Written By: - Date published: 8:42 am, September 27th, 2016 - 91 comments
Categories: Abuse of power, accountability, Deep stuff, democracy under attack, Dirty Politics, john key, Media, national, Politics, same old national, spin, the praiseworthy and the pitiful - Tags: cameron slater, david farrar
The new Ombudsman has decided to investigate whether John Key should disclose communications that he had with Cameron Slater and David Farrar during the days of Dirty Politics. Congratulations to Felix Marwick for his insistence that the law should be adhered to and observed.
The Chief Ombudsman will investigate the Prime Minister over his refusal to release details regarding his, and his office’s contact with right-wing bloggers David Farrar and Cameron Slater.
Back in early 2014 Newstalk ZB requested records of all such contacts that had occurred over a two year period.
John Key’s office declined to release details, saying to do so would require substantial research and collation and also that some communications may have been made in Mr Key’s capacity as an MP and leader of the National Party.
Now, almost two and a half years after a formal complaint was laid with the Ombudsman about the matter, Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier has announced he will investigate the complaint.
Of course it will be dismissed by the right as irrelevant and of interest to the left wing twitterati only. But this issue goes to fitness to rule. After all you would expect the Prime Minister to comply with New Zealand Law and be up front to the use he has put the state’s resources to.
Key has admitted playing political games with the OIA in the past and has acknowledged delaying releases to the last minute in the hope of taking the steam out of a story. There is a clear requirement to respond as soon as possible and in any event not later than 20 working days after receipt of the request. So this approach to OIA requests is not a unique example.
From this Radio New Zealand article Key is quoted as saying:
Sometimes we wait the 20 days because, in the end, Government might take the view that’s in our best interest to do that”.
Then Chief Ombudsman Dame Beverley Wakem disagreed.
It’s pretty clear. It couldn’t be much clearer than that… As soon as you have made a decision as to whether you’re going to respond to the request or how you’re going to respond to it, you ought to convey that.”
And Annette King described the situation accurately with this statement:
There’s been a growing arrogance by this Government that they can do exactly what they like with official information… it borders on trying to undermine a fundamental tenet of democracy”.
Key’s defence, that he may have met with them as leader of the National Party and not as Prime Minister, is what you would expect him to stay. But it ought to be up to him to establish that this is the case and even if some communications are protected this does not remove the obligation to disclose the remaining communications. And as pointed out by Idiot Savant it should be a straight forward process to determine in what capacity Key has communicated with Slater or Farrar.
While the PM’s office is correct that he wears multiple hats, and information held in the capacity as leader of the National party or as an MP is not “official information” under the Act, he has not established that the information is held in such a capacity. One of the key allegations of Nicky Hager’s “Dirty Politics” … is that bloggers were being briefed by staff employed by Ministerial Services – that is, paid by the public. If that is the case, then that would make them definitively official information. In the case of the Prime Minister personally, the status of any briefing would have to be judged from the context in which it was given e.g. whether it was given on a day normally reserved for constituency or personal business, or during his “normal” office hours as Prime Minister. It can also be judged from the content e.g. if it is regarding official information or any OIA request then it must clearly be given in the capacity as Prime Minister, because the leader of the National Party or John Key MP do not “hold” such information and do not process such requests.
As for the claim of substantial research and collation claim in these days of computers such a process should not be difficult.
The OIA process needs to be reviewed. The Ombudsman’s office needs to be funded properly so that complaints can be dealt with quickly and efficiently. And sanctions need to be built into the process so that abuses of the system are punished.