John Key is sticking to his defensive strategy: deny everything, label Hager’s book a smear campaign, and – when pressed on specific allegations – say he doesn’t know the details. There is of course a very easy way for Mr Key to become acquainted with the details, which he doesn’t seem keen to do, and that’s to simply ask the right people.
For instance, there’s the issue of how classified SIS documents were suddenly declassified and released at break-neck speed to Cameron Slater, following his OIA request. Now, according to John Key this morning on Radio NZ’s Morning Report, Key had no knowledge that the SIS had released the documents. That’s despite Key being the Minister responsible for the SIS. And that’s despite there being some considerable political interest in the contents of the documents – after all, they made Phil Goff look like a fool, a liar or a lying fool, depending on your political allegiance.
Matthew Hooton, on Nine to Noon this morning, made the point that it is “preposterous” that Warren Tucker, as director of the SIS, would release such politically sensitive documents without first alerting the Minister, John Key. Under the ‘no surprises’ rule, I’d count releasing documents showing the leader of the opposition misled the public (whether accidentally or otherwise) as a bit of a surprise.
Nonetheless, John Key says he didn’t know, which means (taking him at his word) that either Mr Tucker made this unilateral decision or that Mr Tucker received a thumbs up from someone in Mr Key’s office who then didn’t pass that information on to Key.
So surely, all Mr Key needs to do, to clear everything up, is to ask Mr Tucker what precisely happened. Was the decision to declassify and release purely that of Mr Tucker’s? If so, why? And if Mr Tucker said he had in fact briefed someone in the Prime Minister’s office, who was that person?
Then there’s the issue of Judith Collins, and what she may or may not have leaked to Cameron Slater. Mr Key says he can’t really comment on any of that as he hasn’t asked Ms Collins about it. Nonetheless, there’s a serious allegation that Mr Hager has made. Hager alleges Collins leaked the Bronwyn Pullar letter to Slater. Collins is on record, both inside and out of the House, completely denying that she or her office had anything to do with the leak. If Hager is correct, Collins lied to Parliament and the New Zealand public. Surely that’s something Mr Key would at least want to ask Ms Collins personally?
Or the five word email by Ms Collins to Cameron Slater, in which she provides the name and title of Simon Pleasants, a former Labour staffer, who is promptly, viciously and wrongly smeared by Slater. Collins refuses to say what her email was in response to, and John Key says he has no idea either. Well, all he has to do is ask Collins what question from Cameron Slater she was replying to.
And then there’s the issue of the National Party staff member who downloaded the Labour Party’s database. John Key has confirmed that Jason Ede definitely accessed the database. He’s said, “Jason became aware of that [that Labour’s database was open to the public], and he did go and have a look”. But there’s no confirmation that Ede downloaded the database. Given that Ede still works for the National Party, one would think it should be a relatively simple matter for Key’s office to ask Ede exactly what he did or didn’t do.
Or the other National Party IP address that accessed the database? Peter Goodfellow, the Party President, has confirmed that another staff member rummaged around – just to check that National’s security wasn’t that bad, don’t you know? Who was that staff member and what, if anything, did they download? Mr Goodfellow already seems to know a great deal on the subject, so it shouldn’t be a great inconvenience to Key to call up the President and swap notes…
Those are just a selection of the questions to which Mr Key could presumably get quite easy answers, should he so desire. I could keep going, but you surely get the point.
This is cynical politics from Mr Key, and it’s an utter farce. He and National want the story to die down, so Key is steering well clear of specifics. If he doesn’t ask, he doesn’t know. And if he doesn’t know, he can’t answer the media’s questions. Everything peters out, and the media finally get around to reporting on policy.
However, Mr Key has, I believe, miscalculated badly. The media aren’t going to simply give up on this. The number of very specific questions that need answering are too many. The number of grubby little dots that need joining won’t suddenly disappear. And with Mr Hager’s alleged source beginning a piece by piece dump of the original emails via the @whaledump Twitter address, the journalistic interest will definitely not die.
Whether the wider public gives a damn is of course a different story. The four people with whom I raised it at Court this morning simply rolled their eyes and muttered derogatory comments about Nicky Hager. And these are intelligent, well-read people who I would generally respect.
John Key is perhaps hoping that the public don’t care now, and as long as nothing definitive comes out to link Key directly to the scandal, the public will continue to not care. Time will tell whether he’s right…