Key: 'I did not mislead Parliament'

DANYA LEVY AND VERNON SMALL
Last updated 08:21 11/10/2011

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Prime Minister John Key is insisting he has not misled Parliament over claims he made about the ratings agency Standards & Poors.

Key told Parliament last week that Standard & Poor's was at a meeting in New Zealand about a month ago and ''it did go on to say though that if there was a change of government that the downgrade would be much more likely''.

The Prime Minister yesterday admitted a person at the meeting, not the ratings agency, had told him in an email that Standards & Poor's had ''inferred'' that opinion.

He had not checked with Standard & Poor's before making the statement.

The ratings agency was quick to hose down suggestions it was partisan, releasing a statement last night saying ''at no stage have we said that a rating downgrade was more likely if there were a change of government''.

A spokesman for Standard & Poor's said ''the 'inference' was wrong''.

This morning Key said he had not misled Parliament and refused to release the name of the person who had emailed him in September.

''I wasn't at the meeting, I can't be sure,'' he told TV3's Firstline programme.

Key said he had dealt with the person before and denied they were bias.

''They have a high degree of credibility but (I have) no reason to believe that they were misleading me. All I can say is the person sent me the email and I released the email. I'm happy with it.''

Labour has written to the Speaker of the House Lockwood Smith alleging Key's comments breached Parliamentary privilege because he knowingly misled the House.

Labour leader Goff this morning said Key had been ''reckless with the truth at best''.

''He was knowingly telling a lie at worst,'' he told Radio New Zealand.

Labour didn't accept the anonymous email, Goff said.

''He didn't say he had received an email that said Standards & Poors said such and such. He stated as a fact that Standards & Poors said a downgrade was more likely under Labour.

''Standards & Poors said exactly the opposite, that there was a bipartisan tradition of fiscal prudence... and the policies of three years ago (under the former Labour government) were more likely to lead to an upgrading in credit ratings.''

Goff conceded if the Speaker referred Labour's complaint to Parliament's powerful privilege committee, which can sanction MPs who breach Parliamentary privilege, the complaint would not be considered until the new Parliament sits after the election.

''But it's a really serious matter if you can't rely on a minister, in this case the prime minister, to tell the truth when they are answering questions in Parliament.''

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Economists from BNZ and ANZ said they had representatives at the ''Breakfast with the Economists'' meeting but both denied the email had come from them.

Standard & Poor's and rating agency Fitch downgraded NZ from AA+ to AA on September 29.

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- The Dominion Post

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