Key storms out of media conference

PALOMA MIGONE AND DANYA LEVY
Last updated 16:40 16/11/2011
Marcus Wild

Prime Minister John Key deflects questions about the 'tea tape', saying he has moved on.

Key 'not upset' by questions

Key storms out of media conference

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Prime Minister John Key has again cut short a media stand-up about the 'tea tape', saying he has moved on.

This morning Key refused to answer reporters' questions about the recording of his conversation with ACT's John Banks last Friday, stormed out of a press conference in Wellington.

After walking down Main St in Upper Hutt this afternoon, Key said it seemed that only the media were interested in the tapes, New Zealanders wanted to know about the "issues that matter" and not "side shows".

Key said he had moved on, and would not release the recording and the matter was now in police's hands.

The media were interested in the recordings because "they don't want to talk about the issues that really matter", Key said.

"I believe in the principle which is that it is illegal to tape people without their knowledge unless one party can answer that. I'm going to stand to that principle.

"It's all right starting with me, but it would move to other New Zealanders, it would change dramatically in the way I can conduct my business, in the way I do things because I would have to be in the look out for that every second."

When asked to discuss what's on the tape without realeasing it, Key said he was "done for the day" and left.

This morning's incident began as Key was addressing media after giving a speech at the Federated Farmers national conference at Westpac Stadium.

He began by answering two questions about trade before he was asked about the secret tape recorded during his cafe meeting with ACT's Epsom candidate John Banks last week.

Instead of answering the questions, Key kept repeating the economy and trade was what New Zealanders were interested in.

He then stormed out of the conference, leaving media visibly stunned.

Key later said he walked out because he wanted to talk about trade, not issues around the secret tape.

He said he wasn't upset by questions about the tape but wouldn't comment on whether he thought the issue would derail National's election campaign.

The tape didn't matter "in the slightest" to New Zealanders.

There has been growing pressure on Key to allow the publication of the contents of the tape, with both Labour and the Greens saying it is time for the Prime Minister to come clean.

The Media Freedom Committee has criticised Key for linking the tea-pot tapes to the phone-hacking scandal which brought down the News of the World.

The group of editors representing the country's mainstream media says it was ''wrong'' to make the comparison adding that tape must be released.

Holding its annual meeting today, the committee said: ''The media have committed no offence, despite a police investigation, and have not published or broadcast the recording's full contents.''

It urged either Banks or Key to agree to the release of the tapes.

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''The level of public focus on what was said at that meeting and what implications it might have beyond the election has intensified in the past two days.  With just 9 days until the election, the matter could yet be resolved by one or both of the politicians involved agreeing to put the tape's contents before the public and to let voters be the judge of its importance.

''To suggest this case could lead to much wider publication of private conversations, even raising the subject of suicide, was unfortunate and totally wrong.''

"A DUTY TO PUBLISH"

NZ First leader Winston Peters today kept up the pressure on Key by claiming there was more to the 'tea tape' than he had hinted at so far.

In a speech to party faithful in Whangarei, Peters again hinted at the contents of the recording between Key and  Banks.

Peters would not confirm that he has heard the tape or that he has a transcript but said he knew what was on it. He said the pair discussed NZ First's elderly supporters and the future of ACT leader Don Brash.

Key yesterday said he could not remember if he suggested NZ First supporters were "dying out".

"How could someone with a self reputation for brilliance, detail, and instant analysis, suddenly lose his memory?" Peters said today.

"And with an image of being 'a good bloke' who drinks beer out of a bottle, that is, a 'real bloke', be behind all this Bovine Scatology?"

Peters said Key and the media should have no issue with publishing the tape if the contents were bland.

"If the comments are bland and innocuous yet illegally taped (which they were not) then the scope of a fine is so low and the public interest so high that the media have a duty to publish," he said.

"Or is there one rule for National and John Key and another rule for all the rest of us?"

Peters also criticised the symbolic cup of tea, saying it was "bizarre" that Key was "telling" people of an electorate to vote for another party.

"It is bizarre for a candidate to campaign for an opponent," he said.

Labour leader Phil Goff said it was unprecedented for a prime minister to storm out of a press conference.

"I can't remember a prime minister, going back to (Rob) Muldoon, that was so brittle that they couldn't take the heat of answering valid questions from the news media, that's his job."

The questions were simple and Key could have answered them and moved on, Goff said.

People would move on once those questions were answered, he said.

"What I'm really worried about is that Mr Key is our Prime Minister, he will be under positions of pressure all the time and if he responds this way in a position of pressure I'm worried about his ability to cope."

Key should say the same thing in public as he does in private and should be honest with voters ahead of the election, Goff said.

Two news organisations have been supplied copies of the tape - TV3 and the Herald on Sunday - and have been advised by police not to disclose details under threat of a two-year prison sentence.

The recording was captured by freelance cameraman Bradley Ambrose at a publicity stunt to endorse strategic split voting in the Epsom electorate. Media were asked to clear out, but Ambrose's radio microphone remained on the table and captured the eight-minute discussion.

He said it was inadvertent but passed the tape to the Herald on Sunday, which was denied permission to publish it by Key. It was then obtained by 3 News. Since then Key has denounced the "tabloid tactics" used to eavesdrop and says he will not reward the newspaper involved by permitting publication.

Media need the permission of either man to make the contents public. Banks has also refused to reveal details of the chat, saying it was a matter for Key.

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- Fairfax NZ

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