PM 'absolutely' denies briefing

Prime Minister John Key, former SIS boss Warren Tucker and Whale Oil blogger Cameron Slater. Montage: NZ HeraldPrime Minister John Key has emphatically restated he was not told of the SIS's intention to release sensitive documents to Whaleoil blogger Cameron Slater following the release today of two letters suggesting he was.

In two 2011, letters to NewstalkZB released by the broadcaster this morning both former SIS Director Warren Tucker and Ombudsman Dame Beverley Wakem refer to Dr Tucker briefing the Prime Minister on the release of the documents which Slater used to embarrass former Labour Leader Phil Goff.

Both Dr Tucker and Dame Beverley subsequently said they meant Dr Tucker had briefed Mr Key's staff rather than the Prime Minister himself.

Speaking to reporters in Christchurch this afternoon Mr Key said suggestions he was briefed directly were wrong.

"I can absolutely, categorically tell you that's not correct. There are a number of factors that would support my view of that.

"One, I know it's factually not correct. Secondly I've checked with the director himself who says it's not correct. Thirdly the Ombudsman has confirmed that when she put Prime Minister... they meant my office. Fourthly actually I was on holiday in Hawaii over the period of time this was all happening."

Mr Key said he returned from Hawaii on July 31 2011 "I think these discussions were all taking place around about the sort of 25th, 26th and 27th.

"From time to time I did have discussions with Mr Tucker about OIAs but prior to the release of this one I didn't have any discussions at all."

Dr Tucker this morning took the unusual step - particularly given the matter is now under investigation by Inspector General of Intelligence and Security Cheryl Gwyn - of releasing a statement backing Mr Key's version of events that he informed the Prime Minister's office, and not Mr Key personally, about the release of the documents.

Dr Tucker's statement came after the release of his 2011 letter to NewstalkZB in which he refers to briefing the Prime Minister.

Mr Key has sought to keep distance between himself and the release of the documents which investigative author Nicky Hager claims in his book Dirty Politics was part of sustained dirty tricks campaign run in co-operation between Slater and Mr Key's office.

But in the other letter to NewstalkZB chief political reporter Felix Marwick, Dame Beverley refers to a discussion she had with Dr Tucker in which the SIS director told her "that he is prepared to release a statement regarding his discussion with the Prime Minister".

The letter goes on to say: "Ms Wakem is of the view that there is good reason to withhold Dr Tucker's full recollection of his discussion with the Prime Minister".

Ms Wakem told Newstalk ZB that a letter from 2011 in which she referred to Mr Tucker having "a discussion with the Prime Minister" was unclear and had given the wrong impression.

"I am very clear that the Director of Security communicated with the offices of the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition on this matter. In the letter, which was written on behalf of me while I was away, but which had been discussed with me, the word 'discussion' is probably loosely used and may have given rise to an impression that there was a direct approach. There wasn't and hasn't been."

The SIS has said it told the Prime Minister's office that it had received a request for the papers from Slater on July 26, 2011 and advised them again a day later that it was about to release it.

Mr Key's visit to the US ended on July 23, NZ time and his office confirmed this morning he had then taken some days off in Maui and did not return to New Zealand until July 31, after the documents had been released.

Listen: Felix Marwick talks conflicting claims on OIA release

Speaking in Dunedin today, Labour leader David Cunliffe said he did not believe Mr Key was not briefed about the release of the documents.

Asked about Dr Tucker's clarification this morning, Mr Cunliffe said he did not think that cleared Mr Key.

"I think it defies belief that the Prime Minister wasn't personally informed."

Mr Cunliffe said the timing, during the 2011 election campaign, made it even more unlikely the Prime Minister would not be told about a matter involving the Leader of the Opposition.

Mr Key's credibility was "in tatters", and he had serious questions to answer, Mr Cunliffe said.

Mr Cunliffe said he had confidence in the investigation announced yesterday by Ms Gwyn.

Mr Goff told APNZ the statements from Mr Key and Dr Tucker this morning were "very convenient".

"Warren Tucker's letter actually indicates that he told the Prime Minister. Are they trying to claim that on this manner - and he he says the tradition is to run it past the Prime Minster - the Prime Minister wasn't aware of that?

"It's frankly incredible. It's unbelievable."



Shaky ground

sv3nno: Well, of course we all know that politically the Democrats in the USA are on a par with ACT.  The majority of politics in that country are of the far right.  The difference between the Republicans and the Democrats can be measured in a small number of degrees.  As well, Britain has been in a long period of conservatism even under Blair's Labour government. 

Those countries are economically in the cart principally because their major banks took the big hits which caused the GFC.  We were spared that because the Aussie banks were unaffected.  As for Australia, their downturn is the result of a slow down in building in China resulting in less demand for Aussie minerals.  

Anyone keeping up with events would know all this already. 

Former Student is right

Absolutely right Former Student.  Our electoral process must be in great working order - that's why the taxpayer paid megabucks for the Electoral Commission's review, the review that it seems Collins and the National Party cynically shoved to one side because it didn't suit their way to contest the upcoming election. It is for this principal reason that they don't deserve another term.  Our governments are supposed to be the guardians of democracy and it can be said that on this occasion National is simply the guardian of their own chances. 

MMP is a good method of choosing a government, just ask the Germans - it has suited them for 70 years. 


This is not a distraction!

sv3nn0 , Just because the National Party and their backers describe their embarrassment as a distraction, that does not mean it is a distraction. What use would "Dirty Politics" have been after the election?

Central to Western Democracy is a level playing field and a shared ethical framework.

The National Party must run on its record. Any promises it is now making are merely items they could have progressed over the last six years. This includes the idea of shouting new home buyers a sum of money that can become an additional component of house prices! (Just as reduced interest rates push up house prices) But it sounds good.

Another item that should be considered again is the recommendation list from the Electoral Commission regarding MMP enhancements. John Key favoured the less proportional option STV because he preferred the unspecified "characteristics". I would think that Cameron Slater, Jordan Williams and co know what they were.

What I am saying is that the machinery of our democracy needs to be in great working order to hold a fair election, and there is not better time for questions to be asked than in the lead-up to an election!


It's all beside the point...

...since what Nicky Hager says in his book is that the leak must have come either from the SIS or the PM's office - he doesn't claim the leak came from the PM directly, and he doesn't need to since the PM is clearly responsible for what happens in his office, whether or not he is in Hawaii at the time. It's a very interesting book, where every claim is very carefully backed up with specific evidence of which I have yet to hear any convincing rebuttal: "it's a left wing smear" is not a convincing rebuttal however many times you say it.  

One comment, one aspect.

My comments were only on one aspect of the whole messy distraction so don't take it as my entire opinion on all things!

Is this really about Phil Goff?

I am intrigued however sv3nno that you see this as being all about Phil Goff and the Labour Party.  He is just one of many aggrieved individuals in all this.  

There is nothing inconsistent about running a positive election campaign for Labour, while also maintaining one's role as an Opposition Member of Parliament!  And just because Phil Goff did not speak the truth on a previous occasion, that does not force him to bite his tongue when he sees others doing what he does.

I am not here to promote the Labour Party and I  do not see it can score more than about 25 percent of the votes.  I still think National will get about 50 percent too.  

The current controversy is about how National is going about maintaining its power, and the consensus is that they have resorted to unethical means.   It must stop.


Ships in the night

Former Student: I think we are on a similar wave length but talking past each other. You are extrapolating my words to something they are not saying.

Actually higher

Treeleaper: Actually, high marginal rates in the US and Australia are higher than that.  You're not including state taxes that pay for things like police and schools. As you point out, the Greens tax proposal is low compared to other western countries,  if it's 'socialist' the Americans must be communists


Perhaps that's part of the reason those three economies are in worse shape than ours. Probably because the wealthy just avoid high tax rates anyway. That won't help child poverty at all.

The plea for consistency

sv3nno still puzzles me.  Phil Goff and David Cunliffe have both drawn attention to matters that John Key would like us to ignore, and in doing so, have fulfilled their duties as members of Her Majesty's Opposition.  I still think that the agenda of sv3nno is the same as that of John Key, to deny, and to try to discourage alternative views.

We are hearing more election policy from all the parties including Labour as the election approaches.  Frankly I don't think a lot of Labour's make much sense, and the party seems likely to languish at about 25% at the next election.  

The concept of voting positive may yet find resonance if the Labour leadership can demonstrate that their senior politicians are not going to dwell in gutter political activity like the negatively-minded villains in Dirty Politics.  We may yet see a new lease of life from them now that the playing field has been significantly levelled. 

More professionalism from all of our politicians woudl be appreciated this time.

Good company

Well there sv3nno, if the Greens are proposing an extreme socialist tax policy then they are in good company.  Australian top tax rate is 45%, Britain's is 45% and the USA is 39.6.  As well Australians pay a levy for Medicare and are subject to compulsory superannuation, medical care is not generally free in the USA.  



Tit for tat still distraction

Former Student: I think you may be misreading between the lines. I am not saying what Phil Goff is or is not allowed to do, just pointing out another obvious inconsistency in the Labour message(s).

Lynden: Policy debate is not limited to National's policy! Greens have released an extreme socialist tax policy that has barely been mentioned since Hager's money spinner was released.

Point is

sv3nno: Point is National, while their dirty laundry has been being aired, have consitanly been saying "debate the policies" but haven't released any while saying it. My guess they are simply waiting to see what the others have so they can top them with their own election bribes. I notice they have said very little about their future plans to sell off more assets after the election as well - probably didn't want to remind the 80% that voted against sales that they ignored them.

Let's hobble Phil Goff, shall we?

We can accept that Phil Goff got it wrong in 2011, but he paid the penalty.  What I think sv3nn0 is saying is that Phil Goff is not allowed to draw attention to untruthful statements by others as a result of that.  This may make sense to an anti-Labour supporter, but I don't see why Phil Goff should be so generous!  

This mindset matches that of Cameron Slater - hobble the voices of opposition.  It is not surprising to hear such views, given the sheer panic of John Key and his backers, with the prospect of scrutiny by Cheryl Gwyn.  

Again it is selective to accuse Labour of going off the positive message when there are important Opposition issues to be pursued at this time.  The pursuit of these issues will naturally be unpopular with supporters of the extreme right, but it is something we expect in a western democracy.

Still inconsistent

Yes Former Student, but I was just pointing out the obvious inconsistencies in Labour's messages. Like Phil Goff accusing Key of lying about Goff's lying, and of course a so-called positive campaign full of attacks. He can make attacks but don't pretend it's a positive campaign. Pick one, Mr Cunliffe!

Lynden: National will start their announcements on Sunday. 

Debate policy?

To be able to debate policy you actually need National to release policy, not just Labour.

Cunliffe must not neglect Opposition role either

sv3nn0 and livingproof seem to want to pervert the democratic system further. They suggest David Cunliffe should continue on his positive future campaign, and neglect his current role as Leader of the Opposition for the time being.

David Cunliffe would be negligent if he did not respond to the opportunities that are there for the taking at present. The Opposition exists to highlight the excesses and bad decisions of the Government, and evidence of these mounts by the day.

Cunliffe's difficulty is that he and his party have been unconvincing about their positive message.  If he had great policies he might see Labour go up in the poll rather than the minor parties.  We've seen almost nothing so far. 


Believe, believe, believe!

"If John Key says he was in Hawaii when this 'briefing' took place," says livingproof, then people should stop mentioning the issue. Darn right, livingproof. When John Key says something there is not the remotest possibility that it might not be 100% correct. Same goes for all politicians.

Could three trusted people really be so wrong?

I read today in Auckland's daily that a video of a news conference has been uncovered, from 8 August 2011. As the article says 'Responding to persistent questioning from then Scoop editor Alastair Thompson and Herald political editor Audrey Young, Mr Key said: "What happened is Warren Tucker didn't come to me, he went to his legal adviser and his legal advisers told him this is the process they have to follow and when he was going through that process it was at that point he told me he'd release it because he has to tell me that under the no-surprises doctrine." '

Could it really be that the information from the Prime Minister, the Ombudsman and the former SIS director was all inaccurate? What a sad reflection that would be on three people that we need to trust!

Losers win

Hager is one of two winners from this dirty distraction of a book because of his book sales. Whaleoil probably benefits too as more people will read his rants. However Labour loses as it ruined it's "positive" campaign by wading into the criticism which is yet another self contradiction imposed by their leader Cunliffe.
Further, according to the book itself the dirty politics it embraces costs the left votes due to lower voter turnout due to people who are fed up with all this distracting nonsense. National loses as it has had further problems with Judith Collins (although teflon Key is untarnished again). The loser I do feel for are the two most reputable bloggers in New Zealand - centre right blogger David Farrar and Labour blogger Chris Trotter, who are tarnished by association simply because they are bloggers (among other things).

Very unconvincing

"One, I know it's factually not correct. Secondly I've checked with the director himself who says it's not correct. Thirdly the Ombudsman has confirmed that when she put Prime Minister... they meant my office. Fourthly actually I was on holiday in Hawaii over the period of time this was all happening."

So this is means we have to take (a) his word, (b) the word of the director, (c) the word of the ombudsman, and (d) make a leap of faith that Mr Key is not briefed on national security matters when on holiday (very unlikely) - versus letters that are very explicit in stating that he was briefed.

Even in this short piece Key's story does not match with the facts. "Categorical" assurances on the basis that the Ombudsman "has confirmed that when she put Prime
Minister... they meant my office" are bizarre when the Ombudsman actually said she didn't write the letter and "the word 'discussion' is probably loosely used." i.e. she didn't write "Prime Minister" (Key made that up) and thus can't be certain whether the word discussion was used loosely or not.

It just looks as if he's making his story (backed only by hearsay) up on the run .. and getting it wrong.


On holiday

If John Key says he was in Hawaii when this 'briefing' took place, then I guess Goff and Cunliffe once again look stupid by trying to drag the matter out.  We are going to have a positive campaign says Cunliffe, deal with policies - another Tui ad, Yeah Right.  Should we wait for Goff and Cunliffe to drop their 'holier than thou' attitude? Yeah Right.  Get on with debating policy and stop the personal attacks.

Three times

Tucker's letter indicates three times that he "notified/advised/informed the Prime Minister."   His language is unequivocal.  He does not say Prime Ministers office or Prime Ministers staff, he says Prime Minister.  I think I'm inclined to take Mr Tucker at his word which of course indicates perhaps that I think the Prime Minister is not gracing us with the truth.

Unconvincing Key and Tucker

It looks like absolute panic, since Cheryl Gwyn announced she was going to investigate. Did Tucker really inform that prime minister as stated in his letter, or the prime minister's office as he now attempts to clarify? And why would one be acceptable and not the other!

Unfortunately, Key and Joyce have blundered badly - saying this was all old news when to me there are many new revelations. Of course it clearly was old news for the Prime Minister's office if they they were so involved in all this!

The attempts to make excuses for Judith Collins are looking weaker by the minute. Look at who she was emailing and the nature of what was being said. I don't think an average employer would accept this kind of communication to customers so what has the Minister of Justice been thinking about.

Attempts to shoot the messenger, Nicky Hager, are now looking weakest of all. The number of villains that have been identified, and the scope of their unethical and foul-mouthed activities, convince me that huge changes are now needed in this government starting at the very top. We need a prime minister with a better sense of right and wrong, and who can stand up for what is right too.

(The story has been updated since this comment was submitted  - Ed)