2 Aug 2013

MP and reporter's emails given to inquiry

10:30 pm on 2 August 2013

The Green Party says new revelations about an inquiry into the leak of a report into the Government's electronic spy agency raise more questions about Prime Minister John Key's involvement.

Mr Key established the inquiry, led by David Henry, to find out who leaked the Kitteridge report into the Government Communications Security Bureau to Fairfax Media reporter Andrea Vance.

Russel Norman.

Russel Norman. Photo: RNZ

Late on Friday afternoon, the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet released hundreds of pages of information regarding the inquiry. The documents reveal that the inquiry asked for and received emails between Ms Vance and independent MP Peter Dunne.

The Prime Minister's department says that Parliamentary Service mistakenly sent those emails to the inquiry. Department chief executive Andrew Kibblewhite says the emails were recalled within an hour and deleted without the attachment being opened.

But Greens co-leader Russel Norman says the scandal around John Key is deepening.

"John Key needs to explain why he misled us - because he did. He told us they didn't have access to the content of these emails - and they did. John Key needs to explain to us why his office repeatedly, and in the most grotesque manner imaginable, breached the privacy of both New Zealand journalists and New Zealand Members of Parliament."

Dr Norman says he does not accept assurances that the Prime Minister's office played no role in authorising or influencing the release of information.

Peter Dunne.

Peter Dunne. Photo: RNZ

Peter Dunne is taking legal advice now he knows his emails were sent to the inquiry against his wishes. He says he is shocked beyond belief", as it was his refusal to release those emails that brought about his resignation as Revenue Minister earlier this year.

Mr Dunne says the latest disclosure makes an upcoming inquiry by the Privileges Committee on how the information was handled all the more important, and is considering a request to give evidence to that committee.

The information provided on Friday also makes it clear that Geoff Thorn, who resigned as general manager of Parliamentary Service on Thursday, initially refused to release information to the inquiry without the approval of individual ministers.

Prime Minister John Key's chief of staff, Wayne Eagleson, released emails he sent to Mr Thorn. Mr Eagleson says they show that he was uncomfortable with authorising the release of the content of Peter Dunne's emails, as he is a support party minister, and that he had no role in authorising or influencing the release of any further information.

Meanwhile, Andrea Vance is understood to be furious that the emails were released to the Henry inquiry.

On Tuesday the Speaker of the House, David Carter, apologised to Ms Vance after it was discovered that a Parliamentary Service contractor inadvertently provided three months' worth of her phone records to the inquiry.

Mr Carter has referred that matter to the Privileges Committee and instructed Parliamentary Service to look at its procedures. The committee would also look at the way in which journalists' activities around Parliament are monitored.

The public hearings of the Privileges Committee investigation into what MPs' and journalists' records were received by the Henry inquiry will start on 21 August. Witnesses who could be called include MPs, David Henry and Wayne Eagleson. Andrea Vance will also be invited, but won't be compelled to appear.

PM backs chief of staff

Prime Minister John Key said earlier on Friday that his chief of staff, Wayne Eagleson, has acted totally professionally and doesn't expect any further resignations over Andrea Vance's phone records being released to the Henry inquiry.

Opposition parties are demanding that Mr Key and his office take responsibility for Parliamentary Service handing over the records, instead of blaming its boss.

Prime Minister John Key.

Prime Minister John Key. Photo: RNZ

Mr Key conceded on Wednesday that Mr Eagleson told Parliamentary Service to give phone records to the inquiry, despite the Prime Minister's office having no authority over Parliamentary Service, but said the instruction clearly related to ministers and their staff.

On Friday, he said that Mr Eagleson's job is completely safe. "He has acted totally professionally, has my one-hundred-percent support. I think I have a very good understanding of what he's done and he's done what everyone would expect him to do."

Mr Key said he has already taken enough responsibility for what has happened and stands by the Henry inquiry.

"The great irony, of course, is the Opposition parties were the ones who were saying we needed more information. It was the Labour Party who wanted Andrea Vance's records brought into the public domain and be brought before a Privileges Committee.

"Every single media outlet in the country other than Fairfax has gone out there and asked for the records of Andrea Vance and, by the way, it was me that stopped that."

High price paid - Peters

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters says Parliamentary Services boss Geoff Thorn paid a very dear price for the Prime Minister's overbearing and wrong request.

"I know from personal experience that to get an MP's phone records you have to have the MP's consent. That was Mr Thorn's rule - why did he change it here? It had to be pressure from the Prime Minister's office."

Labour leader David Shearer said Parliamentary Service would never have released the records if there had not been pressure from the Prime Minister's office. He said John Key needs to accept some of the blame, rather than pushing it all on Mr Thorn.

The Green Party believes Mr Thorn's decision to resign is the right one, saying there were serious mistakes made that had serious implications. Co-leader Russel Norman said the party now wants to see what responsibility Mr Key and Mr Eagleson will take.

Former Prime Minister Sir Geoffrey Palmer says Mr Thorn's resignation does not do enough to explain controversies surrounding the GCSB and the mishandling of the phone records.

Sir Geoffrey told Radio New Zealand's Morning Report programme on Friday the Prime Minister's office should have never been in contact with Parliamentary Service and, after the Privileges Committee investigates, more controversies are likely to arise.