Prime Minister John Key broke no rules in deleting text messages, the guardian of the country’s public records says.
Chief Archivist Marilyn Little has published a review of Key’s record keeping. She began the probe in November after Key revealed he binned texts from Dirty Politics blogger Cameron Slater.
Little says Key received poor advice from officials. But his practice of routinely deleting messages for “security purposes” is “pragmatic” and unlikely to break laws surrounding public records.
She added: “The Prime Minister’s current approach does not indicate any wilful or negligent disposal of records without authority.”
Advice and support offered to Key from Archives NZ, Ministerial and Secretariat Services and the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet was “inadequate” and a section of the law detailing with recording keeping is “confusing.”
But Little did not directly address the destroyed messages between Key and Slater.
She recommends text messages to and from ministers in their “official capacity” should be treated as a public record. If it is “of short term value” then can be disposed of.
It was always farcical to suggest that a Minister must keep every text message they send or receive, and have them archived. Sure if you negotiate a free trade agreement by text message, then that should be a public record, but most texts will not be.
But if the contents need action or are of “long-term” value then it must be retained and transferred to support staff for archiving.
Key told Little he received a large volume of messages and the “vast bulk” were administrative. “Occasionally I may ask officials for information which is then provided to me usually in the form of an email or briefing note – the content of which is retained for the public record. I do not use a private cellphone.”
Green party co-leader James Shaw asked for the review, questioning if Key was in breach of the Public Records Act.
Shaw did more than question it. He said:
“The text messages are a public record under s4 of the Public Records Act; and disposal of these texts messages is contrary to s18.
So he was wrong.
“The laws are there to protect our democracy.
“The National Government has been eroding our democracy and this needs to stop.
Oh God, the hysteria.