In a post on March 30th, I accused National's Foreign Affairs spokesperson Murray McCully of lying about having raised the issue of Guantanamo Bay with Defence Minister Phil Goff.
That post was wrong.
The accusation was made on the basis of a response to an Official Information Act request from Mr Goff's office saying that there had been "no such communication" with Mr McCully. However, I have since been informed by the National Party that
The matter was raised by the Minister verbally in a private meeting between Mr McCully and Mr Goff in the Minister's office. The context of the conversation was a proposed notice of motion regarding Guantanamo Bay from Keith Locke, the Green party MP.
We are not about to retell the details of a private conversation with the Minister, but the matter was raised and Mr McCully found Mr Goff's response sensible and perfectly reasonable.
I have attempted to contact the Minister's office in an effort to learn exactly why he denied having any communication with Mr McCully on this matter. So far, I have not had a response. I expect that response to involve a claim that the meeting was in Mr Goff's capacity as an MP, not as a Minister, and that therefore it did not fall under the definition of "official information" under the Act. However, as I noted in a comment to the original post, I would have expected this to be mentioned in the original response, rather than a clear and unequivocal statement that there had been "no such communication" and that my request had therefore been refused on the grounds that the information did not exist. Ministers and officials have a duty to give reasonable assistance with requests, and this surely extends to giving proper explanations of what may and may not be covered, rather than simply issuing a misleading blanket denial.
However, I am standing by my claim that the National Party's answers on this matter are at best unclear (and more accurately, downright evasive), and I think the above rather reinforces my point.
(The time on this post has been set to ensure visibility. It was actually posted at 12:17 am)
Update: The following note from Phil Goff arrived in the mail today. It was dated the 11th, so was sent before I contacted his office seeking an explanation - most likely in response to being contacted by the National Party. I think it speaks for itself:
Further to my letter to you of 28 March 2006 regarding Guantanamo Bay, while the information conveyed is accurate in respect to written communication between Mr McCully and myself, I am reminded that Mr McCully did raise briefly with me the question of Keith Locke's notice of motion on Guantanamo Bay. The discussion was very short, the reason for him attending my office being a separate matter.
I recall that the essence of my response was that New Zealand expected standards of international law with respect to detainees to be upheld in all cases. I noted the difficulty which the United States would face in bringing detainees to trial given the circumstances under which they may have been captured.
No information as such was provided to Mr McCully on the issue nor have I sought a briefing from Defence on it.
I guess it must just have slipped his mind...