When the snooper is snooped upon


Is there more than a little irony in the outrage over the release of a journalist’s phone records when journalists in general try to find secrets as part of their work and the one in question was dealing with leaked material on spying?

The snooper has been snooped upon and to her credit, Andrea Vance can see the potential for wry humour:

In other circumstances I could probably find something to laugh about in revelations that the journalist who broke a story about illegal spying was snooped on by Parliament’s bureaucrats.

Let alone the irony that the reporter in question previously worked for the News of the World, the tabloid at the centre of a privacy violation scandal. . .

But she’s angry and has a right to be.

Journalists are paid to find out things people don’t necessarily want other people to know.

To do this they use sources who may wish their connection with the story to remain in confidence and the release of Vance’s phone records is an abuse of that.

The opposition is trying to find a conspiracy at the highest level, the government and parliamentary services say is was a mistake by someone at a low level.

The seriousness with which the matter is regarded is confirmed by the referral of the whole matter to parliament’s Privileges Committee.

Is it too much to hope that it might also find out how Winston Peters knew about the phone records long before the matter became public?

There are many questions and different versions over what was done by whom, among them is whether Peters did really get any records.

However, if he did, it’s difficult to believe that it was by accident.

Speaker refers Leigh case to Privileges Committee


Speaker Lockwood Smith has referred the Erin Leigh case to the Privileges Committee.

The Supreme court ruled that advice from officials to ministers was not covered by absolute privilege, Dr Smith said the issue raised serious matters which he would refer to the privileges committee for consideration.

The court ruling allowed Ms Leigh to sue for defamation. That doesn’t mean she was defamed but it leaves her free to take a case but unfortunately the cost of doing that has stopped her taking the matter any further.

I hope the Privileges Committee not only looks at the implications of the ruling but at the behaviour of the MPs and state servants which prompted the case.

A report on the court decision is here.

Kiwiblog has a Q&A from Ms Leigh.

Duncan Garner says she deserves an apology, and a payout to not only cover costs, but  to reflect damages.

Greens won’t sit with Peters


Green party co-leader Russel Norman says his party won’t work with a Labour government if Winston Peters is in cabinet.

“I think that if we get to the position post-election where Winston Peters is being proposed as a minister, or if he gets back in, I think he can’t sit around the cabinet table until we clear this issue up,” he said.

“I think the latest allegations are actually the most serious yet because they are allegations of money for policy.”

At last they’ve found their principles and they’ve left Labour isolated.

The Maori Party and Jim Anderton haven’t gone this far but the former voted in favour of the privileges committee censure of Peters and Anderton abstained from the vote so Helen Clark and Labour are the only ones who are still supporting him unconditionally.

Unless there’s a huge reversal on the trend showing in the polls Labour will need the Greens to form a centre-left government but they’ll almost certainly need New Zealand First as well.

The Greens are also calling for a commission of inquiry into the funding scandals involving NZ First. That would be a very good idea regardless of whether or not the party returns to parliament.

Pledge spectacular failure


The ODT looks at the accusations against John Key and concludes:

Whether people accept his word remains to be seen but Dr Cullen is making his best efforts to show an intent to mislead and his accusation and Mr Key’s admission will generally work in favour of the Labour Party’s present election stance of asking voters whom they should trust.

But that can work against Labour and others, and in the context of the Winston Peters affair few MPs emerge with any credit whatsoever.

The attitude of the Prime Minister, who sacked ministers Lianne Dalziel and David Benson-Pope for lying to or misleading the public, is not untypical, for she has adopted a different quantifying scale with Mr Peters. . .

. . . Miss Clark’s response to this, when questioned by journalists, was that she did not intend to waste any more time on the matter.

That may be the safest political course in an election campaign, but Miss Clark also criticised the privileges committee hearing and described it as “tainted” before it had made its final report, a shameful attempt to influence one of our legal institutions.

She was not alone. Mr Peters himself, Dr Cullen and several other members of the committee, which represents a cross-section of parties in the House, felt moved to comment on the procedures, the evidence, and the accused, and their own conclusions during the hearings which, had the matter been heard in the High Court, would surely have invited a citation for contempt.

Indeed, contempt is a word many voters might well be employing to describe the poisonous state of affairs where the MPs’ behaviour and standards have sunk so low as to bring the very concept of the “people’s representatives” into serious disrepair.

“Our mission,” declared Helen Clark when opening her successful 1999 election campaign, “is to clean up government, and to clean up Parliament . . . the public’s faith in the democratic process must be restored.”

That is a pledge which voters should now measure, nine years later, and judge it to have been a spectacular failure.

Labour asks us to judge them on their record. But many of the promises they’ve kept were election bribes which shouldn’t have been made in the first place. and the most important one on restoring public faith in democracy has not just been ignored, it’s been torn up and ground into the mud.

He stays, we pay


Yesterday Helen Clark said she didn’t believe  the findings of the privileges committee would lead her to either sacking Winston Peters or reinstating him as a Minister.

That’s a pretty strong hint that she will be unmoved by the committee’s majority report  which found Peters had provided misleading information about Owen Glenn’s $100,000 donation.

If so, he will continue as a Minister without any responsibilities but with all the perks until the election and we taxpayers will carry on paying for it all.

More teeth less politics


The privileges committee is often described as powerful, but that’s a misnomer.

It’s tabling its report on Winston Peters and the donations debacle tonight and it is expected to be divided along party lines.

That’s not surprising but it is wrong.

If serious questions about the conduct of MPs are settled not on the facts but by party politics then they aren’t settled at all; and a committee that can’t settle serious questions isn’t powerful.

If the privileges committee as it is set up now can’t be apolitical then parliament needs to investigate and implement an alternative that can.

The committee needs to be powerful, but until is has more teeth and less politics it can’t be.

It’s a long story



Brian Henry admitted to the privileges committee  this morning that he and Winston Peters had a poor recollection of events and:

. . . their earlier story did not now seem correct.

He acknowledged that Mr Peters must be the client referred to but said that did not conclusively show Mr Peters’ solicited a donation towards his legal fees.

Not conclusively? What about beyond reasonable doubt?

As Keeping Stock  puts it this story get more bizarre by the day; and Matthew Hooton suggests there might be another chapter involving the IRD.


Law Society criticises privileges cttee


The Auckland DIstrict Law Society says the privileges committee is ineffective. 

The Auckland District Law Society’s Public Issues Committee is accusing it of being ineffective as a disciplinary body.

Spokesman Dr Noel Cox says the body is failing to live up to its democratic obligations.

He says the problem is that when politicians step out of line the only recourse for the public is to complain to parliament.

Dr Cox adds the privileges committee doesn’t have an active role in punishing MPs for using parliamentary privilege improperly.

Democracy depends on proper checks and balances. If the privileges committee isn’t effective then we have cause to worry about what’s going unchecked and what’s out of balance.

Poor performance lacked conviction


Winston Peters has done it so many times before – promised much and delivered little.

He did that again at the privileges committee tonight.

He gave a poor performance, provided no evidence, looked uncomfortable and was far from convincing.

Now it’s up to the committee to choose between Owen Glenn’s word, backed up by witnesses and paperwork or Peters’ word backed up by bluster.

Pressure not to perform but convince


Owen Glenn’s presentation to the pivileges committee yesterday has put the pressure on Winston Peters, as Dene Mackenzie says:  

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters will have to produce a compelling performance tonight if he hopes to rebut telling testimony and evidence given to Parliament’s privileges committee yesterday by expatriate Monaco-based billionaire Owen Glenn.

Mr Glenn provided a paper trail of phone calls, emails and an independent witness apparently to contradict Mr Peters’ previously stated position: that he did not know about Mr Glenn’s $100,000 donation until told by his lawyer Brian Henry in July.

Prime Minister Helen Clark last night acknowledged Mr Glenn’s evidence was “pretty disturbing”, but she wanted to hear what Mr Peters had to say tonight in his right of reply.

Mr Glenn was confident in his written evidence, and in his answers to members of the committee, that Mr Peters personally solicited the donation from him to help pay for an election petition.

“I am absolutely certain the request for assistance came to me from Mr Peters himself. I was asked by him to consider assisting him with legal costs and expenses. I agreed to consider making such a contribution.”

Glenn’s evidence was clear and damning. Peters will need more than his usual bluster to rebut it tonight. The pressue is on him not to perform – because there’s no doubt he can perform – it’s on him to convince.

Glenn confirms Peters solicited donation


Barry Soper has just told Larry Williams that Owen Glenn confirmed his previous letters to the pirvileges committee: Winston Peters asked him for a donation and he would not have given it had the request not come from Peters personally.

Glenn also said that he’d checked with Labour Party president Mike Williams before agreeing to the donation.

That definitely conflicts with Peters’ version of events.

And today’s excuse is…


Inventory 2 has a guessing game over at Keeping Stock where he’s asking for suggestions for the diversionary tactics which Labour might employ to divert attention from Owen Glenn’s appearance before the privileges committee.

That inspired me to start another: what will today’s excuses be?

We’ve already had variations on: I didn’t know, I took his word, there was a conflict of evidence, we had a staff change, no-one told me, no-one asked me, it was nothing to do with me, it’s a media beat-up, it’s the vast right wing conspiracy at work and you’re picking on me. We’ve also had doubts cast on Glenn’s intelligence and character.

So what will it be today?

Imaginary chocolate fish will be awarded for the most creative, the most realistic and the most amusing suggestions. As for truth – if anyone came up with that I’m not sure we’d recognise it.

Do you sense a diversion coming?


Inventory 2 reckons that Labour will launch a diversion to take attention off tomorrow’s priviliges committee revelations by Owen Glenn.

There are no prizes, just the glory, for the best prediction made about what the diversion might be. You can make yours by popping over to Keeping Stock.

Glenn’s biggest donation


Owen Glenn had been a generous donor to Labour and his philanthropy to more deserving New Zealand causes was recognised with a New Year honour.

However, since then and in spite of asking him for more money Labour’s treatment of Glenn has been less than courteous.

Helen Clark gave him the cold shoulder  in February; she accepted Peters’ word rather than Glenn’s when their evidence conflicted; and Peters’ lawyer Peter Williams has raised questions about Glenn’s memory.

Glenn is flying across the world to give his evidence to the privileges next week. As Cactus Kate  puts is to eloquently:

Looks like Owen “The Destroyer” Glenn is so peeved now about being deemed a liar and an idiot by Dear Leader and Winnie that he is coming back Tuesday to appear at the Committee. He is alleged to be heading downunder anyway next month to his home in Sydney for summer after a quick jaunt over to Fiji for some more charity work.Next Tuesday will be his largest donation to New Zealand by far. Generosity above and beyond the call.

2nd Glenn letter increases heat


A second letter from Owen Glenn to the privileges committee contradicts WInston Peters again.

The letter said: “There is absolutely no doubt that the request came to me from Mr Peters. I would not have made the donation on any other basis through any intermediary. I did not do so.”

It was also revealed today that Mr Glenn will appear in person at the committee on Tuesday.

Implicit in Mr Glenn’s letter is a claim that Mr Peters telephoned Mr Glenn on December 14, 2005 and that Mr Peters’ lawyer Brian Henry followed up the call later that day with an email.

Mr Glenn said in the letter that he gave the authority for the payment instructions to be made on December 20, 2005 to be made to the account of Mr Henry.

“Mr Henry supplied the ASB Bank account details in an email from him addressed to me on Wednesday 14 December 2005,” Mr Glenn’s letter says.

That email from Mr Henry refers to an earlier telephone conversation between me and person Mr Henry refers to as ‘my client’ that same day.”

Mr Henry has given testimony to the privileges committee that he approached Mr Glenn to ask for a donation after being an advised to do so by a client of his, but he has emphatically stated that that client was not Mr Peters.

The committee prevented Mr Peters’ lawyer making a full statement at a hearing today.

Following tense exchanges, lawyer Peter Williams made a truncated presentation to the committee in which he said the decision it makes on New First’s donations should not be made on party lines.

He did not address the specifics of the donation from Mr Glenn to NZ First.

The committee had ruled that the broad statement Mr Williams was intending to make went outside its standing orders.

Mr Peters was present at the hearing but did not make any presentations of his own.

The committee is investigating whether Mr Peters broke Parliament’s rules by failing to declare a $100,000 donation from Mr Glenn towards his legal costs.

In a letter to the committee, made public last week, Mr Glenn said Mr Peters sought the $100,000 donation from him in 2005 and then thanked him for it at the Karaka yearling sales in early 2006.

Mr Peters has said it was his lawyer Brian Henry who approached Mr Glenn.

Parliament’s rules only allow legal counsel to talk about issues of process, but Mr Williams repeatedly argued that contributions to MPs’ legal petitions have never been considered a pecuniary matter.

He was repeatedly warned by committee chair Simon Power, but ignored those warnings and continued to outline Mr Peters’ argument.

After 25 minutes Mr Williams concluded his argument and the committee went into closed session.

Mr Peters has said he had no knowledge of the donation until Mr Henry advised him of it on July 18 this year.

Radio New Zealand’s political editor Brent Edwards is discussing the issue with Kathryn Ryan now. It is on line here.

Glenn will give evidence


Brent Edwards has just given an update on this morning’s meeting of the privileges committee and says Owen Glenn will give evidence to it next Tuesday.

It isn’t clear whether he will appear in person or by video link.

The Morning Report interview is on line here.

Will committee call Clark?


Helen Clark’s startling admission Owen Glenn told her he’d made a donation to New Zealand First has prompted calls for her to give evidence to the privileges committee, but not all its members are sure that’s a good idea.

MPs crucial in deciding whether Prime Minister Helen Clark will be called to appear before Parliament’s privileges committee this week are not interested in a political side show, the Otago Daily Times was told yesterday.

Miss Clark did not go as far last night as ruling herself out of appearing before the powerful committee, but she raised doubts about her ability to add anything material to the investigation about a $100,000 donation to suspended Foreign Minister Winston Peters by expatriate billionaire Owen Glenn.

The donation “clearly occurred”, but whether it went into a lawyer’s fund for fees or whether it was a gift was not something she could shed light on.

Miss Clark also called into question the impartiality of the privileges committee, saying it was the first time in her 27 years in Parliament where an Opposition MP (Simon Power) chaired the committee and his leader, National Party leader John Key, was publicly drawing conclusions about what the outcome of the hearing should be and then acting on those conclusions.

National has five MPs on the committee and all of them would be expected to vote to call Miss Clark. Labour has four MPs and New Zealand First has one. They would be expected to vote against calling the Prime Minister.

That would leave National chasing two of the other three votes from Green co-leader Dr Russel Norman, United Future leader Peter Dunne and Maori Party MP Hone Harawira.

Political sources indicated that two of those MPs were unlikely to vote to call Miss Clark if it only meant National could conduct a political sideshow before Parliament rose for the year.

If the two MPs believed there was something of significance Miss Clark could add, they would vote for her to appear, but they would seek assurances from the chairman that the “narrow field of inquiry” would be adhered to.

“We want no chance for National to take pot shots,” a source said.

The committee is due to meet at 8am on Thursday.

Parliament is due to go into urgency today, raising questions about whether the committee will have time to meet. Without another meeting, the inquiry would die before the election.

Committee members could be granted leave to attend the committee while the house was in urgency, or there was some time available on Thursday night. However, that was also a “very political” decision.

National Party leader John Key said the committee should call Miss Clark and that the Prime Minister had a duty to appear.

She also had a duty to do a whole lot more about her knowledge of the Glenn donation a whole lot earlier but she didn’t.

Going, going, almost gone


Colin Espiner thinks Helen Clark has run out of options.

True to her natural style of caution, Clark has given herself the night to sleep on it. She will take advice tonight on the likely impact on her government of cutting Peters adrift, and take some soundings from NZ First about what may happen to Labour’s relationship after the election if she sacks or suspends him.

It’s understandable that Clark doesn’t want to sack her Foreign Minister. It’s a bad look. It will make him very angry. It may derail the third and final reading of the Emissions Trading Bill. It could end her hopes of a fourth term.

But she simply no longer has any choice. The Prime Minister has given Peters as much rope as she can afford to without being dragged under in the same whirlpool currently sucking the NZ First leader beneath the waves.

What are her options? She could argue that the SFO investigation is only into NZ First, not Peters himself. Except that the SFO specifically mentions the involvement of ”a minister in the government” in its press release. She could argue that the investigation has nothing to do with Peters’ job as Foreign Minister. Except that as Foreign Minister Peters is the representative of New Zealand abroad and it’s difficult to have someone under investigation for fraud in such a role.

She could argue natural justice. That has got her through so far with the privileges committee – just. But the SFO is a whole different kettle of fish. The privileges committee is the proverbial wet bus ticket. The SFO is the big time. Clark cannot have a minister of the Crown signing ministerial warrants while under investigation from the SFO.

The positives for Clark are these: Sacking Peters will make her look decisive. It will end John Key’s short but triumphant occupation of the moral high ground. It will disassociate her and her government (partially) from further fallout, for it looks as though there certainly will be further fallout. It will not bring down the government.

In some ways it’s a sad end for Peters. He has been a reasonably good Foreign Minister. Labour could not have governed without him. But he has brought this entire controversy upon himself. Peters has no-one else to blame. Clark knows she must sack him. And sack him she must.

The alleagions are still just allegations and Peters as an individual is innocent until anything is proved to the contrary. But the role of Foreign Minister is one of the most important in the government and while questions are raised over him personally it reflects on the position he holds.

Clark has to accept that Peters is not just damaging himself, his party, her and her government, he’s risking New Zealand’s reputation in the international community.

Clark knew what, when?


Helen Clark said that Owen Glenn told her in February  that he’d given a $100,000 donation to New Zealand First.

The Prime Minister then put that information to the party’s leader Winston Peters at the time and he gave her an assurance that the party had not received money from Mr Glenn.

This new information this morning means Helen Clark has known for months of the conflicting sides of the story which were publicly revealed yesterday in letters to Parliament’s privileges committee.

And yet she stood by her man.

Helen Clark said the question of donations to New Zealand First was on the front page of the paper when she and Mr Glenn were at Auckland University to open its new business school, on February 21.

“Mr Glenn on that occasion said to me pretty much what he said to the Privileges Committee,” the Prime Minister said this morning.

“As you would expect, the first thing that I did was go away and ring Mr Peters, and Mr Peters has consistently maintained that he never made that phone call to Mr Glenn,” she said, referring to the solicitation of the donation.

“So, there’s always been a conflict of evidence.”

Helen Clark said that at every time the issue had arisen, she had rung Mr Peters and asked for his word.

And every time she took his word rather than that of Glenn.

One of the first things I learnt at journalism school was the importance of asking the right questions. Another lesson was the importance of verifying information.

Asking for the word of a man who has repeatedly shown he can’t give a straight answer is not enough. Clark should have asked more questions and, given the conflict between what Glenn and Peters told her, she should have done all she could to verify the facts.

Not doing so while the allegations not only swirled but multiplied was either stupid or she was turning a blind eye for political opportunism; and she’s not usually stupid.

The Prime Minister also criticised Mr Peters’ handling of the issue since it arose, appearing to try to put some distance between herself and her Foreign Minister.

Too late for that, they’re welded together because he needs her support and she needs his votes.

While she said she wanted to see the matter “dealt with”, Helen Clark said she felt she had a duty to be fair.

What about her duty to be fair to her colleagues who are treated with a lot less leniency; or to the public or to New Zealand which has had a proud reputation for a lack of corruption?

“I have not known Mr Peters to lie to me, and I have to take people as I find them,” she said.

“He is utterly convinced that he never made that call.”

And how difficult would it be to prove if that was true? If you’ve got what it takes to run the country you need what it takes to get the truth.

Hat Tip: Keeping Stock

Peters promises to reveal all – again


Another day another promise from Winston Peters. He’ll reveal all – but not yet.

Shunned by the National Party and fighting for his political life, Winston Peters is again promising to reveal evidence that will clear his name.

But not just yet. He told Parliament last night he would hold his fire until the privileges committee meets on Thursday next week.

This man is a living, breathing Tui billboard.

Parliament was stunned yesterday by two events which put Mr Peters under intense pressure and cast doubt on his future as an effective politician.

The first was the release by the privileges committee of a letter from Owen Glenn in which the billionaire said Mr Peters solicited a $100,000 donation during a personal conversation, and later thanked him for it.

Mr Peters has persistently denied asking for any money, and has said he did not even know about the donation, made in 2006 to help pay his lawyer’s fees, until last month.

The second was National Party leader John Key’s announcement that he would not make any deals with Mr Peters after the election unless the NZ First leader came up with a “credible explanation” about the donation.

“I am ruling out Mr Peters,” said Mr Key.

“He simply doesn’t have the integrity in my view, unless he can somehow change that.”

Mr Key said he thought it was highly unlikely Mr Peters would be able to prove Mr Glenn was wrong and he was right, and Mr Key called on Prime Minister Helen Clark to stand Mr Peters down as foreign minister, or sack him.

Miss Clark said she still had confidence in Mr Peters, the evidence was contradictory and she would wait for the privileges committee to report to Parliament.

Mr Peters launched his counter attack in Parliament, saying Mr Key had made “a very, very silly decision” that he would live to regret.

He said he now knew the details of a conversation he held with Mr Glenn, and the information came from his ministerial travel diary.

“I’ve had a conversation this afternoon that tells me exactly what time this conversation happened, why it happened, who it happened with and what Mr Glenn said,” he told Parliament.

“I know the dates and the times, and I’m going to be telling the select committee, in public, all the details about that.”

He knew the dates yesterday but Whaleoil found evidence he’d “misrembered” here  and here.

It is the fourth time Mr Peters has promised to reveal the facts about the donation.

He was overseas when it first came to light two months ago, and he said he would clear it up when he returned. Then he said he would reveal the facts in Parliament, and then he vowed to go public with all the details at last Monday’s privileges committee hearing.

He did speak on those occasions, but nothing was resolved and the situation is now even more incendiary than it was at the beginning.

Just like the boy who cried wolf, he’s promised and not delivered too many times and even if he did actually manage to answer a straight question with a straight answer he’s misfired so many times he’s shot holes in his own creibility.

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