14 Aug 2014

Hager accuses National of dirty tricks

6:52 am on 14 August 2014

Investigative writer Nicky Hager says evidence in his latest book shows that Prime Minister John Key has some very serious questions to answer about a dirty tricks campaign against his political opponents.

Nicky Hager speaking to reporters at his book launch on Wednesday.

Nicky Hager speaking to reporters at his book launch on Wednesday. Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

Mr Hager on Wednesday night launched Dirty Politics, which he says is an expose of tactics used by the Government and right-wing bloggers to undermine other political figures.

He said members of Mr Key's staff have also been involved and pinpoints well-known political bloggers Cameron Slater and David Farrar in the work.

"What I've had access to is really the story of six years of National. It came from a National Party activist Cameron Slater and a National Party aligned blogger, and this is part of the story of John Key's Government."

Mr Hager claims that evidence in the book shows Mr Key has some very serious questions to answer about his political management.

He said he's released the book now, ahead of the general election on 20 September, for the good of the public.

"I think voters have got a total right to know about their Government beyond just the glossy face that people put on, of the things which the Government doesn't want to be seen. That's the way democratic systems work - they don't always get to choose their own spin."

A spokesperson for John Key said on Wednesday night that Dirty Politics is a cynically timed attack book from a well-known left wing conspiracy theorist. They said it makes all sorts of unfounded allegations and voters will see it for what it is.

Labour targeted

According to Nicky Hager's book, John Key's office provided information for Cameron Slater to run attack stories on Labour politicians - particularly the then Labour leader Phil Goff during the 2011 election campaign.

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Prime Minister John Key Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

One of the most serious allegations is that the office tipped off Mr Slater about secret documents held by the Security Intelligence Service.

It came after Mr Goff and Mr Key had clashed about suspicions of spying by Israeli backpackers caught up in the February 2011 earthquake in Christchurch. One of them died and the others hurriedly left the country.

Mr Goff criticised Mr Key's comments on the matter, but then had to admit he had been told about it by SIS director Warren Tucker. However, Mr Goff said nothing of substance had been said - otherwise he would have remembered it.

Phil Goff.

Labour MP Phil Goff. Photo: RNZ

In the book, Mr Hager writes that this gave the Government the opportunity to further embarrass Phil Goff by releasing details of the secret intelligence briefing. He said the Government could not make the attack itself so chose Mr Slater to do so.

Mr Slater was then able to put in an Official Information Act request, which provided him with the information to attack Mr Goff.

Nicky Hager said his book is based on a series of email and online exchanges between Cameron Slater and others, including within the Government and quotes many of them in the book.

In another example, the book says during the Labour Party leadership contest last year, National Party research staff were asked by the Prime Minister's office to prepare an attack on David Cunliffe and the other contenders' policies. That was then published on David Farrar's Kiwiblog website the next day.

Mr Hager says it proves that the Government has co-ordinated attacks on its political opponents using bloggers.

He said Mr Key and his colleagues knew it was a risky approach, but believed they could keep it secret. The emails and other online communications were only leaked to him after Cameron Slater made offensive comments about a West Coast man who died in a car crash.

This book follows on from The Hollow Men, published in 2006, which detailed the political tactics of the National Party under Don Brash's leadership.

Mr Hager said Dirty Politics reveals that while John Key maintains his image as a positive politician, he uses others to make personal attacks on his behalf.

Dark day for politics - Peters

Winston Peters.

NZ First leader Winston Peters. Photo: RNZ / Demelza Leslie

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters says the book reveals a Nixonian element arising in New Zealand politics.

Mr Peters said taxpayers' money has been used publicly and privately to attack public figures to gain political advantage.

He said responsibility for it goes to John Key's office in the same way it went to former United States president Richard Nixon's office during the Watergate scandal.

"It's not a good look, it's not the first time that it's happened. And frankly, the National Party is going to have to explain to its own decent people who vote for them why they've behaved this way in 2014 and back as far as 2008."

Mr Peters said it is a very dark day for New Zealand politics.