Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Plugged II

When the news broke that a commercially- and budget-sensitive Cabinet paper had been leaked to Telecom, I think everybody was expecting political or corporate skulduggery was to blame. It turns out to be nothing of the sort. Rather than warring Ministers or Telecom having a mole within the public service, it was just an ordinary public servant being a dick. And while precautions can be taken, there's ultimately not a lot that can be done about such a situation, except to fire the individual responsible after the fact.

Despite this, Gerry Brownlee is still trying to make out that it is somehow All The Prime Minister's Fault. But its very difficult to see how. She's not responsible for staffing decisions, not responsible for police background checks (which in any case turned up nothing unusual), not responsible for the psychological profiling of staff (ditto), and ultimately, not responsible for their personal moments of misguided stupidity. The leak was not the result of incompetence or systemic failure in her department; rather, it was the fault of one man betraying the immense trust placed in him in a misguided attempt to help out a mate. In such a situation, what matters is how the Prime Minister responds - and I don't see anything there which might call her competence into question.


Agreed ... and contrary to Brownlee's blatherings, nor is it the Prime Minister's job to determine whether particular documents are placed in brown envelopes or are visible to handlers.

See his comment: "Wasn't the document in an envelope or does Labour routinely share this sort of material with the messengers?"

Honestly, does National think that Bolger or Shipley had time for that kind of micro-management of the office? What will it be next, "Prime Minister responsible for poor management of paper clip supply"?

Posted by dc_red : 5/17/2006 08:11:00 AM

I'm pretty sure the idea is to try to sheet the responsibility (rather than the blame) onto the PM. Some sort of Westminster tradition - ministerial responsibility or some such?

Posted by Graeme Edgeler : 5/17/2006 08:33:00 AM

Graeme: Ministerial responsibility only goes so far, and it is simply unreasonable to punish people for things which cannot in any sense be their fault.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 5/17/2006 08:52:00 AM


Well, I take your point but I find it rather dizzying to hear the Prime Minister and Mark Prebble repeat the mantra "there is no systems failure here."

Um, OK. Politically, I can understand why Clark and Prebble are dizzy with relief right now. If the leaker had been any further up the civil service food chain - let alone a political advisor or inside Cabinet - , you can bet your arse resignations would have been demanded and accepted.

Now, I don't hold the Prime Minister personally responsible for the leak. I just think there are entirely legitimate security questions to be asked and answered, that won't be if the PM and SSC just slip into the standard 'we're clear, move on" mode.

Posted by Craig Ranapia : 5/17/2006 10:18:00 AM

What are they suggesting, that a part of National's policy would be to implement and operate military-style security classification systems within government so this sort of thing is impossible?

Those sure are expensive, I don't remember seeing that in their budget.

No, they're just saying "how incompetent, we would never leak anything". No, of course not, why would we ever think so?

Much more is there a moral posture in the conventional event where the humanity of a situation has to be constantly assessed, and where there is always a possibility of restraint, because individual people say, dammit, I'm not going to go ahead and do that, because it is absolutely immoral, contrary to the whole ethos of humankind, to do that.

(from David Lange's 1985 Oxford Union debate)

While Lange was talking about weapons rather than Cabinet decision-making information, perhaps the same principle applies here. "Business is War", after all.


There is more moral posture in the open flow of information within government, where the humanity of the information has to be constantly assessed, and there is always the possibility of a leak, because individual people say, I'm not going to go ahead and keep this a secret, because it is absolutely immoral, contrary to the whole ethos of humankind, to keep this a secret.

Posted by Anonymous : 5/17/2006 12:30:00 PM