Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Covering up the cover-up

Yesterday NZDF officials were put on the stand about the lies they had told over Operation Burnham, making implausible claims that it was all a big mistake. But along the way, we learned they had already been put on the spot about it by a previous Defence Minister, who had effectively accused them of a cover up. And outrageously, they attempted to hide this from the public:

A note made as the Defence Minister raked senior military officials over the coals shows concern the SAS were being shielded of allegations of civilian deaths.

The Defence Force attempted to suppress public discussion of the note, written by the military's chief of staff, at a public hearing for the Operation Burnham inquiry.

The note, from the 2014 meeting with Jonathan Coleman, defence minister at the time, read: "SF [special forces] are not fallible ... No question of their core skills, but political judgment, lack of insight and confused desirability of their actions having a certain shielding ... SAS credibility at risk".


Lawyer for the Defence Force, Paul Radich QC, argued the note should be suppressed due to it revealing "free and frank" advice from the Government minister.

Which is both a perfect example of how the "free and frank advice" clause of the OIA is abused, and of NZDF's attitude to this whole affair. Their first response to bad news is to cover it up, not because there is any "national security" or other public interest at stake, but merely because it is embarrassing to them and damaging to their reputation. But if the Defence Minister has criticised the military for attempting a coverup, that seems like the sort of thing the public has an absolute right to know.

NZDF should be ashamed. But more than that, they need to be held responsible for their coverups.