The Official Information Act, Cam and me

by Lord Sutch

TopSecretFileSo as I stated on Twitter I was asked to respond to an official information act request from Cam in 30 minutes please.This was when I worked at the Department of Corrections. The request for the speedy turn-around came from the Minister’s office. Which at the time was Minister Collins. It did not come from the Minister herself. But from someone in her office.

I was working as a Ministerial Advisor at the time.

The request concerned a TV3 journalist, Alison Horwood, going into prison and talking to Clayton Weatherston. The journalist had been able to get into the prison by saying she was a (family) friend of Clayton’s. Had she been upfront and said she was a reporter, she would not have been allowed in.

Ms Horwood did a story on Weatherston’s parents airing on 60 Minutes on July 24. In it she spoke of having gone to visit Clayton (http://www.3news.co.nz/The-Unlikely-Killer/tabid/1160/articleID/113753/Default.aspx).  On July 30 WhaleOil had the following story up on his site:

TV3 Repeater lies – Whale Oil Beef Hooked _ Whaleoil Media

Now you’ll note that Cam received the application form. That was what the OIA request was for. Because in the application form it set out that the reporter had declared herself as a family friend, and not as a reporter which media are supposed to do. This way, Corrections was absolved of blame for letting the reporter in. Because they’d been duped!

So Cam got the form? So what? Well, a normal OIA request would take 20 working days to receive, process, and respond to – this works out to be about a month. Cam was able to have his response up less than one week after the story aired on television. That’s some effective OIA processing Corrections! Why thank you. I did it myself.

On the afternoon that the request came in (the normal way), I also received a phone call from the Minister’s office asking that this be done as “quickly as possible”. When I asked how quickly that would be, it was suggested that a timeframe of 30 minutes to an hour would be acceptable. This is not the normal process, so I asked my manager what to do. He said to do as I was asked but make a file note. Whether that filenote still exists or not, I do not know.

In fact I don’t actually have any evidence of this. I spoke to the person who made the 30 minute request and they said that they “didn’t recall” asking for it. They also said that what went on in Collins’ office was no different to what went on in Labour’s offices. It’s just Labour used unions rather than bloggers.

There were rumours floating around that someone in Collins’ office was a part-owner in Gotcha Publishing which was run by Cam Slater (Keith Ng did a story here but couldn’t find more detail). I don’t know if that was true or not but it was suggested as one of the links between the National Party and Cam Slater.

Anyway, that’s my story. It’s interesting to note that the actual Ministerial response which sets out Alison Horwood’s duplicitous request form is no longer on Cam’s site. Probably coincidence though. When I interviewed Minister Collins, I raised this very story. She said that she couldn’t possibly know what her staff were doing at all times so she wouldn’t have had anything to do with this request. Plausible deniability right there.

Cool story bro.

 

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9 comments

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Joe Connell August 15, 2014 - 2:31 pm

Interesting. It’s a bit confusing that you say you were working as a Ministerial advisor, because that’s the title that’s given to politically appointed advisors in Ministers’ offices – including likely the one who called you about the OIA. You mean you were working as a public servant in Corrections right?

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Lord Sutch
Lord Sutch August 15, 2014 - 4:58 pm

Yup, the title was Ministerial advisor in that I worked on “Ministerials”. Rather than me being an advisor to the Minister.

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Kyle August 15, 2014 - 6:34 pm

Can I ask what year this was? I’m curious as to whether someone else I know knew about this sort of thing.

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michael u August 16, 2014 - 10:04 am

2009

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Pete August 16, 2014 - 1:17 pm

I’ve made an OIA for the file note in question. I’ve also asked the SIS for any similar documentation they have for their expedited release in July-August 2011.

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Steve August 16, 2014 - 3:26 pm

I work in a similar area as you for a different dept. We get urgent “s requests” where sometimes we have a day. Those are bad enough. I think once we had 2 hours, and that made us pretty clumpy. But 30 minutes? Jeez Louise, I think at that point I’d be very tempted to say uh uh, not happening.

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Steve August 16, 2014 - 7:14 pm

* grumpy! not clumpy. (Clumpy may also apply.)

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