Justice Minister Andrew Little says he was surprised by some of the appointments made to a group advising the country's intelligence and security watchdog, but they offer some healthy scepticism.

Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security Cheryl Gwyn briefed Little last week on the appointments to the group, which includes investigative journalist and author Nicky Hager and human rights lawyer Deborah Manning.

The group met for the first time last week.

Little said today that Inspector-General of Intelligence Cheryl Gwyn briefed him on it last week.


"For her, and actually for me as well, public confidence in our security and intelligence agencies is absolutely vital and she wants to make sure there's sounding boards that she can go to to test approaches.

"She knows, as we all know, the nature of these organisations, there is a lot done in confidence, there's a lot done in secret but equally they don't get everything right as some of her recent reports show. It is a constant effort to strive to get towards close to perfection for these agencies."

He said some of the appointments were "interesting".

"She's gone out and got, in addition to what you might describe as orthodox voices, some otherwise pretty challenging and sceptical voices."

"Nicky Hager is a well-known observer of our security and intelligence agencies. I would describe him as a sceptic. That is a healthy thing to have in a democratic society.

"I think what's important is that we are bold enough and brave enough to know that it is right to have critics of organisations and of the Government involved in this sort of exercise."

Little was surprised to see Herald investigative journalist David Fisher among the appointments.

"I would have thought there is a question about a journalist complying with their ethics in doing so but that's a judgment call, in the end, they have to make."

Little said the group was there to offer advice on principles and values, but would not have access to classified information.

National's spokesman for GCSB and NZSIS Gerry Brownlee said the appointments raised serious questions for Gwyn.

"The Inspector-General has said this group has been brought together to help her stand 'in the shoes of the public' but several members of her group are far from objective in their view of our intelligence relationships or, in some cases, the existence of intelligence services at all," Brownlee said in a statement.