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Q+A: Panel discusses Russel Norman interview

Published: 3:49PM Sunday July 07, 2013 Source: Q+A

The panel discusses the Russel Norman interview


Dr Jennifer Curtin, Nick Leggett and David Farrar. David, according to Russel Norman, this law, if it's passed, will turn us into a mass-surveillance society.


Yeah, I think that's open for interpretation. If we look at what's come out from the Inspector General, the Kitteridge Report, over 10 years, there were 88 cases where they didn't say it was illegal, they said, 'We're not sure what provision of the GCSB Act.' So it's around one person every two months comes to the attention of the SIS, normally. And they go to the GCSB and say, 'Can you help us out on this?' When, though, there are issues, and I have some agreement with Russel, is the way the act's worded. It is unclear whether it can go beyond just assisting them where they've got a warrant. I don't think that's the intention, but Russel talked about one issue where the Prime Minister can add extra agencies on. Most people, I think, think, 'Look, having the GCSB help the SIS, the police out,' probably are ok with that, but if you want to add the fisheries on, for example, shouldn't that at least be a debate in Parliament, maybe, not just the decision of the Prime Minister. But what we've seen is the PM sending out, like, pheromones, almost, saying, 'Well, compromise. We want to get this through.' For they don't have the numbers. Where can they get them? Well, I don't think it's going to be the Greens. It's either Labour, NZ First or United Future. And they're all quite interesting, because if you go with United Future, well, Peter Dunne lost his job due to GCSB Report. He's not that keen. But I doubt he'll be too keen to allow Winston to become the kingmaker again.

SUSAN Right, and take the glory, exactly.

DAVID Labour, there is an opportunity there. It is a risk also, but do remember when John Key and Helen Clark did the joint podium compromise on the Smacking Bill. If they can get agreement with Labour where they both look statesmanlike, do a deal, it could actually work well for David Shearer. But there is a risk where those who don't like GCSB at all tend to be Green supporters. Labour may lose some of their activist support to the Greens. So I think the politics will be fascinating.

SUSAN Nick, do you think there's a chance of a deal with Labour? I mean, let's not forget they originally brought the GCSB law in.

NICK LEGGETT - Porirua Mayor

Well, it depends how much National will need to compromise, I think. I mean, I think David's right. The PM is still the main oversight here, and that concerns me. I think it does need to be broadened. We have to rely on our Prime Minister for a lot of things, but I think for these kind of issues, it would be good to have perhaps a committee of previous prime ministers or something like that where the Prime Minister can actually bounce off and broaden the advice. There are some concerns, I think, within the Labour Party about this, some significant concerns. There would have to be some significant concessions made, I think, for Labour to come across.

SUSAN Jennifer, should this political at all? I mean, we're talking about national security, to some extent. Should it be something that they're scrapping over, or should it be something that they're getting together on and doing the best for NZ?

DR JENNIFER CURTIN - Political Scientist

Well, there is that angle, but I think civil liberties are also a strong national issue, and I think it's clear the Greens aren't going to move, and it's not actually in their interests to move. I mean, they're an issues-based party. They're in Opposition. It makes really good sense for them to maintain their line on this. They're not going to lose any votes on it from their core voters, and they may win votes from Labour if they do decide to form a deal.

DAVID I think half their former caucus have probably been spied on by the GCSB at some stage. (ALL LAUGH)

JENNIFER Absolutely.

SUSAN Is it in Labour's interest, though, to shift and to get some concessions? Perhaps get the inquiry built into the legislation that they so want, that Labour wants. You know, stronger oversight, those sorts of things, and claim it as some sort of political victory?

JENNIFER Well, I think this is the interesting one, because what they do is shut the door on Winston Peters as well. So they don't want, just like the Greens might or United Future might not want them to be the kingmaker, neither does Labour, really. And you know how good Winston is at being able to drag these kinds of things out and to give him maximum media appearance. So there is some risk, I think, but Labour's got not a lot of room to move because it was their act in the first place. I think the one thing about the traction with the public that is interesting is basically what this bill does is ask us to trust our Prime Minister. And at the moment, John Key still retains a good deal of popularity with the public. Now, if this bill becomes an act and he doesn't act in a trustworthy way, then it could really come back to bite him.

NICK Do we want one person making these decisions, or do we want a range of people involved in the decision? I think that's the issue. I think also there is a real risk for John Key in allowing David Shearer to appear like a statesman on this issue. My view is that Winston will be courted far more actively by the government first.

SUSAN Very good. Thank you, panel.

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