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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Paula Bennett: unorthodox departure

I've just seen a clip from the news walrus show after One News where they empathise together - Sainsbury flapping around in front of a live cross to Bennett as she makes pronouncements standing outside parliament directed to the welfare beneficiaries of the country (which I guess includes most taxpayers these days if you include WFF, Pensions, ACC etc.) that if you go public, "if you take it public" is how I think she put it, you can expect to have all your confidential material made public. Like it's Fair Go - in reverse. The Minister will dob you in to the media when you complain. Quite extraordinary. She has to go.

Does this apply to the beneficiary class alone? Or does this apply to all people in a financial relationship with the Crown? Contractors, employees, officials, companies, directors? These will be the questions now. Who is and is not safe and what is and what is not the standard?

"But the Minister says it was OK" - is not a defence to the shameful media who have published this confidential information. They have no right to do so. They ought to be sued. As should the Minister.

And the Minister's defence, in turn, can't be - "I've got the right to order officials to dig up whatever confidential information my department has on any of my enemies and those who "go public," and I've got a right to get the media to publish that confidential information - all for the purposes of discrediting them." That's what Bennett's defence amounts to and that's Muldoonist bullshit, it's Nixon bullshit, it's J Edgar Hoover bullshit. John Key cannot stand by that standard and neither can the senior Cabinet Ministers, they can't.

The morning starts off with Bennett "getting tough" (from the NZ Herald) but by the evening it's "won't apologise" and calls for her to be disciplined.

She assured the House this afternoon that she "took steps" that she got advice and that she saw from the Privacy Commissioner's website that she thought she could claim a case of what she said was "implied consent." I couldn't find any such advice on that website.

The information she ordered her staff to give to the media was never hers to give in the first place of course - it is a misuse of a department's files.

She was trying to back away from her claim she consulted the Privacy Commissioner's website - on Campbell Live tonight too. John asked all the right questions - questions Mallard (or whoever) may be extracting from her tomorrow in parliament. What part of the website did you look at? - that was a good one, one many of us were asking ourselves today (see update in post below). She started to equivocate and was visibly trying to piece the jigsaw of her supposed actions together in her head so that she will not be caught out misleading the House. She didn't do a good enough job. She took the risk of a John Campbell interview and it left her position even more precarious. The grounds for what she did in her own mind are now eroding too perhaps.

Who did you seek advice from? "Officials" she said, officials in her office - although she did at one stage refer to "the office" as though perhaps her computer had given her advice. She was much less certain about whether she looked at the Privacy Commissioner's website like she claimed in parliament this afternoon that's for sure.

Like maybe she saw something with that website information on it, like maybe she viewed a document, like maybe an official gave her something that she sighted and approved - in this case we will want to see that document. Bloggers with pseudonyms are probably filing OIA applications as I type. If she did not consult the website over "implied consent" like she says then she has misled the House and that is a case of discipline - from the House as a matter of privilege, and from the PM (as the one in charge of accounting for the fitness and judgement of holders of Ministerial warrants).

This is a sacking offence - though not an automatic one - there are at least two defences she could call on. Oh, real defences - not made up ones like "implied consent" - which sounds like some bullshit Weatherston thing a rapist might try on in Court. But these two main legitimate defences seemed to be blocked:

  • Parliamentary Privilege : She hasn't tabled any documents or had the nerve to give out someone's personal information in parliament. And if she did try to table it - it would be blocked. So that defence is not possible even if it was relevant.

  • Public interest: But only if over-riding and of national or immediate importance. The furtherance of a petty political dispute, and an intensely personal one, comes nowhere near that threshold. A reasonable person, certainly an MP, cannot condone the unauthorised release of private and confidential information held by a state agency - certainly not to further a routine political spat and certainly not when it has such dire implications for both a citizen's ability to participate in open political debate without the fear of governmental repercussions and a general threat that now exists for everyone having any sort of record with any department may now be released as "public."

  • Royal Prerogative: The only other defence I can think of for the action (see image at top). And that is crazy.

    Her flimsy story is looking cooked. The Standard, begins building the case:


    At 29/7/09 12:59 a.m., Blogger Idiot/Savant said...

    Bloggers with pseudonyms are probably filing OIA applications as I type

    Did that long ago. Answers in 20 working days, or the Ombudsmen get more work to do.

    At 29/7/09 4:06 p.m., Anonymous Sam Clemenz said...

    Let the Axe fall!


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