There's a reason John Key remains Prime Minister, having outpolled five successive Labour Party leaders: he is smart. And not just smart: very smart.

We can see that in his choosing Sir Michael Cullen along with lawyer Dame Patsy Reddy to review our spy agencies.

Cullen is Labour through and through and his conducting of the review should help depoliticise what has become a vexed issue.

He is also smart and will make it hard for Labour to oppose the review's findings and recommendations.


Spying is highly politically charged and is a loser for any Government - the usual transparency that ensures accountability would undermine the very purpose of the agencies.

Until recent times there has been multi-party agreement and oversight of the spy agencies, including the Greens being represented on the Intelligence and Security Committee.

The political parties have placed the cause of national security above the seeking of political advantage and the agencies have also worked hard to be transparent with the Parliamentary parties.

The system has worked.

But, politics being politics, the Government-Opposition bipartisanship broke down when the political opportunity presented itself.

The Cullen-Reddy review enables that bipartisanship to be refreshed, offers the chance of better legislation and oversight and is an opportunity to reassure New Zealanders they are not being spied on willy-nilly.

The review confirms there is no "mass-surveillance" of New Zealanders by the spy agencies.

That alone is significant. The claims of mass surveillance were being so endlessly repeated they were becoming accepted as fact.

No longer. The Cullen-Reddy recommendations are thoughtful and appropriate.

It is especially sound to have a single, integrated Act and ultimately to combine the SIS and GCSB.

The constraint on any abuse of power comes from proper oversight and the checks and balances in the warranting process, not through agency separation.

The tin-foil hat brigade won't read the review, won't believe what I report, and will declare Cullen a Key stooge and a sell-out.

They will continue to see spooks in every shadow and Key and Cullen as pawns in some dastardly CIA plot.

The challenge for Labour is where does it fall?

Does it side with tin-foil hat wearers or does it show itself fit to govern and able to put intelligence and security above party politics?

Key has tossed it the political hot potato. It's now Labour's problem.

How smart is that?

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