National News

National News is brought to you by a partnership between Crux and RNZ News 

Privacy breach disappointing and has 'ring of dirty politics' - Hipkins

Jul 07, 2020

Minister of Health and State Services Chris Hipkins says he is disappointed the leak of Covid-19 patient details involved politicians, but he does not want to prejudice the investigation.

This evening, National MP Hamish Walker released a statement, confirming he had passed on details to media containing Covid-19 patient details that was given to him "by a source".

He has been stripped of his portfolios by National leader Todd Muller.

Acting chief executive of Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust Michelle Boag later confirmed she gave the patient details to Walker.

Hipkins said he was very disappointed in the revelations that politicians were involved in the privacy breach, but he did not want to prejudice the investigation.

"This is a very disappointing situation. It does have a ring of dirty politics about it and this could be very sad for the upcoming election."

"I was disappointed because sometimes members of parliament are given information inappropriately - that does happen from time to time - and I do think New Zealanders have to rely on the judgment of members of parliament to do the right thing ... and clearly that hasn't happened in this case."

He said all members of parliament should act with care when given this type of information, regardless of how they were given it.

"I think if a member of parliament can't accept that receiving people's health information is something that they should treat with a degree of confidence then that says quite a lot about their own levels of personal integrity and judgement."

Hipkins, who said he found out about Walker and Boag's admissions when it broke on the news, said he would not comment on internal matters within another party.

He said it was important to get answers to the questions in the inquiry headed by Michael Heron.

"It's important that Michael Heron has the opportunity to complete that investigation."

He said he had not spoken to Heron because it was important for him to conduct the investigation independently and thoroughly.

"It's very important that I'm not involved in that process and that he will make all of the relevant judgments on his own."

He said the Helicopter Trust would have access to people's confidential health information because of the nature of their work.

"And all New Zealanders are entitled to know that any information about them that that organisation has will be treated with utmost confidence and with their privacy being respected."

He would not elaborate on what subsequent action would follow until the investigation runs its course.

He thanked media once again for not publishing the information they were given.

"I'm pleased there's more information coming out about how that made it into the public domain, because potentially it might speed up the investigation. I want to get to the bottom of this as quickly as possible so that if there are any weaknesses they can be rectified."

He urged anyone with any further information to step forward.

The breach came about when RNZ and three other media organisations were provided details including the full names, addresses, ages and quarantine locations of the 18 active Covid-19 cases at that time.

Walker said in a statement tonight he did this to expose the government's shortcomings so they would be rectified.

"It was never intended that the personal details would be made public, and they have not been, either by me or the persons I forwarded them to.

"I have received legal advice that I have not committed any criminal offence."

He sincerely apologised for how he had handled the information and to the people affected, saying he would be fully cooperating with Heron's inquiry.

Boag also apologised, and expressed her regret over her actions and announced she would step down from her role at the Trust.

In a tweet from his personal account, Privacy Commissioner John Edwards summed up the situation as "outrageous, unbelievable, indefensible".

Support Crux Support Crux