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All The Prime Minister’s Men: Why John Key Cannot Have It Both Ways

By   /  August 1, 2013  /  28 Comments

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UPDATE: Since this article was written the head of Parliamentary Services, Geoff Thorn has resigned, receiving three month’s pay as a golden handshake. The Speaker said in a statement: “… both he (Thorn) and I acknowledge that the confidence in Parliamentary Service has been undermined by events in recent weeks, and as general manager he accepts responsibility for this.”

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AustralasiaThis morning on introducing the weekly New Zealand news bulletin that I do for an Australian radio station the host said: greetings to you from the land of spies and surveillance! This is how New Zealand is now regarded by our closest neighbours.

And they are right. Week after week our Australian friends have scratched their heads in amazement, they wonder, how can a prime minister, who is responsible for a country’s intelligence agencies, get away with being caught out unlawfully spying on its own people. How can John Key get away with resolving this illegal activity by creating legislation that will make it legal. How can the Executive Wing of government get away with conducting a drag-net operation, a trawl of all communication records relating to a minister of the Crown (and it isn’t the first time the Key Government has done this); a Parliamentary press gallery journalist; and all the people that journalist had phoned and emailed from February through to May – including all data stored by Parliament of her security swipe-card movements, times, access-points, locations.

This was all private information obtained against their will or consent.

In previous weeks, our Australian friends suggested that the New Zealand Government had become the Stasi of the South Pacific.

When you consider the above, you can understand why.

PM-John_key-Parliament-July-31-July-2013THIS WEEK’s REVELATIONS that David Henry, the Prime Minister’s inquiry head, acquired on ‘request’ all the phone and email records between a Minister of the Crown and a Parliamentary press gallery journalist. This gives us another chance to stand back, to look at the big picture, to consider the tapestry that New Zealand presents to our neighbours in Australia and the wider Pacific.

It offers us an opportunity to compare, to consider how New Zealand was once seen as an independent Pacific Island state, that punched above its weight on global issues, where our message and ethos was frequently elevated to a state of influence based on the strength of the morality of our argument.

Today, we represent a nation that is obsessed with itself, where foreign policy is hardly ever spoken of, where the efforts of legislative reform are consumed by trade-led compliance to the demands of the two dominating superpowers, where the reach of domestic search and surveillance powers are absolute, without assurances that our civil engagement with each other will not be provided or sold to overseas governments and corporations.

New Zealand today, presents an official culture that is poles apart from the days when we took in the Tampa refugees, refused to engage in a war justified on the basis of bogus intelligence, stood up and said it is now unlawful for nuclear powered warships or vessels carrying nuclear weapons to enter our territorial waters.

Today, it is understandable why our neighbours see us more as a contradiction: where we celebrate the liberty of people to marry irrespective of their gender, while we continue, as a nation (based on political polls) to support a Prime Minister whose government professes to be moderate while legislating to make lawful an extension of search and surveillance powers that has caused even Microsoft and Google to submit a caution: that the new legislation will place these multinationals in a position where they must choose to obey the laws of New Zealand or those of the United States.

Such is the ditch between what John Key’s bill proposes and that of which the United States currently has.

This is the backdrop to the big news this week that the New Zealand Parliament’s privileges committee has initiated a public investigation into why Parliamentary Services accessed and handed over to the Prime Minister’s investigator all email and phone records between political journalist Andrea Vance and MP Peter Dunne.

This investigation will test the propriety of the Prime Minister, his office, the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, the office of the Speaker, and Parliamentary Services itself.

The fact that Parliament’s inquiry is having to investigate at all is testament to how much of a shambles has emerged under the governance style of John Key.

What we know is the Prime Minister’s investigator David Henry was tasked by the Prime Minister to find out how a confidential report into New Zealand’s electronic spy agency the GCSB found its way into the hands of Andrea Vance.

This week it was revealed that all of Vance’s phone and email records, of communications spanning February to May, were ‘obtained’ by Parliamentary Services and ‘handed over’ to the Prime Minister’s investigator without the permission or consent of either MP Peter Dunne, nor Andrea Vance, nor any of the hundreds of other people she was in contact with during that time-span.

Understandably, there has been an uproar in Parliament.

The Speaker:

The-Speaker-David-CarterUnder John Key’s watch, we have seen the Speaker drawn into this dubious space.

The Speaker is responsible for what happens within the Parliament but also for what Parliamentary Services did. First this week the Speaker David Carter denied Vance’s phone records had been handed over to the inquiry.

By Wednesday the Speaker had to stand up in Parliament, beside his glorious chair rather than sit in it, and state he was wrong, that the phone records had indeed been handed over to the Prime Minister’s investigator.

The Legislature:

Did the Speaker authorise this drag-net-operation? He says not. Was the Speaker aware that Parliamentary Services had trawled and acquired all of Vance’s communication records and security swipe-card data? He says not. Is Parliamentary Services operating in a rogue fashion? It appears so, at least at this stage in the saga.

The Office of the Prime Minister:

Parliament Beehive by night, photographed to during Earthday HourDid the Prime Minister’s office, or the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet’s servants, or the Prime Minister’s Chief Of Staff ‘request’ or demand information the Prime Minster’s investigator needed to discover who had been talking to whom on a matter of ‘National security’?

Well, that is the assertion of the opposition party leaders, and frankly is how any reasonably minded person would fathom the events that have been revealed this week.

The Speaker now states that the communication records were handed over by a lowly placed contractor to Parliamentary Services. But surely, that does not stack up when one considers the extraordinary pressure on the Prime Minster’s investigator to obtain that information, and the formal channels he must have followed (via the Parliamentary Service) to acquire the information. At some stage, at some juncture, decisions were made by senior office holders to comply.

    PLEASE NOTE UPDATE: Since this article was written the head of Parliamentary Services, Geoff Thorn has resigned, receiving three month’s pay as a golden handshake. The Speaker said in a statement: “… both he (Thorn) and I acknowledge that the confidence in Parliamentary Service has been undermined by events in recent weeks, and as general manager he accepts responsibility for this.” See: Fairfax report.

Did the Prime Minister’s chief of staff use his influence to persuade Parliamentary Services to cough up the information? Did all the Prime Minister’s men conspire to keep the Prime Minister and the Speaker estranged from the detail?

If we are to believe John Key and the Speaker this is not how it played.

The Privileges Committee Public Inquiry:

Parliament’s privileges committee, has considerable investigative powers and will now conduct a public inquiry into the matter.

The inquiry will evaluate the contradicting statements put before our Parliament.

For example; in Parliament the Prime Minister John Key denied instructing David Henry to acquire the communications. He also denied any knowledge of whether his chief of staff, Wayne Eagleson, had heavy-ed Parliamentary Services into acquiring the communications meta-data and handing it over to his investigator.

In any event, this operation caused a fundamental breach of private communications between a then minister of the Crown and a political journalist. This action is also, as both Labour leader David Shearer and Green Party leader Russel Norman have both argued, an appalling over-reach of the powers extended to the Prime Minister and his people, a deconstruction of the structure upon which the New Zealand version of democracy depends.

A Back-Story Of Power-Culture:

Today, Andrea Vance broke her relative silence on this saga where she eloquently paints a raw context of how this Prime Minister values the fourth estate’s role in this democracy.

Andrea VanceKey insists that he “values the role of the fourth estate”.

He might well cherish the opportunities it gives him to beam into our living rooms at teatime, but it has become rather obvious that this government has a casual disregard for media’s true role as an independent watchdog.

Journalists were dismissed in a tantrum as “knuckleheads”.

The teapot tapes fiasco – when Key laid a complaint about eavesdropping on a personal conversation – led to police raids on newsrooms.

This week, the Defence Force stood accused of monitoring the phone calls of war correspondent Jon Stephenson, a man whose credibility Key has previously impugned.

That contempt for the press continued yesterday with the obfuscation around what Henry had actually requested.

He might not have asked for details of all the phone calls I made, but he certainly asked what calls I placed to ministers and their staff.

It amounts to the same thing.

Crucially, Key ordered that inquiry and he can no more shrug off responsibility for how it was conducted than Henry can.

Vance is correct. The Prime Minister cannot have it both ways. Either he instructed his investigator to acquire the communication records and security card data from Parliamentary Services, or he did not.

Or did this Prime Minister maintain a cavalier attitude, a position of being comfortable with however they chose to get their man, where he observed just the right distance necessary to give himself wiggle-room should things play out as they have, knowing that the culture of disregard for the media that he and all of his men have constructed would be instruction enough.

Did all the Prime Minister’s men take it upon themselves to retrieve this information from Parliamentary Services; where the sole object was to get their leaker; where the method of operation to get their man was paramount to any sensitivities that the lousy pinkos may hold dear? – Where the expression of office was all powerful compared to the views of opposition politicians, academics, civil libertarians, and those who recognise the importance of observing the independence of our democratic institutions?

In Conclusion:

This shadowy episode in the term of this National-led Government has parallels to a time in the 1970s that rocked the USA, where an over-extension of the powers of Executive Office was unpicked, by degrees, to finally conclude with the resignation of its president. There and then, that man, right up until the end, professed he had done no wrong. He said: “I’m not a crook!”

Yesterday, in New Zealand’s Parliament John Key, the man, said he was not aware of the communication records having been acquired, had not instructed his men to obtain the records, and was not responsible for the fact that they had.

Well, let Parliament’s privileges committee conduct a full, thorough, and satisfying inquiry with full powers of investigation, where facts rather than politics, spin, and cheesy lines are put. And once it concludes, sorry Prime Minister, we, not you will be the judge of whether you observed the standards of prime ministership that were inherited from your predecessors.

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About the author

Selwyn Manning

Journalist and Commentator

28 Comments

  1. wyndham says:

    What faith can we, the citizens have in the parliamentary “Privileges Committe” which is stacked with members of the government of the day?
    In all my 80 plus years, I have never known this committee to deliver any meaningful verdict irrespective of the subject matter. Usually, when push comes to shove, hard attitudes are softened and the parliamentary Old Boys club ease up on each other!

  2. fambo says:

    Something’s got to give sooner or later. The only thing protecting the government at the moment is a thin veneer. Where the weakest link is in the chain is uncertain at this moment, and what the final catalyst will be has yet to be determined. The hook will be some law that has been undeniably broken that someone has to be held to account for. Pressure will go on the wrong individual, innocent or otherwise. Someone will squeal. Careers will be destroyed. History will be made. And then it will be time for a nice cup of tea.

    • Pete says:

      Thin veneer used to look really flash when you first put it up on the walls. A while later it didn’t look so good. Later still you say “What the hell was I thinking? A very thin veneer with no substance.

  3. This song is stuck in my head. I hear it every time John Key pops up.
    http://youtu.be/XBw25CrUS-o

  4. We are slowly but surely being turned into a fearful inward looking nation

    • Malco says:

      And doesn’t that remind you of another paranoid little nation? Ah, the joys of having Kim John-Key as our Glorious Leader!

  5. He is either lying every time he opens his mouth, or his government and spy agencies have gone completely feral and are way out of his control.

    Both situations are frightening.

    • Kelston64 says:

      What worries me more is this is the same guy that ignored a national referendum (Anti-smacking bill) and we let him get away with it.

      I’m a long time National supporter that is now openly anti- John Keys. One of a growing number. That means I like the idea of a good economy but there is no longer a party I can relate to that represents this ideal.

  6. Robert DeLong says:

    I agree with all the above. All we have to do is look at where our “elected” Prime Minister received his training. Wall Street USA. Just watch what happens up there and it will replicate itself here if gets His way. Wake up citizens and stop being scared. Use your voice, computer whatever and ultimately your vote to get this scoundrel out of office. should we be proud that one of New Zealand’s “Rich Lister’s” is representing us? Come on. Get someone in office that has the moral and ethical constitution to represent the common people. This guy’s bach is a multi million dollar home in Hawaii?? where do you think his allegiances are? If we follow Australia’s “gaff” of letting US military troops on their soil permanently and invite them here we will just become another target for those that hate the US. we need to make a stand on this. Demanding his lemmings to vote the way he does?? democracy? I think not. If nothing is done it is our fault. make yourself heard.
    We are not a puppet of the US yet.

  7. Dave says:

    Maybe this will give the press the impetus to finally confront Key to actually ask some hard questions. He has lead a charmed life up till now and to his credit, has ducked, dived, blamed others and laughed problems off, and got away with it. Honeymoons over John

  8. Kate says:

    I thought John had a ‘no surprises’ rant a while ago, well I have been shocked! Can someone give him the boot out of his job and out of the country before he destroys everything with his arrogant attitude. He doesn’t respect anything at all about N.Z.

  9. Mana Forreal? says:

    The scandal for beginners, from hamua nikora page:

    The report on illegal spying on NZers is written (it’s illegal for the spy agency to spy on NZers).

    This report is leaked to a reporter who, according to the diary of Peter Dunne, was meeting Peter Dunne just before it was leaked – although he says he ‘never made it’ to the meeting.

    The report is prepared to see who leaked the report to the reporter, but it breaks the law and spies on her phone records and work access card. Now, all hell breaks loose.

    J Key’s answer – change the law to make it legal to spy on NZers! And worse, Dunne is gunna vote for it, helping it to cross the line! Don’t forget either, John Key has been deeply involved at every level of this scandal.

  10. Kelston64 says:

    What I want to see is easy access to a list of phone numbers and email addresses for all current MP’s so I know who to call and write too about this. Media talk is good to raise public awareness, but letting each of of representatives know how we feel and what they need to do to get re-elected goes a long way too.

  11. What concerns me is not the behaviour, per se, of this rotten, corrupt government – but that at least half the country doesn’t seem to care.

    Is this how it began in Germany in the 1920s? People just gave up caring?

    No wonder our anthem pleads “God defend our free land”. ‘Cos half of us won’t.

    • winning says:

      I don’t think they’ve given up caring. But they do need information that is unfettered from the shackles of capitalist big business. AMazed at the different people who turned up for the GCSB protest.
      oh.. And also those by-standers who didn’t have a clue about what the protest was all about – and they were people of all ages. Mind you this is Hawkes Bay so ….as someone said one person turning up to a protest in HB is the same as a 1000.

    • marc says:

      Frank – The truth about so many in the wider public is, “leaders” with great manipulative, smartly planned, dog-whistle and right wing agendas will have it a lot easier to achieve what they want here, than what those “brown shirts” under Adolf had to put in for effort in Germany in the 1920s and 30s!

      Add to that the large scale misinformation and distraction by the absolutely commercially focused main part of the mainstream media, and you have fertile grounds like in few places, to pull the wool over people’s eyes.

      Also peer pressures in smaller town and the regions will force many that are sceptical, critical and deep thinking persons to rather shut up, as they will otherwise live very, very lonely lives out there.

      The only consolation is that most live in larger centres, but there is always a media, living off advertising earnings, so they will be like dogs on the leash, not really free to report and do what they perhaps should be doing. I know this sounds depressing, but it explains a lot for the polls we get, and the apathy that is so widespread.

      Sometimes I feel we need to shake people into listening to the truth, but that will likely have the adverse effect, and only turn them off even more.

    • Geoff Lye says:

      Frank you are surely right on this.

      20 years of neo liberal bullshit has blinded the younger generation to the social heart this country was built on.

      20 years of workers being trod on .

      20 years of minimal wages while costs go through the roff

      Need we say more.

      While all the while the nats borrow by the billions every week.

  12. Countryboy says:

    @ Frank . People DO care and care a great deal . What New Zealanders lack is leadership . There are literally no leaders out there . We all whine and point and tch tch but who is out there to actually focus all this whining and tiching ? No one , that’s who . Not one single person .

    I was at the Ch Ch leg of the GCSB protest and I was bored . I saw a few flared nostrils but they gave way to glazed eyes as the Soft ‘N’ Fluffies , The Beige Brigade tut tutted and ‘ Now , Now’d ‘ people into an angry bout of knitting . I saw the odd threatening yawn and ferocious foot shuffle with an occasional arse scratch but that was it . It was less a rally and more a funeral procession . ( Oh the irony )

    There was that closet stamp collector and Green MP Steffan Browning squeaking about being ‘ peaceful ‘ and if anyone had a ‘ go ‘ at us while we clumped dejectedly to our place of pointless brain farting we were to smile and say ‘ I love you . ‘

    I saw Ruth ‘ Vacuum Cleaner ‘ Dyson there marketing the ‘Labour’ brand because when all’s said and done , Labour is her meal ticket . And what does she do exactly ? I’ve never heard her speak , I never see her act , I have no idea what her portfolios are ? Am I missing something or is she useless ?

    The only real value to the Anti- GCSB spying rally thus far is to prove to the Authorities that without a doubt we Kiwis are about as dangerous and reactionary as a soap bubble .

    jonky can have it anyway he likes . He already has the comfort of knowing that even after some outrageous lying and shrugging , after coning his way into the tacky , uber riche , small cock , massive ego club of the Otherwise Useless , he can blithely go about deconstructing YOUR country while bringing YOU to your knees to give to his mates .

    As I’ve written here before ; we have no Leader . Therefore lets buy one and get him / her to do our bidding to appeal to the mush that is our brains to galvanize us into action . After all , isn’t that what the Army does to innocent young people ? On both sides ? For a dollar ? For them ?

    So , who’s it going to be then ? Jonky ? Shearer ? Norman ? Hariwira ? Banks ? Peters ? dunne ? Or Dingle Faggel who lives down Fairy Dell Lane ? ‘He’ , and now and then ‘ She ‘ wears a leather Gstring and blue velvet bra straps rather than a suit and is known famously for mailing joints to unhappy pensioners . Now and then Dingle , can been seen spraying melted chocolate over stationary speed cameras and spreads words of comfort and support to the vulnerable via plump , edible messenger pigeons . You know , for security reasons .

    Absurd , you may be thinking . Well think again Buster .

    • marc says:

      COUNTRYBOY – Your comment sounds distressed and is distressing. Maybe there are no leaders stepping up to deliver strong, competent and robust leadership, because the still so much applied “tall poppy syndrome” breeds it into people from pre-school age on, to not step out of line and to not challenge what the rest are doing or thinking?

      Those few that may have good leadership skills seem to also opt for the self serving career paths and “lead” in business, for themselves or well paying employers, rather than do the hard, stressful work to engage in activism, protest or politics.

      One problem the left have may be that under Helen Clark the leadership was so strong and dissent-choking, few if any “characters” with leadership skills and ambitions had a chance to step up and show their capabilities. Look at most in their caucus now, and it gets depressing.

      But the Nats are not all that better off, most following head ram and teflonised Key where-ever he leads them. Without Key, the media favourite, they would not look half as strong.

      I agree that there have been leaders in New Zealand in the past, that led the two large parties, or came up with small, new ones, and gained huge numbers of votes from supporters.

      To get leaders a society should allow such to get the air and opportunity to develop, but I fear it is not being allowed enough. The powerful business and other lobbies also want to keep things as they are, so challenging that is a giant task, and people able to master such are not born too often.

      One competent, well spoken type of leader was even banished to the back seats in Labour end of 2002. So much for nurturing leaders under “tall poppy” run systems, it speaks for itself.

  13. Geoff Lye says:

    The factr of the matter is Kiwis have lost the sense of social activism that was there in the 70’s and 80’s.

    The younger generation are to busy trying to keep a job.

    Being driven under by the threat of being sacked

    Minimal hours on bullshit contracts.

    They have been told unions are bad and if you speak out you are bad.

  14. Countryboy says:

    @ Marc . Well , yes I am distressed and I try my best to be distressing . Anything to provoke a response in the cadaver that is us New Zealanders ( Aotearoans ) We’re in the shit and the shit’s getting deeper .

    I’m amazed to the point of incredulity as to how far this goony , blinkered dingbattery is spreading . People need to understand that it’s ok to be passionate about ones politics , indeed about ones life . Passion can lead to trouble , there’s no doubt about that but then it’s better to get into trouble per se than to sit , anesthetized and dulled like an opium addict .

    And this spreading political dis-ease isn’t rocket surgery to understand or to comprehend . ‘ They ‘ are being horribly cruel , greedy and devious and we are frightened , disorganized and vulnerable . Bring on the adjectives I say !

    I appreciate your concern however and I agree and good on you for commenting .

    @ Geoff Lye . Brilliant stuff . Any relation to Len ?

    @ Selwyn Manning . It’s deeply comforting to know that Thinkers like you are out there .

    • m says:

      Correction:

      “One competent, well spoken type of leader was even banished to the back seats in Labour end of 2002.”

      That was meant to read “2012”, and I think we know who I mean!

      (Re my comment above from 01.57 pm on Aug. 02)

  15. Let’s remember that the whole privacy breach of the Dunne/Vance emails was part of John Key’s petty little witch-hunt into who stole his thunder by leaking a report he was going to release the following week anyway! Imagine what the GCSB might do if they imagined they had a whiff of terrorism.

  16. […] All The Prime Minister’s Men: Why John Key Cannot Have It Both Ways […]

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