Unconscionable and from within

Hamish Walker. Photo: supplied
Hamish Walker
National Party politicians were absolutely right to suggest the leak of confidential information about Covid-19 patients was another sign of incompetence.

As the narrative went, we need to trust our leaders and the potentially unlawful leak during a national crisis further highlighted the danger of having the wrong bunch in charge of the pandemic response.

After news of the leak broke, National Party List MP Michael Woodhouse said it was "unconscionable and unacceptable that those suffering from the incredibly dangerous virus now have to suffer further with their private details being leaked".

Party leader Todd Muller called the "quite staggering" breach "shabby" and "a reminder these guys can't manage important things well".

"The problem is when you've allowed a culture of sloppiness and clumsiness to take over and become pervasive, really history suggests you need a new broom to be able to sort and set the tone from the top," he said.

Mr Muller should know: he is the new broom, elected by his caucus to replace an unpopular leader who strayed too far into "negative politics", there to tackle the issues that matter instead of the manufactured scandals that do not.

He has some work ahead of him. The shabby leak came from his own Member of Parliament, from material supplied by a former National Party president. Unconscionable, unacceptable, and from within.

Clutha-Southland MP Hamish Walker is said to have gone behind his leader’s back in his receipt and use of material sent to him by Michelle Boag. Mr Muller has spent many hours finding new ways to describe his justified outrage.

Our news pages describe how Mrs Boag and Mr Walker revealed their involvement in last week’s leak to media just a day after the Government hastily launched an inquiry into what happened. They also describe how Mr Walker was stood down before he said he would not seek re-election, and how this came before the party could act on Mr Muller’s request to "consider" his actions.

That he also tried to stop the party from naming him publicly, citing privacy concerns, is now a matter of record.

Mrs Boag resigned as acting chief executive of the Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust, a role which seems removed from operational roles that would have legitimate access to such information, and has left Nikki Kaye’s Auckland Central electorate and campaign team. She has expressed her regret.

We cannot go much further into what motivated her to pass the material to a low-ranking MP, or what motivated him to ignore patient privacy. Neither naivete or stupidity are reasonable reasons.

Neither Mr Walker or Mrs Boag wanted to be interviewed yesterday. Both said they were sorry; Mr Walker, considered by many a likeable and hard-working local MP, issued a four line statement announcing he would not seek re-election.

Mr Walker’s only explanation pre-dates his resignation. On Tuesday, he said he released the information "to expose the Government’s shortcomings so they would be rectified". This appears "generous", at best.

It appears much more likely Mr Walker released the information, on condition of anonymity, to prove claims made in a previous, heavily criticised statement in which he said people from “India, Pakistan, and Korea” would be quarantined in the South. He said the release showed the information was not password-protected or stored on a secure system.

Thankfully, the outlets that received it knew better than to publish. To do so would have been as wrong as sharing it in the first place.

That they might prove a leak seems secondary. After all, on the face of it, the leak occurred as a consequence of one National Party-proximate person giving clearly private medical material, to another.

But "on the face of it" observations cannot sufficiently dissect a series of incidents that appear to put politics over people, points-scoring over privacy and self-promotion — even self-preservation — over service.

Calls to discontinue the inquiry now that the sources are known must be resisted so that all the details are known, and such flagrant breaches are avoided. After all, Privacy Commissioner John Edwards believes the deliberate leak of the information was illegal and in breach of the Privacy Act.

It follows that culpability and sanctions, and not just political ones, must be served upon those who deserve it. Mr Walker still has a role to play; "shortcomings" must be laid bare.

 

Comments

Time for diehard supporters to suck it up. There is no way to spin this as naivety.

I feel sorry for H Walker, but amazed a Minister of Parliament would be ignorant of patient confidentiality and the implications for those whose private information is unlawfully accessed.

Cam Slater has put out a rather hard hitting blog this morning which mentions prior history of the same lady leaking personal medical information. If the list of Slater accusations is correct then hard to see the new leadership team surviving very long.

It has been reported that Hamish Walker is a close friend of Michelle Boag's son. Per TVNZ last night he thanked Michelle Boag in his maiden speech. Michelle Boag's tenure as party president was a disaster in 2002 and it seems her influence this time will lead to a similar result. Many voices are saying David Seymour is now the real leader of the opposition so will be interesting to see if that translates into votes for ACT.

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