Key: Collins subject of 'smear campaign'
VERNON SMALL, MICHAEL FOX AND STACEY KIRK
Prime Minister John Key has called Judith Collins leaking the details of a public servant as “unwise” but is doggedly standing by her, maintaining she is the victim of a “highly orchestrated, left-wing smear campaign’’.
Collins has admitted giving Whale Oil blogger Cameron Slater the identity of Internal Affairs official Simon Pleasants. She thought Pleasants was responsible for leaking information to Labour about Finance Minister Bill English's taxpayer-funded accommodation allowance in 2009.
Slater, who blogs as Whale Oil, identified Pleasants and posted remarks about him.
Pleasants has denied leaking the information.
Speaking after the release of the pre-election economic and fiscal update (Prefu) this morning, English said it was not his style to leak to Slater and he wouldn't do it.
"It's not a style I like," English said. "I don't participate in it. I wouldn't do it - it's not my style of politics, it's certainly not John Key's style."
But Key defended Collins later today, although adding that she was ‘‘unwise’’.
‘‘Some people do speak to bloggers, some people speak to the media, some people speak to a range of both, and others don’t.
‘‘I think passing of private information, phone numbers, I think that’s unwise, it’s unwise for a minister.
He said the accusations against Collins were "highly contested," saying her perspective on the release of the name was that she did not leak it because “the name was already known" by Slater.
"Now look there are some details there which I think it is unwise for a minister to pass on but in the end it doesn't change the basic point which is she is very strongly of the view and I've got no way of disproving that, I accept her at her word that she didn't leak the name."
‘‘She’s on her last chance, after what happened last time, but at the end of the day, she’s subject to a left-wing, smear campaign. And people will see this for what it is. ... This is a well and truly orchestrated, left-wing smear campaign’’.
Key put Collins on her final warning in March after she misled him about her Beijing dinner with Oravida representatives.
Key today said that final warning was still in place, and rejected suggestions she was now on her "last, last" warning.
The prime minister said he would not ask for copies of correspondence between the pair, saying he did not know if she would have it all.
"I mean some of the stuff is very historical, it's over five years old..."
Collins would keep her job, in spite of being on her last warning, as he would not "retrospectively go back and do things" because the email was sent five years ago.
Labour leader David Cunliffe said English's comments indicated a rift within the National caucus.
Speaking to media at the gates of Turangawaewae Marae, he said there was a "strong difference of view at the most senior levels of the National Party".
"It's a matter for the Prime Minister now to explain."
Cunliffe refused to answer further questions on English's comments, saying it was "a matter for Mr Key and Mr English".
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