Response to Dirty Politics 'surreal' - lawyer

00:28, Aug 19 2014

Media lawyer Steven Price says it is a "surreal experience" politicians are dismissing the evidence-based contents of Nicky Hager's book when they haven't even read it.

Price acts for Hager, and vetted his book Dirty Politics, released last week. The book reveals National Party links to right-wing bloggers, and accuses senior party members of being involved in a coordinated smear campaign against opponents.

Price said Prime Minister John Key's dismissal of the book, and of Hager as a "left wing conspiracy theorist" was not supported by any evidence.

There was "not a jot of evidence" that Hager had "made stuff up", as the National Party claimed, Price said.

"The Government's denials are such blatant flannel that they are being seen as beyond the pale, even by our most grizzled political journalists, who have seen plenty of spin in their time."

Hager's goal was to get people talking about the real issues, and to expose and critique tactics used to derail genuine political engagement, Price said.

On his Media Law Journal blog, Price  dismisses the "spin" from the National Party in response to allegations in Hager's book.

Justice Minister Judith Collins had called the bits of the book about her "mostly lies".

"But she's admitted the passing-on-of-the-name allegation, admitted that she has been in frequent contact with Cameron Slater, and said that she wouldn't be able to sue because the book was full of speculation and might-bes," Price said.

"That doesn't sound like lies to me. Let's just treat that as praise for the careful and honest way that Nicky has separated out what he knows from what he's not sure about, so readers can make up their own minds about the evidence he presents."

Price said Hager exposed and criticised the collaboration between the Prime Minister's office and WhaleOil blogger Cameron Slater on the accessing of information from the Labour Party database.

Key said National had "nothing to do with it", but acknowledged his then-staffer Jason Ede may have looked at the information.

The National Party also acknowledged "it appears" a staffer downloaded files.

Dirty Politics set out emails between Ede and Slater discussing the information.

"While Nicky makes it clear that the site was insecure, it's an open question, as a matter of law, whether this means it was not a crime to go digging around in it," Price said.

The early release of SIS briefing notes to Slater under the Official Information Act raised "serious questions" about the Prime Minister's involvement, after it was revealed the Dominion Post put in a request for almost the same information at the time and were turned down.

"This really doesn't look to me like something that's been disproved, or can be dismissed as "baseless"," Price said.  

Dirty Politics cited other instances of Ede drafting OIA requests for Slater, although evidence Hager received did not show Ede drafting this one.

The allegation ACC Minister Judith Collins passed information to Slater about ACC client Bronwyn Pullar, could not be said to be "fabricated or groundless or wild, or that it's been proved wrong," Price said.

Slater had sent messages to a friend at the time, saying he had spoken to Collins about it, and that he knew Pullar's identity - before her name was leaked to the media.

Dirty Politics noted it could have been leaked by ACC or the email's author, but suggested Collins' office had more incentive to leak it.

Hager's allegations were based on a 150-page book with 500 footnoted sources, most of which were from emails Slater admitted were taken from him, Price said.

He questioned what Key's allegations Hager "made stuff up" were based on.