GCSB Bill 2nd reading – David Shearer


Second Reading

DAVID SHEARER (Leader of the Opposition):

Labour opposes this Government Communications Security Bureau and Related Legislation Amendment Bill.

We oppose it not because we do not accept that there are serious problems with our intelligence agencies, and not because we do not think that changes in law are not necessary, but because the Prime Minister, who is responsible for our intelligence agencies, has simply not made the case for why we need to ram through this legislation so quickly without taking a proper look at the critical issues right across our intelligence agencies—not just with the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) but right across the intelligence network.

I asked John Key whether he had any evidence that New Zealand would be more at risk if this legislation was not passed through, and he simply could not make that case.

He also could not explain why, if changes are so urgent, he did not act a year ago when he found out the problems and put urgent legislation through then.

This bill has been rushed and it has been poorly informed. The Prime Minister denied my request for the Intelligence and Security Committee to hear the SIS, the defence forces, and the police about how they were going to fit with the GCSB and why they needed the GCSB’s support as they had described. He turned that down, and he did so because he did not want to take a closer look at what the problems really are.

He wants this off the political agenda, and that is the scenario we are looking at. He knows that people do not believe his explanations. New Zealanders do not believe his explanations. They are losing trust in his oversight, and they do not believe that he is passing the law for the right reasons.

He wants the spying scandal to just go away, but it simply will not go away. The tragedy of this is that it is a missed opportunity for New Zealand. It is an opportunity we could have had to pass legislation that would restore Kiwis’ confidence in our intelligence agencies so that people know we are operating in their best interests and that we have got the balance right between security on the one hand and their privacy on the other.

That is why Labour has argued we need a full and independent inquiry across our intelligence community before we put legislation in front of this House.

New Zealanders’ confidence has been shattered by the recent events in our intelligence agency. It has been a complete train wreck. We have seen a litany of failures—the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) illegally spying on Dotcom.

And remember we would not be here putting this legislation through if it had not been for Dotcom and the fact that Bill English was trying to hide the illegal spying by the GCSB on Dotcom from the courts. That is a fact.

We then found out there is illegal spying on many other New Zealanders. We then find out that John Key has shoulder-tapped a mate of his to become the head of the GCSB. Now we have heard in this past week that a New Zealand journalist was spied on and tracked in Afghanistan, and our agencies were complicit in that.

Now we have got officials tapping into journalists’ phone records right here in our Parliament. The GCSB, of course, was involved in that too.

The Henry report actually states that they had a “substantial role”, particularly in the gathering of records. But, of course, John Key says it is nothing to do with him—nothing to see here, nothing to be worried about. It is the Parliamentary Service’s problem. It is David Henry’s problem. It is somebody in the GCSB’s problem. It is the legal adviser’s problem. It is somebody who had a brain fade’s problem in the GCSB.

Through all of these scandals John Key has been trying to pass the blame on to somebody else. When he does get caught out, we have to drag the truth out of him.

Well, I say to Mr Key it is time to stop making excuses. A serious mistake has been made. Stop blaming others and start taking some responsibility for the actions of the agencies that you lead.

Today was astonishing. Mr Key took the opportunity on breakfast radio to announce that there is the existence of al-Qaeda threats. This was, I believe, reprehensible.

We have seen the pattern before: weapons of mass destruction. We have seen the Boston bombings brought into the debate around the GCSB bill. But in this case there is no context, there is no detail, and there is no ability for him to give context or detail.

He is using his privileged position as the head of our spy agencies to give himself political gain. That is reprehensible. His scaremongering is designed to shift attention away from the facts of the case and the train wreck that is this bill and what is around it.

But here is the second thing that I find so astonishing about the Prime Minister coming out and saying something like this: it is incredibly stupid. It is incredibly stupid. Why do you not send a postcard to people who are threatening us, saying: “We’re spying on you.” It is incredibly dumb. This is not “Boys’ Own”. This is serious.

I have spent 7 years in the Middle East alongside people who have let off bombs, and my family was in a hotel where a bomb went off and killed 40 people. So does that make us feel safer—that somehow he could announce to everybody that these people are going to be spied on? Well, I think it is extraordinary.

Apart from anything else, we actually have agencies, our intelligence agencies, working on it. Those intelligence agencies are actually doing a pretty good job. They do not need to have their activities dragged into the public arena for a man’s political gain in order to help them with their jobs. In fact, they have definitely just had their jobs hampered as a result of that.

New Zealanders want to be able to trust our intelligence agencies again and to know that they are doing good work and they are properly policed, but that will not happen when all the power continues to rest in one person, unlike in any of the other countries that we are close to.

The Prime Minister appoints our top spy and he heads up the committee that provides the oversight, so he is in charge of operations and he is also in charge of oversight. He chairs that committee. On top of that he has the casting vote. He appoints the inspector-general and the commissioner of warrants.

Let us just go back again to where we started with this. It was about Dotcom. The only reason we got to hear about that was because Mr Dotcom revealed it in court. Otherwise, we would not have heard anything—we would not have heard anything.

We are setting up a system designed for cover-ups. We are setting up a system that simply will not work. The real shame about this is that we could have had a much better system.

In fact, I would go as far as this. I went and saw Mr Key. I said: “We’re prepared to work with you.” He said: “Doesn’t matter. We’ve got Mr Dunne. We’re chucking a bit of stuff at Dunne, and he’ll get across the line, and we won’t need you both.”

That is the extent of the negotiations with this side—no phone calls, no approaches, no nothing. I will say right now that Labour will work with the Government on an independent inquiry with terms of reference that can be agreed right across Parliament, and that we will work with you to get good law that will provide the confidence that New Zealanders need in order for our intelligence agencies to function in the proper way. Thank you.

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