Brash calls for Commission of Inquiry

Just received this PR:


Media Statement

Thursday 21 May 2009
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

BRASH REQUESTS INTO POLICE EMAIL INVESTIGATION

Former Opposition Leader and Reserve Bank Governor Don Brash has today written to Prime Minister John Key and Police Minister Judith Collins formally requesting a Commission of Inquiry into the conduct of the New Zealand Police in relation to their investigation into the theft of his emails and other correspondence, and their subsequent behaviour.

Dr Brash has proposed to the Prime Minister and Minister that the Commission inquire into and report upon the integrity of the police investigation into the theft, and their behaviour since publicly announcing the investigation was closed; and satisfy itself that the police acted at all times professionally and without political bias or interference.  It could not and should not seek to reopen or reactivate the investigation into the theft itself as that could be seen to cut across the role of the police or the role of the courts in determining criminal or civil liability.

“This is not about Don Brash.  There are important issues relating to every New Zealander’s privacy and the integrity of our political system that deserve resolution,” Dr Brash said.

“Everybody has a right to expect their correspondence will not be illegally intercepted or read by people it is not intended for.  That includes private individuals but it also includes political parties, business groups, trade unions and NGOs, all of whom need a degree of privacy in planning and discussing their ideas and strategies.

“In a democracy, everyone therefore has an interest in being assured that the police take such issues seriously.”

Dr Brash said that appeared not to have been the case with his correspondence.

“The heavily-censored information that was released to me and some media last week has added significant weight to my concern, held since I was briefed by police in mid 2007, that the investigation into this matter lacked any sense of urgency or diligence.

“Senior journalists who have reviewed what information has been made available have gone further, with the political editor of state-broadcaster TVNZ reaching the conclusion that it is suggestive of a ‘whitewash’ and ‘cover-up’ and the political columnist at the New Zealand Herald describing it as ‘a farce’.

“Others have contrasted the lack of urgency and diligence in this case with the heavy-handed approach to, for example, the Campbell Live case, where police obtained a search warrant for TV3’s premises following a re-enactment of an interview with a medal thief by broadcaster John Campbell.

“A contrast has also been made with how the police and indeed the intelligence services would respond – and should respond – to a breach of security involving the correspondence of the Prime Minister and how they responded to a case involving the Leader of the Opposition.  That contrast is not healthy in a democracy.”

Dr Brash said the police’s conduct since closing the investigation – or declaring it ‘inactive’ – was also of concern.

“The police’s behaviour has been highly unusual.  For example, despite promises in April 2008 that I would shortly receive the final report on the investigation, which I was then told was in draft form, I have only now – a year later – received heavily-censored information that is entirely without substance and which is dated January 2008.  I have also been told by friends and media who have sought information on the inquiry that the police have behaved with an extraordinary determination to keep all details of the investigation out of the public domain.

“I do not know why the police have behaved this way but it raises unhelpful suspicions about incompetence, lack of professionalism, political bias or a combination of all three.”

Any suggestion of political bias had to be addressed seriously, Dr Brash said.

“When she took office, Police Minister Judith Collins told the New Zealand Herald that she wanted to ‘make sure that [politicisation of the police] is only a perception’ and that she wanted to ‘get rid of that perception … because it’s not good for the police or for the country’,” Dr Brash said.  “I agree with her, which is why I have suggested that the inquiry be required to satisfy itself that no such politicisation affected the handling of my case and the subsequent unusual behaviour.”

Dr Brash said he believed the inquiry should be led by someone with an impeccable reputation for political evenhandedness so that it would not, itself, be seen as a form of politicisation.

Commissions of Inquiry are relatively common in New Zealand and can be established under the Commissions of Inquiry Act 1908.  That Act enables them to inquire into any matter of major public importance or concern to the government-of-the-day.  A Minister may propose an inquiry to Cabinet after consulting with the Prime Minister and the Attorney-General.  A Commission of Inquiry into police conduct was established in 2004 to carry out a full and independent investigation into the way in which New Zealand Police dealt with allegations of sexual assault by members of the police and associates of the police.  More recently, Police Minister Judith Collins considered launching an inquiry into allegations that police had been spying on peaceful protest groups.

END

By asking for the inquiry to be into how the Police conducted their inquiry, rather than into who stole the e-mails (which is a criminal matter), this allows it to be allowed within the guidelines in the Cabinet Manual.

I certainly hope the Government does agree to such a Commission of Inquiry. With a totally neutral and independent Commissioner (as Brash has said is needed), it will either expose problems within the NZ Police as to how they conducted this inquiry, or it will reassure the public that the Police did everything they could.

One part is worth repeating:

“Senior journalists who have reviewed what information has been made available have gone further, with the political editor of state-broadcaster TVNZ reaching the conclusion that it is suggestive of a ‘whitewash’ and ‘cover-up’ and the political columnist at the New Zealand Herald describing it as ‘a farce’.

And this is not the first time. The 2005 over-spending investigation (headed by the same officer) remains as an even worse investigation, where multiple errors of fact and law were committed – the worst being the failure to recognise the over spending was a strict liability offence – the law stated explicitly that over-spending must be prosecuted, even if unintentional (not that it was).

UPDATE:

Phil Goff has said John Key must take action:

Key must take action on Brash emails

Prime Minister John Key must put an end once and for all to years of speculation surrounding the source of the leaked Don Brash emails. …

“John Key opened the prospect of a Prime Ministerial investigation at this week’s post-Cabinet press conference. I ask him to make good on that,” Phil Goff said.

“There has been much rumour and innuendo, mostly from National Party sources, about who leaked the emails. John Key now has the opportunity to end this speculation.

“One of the quickest ways John Key can do this is to ask the police to release the unedited file of its investigation.

“Labour would welcome that. We have said from the outset that we had no knowledge of where the emails came from. We would like to know as much as anyone else who was responsible for the leaks. …

“Labour is calling for openness and transparency. John Key should ask the Police to release the information on this case in its entirety.”

I am not sure the exact action Goff is asking for can be done, and am not sure it would be adequate. I don’t think the PM can tell the Police how to intrepet the OIA.

But Goff has more generally said he supports some sort of inquiry. That means if National agrees to one, then presumably Labour won’t criticise its cost?

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