PM selective about his open style

21:19, Jul 27 2014

"The Prime Minister is the most open and transparent Prime Minister we have ever had."

So claimed his deputy Bill English, in Parliament on Thursday. John Key has made a virtue of his accessibility.

"My style is to be open and transparent," he says.

And yes, he is. When it suits him.

It suited him to axe unpopular Parliamentary travel perks for MPs back in 2010. Key was leading the charge on transparency in the public service.

However, it did not suit him to answer uncomfortable questions about the unauthorised spending of one of his newest MPs Claudette Hauiti.  


It rather suited him that he could blame a lack of transparency from Parliamentary Service. The back office civil servants are applying a blanket ban on the release of information about MPs' use of taxpayer funds.

Quite why it didn't suit him to seek the information from Hauiti herself, or Louise Upston, the party whip, is unclear.

It also suits him to let the public believe that Kiwi Daryl Jones was an al Qaeda foot soldier, who died in a drone strike in southern Yemen because he was in a convoy with suspected terrorists. Jones, he said, may have attended a terror training camp in Yemen.

However, it did not suit Key to supply evidence or further details. Radicalised Kiwis fighting with Islamic militants was cited a reason to strengthen spying laws last year.

"I think all that shows is what I've been saying for some time, and that is we need our intelligence agencies to track our people," Key said in April.  

Other than vague hints about Jones, the public have no real clue what Jones was doing in Yemen. We know his death was incidental, as he was not the target of the Predator attack. Key has also confirmed he was subject to surveillance for a time.

Other details about his life have been obtained by the Australian media, through their freedom of information laws. Perhaps deeper examination of Jones' story does not suit the political narrative that National wants to spin about intelligence and security.

Key rammed through beefed-up intelligence legislation last year, justifying it by saying the agencies would become more transparent and subject to greater oversight. The new laws were necessary in the Government's fight against escalating cyber-security threats.

There have been baby steps, with SIS and GCSB directors appearing at a public committee hearing. The executive summary of a performance review was unclassified and published.  

This is part of a drive to overcome public suspicion after a succession of illegal spying and mass surveillance scandals.

In Jones' case, Key has judged that "run of the mill Kiwis" have little sympathy for someone associating with terrorists. That suits him. 

But Jones' mother deserves to know why her son was collateral damage in the US war on terror. Or why the New Zealand Government saw fit not to object to the assassination of one of its citizens.

However, it seems the truth will remain buried, along with Jones' body, in the sands of the Yemen desert.