PM John Key's text message deleting examined

BURN AFTER READING: PM John Key is to be investigated over his practice of deleting text messages after reading them
ROBERT CHARLES/Fairfax NZ

BURN AFTER READING: PM John Key is to be investigated over his practice of deleting text messages after reading them

Dirty Politics has sparked another official probe - this time by the guardian of the country's public records.

Chief archivist Marilyn Little has agreed to a call from Green MP James Shaw to investigate Prime Minister John Key for deleting text messages.

The practice came to light last month amid a furore about Key's messages to attack blogger Cameron Slater. Key says he destroys text messages in case his phone is lost.

Shaw believes this might be breaking the Public Records Act and took it up with Little.

In a letter, she confirms she will carry out a review of record-keeping practices for Key's texts between November 2008, when he first took office and November 2014.

"No-one expects the Chief Archivist to conduct an inquisition, but there is no reason why the Prime Minister should have had to delete messages from Cameron Slater unless he has something to hide," Shaw said today.

"We're sorry to drag the Chief Archivist into the middle of the Dirty Politics maelstrom, but we felt that the Prime Minister's stated practice of deleting all his texts, even those that are clearly to do with his Prime Ministerial business, was wrong."

Shaw says Key's texts should be available to everyone, under the Official Information Act, and he wants Little to establish clear guidelines. 

A spokesman for the Prime Minister said: "We will cooperate with the review, but we note that in the six years National has been in Government we have had no advice from the Chief Archivist or the Department of Internal Affairs about the retention of text messages."

Key came under fire late last month for saying he was not in contact with Slater about an inquiry into the Security Intelligence Service.

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However, it emerged they had an exchange of text messages the previous evening.

Little also released terms of reference for her review.

She says the use of private mobile phones or devices, and personal text messages on ministerial phones are "explicitly excluded from the scope of this review".

It presents a grey area, because Key has previously argued much of his communication with Slater is as National Party leader, not Prime Minister, and so he shouldn't have to disclose it.

However, he did release the text message log from late November.  

Slater's relationship with key National party figures was the subject of the Dirty Politics book, released in August.

Police are currently considering whether to pursue a complaint by the Labour party over unauthorised accessing of a party database in 2012, linked to Slater and Jason Ede, a former adviser to Key. 

An independent investigation last month cleared MP Judith Collins of claims she was involved in a campaign to smear ex-Serious Fraud Office boss Adam Feeley. But an inquiry by intelligence watchdog Cheryl Gwyn confirmed the close links between Slater and Ede, and chastised the SIS for releasing misleading information to the blogger.

Green party MP Kevin Hague has also asked Auditor-General Lyn Provost to examine if there are any conflicts of interest in Food and Grocery Council chief Katherine Rich's membership of the board of the Health Promotion Agency.

The book implies Rich used PR consultant Carrick Graham to pay Slater to attack critics of the council. Rich has refused to resign and says the claims are offensive.

 - Stuff

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