Cunliffe: Dirty Politics allegations like Watergate

By Adam Bennett, David Fisher

John Key, left, Nicky Hager and Cameron Slater.
John Key, left, Nicky Hager and Cameron Slater.

Labour Party leader David Cunliffe says allegations made in Nicky Hager's new book 'Dirty Politics' are "the closest New Zealand's got to its own kind of Watergate".

The book laid out ample evidence that Justice Minister Judith Collins had done "a bucket-load wrong", Mr Cunliffe said.

Read more of the Herald's coverage today:
Dirty Politics: 'That's fine' - Key relaxed on hack by spin doctor
'Dirty Politics' book's claims over Brown affair
Slater ready with slew of complaints

"She's been in regular communication and abused the powers of her office. She's provided information to the Whale Oil website which from time-to-time she's come across in terms of her ministerial responsibility.

"She's used taxpayer-funded resources and staff to supply a right-wing attack site and I think it's completely inappropriate."

Ms Collins has denied the allegations.

Mr Cunliffe, speaking to media in Auckland this afternoon, said he hoped Mr Hager would release the source emails to back up his claims.

"I think based on what's in the book there is already ample evidence for the Prime Minister to remove Mrs Collins' [ministerial] warrant," he said.

"I think personally it's extremely distasteful and the Prime Minister already has put her on so-called last warning over the Oravida scandal - he doesn't need any more than this and she should have been gone long ago."

Mr Cunliffe said the allegations in the book had "disgusted" him.

"The Government has constructed a systematic approach to smearing, undermining and carrying on in the most un-ministerial, un-democratic and unprincipled way.

"This has got to stop, New Zealanders do not want their country to delve into this sort of muck."


Senior Cabinet Minister Judith Collins. Photo / Michael Craig

Mr Cunliffe described the accessing of a Labour database due to a security flaw as "the closest New Zealand's got to its own kind of Watergate".

"If somebody's house is left unlocked and you go and steal the purse off the kitchen table, that is still a theft."

Mr Cunliffe said the allegations in the book would probably shift "hundreds of thousands" of votes this election.

Key 'probably' won't take action

Prime Minister John Key says he "probably" won't take any further action about claims in Nicky Hager's book Dirty Politics that senior Cabinet Minister Judith Collins leaked sensitive information to right wing blogger Cameron Slater.

Mr Key today continued to dismiss Hager's book - which claims complicity between his staff, ministers and right wing bloggers in a covert dirty tricks strategy - repeatedly saying it was the work of "a left wing conspiracy theorist who wants to smear the Government".

Watch: Key responds to Hager book claims

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Hager this morning told the Herald the "nastiest" behaviour by a minister in his book was Ms Collins giving her friend Slater the identity of an official she believed was responsible for leaking information about Finance Minister Bill English's taxpayer funded accommodation allowance in 2009.

In the book he says then-Police Minister Ms Collins' suspicion that Ministerial Services official Simon Pleasants had told Labour what they should request under the Official Information Act in order to embarrass the Government was "almost certainly unfounded".

The book quotes directly from an email from Ms Collins to Slater in which she names former Labour staffer Mr Pleasants.

Slater went on to identify Mr Pleasants in a series of disparaging blog posts on his Whaleoil site leading to a torrent of abuse directed towards him.

Asked about that claim this morning, Mr Key said: "I'm not going to go into all of the details. I'm not going to dignify much in the book now. In the end people can draw their own conclusions."

He said he was unlikely to take further action over that claim and others including that Ms Collins discussed then-undisclosed details of the 2011 Bronwyn Pullar ACC privacy breach with Slater.

"She's utterly refuted them so unless I've got a good reason probably not.", Mr Key said.

Ms Collins this morning said Hager's book was "full of lies." "It's a real smear campaign and I'm quite disgusted with it" she told TVNZ's Breakfast.


Labour MP Grant Robertson. Photo / Stuart Munro

Labour MP Grant Robertson said Ms Collins needed to respond to the specific allegations made in the book.

"For instance did she have a conversation with Cameron later about release of confidential ACC emails?" Ms Collins' response was that a Privacy Commission investigation had cleared her of leaking to the media Ms Pullar's identity and a key email about the affair.

But Mr Robertson said whether not Ms Collins was involved in that leak "she was giving him (Slater) information about the case." Hager's book - based on thousands of messages between Slater, National Party spin doctor Jason Ede and others - claims Mr Ede ran Mr Key's dirty tricks operations which were kept at arms' length from the Prime Minister to avoid damaging his image.

Rich's role questioned

An anti-obesity campaigner targeted by the Whaleoil blog says he believes allegations an ex-National MP supplied material for the attacks should prompt her resignation as a lobbyist for the food and grocery industry.

Water company director Tony Falkenstein said he believed questions needed to be asked of Food and Grocery Council chief executive Katherine Rich after claims in Nicky Hager's new book, Dirty Politics.


Tony Falkenstein.

Mr Falkenstein claims he became a target of the blog after emerging as the contact point for people wanting to be involved in a potential class action against soft drink products.
The content of the posts suggested Mr Falkenstein was not interested in health issues but wanted to drive sales for his company, Just Water International.

In the book, Hager said emails he had obtained through a hacker led him to believe Slater allowed his website to be used for commercial "hit" jobs, including the posts about Mr Falkenstein. Hager claimed the posts were being done on behalf of the Food and Grocery Council, through public relations supremo Carrick Graham - son of former National minister Sir Douglas Graham.

Hager said emails he had obtained showed Mr Graham wrote the articles which were then posted by Slater under his own byline - a claim blog owner Slater denies. Hager alleged Slater was paid $6,555 a month by Mr Graham's company, Facilitate Communications.

In Dirty Politics, Hager claimed Mr Falkenstein was written about after his name appeared on an advertisement seeking out people with Type 2 Diabetes. The advertisement, which sought people for a possible Australian class action against soft drink companies, was sent by Mrs Rich to Mr Graham, and then to Slater for his website, he claimed.

Mr Hager claimed emails showed website posts attacking Mr Falkenstein included the line "3 hits smashing him good and proper" with each described as a "KR hit".


Author Nicky Hager. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Mr Hager claimed another email had Mr Graham telling Slater: "Coke keeps sending stuff to KR expecting her to do something (where we come in). Hit pending." Mr Hager claimed at least one post was also written on Fonterra's behalf, again through the Food and Grocery Council. A spokeswoman for Coca-Cola said it would take "a bit of time" to respond to the allegations and offered no further comment. A Fonterra spokesman said "we have never, directly or indirectly, requested or paid for posts on the Whale Oil blog".

Mrs Rich, who left Parliament in 2008, did not respond to calls for comment. A spokesman for the council said the book had not yet been read and no comment would be made until it was.

Mr Falkenstein said in his view the content of Mr Hager's book demanded a response from the Food and Grocery Council. "If what Hager is saying is true, that should be the end of her. It shows the dirty side of politics, doesn't it?"

He said he was driven from social media by Mr Graham's Twitter posts, which included attacks on his company.

"On the one hand, it's stupid. I'm not going to sell any more water. But it (self interest) is a good angle for him to come on. It wasn't a fair battle." He said attacks by powerful lobby groups were commonplace in the United States. "They will use any weapon they can to push their case."

Mr Falkenstein said Mrs Rich was a "fantastic" lobbyist who became more influential when appointed by National to the Health Promotional Agency, which guides policy on obesity and other key health areas.

Slater also posted articles attacking Independent Liquor earlier this year, targeting the company over its pre-mixed spirit ready-to-drink products. Mr Hager claimed said emails linked DB Breweries corporate relations manager Matt Wilson to the attacks through an email organising a meeting on the "RTD project" with Mr Graham and Slater.


Cameron Slater. Photo / Doug Sherring

Mr Wilson said Mr Graham provided "public relations advisory services" for the company. "We certainly didn't commission Cameron Slater or Carrick [Graham] to post anything on behalf [of us]. We certainly didn't commission him to deal with Cameron [Slater]."

Slater has rejected claims he was paid to place articles on his website. "I run a business and I offer PR and social media advice and I charge for that privilege. I get paid for advice."

Asked if the "advice" resulted in posts on the blog, he said: "It may have."

Mr Graham did not return calls.

Call for Ports of Auckland to come clean on allegations

The Maritime Union is calling on Ports of Auckland to come clean on allegations in Nicky Hager's book Dirty Politics that it was involved with right-wing "attack" bloggers to smear union members during a long-running industrial dispute.

Maritime Union national president Garry Parsloe has called on the 100 per cent council-owned port company to confirm or deny unethical practices outlined in the book, and whether they were being paid for by the company.

"Will the port company open the books on the full cost to ratepayers of their attack on their own workforce, starting with payments to attack bloggers, PR firms and consultants?

"If the Ports of Auckland would not come clean, they must be directed to by the owners of the port, Auckland City, on behalf of the ratepayers and citizens of Auckland," Parsloe said.

The book contains an exchange between Whaleoil blogger Cameron Slater and Hong Kong-based right-wing blogger Cathy Odgers where they discussed the ports company putting them on a retainer, including $10,000 for a first attack and "bonuses for digging up sh*t on Union head and taking them out completely".

Hager said Slater spent months pounding the union with almost daily attacks on his blog about union workers being overpaid and lazy, but said "it is not clear whether the payment discussed at the start eventuated, but it certainly looks as though they were collaborating". The book said the port company denied making payments to Slater.

Odgers told the Herald: "The unions pay their bloggers via direct means just as they fund their political parties. I have no problem being paid for my research and writing skills and spent many hours of my spare time and weekends working on posts. In this instance however POA (the ports company) refused to compensate."

A spokesman for the ports company refuted the claims.

"There were no payments to bloggers or journalists by the port or its advisors. Any assertion to the contrary is a fabrication.

"There was no 'collusion' between port management and bloggers. The port was very open with information during the dispute.

"All media, including, bloggers were treated equally and provided with information or access when requested," the spokesman said.

Writing on his blog, Slater said bloggers had not received any money from either the ports company or public relations people for running a campaign against the maritime union.

He said the maritime union openly sponsored the left-wing Daily Blog to run their attack lines.

"We asked for cash to compensate our time and energy and the Ports and their PR refused to pay," Slater said.

He accused Hager of being selective about the truth and ignoring the full story to run a story to suit his own ends.

- additional reporting Bernard Orsman and Teuila Fuatai

- NZ Herald

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