Walker apology after revealing Covid patients' details

Hamish Walker. Photo: supplied
Hamish Walker has been stripped Mr Walker of his forestry, land information and associate tourism spokesman roles. Photo: supplied
Clutha Southland MP Hamish Walker has outed himself as the person who sent the details of Covid-19 patients to news media outlets and has apologised.

The Government yesterday announced that Michael Heron, QC, would lead an inquiry into how the private information was leaked.

In a statement tonight, Mr Walker said he would co-operate fully with the inquiry.

‘‘I sincerely apologise for how I have handled this information and to the individuals impacted by this.’’

Mr Walker said he sent the information to media outlets to ‘‘expose the Government’s shortcomings so they would be rectified.

‘‘It was never intended that the personal details would be made public, and they have not been, either by me or the persons I forwarded them to.’’

The Otago Daily Times was one of media outlets to receive the information, which it has not used.

Mr Walker was reprimanded by his National party leader, Todd Muller, who called the incident ‘‘an error of judgement’’.

Mr Muller also stripped Mr Walker of his forestry, land information and associate tourism spokesman roles, assigning them to Ian McKelvie.

‘‘Given this matter is the subject of an inquiry, I will not be making any further public comment."

Former National Party president Michelle Boag. Photo: NZ Herald
Former National Party president Michelle Boag. Photo: NZ Herald
FORMER PARTY PRESIDENT GAVE DETAILS TO MP

Hamish Walker says he passed the details to the media after receiving them from former National Party president Michelle Boag, The New Zealand Herald reported tonight.

Boag said it was a "massive error of judgement on my part" and she has also apologised.

"The information was made available to me in my position as then Acting CEO of the Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust, although it was sent to my private email address.

"This was a massive error of judgement on my part and I apologise to my colleagues at ARHT whom I have let down badly.

"I very much regret my actions and did not anticipate that Hamish would choose to send it on to some media outlets but I am grateful that the media involved have chosen not to publish the 18 names that were contained within it."

Boag said she has resigned her position as acting chief executive of ARHT because of her actions.

"My actions were mine alone and should not reflect at all on the professionalism, integrity and outstanding reputation of the Rescue Helicopter staff.

"They are an amazing bunch of dedicated community servants and I know they will be very disappointed in me."

Privacy Commissioner John Edwards said on Twitter that it was "outrageous, unbelievable, indefensible".

"My gob is well and truly smacked."

WALKER 'SINCERELY SORRY'

Hamish Walker said he "sincerely apologised" for how he handled the information, and was sorry for the impact on the affected individuals.

He had released the information to justify his previous comments about Kiwis flying in from India, Pakistan and Korea, which the Government had described as racist.

"I have spoken to National Party Leader Todd Muller and informed him that I passed to members of the media, by email, information containing Covid-19 patient details that was given to me by a source," he said in a statement.

"I did this to expose the Government's shortcomings so they would be rectified. It was never intended that the personal details would be made public, and they have not been, either by me or the persons I forwarded them to."

Walker said he had received legal advice that he had not committed any criminal offence.

"The information that I received was not password protected by the Government. It was not stored on a secure system where authorised people needed to log on. There was no redaction to protect patient details, and no confidentiality statement on the document.

"By exposing a significant privacy issue I hope the Government will improve its protocols and get its safeguards right. I made serious allegations against the Government's Covid-19 response and passed on this information to prove those allegations."

State Services Minister Chris Hipkins said yesterday: 

"The public release of this information is wrong. I'm determined to find out why it happened, how it happened and ensure that systems are in place to prevent it from happening in the future."

Hipkins said there were a number of theories about how the sensitive information came to be released but he didn't think it was human error.

"I don't think that information tends to accidentally be sent to multiple media outlets at the same time."

Heron will use the State Service Commissioner's powers under the State Sector Act and the powerful Inquiries Act which allow him to:

• Require documents to be produced
• Summons witnesses
• Question parties under oath

RACISM ACCUSATION

Walker had been accused of being racist when he issued a press release singling out Kiwis returning from India, Pakistan and Korea and being placed in managed isolation or quarantine.

The Government had said it was investigating whether hotels in Queenstown and Dunedin were feasible as managed isolation and quarantine facilities.

In response, Walker said it was "absolutely disgraceful" that communities hadn't been consulted.

"These people are possibly heading for Dunedin, Invercargill and Queenstown from India, Pakistan and Korea."

mike.houlahan@odt.co.nz

- additional reporting from NZ Herald 

 

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