Adam Bennett

Adam is a political reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

Failure on 'many levels' during Henry inquiry, MPs find

Peter Dunne. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Peter Dunne. Photo / Mark Mitchell

United Future Leader Peter Dunne says he has been vindicated by a new report on the Henry Inquiry into the leak of a report on the country's spy agency.

Parliament's privileges committee today issued an initial report on the "unprecedented"events that led to records of emails between Fairfax reporter Andrea Vance and ministers including Mr Dunne, along with phone logs and swipe card records, being released to the Henry Inquiry.

The report found worrying "failures on many levels"in the way that information was handled.

Mr Dunne resigned after refusing to release to the inquiry the content of some emails between him and Ms Vance sent in the days before Ms Vance's article about the main findings of the Kitteridge report which revealed potentially illegal spying by the GCSB spy agency. Ms Vance's article appeared days before the scheduled release of the report.

Mr Dunne said he welcomed the findings that it was unacceptable that the Henry Inquiry was handed private information, despite having no formal powers to demand it, and that its failure to consider the particular role of MPs was worrying.

"I resigned as a minister because I was not willing to compromise my overriding bel"ef that citizens, be they constituents, members of the public or journalists, ought to be able to communicate with their elected representatives in confidence if they wish and that we tamper with that right at our collective peril."

He said it was now clear he was within his rights to decline access to his emails, "and that in accessing my electronic records without my approval the Henry Inquiry grossly exceeded its authority and acted quite improperly".

"In hindsight, it is also clear that the pressure which led me to resign as a minister, for failing to comply with the inquiry's improper demands, while perhaps understandable in the heat of the time, was both unfortunate and a hurried over-reaction."

Mr Dunne said the report "vindicates the position I took".

"It shows up an inquiry that was woefully inadequate, poorly conducted and completely out of control."

Mr Key said it was possible that Mr Dunne would be reinstated as a minister, but that was not related to the report's findings.

"That's not what the select committee actually looked at."

Mr Key said he hadn't had any discussions with Mr Dunne about reinstating him or given the matter much thought.

"In the end time does move in and heal most things, so it is a possibility."

In its report the committee noted it was told not to treat the matter as one of "contempt"for Parliament, but it "could not ignore the evidence that failures on many levels"led to the unauthorised release of information.

The incident had exposed "significant gaps in the policies and principles guiding the Parliamentary Service in relation to the information it holds, including a lack of clarity about the authority under which information should be released, or who should be ultimately responsible for establishing justification for release".

Decisions about the release of information were made without consideration of the roles played by the individuals concerned within Parliament.

"In particular, the unique role of the press in New Zealand's democracy does not seem to have been considered at all", the committee said.

One of the most "mystifying factors"in the affair was why Speaker of the House David Carter, as the minister responsible for Parliamentary Service which held the information, was not consulted or even informed about its release.

"We find the lack of engagement with the Speaker on these releases very troubling", the committee said.

Parliamentary Service General Manager Geoff Thorn, who resigned over the matter, was criticised by the committee for failing to consider the status of the information released to the inquiry and whether it was appropriate to release it.

The committee pointed to the lack of interaction at a senior level between Mr Henry and Mr Thorn and also between both men and Speaker Mr Carter. That "led directly to wrong decisions being made by Mr Thorn".

The committee also highlighted that while legislation did not necessarily apply to the release of information held by Parliamentary Service, there appeared to have been no consideration of the principles behind the Official Information Act, Privacy Act and Evidence Act which would have been pertinent to the service's decision about releasing the information.

Finally the committee noted that the service appeared to have authorised the release of information to the inquiry without considering "whether individual consent might be desirable".

The committee said the next stage of its inquiry would address the "fundamental flaws"in the existing arrangements and focus on "ensuring proper systems and processes"were established around the release of parliamentary information.

- NZ Herald

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