Real cul­prits dodg­ing cul­pa­bil­ity

Kapi-Mana News - - OPINION -

The neu­tral pub­lic ser­vice owes an in­creas­ing amount of al­le­giance to the min­is­ters of the day – not only ca­reer prospects but con­tract re­newal and con­tin­ued em­ploy­ment de­pend on demon­strat­ing such loy­alty.

Yet when scan­dal is in the air, the ethos of the old pub­lic ser­vice kicks in, and it will usu­ally be the pub­lic ser­vant and not the po­lit­i­cal mas­ter who gets tossed over­board.

The bu­reau­crat will re­sign but the politi­cians and their hench­men tend to keep their jobs, pro­fess­ing plau­si­ble de­ni­a­bil­ity to the last.

They didn’t know, they weren’t told, their of­fi­cials mis­in­formed them . . . and if that doesn’t work, there’s al­ways, ‘I can’t re­mem­ber’ as a last line of de­fence.

Last week, it was Par­lia­men- tary Ser­vices chief Ge­off Thorn who did the de­cent thing and re­signed af­ter the furore of the ac­cess­ing of phone log meta-data and emails be­tween MP Peter Dunne and Fair­fax re­porter An­drea Vance.

In play­ground terms, it was a bit like see­ing the bully’s ac­com­plice face the mu­sic for abet­ting some nasty busi­ness be­hind the bike-sheds, while the in­sti­ga­tor walked free.

In hind­sight, Thorn prob­a­bly should have en­sured the in­de­pen­dence of the Par­lia­men­tary Ser­vices when it came to the han­dling of elec­tronic traf­fic rel­e­vant to the in­quiry into the leak­ing of the Kit­teridge re­port on the Govern­ment Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Se­cu­rity Bureau.

Par­lia­men­tary Ser­vices should never have col­luded in ac­cess­ing the emails/phone logs in ques­tion, and should have pro­tected the pri­vacy rights of the MP and jour­nal­ist in­volved, if only be­cause of the wider need to guar­an­tee that par­lia­men­tar­i­ans and the me­dia can do their jobs en­tirely free from this kind of elec­tronic snoop­ing.

When it mat­tered, Par­lia­men­tary Ser­vices seems to have wa­vered and Thorn has now paid the price.

Thorn’s exit, how­ever, doesn’t re­solve the mat­ter of who ap­plied the pres­sure on him.

Not to men­tion whether it was rea­son­able for Thorn to con­clude that if the pres­sure to for­ward all ‘‘rel­e­vant’’ ev­i­dence was com­ing from the Prime Min­is­ter’s chief of staff to as­sist a prime min­is­te­rial in­quiry in the PM’s own port­fo­lio area, then per­haps that might over­ride all other con­sid­er­a­tions and con­sti­tute an of­fer that he couldn’t, and shouldn’t, refuse.

Should oth­ers higher up the chain of com­mand now step for­ward and take some re­spon­si­bil­ity for their role in this af­fair?

At time of writ­ing, the re­sponse from the Prime Min­is­ter’s of­fice has been to in­di­cate that no real harm was done, so move on.

We are be­ing ex­pected to be­lieve that no-one in the PM’s of­fice and no-one in­volved with the Henry in­quiry ac­tu­ally read sen­si­tive pri­vate ma­te­rial.

Hav­ing re­quested and re­ceived the elec­tronic data that al­most surely con­tained the smok­ing gun ev­i­dence as to who did (or didn’t) leak the Kit­teridge re­port, the re­cip­i­ents of the emails and phone logs, were ap­par­ently shocked – shocked! – and du­ti­fully sent them back, un­opened and un­read.

At which point, a Tui bill­board seems en­tirely re­dun­dant.

It will now be up to Par­lia­ment’s Priv­i­leges Com­mit­tee to in­ves­ti­gate the mess and to as­sess what resid­ual blame – if any – should be as­signed to whom.

Few peo­ple will be hold­ing their breath.

With good rea­son, the pub­lic now ex­pects that gov­ern­ments rou­tinely lie, cheat and cover up. By such means, our politi­cians reap the ad­van­tage from the low ex­pec­ta­tions they have cre­ated.

GOR­DON CAMP­BELL

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