David Fisher

David Fisher is a senior reporter for the NZ Herald.

Rawshark files: The blogger and the politician

Minister Judith Collins kept in frequent contact with Whale Oil blogger Cameron Slater.
Minister Judith Collins kept in frequent contact with Whale Oil blogger Cameron Slater.

Judith Collins and blogger Cameron Slater appeared to have frequent contact over the entire time she served in John Key's Cabinet, according to electronic files obtained by the hacker Rawshark.

The Herald has seen email records which appear to cover 2009 through to 2014.

The files purport to include a discussion about the editing of Mrs Collins' Wikipedia page with the then-minister sending Slater a new image with the note: "Cam, any chance of a better photo going up?? Eek it looks really bad."

The records and the level of detail in the records are a stark contrast to earlier claims Ms Collins and Slater made about Facebook conversations being faked.

Ms Collins said the previously released information were "likely forgeries" and threatened a complaint to the police. Police have confirmed no complaint has yet been made -- and Ms Collins has not responded to subsequent inquiries from the Herald.

Requests to Slater resulted only in an obscenity.

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The information supplied to the Herald by the hacker Rawshark show a range of contact, from personal messages to discussion about government information - and appear to include incidences in which Ms Collins passed on information which Slater then used to attack political opponents.

Nicky Hager's book Dirty Politics, based on the hacked exchanges, allege the National Party used Whaleoil to carry out "attack politics" to drive others out of the debate.

Instances include the mocking of NZ First leader Winston Peters in February 2012, after he raised questions in Parliament about spending by the Department of Corrections.

Mr Peters tabled a letter in Parliament shortly before 3pm -- but by 3.42pm the letter was on the Whaleoil blog. That day, the hacker's collections of records shows Ms Collins sent Slater the "document tabled by Rt Hon Winston Peters in House".

Slater's commentary on the blog post -- one of a number that day -- made derogatory comments about Peters.

Ms Collins also appears to have sent to Slater an email she received from Labour's Trevor Mallard. The email had been sent accidentally by Mr Mallard using "reply all" when responding to someone who had emailed dozens of MPs.

Ms Collins sent it on to Slater with the subject line: "Note to self Trev, don't reply to all." It appeared on Slater's site with the headline: "Note to self trev, don't hit reply to all," poking fun at a perceived lack of technical ability.

In September 2013, Slater received another misfired email meant for Labour MPs which had gone to Cabinet minister Amy Adams. It appears to have been copied, sent to Ms Collins and then to Slater who used it to make fun of the party's new leader David Cunliffe.

The records also show discussion about information which could be obtained under the Official Information Act.

Questions have already been asked about two other OIA requests made by Slater. There is an inquiry into a fast-tracked release of information from the Security Intelligence Service. In a separate release, Slater was sent a letter from David Bain's first lawyer containing damaging allegations against his former client by Ms Collins' office on the same day it was received.

The Herald's review of material appear to show other discussions about the OIA.

In 2009, while Ms Collins was Corrections minister, she appears to have told Slater "re the OIA" that she had been " alerted to the fact that Corrections domestic travel seemed very high".

In November 2010, Slater is said to have asked Collins: "Any news on those dates for my OIA? Really want to catch those Labour guys out."

In September the following year, according to the Facebook records questioned by Ms Collins and Slater, she was asked by the blogger: "Have you got those details for my OIA about annette's briefings."

The records also appear to show Slater's contact was not just with Ms Collins. In June 2010, the blogger, Ms Collins and then-press secretary Stefan Herrick appear to have been part of an email chain discussing the prospect of gaining early access to Ministerial expenses.

Other staff were also brought in during Slater's work on behalf of a Russian immigrant couple. Through 2010, Slater appears to have passed on references to Ms Collins, handled inquiries from her on their behalf and also arranged a meeting with her through the blogger.

News events were discussed -- Ms Collins appears to have sent on press releases and links to news articles. In March 2010, the Herald ran a story about a mother's heartbreak after her baby drowned during a bath. The following day's story, which stated the mother had been visited by CYFS, saw an email purporting to be from Ms Collins to Slater saying: "How embarrassing for nzherald."

Correspondence seems to have been occasionally driven by press releases. One from the NZ Maori internet Society in late 2013 had Ms Collins purportedly ask Slater: "So how is Maori internet different from the rest of our internet."

There were apparently also jokes at the expense of the Opposition, who were often called by their nicknames. In August 2010, Ms Collins appears to have told Slater "Pluggie (Clayton Cosgrove) now beaten up by Geoff Robinson", sending on a Radio NZ link to an interview with the Labour police spokesman.

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- NZ Herald

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