As the newly-appointed minister responsible for implementing the recommendations of the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Terrorist Attack on Christchurch, Andrew Little would be wise to adopt a highly precautionary approach to his task.
The Royal Commission's report was finally released to the public last month, a year after its original deadline had passed. The report cost the New Zealand taxpaying public about $8 million, which equates to about $10,000 for each of its 800 pages. In order to meet public expectations under these circumstances, the report had to include some bold and far-reaching recommendations.
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The commission took the predictable option of recommending that the Government establish a new intelligence and security agency. That agency will be responsible for providing strategic intelligence and security leadership functions, including the drafting of a counter-terrorism strategy.
The commissioners explained, however, that it is impractical to carve out counter-terrorism responsibilities and the new agency's purview would therefore span all intelligence and security matters.
The commission, it seems, had prior knowledge of the focus of the next statutory review of the intelligence agencies, which must commence before the end of 2022. The first such review was undertaken by Sir Michael Cullen and Dame Patsy Reddy and their report, released in early 2016, focused on reforming the legislation covering intelligence work.
Yet the commissioners somehow know the next review will make recommendations on the organisational redesign of the intelligence community along the lines of either an amalgamation of the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service (NZSIS) and the Government Communications Security Bureau as a joint operations agency or what they describe as an "uber-agency" that combines all relevant strategic and operational functions.
With those future states in mind, the commission seeks to separate intelligence strategy and policy work from intelligence operations. The inspiration for such a vision may have been their key adviser, John McKinnon CNZM QSO, who is a well-respected former Secretary of Defence. The blueprint for the new intelligence and security agency will be very familiar to those who work within the defence establishment where policy is handled by the Ministry of Defence and operations are conducted by the New Zealand Defence Force.
Is establishing another intelligence agency the right thing to do in the aftermath of the Christchurch atrocity?
The commissioners thought so and suggested building the new agency from existing business units that currently belong to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (DPMC) and the NZSIS. This approach is something akin to Frankenstein's making of a monster.
The obvious danger here is that shifting business functions to a new institution might present opportunities for politicians to cut ribbons at opening ceremonies. But such celebrations only mask the use of an institutional solution to address a problem linked to a professional work culture that can only be improved through effective leadership.
If the agencies do not currently have the wherewithal to perform their functions effectively and efficiently because professional jealousies and parochial attitudes prevent them from doing so, then shuffling the deck institutionally will not likely fix the underlying attitudinal problem.
Given many of those recruited to the new agency will come from existing intelligence and security agencies and will carry those attitudes with them, the cure could be worse than the disease.
There was considerable pressure on our politicians to be seen to do something in response to the commission's findings. Perhaps this is why Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern accepted all 44 recommendations as soon as the report was made public.
The devil will be found in the detail of any implementation plan, however.
Officials from within DPMC will position themselves as the key advisers on that plan, but their advice might taste like fruit from a poisonous tree to the new minister. Even the commissioners could not ignore the important role played by DPMC in co-ordinating New Zealand's intelligence and security efforts and had the foresight to exceed their own terms of reference by including DPMC within the scope of their inquiry.
Parts of DPMC will be cannibalised as the new agency is built, in part, from its business units. The vested interests here are plain for all to see - jobs for mates, and the building of more bureaucratic empires.
New Zealanders need their newly-appointed minister to be bold and brave, and this includes seeking independent advice on implementing the Royal Commission's recommendations from beyond the traditional public service sources.
• Dr Damien Rogers is a Senior Lecturer in Politics and International Relations at Massey University's Albany Campus in Auckland.