Collins addresses ‘dirty politics’ but will have to be very clean

It was inevitable that Judith Collins would be bombarded with reminders and accusations and claims about her involvement with ‘Dirty Politics’ as soon as she became leader.

Nicky Hager was quick out of the blocks, putting out a Press advisory on Judith Collins and the book Dirty Politics about half an hour after Collins was announced as leader.

And in media appearances this morning she was questioned about it.

RNZ – New National Party leader Judith Collins: National won’t ‘repeat any mistakes’

Collins said the National Party doesn’t want to have the kind of culture described in Nicky Hager’s 2014 book Dirty Politics.

She was a big figure in the the scandal with her connections to attack bloggers. While she wouldn’t specifically apologise or admit wrong for what happened during that period, she said she’s moved on as a person.

“The whole culture at the time wasn’t one that was conducive to doing the very best we could.”

“You can’t be focussed on New Zealanders when you’re busy playing politics.

“One of the things I’ve learned over the years is you only ever learn from your mistakes, you don’t learn from your successes. The National Party is very focussed on not repeating any mistakes.”

And she promised to address the Michael Woodhouse issue, as he has not yet bean dealt to as demanded by opponents over the last few days and weeks.

As for health spokesperson Michael Woodhouse, who has been involved with the Michelle Boag saga of leaked patient details, Collins said she would “look at the facts”, have a chat with him, and decide his fate today.

“I’m absolutely not at all comfortable with it [the leaks],” Collins said.

“I thought it was extraordinary and I’ve never seen anything quite like that. I’m taking this very seriously.”

So one of her first tests as leader will be how she handles this today.

Saying she has learnt from her past and is “very focussed on not repeating any mistakes”, but she will have to be seen to have reformed and will have to be seen to be playing clean politics. as will her national caucus.

Collins and all National MPs will certainly be carefully scrutinised for any hint of dirty politics, as I’m sure she will be aware. This is a good thing as it provides the best chance of an improvement in the way politics in new Zealand is done.

Now is her chance to prove herself as a good modern leader, and at the same time raise the quality of our democracy.

If she fails then national will fall with her.

Clare Curran and the brutality of politics

I don’t think Clare Curran was cut out to be political. After working in Parliament she managed to get herself into a fairly safe Labour seat in Dunedin South, and was a fairly committed and decent electorate MP, but she never seemed a good fit for party or Wellington politics. And she ended up being brutalised by it.

Actually, not by ‘it’. by people.

Some of it she brought upon herself as she tried to message manage in social media. She was involved in Labour’s attempt at a blog that gradually banned people.

But once Labour got into Government and Curran became a minister, people in the National Party, MPs, targeted Curran and help destroy her political career.  and Cameron Slater and others who see destroying people as a game.

She also made some dumb decisions so her demise was partly self inflicted, but dirty politics came close to destroying her as a person.

The Spinoff:  ‘I physically felt like I was going to die’: Clare Curran opens up on politics, toxicity and trauma

Curran says she was a top target for the likes of rightwing blogger Cameron Slater and lobbyist and commentator Matthew Hooton throughout her four terms. “They hated me.” In some of his many posts about her, Slater described Curran as “something dreadful” and “dumber than a bag of hammers”.

That’s fairly mild by Slater’s standards.

Curran commissioned research on coverage of her from September 30, 2017 (the week after the general election) to October 27, 2018. Of the 509 (non-broadcast) articles about her, 139 were negative blogs on Cameron Slater’s WhaleOil site. The Otago Daily Times produced just 62 articles.  Slater produced the most articles about Curran – more than twice as many as any other writer.

Curran seems a bit obsessed with Slater’s attacks, but that shows how relentless he was in trying to destroy someone. remember that at this time he had been distanced by National, and was promoting Winston Peters and NZ First, so this was probably just combat sport to him. Until he got involved in the crash and burn of Jamie Lee Ross (sort of supporting Ross but that may have been more to try to damage National).

Ross has responded to Curran’s revelations via https://twitter.com/jamileeross

I had such mixed emotions reading this. You would have to be heartless, or so partisan that you’re now devoid of humanity, to not feel empathy for Clare. But at the same time, I recall being on the other side when it was all happening.

I was in the 8am strategy meetings when we were deciding to throw everything we had at her. I was in the morning procedures meetings as Melissa Lee would share what her latest hit on Clare was going to be.

Clare was a weak link. National wanted to break her. And we did. Watching those question time answers, from about 10 metres away, you could pinpoint the very moment her career ended. I can only now imagine what it felt like. But at the time all we felt was excitement and success.

Parliament turns normal people in to savages. Another human was going through probably the most traumatic experience they’ll ever go through. Clare lost her job, reputation, her mental well-being. What were we doing? Laughing. Backslapping. Praising the destroyers. We were awful.

Yeah, accountability is important. But why enjoy the destruction of others so much? Do we really need to revel is someone else’s downfall? Sure, we all signed up for what Parliament is. But why did we also sign up for forgetting decency when we walked in the door? Sorry Clare.

At least he has said sorry two years later, but MPs and party hoodlums seem to get caught up in the dirty politics game.

There’s a big difference between holding the Government to account and trying to politically and mentally destroy people. Slater only does that because he was part of a party that has done that for a long time.

Curran received six to eight months of psychological treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder after that disastrous afternoon. “I’m not Shane Jones. I didn’t have a pat answer. I don’t do bluster and I was trying to answer honestly and I couldn’t come up with the words and my mind went blank. It was the worst nightmare in front of everyone. I remember a sensation of pressure that built up, and quite honestly, during those first few days I felt like I was literally going to die. I felt physically that I was going to die because the stress had got so much and there was nowhere else for it to go.”

At times, she admits, she thought she might even quite like to die.

Very sad to see her get to a dark place like that.

Curran says within weeks of the formation of the coalition government in 2017, a person she won’t name told her that she was the main target for the opposition. “Around the time I came into parliament, and even before, I was squarely on the radar of Hooton and Slater and [blogger and pollster] David Farrar. I had a disproportionate amount of focus on me. I was seen as an easy picking.”

Openly at least Farrar (on Kiwiblog) wasn’t anywhere near as relentless or nasty as Slater, but the two are seen by some to work in tandem – Farrar continued to support Slater even after the latter fell out with National.

I don’t know what Hooton’s involvement was. I would have to see evidence before I will see it as more dirty politics, Curran seems to have been very sensitive to any sort of criticism, and may see it all as trying to get to her.

She says senior National MP Nick Smith labelled her “Goebbels” after her 2006 paper to a regional Labour Party conference, in which she discussed how the party could reframe public debate and resonate with voters by communicating with “values-based” language. When she became a minister in 2017, she says her efforts to reform public broadcasting faced “hostility and disdain” from media commentators.

That sounds like more super-sensitivity to criticism of Curran’s performance as a minister.  Political journalists have their faults, but they can usually pick when ministers aren’t up to the job.

I don’t think Curran was up to being an effective Minister – just a few people in each government end up being very capable ministers, the rest turn out to be ok or mediocre or poor. There’s no way of knowing until they try, but the success rate of ministers (and leaders) isn’t high.

Curran can see why they might see her as a weak link and, in the manner of a pack of lions hunting a gazelle, pick her off from the rest of the herd. She accepts that’s a reasonable strategy to embarrass a government. “Oh yeah, and I’m not angry about that. This is the business we are in. But there was a coming together … In my opinion there was a view within the press gallery that they were on board with that.

“I have strengths but I also have weaknesses and one of those is that in the political arena, I’m not a great orator. I’m not hugely quick off the mark. You are either naturally good at it or you have to learn how to do it at question time.”

It wasn’t just her lack of skills at speaking, despite her training in PR. Lack of confidence and lack of being on top of her  portfolios, and making basic mistakes not just once but repeatedly, and not being open as Minister of Open Government all contributed to Curran’s downfall.

Curran’s beef seems to be not with the fact that she was held to account, but that the persistence of the pursuit was out of order. Asked why she did what she did, she replies: “Tell me what it was that I did”, seeming still not to grasp why an apparent lack of openness – even if unintended – is especially problematic for the minister for open government.

It’s fair enough to hold her accountable for her mistakes, she says. “It’s the kind of accountability that you get held to, it’s inequitable for some people. It became apparent to me reasonably quickly, by February, around the time of the Carol Hirschfeld scrutiny, that it was an unrelenting focus.”

Because she wasn’t handling her job well. There will be no respite for a wounded minister, and there shouldn’t be.

Perhaps part leaders and Prime Ministers should be much more on to this and either support or demote poor performers and those who are mentally struggling.

What Curran highlights is three things:

  • MPs promoted to ministerial roles may or may not step up to the workload, responsibilities, and pressure.
  • Prime Ministers should deal more quickly with under performing or struggling Ministers.
  • Politics is often a nasty, dirty brutal game of deliberate attack and attrition, and it needn’t and shouldn’t be.

Links between NZ First and The BFD journalist threat agenda

David Garrett at Kiwiblog suggested I also post this here. Thanks for your advice David. Funny to see you playing interference for NZ First and The BFD.


In response to a post at Kiwiblog on The mute PM

Winston Peters “we took the photos” used in ‘dirty politics’ post at The BFD

It’s seemed obvious since before the last election that there were some sort of arrangements between NZ First and Whale Oil.  The replacement The BFD has been increasingly being used as a shill and dirty politics attack medium for Peters and NZ First.

Winston Peters now seems to have admitted “we took the photos” used in a recent post at The BFD that tried to discredit RNZ after the revealed details of NZ First Foundation donations.

RNZ – Winston Peters on photos of reporters: ‘We took the photographs’

NZ First Leader Winston Peters says he was involved in having photographs taken of RNZ journalist Guyon Espiner, Stuff reporter Matt Shand and former NZ First president Lester Gray.

The photographs, and a video, were posted on The BFD, a Whale Oil-linked website which has been running stories defending New Zealand First and trying to belittle reporting about the NZ First Foundation donations.

The photos ran with an article criticising the reporting, which Espiner and Shand have both been involved in.

The deputy prime minister has said two reporters were photographed going to a meeting with Gray “to prove that was the sort of behaviour going on”.

When the photographs were raised with him by Magic Talk Radio, Peters said “we took the photographs”.

The photographs were shown on this post – REVEALED: Source Behind RNZ Hit Job by Guyon Espiner

Which states:

The BFD. Lester Gray and Guyon Espiner. Photo supplied.

We have even obtained video of it: Lester Gray and Guyon Espiner from The BFD on Vimeo.

It would be good if the media now investigate who is operating as Xavier Theodore Reginald Ordinary at The BFD, and whether any business or financial arrangements are involved. And whether there is any association with the NZ First Foundation.


UPDATE

One News:  ‘No interest’ – Winston Peters backtracks on photos taken of journalists investigating NZ First Foundation

During an interview with Magic Talk Radio this week, Mr Peters discussed the photographs.

When it was raised to him, he responded: “We took the photograph just to prove that that’s the kind of behaviour going on.”

But tonight, after the RNZ story was published online, Mr Peters distanced the party from the photographs.

“In response to media inquiries, I can confirm that NZF has no interest in following Guyon Espiner or any other journalists. In fact, the very reverse applies,” he told 1 NEWS.

“No private investigators have been engaged to follow Mr Espiner or anyone else.

“A supporter did think it odd when they saw ex-president Lester Grey with Mr Espiner so took a photo. Simple as that.”

But it isn’t that simple. There was also a video taken.

And then the “supporter” seems to have passed the photos and video on – to the party ending up at The BFD in a dirty politics style post.

 

‘Dirty politics’ and NZ First financial issues

It looks like ‘dirty politics’ is back, with Winston Peters repeating insinuations made a number of times on Whale Oil 2.0 (The BFD) that look like trying to discredit an ex-NZ First official who has become a whistleblower.

On Wednesday at The BFD: Lester Gray & Nick Smith Playing Games with Parliamentary Processes

Lester Gray is using National MP Nick Smith to continue his wonky jihad against NZ First and now they are wanting to use parliamentary processes to try and destroy the party that Gray used to be the president of. Nick Smith seems intent on provoking the substantial lawsuit that is hanging over his head by continuing his own jihad against NZ First.

Smith went public revealing multi million dollar legal threat made against him by NZ First lawyer Brian Henry – see Brian Henry threatens Nick Smith and Guyon Espiner damages claim “as high as $30,000,000.00”.

‘Cameron Slater’/Whale Oil used too throw around legal threats (which turned out badly for Slater), but the Slater influence seems to have crept in to The BFD, which appears to have been set up to avoid court and liquidator actions.

Word has it that NZ First are relishing Lester Gray and Colin Forster trying this on.

We have it on good authority that some of the likely questions the select committee may ask will be as follows:

1. Why did Gray resign rather than go through the judicial process over his bullying of other party members?
2. Why is Forster complaining now? Is it because he was voted out of his position by the party?
3. What has NZ First done to support those bullied by Gray?
4. Why won’t Gray & Forster face NZ First MPs in a select committee?
5. What is Gray’s mental health condition and why did he request NZ First not comment on it, and does he believe that he should be questioned about it now he has demonstrated he is fit to appear before the select committee?

They don’t seem to have thought this through. Labour and the Greens will hammer hell out of them at the select committee even if NZ First does not have any MPs present. Those questions may prove rather detrimental to any barrow they are trying to push.

That is posted under the author ‘SB’ (Spanish Bride/Juana Atkins) but looks to me like same old ‘Cameron Slater’/Whale Oil style dirty politics.

This is part bullshit. From “Word has it that NZ First” it looks like The BFD is straight out shilling for NZ First – are they being paid for this?

“We have it on good authority that some of the likely questions the select committee may ask” sounds like bull, unless NZ First were going to tell Labour MPs on the select committee what dirty ‘attack the messenger’ questions to ask.  That’s unlikely – the Labour MPs blocked Gray and Forster from appearing before the committee anyway.

This isn’t the first time The BFD has raised “Gray’s mental health condition”.

This hardly seems a coincidence: Winston Peters lashes out at ex-NZ First party officials for request to give evidence

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters has accused his former party president Lester Gray of having “mental health problems” – a claim strongly denied by Gray, who has previously raised questions about the party’s finances.

The accusation emerged after National’s electoral law spokesman Nick Smith told Parliament that Labour MPs on the justice select committee refused a request for Gray and former treasurer Colin Forster to appear before it in a private session during their inquiry into the 2017 election.

Peters then suggested outside the House that Gray had mental health issues and it would not have been appropriate for him to give evidence to a select committee.

Ironic that Peters is using ‘mental health’ to try to discredit someone, when it looks to me like NZ First or one of their agents is using Slater’s dirty politics tactics at The BFD.

Smith said it was “appalling the lengths to which the Deputy Prime Minister is going to silence anybody that raises questions”.

Smith may have stepped over a select committee line (but claims not to have):

Labour is thought to be considering a privileges complaint against Smith to the Speaker for revealing closed business of a select committee – although MPs have absolute privilege in the House.

Gray and Forster made their request to appear in the wake of revelations about large donations to the New Zealand First Foundation, which funds party activities from donations that don’t have to be declared.

The pair wrote to the committee last week asking to be heard in its inquiry.

Specifically they cited “the recent serious revelations over the failure to disclose major donations, the significant expenditure on unauthorised campaign activities and the inappropriate running of a separate foundation without proper oversight of elected party officials.”

“The inquiry is a safe place for us to disclose our knowledge of what has taken place.”

Gray resigned in October two weeks before the party convention and according to Stuff, his resignation letter said he was unable to sign off the party accounts.

“I refuse to sign off the 2019 Financial Reports with the information I have been provided,” he wrote.

“As president, the limited exposure I have had to party donations and expenditure leaves me in a vulnerable position.

“This type of operation does not align with my moral and business practice values, and I am therefore not able to support the Party any longer.”

Peters outside the House questioned why Smith wanted to hear Forster and Gray.

“The reality is he wants to hear evidence from somebody who is no longer treasurer of the party and knew nothing about anything because he wasn’t there at the time so why would he be an expert witness on something he could not possibly know anything about?”

Asked about what would be wrong with Lester Gray giving evidence to the justice committee, Peters said: “Lester Gray’s lawyer wrote to me and my board and asked if we would have regard to his current then mental health problems and I have respected that letter and never said a thing about it but we are not going to sit here and take that sort of behavior hereon in.

“In short, if his lawyer pleads with us to give some understanding on his mental health problems, then perhaps the corollary should be that she should not try and think that some select committee because of his present state of mind is the proper place for him to make submissions.”

Someone seems to have provided The BFD with this mental health information some time ago. A post from 21 November: Brian Henry puts Bridges & Smith on Notice

Brian Henry has smacked Simon Bridges and Nick Smith hard, threatening to sue the cowards for smearing him in parliament.

So, Nick Smith is a coward and won’t repeat his allegations outside of parliament. The amount talked about are the direct provable losses that Simon Bridges and Nick Smith have caused Brian Henry because of their false accusations in the house.

That was posted under ‘SB’ but it doesn’t look like normal SB style to me.

Nick Smith also, rather stupidly, continued the attack with Question 9, despite having been informed of the action and then even more stupidly tabled his legal letter in parliament, though with some redactions regarding Lester Gray and the real reasons why he left NZ First.

The BFD has obtained copies of the letters and they are outlined below…

So, now we are starting to find out the real reasons behind the rather sudden departure of Lester Gray from NZ First.

Sources tell us…

There is also the rumour that …

Sounds very much like Slater/WO dirty politics (although the style hints that it may not have been written by Slater either).

…when this was discovered by people close to Lester Gray he suddenly had his “mental health” episode.

It looks to me like someone with close links to NZ First is providing information to if not writing posts for The BFD.

So Dirty Politics appears to be back, this time via NZ First/The BFD but with a lot of similar tactics used by Slater/Whale Oil.

Hager’s whistle blowing versus Slater’s character assassinations

In other words, public good versus private vendetta. That’s something that seems to escape the hypocritical folk at Whale Oil.

Cameron Slater kept hypocritically complaining about being hacked, when he is guilty of the worst breach of privacy and publication of private data that I have seen in the protracted character assassination of Matthew Blomfield.

And SB keeps flying the dirty flag at Whale Oil. Yesterday in What Bridges should have done:

Nicky Hager worked hand in glove with the criminal hacker Rawshark to steal Whaleoil’s private and personal information and will forever be associated with criminal activity because of it.

Was the hit on the government really worth it? I don’t think that it was. He now looks as dirty as Hager and for what real benefit?

As far as I know that is an unsubstantiated claim, and I think it is false. I haven’t seen any evidence that Hager had anything to do with stealing Slater’s private and personal information. As I understand it, Rawshark hacked, so substantial material of public interest – Slater’s collusion with the Prime Minister’s office to attack political opponents, and him being paid to run character assassinations on variety of people, including political candidates (his dirty mercenary interference in candidate selection was alarming but seemingly largely allowed by National).

I have always had reservations about hacking for political purposes, but I haven’t seen any evidence that that was the motivation for Rawshark hacking Cameron Slater’s private information. As I understand it, the data was hacked, Rawshark saw some information of public interest (and it was), so handed some data over to Hager to expose it.

I think it was unfortunate that the Dirty Politics book was released just before an election campaign, so it didn’t get the sort of in depth attention it deserved. But at least it did clip Slater’s wings somewhat as he quickly became politically toxic.

Ignored so far this week at Whale Oil (which suggests heavy censorship, they can’t all be loyal sock puppets) is the launch of the book ‘Whale Oil’.

This details how Slater (helped extensively by Marc Spring) used Matthew Blomfield’s private data that like the Rawshark data may or may not have been obtained illegally to run an extensive campaign of character assassination over several months, and continued in the years afterwards ( I saw what I believe may have been Spring continuing this online this week).

This was an extremely nasty campaign, and was found by the Privacy Commissioner (alarmingly taking about 4 years) to have breached privacy. Slater only was fined for that.

Judges also ruled that the data was probably stolen and maliciously posted online and copied and distributed.

The 6-7 year defamation case Blomfield versus Slater ended up finding that later made things up (lied), he misrepresented, and he had no defence.

Spring (I believe) also kept posting false claims – for example he repeatedly claimed that Blomfield was delaying proceedings, when it was Slater who was doing all sorts of things to delay and avoid and stop the proceedings. And also promoted similar misinformation as Slater.

So…

While it is debatable about the legality of hacking Slater’s data, Hager’s Dirty Politics book was a largely accurate exposure of not just dirty politics but also dirty paid for character assassinations. I think the public good outweighed the breach of privacy.

In comparison Slater (and Spring and others) seriously breached privacy, and went on an extensive campaign cherry picking data and misrepresenting and distorting and lying in an effort to trash Blomfield’s private and business life. Judges ruled there was no public interest. It was dirty and despicable.

And it is just the worst of many examples of many character assassination attempts by Slater.

Now SB is playing a common trick of Slater et al – blaming others for what they are guilty of. “He now looks as dirty as Hager” is laughable. Hager is far from universally admired, but he is widely admired for the work he has done over the years. You can argue about some of his campaigns, but I don’t think you can argue about his decency and good intent.

I think that few would argue about the lack of decency in Slater’s many attacks on people. He brags about being a dirty nasty arsehole (not in those exact words). Whale Oil promotes it’s dirty MO ‘rules’.

Slater and Whale Oil are likely to be remembered for Dirty Politics, and now for the book Whale Oil far more than SB’s hypocrisy and unsubstantiated claims She is trying to shift that dirt elsewhere and play the victim, but I think that the stains at Whale run far too deep for that work.

Hager recap on ‘Dirty Politics’

Nicky Hager has recapped what his 2014 Dirty Politics book was about at Newsroom.

Most controversial, the book revealed that prime minister John Key had a full-time dirty tricks person in his office researching and writing nasty attacks on opposing politicians, quietly sent through to Slater to publish as if they were his own.

Slater was genuinely powerful at that time because the media, to which he fed many stories, knew he was friends with Key and justice minister Judith Collins.

Key survived as prime Minister as long as he wanted to, but Collins copped a setback as a result of what Slater called embellishment and has probably had her leadership ambitions severely hobbled by it (Slater keeps promoting her on Whale Oil, reminding people of it to Collins’ detriment).

The book’s subtitle was “How attack politics is poisoning New Zealand’s political environment.” Does anyone think these aren’t issues deserving sunlight?

This certainly deserved sunlight, and good on Hager for doing that. I have serious concerns about illegal hacking (if that is what actually happened), especially in a political environment, but this was a serious abuse of political and media power that deserved exposure.

‘A boil that needed lancing’

When I decided to research and write about Slater and his associates, I knew I was taking a personal risk. They were well known for personal attacks and smears. They have hurt many people. I expected retaliation.  But I knew what I was taking on and felt strongly that this boil needed lancing.

While Dirty Politics lanced a political boil (in the Prime Minister’s office) and exposed Slater and Whale Oil, rendering them far less effective, it hasn’t stopped them from continuing with attacks and personal smears. Like many others I have been the target of dirty smears and legal attacks since Dirty Politics broke.

That they have been reduced from being a festering boil to being more like cry baby pimples that hasn’t stopped them resorting to dirty attacks. And it ‘is ‘they’ – Slater is aided and abetted on Whale Oil by others, in particular Juana Atkins and Nige who also seem to fucking people over is fair game, for click bait and seemingly for fun. I’m not sure how they sleep easy.

Dirty Politics hasn’t eliminated attack politics, but by exposing some of the worst of it the poisoning New Zealand’s political environment has been reduced. It needs more exposing and more reducing – as well as involving dirty personal attacks dirty politics is an attack on decent democracy.

Geddis on why the Hager apology matters

Law professor Andrew Geddis writes on Why the police’s apology to Nicky Hager matters (this has also been published elsewhere) – apologies for a near full repost but I think is important enough to warrant it.


In the wake of the publication of Dirty Politics back in 2014, the New Zealand Police undertook multiple unlawful breaches of Nicky Hager’s privacy. They’ve now apologised for that – but the important thing is to make sure it does not ever happen again.

Nicky Hager’s book was based on material obtained from the mysteriously named “Rawshark”, who in turn almost certainly obtained it by way of a criminal computer hack. Much was made of this fact at the time, with Mr Hager accused of using “stolen” information. If interested, you can read Mr Hager’s response to that charge here (at question #5).

Irrespective of the ethics of using the material, however, it was clear that Mr Hager had committed no crime. While we still do not know who Rawshark is, no-one seriously believed it was Mr Hager himself. Equally, there was no evidence that Mr Hager colluded with Rawshark in carrying out the original, unlawful hack.

Nevertheless, if you wanted to uncover Rawshark’s identity, Mr Hager was the obvious place to start. And the New Zealand Police decided they very much wanted to find out who Rawshark was – they very, very much wanted to do so. Quite why they felt such a desperate need to determine the perpetrator of this particular crime out of all those committed daily in New Zealand remains something of a mystery, but felt it they did.

For the police embarked on a really quite remarkably terrible investigation to try and trace Rawshark through Mr Hager, which today has led them to issue a comprehensive and I am sure highly embarrassing apology (along with money damages and payment of legal costs). Here’s what they now admit they did wrong.

First of all, they went to Mr Hager’s bank – which was Westpac, if you really want to know – and asked them to please pass over 10-months-worth of Mr Hager’s financial records. Which the bank then did quite happily, despite the police having no legal right to the information. You can read what the Privacy Commissioner thought of that behaviour here (spoiler alert: he was less than impressed).

Then, without even trying to talk to Mr Hager, the police decided he was an “uncooperative witness” in their investigation. In what appears to be an action without precedent in New Zealand, they instead went to the District Court and asked for a warrant to search Mr Hager’s house and remove all papers and electronic devices that might provide them with information that could identify Rawshark.

The problem being that they failed to tell the Court their target was a journalist whose material may be subject to journalistic privilege, as it had been obtained under a promise that its source would remain confidential. The High Court subsequently found that this failure breached the police’s “duty of candour” to the courts, thus rendering the warrant unlawful. In addition, the police now admit that their warrant was overly broad in the material it sought and should have contained conditions to address the possible privilege issues.

So, the search of Mr Hager’s house and removal of his property was, the police admit, unlawful. What is more, by a remarkable coincidence the police search took place at a time when Mr Hager was in another city, meaning that it was an hour before Mr Hager was able to assert journalistic privilege over that property. Despite being alerted to that claim of privilege, the police nevertheless used photos they had taken of an email exchange and website login information to try and track Rawshark down.

Let’s just pause and recap at this point. The police admit that they misled a court by omission into giving them apparent legal authority to raid the house of not a suspect in a crime, but a witness to it. That witness, they knew, was a working journalist whose efficacy depends upon being able to assure his sources (be they law abiding saints or malefactor demons or somewhere in between) that their identity will remain confidential. And despite being alerted that there may be a legal bar on presenting in court the information they had seized, the police admit they went ahead and used some of it anyway to try and unmask their suspect.

Were this the extent of the police’s actions, they would be bad enough. But wait, for there is more. Even after conducting the raid and being told in writing by Mr Hager’s lawyers that he asserted journalistic privilege over all information that may reveal his confidential sources (such as Rawshark), the police continued to approach third parties like Air New Zealand, Jetstar, Customs and Paypal for information about Mr Hager’s activities. Some of it was sought on an informal “please tell us” basis, while some was obtained through formal production orders (which were in turn obtained from the courts without disclosing that they related to a journalist with confidential sources).

And in what is perhaps the most damning indictment of the police’s actions, they now admit that they told some of these third parties they wanted information about Mr Mr Hager because he was suspected of fraud and other criminal activities. This was what is known in legal circles as a complete and utter lie.

Hence the complete and comprehensive nature of the apology to Mr Hager from the police. As I’ve had cause to say about it in a quote that Mr Hager’s legal team included in their press release about the settlement:

The series of failures admitted by the police indicates a deeply concerning failure to both understand the legal constraints on their powers and the fundamental importance of individual rights. This comprehensive apology hopefully indicates that the message has been driven home and such behaviour will not happen in the future.

Because I accept that a political culture where individuals routinely turn to criminal activity to try and unmask their opponent’s claimed wrongdoings would be a bad one. James O’Keefe would not be a welcome fixture in our democratic process. And even criminal hypocrites like the target of Rawshark’s original hack have a general right to privacy that the law ought to protect.

So, seeking to identify and prosecute Rawshark was not in itself an unreasonable response by the police. However, turning the journalist who used the information gained through Rawshark’s actions into a virtual criminal co-conspirator from whom information will be obtained by any means necessary is completely unreasonable and dangerous to our democracy. It should never have happened, and should never happen again.

Blomfield v Slater trial date set

A defamation proceeding brought by Matthew Blomfield against Cameron Slater that was started in the District Court in 2012 will finally go to trial in the High Court in October. It will be judge only (no jury), and is expected to run for four weeks or six weeks (two recent judgments give different durations).

Blomfield claims he was defamed in a series of thirteen posts at Whale Oil, while Slater claims that taken in context the posts were not defamatory, and also that the posts expressed truth and honest opinion.

The publications

[6] Each of the blogs was published between 3 May and 6 June 2012. They occurred after Mr Slater came into possession of a hard drive containing emails sent to or by Mr Blomfield. Other material was also stored on the hard drive, including photographs of Mr Blomfield’s family.

This is rather ironic given the complaints Slater has made about Nicky Hager obtaining material that was hacked from Whale Oil and Slater. I don’t know whether it has been established that the hard drive was obtained illegally or not.

[7] There is no dispute for present purposes that Mr Slater caused the blogs to be published on the Whaleoil website notwithstanding the fact that the website is apparently operated by the second defendant, Social Media Consultants Limited. There can also be no dispute that the blogs related to Mr Blomfield because he was named in each. Each of the blogs also contains material that is arguably defamatory of Mr Blomfield.

In late 2017 Blomfield made a successful application joining a second defendant Social Media Consultants Limited as a party to the proceeding. This was done after Slater pointed out that the publications forming the basis of the defamation claims
are posted on a website operated by that company.  Shareholders and directors of the company are Cameron Slater and Juana Atkins.

This information and an outline of the defamation claims are detailed in two judgments available at Judicial Decisions Online:

These two judgments cover interlocutory issues and an on application by Blomfield for summary judgment and/or strike out.

They show that Slater has incurred more costs awards against him, and an application by Slater that security of costs be paid by Blomfield was declined because Slater is acting for himself so won’t be able to claim costs, unless he engages a lawyer for the trial.

Some of the arguments are related to the inability of Slater to provide emails as a part of the discovery process because they were deleted in the wake of ‘Dirty Politics’.

The judge notes that some comments in the posts “are clearly defamatory” but that Slater can argue truth and honest opinion.

[42] Despite the relatively extreme nature of Mr Slater’s assertions, and the sketchy particulars provided in support of the defences of truth and honest opinion, I am not prepared to enter summary judgment in respect of this publication. Sufficient particulars have been provided to enable Mr Slater to advance the defences at trial. He will obviously need to re-formulate his particulars so that they provide sufficient detail to enable Mr Blomfield to respond to them.

Most applications by both Blomfield and Slater were declined in the judgments. The need to finally get the proceeding to trial with no further delays was an overriding factor in some of the decisions.

This looks like a complex case. I have no idea of strength of the complaints or the defences. That will be for a judge to decide when it goes to a four or six week trial in October.

In other defamation proceedings, Slater is still waiting for a judgment in defamation claims and counter claims versus Colin Craig after a trial that concluded in June last year – see Craig v Slater – reserved decision.

Slater is involved in another defamation case started against him (and others) in August 2016, related to another series of posts at Whale Oil. This is summarised in SELLMAN & ORS v SLATER & ORS [2017] NZHC 2392 [2 October 2017]:

Summary

[1] Dr Doug Sellman, Dr Boyd Swinburn and Mr Shane Bradbrook are public health professionals. They allege they have been defamed in a series of blog posts by Mr Cameron Slater and comments on the posts by Mr Carrick Graham. They sue Mr Slater, Mr Graham and Mr Graham’s company Facilitate Communications Ltd (FCL). They also sue Ms Katherine Rich and the New Zealand Food and Grocery Council Inc (NZFGC) for allegedly procuring Mr Slater, Mr Graham and FCL to publish the substance and sting of the alleged defamations.

Both this proceeding and Blomfield’s allege that Slater (or Social media Consultants) was paid to do attack posts on Whale Oil. This was also alleged in Hager’s ‘Dirty Politics’.

One thing is clear – defamation proceedings can be complex, time consuming and very expensive.

Simon Bridges embarrassed by Twitter ‘like’

Simon Bridges says that it was an accidental ‘like’ on Twitter, but whether it was or not it is seriously embarrassing for him associating himself with a Whale Oil attack on Clarke Gayford.

NZH: National leader Simon Bridges accidentally ‘liked’ social media post mocking Clarke Gayford

National leader Simon Bridges has admitted ‘liking’ a social media post by Whaleoil blogger Cameron Slater in which the Prime Minister’s partner was mocked.

But Bridges said he did it by accident and then withdrew the “like” he had placed on Slater’s Twitter account.

He said “too much tweeting maketh a twat”.

Bridges blamed a thumb error for accidentally hitting the “like” button on Slater’s post and that it was done while scrolling through his Twitter feed.

It had the effect of broadcasting Slater’s tweet, in which a photoshopped image of Gayford holding a fish was depicted. Slater started running a “Fish of the Day” feature making fun of Gayford immediately after the rumours were dismissed.

Bridges said:”I’m not on Twitter very often and I think this shows why. Effectively I was scrolling down and I saw a tweet there that you’re referring to.

“I noticed it. I accidentally liked it. I got rid of that within literally a second and kept on moving but I’m regretful about it actually because I’ve been really clear with my caucus colleagues that we don’t want families brought in to politics.

It comes in the wake of Bridges attempting to distance the National Party from gossip mongering over Clarke Gayford, and just over a week after he told his MPs to have nothing to do with the rumours.

Whatever the explanation or excuse this is going to be a difficult association for bridges to shrug off.

Slater has denied having anything to do with pushing the Gayford rumours. He is being approached for comment.

Those denials look dubious given the campaign attacking both Ardern and Gayford that started in September last year, There are still some dirty looking posts up on Whale Oil.

Bridges can’t just shrug this off. He was fairly limited in his condemnation of the dirty rumour mongering targeting Gayford.

He needs to step up and make it absolutely clear that he and the National Party disassociate themselves from dirty politics and from ‘Dirty Politics’.

What the hell is Bridges following an openly dirty account like this?

He should make it clear that dirty politics is a bad thing, especially for the leader of a major party in Parliament.

He also needs to make it absolutely clear that the National Party disassociate themselves from Whale Oil, which is inextricably linked with ‘Dirty Politics’,  brags about doing dirty politics, and has clearly been running a dirty campaign against Gayford and Ardern, and continues with it daily despite the rumour mongering story going public last week.