Hard News by Russell Brown


Let's be hearing it

I was critical of the way Nicky Hager sprang his Corngate book, Seeds of Distrust, in 2002. I didn't think the possibility of an injunction was real enough to justify the way that story was handled. It appears I was wrong.

Perhaps Dr Brash really did take out his wide-ranging injunction in good faith, and in the belief that a forthcoming book was to lay bare personal matters, exposed in leaked emails, that are no concern of the public.

In which case, he should act with dispatch to have his gag order on Hager's Hollow Men: A Study In The Politics Of Deception, lifted. The author and the handful of people who have read the book say this is not the book Brash claims to have feared, and that it concerns matters that are in the public interest.

So let's find out, promptly. From what little there is to go on - interviews, and pictures of the contents pages - the book touches on issues that have been matters of public discussion at various times, and things I've grumped about myself: National never really acknowledged the extent of co-operation with the Exclusive Brethren; during last year's election campaign, there were wider alliances that weren't apparent to the public; the political culture around Brash's leadership is unhealthy and cynical.

So what is the merit of the claims? I expect I'll actually take issue with some of them, or with the way the information is characterised, and in her introduction to the book Marilyn Waring writes that "many of the events and communications recorded in The Hollow Men were legitimate, written by people going about their lawful business," and that "There's not too much conspiracy in some of the letters quoted from old politicians. I once wrote to John Banks agreeing with something he had said, but I certainly wouldn't want anything to be inferred about my political ideology from that!"

She also says: "I would expect to see much of the evidence set out in the book reported to the Electoral Commission, Parliamentary Services, the police and the Auditor-General."

National and its friends have used some very, very strong language this year on the "corruption" of other parties. It's hardly acceptable that the party and its leader should now be able to duck scrutiny of National's actions by muzzling their source.

Brash himself was all over the gaff yesterday. He gave a weird, awkward impromptu press conference, where he repeatedly declared that "I never saw any emails from the Exclusive Brethren." (well, duh - they don't use computers, do they?); insisted on Checkpoint that a few emails were a leak, but lots of emails were theft; refused to go on Campbell Live and face the only interviewer who'd read the book; and eventually chose Close Up, where he appeared to say that he would clear the way for the book's publication. Sort of:

"I'm keen to see the book exposed to daylight," he said. "I'm not keen to have it under wraps."

But he said he was "also keen to protect the privacy of those people who have written to me by email".

He did not explain how he planned to achieve both goals, but said he would talk to his lawyer today.

He seems to be still drawing the same, unworkable line today. Meanwhile, the spin machines started whirring loudly, and David Farrar tried to rope me into the effort in a rather desperate way. Feel free to read it and make of it what you will. Discussion also at No Right Turn, and copies of everything currently fit to print at Scoop.

Still, at least Dr Brash has some solace. Sean Plunket seemed to conduct his interview with Brash this morning from the same side of the mic, with a comforting arm around the National leader. He opened by chummily suggesting that Nicky Hager "can't be bothered going back to his publishers and having the book reprinted".

Eh? Has Sean been a civil servant for too long? Out here in the wilds of capitalism, it's simply not viable to suggest an independent publisher should have such a book rewritten, paginated and reprinted, and more to the point, he shouldn't have to.

The way forward is clear. The barriers to the publication of The Hollow Men must be lifted - without Brash and his team being allowed to inspect, let alone approve, its contents before the rest of us - so its claims can be heard and their merit tested. And soon.

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