ANNETTE KING interviewed by PAUL HOLMES
PAUL Let me now go to Annette King in Queenstown. Good morning, Annette King.
ANNETTE KING - Former Police Minister
Good morning, Paul.
PAUL I'm pleased to see it doesn't look like it's raining today.
MRS KING Well, it almost is, so be quick.
PAUL Do you think the police will have learnt lessons from those raids?
MRS KING I would believe they would, and I think what'll help the police is the independent police inquiry that's been carried out by the IPCA. And I understand it's finished, it's ready to be released, and I think it ought to be released so that we can see what methods they used, the operation itself, whether it was appropriate or not, and I think the police would welcome that, but so would so many New Zealanders.
PAUL Well, that's right. Might the police have learnt, for example, that you can't dress up in frightening ninja outfits and jump on vans of kohanga reo kids - with weapons - and scare the hell out of them?
MRS KING Well, I think the regrettable thing is that so many people were frightened by the operation, and listening to the Police Commissioner's statement today, obviously they regret that as well, so from this and from the report that we will soon see, I'm sure that lessons would have been learnt.
PAUL Can we go back to 2007? You were the police minister. When did you first know an action was imminent, that an investigation had been underway?
MRS KING We were called to a meeting - a meeting that was requested by the police commissioner in the Prime Minister's officer, actually. The Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, the Minister of Justice, myself, the Solicitor General, the Commissioner of Police, and I think the head of the prime minister's department to advise...
PAUL So, just to get these names - it was Helen Clark, it was in Helen's office. Michael Cullen, Annette King...
MRS KING Helen's office, but Michael Cull... Mark Burton...
PAUL As justice minister.
MRS KING ...Howard Broad and David Collins as the solicitor general. And there may have been somebody else, Paul.
MRS KING We were called to a meeting the night before the operation took place to advise us that an operation was taking place - Operation Eight was taking place. It was a heads-up that the operation was taking place, and the reason why was because it was the first operation, if you like, under the new suppression of terrorism act.
PAUL Alright, can I just stop you there? Were you told what the investigation had been into? Were you told, for example...?
MRS KING Yes, we were told there were serious issues that the police had been investigating, and that these issues were serious enough that they were going to be carrying out an operation the next day. Can I just make one thing clear, though, Paul? And it's often been asked of me why didn't I interfere in the operation. The government of the day had absolutely no involvement in the operation, nor did we have any say over the operation, because when a police minister and a government does start to tell the police who they investigate and arrest, you have a police state. That doesn't happen in New Zealand. We were advised of it. We were advised, also, that the actions that were being taken by the police were the appropriate actions, and we asked questions about that.
PAUL Alright, just let me slow you down there just for a second. So you had been told that any charges that would be made or the investigation itself had been done under the Terrorism Suppression Act, yes?
MRS KING That's right.
PAUL You understand also this was the first time this act was being used, is that correct? You were reminded of this?
MRS KING That is correct, yes. That is correct.
PAUL Did you ask then at that meeting...?
MRS KING I understand, Paul...
PAUL Can I ask you, did you ask as police minister at that meeting for advice on whether such action under that act was appropriate?
MRS KING Yes, not only did I ask, but so did the Prime Minister and we were assured that it was appropriate, that... And we were assured by the Solicitor General that it was appropriate, and we did question that.
PAUL Alright, alright...
MRS KING And so we took the advice we were given.
PAUL The Solicitor General was in the room. Did you actually turn to him and say, "Is the action under this act appropriate?"
MRS KING In my memory of it, the first person who turned to him and asked that was the Prime Minister, Helen Clark.
PAUL And the answer was?
MRS KING Yes, it was appropriate, and so we were assured the actions being taken that day under that act were the appropriate actions, but the truth is, Paul, we did not have knowledge of exactly what information they had, what evidence they'd gathered. We didn't expect to have this. This was a police operation...
PAUL No, I understand this.
MRS KING ...and we were only being advised by courtesy.
PAUL Now, Mrs King, you've made that clear. But later, of course, after the great day happens - the Ninja Turtle Day - later David Collins, about a month later, would say that those rounded up under the Suppression of Terror Act could not be charged under it, that the use of the act in this case was wrong, that the act was coherent. Did that dismay you that he should make this decision?
MRS KING Yes, it did, at the time, because we had relied on the advice that we were given that everything that was being done was being done correctly, and so then to find that in fact that the law we were told was incoherent and they weren't able to proceed, and in fact much of the evidence that had been gathered was not able to be used now...
PAUL So let me just clear this up.
MRS KING ...was a big disappointment.
PAUL Senior ministers that night, having been told by David Collins that the use of the act was appropriate, suddenly hear him say the act can't be used. That must have been very dismaying. And then there's talk about...
MRS KING It was dismaying.
PAUL Yes. And then when you saw the pictures on the news that night after the day of the action - the ninja day, for want of a better word - what was your reaction when you saw that stuff?
MRS KING Well, I think, like many New Zealanders, I was very surprised at the actions, particularly around children, around older people. I had no idea that that was going to be the way an operation was mounted. It's not something a police minister gets involved in. And I think many of the cabinet - probably most of the cabinet and the caucus were dismayed at the way people were upset in that community that had to do with anything that had been going on in that area.
PAUL Yes. So you're saying that as police minister, you had no idea and the cabinet had no idea that the police, in conducting this operation, were going to conduct themselves as they did, frightening and traumatising so many innocent people?
MRS KING Of course not. I mean, the police carry out many operations, Paul, and sometimes it is with the Armed Offenders, sometimes it's with their Special Tactics group. They decide how they do it. They decide what they wear and how they carry it out. It is not a government or politician's role to decide how they carry out their operations, but our role in that is the law under which they carry it out. And that is our role in this...
PAUL And changing our mind on the law...
MRS KING ...and we found out later that the law was not...
PAUL Right. Changing our mind on the law was a problem because...
MRS KING ...was very disappointing.
PAUL Yes, because we never get to answer the question what were these people doing wandering around in the bush with Molotov cocktails, weapons that kill people, calling themselves a revolutionary army actually up to.
MRS KING That is correct, and we will probably never know that. And if we're going to keep this law, then it does need to be amended, but I gather that the minister doesn't wish to review it. I gather that the Law Commission said it needed to be reviewed and has started to look at it. So either we keep this law... But let's remember when it was brought in. It was brought in after 9/11, when many countries were aligning their law internationally against terrorism, and 12 years later, you know, the world is a different place.
PAUL That's right.
MRS KING And I think we ought to re-look at that law.
PAUL So have the police done damage to their reputation amongst Maori? Yes or no?
MRS KING I think from the statement you had from Peter Marshall, they accept that it has done damage, and they are keen to repair that damage. And I hope they do, because the police do work very well with different communities, particularly Maori communities with their liaison officers. So I hope that they do repair that relationship as fast as possible.
PAUL You mentioned right at the top of the interview that the Independent Police Complaints Authority - forgive me, whatever they're called these days - have done an inquiry. Do you think there should be a broader inquiry into the police tactics that day? If so, what level should that inquiry be?
MRS KING Well, in fact I think the IPCA would have done a very thorough inquiry. Judge Goddard is a very independent woman, and she's carried out many inquiries, and I would not question her ability to carry out an independent inquiry. I think what needs to happen, Paul, is we need to see it. It's there, I gather, finished. Let's get it out there so that the police can have lessons from this and the public can see what went on in terms of the operation that day.
PAUL Annette King, I thank you very much for making the time this morning in Queenstown.
MRS KING Thank you.