Judith Collins’ resignation has, it is suggested in some quarters, allowed a line to be drawn under the whole dirty politics saga. We can, it seems, get on with the “real issues” of the election. Such optimism, however, seems entirely misplaced.
First, there can surely be no more important issue than the fitness to govern of some of these pretending to office. What could be more serious than the abuse of power – its use, not to serve the interests of the country, but to discredit and destroy, in an unfair, vicious and underhand way, those whom the government sees as its opponents?
In other countries and at other times, such abuses have led to those responsible being dismissed from office in disgrace – Richard M. Nixon is one obvious example. Are we really to say that, whereas the Americans thought such behaviour worthy of impeachment, we will set it aside as no longer among the “real issues” of our general election campaign?
And could there be a clearer example of that abuse of power than the apparent secret complicity by a minister with a notorious muckraker and practitioner of the dubious art of destroying reputations with the intention of “gunning for” the chief executive of an important agency for which she had ministerial responsibility?
John Key tells us that he retains an open mind about the truth of these serious allegations. What is beyond doubt, however, is the close relationship between Judith Collins and Cameron Slater – the one treated by the other as his confidante and mentor – and her willingness to use his services in order to further her political goals.
The inquiry announced by John Key into the whole rotten business may well be designed to serve the usual purpose of such inquiries – the deferment of any conclusion about guilt or innocence until after the crucial date – in this case, election day – by which time memories are less clear and it will in any case be too late. And what the inquiry will presumably not do is take a wider view of the involvement of the National Party, at every level, including the very top, with such disreputable people and practices.
Yet it is the very integrity of the government as a whole that is the “real issue”. It beggars belief that, in a government and a party so much dominated by its leader as to warrant the sobriquet “TeamKey”, John Key did not know and did not therefore, tacitly at least, approve the use of the special skills of the likes of Cameron Slater.
He virtually admits as much. His principal defence against the charge that he is personally involved is that “this is the nature of modern politics” and “everybody does it”. It is only the nature of modern politics because people like John Key allow it and like Cameron Slater make it so.
In the excitement of the moment, as well, let us remind ourselves of the bizarre nature of John Key’s announcement of Judith Collins’ resignation and the holding of an inquiry. It is only a week or so ago that another inquiry was announced into yet another aspect of the dirty politics saga.
That inquiry was, in effect, into John Key’s own conduct. The inquiry will attempt to answer the question – did John Key know that the Security Intelligence Services, for which he is the responsible minister, would release a secret report, denied to all other media, but released with unusual alacrity to – that name again – Cameron Slater? That released report involved, of course, the then Leader of the Opposition and was used by Cameron Slater to denigrate him as a general election campaign got under way.
John Key attempted to deflect attention about his involvement in this episode to the quite separate and much less important question as to whether he had been told in person by the Director of the SIS that the release had been made, after the deed had been done.
We must hope and expect that Inspector-General, in her inquiry, will focus on the real question – did John Key know (and almost certainly approve) that the release should be made when Cameron Slater was tipped off that he should seek it? Given the National Party’s close reliance on Slater for such purposes, does it not again defy belief that, on such a sensitive matter, John Key was not kept in the loop?
Are the allegations against John Key any less serious than those against Judith Collins? Is the willingness to use the country’s secret services for the partisan (and distasteful) purposes of the responsible minister not the most serious breach of proper practice that could be imagined?
So why is the case against Judith Collins enough to warrant her resignation, while John Key, subject to no less serious allegations, sails serenely on? Is there not a dreadful irony in seeing one of those subject to serious allegations of dirty politics (John Key) accepting the resignation of the other (Judith Collins).
As no doubt intended, the inquiries may not report till after the election. But the election does provide the opportunity for an earlier day of reckoning.
30 August 2014