Monday, April 02, 2012

Collins should pay for her own lawsuit

Last week, ACC Minister Judith Collins began a defamation suit against Radio New Zealand and Labour MPs Trevor Mallard and Andrew Little, over the latter's criticism of her handling of the ACC leaks saga. Its a little known fact, but the Cabinet Manual allows the government to pick up the tab for such suits, indemnifying the Minister for costs accrued as a plaintiff. Cabinet will apparently make that decision today. Hopefully they will refuse to fund it, and tell Collins to pay for her own lawsuit.

Why? Firstly, because the idea of government Ministers suing their political critics with taxpayer's money over political comments is incompatible with a robust democracy. Its explicitly used as a silencing tactic in "managed democracies" like Singapore (which aren't), and Collins' suit seems to be the same sort of measure: an effort to bully and intimidate and silence to deter criticism. Secondly, it seems to conflate the public and private roles of the Minister, and treat the public purse as the Minister's private funds. Both of these ideas may be completely acceptable to National (which admires authoritarian Singapore, and has established a reputation for cronyism and corruption in office), but they are not acceptable to the New Zealand public.