Judith Collins resigns, says she's a victim

HAMISH RUTHERFORD, KELLY DENNETT, ABBIE NAPIER
Last updated 16:48 30/08/2014
Stuff.co.nz

National MP Judith Collins resigns after more details concerning her dealings with the SFO and Whale Oil blogger Cameron Slater are revealed.

Cameron Slater on Collins

National MP Judith Collins resigns

Judith Collins
CHRIS SKELTON/Fairfax NZ Zoom
NO QUESTIONS: "I cannot control what other people say about me or when they leverage off my name," Judith Collins said before leaving her post-resignation press conference without answering any questions.

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Right-wing Whale Oil blogger Cameron Slater denies being responsible for the downfall of Judith Collins.

Collins today resigned as a minister from Cabinet, effective immediately, and asked Prime Minister John Key for an inquiry into allegations she had behaved inappropriately and tried to undermine the Serious Fraud Office director.

The MP's resignation came after the prime minister's office was given an email yesterday.

Key released it, along with his statement where he said he accepted Collins' resignation as a minister.

The email appeared to show that right-wing Whale Oil blogger Cameron Slater had spoken to Collins and was briefing associates on a campaign he was running to undermine then-SFO director Adam Feeley, around the time it was suggested Feeley had stolen a bottle of champagne in the wake of an investigation into failed finance company Bridgecorp.

The email the PM released, sent to "Mark", ''Carrick" and one blanked out name, detailed how Slater was briefing a number of journalists.

Speaking to media this afternoon, Slater said Collins was a good friend who has been taken down "by a death by a thousand cuts".

"I am gutted for her. John Key has said it many times, she has worked very hard and been a very good minister. So good in fact that she has been the focus of a sustained, coordinated conspiracy."

He attacked the media saying it used "private banter" in emails as if it were court documents and denied he was responsible for Collin's downfall with his email.

"I can say whatever I want to in private emails," he said.

He didn't regret writing the email, saying he "doesn't regret anything he writes".

He said the sentence in the email "Collins is gunning for Feeley" wasn't a lie but "embellishing is a good word."

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HAGER DIDN'T KNOW

Dirty Politics author Nicky Hager said he did not send the email Collins today blamed for her sudden resignation.

He was surprised it had taken Collins this long to step down following information released in his book this month.

He said Collins' resignation over a minor matter seemed to be a ''slippery'' way for her to step down from politics without admitting the information in Dirty Politics was the cause.

In the book, it was revealed Collins released confidential information on public servant Simon Pleasants to Slater.

Hager said Collins had been under a lot of pressure from the National Party to step down.

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''John Key has not been prepared to say she did anything wrong,'' he said. ''When I saw the information I had about Judith Collins, I didn't think she could stay on as minister.''

Hager said he did not have any further information on Collins to release. He said he used all the ''best stuff'' in his book.

COLLINS DISTRESSED
Announcing her resignation, Collins said the allegations are "extremely distressing and disappointing", and that she was the victim of a two-year smear campaign.

"The allegations have been extremely distressing and disappointing. I wish to stop being the subject of daily distractions,'' she said.

"I completely refute any such allegations. I have been the victim of a two-year smear campaign."

"I spoke at length with the Minister responsible today (Judith Collins). She is gunning for Feeley. Any information that we can provide her on her background is appreciated. I have outlined for her a blog post about the massive staff turnover and she has added that to the review of the State Services Commissioner. She is using his review of these events to go on a trawl looking for anything else. It is my opinion that Feeley's position is untenable."

Feeley was ultimately cleared by the commission and stayed in the job for another year. He was now the chief executive of the Queenstown Lakes District Council.

He released a statement this afternoon saying that during his time as a public servant he worked for a number of Ministers of various Governments and ''strived to ensure, and believe that I had, entirely professional and constructive working relationships with all of those Ministers''.

''Throughout my time as Chief Executive of the SFO, I believe that the work of the SFO always enjoyed the support and respect of the Government.''

LEAKED EMAILS
The email that prompted Collins' resignation as a minister was one her camp apparently feared had been released to Fairfax Media.

Vigilante hacker Rawshark is the man who hacked Slater's emails then gave them to Hager. Since the Dirty Politics release Rawshark has also been parcelling out caches of emails to media.

Fairfax's Sunday Star Times is due to print a story about some of those emails tomorrow.

They detail a covert public relations campaign including attacks on the credibility of the SFO and Financial Markets Authority.

Fellow blogger Cathy Odgers was working in concert with Slater. Slater and Odgers declined to answer questions.

Feeley, who was repeatedly called ''Five Fingers Feeley'' by Slater, told the newspaper that he was aware at the time of a campaign being run against him but was unsure of its motivation.

''I knew that what they were saying, most of it was at best totally wrong. But I guess you kinda thought 'that's the reality of being in these kind of roles', so I stopped reading it.'

CLEARING HER NAME
Announcing her resignation, Collins said she had not known about the email.

"A new allegation has come to light from an email conversation from 2011 between Cameron Slater and others suggesting I was undermining the then-Director of the Serious Fraud Office.

"I was not party to this email or discussion and have only today been made aware of it.

"I absolutely and strongly deny this and any suggestion of inappropriate behaviour.  I am restrained in clearing my name while I am still a minister inside Cabinet and I believe the right thing to do is to resign as a minister so I am able to clear my name.

"I have asked the prime minister for an inquiry into these serious allegations so that my name can be cleared. I will, of course, co-operate with any inquiry.

RESIGNATION ACCEPTED
Key said he accepted the resignation saying the ''relationship between a minister and their chief executive [a reference to the SFO] is vital, and goes right to the heart of a trusted, effective government''.

''This new information suggests Ms Collins may have been engaged in discussions with a blogger in 2011 aimed at undermining the then director [Adam Feeley] of the Serious Fraud Office. Ms Collins was the minister responsible for the SFO at the time.

"I have spoken with Ms Collins about the matters in the email, and she strongly denies any suggestion of inappropriate behaviour on her part. Ms Collins accepts these are serious allegations and that resigning as a minister is the honourable step to take in these circumstances."

Speaking to reporters, Key said Collins had no option but to resign.

Key said he had no regrets about not sacking Collins sooner.

"As prime minister I have to deal with every situation that comes along and on the basis and merits of the  facts. In my view, this is a far more serious matter than anything else I've seen."

Key said: "This is a situation which on the face of the email - which I accept is not an email which she wrote or was even aware of - that would certainly indicate that there were at least  number of people looking to undermine the head of the Serious Fraud Office.

"Now whether that's accurate or not, she strongly refutes any role that she might have played in that, but that is not something that can be left unsettled and those issues need to be resolved."

Key said cumulatively the situation, coming after other Collins' errors, added to the weight of pressure on Collins.

"If this email had been presented to me with no other earlier concerns, from Oravida to anything else, if this was the middle of a Parliamentary term, exactly the same course of action would follow."

Key's office had been given the email on Friday morning and his chief of staff provided it to him on Friday night. During the press conference Key said the email had been provided to his office "anonymously" but an adviser later clarified that he meant it was provided "in confidence" with one recipient's name redacted.

"As soon as I saw it, which was late last night, I obviously took it home to think it through, I acted on it."

Labour leader David Cunliffe said Collins should have been sacked "months ago" with repeated mistakes leaving her on multiple final warnings.

Key had given Collins no undertaking about a return to Cabinet. She would not be in Cabinet post election if National was re-elected.

Chris Finlayson will be Acting Minister of Justice, Craig Foss Acting Minister for ACC and Hon Hekia Parata Acting Minister for Ethnic Affairs.

Fairfax Media this morning revealed an ACC whistleblower had complained to the privacy commissioner alleging Collins leaked confidential but false details to Slater.

- Stuff

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