mr Ross, after having been returned to Liu in November 2014.

It’s the cynical nature of the whole affair that gets me; cynical in so many ways.

Firstly, the donation was made less than a month after both John Key and Jami-Lee Ross were present at Mr Liu’s house for a private dinner. Yet, when Key was questioned in May 2014 (approximately eight months after the dinner) about his links to Liu, a National spokesperson said:

“As Prime Minister and the leader of the National Party, Mr Key attends a number of functions up and down the country which are attended by a large number of people. While we don’t have a record of who attends these events, Mr Key recalls seeing Mr Liu at various functions, including a dinner as part of a National Party fundraiser.”

Key could recall “a dinner”, but presumably chose to conceal the fact that the dinner was at Mr Liu’s own home.

Secondly, there’s the way in which the donation was kept hidden. Throughout all of the mock outrage from National about what Liu had donated to Labour and when, the party knew that $25,000 was sitting in a National Party bank account. It’s inconceivable that Jami-Lee Ross wouldn’t tap his party leader on the shoulder and say, “Heads up – remember that dinner with Donghua Liu? Well, he gave me $25,000 that month.”

Ross, Key and whoever else was in the loop would have known that at some point the donation would have to be declared. So Ross waits for a month or two after the general election, sends it back via Liu’s lawyer, and pretends that it was surplus to requirements and therefore returned. The donation gets officially declared in Ross’s post-election return, but by then Cunliffe is a distant memory, National is well and truly re-elected, and there’s now another two and a half years to the next election – plenty of time for the public to forget about Dongua Liu.

But National’s cynicism aside, there are some questions regarding the status of the donation. If it was a donation to the National Party, it should have been disclosed in National’s Party Donations Return that was filed on 30 April 2014. It wasn’t.

Mr Liu has described the donation as being through the “Botany Cabinet Club”. If that’s code for Jami-Lee Ross’s personal campaign, the party wouldn’t need to declare it. Instead, it’s up to Mr Ross to do so in his post-election return (as he’s done).

However, Mr Ross has stated that he didn’t end up needing the $25,000 because a $24,000 donation from the National Party covered his expenses. So why would Ross be seeking donations for his electorate campaign, if the party was going to be covering him? Or, to look at it the other way, why would the party cover Ross’s campaign expenses when he’s already got $25,000 sitting waiting in the bank account?

As with anything involving Donghua Liu and politicians, more questions seem to lurk…

And John Key didn’t consult either…

Following yesterday’s discovery that there will be no minor party involvement in the oversight of our spy agencies, Andrew Little was castigated for his failure to consult with either the Greens or NZ First regarding his nomination of David Shearer to the Intelligence and Security Committee.

As I wrote yesterday, there is a legal requirement for the Leader of the Opposition to consult with all other opposition party leaders before making a nomination. This puts Labour in the strange position of essentially having to argue that, despite having already announced Shearer’s nomination, consultation can still occur prior to the nomination being officially made. (At present, the nominations aren’t yet official.)

John Key was approached for comment on Little’s decision, but as far as I can see, none of the reporting yesterday focussed on the issue that both Andrew Little and John Key had consultation requirements. Section 7 of the Intelligence and Security Committee Act 1996 requires the Leader of the Opposition to consult with all other opposition party leaders, but  it also requires the Prime Minister to consult with the leaders of all parties in government.

John Key has confirmed he’ll be nominating National’s Chris Finlayson and Amy Adams. Surely, given that ACT, United Future and the Maori Party all have confidence and supply agreements with National, Mr Key must therefore have consulted with David Seymour, Peter Dunne and Te Ururoa Flavell and Marama Fox before coming to his decision?

Well, Peter Dunne yesterday tweeted:

FWIW no-one has consulted me under either 7(1)(c) or 7(1)(d) [the relevant consultation sections of the Act]

Maybe Mr Key, like Little, intends to get around to “consulting” with the other party leaders prior to the nominations of Finlayson and Adams becoming official.

Nonetheless, if that’s the defence that both major party leaders intend to rely on, it makes a mockery of the duty of consultation. What it shows is that both Key and Little consider the statutory duty of consultation as nothing more than a nuisance; an exercise in ticking boxes before doing precisely what they want.

And we’re supposed to blindly trust them to protect our rights and interests as they oversee the spies…

UPDATE (18/02/15):

Oddly, Maori Party co-leader Marama Fox has confirmed on Twitter that the Maori Party were consulted:

So why was the Maori Party consulted, but Peter Dunne wasn’t? Was ACT?

Ill tidings for oversight of spy agencies

We mere citizens don’t get to know too much about how our spy agencies operate and what they get up to. There are good reasons for that. A spy agency that gives out all of its secrets probably isn’t going to function particularly successfully.

Unfortunately, our spy agencies, just like the police, sometimes don’t appear to know the law. And sometimes, even when they do know the law, they choose not to follow it.

Which is why it’s rather vital that there’s oversight of our spy agencies. In New Zealand, that oversight is provided by Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee. It’s a five person committee, made up of the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, two MPs nominated by the PM, and one MP nominated by the Leader of the Opposition.

Now you’d expect that the committee that makes sure the spies aren’t breaking the law would be lawfully appointed, wouldn’t you?

Turns out that Andrew Little didn’t appear to have read the relevant law. Section 7 of the Intelligence and Security Committee Act 1996 provides that the member nominated by the Leader of the Opposition must follow “consultation with the leader of each party that is not in Government or in coalition with a Government party”.

Little has nominated Labour’s David Shearer, which has provoked howls of outrage from the Greens and NZ First, both of whom say they were not consulted.

Russel Norman had previously been on the Committee, but was not nominated by Labour this time round because he’ll be stepping down as Greens’ co-leader in a few months. Little didn’t nominate the other Greens’ co-leader, Metiria Turei, because he wanted someone with “skills, understanding and experience”.

Labour’s view appears to be that there’s no breach of the law, because David Shearer hasn’t yet been officially nominated, and the party will consult with the Greens and NZ First before the nomination is confirmed. Quite what that “consultation” will consist of, given that Shearer’s name has essentially been put forward as a fait accompli, remains to be seen.

National, meanwhile, has announced that it’s nominees will be GCSB and SIS minister Chris Finlayson and Justice minister Amy Adams. They’re both National, meaning that no minor party will have a role in the oversight of the GCSB or SIS.

Now here’s the worrying party. John Key has previously signalled that the Government intends to introduce a new round of tougher surveillance laws this year, further eroding our rights. So he supports Labour’s stance, because:

“A range of opposition voices from the minor parties could railroad the process.

“I don’t think the committee was terribly constructive over the last few years, I think it was used less as a way of constructing the right outcomes for legislation, and more as a sort of political battleground.”

In short, John Key doesn’t want dissent. He wants as little scrutiny of our spy agencies as possible.

Here’s Russel Norman responding to Labour’s decision:

“I think it’s a bad call. It means it’s the old boys’ club – Labour and National – both of whom have been responsible for illegal spying.

The Greens were the only ones on [the committee] with clean hands . . . the spy agencies will be extremely happy. The duopoly of illegal spying will be maintained without any independent oversight.”

The spy agencies will indeed be extremely happy. They’ve been given an indication from Key and Little that, for the next three years, oversight of their activities will be rather less stringent than it has been in previous terms.

Masters of the Universe

I’ve never read Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities, nor seen the film. Consequently, Andrew Little’s description yesterday of John Key and Bill English as “Masters of the Universe” caused my brow to furrow.

Other minds apparently initially leapt to He-Man and the Power of Greyskull. However, my childhood didn’t tend to involve the watching of cartoons, so I completely missed He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. Google tells me there was also a Masters of the Universe movie in 1987: I missed that too, which was probably a good thing, given the rather negative online reviews.

No, my mind leapt towards an early song by Pulp entitled Master of the Universe, with the immortal lines:

Oh now look what you have done.
You’ve spoilt it all for everyone.
The master masturbates alone,
In a corner of your home.

Thank you, Mr Little, but that wasn’t an image I ever wanted to associate with the Prime Minister or Finance Minister…

If only I’d watched more cartoons as a child.

Peters for Northland? Not likely.

Last week, the NZ Herald reported that Winston Peters was considering contesting the Northland electorate by-election, following the resignation of National’s Mike Sabin:

Speaking from Te Tii Marae at Waitangi today, Mr Peters claimed he had been inundated with calls asking if he would put his name forward for the position.

“New Zealand First is seriously going to consider the issue,” Mr Peters said. “It’s a possibility. I’m a local here, I come from here and I know more about this area than a whole lot of other pretenders. I got a whole lot of phone calls. That’s why I’ve been interested.”

I’d have to say, I’d be highly surprised if Peters does in fact end up standing as a candidate. Remember his musings ahead of the last election about running in East Coast Bays against Colin Craig? Or his flirtations with running against John Key in Helensville ahead of the 2011 election?

Peters loves headlines, and he’s well aware that speculation about whether he might stand in prominent electorate battles is guaranteed to provide headlines.

Nonetheless, Peters would have only an outside shot at winning. With Sabin’s 2014 majority sitting at over 9,000, any opposition candidate is going to have a hard road ahead, no matter what their public profile.

Yes, Peters was born in Northland, and he’s got a bach up there, but given his history of representing Tauranga, and his having subsequently been based in Auckland, there would still be the strong whiff of opportunistic carpetbaggery should he stand.

And yes, NZ First received 12.8% of the party vote in Northland in 2104, but that was mostly at the expense of Labour, which received just 16.6% of the party vote. NZ First didn’t stand a candidate last election, and Labour’s Willow-Jean Prime received 25.9% of the electorate vote, just shy of the combined Labour-NZ First party vote of 29.4% party vote.

At the end of the day, perhaps the most important point is that Winston Peters really doesn’t like losing. He won’t put himself forward as an outside chance. His ego simply won’t allow the likely humiliation of losing to an as-yet-unknown National candidate.

Labour supports 24 hr surveillance : the unenviable job of being in opposition

This week, the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee reported back on the Countering Terrorist Fighters Legislation Bill. The Government had been seeking, among other things, the ability of the SIS to undertake 48 hour warrantless surveillance, and for the Government to revoke passports for three years.

Quite why these measures were required were never addressed. After all, our terror threat level may have raised, but it remains on ‘low’. MPs such as Jamie-Lee Ross muttered darkly of tales of terror disclosed by the SIS: if we meek citizens only knew what the MPs knew, we would quake in our boots and immediately provide ringing endorsements of the Government’s planned changes. Of course, we mere citizens weren’t allowed to know. The SIS’s briefing was conducted in secret, open only to MPs, on the grounds of protecting national security.

The SIS’s briefing may have persuaded Mr Ross, but the opposition appeared rather less convinced. Labour MPs such as leader Andrew Little, Phil Goff and David Shearer held the line that the Government had failed to make a case for the increased powers, and one doesn’t have to be a genius to know that the Greens were never going to be convinced.

Nonetheless, the Committee has reported back, and Labour now backs warrantless surveillance, albeit for a maximum of 24 hours and only in relation to terrorist activity (as opposed to the SIS’s wider activities). In addition to that concession, the Government has also agreed to stricter oversight and more frequent reporting, in relation to the use of warrantless surveillance, and those individuals who have their passport revoked will have the ability to appeal that decision and apply for their passport back.

To my mind, 24 hours less warrantless surveillance isn’t a huge concession. Warrantless surveillance is still warrantless surveillance, and the Government has still failed to make the case as to why it’s necessary. After all, in emergency situations involving terrorism, s10 of the International Terrorism (Emergency Powers) Act 1987 provides the ability for police to intercept private communications and interfere with the operation of any part of the telecommunications system in the area in which the emergency is occurring. For powers above and beyond that, which may heavily impinge on the rights of certain individuals, a proper case should be made as to why those powers are necessary.

By rights, I should be lambasting Labour for abandoning its principled approach and supporting warrantless surveillance. On the other hand, however, the Government had the numbers to pass the Bill in its initial form. Labour could have voted against it and achieved nothing. The Government wanted a vaguely bipartisan outcome, meaning that small concessions were achieved. That’s the unenviable job of being in opposition: Do you stick to your guns, opposing to the death for no reward, or do you give support on some issues, taking what gains you can in order to make the end legislation a slightly better beast?

Labour will have made the call that few New Zealanders really care about the issues of warrantless surveillance or revocation of passports. Nothing to hide, nothing to fear, etc. Labour gets a positive headline or two for at least forcing a few changes; National gets its positive headlines for being bipartisan.

Everyone wins, except our civil rights.

And, as No Right Turn points out, this piece of legislation is just the beginning, with John Key already stating that the Government will look to further toughen security laws after a review next year. With Labour now on record supporting the thin end of the wedge, what will our major opposition party agree to next time round?

John Key implodes over the Gwyn report

The Cheryl Gwyn report into the release of SIS information relating to whether Phil Goff was or wasn’t briefed about the Israeli spy saga  was released on Tuesday. It makes for compelling reading as it investigates whether Goff lied, whether then-head of the SIS Warren Tucker behaved inappropriately, and what role the Prime Minister’s Office had in releasing the information to Cameron Slater.

The conclusions were, on occasion, somewhat unexpected. Had Phil Goff lied? Apparently not. It seems that although Mr Tucker briefly provided Mr Goff with a “preliminary document” relating to the Israeli spies, Goff did not read the document, and the matter was brushed over by Tucker. Essentially, both men were right: in Tucker’s mind, he’d briefed Goff on the issue, while in Goff’s mind, he hadn’t received a briefing at all.

The problem that then arose was that Mr Tucker seems to have taken personal affront at having his honesty and professionalism called into question by Mr Goff. To put Goff in his place, Tucker therefore released only selective documentation, which (when read in isolation) appeared to prove Goff a liar. The report drags Tucker over the coals for this, and the SIS has apologised to Goff.

So what then of Mr Slater and his OIA request? Slater’s explanation was that he received a tip-off from someone purporting to be from the SIS. He denied being tipped off by Jason Ede.

There are a few problems with that explanation though. For instance, the report finds that Slater was on the phone to Ede at the same time as his OIA request was made. Slater’s explanation to the media? Ede was in fact trying to persuade Slater not to make the OIA request. Yet, the report states at para 214:

Mr Slater also later provided a series of emails to and from Mr Ede, in which Mr Ede expressed his concern that he “might be in the shit” over his use of the NZSIS information. Mr de Joux explained to the inquiry he was not happy Mr Ede had chosen to work through Mr Slater rather than mainstream media because it would create an unhelpful perception. Mr Slater’s email reply to Mr Ede was that he would simply state that he had an NZSIS source. In the context of Mr Ede’s evidence, I interpreted that email to mean that Mr Slater would claim to have an NZSIS source in order to protect Mr Ede.

Why would Ede be “in the shit” over using SIS information if the tip-off to Slater came from the SIS? And why would Slater assure Ede that he would state he had an SIS source, if Ede actually had nothing to do with tipping of Slater?

So could Jason Ede’s phone and email records provide salvation for him? Well, as it turns out, Ms Gwyn suspects that Ede was using personal phones and email to conduct Prime Minster’s Office work. It’s a pretty blatant ploy by Ede to avoid OIA requirements.

But it gets worse. When asked by Ms Gwyn to disclose his personal emails and phone records, it turned out that he’d already deleted them prior to the commencement of the inquiry. It’s the high-tech version of spending the night in the archives room with the paper shredder…

There’s no provable connection between John Key and any of this, but it’s almost impossible to deny that his office didn’t play a role. Nonetheless, Key has gone on the offensive, attempting to argue that the report shows that his staff did absolutely nothing wrong. Of course, the report says nothing of the sort. In fact, it concludes that Jason Ede tipped off Cameron Slater, and it rejects Slater’s explanation that someone in the SIS tipped him off.

The email trail makes a mockery of Slater’s attempt to get Ede off the hook, and John Key’s attempt to argue otherwise has made him a laughing stock. Just check out his disastrous interview with Mary Wilson on Radio NZ’s Checkpoint programme on Tuesday evening. Likewise, his performance yesterday afternoon in the House was farcical, with Andrew Little memorably skewering him with the line:

“Why doesn’t he just cut the crap and apologise to New Zealand for running a smear campaign out of his office?”

“Cut the crap” now seems to have taken on a life of its own, propelling Little to cult hero status amongst the Left, not quite what Key would have intended.

Then it got worse for Key, having to return to Parliament to correct one of his question time answers, to admit that the day before the report was released, he’d had text message communication with Cameron Slater. He’d “misinterpreted” the initial question, and apparently hadn’t understood that communication with Slater in the past week would include text messages…

Key is evidently hoping that, just like the initial pre-election Dirty Politics furore, this second round will simply pass the public by. To a certain extent, he’s probably right. Almost no one will read the Gwyn report, and the non-partisan centre-ground of voters will continue to assume that what happens in John Key’s office probably also happens in the Labour leader’s office.

Nonetheless, Key’s facade of being an honest, everyman, non-politician takes another big hit. With every Mary Wilson interview and every attack by Patrick Gower at 6pm, Key becomes Just Another Politician.

The odds on National winning a fourth term in Government just lengthened.

The 500 hats of Bartholomew Cubbins – the John Key edition

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.

UPDATE:

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, one

where 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.”