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Wednesday, April 03, 2013


One does not need a post-graduate understanding of political science to know that the Prime Minister should not be appointing his mates into senior roles in government. That is the sort of conflicted, corrupted, dodginess of a loose and incestuous colonial regime of the past - something most NZers think we have moved beyond. (A story I've heard goes that Dick Seddon was of a habit to make personal appointments of these types: he gave a friend of his a job at the Post Office; but he was illiterate... Seddon's response to the Post Office boss was something like "Well, learn 'em".)

 However the apparatus of patronage - the ability for Ministers, with or without input from officials, to appoint whoever they like to one of the thousands of positions that fall vacant during a term of government - is still a major feature and major problem of the NZ Westminster system.  As with the shoulder-tapping of the woefully under-qualified Susan Devoy for Race Relations Commissioner we see this National government is playing just as fast and loose as any previous administration. And this time it looks like teflon John just got stuck. No plausible deniability with this one.

Did Prime Minister John Key tell the truth over the appointment of spy boss Ian Fletcher? Last week Key was asked by reporters at Parliament: "What part did you play?"
He replied: "Only that the State Services Commissioner came to me with the recommendation. That's normal."
However, today it has emerged Fletcher was not shortlisted for the job to head the Government's foreign spy agency, the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB), and only applied after a phone call from Key.
The prime minister unexpectedly disclosed to Parliament last Wednesday that he had known Fletcher since childhood, and that their mothers were best friends.

This is the Hansard from parliamentary question time 28/03/2013:
12.GRANT ROBERTSON (Deputy Leader—Labour) to the Prime Minister: Was Ian Fletcher the candidate or one of the candidates named in the report to him from the State Services Commissioner following the panel interviews for the position of Director of the GCSB; if not, who suggested that Mr Fletcher be considered for the position of Director of the GCSB?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Leader of the House) on behalf of the Prime Minister: Yes.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! This is a question on notice. There are two specific parts to the question.
Grant Robertson: No, because the second one is “if not”. If the answer is “Yes”, then that’s fine.
Mr SPEAKER: Is the member happy with that answer?
Grant Robertson: I am extremely happy.
Mr SPEAKER: Then we will proceed.
Grant Robertson: Did the Prime Minister accept the first recommendation of the State Services Commissioner for the person to be appointed to the post of Director of the Government Communications Security Bureau, following the process begun in May 2011?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: My understanding is yes.
Grant Robertson: Did the Prime Minister either directly or indirectly intervene in the process for the selection of the Director of the Government Communications Security Bureau?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: The State Services Commissioner has the role of identifying persons who might be suitable for that role, then conducting appropriate discussions with those people, and finally making a recommendation to the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister ultimately makes that appointment, and, of course, there were discussions through that process.
Louise Upston: Would the Prime Minister please outline for the House the background of Ian Fletcher?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Yes, I would like to do that. Before being appointed as Director of the Government Communications Security Bureau on the recommendation of the State Services Commissioner, Mr Fletcher was director-general of the Queensland Department of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation. He performed that role under the state Labor Government at the time. Prior to that, Mr Fletcher was comptroller-general and chief executive of the British Intellectual Property Office. Prior to that, Mr Fletcher was managing director international for UK Trade and Investment, a similar organisation to New Zealand Trade and Enterprise. The facts are that Mr Fletcher had a strong background that spanned across a number of countries, and he was appointed because he was the best candidate for the job.
Grant Robertson: In the first report from the State Services Commissioner on the recommendation for who should be the Director of the Government Communications Security Bureau, was Ian Fletcher in the top two candidates?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: My understanding is that there were no recommendations in the first report.
Grant Robertson: In the first report, were there two short-listed candidates recommended to the Prime Minister?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: My understanding is that in the first report there were no recommendations for appointment and there were, therefore, no one-to-four rankings supplied.
Key said yesterday that they met a "couple of times" when Fletcher was in Queensland and on no more than a "handful" of occasions between the mid-2000s and his GCSB appointment.
The GCSB job was first advertised in May 2011.
But State Services Commissioner Iain Rennie says he rejected a shortlist prepared by a recruitment company. Rennie and Key agreed to "look elsewhere."
Key then contacted Fletcher about the position.
"[Key] said that if [Fletcher] was interested in the position of Director, GCSB, he would need to go through a process and should call [the former head of the department of prime and Cabinet Sir] Maarten Wevers in the first instance," a statement from Key said.
Fletcher was the only candidate interviewed by a panel made up of Wevers, defence secretary John McKinnon and deputy state services commissioner Helene Quilter.
Rennie said the "panel was unanimous in their view that Mr Fletcher was suitable for appointment".
Key says he disclosed his links to Rennie during the appointment process, and he has defended the process this morning saying there is "nothing untoward or unusual about that".
Fletcher was appointed in September 2011 and took up the position early in February last year.
One of his first jobs was to attend a joint police-GCSB briefing about the raid on Kim Dotcom's rural Auckland mansion.
At that briefing the bureau learned it may have illegally spied on the internet mogul, who is accused by the US of internet piracy.

If we look at other relationships between the spy chief and the leader we see why it is best to keep the two very separate. In Peru, Fujamori was brought down in large part when his spy boss turned against him. Egypt's spy boss has all sorts of damaging things against Mubarak, etc. Rhodesia's spy chief was re-employed by Mugabe which made people think twice about whose side he had been on. There are numerous examples of abuse when the political leader can just ring up the spy chief to get their tap on (and vice versa - where the spy chief can get the leader to cover for their excesses). The last thing you would want is for these two to be mates - it is fundamentally conflicted. This is quite a tarnish for Key's relaxed credibility.

NZ Herald:
Asked today why he hadn't mentioned his phone call to Mr Fletcher about the GCSB job Mr Key said: "I'd forgotten that at that particular time".

He said he had initially brought up Mr Rennie's name during a "brainstorming" session with Mr Rennie after the initial shortlist was rejected. Mr Key said he also called another man whose name came up during that session.
However, he said the phone call to Mr Fletcher "wouldn't make any difference" to his answers about his role as he did not regard it as part of the appointment process.

"In principle the decision to appoint someone to the GCSB is actually a matter for the minister but we ran it through the process because in the end we wanted someone good."
Mr Key referred to Mr Rennie's statement last week in which he said Mr Fletcher's candidacy "was considered in the rigorous process all chief executive candidates are required to undergo".

Mr Rennie had run "a thoroughly professional process" and recommended Mr Fletcher to Mr Key, and "there was nothing usual about that", Mr Key said.
"At the end of the day if Iain Rennie hadn't recommended him and recommended someone else, that would have been great. I would have been more than happy. All I wanted was someone good for that job."
Mr Key said the panel that interviewed Mr Fletcher before he was recommended was aware that he had initially approached Mr Fletcher about the job and knew of their relationship. However he did not accept that the panel would have been influenced by his involvement in soliciting Mr Fletcher's application.

So Key is struck by selective amnesia... again. Key also called "another man" about it - another mate of his obviously. As long as he gets one of his mates in he doesn't care which mate, eh. Is this a situation of Key rejecting people until only his mates are left on the list? And then Key says his pushing of his preferred candidate - his mate from childhood - wouldn't have influenced the panel! This is leaving the realms of credibility and soaring off, high into orbit. No-one - no reasonable person anyway - believes what he is saying. Combine that with the Kim Dotcom Mega Conspiracy mess and the GCSB's activities and this is a rolling maul for the opposition heading straight under the posts.


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