John Key has had a horrendous few weeks. That smart cockiness that he has shown in the past when providing political comment on Labour’s latest woes has disappeared. Andrew Little is turning out to be an exceptional opposition leader. Passionate yet modest, thoughtful yet engaging he is starting to establish a public persona that may prove to be a winning one.
The recent John Key, the one beholden to Cameron Slater, is worlds away from that nice John Key. This is a huge problem for National. Nice John is so much more acceptable than chaos and mayhem John.
So yesterday nice John reappeared and promised meaningful changes to the Countering Terrorist Fighters Legislation Bill. Even though he has the power to force the bill through thanks to ACT’s vote despite its supposedly libertarian beliefs.
Recent events will no doubt have been factored into Key’s claim yesterday that he wanted a bipartisan approach to the counter terrorism bill. He sounded very conciliatory. He has said that National is prepared to make changes to the counter terrorism bill so that bipartisan support for the bill can be achieved.
He has gone back to his pre 2008 election Key when he did a deal with Labour to make sure that the anti smacking bill went through. This was the John Key the electorate liked and supported, the deal maker, the non ideological Key.
It may be that part of his motivation is that some National MPs are privately expressing concern about the bill. For the party that prides itself on personal freedom and has railed against mandatory energy efficient light bulb standards and more efficient shower heads they should be. The provisions are draconian and being rammed through under urgency makes this worse.
The claimed urgency of the measure is dubious. You wonder why the Bill was introduced so late. It could have been introduced over a week ago and a week’s select committee hearing held rather than the 24 hours actually allowed.
And you have to question why a full select committee process cannot occur. There is already power for passports to be cancelled for 12 months, the Bill extends this to three years. And the most contentious provision, allowing 48 hour warrantless surveillance may be restricted by reducing this power to 24 hours. But to my view the case for change has not been made out and the current system for issuing warrants can, if properly resourced, work perfectly adequately.
It should not matter if it is 48 hours or 24 hours or 10 minutes, as a matter of principle warrantless searches should not be allowed. And after the various problems the SIS has suffered from over the past few years such as performing illegal searches and smearing the leader of the opposition during an election campaign the thought of giving them more power is really disturbing.
Key is preserving the red meat for his supporters with a promise of tougher legislation being introduced next year, even though the review of our intelligence services has not been completed.
The disturbing thing about every recent law change affecting the intelligence agencies is that they almost inevitably gives the State more power. The process is an incremental one. Power by power the boundaries are pushed out so that the State’s apparatus becomes more and more powerful and individual rights more proscribed.
John Key has in the past expressed libertarian ideals. In 2007 he said this about the Electoral Finance Bill:
Here in New Zealand we often take our democratic freedoms for granted. We think they will always be there. We have a Bill of Rights which is supposed to protect our right to freedom of expression. What on earth could go wrong?
I have a different view. I believe what Thomas Jefferson said – that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. There are times when we have to stand up for our rights, and the rights of our neighbours and friends, and indeed the rights of people we totally disagree with, or else these rights will begin to erode away.
The anticipated changes present a dilemma for Labour. Obviously they will want to claim credit for the changes and be seen to be acting in a conciliatory and responsible way. From my civil libertarian point of view I would prefer they just said no. Justification for the increased powers has not been established and the use of extreme urgency means that proper scrutiny of the bill has not occurred.