19 Aug 2014

Key, English distance themselves from Collins

8:58 pm on 19 August 2014

Prime Minister John Key and deputy Bill English are distancing themselves from Justice Minister Judith Collins' actions in passing a public servant's information to a blogger.

Mr Key today described Ms Collins' actions as unwise, while Mr English said it was not the way he operated.

John Key

Prime Minister John Key. Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

Nicky Hager's book Dirty Politics book outlines how Ms Collins passed the name of public servant Simon Pleasants to right-wing blogger Cameron Slater, believing Mr Pleasants had leaked information in 2009 about Mr English double-dipping on his housing allowance.

Mr Pleasants had not leaked any information but was subject to abuse on Mr Slater's Whale Oil blog and also received death threats.

Mr Key told reporters this afternoon the passing on of private information such as phone numbers - as Ms Collins had done - was unwise.

He accepted Ms Collins stance that Mr Slater already knew Mr Pleasants' name but said it was still unwise to hand over the information.

"I think the passing of the private information, in terms of phone numbers, I think that's unwise.

"It's unwise of a minister. But the basic point, as I've said, is contested."

Finance Minister Bill English.

Deputy Prime Minister Bill English Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

Mr English said he agreed with Mr Key, after earlier becoming the first member of the Government to express disquiet about the activities disclosed in Dirty Politics.

Mr English said the sort of attack politics outlined in the book were not the way he operated, and that he did not condone blog attacks on public servants.

"I certainly wouldn't condone an attack by a blogger on a public servant doing their job," he said.

"Do I think it's okay? All that stuff, that sort of blogosphere stuff, is the style of politics I don't participate in because I don't think it's that relevant to the welfare of our households or the improvement of our public services."

However, he would not be drawn on whether Ms Collins should be reprimanded.

"The Prime Minister has expressed confidence in her. She's the minister. We're.. all answerable for how we deal with things just like I was on how I dealt with the housing issue," he said.

"I was publicly answerable for that. It wasn't a matter of legality or otherwise. It was a matter of judgement and people make up their minds about it."

Mr English said he acknowledged at the time he had made mistakes regarding the double-dipping but had had no interest in seeking revenge - and would not have done what Ms Collins did.

"I didn't do it and I wouldn't have done it but politics has these aspects to it that some people find unseemly, a bit like the fact that in the bottom of the ruck in the Wallabies versus the All Blacks, there's probably a bit of fisticuffs going on," he said.

Judith Collins during Question Time.

The Opposition and a union representing public servants say Ms Collins should resign Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

The Department of Internal Affairs has been holding meetings to determine how it will respond to Ms Collins' admission on the matter.

Mr Pleasants said he was limited in what he could say to the media but described the attacks and personal threats made about him on Mr Slater's blog at the time as "creepy and very disturbing".

He confirmed he had complained to the police about the online attacks.

Mr Key is standing by Ms Collins but Opposition parties and the union representing public servants say she must go.

Labour Party leader David Cunliffe told Radio New Zealand's Morning Report programme Ms Collins' behaviour was unbecoming of a minister, especially a Justice Minister who is meant to uphold and guide the formation of the law.

Public Service Association acting national secretary Glenn Barclay has repeated his call for Ms Collins to resign and said it was disturbing the Prime Minister would not investigate her actions.

Police assessing complaints

Meanwhile, the police have confirmed they are assessing two complaints relating to matters raised with the publication of the book.

The Green Party has asked police to investigate the allegations in the book, including that the Mr Key's office got Security Intelligence Service information fast-tracked to Mr Slater.

Mr Slater has also complained to the police, claiming the book was based on material accessed without his permission.

A police spokesperson said they were assessing the complaints and would not make any further comment while that happened.

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