Gordon Campbell on the ongoing fallout from Nicky Hager’s book

Call me old-fashioned, but ad hominem attacks have almost seemed the last refuge of a scoundrel. That doesn’t mean you can’t reach a conclusion or make a judgement call – but you need to be guided by the evidence. You don’t start with personal abuse, to try and distract people from looking at the evidence. Right now, that’s the difference between John Key and Nicky Hager. Key’s desperate accusations: “screaming left wing conspiracy theorist” “typical Nicky Hager book” “baseless accusations” “what ifs” etc etc are personal slurs that can be easily refuted by picking up the book and reading what it contains. If I was Gareth Morgan, I’d spend a few bob on sticking a copy of Dirty Politics in every letterbox in New Zealand, before the election.

In stark contrast, any judgements arrived at by Hager proceed from the black and white evidence of what the likes of Justice Minister Judith Collins have said and done – in their own words, and reflected by their own deeds. When you recall that Collins has supposedly been on notice in the wake of the Oravida scandal…it seems pretty clear that it is John Key who is the empty vessel here. No doubt, Collins will survive this latest debacle. Yet BTW, the fact that Steven Joyce has been fronting the government’s response at this dark hour shows just how decisively the power has shifted this year to Joyce in any if- Key-went-under-a-bus succession race.

At this point, its hardly necessary to retrace the entire Collins chapter of Hager’s book. Suffice to say, the collusion between Collins and Cameron Slater – and the apparent misuse of privileged access to personal information – makes for compelling reading, and should be cause for Collins to be stood down from her ministerial post, pending an independent investigation into whether serious improprieties have occurred. Fat chance of that happening. At this point in the election campaign, National is circling the wagons – and a resignation wouldn’t happen even if it could be shown that a Cabinet Minister had released personal data to a blogger to enable the target to be publically subjected to a torrent of personal abuse, up to and including death threats. Oh wait: that is what happened here.

Talking of death threats, too little has been made of the threat to Hager himself in an email sent to Slater, David Farrar and Matthew Hooton (see pages 91-92) in the wake of Hager’s previous work on international tax havens. “Those Chinese can be very vicious when they lose face…It would be a disaster if they all knew where he lived. He might need Police protection…” etc etc. It doesn’t matter that Hager’s phone number and address are in the phone book. The intent seems all too clear.

To my mind, the people who have been victimised by the smear campaign that has been run out of the Prime Minister’s office since at least 2011 deserve their day in court, or at least in front of an independent inquiry. It may not matter to Mike “No Smoking Gun” Hosking, but ordinary citizens – and not mere politicians – have been among those targeted by this grubby little cabal. In that sense, it is a bit of a shame that Hager’s store of emails only date backwards from January 2014. One can safely bet on what the email traffic between Slater and his friends in high places with respect to Tania Billingsley would have looked like.

So far, at least one victim has had his say about being targeted by the Jason Ede/Cameron Slater clobbering machine. Labour MP Phil Goff was targeted by SIS file material released with suspicious speed to Slater before the 2011 election, when Goff was the Labour Party leader. In an interview with RNZ’s Mary Wilson on Checkpoint last night, Goff eloquently explained what the evidence presented by Hager had revealed, and why it was wrong.

Incidentally, the Goff affair completely blows out of the water the claim that the National Party’s relationship with Slater is no different to how politicians routinely engage with journalists. Leave aside the fact that Slater’s tone and intent – to damage and silence critics of the government – is a little bit different to what normally constitutes journalism. Believe me, SIS files are not usually released to journalists – they’re almost always flatly denied, as a matter of course. Moreover, they’re not usually speedily released to meet a timeframe calculated to do the most political damage. Time and again, Slater has enjoyed extraordinary, privileged access to the Beehive and to private information that I would safely bet, is unique. No one else gets briefed in this way, on such topics. Journalists get fed, if at all, quite different levels of information and access. Oh, and in the Goff case, who could possibly have authorised the release of those documents? As Goff indicates, it could only have been the Minister of the Security Services, John Key. If Mike Hosking wants a smoking gun, there’s one.

Footnote: Hate to be an agent of the language police but after 20 years of Nicky Hager being an internationally respected journalist – let alone a key figure in our domestic political debates – you’d think that our politicians might have learned how to pronounce his name. On my understanding Hager rhymes with lager. It is not pronounced Hay-ger. Yet people know that, right? It must be just a deliberate attempt to annoy him. We’re such a sophisticated bunch.

Campaign Song
Don’t know if the National Party has finally picked an election campaign song, but may I suggest that in the light of Nicky Hager’s book, this one might be appropriate?