Matt McCarten on politics

Matt McCarten is a Herald on Sunday political columnist

Matt McCarten: Fools in charge erode integrity of our society

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Kim Dotcom. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Kim Dotcom. Photo / Sarah Ivey

At what point does the penny drop that our police and spy agencies are run by fools at headquarters?

The guys who run these outfits are supposedly paid twice the salary of our overpaid Cabinet ministers, we're told, because they are so smart and competent.

I mean, how hard was it to check the arrest warrants were accurate, or at least lawful, before our state forces rammed Kim Dotcom's gate in an armed raid backed by a couple of swooping combat helicopters?

It's inconceivable how the agency that spends hundreds of millions of dollars on collecting information didn't think to do a basic check whether it was lawful to spy on him.

All they needed to do was spend $3 to buy the Herald on Sunday and find out Dotcom was a permanent resident. Their oversight may well cause the entire case against Dotcom to collapse.

The top cop at the time of Dotcom's arrest theatrically boasted he had signed an assurance that he would pick up the costs if it was found the police messed up. I wonder if he'd have been so cavalier if he had to pick them up personally, rather than the taxpayer.

The saga around Dotcom has destroyed the personal and professional reputation of a former Auckland mayor and current Government minister, has exposed our police as parodies of the Keystone Cops, made us wonder if our Crown solicitors are the C-pass law students who couldn't get jobs in real law firms, and has made our so-called intelligence service seem anything but.

It also exposes the stunning lack of care by our Prime Minister, who is constitutionally charged to monitor our country's secret police.

This week he admits to being completely in the dark over the shenanigans of our spies. I'm not sure what would be worse: if he was out of the loop or if he was fibbing about it.

No wonder he delayed admitting the GCSB mess-up until the day before Parliament rose for a two-week break.

John Key will hope the debacle will have blown over by the time Parliament reconvenes. Fat chance.

The fallout from this black comedy will give and give for months. In grown-up countries where senior civil servants and politicians are expected to take professional responsibility, the Police Commissioner and the head of the GCSB should have resigned.

John Banks should have gone months ago and we should have had his replacement sitting in Parliament after a prompt byelection in Epsom.

The fact we had our Deputy Prime Minister authorising the GCSB's actions to be kept secret while his boss was overseas, without telling him when he got back, is astonishing.

The fact that Key didn't know for months that the agency he is constitutionally required to oversee was acting illegally is mindboggling.

One of the great protections afforded in a civil society is that a nation's spy agencies are not permitted to routinely spy on their citizens. Both our spy agencies - domestic and external - report directly to the Prime Minister. Our external spy agency is not permitted to spy on us under any circumstances.

These checks and balances are there for good reason. The rudimentary inquiry this week by the grandly titled Inspector-General of Security and Intelligence solves nothing.

Our current Prime Minister was asleep at the wheel and failed in one of his primary duties. Could you imagine for a second that Helen Clark would have been so careless?

Like many of our politicians, Key is a pleaser. Mixed with a bit of a Kiwi inferiority complex, it's hard to not draw the conclusion he is one of those people who thinks his role is to revel in inside gossip of others and then deferentially sign off on anything the spymasters want.

Dotcom's business practices may or may not have been illegal. But that's no longer the point. The incompetence and misconduct of many of our institutions goes to the core of our society's integrity.

Only a full and independent inquiry can now restore our country's reputation.


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