Pressure points exposed

Nicky Hager’s new book highlights the role of senior National adviser Jason Ede. As NZ First leader Winston Peters puts it, Ede has been working in a ministerial office not to do a ministerial job but to ‘‘to get dirt and spray it around about opponents’’.

But it also casts doubts on the judgment of Justice Minister Judith Collins, who is shown exchanging gossip and tip-offs with blogger Cameron Slater, known as Whale Oil.

The welter of expletive-laden emails touch on three political pressure points.

1) Accessing Labour’s computer

Wealthy right-leaning Aucklander Aaron Bhatnagar finds a security hole in Labour’s computer that allowed access to  information, including donors and supporters, and tipped off Slater.

National’s IT expert accessed it, but the party said it was mostly concerned about National’s own security and wanted to double check its systems were solid and the employee had no contact with Slater about it.

But Hager says Slater claimed he had been ‘‘working with senior nats for (the) release’’. Ede accessed it the day before National’s IT man and again later. Hager says Slater and Ede discussed which information to emphasise. After Slater began his attack on Labour over it they exchanged emails expressing relief Labour had not discovered Ede’s role.

John Key said if the website was in the public domain as he maintains Labour’s was then ‘‘of course it would be fine’’ for staff to trawl through it.

2) The release of SIS material embarrassing Labour leader Phil Goff

Goff denied being briefed by the SIS over Israeli backpackers who hurriedly left NZ after the Christchurch earthquake, but he backed down after SIS director Warren Tucker reminded him of the briefing. Slater asked for the documents under the Official Information Act in what Hager says was a carefully worded request. They arrived seven days later and were stamped ‘‘declassified’’ the day Slater lodged his request.  Hager says there seems ‘‘no doubt’’ Key knew what was happening and his staff liaised with Slater but he provides no proof.   John Key said an Official Information Act request from Slater had ‘‘nothing to do with my office’’.

3) Contacts between Slater and Collins

Hager says emails show Collins fed ideas and gossip to Slater to embarrass opponents. One email named public servant Simon Pleasants, who had previously worked for Helen Clark’s government. Slater attacks him suggesting he is a source for Labour’s questions about Finance Minister Bill English’s accommodation costs.

During the Bronwyn Pullar-ACC saga in 2012 former president Michelle Boag, who was supporting Pullar, sent an email to Collins. It was leaked to the media but Collins strongly denied her office was to blame.

Hager says emails show Slater told a friend who was worried her data had been released he would call Collins. He later reassured the friend it was only a spreadsheet and her file was not leaked.  Hager says two days before the leak to the media Slater told his friend he knew Pullar’s identity. He said it showed Collins was giving confidential information to Slater in the days between receiving Boag’s letter and the day it was leaked. But he presents no proof she or her office leaked the letter.

Collins has refused to comment.

4) The Hide ‘‘blackmail’’

Hager says a campaign to ‘‘take out Rodney Hide and save ACT’’ was put in train by Slater and ally Simon Lusk who was looking to replace Hide with Don Brash in 2011. Hager says they had discussed hearing that Hide sent ‘‘dodgy texts’’ to a young woman. Lusk suggested telling Hide they had them and they would leak them if he didn’t resign. Hints were dropped on blog posts and two days later Hide stood down.

There is no evidence the texts existed and no evidence in the book a direct threat was made to Hide. Hide referred to Lusk and Slater’s conversations as ‘‘two guys who email each other sort of like they’re standing around in the pub talking bullshit ... ‘‘