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Defending democracy – then and now

Written By: - Date published: 8:32 am, July 15th, 2013 - 17 comments
Categories: accountability, labour, national, newspapers, Spying - Tags: , , , ,

Way back before the 2008 election the Labour led government was criticised by the Human Rights Commission, among others, over the first draft of the Electoral Finance Bill (EFB). The response of that government was to revise the Bill – largely (though not completely) to the satisfaction of the HRC, and other groups, including Mr Sensible himself, Peter Dunne.

Labour was wrong to push the Bill through without greater consensus. But after all the faux hysteria, the resulting EFA turned out to be acceptable to the incoming National government after all. They kept it largely intact, as covered extensively by constitutional lawyer Andrew Geddis, and to the mortification of the rabid right (who believed all the pre-election hype), all reviewed here.

Forward to today and it is National’s GCSB spying Bill that is drawing the criticism. From the Law Society – see their full white paper (pdf), and their short summary here:

Expansion of GCSB intelligence gathering intrusive

The Government Communications Security Bureau and Related Legislation Amendment Bill is intrusive and no clear justification has been provided for the extraordinary extension of powers of the GCSB to conduct surveillance on New Zealand citizens and residents, the New Zealand Law Society says.

Law Society spokesperson Rodney Harrison QC says the bill empowers the GCSB to spy on New Zealand citizens and residents. He says the new objectives and functions for the GCSB effectively transform it from an agency which gathers foreign intelligence to one which also obtains domestic intelligence.

“This is inconsistent with the rights to freedom of expression and freedom from unreasonable search and seizure under the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 and with privacy interests recognised by New Zealand law,” he says.

Further criticism from New Zealander of the year Dame Anne Salmond:

A warning to New Zealanders keep hold of democracy

Who could have imagined that in 2013, this same political leader [Key] would be presiding over an assault upon the democratic rights of New Zealanders? This is a matter of such gravity that last month, the Law Society felt impelled to report to the United Nations that in New Zealand “a number of recent legislative measures are fundamentally in conflict with the rule of law”.

Extraordinary though it may seem, this statement is no more than the truth. In its report to the United Nations, the Law Society lists a series of recent acts that have allowed the Executive to use regulation to override Parliament, that deny citizens the right to legal representation and cancel their right to appeal to the courts to uphold their rights under the law. …

The GCSB bill currently before Parliament, however, trumps all other recent breaches of democratic freedoms in New Zealand. The GCSB, an intelligence agency that was established to protect New Zealand citizens from external threats, is surrounded by scandal, including an improper process leading to the appointment of its director, an inglorious saga surrounding the arrest of Kim Dotcom and associates, and accusations that the agency has been illegally spying on New Zealanders.

Under the proposed legislation, however, this dubious body would be transformed from a foreign intelligence agency into one with that spies on New Zealand citizens and residents. As the Law Society states in its submission, “The bill is intrusive. It is inconsistent with the rights to freedom of expression and freedom from unreasonable search or seizure under New Zealand law.”

The GCSB bill would give the agency sweeping powers, with the only effective controls in the hands of politicians. The fact that the bill is being dealt with under urgency raises further suspicions about its purposes and intentions. …

When governments go feral, citizens of all political persuasions and from all backgrounds must stand up and demand that their representatives in Parliament – from whatever political party – do their job, and uphold democratic freedoms in New Zealand.

And of course, there has been criticism from the HRC:

Call for human rights inquiry into GCSB bill

The Human Rights Commission is calling for an independent inquiry into New Zealand’s intelligence agencies.

Its report was addressed directly to Prime Minister John Key – a rare move – because the commission views attempts to expand the powers of the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) as so serious.

The watchdog has joined attacks on the GCSB bill and the Telecommunications (Interception Capability and Security) Bill by Opposition parties, privacy experts and the Law Society. …

The commission says new powers ascribed in the legislation are too wide-reaching and lack adequate oversight. Chief commissioner David Rutherford says there is “inadequate provision for ensuring transparency and accountability”.

The legislation does not comply with the Bill of Rights and may affect human rights, the report says.

It says the GCSB bill is not consistent with the rights to freedom of expression, non-discrimination and unreasonable search and seizure.

The TICS bill may breach rights such as freedom of expression, to be free from unreasonable search and seizure and the right to natural justice, it says. …

The commission expresses concerns about the urgency with which the legislation is being passed through Parliament.

“The New Zealand public will not – and should not have to – accept that the sacrifices New Zealanders have made for freedom, democracy, the rule of law and human rights – such as freedom of speech – are now to be protected by a standard as low as ‘if you have done nothing wrong you have nothing to fear’,” it says.

These are all strong and compelling critiques of the Nats’ spying Bill, creating a similar situation to the one that occurred with Labour’s EFB. But the responses are very different – and very revealing. Where Labour revised its errant Bill, Key’s response has been to threaten the HRC with funding cuts. This is “throat-slitter” Key, a glimpse of the arrogant truth behind the hokey political image of our PM.

So how does our newspaper of record perform on all this? When Labour fixed a bad Bill the remaining opposition was largely political — but The Herald carried on with a sustained “Democracy Under Attack” campaign. Now National refuses to fix a bad Bill, threatens the HRC with retaliation — and The Herald is almost silent.

Quelle surprise.

17 comments on “Defending democracy – then and now ”

  1. BrucetheMoose 1

    Key has already displayed complete arrogance and contempt towards the Human Rights Commission and it’s concerns this year. In March this year, the HRC Commissioner, David Rutherford, raised his serious concern with the government about decisions relating to the decisions in Christchurch made on bare land property owners and the serious financial impact on the families involved.
    Rutherford was also concerned about the general peoples predicament and housing issues. This was done both in writing and in person, yet Key, along with his Bagman, Gerry Brownlee,completely ignored the issues. Key, Brownlee and the government were not held to account on this ignoring of serious matters. Like spoilt children, Key and his government got away with it, so this current poor behaviour is no surprise. Until they are held properly accountable for ignoring issues relating to fundamental people’s rights and democratic processes, expect more of the same from the spoilt brats.

  2. red blooded 2

    Criticism in Opposition is all very well – I guess what I want to know is what will Labour do to actually reign in the GCSB and revoke some of these intrusive powers?

  3. Sable 3

    Keys is a bully so this comes as no surprise.

  4. AmaKiwi 4

    The system does not work.

    It used to work on respect and the threat of retaliation on election day, but it has always been a dictatorship. If you can bully 61 votes in Parliament, you can get anything you demand.

    I supported MMP and still do, but the party leader’s control over the list gives him/her even more power over the many MPs who rely on their list ranking to secure their future in parliament.

    This parliamentary system needs fixing . . . urgently.

    My preference is for binding referendums, where the people are sovereign over parliament.

    Draco T Bastard wants an upper house.

    Either way, the PEOPLE must make the changes. MPs are not going to give up power voluntarily.

    • Draco T Bastard 4.1

      Draco T Bastard wants an upper house.

      [citation needed]

    • UglyTruth 4.2

      There’s no point in trying to fix something that is fundamentally broken. Replacement with a system which respects the rights of minorities and has historical precedent is the right choice IMO.

  5. Great article Anthony,

    I am very thankful that the Law Society and the Human Rights Commission in NZ still appear to be sane, uncorrupted by this general frenzied mania of sucking up to the people with the biggest wallets over all other values.

    I sincerely thank them very much for the reports they have sent to the Government.

    Unbelievable Key’s comments to the Human Rights Commission. Arrogance incorporated. He should be fired for that; and hopefully he will be.

  6. Steve 6

    Is this the first hint of why we need new spy laws? JK sending himself some talcum powder?


    • …yes, its a novel way for the PM to drum up support for laws that we don’t need or want….and would go against our interests and rights to have imposed on us….hope that the GCSB weren’t watching him when he posted it….no, of course, they wouldn’t be, being the head of them and all…..

      • BrucetheMoose 6.1.1

        Brownlee is probably just miffed because he didn’t get sent some other food product more useful other than a simple baking product – like spicy fried chicken drum sticks. Better luck next time Gerry.

        • blue leopard

          yeah, but lets face it, a pie (would have probably been his first choice) wouldn’t have had as much effect with regards to the bill…and would probably have got squashed in the post…..JK musta worked that out….

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