Judith Collins inquiry a long process

HAMISH RUTHERFORD AND AIMEE GULLIVER
Last updated 15:10 02/09/2014
Judtih Collins
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IN HAPPIER TIMES: Many have felt that Prime Minister John Key went easy on Judith Collins over past scandals.

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An inquiry into the conduct of former justice minister Judith Collins will not be completed until after the election, with opposition parties calling for a wide-ranging investigation into her conduct and activities. 

Prime Minister John Key said the terms of reference for the inquiry, which would set out its scope and powers, were still days away.  

Collins resigned as a minister on Saturday after Key received an email that said she was "gunning" for Adam Feeley, boss of the Serious Fraud Office (SFO), in 2011. Collins was then the minister responsible for the SFO.

The email, from Whale Oil blogger Cameron Slater to associates, detailed a campaign being run against Feeley, the SFO and the Financial Markets Authority. It included suggestions it was being funded by Mark Hotchin, the former boss of collapsed finance group Hanover.

Key said today the inquiry into Collins' conduct "will take some weeks to complete its work, and is likely to report back after the upcoming election".

He added that the terms of reference would not be completed until they had been discussed with the person conducting the inquiry, likely to be a retired judge or Queen's Counsel.

"The Inquiries Act envisages the terms of reference will be discussed with the person appointed to the inquiry before they are finalised," Key said.

"I expect to be able to announce further details on the appointment, the terms of reference and the reporting time frame in the coming days."

Collins has said she wanted her name to be cleared and so welcomed the inquiry.

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Labour Party leader David Cunliffe said he expected to be consulted on the terms of reference for the inquiry, as the election is so close. 

"There is a well-embedded constitutional convention that requires the prime minister to consult with the Leader of the Opposition this close to an election on a matter this serious," Cunliffe said.

Key indicated he would not consult Cunliffe on the scope of the inquiry, which would likely be limited to Collins’ role in the alleged attempt at undermining the SFO.

Labour released proposed terms of reference which would investigate a wide range of Collins’ activities as a minister. 

Labour deputy leader David Parker said Key was trying to artificially narrow the inquiry at a time when Parliament had risen. 

“I don’t think it’s proper for the prime minister to set narrow terms of reference which effectively escape any scrutiny of his own office.”

Collins' conduct over Oravida would also be under the microscope under Labour's proposed terms of the inquiry.

The former minister came under fire over Oravida, when she was in China on ministerial business and had dinner with officials from the company her husband is a director of.

Parker said there were unanswered questions over Oravida.

“It’s now plain that the Minister of Justice had a personal financial interest through her family’s interests in Oravida, pursued that through her ministerial office, the prime minister asserted that the Cabinet Office said it was alright,” he said. 

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“I don’t accept that that’s likely that they did say that, and we need clarity as to whether the Cabinet Office position was misrepresented.”

Labour’s proposed inquiry was necessarily broad, as other inquiries being undertaken did not examine the improper use of government information in a way that subverted the Official Information Act, he said. 

A wider examination of the release of information under the Official Information Act, and whether it was preferentially used in the case of Slater and others, would also take place.

The terms of reference also ask for the release of SIS information to Slater to be examined, and investigate what knowledge and role staff in the prime minister's office had in the release of the information.

That matter is also being investigated by the Inspector-General of Security and Intelligence, and staff from Key’s office will be called to give evidence under oath. 

Labour's proposed inquiry would also address Collins' leaking of public servant Simon Pleasants' name and contact details to Slater.

Cunliffe wrote to Key, attaching the proposed terms of reference, and saying issues highlighted since the publication of Nicky Hager's book Dirty Politics had given rise to "serious concerns' which had "undermined public confidence in our democracy and the rule of law".

Restoring public confidence required a transparent inquiry which was wide enough to traverse the issue in the public arena, Cunliffe said. 

The Labour Party’s proposed public inquiry would comprise three people - a retired judge or Queen's counsel, a former senior public servant, and an experienced lay person with "standing and reputation for integrity."

A public inquiry is established under law by the Governor-General, and is a step down from the Royal Commission of Inquiry called for by NZ First, although the inquiries have the same statutory powers.

Parker has also written to Police Commissioner Mike Bush asking him to investigate the same matters. 


- Stuff

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