Editorial: Consequential questions

Last updated 05:00 18/08/2014

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OPINION: If those persistently high polls have been giving the impression that John Key can walk on water, the first post-Hager poll will show whether he can walk on sewage.

Just how deeply National's progress towards election day becomes mired in the underfoot unpleasantness that Nicky Hager's book Dirty Politics has laid out will depend on more than the immediate public reaction.

Hager has created, or at least exposed, an issue that some voters will find repellent and some will find attractive (by which we mean fascinating, rather than appealing).

Others will quite reasonably find it a combination of both. How this third group, which you have to suspect is considerable, will ultimately react depends on how plausible they find the attacks and defences that will play out in the coming days. Their attention has surely been engaged.

They should not be troubled by the scolding lament that it's all sideshow when it's the policies and the track records that deserve to hold sway.

People are not only entitled, but strongly inclined, to take the implications for privacy and civil rights seriously - particularly since invasive tactics are involved in gathering the material for the book, as well as being the subject of it.

Certainly the initial, seemingly airy rebuff that the public will see through all this and won't care is looking like a perilous approach. In particular, attention must turn to the charge that blogger Cameron Slater was tipped off by the Prime Minister's office to seek SIS documentation that embarrassed former Labour Leader Phil Goff.

We should remember not only that this embarrassed Mr Goff, but that it deserved to, because the record when it came out contradicted comments he'd made publicly. Score one for the truth, by all means.

But the way the waters at the SIS parted to enable access to that document was a huge contrast to the experience of other media when they have sought access to the many truths that most secretive of departments clutches to its chest.

We keep coming back to the same approach; are we looking at the practical exercise of power as a legitimate, if less-than-pretty tactic, or the abuse of it?

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- The Southland Times

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