Will an inquiry make it all better?

With two Dirty Politics inspired inquiries on the go, where are they taking us? And will they make everything better?

So far, the Dirty Politics book has generated two inquiries. The first is into the release  of information from the SIS to a certain blogger whom we don't name. The second is into Judith Collins' alleged involvement with an alleged plot to allegedly have the head of the Serious Fraud Office allegedly removed from his office. Allegedly.

Some thoughts on both of these.

First of all, the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security, Cheryl Gwyn, is bearing out my confident assertion of faith that she will "act in an honourable and proper fashion" in conducting her inquiry into the SIS's release of information to the blogger whom we don't name. The sort of inquiry she has announced, and the matters it looks like it is going to examine, make me pretty confident that if there is evidence of improper behaviour to be found, she'll find it.

(I note my earlier post also raised the fear that the scope of the inquiry would not cover what was for me the most important issue: What did the Prime Minister's Office (which is, remember, the equivalent of the Prime Minister himself) have to do with feeding information about the SIS's briefing to Goff to a certain blogger whom we don't name? I'm glad to see that it looks like I was wrong in holding that fear. The fact that numerous people from the PM's office are going to be interviewed under oath (i.e. in circumstances where lying can get them up to 7 years in jail) indicates that their role is something she will look at and report on. Good.)

I note also that Brian Gould has an "open letter" up on The Standard asking Ms Gwyn why she isn't requiring the Prime Minister to give evidence under oath about his role in the affair. As I stated in my comment to that post, I think the answer may lie in the legislation governing her role.

Under the functions of the Inspector General (s.11(3)), we’re told that:

In carrying out any inquiry in accordance with the provisions of subsection (1)(ca), it shall not be a function of the Inspector-General to inquire into any action taken by the Minister.

In the Inspector General’s press release announcing the inquiry, she stated:

The Inspector-General has decided to institute the inquiry under her own motion powers pursuant to sections 11(1)(a) and (ca) of the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security Act 1996 rather than in response to a specific complaint.

So, I don’t think that Ms Gwyn can look at the “propriety” of John Key’s actions here … because the legislation she's working under tells her that she can’t do so. I guess some may think this means she can't ask the really important question - what did John Key know? - but as I said before, I don't think Key knew anything about this. So I'm not overly bothered.

Second, the still-to-be-finalised inquiry into the allegations against Judith Collins.

There's one thing I think Key can't fairly be criticised for in respect of this. There have been suggestions that he should have to consult with David Cunliffe over who is going to head this inquiry, as well as what matters it should look at. That's not actually true.

As this Cabinet Office circular makes clear, the call on what to do about the inquiry really is Key's alone to make:

The government has a three year mandate to govern. It is not bound by the caretaker convention during the pre-election period (unless the government loses the confidence of the House before then …). This means that the government has full power to make decisions in the pre-election period.

It then goes on to reiterate that:

On some occasions in the past, Ministers have sought advice about whether specific actions or decisions should be taken in the pre-election period. It is for the Prime Minister to make the final decision as to whether or not a decision or action (including a significant appointment) should proceed during the pre-election period.

So if Key does go ahead and decide for himself (or, rather, in conjunction with Cabinet) what shape the inquiry will take, who will head it and what it will be tasked with looking at, does this deal with the issue satisfactorally?

Well, no. It's true that the allegations against Collins are very serious. So serious that my immediate response is that they just can't be true - I'm still naive enough to trust that a New Zealand Minister of Justice (no matter how much I may dislike and disapprove of her politically) is just not going to conspire to have the head of the Serious Fraud Office deposed in order to protect some ex-head of a Finance Company from investigation. Sure, you can all castigate me in the comments thread as being a blind member of the establishment who CAN'T SEE WHAT IT IS REALLY GOING ON! ... but there it is.

As those allegations are so serious, they do need independently examined. But confining that examination to the question of what Judith Collins did or didn't do in respect of Adam Feeley is not going to make the rest of the Dirty Politics story go away. It's gotten too big for that now. So come what may on September 20th, things will not be the same again.