Key's help for lobbying lawyer limited

Prime Minister John Key speaks at the Star Event Centre on February 19, 2016 in Sydney (Getty)
Prime Minister John Key speaks at the Star Event Centre on February 19, 2016 in Sydney (Getty)

Prime Minister John Key says he had nothing to do with his lawyer's lobbying against a review of the foreign trust industry.

The Green Party last week revealed documents showing Ken Whitney, long-time lawyer for Mr Key and partner in The Antipodes Trust Group, cited a conversation with Mr Key in a letter to then-Revenue Minister Todd McClay.

Antipodes deals in foreign trusts, and feared a proposed review of the industry by Inland Revenue (IRD) would hurt its business.

"I have spoken to the Prime Minister about this and he advised that the Government has no plans to change the status of the foreign trust regime," Mr Whitney wrote in his email to Mr McClay.

The IRD later said there would be no review of foreign trust rules, citing "wider Government priorities".

Last month Mr Key said he had been asked about the review, but never said the question came from his own lawyer.

"I wasn't sure about my legal position whether I could actually say who it was," he told Paul Henry this morning.

"The email says 'The Antipodes Trust Group'. That's my lawyer's trust group. He is the lead partner and the person who handles trusts. There's no secret. It wasn't like I didn't sit there and say they would know that."

Mr Key also suggested the email from Mr Whitney to Mr McClay overstated the extent of their conversation.

"My lawyer -- I ran into him at an event -- said, 'Hey, I saw this story -- is the Government making changes?' I said, 'Look, not as far as I'm aware. Go and see the minister.' That was the limit of my involvement.

"That would happen to me every day on some other issue. Just because I know someone, if me knowing someone precludes people from actually even asking me a question, then we'd be in a pretty weird place. You better hermetically seal me off."

Labour's finance spokesman Grant Robertson says Mr McClay would have felt "significant pressure" having only recently come into the job and was "keen to impress".

"There is no way Todd McClay would not have felt pressure from above. That's shown by the impressive speed with which Ken Whitney and his lobby group got a meeting with the minister." 

The Greens have used Mr Whitney's apparently successful lobbying of the IRD and Mr McClay as proof "powerful vested interests can get the ear of Government, who will then change its plans to suit them".

But Mr Key says there would be no point in having a Prime Minister if no one was allowed to ask him questions.