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John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

John Armstrong: Mallard has motive in hounding Dunne

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As one of Labour's prime "attack" MPs and one who knows Parliament's rules backwards, Trevor Mallard is the ideal person to hound and harass Peter Dunne.
As one of Labour's prime "attack" MPs and one who knows Parliament's rules backwards, Trevor Mallard is the ideal person to hound and harass Peter Dunne.

If Peter Dunne thought everything would be tickety-boo once the Prime Minister reinstated him as a minister, he was wrong.

Since Parliament resumed late last month - shortly after John Key reappointed the United Future and Ohariu MP to his ministry following his six months in the political sin-bin - Labour's Trevor Mallard has made it his mission to make Dunne's life miserable.

Mallard himself is on the outer these days, but has been given licence by the Cunliffe regime to pepper Dunne in Parliament with questions about the leaking last year of the Kitteridge report into the workings of the Government Communications Security Bureau in the hope of making Dunne squirm until he can squirm no longer and confesses to being the culprit who passed the report to a Fairfax journalist.

Dunne is unlikely to crack. But targeting him is one means of Labour reminding voters that Dunne's relatively early reappointment to a ministerial post after being sacked by Key for not fully co-operating with the official inquiry into the leak is ample illustration of the degree to which National is willing to compromise on principle to retain power.

As one of Labour's prime "attack" MPs and one who knows Parliament's rules backwards, Mallard is the ideal person to hound and harass Dunne.

Mallard has been helped considerably by an apparent oversight on Key's part in making Dunne the Internal Affairs minister - a role that includes responsibility for the security of information held by the government.

That has given Mallard a vital hook on which to hang his questions, as any outside a minister's areas of responsibility are ruled out by Parliament's Speaker.

Mallard's approach is basically to ask Dunne the same question in different ways: is Dunne prepared to tell the House that he did not make the Kitteridge report available to a Fairfax reporter?

Dunne's usual response is to say he has honoured his responsibilities entrusted to him since his reappointment and he has no responsibility for the Kitteridge report.

But that answer begs a question that Mallard hopes people will ask. If Dunne did not leak the report - as he insisted so vehemently last year - what is the problem with saying so again in Parliament this year.

The problem is that there are dire consequences for MPs who mislead Parliament. The only conclusion to be drawn from Dunne's fudging of his replies to Mallard's questions in Parliament is that it amounts to further evidence that he did leak the report. And it is a conclusion that more and more people are going to draw the longer Mallard's questioning persists.

- NZ Herald

John Armstrong

John Armstrong is the Herald's chief political commentator

Herald political correspondent John Armstrong has been covering politics at a national level for nearly 30 years. Based in the Press Gallery at Parliament in Wellington, John has worked for the Herald since 1987. John was named Best Columnist at the 2013 Canon Media Awards and was a previous winner of Qantas media awards as best political columnist. Prior to joining the Herald, John worked at Parliament for the New Zealand Press Association. A graduate of Canterbury University's journalism school, John began his career in journalism in 1981 on the Christchurch Star. John has a Masters of Arts degree in political science from Canterbury.

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