Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Bennett on the block

The privacy complaint against Minister of Social Development Paula Bennett for her appalling abuse of power in releasing the personal information on two beneficiaries has been referred to the Office of Human Rights Proceedings. They will assess it again and decide whether to bring a case before the Human Rights Review Tribunal, which will be able to make binding orders and award compensation.

This is serious - its the closest thing there is in this country to criminal prosecution for breach of privacy. And it looks like its going to happen to Bennett. Which is what happens if you abuse your powers and then are too pig-headed to apologise and settle.

A finding against Bennett should end her Ministerial career. The Cabinet Manual is very clear: "Ministers are expected to act lawfully and to behave in a way that upholds, and is seen to uphold, the highest ethical standards". Being found to have unlawfully abused her Ministerial position to victimise an ordinary citizen who dared to criticise her clearly fails the first test (and arguably, the fact that she's even in this mess fails the second. If John Key had any decency, he would have sacked this deeply unethical Minister long ago. But clearly, he doesn't. So much for his "higher standards").

The downside is that the HRRT has been stacked with unqualified National Party cronies. These members cannot be seen to be neutral in the case, having been appointed primarily on the basis of their political affiliation, and so the case may hinge on the makeup of the panel, and whether they do the right thing and recuse themselves or not.