Key dials back on memory loss over call

ANDREA VANCE
Last updated 05:00 17/04/2013

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The saga of the telephone call made to recruit spy boss Ian Fletcher has taken another twist.

Prime Minister John Key faced more questions yesterday over the July 2011 conversation in which he suggested his former childhood acquaintance should apply to become director of the Government Communications Security Bureau.

Controversy has raged over the call because Mr Key did not volunteer the information when questioned about his role in the appointment. Details of how it came about have been eked out over the past fortnight.

Mr Key was asked to explain to Parliament how he had Mr Fletcher's telephone number in Australia.

"No clue . . . I genuinely have no clue. I do not know how I got the number," he said at first.

But pressed by Labour's deputy leader, Grant Robertson, he replied: "I did not, at that point, have Ian Fletcher's mobile phone number. To the best of my knowledge, I actually rang the directory service to get the Queensland number. I do not actually have his number."

The service redirected the call to Mr Fletcher's mobile, he said.

Afterwards he said he couldn't be "100 per cent sure" if he or his secretary rang directory services.

Last week, Mr Fletcher said: "When the prime minister of New Zealand calls, and the call is put through to you, you know who you are about to speak to."

Mr Key has defended the appointment process, and was backed by State Services Commissioner Iain Rennie, who said it was professional. However, Mr Rennie has said he was surprised Mr Key made the call and not him.

Mr Robertson accused Mr Key of treating Parliament with contempt.

"One minute he is telling the House he doesn't have a clue how he came to have Mr Fletcher's phone number when he called him to talk about the GCSB role.

"Literally the next minute, he is saying he phoned directory services," he said.

Yesterday, Mr Key said the freeze on the GCSB spying on New Zealanders had been lifted in some instances involving defence. The solicitor-general had advised of the partial lifting of the freeze for "national security reasons".

A report published last week revealed that more than 80 Kiwis may have been spied on illegally by the GCSB.

The Government looks to have the numbers for a law change to permit the GCSB to spy on New Zealanders for the SIS, police and Defence Force. NZ First leader Winston Peters pledged support with extra oversight of warrants.

Labour and the Greens have refused to support the change without an independent inquiry.

Labour leader David Shearer accused Mr Key of "sexing up" claims about weapons of mass destruction. He also called on the Government to explain why it had scrapped plans to change legislation governing the SIS.

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Mr Key dismissed Labour's accusations of scaremongering, saying: "They are acting like a bunch of kids."

- The Dominion Post

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