This was the week the emperor found himself with no clothes,
new or otherwise; this was the week John Key was revealed to
be human after all; this was the week his Government looked
In short, this was the week when Mr Key was found out. For
Opposition MPs who have long resented Mr Key's deceptively
easy ride up the greasy pole of politics, it has come not a
moment too soon.
Yet, if you had said on Monday morning that by Friday, the
Prime Minister would be issuing an apology to Germany's
version of the Michelin Man, you would have been deemed
The apology capped a huge public relations triumph for Kim
Dotcom, thanks to some monumental bungling by New Zealand
The episode should serve as a reminder to the prime minister
that while he is still hugely popular, he is also mortal.
The Grim Reaper wears many disguises - but none as bizarre as
the internet tycoon.
Opposition parties are punting on this being the turning
point in their fortunes after witnessing - perhaps for the
first time - Mr Key really struggling during question time in
Parliament on Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons.
Mr Key's cautioning people to postpone judgement until the
release of the report of the prime minister-instigated
investigation by Paul Neazor into why the Government
Communications and Security Bureau had illegally eavesdropped
on Mr Dotcom and associates sounded hollow.
So proved the case. The report added little to what was
already public knowledge. But it gave the Opposition grounds
for a snap debate in Parliament on Thursday. Mr Key was in
Christchurch, but was the target of relentless volleys of
vitriol denigrating his record as prime minister.
Even so, the Dotcom scandal will probably be more a nuisance
for National than a game-changer.
Take the current round of job cuts as a reference point, for
example. The lay-offs and restructurings announced this week
will arguably have far more political impact than the fate of
However, even redundancies will not hurt National until they
start cutting swathes through the ranks of middle-income
What was a traumatic week for National may not mark the
turning point that Opposition parties are punting on it
What has changed, if only briefly, is the prime minister's
demeanour. His natural effervescence and self-confidence
seemed to desert him in the House, and his normally precise
answers to questions sounded vague and uncertain. On
Wednesday afternoon, he had to return to the debating chamber
to correct one of his answers.
The Dotcom voodoo, which turns the normal into the abnormal
and vice versa, had struck Mr Key the week before. For some
reason known only to himself, the prime minister indulged in
a charade which required him not to read the police report on
John Banks' mayoral campaign donations, so that he would not
be obliged to sack or discipline the Act New Zealand MP.
Surprisingly, Mr Key's gambit might just have worked. But
only because the tawdry Banks affair was dramatically
upstaged by a Government intelligence agency that opted not
to tell its minister of its involvement in the most
high-profile police operation this year.
It begs a question: if Mr Dotcom did not make it on to the
agenda, just what was so big in the tiny world of New Zealand
intelligence that it could shut out the attempt to extradite
Dotcom to the United States?
Therein lies a clue. Helping the Americans may have been
deemed politically tricky. The fewer who knew the better.
It still beggars belief that the Prime Minister was not told.
It would have been more than somewhat embarrassing if he had
learnt what the GCSB was up to from the Americans.
If it is correct he was unaware of what was going on, there
was a woeful failure of communication between the various
intelligence units in the Prime Minister's Department and the
But that seems most unlikely, given the seniority and
experience of the bureaucrats in the department.
The more you look at the shemozzle, the less things stack up.
For example, the GCSB told Mr Key of the unlawful operation
against Mr Dotcom earlier this month. But Mr Key did not find
out for another week that Bill English, as Acting Prime
Minister, had signed what is effectively a suppression order
under the Court Proceedings Act to stop the GCSB's
involvement from seeping out into the public domain.
Mr Key tore strips off the GCSB after the release of Mr
Neazor's report, which laid responsibility more at the
police's door, at least in terms of avoiding a repeat mix-up.
In laying into the GCSB, Key is trying to distance himself
from taking individual ministerial responsibility for the
The purest form of that concept would require Mr Key's
That would be going too far, but Mr Key's initial refusal to
take any responsibility for something that happened in his
portfolio on the grounds he did not know about it totally
devalues the concept of ministerial responsibility.
It takes it to a level even lower than Bob Semple's famous
1940s dictum about a minister being responsible but not to
• John Armstrong is The New Zealand
Herald political correspondent.