Drop, cover and hold, John

When Civil Defence Minister Chris Tremain yesterday exhorted everyone at Parliament to “Drop, cover and hold!” this morning, the prime minister and his deputy must have been tempted to try the manoeuvre on the spot.

The slogan for the national earthquake drill seemed just as useful taken as political advice, since the German giant Kim Dotcom has caused quakes to roll through the Beehive with his every step lately.

John Key and Bill English looked as if they'd as soon dive under a table and stay there as be taken by a gloating Opposition through yet another mortifying catalogue of cockups over the Dotcom case - this time at the hands of New Zealand's elite spy unit.

It was not the usual chipper Mr Key who faced a grilling about how the Government Communications Security Bureau came to spy illegally on Dotcom and one of his co-accused in a pending lawsuit.

When Opposition interjections got a bit rowdy during one of his answers, he paused and muttered, “Jesus!” under his breath.

Greens co-leader Russel Norman could barely credit that our spies could have failed to twig that Dotcom was a New Zealand resident, and therefore beyond their surveillance scope, when this fact had been reported in every media outlet in the country.

Labour leader David Shearer held up a blown-up photograph of the $500,000 fireworks display Dotcom shouted Auckland to celebrate his residency, hoping it would jog Mr Key's memory.

“The fireworks are an irrelevance,” Mr Key said tersely.

“Boom!” Labour's David Cunliffe delightedly contradicted him.

Dr Norman said either the spies were incompetent in not knowing a fact so widely reported, or had misled ministers in not telling them about their knowingly illicit surveillance.

Mr Key said neither conclusion was correct, but Parliament would have to wait till the week's end for a report by the security watchdog to learn the real explanation.

This invited the inevitable jibes about whether Mr Key would read the report, having fastidiously refused to read the police report last week into Small Business Minister John Banks' involvement with Dotcom.

Mr Key, for once not resorting to wisecracking in rebuttal of tricky questions, seemed to be trying for a demeanour that strobed, “important matters of state”.

“I would be cautious about jumping to conclusions,” he said piously. “The member is joining dots that actually cannot be joined.”

Better to join dots than to join Dotcoms in expensive court cases.

Labour's Charles Chauvel probed the extent of the Crown's liability should Dotcom sue. At the end of several laborious exchanges between him and Attorney-General Chris Finlayson, the answer appeared to be: no-one knows.

By the time the question list got to Mr Tremain's cheery “Drop, cover and hold”, Mr Key looked ready to positively welcome the earth opening a crack and swallowing him.

Failing that, he could use today's ShakeOut drill as an excuse to hide under a table till it's all over.

The Dominion Post