• John Key On Trial

    The latest instalment in the saga of John Key’s struggle to maintain his image as someone above suspicion has produced the amazing spectacle of a Prime Minister in free fall.

    Faced with the threatened revelation that he has been – not just economical with, but contemptuous of – the truth as to whether or not he authorised our spy agency to spy on our fellow-citizens, he began with an embarrassing attempt to divert attention by name-calling a respected international journalist.

    That was bad enough; it surely does our international reputation no favours to see our Prime Minister resort to insults, rather than address the real issues.

    But worse was to come; as those issues have become impossible to ignore, we have seen a Prime Minister in a kind of grotesque pastiche of a slow-motion strip-tease – compelled from one hour to the next to reveal, layer by layer, something that gets closer and closer to the naked truth.

    It was, after all, only a day or so ago that he assured us that there was “no ambiguity – I’m right, he’s wrong”. But then we learned (after he denied that there had ever been any such intention) that there had indeed been a “business case” prepared (how reassuringly run-of-the-mill that was meant to sound) to allow the GCSB to collect metadata about New Zealanders and then pass the information on to the Americans. He then explained that he had decided that the plan, though well-advanced, should be abandoned so that it had not been implemented.

    At this point, the Prime Minister resorted to talking gobbledegook in an attempt to persuade us that it was all too complicated for ordinary mortals to understand. The plan had concerned, he said, “cyber protection” – a phrase that was meant to convey somehow that this was something quite different from, and therefore more acceptable than, collecting metadata about large numbers of ordinary citizens – a difference not apparent to the experts.

    Another hour, another layer removed; he had not actually stopped the plan, but had “narrowed its scope”. It would not therefore place everyone under surveillance – but large, unquantifiable and unverifiable numbers of New Zealand citizens would still have their right to privacy disregarded.

    A further qualification was then provided. The GCSB, we were told, did not have the resources to secretly monitor large numbers of people – which begs the question as to why a government that had gone to such lengths to please the Americans with such an elaborate plan would stop short at providing the resources needed to put it fully into action.

    And then, a little bit of wishful thinking, before the Prime Minister resigned himself to being fully exposed. The revelation, he suggested, would be embarrassing in terms of showing that we had spied on friends and allies, rather than that he had lied about spying on New Zealanders.

    The reaction of New Zealanders to this spectacle has been mixed. There remain those, of course, who – whatever their predilection for striptease might be – have little interest in the Prime Minister baring all. For them, anything political is of no interest, and they are hardly aware, if at all, of John Key’s embarrassment; they notice only the smile.

    Then there are those who have no doubt watched in horrified fascination as the various layers of misinformation have been discarded, but who are determined not to allow their faith in the Prime Minister to be shaken. They made up their minds, even before John Key told them it was so, that this has all been brought about by a “left-wing conspiracy”, though it isn’t clear quite how it came about that “they made me do it”.

    And then we have those who prefer to front-foot it. Yes, they say, the Prime Minister did authorise spying on the whole population. Yes, he did conceal it from us and he did lie to us. But he did it because the threat from terrorist attacks is so great that we have to go beyond monitoring suspicious individuals. We all have to give up our civil liberties and the rule of law; we may not like Big Brother but he is there to protect us – the argument used by repressive regimes from time immemorial.

    What should the rest of us think? Perhaps the best way to approach it is to think of ourselves in terms of a jury. The Prime Minister is certainly on trial and there is a list of serious charges against him – and, as in this case, the evidence is produced only in dribs and drabs.

    We might want to choose whether this is a civil case – so that we decide on “a balance of probabilities” – or is more akin to a criminal trial in which case we will look to be satisfied “beyond reasonable doubt”. But, in either case, absolute proof, one way or the other, may never be achieved.

    We still have a duty, though, to reach a view. A jury will not usually just accept the word of the person being charged or sued; our task is to reach a conclusion, having assessed the evidence, without fear or favour.

    Bryan Gould

    15 September 2014



1 Comment

  1. Robyn Clarkson says: October 6, 2014 at 12:15 amReply

    Dear Bryan Gould

    Have followed your path and wonderful articles with interest and gratitude-the voice of reason. So now I would like to implore you and any wise senior Labour members (possibly Michael Cullen) to inject some sanity into this debacle the leadership has become.
    Do you think the very able David Shearer is incapable of footing it with the dirty tactics used by the incumbent? All the alternatives at present seem unsuitable for various reasons. We think in time Nick Leggat will emerge somewhere near the top of the ranks, and obviously Stuart Nash and Kelvin Davis – but not now. Such a waste of time when the thinkers know the grass roots work must be done now – then move forward. Up here in the North we are all commiserating with each other – another 3 years – what will be left. People are saying they are Australian they are so embarrassed

    We would be interested to hear your views – if this is possible Is there any hope for Shearer – if in fact he can bear to submit his name?

    Best wishes
    Robyn Clarkson