There are a number of different aspects to this issue, worth exploring.
The first is that in my opinion it is a legitimate issue for TVNZ to run a story on, even though they hyped it up beyond its value. And it was legitimate work by Labour Research to dig up the share registers. This is not in the same category as the nonsense over Merril Lynch or 60 body bags.
The second is that Dr Cullen is right when he says this is not insider trading. It would be impossible to be so. Asking written questions of Ministers elicits information that is published publicly. I do regard it as unwise for an MP to be involved in share trading, because of the perception of self interest that can attack to such activity. In fact I think MPs should really put as much stuff as possible in a blind trust with someone managing it. Now to be fair to John Key, he did realise in June 2003 that his shares in Tranz Rail could create a conflict and that is why he sold them. It would have been preferable in my eyes for him to get out at an earlier date but he had been an MP for less than a year then, and this is prior to having a Register of Interests even.
The issue of how many shares he and/or his family trust had, was not well managed. Now the value of the shares represents only around 0.1% of Key’s estimated worth but they are still a considerable amount of money to the average voter. Key did immediately correct himself when TVNZ prompted him about the transaction, but having to correct yourself is not a good look.
Some will of course compare this to the Helen and Winston show. While I cam critical of the substandard way Key has managed this issue, it is a long long way off Helen staying silent about Owen Glenn’s donation to Peters – especially as she knew Peters was pushing Glenn for Consul. But its release yesterday will have achieved its aim – to give Labour something to hit John Key back with during the Privileges Committee debate.
As I said at the beginning, the issue was over hyped by TVNZ. It was already a matter of public record that Key has Tranz Rail shares back then, and he still made an overall loss on them. There is absolutely no suggestion he broke any law, rule or standing orders. But it would have been better if when the issue first arose, that a check was made of all transactions, and this released at the time. It is always better to do it yourself, than allow your opponents to do it for you and package it with their own spin. That is the lesson for the future.