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Chris Ford: Should Peter Dunne be New Zealand's Bradley Manning?

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Chris Ford
Chris Ford

 Should Peter Dunne be New Zealand's Bradley Manning?

That's the main question being asked on the blogosphere today in the wake of Dunne's resignation over the GCSB leaks issue yesterday. The main issue that has been raised by commentators such as Bryce Edwards and Martyn Bradbury (among others) is the role of Labour and the Greens in calling in the Police on Peter Dunne in the GCSB report leaking case.

New Zealand First Leader Winston Peters initiated a police complaint yesterday. Labour and the Greens, who as opposition parties have long been in receipt (along with New Zealand First) of much leaked material have ironically called in the boys in blue on this occassion. Labour and the Greens, in particular, and being in opposition, would have been the first parties to scream blue murder had it been one of their number who had leaked and had the police been called onto them. However, political rank opportunism on the part of Labour and the Greens is the order of the day as Dunne's vote secured, among other things, asset sales. Hence, the opposition parties, smelling blood in the water and seeking political revenge for Dunne's critical role in securing support for the sales, decided to put him further into the shit than he already was with John Key.

It is true that yesterday I was critical of Dunne but only on account of the way he handled the leak. I wish to be clear in stating my support, in principle, for Dunne (if he indeed was the leaker) for having publicly outed the Kitteridge Report on illegal GCSB spying. For this act, I congratulate Dunne (if it was him - and everything points to him as the leaker despite his denials) and anyone who may have assisted him if this was the case. Dunne and any accomplices may have done something illegal but still right and principled. As I said on yesterday's blog post filed soon after his resignation, the Government could have spared Dunne the trouble and released the report in full. After all, as I also noted yesterday, Dunne as Revenue Minister would have noted that taxpayers paid for this report and, as such, they had a right to know what was in it.

Notwithstanding, there is still an issue for the wider left of needing to congratulate Dunne for his actions with respect to his possibly leaking the report but, yet, continue to condemn him for his other actions, not the least of which was getting the Speaker to rule in United Future's favour in terms of continuing parliamentary funding and recognition when its legal registration lapsed. If I were Labour and the Greens, I would leave Dunne alone over the leaks issue and not given any support to Peters call for the matter to be referred to the Police.

Instead, Labour and the Greens should be thanking Dunne for having caused the report to be released while continuing to press him and the Nats over the decision to retain parliamentary funding for United Future. The official recognition issue is, in fact, far more serious for Dunne and that would be where the opposition could continue to score easy hits against him (as it has been this week). Harping on about the leak of a taxpayer funded report on illegal spying, though, could have the potential to backfire, particularly on the Greens, who have long been ardent campaigners against this country's entanglement in intelligence alliances. I suspect that Russel Norman will have to explain his position to some pretty angry Green activists in the near future. 

Besides, there is the prospect that with all the evidence pointing to, at least, Dunne's or his staff's culpability in leaking the report or at least failing to prevent its leaking, that National will no longer be so friendly or trusting of him. As I pointed out yesterday, there is now an increasing prospect that the Nats could pressure Dunne to resign from Parliament altogether as any resulting by-election could heavily favour the Tories who safely held the seat up until 1984. If the Tories won the seat, it would leave the parliamentary balance unaltered as National would move up from 59 to 60 seats and with, at least, the support of the Maori Party and Act (so long as John Banks survives his current court case) they could govern up until the scheduled election date of late 2014 (or close to it).

In any event, Dunne's departure would be good news for the left as well, even if National won Ohariu in a by-election, as the Maori Party is opposed to asset sales. If the Maori Party retained its opposition to any further asset sales, then the planned floats of Meridian and Genesis Energy would be postponed until after the next election at least. While some of National's plans would be frustrated, they could at least get other right wing legislation through, such as planned industrial relations reforms, through softening it so that it would be malleable to the Maori Party.

Even if Dunne survives to the end of 2014, he would be deemed a pariah by both sides of the House. National, Act and New Zealand First would not want to deal with him due to the breach of national security his actions have engendered in their view while the left will not forgive him for letting asset sales pass and his retention of parliamentary recognition when it should have been forfeited. 

That's why, yes, by all means the left should praise Dunne for his actions in bringing the Kitteridge Report to our attention. And that's where any left wing praise should end as well. Clearly, John Key would have sacked Dunne regardless. Labour and the Greens should not worry too much more about Dunne either. The United Future Leader's political career is over and National could still terminate that completely too - and ultimately to the left's benefit.

And as for Peter Dunne being our Bradley Manning - probably to an extent, yes, as like that truly brave American soldier he risked everything and still got caught, albeit, in the service of a greater cause - freedom of information.

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