Bryce Edwards ' Opinion

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards: Political round-up: Applying the sunlight of disinfectant to spies and police

Rebecca Kitteridge, the Associate Director of the Government Communications Security Bureau, at its Wellington headquarters. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Rebecca Kitteridge, the Associate Director of the Government Communications Security Bureau, at its Wellington headquarters. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Having finally landed some direct blows on John Key's credibility (after so many frustrated attempts) Labour now faces a dilemma. It doesn't want to give National an easy bipartisan solution to the GCSB spying scandal but the emerging reality is that this is indeed a bipartisan mess and there is scope for some embarrassment to Labour's old guard in Parliament. The Greens have shown that they are very capable of politically exploiting National-Labour cosiness.

That the GCSB may have been spying domestically for many years before the current legislation was passed in 2003 actually calls into question Labour's integrity at the time says Tracy Watkins: 'It was a necessary appeasement to Labour's left wing coalition partner, the Alliance Party, at the time submissions were heard on the legislation in 2001. And it was a highly effective snow job. Author Nicky Hager - who has done more digging into the GCSB than any one - said in a blog he was embarrassed to admit that even he believed the assurances the GCSB wasn't spying on New Zealanders' - see: Sunlight best disinfectant over GCSB concerns.

Labour is willing to go along with now making legal actions that they made illegal ten years ago, as long as there is a full enquiry - see Adam Bennett's Labour open to vote for NZ spying. It may be a matter of 'being careful what you ask for'.

Key continues to deny the need for further investigation but, if he was forced into it, the scope won't be limited to his term as minister. If John Key was 'asleep at the wheel' then he wasn't alone. David Farrar at Kiwiblog deals with all of the issues in a very good blogpost which also points out that Helen Clark may have some awkward questions to answer - see: Labour and GCSB. And Labour is also lambasted from the left, with criticisms for now going soft on civil liberties by publicising its readiness to consider allowing the GCSB to spy on New Zealanders - see No Right Turn's Labour: Soft on protecting our rights and Martyn Bradbury's The Labour Party and the self-loathing liberal complex.

And, as has always been the case with anything associated with Kim Dotcom, it would be foolish to bet against new twists and turns. And so David Fisher reports today that the GCSB may have not only spied on New Zealand citizens, but they may have given the information to foreign governments - see: Spy bureau refuses to say if Kiwis' details shared overseas.

Key will look to portray Labour as weak on national security if it doesn't co-operate writes John Armstrong in PM out to turn tables on rivals over GCSB. Armstrong intelligently outlines Labour's situation, and he notes that the stakes are high because 'Key has been under the cosh from National's opponents to a degree not witnessed previously during his four years-plus stint as Prime Minister'.

Having a leader perceived as open and up-front has worked well for National but that can quickly become a negative if the public feel they have actually been duped. While the PM appeared to 'front-foot' the illegal spying on Kim Dotcom in September, it now seems it was known there were wider problems months before. This undermines Key's carefully constructed public persona writes Andrea Vance: 'it has become apparent in recent weeks that the Government's brand of transparency is a bit like a fairground mirror - distorted and a trick. Transparency isn't transparency if there are crucial bits missing' - see: Attacks on PM's credibility set to continue in the House.

The dramatic change in tune is also noted by the ODT's editorial, quoting the PM's apology to Kim Dotcom: 'It is the GCSB's responsibility to act within the law, and it is hugely disappointing that in this case its actions fell outside the law. I am personally very disappointed that the agency failed to fully understand the workings of its own legislation'. The newspaper then comments: 'His response to the revelations of the new breaches - to change the law rather than ensure the Government and its spy agencies understand and adhere to the law - is a turnaround in attitude, deflects responsibility and is hugely concerning' - see: The spectre of Big Brother.

The way in which the spy agencies can be better regulated was discussed on TV3's The Nation in the weekend, see, for instance, the 5-minute interview with Mai Chen: Legal expert: beef up Inspector-General's resources, and the NBR's summary: Former GCSB director challenges Kitteridge's claims. The Dominion Post also points out some of the problems, highlighting one of the most damning parts of the Kitteridge report, which showed that at one stage the GCSB failed to file its 'quarterly' compliance reports for 17 months - see: Watchers' watcher needs more muscle. And Scott Yorke ponders what a shakeup in the GCSB might look like in his blogpost PM says sackings show GCSB is getting house in order.

There are some broader issues being raised by the controversy as well. Just what is the focus of the GCSB? Keeping us 'safe' from terrorism is the standard answer given, a response that usually has to be taken on trust as examples and evidence are very thin on the ground for the public. The Standard puts the case that commercial and property interests are becoming the agency's real focus - see: Networks of influence.

If we are to re-examine how much we will allow the state to spy on us then we need to update our expectations of privacy to fit with modern reality, writes Nathan Smith in the NBR: 'Essentially, people have to assume their internet session is compromised the moment they log on to the internet. This fact is uncomfortable but true, and our digital privacy would be better served if this was remembered more often' - see: New Zealand's mindset needs to change, not the GCSB.

Even if there is a full enquiry and the GCSB is found to have acted illegally over many years we probably shouldn't expect an apology from them anytime soon. It seems a Royal Commission finding is not enough to get our enforcement agencies to admit to wrongdoing, even after a thirty three years - see Rob Kidd's Top cop won't back finding Thomas was framed. The Commissioner's line doesn't sit well with his recent praise for the integrity of the cop accused of framing Arthur Thomas. His actions won't help any of the parties involved says Kerre McIvor: 'His choice of words has ensured that Arthur Allan Thomas won't live in peace and Bruce Hutton certainly won't rest in it' - see: Framing was no act of integrity.

The Commissioner should have considered the integrity of the Police as a whole before he defended Bruce Hutton says the Herald in Eulogy shows police have a long way to go. Other voices also strongly condemn the police over the issue - see the Dominion Post's Police impartiality questions raised and Sean Plunket's Apology to Thomas is in order after officer's eulogy.

For those that see the police as 'racist', there is a proposal to reinstate 'Pig patrols' to help prevent 'police victimising Maori and other Polynesians' - see Vaimoana Tapaleao's Talk of restarting Pigs' watch on cops. But other complaints about the police come from very different angles - see Sally Kidson's Police too strict on domestics and Leighton Keith's Patience wears thin in police force. The justice system, also, is under scrutiny and pressure for greater transparency. The Herald is running a series of reports on the judiciary this week, and today David Fisher has produced the excellent Special report: Judging the judges.

Other recent important or interesting items include the following:

• The launch of the Mighty River Power share offer today brings up many political issues about power prices and what a future Labour Government might do. David Shearer has warned investors that a future Labour government will make some unspecified changes to the industry (MRP investors face changes if Labour in) but this has caused David Farrar to respond with some facts about Labour on power prices. Ele Ludemann calls it Labour's desperate attempt at sabotage.

• Two business journalists have looked at the future economic and political issues at stake for Mighty River Power, and explained their likely purchase decisions - see Tim Hunter's Why I'm in Mighty River queue and Martin Hawes' Why I am Mighty cautious. Meanwhile Rod Oram asks why small and first time investors are been deprived of informed analysis at the crucial time - see: All at sea on a Mighty River.

• Just who was deciding what the public needed to know about contamination of our milk products? Tracy Watkins details some interesting exchanges between public servants and the corporations involved, including this: On January 22, the documents refer to officials discussing with Ravensdown 'what parts of Ravensdown human health risk assessment Ravensdown is comfortable with publishing as part of its transparency' - see: Secrecy over milk DCD scare revealed.

• Should journalists who have leaked information showing illegal activity share it with authorities? Nicky Hager thinks so but is at odds with those he works for - see Peter Griffin's The moral and legal dilemmas of using leaked data.

• Peter Dunne's efforts to control synthetic drugs are to be commended and would be a good template for the control of all drugs says libertarian Herald columnist Damien Grant in Dunne's drug bill's a blinder but should go further. Grant may be waiting a while before the United Future leader backs the de-criminalisation of heroin.

• The Auckland mayoralty race this year might be a bit more enlivened by the likely entry of John Minto to the race - see: Mana's Minto after mayorship.

• Some reasonably sizeable education protests occurred in the weekend - the best account is Michelle Robinson's Protests against education reform. And Gordon Campbell reckons the Government will be worried about such protests - see: Charter schools disquiet grows.

• The Conservative Party could be the party to watch at the next election, which is why The Nation's 12-minute video could be worth watching now - see: Beyond Colin Craig: Tracking down the Conservative Party. But there's a new rightwing party in town, the One Law For All party, which Rod Vaughan investigates in the (paywalled) NBR article, Why 'One Law For All' party could trigger political earthquake.

• Finally, ex-PM Helen Clark will continue her global job as 'most powerful women you've never heard of' - see Rebecca Quilliam's Clark to continue UNDP role. David Farrar, says her decision is hardly surprising given that her UN salary is 'equal to NZ$1.19 million' - see: Clark reappointed.

- NZ Herald

Bryce Edwards

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago. He teaches and researches on New Zealand politics, public policy, political parties, elections, and political communication. His PhD, completed in 2003, was on 'Political Parties in New Zealand: A Study of Ideological and Organisational Transformation'. He is currently working on a book entitled 'Who Runs New Zealand? An Anatomy of Power'. He is also on the board of directors for Transparency International New Zealand.

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