Concerns about the GCSB bill and Labour

Occasional Kiwiblog commenter and ex Labour insider ‘kiwi in america’ responded to a comment suggesting that many people are nervous about the GCSB Amendment Bill.

If as many kiwis were concerned about this Bill as you state then National would’ve dropped in the polls and Labour and the Greens (who have both spent probably 50-75% of their allocated questions and supplementaries in Parliament on this issue over the last year) would’ve gone up.

Opponents are playing a zero sum game as if they want to litigate the legality of even having any agencies with any capacity to spy at all. Spying on those deemed to be at risk to the state has gone on since the Elizabethan era. In modern democracies the key is to weigh security issues with privacy issues.

The bill did go a little further than the tidying up of the messy 2003 law passed by Labour in allowing the GCSB to possibly assist agencies beyond those who had previously needed assistance (SIS, Defense and Police) and Dunne has used his leverage to, rightly IMO, move that contentious issue back into the hands of Parliament. That’s responsible legislating and what good MPs have done for centuries in the Westminster system.

In the post 9/11 era, a majority of NZers would support the right of the state to spy on people (citizens or foreign nationals) inside NZ who may pose some threat. There will always be tension between those who believe it is their human right to be dangerously subversive and a majority who think that certain views and actions are potentially injurious to the well being of the broader populous. The differing opinions over the rights and wrongs of the Ruatoki arrests and the activities that were the subject of Police surveillance are a good example of this.

NZ does not expend large sums on its security agencies even on a per capita basis compared to the US, UK and even Australia. The convention that the surveillance capabilities of the GCSB be shared with other agencies that might have just and legally warranted cause to spy on someone makes sense in a small economy in times of budgetary constraints. This law takes away any legal ambiguity over what had become a bi-partisan consensus over allowable assistance.

There has been boatloads of cheap politicking over this issue most particularly from Labour. One expects the Greens (whose caucus used to comprise of people that the SIS likely DID spy on – like avowed Communist Keith Locke) to adopt an aggressive anti American anti any surveillance stance since they never met a rogue regime they didn’t want to appease.

Labour has been in government and some members of its front bench received threats assessments and briefings from the very agencies they now love to vilify. Clark and Cullen were an absolute closed shop in Parliament when security agency issues came up and drew the line at this type of politics when last in opposition in the 90′s.

In the absence of major traction on other issues that could raise their poll ratings and given their recent propensity for political own goals, it comes as no surprise that Shearer and Labour won’t want to let their ability to grandstand on this issue a little longer slip away.

Its not working because

(i) a majority of NZers accept some tradeoff of civil liberties for a safe society and would rather not know the details

(ii) the minutiae of this law and indeed all of the opposition brouhaha over Kim Dotcom is in the ‘who cares’ category for outside-the-beltway mainstream kiwis and

(iii) things like the man ban and the nanny state rubbish DO break through with lower information voters and always to the detriment of the parties on the left so enamoured of gender politics and political correctness.

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