25 Nov 2014

PM's call on Cabinet return - Collins

10:34 pm on 25 November 2014

It is up to Prime Minister John Key whether former Justice Minister Judith Collins returns to Cabinet after being cleared of wrong-doing, the Papakura MP says.

Judith Collins

An inquiry has cleared Judith Collins of undermining the head of the SFO. Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

A government inquiry into Ms Collins cleared her of undermining Serious Fraud Office (SFO) head Adam Feely in 2011. However, it found there were such efforts by a group of bloggers and current or former SFO staff.

Ms Collins resigned during this year's election campaign after an email surfaced suggesting that she had been involved in a campaign to undermine then SFO head Adam Feeley.

The inquiry, headed by Justice Lester Chisholm of the High Court, found that email was unreliable and incompatible with other evidence. It said the implication that she was so involved was "untenable."

"On occasions Ms Collins discussed Mr Feeley with Mr Slater, and thereby provided information to Mr Slater. This was not, however, information which Mr Slater was not entitled to receive.

"There is no evidence that Ms Collins inappropriately sought or received information about Mr Feeley from Mr Slater or any other party."

The report concludes former and current staff members of the SFO were leaking information to both the New Zealand Herald and blogger Cameron Slater.

"I find that publication of the leaked material was intended by current and/or former staff of the SFO to undermine Mr Feeley in his capacity as director. It is my belief that several people were behind these leaks," Justice Chisholm's report said.

Chapter closed

Judith Collins said she considered the chapter closed and it was up to John Key whether she was returned to the Cabinet.

"I said exactly what I thought would happen, and it has happened, and I'm really grateful for that, because I'm really grateful that the truth has come out."

Mr Slater had made some serious mistakes, and he had apologised to her for that, she said.

She did not believe she was wrong to befriend Mr Slater, but felt he had exaggerated the extent of their friendship.

"To have my name being used - as it became clear once the investigation showed me what they had received - was actually very concerning and I did feel very much let down by him.

"When you have family friends, it's quite alright as a minister to have friends and to talk to them from time to time.

"But it isn't alright to have done what I was accused of doing and which I have been found to have not done."

Ms Collins said it was a nice touch for Mr Key to suggest she be able to use the "honourable" title for life now her name had been cleared.

It was commonplace for former MPs to keep their honourable title, especially someone who served almost six years in tough portfolios, she said.

The report named Mr Slater as playing a lead role in undermining Mr Feeley.

"...many of the blogposts were of an extreme nature ... the attack mounted by Mr Slater can only be construed as a determined effort on his part to undermine Mr Feeley."

The inquiry findings also named blogger Cathy Odgers and public relations consultant Carrick Graham as being involved, though to a lesser extent.

It clears former Hanover head Mark Hotchin and former Strategic Finance head Kerry Finnigan of any involvement.

Mr Feeley said it was reassuring the inquiry had found no evidence Ms Collins tried to undermine him, and that those working in the public service must have confidence their ministers would support them and act in the best interests of their portfolios.

Records inaccessible, incomplete

Forensic copies were made of Ms Collins' laptop, two iPhones, and an iPad to get her email, Facebook, telephone and other electronic records from mid 2009 to 31 August 2014.

Ms Collins' personal Facebook account was deleted in 2013 when Ministerial Services established her public page, thus those earlier Facebook records were no longer accessible.

"I am advised that the records accessed by KPMG did not, to a large extent, cover the critical period of September-October 2011," Justice Chisholm said in the report.

"Very little in the way of relevant or potentially relevant material was obtained through KPMG's analysis of this data."

As well, comprehensive phone records were not available from either the Department of Internal Affairs or Parliamentary Services.

The inquiry also did not receive all the emails requested, something Justice Chisholm said was due to technical and time constraints.

"The inquiry cannot be totally confident that it has received a complete record of the electronic communications between the requested email addresses."

Justice Chisholm said little in the way of potentially relevant material was disclosed through the material gained from the Department of Internal Affairs and Parliamentary Services.

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