Key hints at Dunne return

TRACY WATKINS
Last updated 17:23 03/12/2013
Peter Dunne
KEVIN STENT/ Fairfax NZ
UNREPENTANT: Peter Dunne says he resigned as a minister because he was not willing to compromise his belief that citizens ought to be able to communicate with their elected representatives in confidence.

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Prime Minister John Key has opened the door to reinstating Peter Dunne to his ministerial line up after Parliament's privileges committee blasted the way private information was handed over to a prime ministerial inquiry.

The privileges committee report, released today, found that the inquiry, headed by former top public servant David Henry, over-reached its powers and Parliamentary Service failed in its duty as watchdog over the information provided.

The information included phone and email records and swipe-card records relating to Dunne and Fairfax Media journalist Andrea Vance.

Green Party co-leader Russel Norman said the inescapable conclusion of the privileges committee was that Key had launched an inquiry which had "directly attacked our constitutional arrangements".

"John Key must take full responsibility for setting up an inquiry that ran roughshod over the freedoms that MPs and the media expect in a democracy," Norman said.

"John Key's inquiry aggressively went after email records of MPs and journalists that it had absolutely no right to access."

But Key rejected Norman's claims and said the privileges committee had squarely laid blame with Parliamentary Service.

Meanwhile, he would not rule out reinstating Dunne, who resigned as a minister after refusing to hand over his records to the so-called Henry inquiry into a leaked document detailing potentially illegal spying by the Government Communications Security Bureau.

Key said it was a "possibility" that Dunne would get his job back although he had not given much thought to it.

"But in the end time does move on, heals most things and it's a possibility," he said.

Asked if that would be early next year he said it was possible.

In a statement, Dunne said he resigned as a minister because he was not willing to compromise his belief that citizens ought to be able to communicate with their elected representatives in confidence.

"For that reason, I was not willing to allow access to my private emails, and I would take the same approach in a similar situation today," Dunne said.

"In complete contrast, the Henry Inquiry showed a complete indifference to protecting personal privacy.

"It carried out its work with the finesse of a bull in a china shop, so I am naturally delighted that the privileges committee has held it and the Parliamentary Service to account for their manifest failings."

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The privileges committee report had showed he was entirely within his rights to decline access to his emails.

Fairfax Media's group editor John Crowley said the media group took some comfort from the committee's finding.

"The committee found that the release of confidential information relating to the work and movement of one of our senior parliamentary journalists, simply going about her job, was unacceptable.

"We have known that from the outset."

The rights of reporter Andrea Vance and the important role journalists played in a democracy had been trampled over, Crowley said.

"There is no way records relating to her emails, phone calls or access to her workplace should ever have been released to the Henry Inquiry," he said.

"The release of this information came only after intense pressure from an inquiry which circumvented the rules and operated with not nearly enough oversight."

He said it was astonishing Speaker David Carter, who was responsible for Parliamentary Service which effectively held the information, was not consulted or even informed about its release.

"The access that was provided to information belonging to both Andrea Vance and UnitedFuture leader Peter Dunne simply should never have been provided," Crowley said.

"Now we wait for the committee to do what it has promised to do – to address fundamental flaws – and to make sure this can't happen again.

"There must be some clearly understood systems and processes established – there have to be some lessons from all of this."

- © Fairfax NZ News

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