Collins forced to backtrack

Judith Collins
Judith Collins
Under-pressure Justice Minister Judith Collins has had to backtrack this morning, after mistakenly saying the Privacy Commissioner had cleared her of wrong-doing in giving the details of a public servant to Whale Oil blogger Cameron Slater.

But Privacy Commissioner John Edwards did no such thing, and suggested that he would investigate if the public servant in question, Internal Affairs official Simon Pleasants, laid a complaint.

Ms Collins' actions were exposed in Nicky Hager's Dirty Politics. She gave the details of Mr Pleasants to Mr Slater, who published them, leading Mr Pleasants to be abused on his WhaleOil blog.

The blog accused Mr Pleasants of leaking information to the Labour Party - which he has said is completely false - and he was subsequently the target of death threats.

Prime Minister John Key has called Ms Collins' actions "unwise" and put her on a final warning, but has stood by her amid calls for her resignation.

The Green Party asked the Privacy Commissioner to investigate the matter, but he declined.

Last night Ms Collins, who has championed legislation on cyber-bullying, told Radio New Zealand: "I have been cleared by the Privacy Commissioner... and I do not want to go into any detail on matters which are currently the subject of multiple complaints."

In a post yesterday, Mr Edwards said the law was there to protect the right of a person to determine what personal information is put into the public domain.

"That purpose would not be served if we were to investigate a complaint in a highly politicised and publicised environment that is neither on behalf of, nor supported by, the affected individual."

The complainant - the Greens - did not have sufficient personal interest, he said.

This morning Ms Collins' office issued a statement saying she had got it wrong.

"The Minister interpreted from media reports that she had been cleared by the Privacy Commissioner as he would not take a complaint from the Green Party further due to lack of personal interest.

"The Minister understands her interpretation was incorrect as should a complaint come directly from Mr Pleasants - the PC would consider it."

Radio New Zealand reported this morning that Mr Pleasants was not going to lay a complaint because it was a political matter, and he is a neutral public servant.

On Radio New Zealand this morning Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei said she had not discussed the matter with Mr Pleasants before she made a complaint on his behalf to the Privacy Commissioner.

"We now have a cabinet minister who has admitted to passing on private information she obtained as a minister to Cameron Slater that led to the public disclosure of the information.

"We have a serious public interest in investigating that claim and the only agency who can do that is a genuinely independent one from the political realm," Ms Turei said.

Ms Collins last night refused to be drawn on whether she had effectively engaged in cyber-bullying by passing on Mr Pleasants' details, but she said she did not condone the death threats.

"It's the sort of thing that happens, and it's really unfortunate ... Those sorts of things are criminals activities that should be investigated and any complaints obviously made to police."

Collins also defended her friendship with Slater.

"Just because he is a friend of mine - as by the way are many hundreds of other people - does not mean to say that I condone everything that anybody who is a friend of mine does.

"That is the nature of friendship. You put up with your friends no matter what if you're a loyal friend. And I'm a very loyal person."

- by Derek Cheng, NZ Herald