John Armstrong on politics
John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

John Armstrong: National's response not good enough

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Prime Minister John Key speaking to media today. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Prime Minister John Key speaking to media today. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Dirty politics? Well, that is arguable. Cynical politics? Without question.

The Key administration has plumbed new depths of arrogance and contempt for the notion of politicians being accountable for their actions in its response to today's hugely embarrassing report by the independent watchdog who maintains oversight over the Security Intelligence Service.

Rather than take the findings of the report by the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security Cheryl Gwyn on the chin, National sought to bury the report.

The report's findings should be cause for a full prime ministerial apology to Parliament - at the very minimum.

National instead simultaneously released the findings of the Government inquiry into allegations Judith Collins undermined the former director of the Serious Fraud Office, Adam Feeley.

And just to make sure Gwyn's report did not hog the headlines, the Government also released the result of the review of the Corrections Department's handling of the temporary release of Phillip John Smith and his absconding to Brazil.

Dumping all your potentially bad news at once is an old political trick designed to limit political damage to one day - rather than taking taking political hits as each report is released over a period of days or weeks.

The ruse should not be allowed to shift the focus from Gwyn's report, however.
An apology is also owed by the Prime Minister to Nicky Hager. If there was any doubt about the veracity of Hager's claims in his book Dirty Politics - which there was not - then Gwyn's report vindicates him completely.

John Key may have effectively been cleared by Gwyn for having only a "very limited" involvement in the disgraceful release of information by the SIS to Whale Oil blogger Cameron Slater.

That gets Key personally off the hook. But that does not absolve him of ministerial responsibility. In fact. he is doubly responsible both as the the minister-in-charge of the intelligence agencies and as the person responsible for the behaviour of his Beehive office.

This morning's statement by the Prime Minister in reaction to the Gwyn report places all the blame for this shoddy affair on the SIS.

Key's statement unsurprisingly makes no mention of an email revealed in the report from one of his political advisers, Jason Ede, the man who Hager cites as central to the dirty tricks campaign being run out of Key's office. In the email to Slater, Ede said that "he might be in the shit" over the way he has used SIS information. Slater replied that he would simply state he had a source within the SIS - a statement Gwyn took to mean that Slater was seeking to protect Ede.

No heads will roll. Most of the participants in this unsavoury episode have since moved on or retired, while Key gives assurances that lessons have been learned and a more effective oversight regime is now in place.

That is not good enough. The public need an assurance that nothing like this will ever happen again. That assurance about the future should be accompanied by an apology for what happened in the recent past. And both assurance and apology should be made in the place where words really means something - in Parliament .

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