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Key's faulty memory on GCSB an 'excuse' - Shearer

Thursday 4 Apr 2013 8:29 a.m.

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Labour leader David Shearer has stopped short of calling the Prime Minister a liar over the growing scandal surrounding the head of the country's spy agency, the Government Communications Security Bureau.

Appearing on Firstline this morning, Mr Shearer said John Key "hasn't come clean" about his role in the appointment of GCSB head Ian Fletcher.

Mr Fletcher took on the role immediately after the January 2012 botched raid on the home of internet tycoon Kim Dotcom. He was the only person interviewed for the job, after Mr Key phoned him and said he should apply.

Last week, Mr Key said he only knew Mr Fletcher from when they were at school, but yesterday admitted he had called him about the GCSB role.

Mr Key denies it had any influence on Mr Fletcher's successful application, insisting it was up to State Services Commissioner Iain Rennie. He says he didn't mention the phone call last week because he had "forgotten".

Mr Shearer isn't buying it however, saying Mr Key's version of events is "woefully inadequate" and "keeps changing".

"I have nothing personal for or against Mr Fletcher, he seems like a reasonable bloke – but this was somebody that John Key shoulder-tapped by calling him up, asking him to get in touch with John Key's head of department, and that same head of department was sitting on appointment panel that appointed Mr Fletcher.

"There was no other interview. If there was no other people who [were] suitable, surely you would re-open the advertisement and advertise again."

Mr Shearer says Mr Key's explanation that he had "forgotten" about the phone call is simply "an excuse for not answering a question".

"This is not something John Key said, 'Look, I admit all this, absolutely I was mistaken last week.' That's not what's happening here. The story is changing as it goes along, and the process itself by which Ian Fletcher got that job is called into question."

Former head of the GCSB Sir Bruce Ferguson has also criticised the process, calling it "disturbing".

"If indeed the selection process was abrogated in favour of just one person, and no shortlist interviews happened, well that is wrong, in my view," he told Campbell Live last night.

"The State Services Commissioner is very much entrusted with running an apolitical selection process. From what I hear, it appears that they may not have happened, and if that didn't happen, I find that quite disturbing."

Mr Shearer says Sir Bruce is a "man with considerable integrity", and for him to call the process "disturbing" undermines the confidence New Zealanders should have in their agencies.

"There needs to be a review of the entire appointment process," says Mr Shearer. "We have spy agencies here, we understand their work is secret, but when you don't have confidence in the chain of command and the people at the top, then you undermine the very integrity of what we hold dear as New Zealanders.

"And that's what's at stake here – it's not simply a little kind of an issue to one side. It cuts to the heart of us as an honest and transparent society that we can have real trust in both our leaders and our institutions."

Mr Rennie last night defended Mr Fletcher's appointment, calling criticism of the selection process "baseless" and Mr Fletcher an "outstanding public servant".

"For this position, and I want to make this very clear, it was not essential to have a military or intelligence background," says Mr Rennie.

"GCSB is a civilian agency, and the position description emphasised the importance of leadership and change management expertise in this role."

Labour has laid a complaint Mr Key breached Parliamentary privilege by not revealing his phone call to Mr Fletcher when asked about the selection process last week.

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