NBR have chosen to post Matthew Hooton’s latest column outside their paywall – Sabin clock keeps ticking for Key.
The longer it takes to try and keep Sabin’s secret the more damage it could do to John Key’s Government when it comes out.
It appears that National have at best remained deliberately ignorant about an embarrassing story about one of their MPs through a general election, and the story seems to have also survived the Northland by-election.
It’s something like this that could easily bring down a Government. Hooton:
At the time of writing, National had also been spared the full story becoming public about the resignation of former MP Mike Sabin. Those close to Mr Peters suggested he would return to Wellington before the by-election to reveal all under parliamentary privilege.
Instead, the NZ First leader elected to stay in Northland talking about his proposal to expand the port at Marsden Point, a referendum on cannabis and his forthcoming bill to remove name suppression from alleged paedophiles if victims say they don’t want it and to launch a register for parents to check there are no sex offenders in their neighbourhood.
No doubt there was a sigh of relief at National Party Headquarters. But that may be short-sighted.
It may well be short sighted.
Fragments are on the public record: that Mr Sabin has been under police investigation since August, that Mr Key was “happy” for him to remain chairman of the law and order select committee overseeing the police budget while that investigation was under way, and that Mr Sabin resigned “due to personal issues … best dealt with outside Parliament.”
Mr Sabin himself is no longer that important: the police and any other relevant arms of government will now deal with him as they see fit.
While there appears there could be a significant story about Sabin politically he’s history (albeit leaving a very embarrassing legacy in the Northland electorate).
But Mr Key’s government stands accused of somehow covering up after Mr Sabin, with Labour leader Andrew Little going so far as to say he believes Mr Key is lying.
That is not entirely implausible. Although NBR has been unable to substantiate allegations the National Party top brass knew all about Mr Sabin as far back as before the 2011 election, police commissioner Mike Bush has made clear that he and his officers did not “drop the ball” when it came to informing the Beehive about the Sabin investigation in August.
The NBR wrote that the issue could pre-date the 2011 election. If so that makes it potentially TICK TICK TICK.
The Beehive line is that Mr Bush told police minister Anne Tolley about the investigation in August – and her successor Michael Woodhouse after the election – but didn’t name the MP concerned. Nor, we are meant to believe, did Ms Tolley or Mr Woodhouse ask.
The Beehive will not answer questions about whether or not either passed this information to Mr Key or his office. Answering such questions, according to chief of staff Wayne Eagleson, would violate the privacy of natural persons.
If the Beehive’s account of the Sabin matter is true, then Mr Key’s government has become deeply dysfunctional.
At best it looks dysfunctional.
Given the proximity to the election, Ms Tolley in fact had a public duty to ask the commissioner who was involved. Was it Mr Key or David Cunliffe, the candidates for prime minister? Was it Bill English, David Parker or Russel Norman, the candidates for finance minister? Or Murray McCully, David Shearer or Mr Peters, the candidates for foreign minister? Maybe Judith Collins or Mr Little, the candidates for justice minister?
Even if Ms Tolley neglected her duties to the public, is it plausible her political duty to the prime minister didn’t lead her to inquire? “Please god, let it be Cunliffe!” she would surely have thought.
Mr Woodhouse’s story is just as odd. When briefed by Mr Bush after the election, we’re told he too ignored his public and political duties to inquire further.
Perhaps even more incredible is Mr Eagleson’s claim that, when he was contacted on November 26 by Labour’s chief of staff Matt McCarten about the Sabin situation – which he says he already knew about from others – he waited until the following week to mention it to the prime minister, who remained, he claims, utterly ignorant until December 1.
It’s beyond belief that politicians wouldn’t make it their business to know whatever they could know about a potentially embarrassing and problematic issue.
The risk for Mr Key is that if the full Sabin story becomes known in a week, a month, six months or a year, it will look as if his government covered it up not just through a general election campaign but then again through the by-election as well. The clock keeps ticking.
Variations of the Sabin story have been widely known – and none of them look good, for Sabin (if they are true) and for National (regardless of the outcome of any legal or court action).
It already looks bad for National. They look like they could lose an electorate over it.
Whether the full story goes public or not Sabin and the resulting Northland disaster could well result in tick tick TICK general election BOOM.