The report was ordered after the release of an email from Cameron Slater, detailing Judith Collins’ apparent involvement in a plot to undermine Mr Feeley. The email stated:
“I also spoke at length with the Minister responsible today (Judith Collins). She is gunning for Feeley. Any information that we can provide her on his background is appreciated. I have outlined for her a coming blog post about the massive staff turnover and she has added that to the review of the State Services Commissioner. She is using his review of these events to go on a trawl looking for anything else. It is my opinion that Feeley’s position is untenable.”
Cameron Slater’s explanation was that he had “embellished” his email:
“Embellished is a good word. It’s better than a lie, isn’t it?”
At the time, I wrote that if Slater had merely embellished, rather than lied, there were still grounds for Collins’ resignation, given the following statements of fact contained in Slater’s email:
- Slater spoke to Collins, and the conversation was at least partly about Feeley.
- Slater discussed with Collins his Whaleoil campaign against Feeley.
- Collins stated that she intended to pass on Slater’s blog material to the State Services Commissioner.
Essentially, for the Chisholm report to clear Collins’ name, Justice Chisholm had to find that Slater was a liar. Well, that’s pretty much what happened. Here’s the report at para 272:
“The final point concerns Mr Slater’s evidence. When he was interviewed by the inquiry he was in the unenviable position of trying to justify the contents of some of the emails while at the same time doing what he could to protect Ms Collins. On top of that he was trying to remember conversations that took place about three years ago. While I believe that Mr Slater was genuinely trying to assist the inquiry, I decided that his evidence should be approached with great caution, especially where it conflicted with other evidence or the documentary record. However, having said that, there was little in Mr Slater’s evidence that directly supported the proposition that Ms Collins had undermined or attempted to undermine Mr Feeley.”
The report sets out pieces of the transcript of Slater’s evidence to Justice Chisholm, and on several occasions Slater openly admits that he lied in his email correspondence to make himself look big.
I had assumed that it would be almost impossible for Collins to be cleared, as finding definitively that she had had no involvement in the anti-Feeley conspiracy would undoubtedly be difficult. Nonetheless, the report finds no evidence whatsoever to implicate her. The documentary record supports her evidence, and indeed supports the evidence of all those spoken to as part of the inquiry (Cameron Slater’s evidence aside).
The report has certainly received its share of criticism. Several people weren’t interviewed, who perhaps should have been, including Cathy Odgers. Nonetheless, in Ms Odgers’ case, she had provided a lengthy affidavit, which was accepted by Justice Chisholm. Frankly, I find it hard to see how additional interviews with Odgers or Mark Hotchin could have helped implicate Collins. Cameron Slater was the alleged conduit of information to and from her, and Collins essentially lived or died by his evidence.
And so, Collins has been cleared. Can she make it back as a Minister? You’d have to assume not. The multitude of negative headlines she’s generated since the Oravida scandal must surely have resulted in severe concerns from her colleagues as to her professional judgment and personal character. Stranger things have happened though. If a few currently-serving Ministers suffer meltdowns in their portfolios (a la Corrections), she might just find a pathway back to redemption. In politics, nothing’s impossible…