22 Apr 2013

Court order blocks MFAT leak review

9:45 pm on 22 April 2013

A long-running row over restructuring at Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) has led to a court order blocking an inquiry into the leak of documents connected with the restructuring.

The order comes ahead of a judicial review of the leak, which begins in the High Court next week.

The restructuring of Foreign Affairs has been extremely controversial. MFAT originally sought to slash about 300 jobs in Wellington and close some embassies to cut costs and increase efficiencies.

Halfway through the process, sensitive material was leaked to the Labour Party suggesting that MFAT had not followed proper procedure.

The former head of the Commerce Commission, Paula Rebstock, was asked by the State Services Commission to investigate that leak, but has now been pulled up by the High Court.

It follows an application by someone known only as Applicant A, who is seeking the judicial review.

Applicant A argued that Ms Rebstock's draft report would amount to predetermination of his position and a breach of natural justice.

In the High Court Justice Dobson agreed, blocking completion of the inquiry with any allegations or findings against Applicant A.

Labour's foreign affairs spokesperson Phil Goff now says the Government should abandon its inquiry into the leak.

"They haven't been able to come up with any hard evidence against individuals. They may have some suspicions about a particular individual and that is now in the hands of the court, because you cannot simply make allegations about people without evidence to back it up."

Mr Goff said the inquiry had already cost more than $250,000 and is mired in legal process.