Another Key brain-fade hard to believe

Prime Minister John Key.
Prime Minister John Key.

Spies we allow a measure of subterfuge and secrecy. But Prime Minister John Key's obfuscation on the events that led to Ian Fletcher's appointment is straight out of a bad espionage thriller. Less John le Carre, more Get Smart.

Adopting his "So what" demeanour, Mr Key sought to shrug off scandal with the defence that New Zealand is a small place, and this is how top civil servants are recruited.

The prime minister is the only check and balance on the GCSB director. That Mr Key personally head-hunted a childhood pal for the job is a problem in itself.

But the biggest issue here isn't cronyism. It is Mr Key's honesty that is at stake. Why didn't he come clean last week?

Instead, he attempted to make any connection with the appointment and the Kim Dotcom extradition case look like a conspiracy theory, insisting: "I've been upfront."

Mr Key is expecting the public to swallow another brain-fade in the epic Kim Dotcom chronicle. He couldn't recall a briefing on Dotcom in February last year.

Now - even under scrutiny from the Opposition and journalists - we must accept that he "forgot" he called a childhood friend to suggest he apply to lead New Zealand's foreign spy agency.

In light of this latest revelation, can we still be confident in the assertions that Mr Fletcher - only in the job a matter of weeks - also forgot Dotcom was raised at the February 22 briefing?

One of his first jobs was to attend a joint police-GCSB debrief on the raid on February 16. It's hard to fathom why he wouldn't be keen to play up that perceived success to his new boss.

And would any rookie not feel it prudent, or at least cautious, to alert the prime minister to the potential illegality of the GCSB's work on the Dotcom raid which was, after all, making headlines around the world?

Mr Key has been forced to repeatedly insist he told the truth about the Dotcom case. But with every episode like this, his denials appear less plausible.

Fairfax Media