Adam Bennett

Adam is a political reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

Ministers hit out at Key's leak inquiry

Collins says the investigation treated privacy with contempt

David Henry faced a grilling yesterday before Parliament's privileges committee. Photo / Mark Mitchell
David Henry faced a grilling yesterday before Parliament's privileges committee. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Senior cabinet ministers Judith Collins and Anne Tolley have hit out at Prime Minister John Key's inquiry into the leak of a report on spy agency the GCSB, with Ms Collins saying it treated ministers' privacy with contempt.

But Mr Key says anyone who objected to the inquiry's "basic" intrusion "wouldn't make it as a minister".

Ms Collins and Ms Tolley voiced their concerns as David Henry, the former top public servant who conducted the investigation faced Parliament's privileges committee.

The committee is examining how the parliamentary reporter Andrea Vance's phone and swipe card records and ministers' phone and email records or metadata came to be given to the inquiry.

Mr Henry who investigated the leak of a report revealing potentially illegal spying on New Zealanders by the GCSB, faced a grilling not only from NZ First Leader Winston Peters over his "forensic" ability to conduct the probe, but also from Government ministers.

Under the inquiry's terms of reference which were approved by Mr Key, the inquiry sought ministers' email and phone logs which were held by the Parliamentary Service. After some initial resistance those records were provided, following the intervention of Mr Key's chief of staff Wayne Eagleson.

Questioning Mr Henry, Ms Collins indicated she was surprised to learn that ministers' metadata was obtained by the inquiry without her direct approval.

"I found it was quite chilling to realise that ministers and staff's emails and the right to privacy was treated with what I would say was frankly a contemptuous attitude.

"Why did you not think that you should check as to what were the constitutional issues that might in fact be affected by members of Parliament, their staff and journalists having their emails logged and read?".

Mr Henry said he was given a job to do and asked for information he considered necessary.

He expected Parliamentary Service and Ministerial Services to deal with the issue of gaining authorisation for the release of that information and assumed that had been done.

Ms Tolley said she was surprised Mr Henry didn't seek guidance from Speaker of the House David Carter, "around some of these more delicate issues that impinge on the privacy of Ministers of the Crown, and their staff and Members of Parliament".

Mr Key later indicated he didn't believe ministers had any grounds to complain about the inquiry's actions.

"We put out public terms of reference it was up to any minister to come and complain if they wanted to."

No minister had done so.

He said the GCSB report was sensitive document and a genuine inquiry into its leak was necessary.

The inquiry looking at minister's email and phone records was "the most basic level of intrusion".

"If you can't meet that level well you wouldn't make it as a minister."

Mr Key said Ms Collins and Ms Tolley were "entitled to their view and I"m also entitled to make sure that I deliver a proper inquiry".

The committee yesterday heard that former Parliamentary Service boss Geoff Thorn, who resigned over the matter, asked Ministerial Services and Mr Eagleson for confirmation that ministers had granted authorisation for their metadata to be released.

Mr Eagleson told him that authorisation was effectively given because ministers had agreed to the inquiry being set up, agreed to its terms of reference which stated their metadata would be sought, and Mr Key had also made it clear he expected them to co-operate. No ministers had objected to that.

Yesterday, Mr Eagleson told reporters that "in hindsight the most simple thing would have been to go to each minister and say the Prime Minister requires you to co operate fully with the inquiry. Please give written authorisation".

Labour's Deputy Leader Grant Robertson said it was clear it was Mr Eagleson's intervention that saw the metadata released.

"Mr Eagleson acting on behalf of John Key was very involved in the fact that this information got out."

Furthermore the inquiry's terms of reference "were clearly what led Mr Henry to believe he could access Andrea Vance's swipe access records around the building".

He said the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet which drafted the terms of reference had to take responsibility for that, "as does the Prime Minister who signed off on those terms of reference".

Neither Mr Dunne or Ms Vance attended yesterday's hearing which will continue this morning to hear more evidence from Mr Thorn.

The Henry Inquiry: The Ministers' take

Justice Minister Judith Collins: "I found it was quite chilling to realise that ministers and staff's emails and the right to privacy was treated with what I would say was frankly a contemptuous attitude."

Police Minister Anne Tolley: 'did it never occur to you... that you should perhaps seek some guidance from the Speaker... around some of these more delicate issues that impinge on the privacy of ministers of the Crown, their staff and Members of Parliament?

Prime Minister John Key: Key: "We put out public terms of reference it was up to any minister to come and complain if they wanted to but let's be honest... it was the most basic level of intrusion saying we're going to look at the metadata to try and determine if the person's of any interest or not. If you can't meet that level well you wouldn't make it as a minister."

- NZ Herald

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