22 Mar 2016

Teapot tapes: Taxpayer funds won't be used

5:42 pm on 22 March 2016

Prime Minister John Key will not be using taxpayer funds to settle a defamation case with freelance journalist Bradley Ambrose, as parliamentary rules prevent him from doing so.

John Banks and John Key at the cafe in November.

John Banks, left, and John Key at the cafe in November Photo: RNZ

The case followed the so-called "teapot tapes" scandal, involving an audio recording of a conversation between Mr Key and the then-ACT party candidate for Epsom, John Banks, in 2011.

John Key during caucus run 1.03.16

Prime Minister John Key Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Ambrose took legal action after Mr Key accused him of deliberately recording the conservation.

Mr Key said yesterday he now accepted the recording was not done deliberately, and he would make a "small" cash payment.

His legal costs had already been paid, from his Leaders' Office Budget, and the settlement amount was confidential, he said.

The Speaker of the House approved Leader's Office Budget funding for Mr Key's legal costs in 2013. However, the rules explicitly rule out using that fund to settle a legal case.

Mr Key said today the cost of the settlement would now be covered by either the National Party or private contributions.

"Every rule's a bit different - you know, I took the view I was acting in my role as leader of the National Party, not as Prime Minister. I could have elected to try to do something different but I think that was appropriate at the time.

"And so, on the basis of the rules, it's appropriate the National Party pays."

Mr Key refused to reveal the amount paid by taxpayers for his legal costs in 2013.

"Ah look, I don't have all those numbers, I don't know."

The Parliamentary Service, which holds the information about the amount, is not subject to the Official Information Act, and Mr Key said he would not be revealing the amount voluntarily.

"No, I don't think so, because it's part of the way they operate around Parliamentary Services so it's not a matter for me, I don't even know myself."

When asked if taxpayers had a right to know how much was spent, Mr Key said the money came out of National's Leader's Office Budget.

"So I don't know whether that's a public record number of what our Leader's Budget is, but how we spend it is a matter for us."