Adam Bennett

Adam is a political reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

John Key hits out at 'stealing of election'

Senior officials bolster PM’s Dirty Politics fightback

Prime Minister John Key yesterday hit back hard over the Dirty Politics allegations against him and his Government, warning that a hacker and the political left were "trying to take an election off New Zealanders".

Mr Key's fightback against claims of a sustained National Party dirty tricks campaign was bolstered yesterday when senior public officials hosed down fresh evidence appearing to show he was in the loop over secret documents released to Whale Oil blogger Cameron Slater.

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

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National's bid for a third term in Government hit a banana skin last week in the form of Hager's allegations and Mr Key said that was bad news for the entire country.

"There's a real risk that a hacker and people with a left-wing agenda are trying to take an election off New Zealanders," he said in Christchurch.

But he was looking ahead to National's official campaign launch this weekend.

"We're going to make an announcement on Sunday that's really important to New Zealanders ... I just say to New Zealanders: it's your election, you own it."

He also hit out at the media, saying that by reporting on Hager's book and the release of source material hacked from Slater's computer "you're effectively supporting illegal activity".

Early yesterday Mr Key faced new evidence appearing to contradict his claims that he was never told the SIS intended to release the documents Slater used against Mr Goff.

But two letters emerged later yesterday - one from former SIS Director Warren 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.

Mr Key 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."

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.

"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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