Data leak shows contempt for patient privacy

The career of a Member of Parliament may be over after admitting to receiving and sharing information about COVID19 patients with the media. Clutha-Southland Member of Parliament Hamish Walker has admitted receiving information from former National Party President and – now – former Acting Chief Executive of the Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust, Michelle Boag.

I as a politics following New Zealander have heard of some dumb stuff happening in the New Zealand Parliament. However the announcement yesterday that a former Party President passed on private information relating to COVID19 patients to a National Party M.P., who then disclosed them to the media is right there with the worst. The stupidity of this is quite extraordinary. A former National Party President and a sitting Member of Parliament havet torpedoed their careers and brought potentially massive shame onto National as a party.

As there was knowing leakage of private information that did not have the consent of the person whose privacy had been breached, it is very likely that New Zealand privacy law has been broken. The Privacy Commissioner believes that the acts are indefensible, saying that people have a right to expect their information is kept private and not circulated among those with no legal necessity to know. As a result I believe the New Zealand Police should investigate Mr Walker and Ms Boag.

In Mr Walker’s case, his actions, coming just days after he made a comment about New Zealanders returning from overseas that was widely construed as racist, have made his tenure as a Member of Parliament untenable. For the purpose of not bringing Clutha-Southland as an electorate and Parliament as a democratically elected institution, in which New Zealanders place a lot of stock, Mr Walker must resign from Parliament.

Ms Boag’s reputation as C.E.O. of a medical N.G.O. Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust is in tatters too as a result of her decision to pass on the details to Mr Walker. She has since resigned from her job.

But the consequences might not stop there. I have already stated that I believe the Police should investigate both of them. If for no other reason than to establish what Mr Walker and Ms Boag did, a criminal investigation should be launched. The prospect of criminal charges being brought against one or both of them is very real and would be widely supported by the New Zealand public.

For National, coming on top of Michael Woodhouse’s claim that a homeless man managed to talk his way into a COVID19 quarantine facility, this is hugely damaging to their credibility. To come in an election year with the election 10 1/2 weeks away and the Government riding high in the polls, is the last thing leader Todd Muller or the National Party Board needed.

For the Government, this is a chance to make more political hay. It will also be encouraging for the supporters of National’s rivals in Clutha-Southland. Although I don’t expect National to lose the seat – it would be kind of like Christchurch East going to National – leakage of party votes to other parties there is almost a certainty.

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