In answer to a question from Russell Norman, John Key said that he had not met or spoken to Cameron Slater on the phone in his ‘capacity as Prime Minister’.
It seems in order for a Prime Minister then to tell a direct lie in the house, and interpret the constitution according to his own needs. The question of ‘hats’ comes up every now and then, particularly for people doing multi-faceted jobs. It has also come up in the redrafting of the cabinet manual which allows for a minister from a support party to publicly criticise government policy. Tariana Turia was able to attack the government while wearing her Maori Party co-leader hat.
While a lessening of the potency of collective responsibility is practical for modern government, the hat game can become ludicrous. What if Judith Collins decided she did not visit the Oravida office in China, or have dinner with its executives in her capacity as a minister? It may appear a long bow to draw, but if John Key can use a cellphone paid for by ministerial services to call Cameron Slater and not be Prime Minister for the duration of the call, the bow is drawn easily.
Another matter to consider is what information is exchanged in these calls. If John Key gives Cameron Slater information only the PM can access, surely he is in his capacity as PM when he does this. In reverse we can assume that if Slater gave Key some information as Leader of the National Party, MP for Helensville, or even just a private citizen, would that information find its way to John Key the Prime Minister? In Yes, Minister Jim Hacker muses on the paradox of being given information as a former journalist rather than a Minister. He says that if the information needs to be given to the Minister then he, Jim Hacker, would not hesitate to keep himself fully informed.
When you play the game of thrones you win or you die. When you play the game of hats you constantly lie. Welcome to a third term Key-government.