Editorial: Insult to democracy must be laid bare

01:00, Aug 02 2013

It's been said before, but it needs to be repeated over and over again. The releasing of a gallery journalist's phone records to a ministerial inquiry is an outrage. It is an affront to our democracy and we should all be concerned about it.

The resignation of Parliamentary Service head Geoff Horn yesterday underlines the seriousness of the breach. The question is whether there will be more casualties in this sordid affair.

Speaker David Carter apologised earlier this week on behalf of the Parliamentary Service for Fairfax journalist Andrea Vance's phone records being handed to the inquiry into a leaked spy report, but that took far too long.

It transpires that the service did not wish to hand over any records until instructed to do so by Prime Minister John Key's office. Mr Key says that instruction related only to ministers and their staff, not journalists.

An "enthusiastic" Parliamentary Service contractor has been blamed for actually handing over Vance's records, but the full story has yet to emerge.

It is a tad ironic that this privacy breach occurred during an investigation into the leak of a report into illegal spying by the Government Communication Security Bureau (GCSB), and has been made public just as Mr Key pushes legislation to give that bureau more power.

None of this is a good look for the Government.

Mr Key yesterday signalled he will not be appearing before the Privileges Committee investigation into the accessing of Ms Vance's records, because he says he was only a "bit player" in the Henry inquiry he established.

Mr Key also rejects Vance's claim the Government has a casual disregard for the media's role and a contempt for the press, saying this is "complete and utter nonsense". But there needs to be a full and transparent explanation of what happened in this case to restore confidence.