Adam Bennett

Adam is a political reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

New questions over Key claims

Prime Minister John Key speaks to the media at Christchurch Yacht Club, Moncks Bay. Photo / Martin Hunter
Prime Minister John Key speaks to the media at Christchurch Yacht Club, Moncks Bay. Photo / Martin Hunter

New evidence has emerged appearing to contradict Prime Minister John Key's claim he was never told by the SIS it intended to release politically sensitive secret documents to Whale Oil blogger Cameron Slater.

But this time it is Mr Key himself who refers to having been told about the SIS's intention to release the documents to Slater by former SIS Director Warren Tucker - in video footage of one of his press conferences.

Nicky Hager's book Dirty Politics claims that Mr Key's office or the SIS helped Slater obtain the documents which he then used to embarrass former Labour leader Phil Goff.

Mr Key referred to the briefing from Dr Tucker while being questioned about the matter during his post Cabinet press conference on August 8, 2011, in the days following the document's release.

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Responding to persistent questioning from then Scoop editor Alastair Thompson and Herald political editor Audrey Young, Mr Key said: "What happened is Warren Tucker didn't come to me, he went to his legal adviser and his legal advisers told him this is the process they have to follow and when he was going through that process it was at that point he told me he'd release it because he has to tell me that under the no-surprises doctrine."

The footage spotted by a Herald reader comes after Mr Key's version of events - that he was never directly briefed by Dr Tucker on Slater's OIA request - was backed up yesterday by two senior public officials.

Two letters emerged yesterday - one from Dr Tucker and another from Ombudsman Dame Beverley Wakem - which referred to Dr Tucker briefing the Prime Minister on the release of the documents.

Dr Tucker and Dame Beverley both said later that they meant they had briefed Mr Key's office and not the Prime Minister himself.

Watch: John Key: 'I was in Hawaii'

Video

Mr Key later added that he had been on holiday at the time the briefing took place.

"I was having myself a whale of a time on holiday in Hawaii."

Asked if he could have been briefed by phone, he said: "We've got a full inquiry and people will be more than happy to check my records."

Mr Key was still reluctant to comment on whether anyone in his office might have passed information about the documents to Slater.

He hadn't asked his staff, "and I'm not going to do that at the moment".

"At the end of the day it's irrelevant when we're four weeks out from an election.

"New Zealanders don't care about that."

A spokeswoman for the Prime Minister late last night said that Mr Key stood by his comments.

Mr Goff yesterday called for Cheryl Gwyn, the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, to use her powers under the Security Intelligence Act and "put on oath anyone relevant to the case" including Mr Key, Slater, Mr Key's chief of staff Wayne Eagleson and his former senior adviser Jason Ede, who is tagged in Hager's book as Slater's primary Beehive contact.

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"It is much harder for a person to lie on oath than it is in a press stand-up," Mr Goff said.

He said Dr Tucker told him about Slater's request for the documents on July 26, the day he received it.

Mr Goff said Dr Tucker said he intended to release that day, "and I hit the roof".

He had told Dr Tucker it was "unbelievable that you would contemplate doing anything like that - that draws you right into the political arena".

He said Dr Tucker then agreed to delay the release for a week.

Mr Goff said that tallied with messages published in Hager's book and more recently online where Slater indicated he was frustrated that release of the documents had been delayed.

- NZ Herald

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