Written By: - Date published: 4:03 pm, March 31st, 2012 - 77 comments
Categories: ACC, john key, Judith Collins, kremlinology, national - Tags: andrew little, bronwyn pullar, corruption, cronyism, Michelle Boag, nick smith, resignation, simon lusk, trevor mallard
The ever-growing list of letters, emails, and leaks in the National Party Civil War, that started off as an apparently apolitical privacy breach by ACC, is getting hard to follow. Here’s a summary of the various documents and their ramifications – so far. I’ll go by order in which they’ve come into the public domain and I’ll update this post when needed.
The ACC privacy breach: the details of 6,700 ACC claimants ended up in the hands of an, at the time, unknown ACC claimant who leaked the list to the Dompost on March 13.
Ramifications: an investigation by the Privacy Commissioner into how ACC let this information out. It turns out that, of all people, the largest leak in ACC history went to a person who had also received the then Minister for ACC’s personal support in her ACC claim, which led to his resignation. How can that be a coincidence?
The report on the ACC privacy breach: ACC inquired into the leaking of the details of the 6,700 claimants and reported to ACC Minister Judith Collins just three days later on March 16. This report did not name the claimant but contained some important allegations – that the claimant and her support person had tried to extort two years’ worth of ACC payments in return for returning the leaked information, they said the minister and ACC could be embarrassed, and that two senior managers had attended (it would later be revealed that this was on the instigation of National-linked ACC board member John McCliskie).
Ramifications: ACC referred the alleged blackmail to Police.
The Boag-Collins email: On March 18, the Herald on Sunday published the details of an email sent by National apparatchik Michelle Boag to Collins and some related information that identified Boag as the support person of National insider Bronwyn Pullar, who was the ACC claimant who had leaked the original privacy breach. The article describes Boag as being “furious her letter had been leaked” and she later said “I sent it to the minister only … and I asked whether it was a secure email address before I sent it.”… “When you can’t send a communication to a Government minister without fearing that the privacy of that communication is going to be breached, that’s very, very dangerous.” [in fact, any such letter is subject to the OIA, allowing for privacy exemptions etc]. Collins suggested that Boag might have leaked the email, which is laughable.
Ramifications: The leaking of this email remains the primary issue in the ACC affair. It looked like the standard breach of privacy by this government to intimidate or discredit a critic or someone who had embarrassed it (cf. Paula Bennett) but with the added element of Lusk/Slater latching on and attacking Boag, primarily via their shared pseudonym – Whaleoil. The only sources of the leak could be Collins, her staff, or the top brass she sent it to – all have denied being involved. The Privacy Commissioner is now investigating how this email was leaked.
The Smith-ACC letter: On March 20, the Government released a letter that then ACC Minister Nick Smith had sent to ACC in support of her ACC claim. This was a proactive move apparently intended to pre-empt the letter coming out under OIA and nip the issue in the bud (although, given the letter presumably was held by Collins’ office, questions need to be asked about that now). We later learned this email was accessed a number of times by Pullar’s former case manager in the days before its release.
Ramifications: John Key initially expressed confidence in Smith but calls for his resignation, first from opposition parties and then the media reached fever pitch by the next morning. Speculation over the, um, closeness of Smith and Pullar’s relationship made the situation all the worse. A second letter by Smith concerning Pullar, although far more innocent and involving only a technical conflict of interest rather than active promotion of the claims of an ‘acquaintance’, was given as a reason for him to resign without an embarrassing Prime Ministerial u-turn.
All this would have remained safely in the closet and the well-liked Smith would have kept his portfolios if not for the leak of the Boag-Collins email. This fact sparked bitterness from the Brat Pack camp towards Collins – the only logical source of the leak that anyone has suggested in my opinion and the opinion of most others – and was seen by the Joyce Camp as an opportunity to attack their rival for the post-Key leadership. Collins’ faction blamed it all on Boag. While the opposition was seeing this as a case of National Party cronyism regarding Pullar’s special treatment by Smith and ACC, inside National the battle lines were being drawn.
Pullar’s private insurance claim: On March 25, the Herald on Sunday’s David Fisher (who had revealed Pullar’s identity the week before) published details of her million dollar private insurance claim for the same injuries (there’s nothing wrong with claiming ACC on top of private insurance) based on an email from Boag – it’s unclear if this was the same email as the previous week’s story was based on but there were additional details not in that email. Again, Whaleoil was all over this story and using it to attack Boag. The logical conclusion is that Fisher’s story came from the same source as the previous week’s story. And, based on the evidence, I think that was probably the Collins Camp who were out to discredit Boag and her faction.
Ramifications: this signaled the start of the open civil war phase of this affair. What had originally been about problems with ACC that seemingly just happened to involve National Party figures was now a battle between National Party factions.
The Nat leaks: We started receiving information on the internal machinations behind all this in the following days as, apparently, did Labour. It was clear to us that the reason for Collins’ faction attacking Boag and the anti-Collins leaks we have been getting are that this is about who will lead National once Key is gone – probably before the next election. Collins was the front-runner before this last week but Boag’s faction would have been a challenge for her.
On March 28, National operator Simon Lusk was identified by Labour in the House as the conduit for the Boag-Collins email from Collins to Fisher. Collins denies giving the information to Lusk.
Ramifications: The response from the Collins faction was telling. Lusk/Slater’s Whaleoil pseudonym went silent for a few hours (this is from a blog that as of 4pm has had 17 posts in the past 9 hours – on a Saturday!) and then came out with an onslaught of every bit of dirt they’ve every thrown at Mallard plus more dirt directed at Boag and some at The Standard.
Collins herself threatened to sue Mallard and Little unless they retracted their comments. They ignored her and no suits have been filed as of yet. If it happens, it will be the first known case of a minister using taxpayer money to sue someone for defamation. This was seen by all and sundry as a purely political move with no chance of success in the Courts. She only made this move after Lusk was named.
The Privacy Commissioner’s investigation widened to include the Boag-Collins email following these events and Collins has hid behind public interest as a reason not to answer questions in the House subsequently.
There are growing calls for Collins to resign as her failure to adequately explain the leaking of the Boag-Collins email leaves people suspecting her involvement. Key has expressed confidence in her.
The National Party Civil War shows no signs of abating with the Collins faction keeping up their dirt throwing at Pullar and Boag today and Boag yesterday saying only someone who was “unhinged” would be making the leaks that are widely thought to have come from the Collins faction via Lusk/Slater (the “unhinged” reference appears to refer to Slater’s well-known mental health issues). The inside tips are still flowing too to us, media, and political parties.
If Key is trying to broker peace, the factions don’t seem to be listening, further underlining his lameduck status.
The Sovereign Insurance – Boag letter: On March 29, Close Up revealed a letter from Sovereign Insurance to Boag referencing earlier communications with Pullar and Boag over Pullar’s $14 million(!) insurance claim, and mentioning Pullar’s 28-strong ‘support team’ of prominent National Party figures including Jenny Shipley and Key (who had that day finally returned to the country after spending a week trying to accidentally bump into Obama in Korea). Key denied ever being part of such a support team and Pullar said the 28 names were “a list of known people who were aware of my dispute with the insurer, and who the insurer may encounter in the course of their business”. Boag says that the list was supplied just so Sovereign would be aware of who knew about Pullar’s claim but Sovereign didn’t see it that way, there was clearly an inference that powerful people were on Pullar’s side in her claim and there would be consequences for Sovereign.
Ramifications: Pullar, Key, and Boag have all moved to protect Brand Key but the stink of cronyism and corruption over this whole affair got stronger. The source of this leak is unknown. Would it be in the Collins faction’s interests to drag Key in? I wouldn’t have thought so. Is that list a show of strength by Boag?
Unanswered questions –