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The Heron Report

Written By: - Date published: 8:38 am, July 31st, 2020 - 35 comments
Categories: health, making shit up, national, same old national, spin, uncategorized, you couldn't make this shit up - Tags: , ,

The Heron report inquiring into National MP Hamish Walker and Michelle Boag’s misuse of confidential health information has been released.  And it is frustratingly short of detail.

It reads like a collation of press releases augmented with some carefully prepared statements and topped off with an analysis of Ministry of Health processes.

There is nothing new in the report, it confirms what we already know.  Walker and Boag “were each responsible for the unauthorised disclosure of this sensitive personal information. Their motivations were political. Their actions were not justified or reasonable.”

The cause of this particular episode is rather strange.  Walker was upset that he was called racist after he made a statement about how potentially Covid infected people from India, Pakistan and Korea were on their way to his electorate. He said he found that “extremely upsetting” and unfair. He also said that his “primary concern was the ability to quarantine a significant number of people in the electorate without the appropriate facilities to do so, not the race or ethnicity of the people.”

To add to the sense of cluster fuckery Walker gave this reason for releasing the information:

My intention was to show that my initial Press Release was based on fact and was not racially motivated. However, I accept that the spreadsheet sent on did not prove that point as it gave the names of people and not the places they had departed from, to New Zealand.

And to make things even worse the places that the people, who are all returning kiwis, departed from is publicly available.  The figures from three weeks ago were:

  • India – 17
  • Australia – 11
  • United States – 3
  • Singapore – 1
  • Pakistan – 0
  • North and South Korea – 0

So Walker released sensitive details about Covid sufferers to prove something the information could not prove and which was easily disproved by information that was publicly available.  A more complete cluster fuck is hard to imagine.

Heron was asked to report on “whether there is a risk of ongoing breaches or further exposure of the information” so I was hoping he would ask who else Boag had sent the information to.

At a press conference he said (h/t Sachya Dylan):

I wish the report said this, just to be sure.  Because it states:

I am assured by Ms Boag and Mr Walker that no further breaches or exposure will occur. Mr Walker told me: I have deleted the spreadsheet from my computer equipment. I do not precisely recall the information in the spreadsheet and I have no intention of further exposing that information.

… Ms Boag advised that she has retained material relevant to respond to this inquiry but will destroy it upon confirmation from me that it is no longer needed. I will confirm that to her.

For completion the report should have recorded that Boag had been asked which other people she had sent this or similar information to and her response.

Heron had the power to ask Ms Boag to bring her laptop and show who she had sent the information to.  It looks like this did not happen.  I guess the complete and abject surrender by Boag and Walker persuaded him that he did not have to.  But I still wonder if the information may have made its way to other members of National’s caucus.

Apart from a comment that he should have counselled Boag not to release the information Michael Woodhouse escapes relatively unscathed.  Although there is still an overwhelming feeling that he is a hypocrite and has been playing wide and loose by blaming the Government for Boag’s leaks.

And this cannot have helped National’s standing, especially with members of the medical community.

There will be a Privacy inquiry into what has happened here.

35 comments on “The Heron Report ”

  1. Sacha 1

    Even a right-wing hack like Luke Malpass can see the limp effort by Heron. https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/opinion/122299691/covid-patient-leak-inquiry-leaves-questions-unanswered

    But under questioning from media it became clear that while Walker, Boag and National health spokesman Michael Woodhouse had been interviewed by the Inquiry, there was no forensic investigation, or any investigation at all, of their email accounts to corroborate their version of events. That is, that the emails had not been sent to any further parties or anyone other than just Boag, Walker and Woodhouse.

    Heron, a former Solicitor-General and barrister of note experienced at such investigations, took them at their word. He pointed out that any penalties for lying to the inquiry were far graver than any trouble they may face over privacy breaches. He also said that he found their explanations convincing on these matters.

    From the public’s perspective, or if you were a person whose health information was leaked you might ask: If Boag couldn’t be trusted to not leak the information in the first case, why should anyone believe that she then turned around and told the Inquiry the truth?

    • Sacha 1.1

      Given Heron's track record, it seems unlikely he decided to be so lax without instructions from somebody to not rock the boat.

      I detest that short-term political priorities can interfere with justice for the most deliberate breach of sensitive health information in our history.

  2. Sacha 2

    Maybe somebody with a Herald subscription can tell us what the rest of this story says?

    https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=12352442

    Analysis: Inquiry into Covid-19 leak missed a chance to delve into political murk

    We were promised a powerful inquiry to get to the bottom of the Covid-19 patient privacy breach. Instead we have to trust the word of leakers.

    • lprent 2.1

      Then the day after Michael Heron QC was appointed to head the inquiry National MP Hamish Walker and his mentor and former party president Michelle Boag confessed.

      It took the wind out of the sails of Heron’s inquiry – the key players had revealed themselves and their motivations.

      That Boag was a private citizen working for Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust – a private organisation – and Walker was an MP somewhat complicated matters. Heron’s responsibility was to investigate public servants.

      But he had the wide-ranging scope to establish the extent of the privacy breach and if there was a pattern of behaviour. And under the Inquiries Act, Heron had the immense powers to fact-check the leakers’ words through forensic analysis of email addresses, questioning under oath and seizing documents or computers.

      Instead Heron took the leakers at their word.

      We have to believe that although Boag sent patient data to then National health spokesman Michael Woodhouse four times in June, she only sent it to Walker once.

      We have to believe Walker didn’t have the patient data when he sent out a press release mid-afternoon on July 2 that the returnees were mostly from “India, Pakistan and Korea”.

      We have to believe it was only after 4.30pm when the first news story broke that Walker had been called racist that he called Boag in a state of distress.

      We have to believe Walker when he said Boag only sent the data to him to help him back up his claim despite Boag saying she never knew he’d send it on to media.

      We have to believe Walker when he told Heron: “This was the only time Ms Boag gave me official information that she should not have done.”

      The timing of when Boag emailed the spreadsheet to Walker isn’t in the report and is a vital detail to reassure the public these players can be taken at their word.

      Heron relied on the threat of a hefty penalty under the Inquiries Act to punish anyone caught in a lie with a fine up to $10,000 so didn’t see it was necessary to fact-check the stories of the leakers.

      Inquiries headed by QCs are costly and with the source of the leak widely reported, dragging it out would have racked up the bill for the taxpayer.

      But the all-powerful investigation missed a rare chance to delve deeper into the political murk that sits behind this saga.

      Nothing much else. My guess is that the actual text was that, after pruning, Amelia Wade had a revelation. That lawyers are not journalists. They don’t tend to worry the bone to death trying to suck out the juicy marrow bits.

      • Sacha 2.1.1

        Thank you. The coordination of Walker and Boag's media releases is another strangely unasked question. What are the chances that party officials like Goodfellow were not involved?

        • lprent 2.1.1.1

          The Government asked the State Services Commission to investigate what caused the privacy breach, who was responsible and how it could be prevented from happening again. At the time the Government believed the leak could have come from the public sector.

          The enquiry was targeted at a state sector breach. The National party was beyond its purview.

          • Sacha 2.1.1.1.1

            'Who was responsible' usually extends further than the dupe pushed into the spotlight by the gang boss.

            • McFlock 2.1.1.1.1.1

              Boag was responsible.

              She was the one who had the emails forwarded to her company address.

              She was the one who forwarded the emails outside the health sector.

              The two MPs are fuckwits for receiving forwarded emails plasters with confidentiality notices, and not remonstrating with the source. Walker is a compound fuckwit for sending it to journolists.

              But the person responsible was Boag.

      • Just Is 2.1.2

        Wouldn't it be wonderful if all Court Judges took the word of defendants as being truthfull, no one would ever be convicted of anything.

      • Anne 2.1.3

        Conversations between Michelle (M), Hamish(H) and Micheal (MW):

        H to WH …had any more info from Michelle?

        WH to H …yeah, bloody interesting. Why don't you have a talk to Michelle. She might be willing to let you into the loop.

        H to M …can I have a copy of the spreadsheets too? I wanna use it locally. Need to back up with actual info.

        M to H… Sure. I'll send it to you right now.

        End of story.

        When it comes to political retribution, the right will always be let off with a wet bus ticket. Thems the rules.

      • Treetop 2.1.4

        Muller was not spoken to either.

        Am I correct?

      • Treetop 2.1.5

        Muller was not spoken to either. Nor was Kaye or Adams.

        Am I correct?

    • mickysavage 2.2

      "We were promised a powerful inquiry to get to the bottom of the Covid-19 patient privacy breach. Instead we have to trust the word of leakers"

      • Dennis Frank 2.2.1

        And the reason for your repetition is?? Pointing to the naivety of the Herald journalist? What is a QC for (other than to defend the establishment)?

        No, don't worry about trying to answer the third question. I've no wish to give you a headache. Have a nice day.

  3. Peter 3

    The old believing the multi convicted criminal trick eh?

    "Did you rob the bank and kill the teller? I see you've got blood all of you and $100 notes falling out your pockets."

    "No sir, I didn't."

    "Okay, you can go."

  4. tc 4

    Not being a legal eagle here but given Heron's brief and his powers IMO prima facie he looks to have done the old 'once over lightly'. Has a pearly white feel to it not asking for the Boag's laptop.

    If he’s “assured by Ms Boag and Mr Walker..” given their track records is that the right call for the role ? A reasonable person, given everything, wouldn’t necessarily trust a word on political matters that comes out of Michele’s mouth .

  5. Tiger Mountain 5

    “These opportunist, lying, National dirty tricksters have assured me…”
    Non inquiry of the year award goes to…Mr M.Heron.

    NZ National’s damage control appears to have worked very well indeed in terms of containing names involved. Ms Boag is the only one up for any further attention it seems, if the Privacy Commissioner can be bothered! These top level managerialists just love to have each others backs.

    • Anne 5.1

      These top level managerialists just love to have each others backs.

      So very true. And it doesn't matter how serious the complaint might be, they will always cover up for the perpetrator/perpetrators.

      We have yet another example which I understand is to be released today – the investigation into the DF operation in Afghanistan. Thanks to Jon Stephenson and Nicky Hager they look like they are about to be undone this time.

  6. Enough is Enough 6

    We know what happened once Boag got her grubby hands on the information. But there doesn't seem to be any accountability for the disclosure from the Ministry to her….

  7. Reality 7

    The Heron report is very tame. Michelle Boag, particularly, and the other two, behaved appallingly to cause major political damage and they have got off with a mild telling off. Walker was upset at being called racist, so we can't be too hard on the poor boy. Michelle won't be invited to so many VIP events now, so that's her punishment.

    It was Chris Hipkins yesterday who was the most outspoken, which he did well.

  8. Stuart Munro 8

    So once again Boag waltzes free, showing to all the world that dirty tricksters can laugh at justice with impunity in NZ. There is one law for the mass of us, and another for vicious and unprincipled bimbos with political influence. They are our masters, you see. Equality before the law does not apply to them 🤮.

  9. Sacha 9

    Gutless. https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=12352472

    Heron was given wide-ranging powers, including seizing computers and questioning people under oath, but the day after he was appointed Boag and Walker confessed.

    During his investigation, Heron said he took the pair "at their word" because there was no reason not to believe them. They were not questioned under oath and their email accounts weren't analysed.

    But because Boag was sent the information in a professional capacity and Walker is an MP it's unlikely their actions would have breached the Privacy Act, Heron found.

    The findings have been referred to the Privacy Commissioner for his attention.

    'Professional capacity' means nothing. Boag is totally liable for prosecution. Guess we need to wait for another agency to do that job, without political prompting.

    • Treetop 9.1

      Can the Privacy Commissioner direct Heron to reopen the inquiry to look into computer records or can the Privacy Commissioner request computer records?

      • Sacha 9.1.1

        1) No.

        2) Don't know.

        • Treetop 9.1.1.1

          The inquiry needed to be widened to Woodhouse, Muller, Kaye and Adams as they all had some information and it was up to Heron to decide if the information was relevant or not.

          • Sacha 9.1.1.1.1

            You'd think. He certainly had the powers to do that with.

          • Craig H 9.1.1.1.2

            It wasn't relevant to his inquiry because he was brought in by the SSC to investigate the public service – once he concluded that it wasn't in SSC jurisdiction (MPs and Boag are all outside SSC jurisdiction), there wasn't a lot of point in continuing to look.

  10. EE 10

    It looks like they’re soaking the wrist-slapping bus ticket.

  11. Shanreagh 11

    What's with these right wing women and their over-arched eyebrows? Are they joking most of the time?

  12. RedBaronCV 12

    What a cover up. You can leak private medical data and nothing happens?? Talk about the glitterati being given a free pass – steal a few dollars worth of stuff from a supermarket and the sky falls.

    Does Heron even know what a computer looks like? At the very least Michelle' s should have been examined. I'd make the guy do another round of this

    • Shanreagh 12.1

      I'm as interested in the stuff from Woodhouse. Don't think we have quite got to the bottom of his mischief.

    • Craig H 12.2

      For what? The inquiry was into the Public Service at the request of the State Services Commissioner. The finding was that they should have reviewed the distribution list once community transmission ended. The use of the documents was by people outside the Public Service and outside SSC jurisdiction, so why not hand it off to the Privacy Commissioner and Speaker of the House, since they handle privacy breaches and errant behaviour by MPs?

      • RedBaronCV 12.2.1

        Okay so the public service maybe need to tighten up their end. But if it is about the public service then why not a recommendation for the correct body to take action against Boag, Walker and Woodhouse rather than the lame" I took them at their word".

        He can't have it both ways – either he can investigate or he can't. If he can't investigate then don't exonerate by default taking them at their word. Say it needs to be investigated elsewhere.

        So what is the real problem here – in my opinion there simply doesn't seem to be sufficient arms length in the dealings with the matter.

        Mostly I wouldn't want to be in the USA but this is one occasion when it would be kinda attractive to see someone on the list suing for a large sum of money for breach of privacy – it might get more attention.

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