As Karol reported last night John Key thinks that Kiwis are more concerned about the amount of snapper that they can catch then they are about their rights of privacy.
Over the past few months many kiwis have repeatedly expressed concern about the GCSB and the proposals to give it increased power. Key has attempted to denigrate the opposition and has suggested that opponents do not know what they are talking about. But when such august bodies as the New Zealand Law Society, the Human Rights Commission and the Privacy Commissioner dare to poke their heads above the parapet and say this law is wrong then a responsible administration would take note.
But the Government has prepared a counterattack or possibly three. John Key is obviously a believer in the maxim that you should never let a good crisis go to waste.
Key has said that Kiwis are more concerned about the reduction in the numbers of snapper they can catch. This is an unusual response. It appears clear that David Cunliffe’s attacks on the issue have struck a rich vein and Nathan Guy’s proposal that fishermen’s daily catch of snapper be restricted to three while commercial quotas are untouched has caused a great deal of dissent. The proposal is an awful one and Nathan Guy ought to have had the foresight that it should not be offered up even as an option for consultation but it pales into insignificance to the attack on our rights of privacy. Expect the possibility of Guy’s cabinet career being thrown overboard if for no other reason than it seems to boost Key’s standing with the electorate.
The second counterattack is the Government’s proposal to enact a law under emergency to give Ministerial Inquiries the power to summons witnesses and subpoena documents, using the Fonterra fiasco as a justification. Excuse me but have people already forgotten about the Henry report into the leak of the Kitteridge report and his intrusion into Andrea Vance’s rights of privacy. Do we really want to give this Ministry the legal power legitimise what Henry did? And why does the Fonterra difficulty require this. Is Fonterra refusing to cooperate?
There is an important constitutional understanding at stake. These sorts of inquiries are normally conducted under the Commissions of Inquiries Act 1908 which give the Governor General the power to appoint persons to investigate any matter of public importance. Commissioners have power to summons witnesses and require production of documents. But the understanding is that this work is performed by an independent person, normally a Judge, rather than giving this power to the Executive. If Key really wanted to get an inquiry going he would use this existing power rather than ram through under emergency an increase in executive powers.
And has anyone else noticed that at times of crisis Paula Bennett or Judith Collins pops up and proposes either further beneficiary bashing or some further attack on civil rights? The latest is Bennett’s proposal that child abuse suspects ought to be kept away from kids. At a totally gut level reflexive response who could disagree? But the proposal is that courts be given powers to ban an adult’s contact with kids for a period of up to ten years even though that person may have been acquitted of child abuse allegations made against them. Whatever happened to the principle that individuals should only be punished for illegal activity after they had been convicted of the allegation?
As Bomber Bradbury has pointed out this new law would require a vast active surveillance network to keep tabs on everyone who is under these orders. Perhaps the GCSB will have some spare capacity that could be used for this purpose.
There is a clear pattern here. When this Ministry is boxed into a corner it will throw up a smorgasboard of issues to divert attention. And hope that our attention is diverted.