Thursday, November 27, 2014

John Key's TXTs and the Public Records Act

Today in Question Time, in response to further questions about the Prime Minister's communications with sewerblogger Cameron Slater, Steven Joyce (on behalf of the PM) informed the House that Key deletes all his text messages, "in case his phone is lost".

Pretty obviously this is useful for Key. It means that there is no evidence of what he's been saying to who. But it is a problem for us, because legally Key's texts are a public record. If they contain substantive discussions or decisions, then there is a duty to retain them, or a summary, as part of the Prime Minister's obligation to maintain full and accurate records. If no such summary is created - and Joyce seemed to suggest that there is not - then deleting them is a criminal offence.

Is Key going to face prosecution? Of course not. Even if the Chief Archivist - who is now an employee of the Department of Internal Affairs rather than an independent public servant - stood up for the law and took their duty to act independently seriously, the police would simply laugh at it. Where the Prime Minister is concerned, the law apparently means nothing.

Meanwhile, you might want to ask yourself: why would a politician with nothing to hide delete public records?