3 Dec 2013

Privileges Committee says info release unacceptable

9:38 pm on 3 December 2013

United Future leader Peter Dunne says a Privileges Committee report has vindicated his decision not to hand over emails to an inquiry.

The committee on Tuesday released its first report on the handing over of information to David Henry's inquiry into the leak of the Kitteridge report on the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB).

Peter Dunne.

Peter Dunne. Photo: RNZ

It said failures on many levels led to the unauthorised release to the Henry inquiry of information by Parliamentary Service. This included email, phone and swipe card records - particularly relating to Mr Dunne and Fairfax journalist Andrea Vance.

The Privileges Committee said it is unacceptable that an inquiry was so readily given parliamentary information, including some about the journalist.

Mr Dunne resigned as a minister after refusing to supply the inquiry with all the emails it wanted.

"What the report does is vindicate the position that I took all along that the security and privacy of communications was paramount," he said on Tuesday.

The report said there is concern about the way the Henry inquiry operated and what it calls the persistent pressure put on Parliamentary Service for information. It said it highlighted a lack of understanding by key participants of the distinction between Parliament and the Executive.

The committee said the lack of thought about the rights of groups such as journalists and the role they play in New Zealand's democracy, is simply worrying.

Chris Finlayson.

Chris Finlayson. Photo: RNZ

Privileges Committee chairperson Chris Finlayson said on Tuesday it is unacceptable that the Henry inquiry was given parliamentary information, and rules relating to the release of this type of information need to be changed.

"The Press Gallery's got a very important role to play in this place and their records shouldn't be released in the way that they were or, frankly, at all. And the Parliamentary Service really should apologise."

Fairfax Media said it takes some comfort from the Privileges Committee report. Group editor John Crowley said the rights of their reporter, and the important role journalists play in a democracy, were trampled over. He said there is no way that records relating to Ms Vance's emails, phone calls or access to her workplace should ever have been released.

Parliamentary Service said on Tuesday it accepts the key points made by the Privileges Committee. It admits it made errors of judgement and process, which it regrets sincerely.

The Privileges Committee will issue a second report focusing on ensuring that proper systems and processes are put in place on the release of Parliamentary information.

Meanwhile, Peter Dunne said the would like to be reinstated as a minister, but that is ultimately up to Prime Minister John Key.

"I've always said that I enjoyed being a minister; I've always said that every rugby player wants to be an All Black, so it goes without saying."

Mr Key said on Tuesday that reinstatement is an option, but has had no such discussions with Mr Dunne.

Greens blame PM

Opposition parties said the Prime Minister is responsible for the conduct of the Henry inquiry into the leak of the report on the Government's spy agency.

Green Party co-leader Russel Norman said on Tuesday that the blame lies with John Key.

"Who established the inquiry that did all of these breaches of the basic constitutional principle - John Key. Whose chief of staff is trying to push around Parliamentary Service to get them to release the information - John Key. John Key's fingers are all over that Henry inquiry, because he set it up."

But Mr Key rejected the criticism, saying he was entitled to believe that Parliamentary Service would have the right processes in place to deal with the release of information.