PM refuses to attend Parliamentary Inquiry

Seems “nothing to hide, nothing to fear” has its limits…

Parliamentary Service head Geoff Thorn resigns

By Kate Shuttleworth @K8Shuttleworth

 

UPDATED

 

 

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The head of Parliamentary Service has taken a hit over the accessing of Fairfax journalist Andrea Vance’s phone records and resigned today.

Speaker of Parliament David Carter issued a statement today saying general manager of Parliamentary Service Geoff Thorn has tendered his resignation and would leave tomorrow with a payout equivalent to three months’ pay.

Mr Carter said the resignation came after confidence in Parliamentary Service had been undermined.

It was revealed earlier this week a Parliamentary Service contractor for Datacom had handed over Miss Vance’s phone records to the David Henry inquiry into the leak of Rebecca Kitteridge’s report into GCSB compliance.

Mr Thorn may have taken the fall for a contractor for Parliamentary Service but Prime Minister John Key is standing back from any responsibilty for the inquiry he called for.

He said today he was only a “bit player” and will not appear before the privileges committee inquiry into how Fairfax reporter Andrea Vance’s phone records were accessed.

It was revealed this week a staff member for contractor Datacom sent Miss Vance’s records to the Henry inquiry, which said it did not open them.

The matter has been referred to the privileges committee.

Today for the first time Miss Vance, who was leaked Rebecca Kitteridge’s report into the GCSB compliance, expressed her views in an opinion piece in the Dominion Post.

She said she was “mad as hell”.

“Anyone who has had their confidential details hacked and shared around has the right to be angry.”

She called on Mr Key and head of the inquiry into the leak of Ms Kitteridge’s report, David Henry, to take responsibility.

Today Mr Key swiped back at Miss Vance’s comments the Government had a “casual disregard and contempt for the media in its role of a public watchdog,” saying it is “complete and utter nonsense”.

Mr Key said he had tried to protect the release of emails and phone records under the Official Information Act.

“Every media outlet except for Fairfax asked for either the phone records or her emails. So if members of the media wanted to know her emails and the odd occasion her phone records then I was the one who actually defended that position and said that’s inappropriate.”

He also said there would be little point in him giving a statement to the privileges committee and he would not apologise to Miss Vance.

“I took responsibility in Parliament yesterday – of course it’s my inquiry, in my name,but I don’s take responsibility for a contractor working for Parliamentary Service- which is an agency that doesn’t report to me – making a genuine mistake.”

Mr Key said he could give 100 per cent assurance he, or his staff, did not see the phone records of Miss Vance.

“My understanding is it was kept as part of two files that were sent on one email – the first file was relevant to the inquiry, the second was never opened.”

Mr Key suggested the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet had not destroyed the records for fear they were effectively destroying part of the inquiry.

Mr Key’s chief of staff, Wayne Eagleson, is expected to face a grilling at the privileges committee inquiry at the end of the month on his part and his boss’s role in getting Parliament Service to release Mr Vance’s emails, phone records and swipe access records.

Opposition MPs may try to force Mr Key to front at the committee, but are likely to be blocked by National and it’s two support parties, who hold the majority.

It is expected to call Mr Eagleson, Mr Henry, Mr Dunne, Ms Vance, the Parliamentary Service general manager Geoff Thorn and its contractor from Datacom who released Miss Vance’s phone records.

Green Party leader Russel Norman said Mr Thorn had done the right thing by resigning.

“There were some pretty serious mistakes made which had some pretty serious implications, so he’s taken some of the fall for it clearly.”

He said it was a serious breach that Miss Vance’s movement records were released under Mr Thorn’s watch and then potentially her phone records.

“It’s still pretty unclear what happened and why those records were released. There’s a big question mark over that,” he said.

He said the Prime Minister’s office had been leaning on Parliamentary Services for the information.

“Geoff Thorn was under enormous pressure,” said Dr Norman.

Parliamentary Service also issued incorrect answers to written questions to Mr Carter.

The answers were corrected by Mr Carter in a statement, and in Parliament.

Dr Norman said he was unaware if Mr Thorn was the one who provided the inaccurate answers to written questions.

“Ultimately the Speaker would have asked the general manager to provide the information to answer those questions, so yes, they gave the wrong information – from my point of view that’s hardly a constitutional issue.”

He said the intrusion into journalists and MPs private information was a serious constitutional breach.

NZ First leader Winston Peters said Mr Thorn had taken the rap for the Prime Minister over the accessing of Miss Vance’s phone records.

“Key has done the crime, while Thorn is doing the time,” he said.

“The Prime Minister’s office sent instructions for records to be handed to the inquiry into the leak of the Kitteridge Report.

“The records were handed over. Few people in the parliamentary complex would refuse a direction from the Prime Minister – even though it was totally unlawful,” he said.

APNZ

By Kate Shuttleworth

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