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.

Unanswered questions over Hager case

The Police gave Nicky Hager a comprehensive apology and a substantial payout after they admitted overstepping procedures and breaking the law in their investigation of Hager when they tried to find out who the hacker ‘Rawshark’ was who supplied Hager with data from Cameron Slater and his Whale oil website.

There are unanswered questions about whether ‘Rawshark’ was a sole operator or a group, whether he/she/they were hacking from the outside or whether it was an inside job (whistleblower). The police failed to find any of this out, and Hager himself claims not to know.

The police made it clear that Hager was investigated as a witness and “was not a suspect of any offending” (which made their botching of the investigation substantially more troubling).

There is a big unanswered question over why the police went to such great lengths when they have made it clear that Hager was investigated as a witness and not as a possible offender – in contrast to their investigation of another acase where Slater tried to have The Standard hacked.

Tim Watkins goes over the case and in particular asks this in More questions from the Nicky Hager case.

Slater had reported the hack to police and quite properly, the police began investigating. However, they began investigating with such vigour they broke the law and were not honest with the courts. It’s a remarkable series of events that appears to go beyond ineptitude, to something more deliberate.

In a country where victims of burglary often complain about the slow response from police and around the time that the national burglary resolution rate (2015) was a record low 9.3 per cent, it’s curious that police would expend such resources on this computer.

But most notably there were other dodgy dealings with computers in the news around the same time, as well. Dirty Politics itself revealed that Slater and National Party staffer and others had been rooting around in the back-end of the Labour Party website. Hager had alleged that one of those who had been in the site was a staff member in the Prime Minister’s office. While Police admitted in their statement yesterday that Hager “was not a suspect of any offending”, there were questions being asked at the time about the legality of that behaviour. Yet nothing so rigorous was undertaken.

Also around the same time, the victim of Rawshark’s hack – Cameraon Slater – was himself commissioning Ben Rachinger to hack The Standard website to establish whether Labour MPs and staff were anonymously writing for the Labour-aligned blog. Rachinger turned whistle blower, leading to a story by me and Lisa Owen that saw Slater finally charged with attempting to procure a hack. He admitted guilt and received diversion.

Slater had to admit guilt to qualify for diversion, but he later suggested on Whale oil that this wasn’t sincere – if so that would make it misleading the court.

I know from my work on that story and my repeated calls to police how slow they were to act on Slater’s actions.

Quite reasonably, police have pointed out that Rawshark’s actual hack (with the potential for a seven year prison sentence) was a worse offence than Slater’s attempted and failed hack (with a maximum sentence of two and a half years).

But when you consider such extensive efforts on one side (where there was serious public interest in the behaviour of people in and around government) and such reluctance to investigate on the other (where, while embarrassing, the ‘crime’ of writing anonymous blog posts was much the lesser justification for a hack), it does raise questions.

The biggest being: Why?

The next question is who: Who made the decisions to deceive the court and the third parties? Who made the decision to conduct the raid in such a way that breached his rights to journalistic privilege? Who breached the Bill of Rights by their approaches to third parties?

Who in the police was responsible, culpable, is an important question.

The dark shadow hanging over all this is political. The police investigation was into a journalist who had made serious allegations against the sitting government of the day. Those are the times when police have to be at their scrupulous best, their most transparent and their most even-handed. Yet they were not.

If the police don’t clear this up they leave a dark political shadow hanging.

At the very least the public needs clear assurances from Police bosses and the Police Ministers around that time – Anne Tolley and Michael Woodhouse – that the politics at play did not influence the investigation. Without honest and frank interviews addressing these questions, how can the public’s trust in police not be effected.

Police officials have not fully discharged their duty yet.

I agree. Perhaps the media can get some honest and frank answers from Tolley and Woodhouse.

And the police need to front up on this. Unless they do that serious questions will remain.

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.

Controversial members of Intelligence and Security reference group

There’s been a bit of consternation expressed over the members who have been named as members of the Intelligence and Security reference group panel. I’m not sure there is real cause for concern.

The members:

  • Professor Rouben Azizian – Director, Centre for Defence and Security Studies, Massey University
  • Thomas Beagle – Chairperson, NZ Council for Civil Liberties
  • Dr Paul Buchanan – Director, 36th Parallel Assessments
  • Ben Creet – Issues Manager, Internet NZ
  • Treasa Dunworth – Associate Professor, Public International Law, University of Auckland
  • David Fisher – Journalist, New Zealand Herald
  • Nicky Hager – Journalist, Author
  • John Ip – Senior Lecturer, Assistant Dean (Academic), Faculty of Law, University of Auckland
  • Deborah Manning – Barrister
  • Dr Nicole Moreham – Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, Victoria University of Wellington
  • Suzanne Snively – Chair, Transparency International

The inclusion of Hager and Manning seem to have raised the most eyebrows – both are well known to strongly oppose secret information gathering and storage.

But shouldn’t a reference group have a wide range of people opinions contributing to represent a good cross section of public sentiment?

Andrew Little, the Minister responsible for Intelligence and Security, has expressed surprise that a journalist is included: Minister surprised journalist included in reference group

The Minister responsible for New Zealand’s spy agencies is surprised that a journalist has been included on a new reference group established by the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security.

Andrew Little said the 11 member group will act as a ‘sounding board’ for the Inspector-General Cheryl Gwyn, but won’t be privy to classified information, or operational details of the SIS or GCSB.

Mr Little said he thought there were some “interesting” choices when shown the list last week.

“I was shown the list, I thought some of the choices were interesting but then I think what is important is that we are bold enough and brave enough to know that it is alright to have critics of organisations and of the government involved in this sort of exercise.

“It is a healthy thing in our democracy.”

New Zealand Herald reporter David Fisher is also in the group.

Mr Little was surprised a New Zealand Herald journalist was on the refence panel.

“I would have thought there is a question about a journalist complying with their ethics in doing so, but that’s a judgement call in the end that they have to make.”

Journalist are an important part of holding power and spying to account, and Fisher is well qualified to be involved.

Gerry Brownlee has been vocal in criticising the line up.

National’s spy spokesperson Gerry Brownlee said the creation of the reference group raised a number of serious questions – particularly around the inclusion of the investigative journalist Nicky Hager.

“The Inspector-General has said this group has been brought together to help her stand ‘in the shoes of the public.”

“But several members of her group are far from objective in their view of our intelligence relationships, or in some cases the existence of intelligence services at all,” Mr Brownlee said.

He said Mr Hager had repeatedly questioned the legitimacy of the country’s spy agencies.

“Will this group have top secret clearance? If so, how can we be sure the information they will have access to will be secure?

“Will the Inspector-General be sharing intelligence with them? Where will the line be drawn?”

I would expect security of secret information will be handled competently.

Perhaps they are important questions to ask, but perhaps the best way to keep our spy agency honest is to have critics closely involved in monitoring them.

I’m not sure what sort of people critics expect to be on the reference group panel.

Hager, Stephenson, Keating respond to Operation Burnham inquiry

Nicky Hager:

Hit and Run inquiry decision welcomed

Nicky Hager has welcomed the announcement today of an independent inquiry into civilian casualties during the August 2010 NZSAS raid in Afghanistan – Operation Burnham – the subject of the 2017 book Hit and Run.

“This is very, very good news for New Zealand,” he said. “It is vital that, as a country, we can face up to incidents where our military does terrible things.”

He said good people have been chosen for the inquiry, the terms of reference are broad and resources have been allocated so it can do a proper job. “It feels like the start of a sound and thorough process.”

“There have been years of cover up by the NZSAS and senior military staff ever since the raid – intended for insurgents – killed and wounded 21 civilians, most of them women and children. Even after we wrote a whole book setting out what had happened, the New Zealand Defence Force continued its denials. It is an intolerable situation when the military tries to cover up its own misdeeds.”

“The obvious answer was an independent inquiry and so we warmly welcome today’s announcement.”

“International law says that countries have a legal obligation to conduct an independent inquiry whenever there are credible allegations of civilian casualties. The New Zealand Defence Force and government refused to do this for seven years. At last another government is doing the right thing.”


Jon Stephenson:

The full story from Henry will be on Stuff.


And another reaction:


Defence Force under fire over Afghan attack, pressure for inquiry

Pressure is growing for an official inquiry into the NZ Defence Force involvement in an attack on Afghan villages, detailed in the Nicky Hager book ‘Hit and Run’.

Press editorial: Inquiry into Defence Force actions in Afghanistan essential to clear the fog of war

When the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) went on the defensive over allegations raised by journalists Nicky Hager​ and Jon Stephenson in their 2017 book Hit & Run, claims that the two journalists had the location of a SAS raid wrong were central.

The book alleged that a 2010 SAS raid on two villages in Afghanistan left six Afghan civilians dead, including a young child, and injured 15 others. The NZDF has always denied the allegations, claiming that insurgents were targeted and that reports of civilian casualties were “unfounded”.

Disagreement over the location of the raid was so important to the NZDF’s version of events that it was described as the “central premise” of Hit & Run in a media release attributed to Lieutenant General Tim Keating in 2017. Keating said there were “major inaccuracies” in the book, with “the main one” being the location and names of villages. Readers at home might have assumed that if Hager and Stephenson could not even get the location right, surely the rest of their story collapses.

A year later, the NZDF has quietly conceded that Hager and Stephenson were not so inaccurate after all. In official information released without fanfare this month after the Ombudsman intervened, the NZDF has confirmed that photographs of a village published in Hit & Run were indeed the location of the 2010 raid as the authors claimed, although the NZDF continued to quibble about much smaller points, such as the distance between two buildings.

The last Government ruled out an inquiry:

When former Prime Minister Bill English ruled out an inquiry in 2017, he said that “allegations of war crimes now seem to apply to some other place, not the place where the New Zealand operation was carried out”. He perpetuated the idea that the authors were mistaken. We now know that English should not have been so adamant.

Then Labour leader Andrew Little differed.

A year ago, as Leader of the Opposition, Andrew Little called for an independent inquiry into the events described in Hit & Run.

This may now happen.

An inquiry is said to be under active consideration by Attorney General David Parker who is expected to announce a decision soon. This week’s revelations about the location and a greater acknowledgement of possible civilian casualties will have made that inquiry essential.

Bryce Edwards has rounded up a lot more on this – Political Roundup: Defence cover-up starts to unravel

The New Zealand Defence Force’s attempted cover-up of the Hit & Run controversy appears to be unravelling. The military has finally been forced to make an about-turn – what they had claimed was a key flaw in the allegations in the 2017 book was, in fact, correct.

Toby Manhire explains the significance of the NZDF’s new admission in The fog of time: why the Defence Force’s Hit and Run admission really matters. He explains that the dispute over the location of the village had previously been the “central premise” of the NZDF’s attempted rebuttal of the claims, and with this now turning to dust, the case for an official inquiry into the matter is “overwhelming”.

Over to David Parker.

Bitterness under the bus

Nicky guided a big bus over Whale Oil in 2014, and John key and National walked away. Cameron Slater is still bitter in a big way.

Slater used to promote politics done as dirty as possible, and tried to drive a few buses over others – most notably Len Brown immediately after the 2013 mayoral election, trying to upset a democratic result, and also Colin Craig in 2015. Slater seemed to revel in doing maximum damage and seem to care nothing about destroying reputations and careers both as a game and as a mercenary.

But he is not so keen when on the receiving end – the Whale has been wailing every since Nicky Hager bussed him, and since he was left in the dust by National.

His bitterness has been apparent in the recent election campaign, wishing disaster on National and on Bill English and National MPs and staff.

And he still holds a bus sized grudge over John Key deserting him.

Yesterday he posted: No hard feelings John, but no one gives a stuff what you think anymore

That’s kind of ironic, given how many stuffs are given to what Slater thinks now.

John Key’s phone must have stopped ringing, so he’s decided to come out and offer up his advice for coalition negotiations.

Key was opening of a new Trading Room at the Business School at the University of Canterbury and was asked. He didn’t write multiple blog posts every day.

What a dickhead. He saw this coming and bolted for the door that’s how much he cared about the situation. Now he has the temerity to offer up his opinion.

Piss off. He quit, that means STFU.

No it doesn’t, it means he is free to do and say what he likes.

We don’t care anymore what he thinks. What an attention seeking effwit…phone stopped ringing eh John?

No hard feelings, eh?

Sounds very much like projection of Slater’s on situation . He seems to hate that his phone stopped ringing three years ago, and still holds a grudge.

Comments and ticks were carefully scathing of Slater.

Christie’s comment was strongly supported:

He was opening the new Business School at Canterbury University. His comments were made probably in response to a journalist asking if he was in touch with Bill English. My belief is that he resigned when he did for the reasons he stated – particularly when there was another election coming up.

Bill English’s family have been treated with some respect by the media, but John Key’s kids were always fair game. Perhaps he felt – like many of us did – that a local rapper, being paid public money, writing a song about raping his daughter was a bit too much for him. Who could blame him? I don’t blame him for resigning – I just wish he hadn’t.

George Carter’s too:

Whether it was part of a speech or in a response to a journalist his point is fairly light and non intrusive. We’ve heard far more from other ex-PM’s and MP’s so i’m not sure why you’re so dismissive of his comments.

SpanishBride joined the wailing in response:

Probably because when John Key threw him under the bus after we were hacked and our private e-mails turned into a book for profit by Nicky Hager after working with the criminal Rawshark, John Key sent a message to him saying “No hard feelings.”

I suspect she misinterprets what “no hard feelings” meant there.

Wanarunna sort of supported the post:

Quite understand Cam’s reaction here. People don’t have to agree with it, and I don’t, but hey, this is Cam’s blog where Cam says what Cam thinks. Sometimes when I read comments on this blog I get the impression that some people think that Cam speaks for the Whaleoil Community (if there is such a thing), and if he says something they don’t agree with, then somehow he has it wrong. No, he’s just seeing things from his perspective, not yours.

A response to that resulted in a thinly veiled threat from Slater…

WhaleOilNoHardFeelings

…but those two responses have now disappeared.

Such is the thin skin and censorship at Whale Oil. Slater has obviously got hard feelings after three years of being belted by a bus, and shows a lack of hardness when the political booting is from the other foot.

His attacks on Key and English and National are petty and largely impotent.

Slater claimed that National without his support would tank, and he predicted them polling in the thirties. One of the more notable outcomes of the election was how well National’s support held up in the mid forties, unprecedented in attempting to win a fourth term.

They seem to be managing quite well without Slater’s dirty politics.

Whale Oil survives as a popular niche blog, but not as a political player of any importance.

Hager on the impact of ‘Dirty Politics’

It’s three years since Nicky Hager launched his ‘Dirty Politics’ book. He looks back on what it exposed and what the effects of it have been.

The Spinoff:  Sunlight did what sunlight does: Nicky Hager on Dirty Politics, three years on

Dirty Politics landed like a bombshell in the NZ election campaign of 2014. It may not have affected that outcome, but that was never the ambition. It has, however, made a big impact on our politics, argues Nicky Hager

Three long years ago, during the last election campaign, the book Dirty Politics revealed a political dirty tricks campaign being run out of John Key’s Beehive office. It was an ugly operation, jarringly contradicting the friendly, BBQ-guy image cultivated by Key. If you don’t know the details, it is still well worth reading the whole grubby story.

He must have a bit of stock left. Most people have moved on. The only person who keeps banging on about it is Cameron Slater.

Quite a lot of people wondered at the time whether the book might change the outcome of the election. It didn’t and some concluded that the book had had no effect. But my aims were different.

It’s hard to believe that timed a few weeks out from an election there were hopes of an impact – if not from Hager, there were certainly hopes on the left that it would be a game changer. It did nothing to make David Cunliffe electable.

The book has had an effect far beyond what I could reasonably have hoped for.

Here is my assessment of what has changed as a result and what hasn’t.

Exposing and considerably closing down the dirty tricks campaign

Before the book, the dirty politics brigade was having a huge influence over New Zealand politics. Personal attacks were cooked up in the prime minister’s office and elsewhere, drafted into nasty, drip-fed blog posts and sent out into the world through two National Party-aligned blogs: Whale Oil and Kiwiblog. An embarrassing number of journalists reprinted these attacks and came to use the bloggers, Cameron Slater and David Farrar, as regular sources for tip offs and news. The journalists were aware that the bloggers had close links to John Key and his government, and this further enhanced their status and influence.

There was some nasty stuff going on, mainly centred on Whale Oil but with the complicity of the Prime Minister’s office and mainstream media.

The most important effect of the book is that this dirty tricks campaign was exposed and largely stopped. The dirty tricks coordinator in John Key’s office, Jason Ede, was hastily removed from his job and has never been seen again. There is hardly a single journalist left who would take stories off the dirty politics bloggers. Cameron Slater and the Whale Oil blog still exist, but they have shrunk back to the margins of politics.

That particular source of dirty politics has been severely curtailed, but there’s still quite a bit of more subtle dirt mongering. The people and aims of the Todd Barclay issue still have a mucky look, aided and abetted by some media.

Revealing the attack machine to its other countless victims

Numerous people have been attacked over the years by the Whale Oil or Kiwiblog sites: politicians, journalists, academics, a public servant handing out political leaflets in his lunch hour, almost anyone doing something effective on the left side of politics. Some attacks were to help the National Party; some were commercial operations attacking private people on behalf of undeclared paying clients. The important thing that has changed is that now these people know what was going on.

Quite a few people new quite a bit about what was going on. While there were grubby details in ‘Dirty Politics’ there wasn’t a lot overall that surprised me. A lot of it was blatantly obvious.

Hager confronted it and forced change – in particular he forced Key’s office to tidy up their act and he forced the media to be more responsible too .

By understanding the game, people have been able to fight back. On page 95 of the book Dirty Politics, for instance, there is mention of an attack job done for money by Cameron Slater and his PR industry collaborator Carrick Graham against a school principal who was in a matrimonial dispute.

The person who paid Slater and Graham for the attacks was a lawyer and she has since been taken to a legal tribunal for improper behaviour. Just this month the tribunal decision was published, revealing the whole operation. It makes interesting reading.

The dirt at Whale Oil was much wider than the Prime Ministers office. The above case, recently revealed through a court decision, was not political at all, it was a presumably privately funded domestic smear job.

Revealing corporate smears for cash operations

The book revealed that one of Slater and Graham’s most lucrative freelance attack campaigns targeted public health professionals – on behalf, apparently, of unlovely corporate clients such as the tobacco industry. The public health professionals were trying to save people’s lives from tobacco, alcohol and obesity harms. The attacks seem to have been an effort to protect profits from these meddlers.

Even after these activities were exposed in the book, Graham and Slater appeared to continue the attacks. Eventually some of the health professionals took action. In June last year they launched defamation action against Slater and Graham

I presume this action is still progressing.

Diminishing the influence of the dirty tricks operatives

On this point, the results are more mixed. Slater and the Whale Oil blog, the heart of the dirty politics system, are certainly diminished. It now seems hard to believe that not long ago they were so influential. But some others have continued to be a problem.

Slater’s political attack collaborator, Simon Lusk, was seen in last year’s local government elections when he assisted with attack tactics for some mayoral candidates. His campaigns faced a backlash in some towns when people realised that a dirty politics practitioner was involved in the election campaign.

There seems to be still a market for dirty political campaigners.

Slater’s fellow attack blogger, David Farrar, is still used as a commentator by some news media, including being introduced just as a “blogger”.

I think Farrar was rocked personally far more than Slater and has been more subdued on Kiwiblog, but still uses his blog for political activism.

Williams even won a defamation case against former Conservative Party leader Colin Craig, after Craig accused Williams of being involved in dirty politics against him. Record defamation damages were awarded to Williams.

But then in April this year the presiding judge, Justice Katz, took the unusual step of setting aside the verdict, saying it would be a miscarriage of justice. She said Craig’s actions “must be viewed in the broader context that his own character and reputation were under sustained attack from Mr Williams”. The judge’s carefully argued judgement is a pleasure to read (there are extracts here).

That legal action is also presumably still progressing.

…as the list above shows, plenty has changed already. The trouble with using dirty tactics is the risk of being found out and the tactics blowing up in your face. Bit by bit, the triumphant manipulators of the 2011 and 2014 elections have been getting their comeuppance; and other people have hopefully been deciding that there are better ways to do politics than following them down that dismal road.

While ‘Dirty Politics’ has had a significant impact it takes more than one book to tidy up decades if not centuries of political skulduggery.

More response to Hit & Miss

Nicky Hager put in a big hit on the NZ Defence Force, but so far at least has missed out on getting the inquiry he wanted. He is convinced there has been a major cover up and he appears to be only prepared to accept total vindication of his accusations.

RNZ: PM trusting military’s word ‘a joke’ – Hager

…Mr Hager said it was “a joke” for Mr English to trust the military’s word.

The reality is that the Government has to have trust in it’s military.

“These are the people who are in trouble, so of course they don’t want an inquiry … No experienced minister should fall for that.”

He said the Prime Minister was being “irresponsible” by simply accepting the “selective information” he was shown.

There is no proof that English has fallen for anything, or that he has simply accepted selective information.

Mr English encouraged anyone with further information to come forward, saying the Defence Force would legally have to investigate it.

But Mr Hager said he “would not recommend” that his sources speak out while the military was “obviously in cover-up mode”.

“I hope they will come forward in the fullness of time, but that will be in a professional, independent context – not in the middle of a cover-up.”

No inquiry means that the public is left uncertain about the actions and word of the NZDF over the Afghan attack, but we are also left uncertain about how much solid evidence Hager has. His book raised a storm but lacked compelling evidence.

It is apparent that Hager knew he didn’t have compelling evidence, that is why he wants an inquiry so much, to find the evidence he thinks is being hidden.

Mr English said the footage of the raid backed up the Defence Force’s position. But he declined to release the video, saying it was “classified”.

“All the evidence is that coalition troops followed the rules of engagement to a degree of care that was pretty impressive,” he said.

Mr English described General Keating as independent, because he was not involved in the operation.

Mr Hager said that was “completely ludicrous”.

“Nobody would accept that from any other government agency and it’s actually an insult to the public to come up with that as an excuse.”

The Government relies on the word of public servants, and information that remains secret, all the time.

Labour leader Andrew Little said it was “laughable” for the Prime Minister to call General Keating independent.

“We’re entitled to be reassured that there is nothing being kept from the New Zealand public and that we can have full confidence in our defence forces.”

An independent inquiry was the only solution, said Mr Little.

That just about seems word for word what Hager is saying.

United Future leader Peter Dunne said Mr English’s assurance was not enough to clear up the uncertainty.

“I’ve got no desire to disrespect the prime minister’s assessment. I respect his judgement. And he’s obviously seen information that other’s haven’t seen. But I think it’s probably important for public credibility to get some of that out into the public arena.”

I think that it would help a lot if some information was made public, but that can genuinely be difficult when military operations are involved.

Hager is obsessed with alleging a cover up, and claims that the public needs to know about it, but does the public actually care much about it?

And how much would an inquiry achieve anything useful?