Inquiry methods heavily censured

TRACY WATKINS
Last updated 05:00 04/12/2013
David Henry
SLATED: Inquiry head David Henry.

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A former top public servant has been slated for over-reaching his powers while heading an inquiry set up by the prime minister and Government Communications Security Bureau.

An investigation by Parliament's privileges committee slammed as "unacceptable" the inquiry being handed information including emails, phone records, and swipe card records when it had no formal powers to demand them.

Parliamentary Service was also heavily criticised. Tougher rules about accessing information are now likely.

The records were handed over to help the so-called Henry inquiry, headed by former Inland Revenue boss David Henry, find who leaked a sensitive report on the GCSB to Dominion Post journalist Andrea Vance.

The leaked report revealed that the GCSB may have been spying on New Zealanders illegally.

The Henry inquiry homed in on MP Peter Dunne as the potential leaker after accessing email, swipe card and phone records to track communications between Vance and people who may have had the report.

Privileges committee chairman Chris Finlayson said the way the information was handed over was "totally unacceptable".

There had been no consideration given to the special status of both MPs and journalists.

"The Press Gallery has got a very important role to play in this place [Parliament] and their records shouldn't be released in they way they were, or frankly at all, and Parliamentary Service really should apologise."

Prime Minister John Key yesterday distanced himself from Mr Henry's actions.

The committee's report centred on Parliamentary Service, and also the Henry inquiry for over reaching its powers.

"It is clear from the evidence we heard that the inquiry's persistent pressure on the Parliamentary Service and approaches to third-tier and more junior staff had a part to play in the releases which resulted," it said.

Former Parliamentary Service boss Geoff Thorn was forced to fall on his sword when the extent of information handed over was revealed.

But the committee noted that he had been undermined by some of the inquiry's actions, including "continual, extensive interaction between the inquiry team and his staff over a lengthy period".

Mr Dunne yesterday claimed he had been vindicated by the report, which had upheld his belief that MPs should not be compelled to hand over their private communications.

He was forced to resign as a minister after refusing to hand over his emails to the inquiry to prove his innocence.

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"In accessing my electronic records without my approval the Henry inquiry grossly exceeded its authority and acted quite improperly."

Mr Finlayson refused to say Mr Dunne had been vindicated and said the report had not dwelt on that issue.

"[It focused] mainly on the unfortunate way a member of the press gallery was treated and it certainly vindicates her".

Fairfax group editor John Crowley said the media group took some comfort from the committee's finding.

"The committee found that the release of confidential information relating to the work and movement of one of our senior parliamentary journalists, simply going about her job, was unacceptable. We have known that from the outset."

The rights of Vance and the role journalists played in a democracy had been trampled over as a result.

Mr Henry did not return phone calls.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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