Dirty Politics row: Calls for Collins to resign

Judith Collins
Judith Collins
Prime Minister John Key is standing behind Judith Collins' version of events over her role in Cameron Slater's online persecution of Simon Pleasants.

Government figures continued to come under pressure over Dirty Politics allegations yesterday, with Justice Minister Judith Collins facing calls for her resignation over claims she contributed to blogger Cameron Slater's vindictive hounding of a public servant.

Author Nicky Hager's account of a sustained National Government dirty tricks campaign run by Slater with involvement from Prime Minister John Key's former senior communications adviser Jason Ede is based on thousands of emails hacked from Slater's computer.

Yesterday, about a dozen of those emails were posted online by an anonymous individual claiming responsibility for hacking them.

Facing reporters yesterday, Mr Key avoided directly addressing questions about whether Mr Ede's behaviour was appropriate.

Mr Key also backed Ms Collins' version of events over her role in Slater's online persecution of public servant Simon Pleasants who he believed leaked details of Bill English's accommodation allowance to Labour in 2009.

Ms Collins last week confirmed she had given Mr Pleasants' name to Slater but over the weekend changed her story, saying she gave Slater only Mr Pleasants' job title.

Public Service Association (PSA) acting national secretary Glenn Barclay said: "Minister Collins must take responsibility for her actions and resign. Her behaviour falls well below what is expected of our leaders."

Labour Leader David Cunliffe said Mr Key should fire Ms Collins, "because she has acted in a way that is unbecoming and unfit" for a minister.

Ms Collins' office did not respond to the Herald's calls yesterday.

But Security Intelligence Service (SIS) director Rebecca Kitteridge last night backed Mr Key's version of events around the release of information about former Labour leader Phil Goff's briefing from former SIS boss Warren Tucker on Israeli agents in Christchurch.

In the book Hager quotes from emails exchanged between Slater and his friend Aaron Bhatnagar where Slater indicated he expected to receive documents under the Official Information Act contradicting Mr Goff's statements that he did not receive a briefing from Mr Tucker.

Hager and Mr Goff claim Slater received help from the Prime Minister's office to draft his request for the documents and that Mr Key's office expedited their release.

A spokesman for Ms Kitteridge last night said the service's director was "responsible for NZ SIS Official Information Act responses and made the decision to release and what to release in this case".

"Under the no-surprises convention the director or a representative would normally inform the minister's office about what is being released under the OIA."

Mr Cunliffe told Radio New Zealand if Ms Collins was in his party, "she'd be gone".

"There's no question about that.

"The public service rule book and the Cabinet manual and other guidelines provide clear processes for ministers who have difficulties with individual civil servants."

Sledging someone through a blog site that was alleged in Hager's book, was inappropriate and unbecoming of a minister, let alone the Minister of Justice, Mr Cunliffe said.

"The person whose statutory responsibility is to uphold the law and guide the formation of the law - it is unbelievable, it beggars belief that she is still in office, especially after the prime minister has put her on last warning months ago for undeclared conflict of interest."

He would hold his ministers to a higher standard than Mr Key if his party were part of a government after this year's election, he said.

To his knowledge and since he had been the Labour Party leader, there was no equivalent relationship between his staff and bloggers as there was with National and Slater, Mr Cunliffe said.

"We put press releases out. There may be background briefings about material which is in press releases and I think there is nothing unusual or untoward about that.

"But the issue here is the kind of material that is being pumped out through the Whale Oil blog, is completely below the belt - you only have to read the book."

Mr Key was pressed about Ms Collins' relationship with Slater on TV3's Firstline this morning.

He told the show Ms Collins was one person Slater talked to, "but they are family friends and they've been friends for a very long period of time".

Asked if the Justice Minister should be so connected to someone like Slater, Mr Key said: "Well there are lots of people who talk to Cameron Slater. That's the reality. As he's always said, he runs his own blog, it's his own thing."

Mr Key was equivocal about whether the average person would like the Justice Minister's involvement with Slater.

"They may or may not, but they can also say that people have friendships. And there's nothing new here about their relationship with Cameron Slater, it's been known for a very long period of time.

"And in the end, this is a world that's pretty connected, where there are lots of people talking to lots of people."

Mr Key was also questioned on the relationship between Ms Collins and Aaron Bhatnagar -- a National Party member and friend of Slater's who tipped the blogger off to the security hole in the Labour website.

Ms Collins had appointed Mr Bhatnagar to the Real Estate Agents Authority board last year.

"You didn't need a leaked set of emails and a book from the left-wing to know that -- actually Judith put out a press release," Mr Key said.

He was not sure if Mr Bhatnagar was still part of the National Party.

"I don't know what relationship he has with Cam, and I'm not really sure that Judith knows that. But look, at the end of the day, he's on the Real Estate Agents board, they [Labour] left the security off their site, people are going to look at things."

Mr Key stood by his stance that the emails were "selective" and an attempt to smear the government.

"We've never refuted actually that the emails were real, I don't think anyone's made that point."

- Adam Bennett of NZ Herald

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