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Prime Ministerial press conference on Fonterra and the GCSB

Prime Ministerial press conference on Fonterra and the GCSB

Scoop Audio+Video

by Anne Russell
August 19, 2013

The Prime Minister's post cabinet press conference today was dominated by questions about the Fonterra inquiry and the GCSB Bill. He cut the conference short at 4.30pm after a line of questioning about the latter topic from Scoop Editor Alastair Thompson.

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Key announced provisional plans for a governmental inquiry on the Fonterra milk contamination, conducted with Miriam Dean QC and two other panel members including an international expert. It will examine how the contaminated content entered the international market, and regulatory and best practice requirements. The whole inquiry will take approximately 3-6 months.

Key mentioned, and was extensively questioned, over news today that some Westland milk products had been found by Chinese authorities to contain elevated levels of nitrate. The PM said he did not believe that it was a food security risk since the levels were not high and the product had been traced and quarantined before entering international markets.

Key denied that the new incident, coupled with the Fonterra scandal, had further damaged New Zealand's international reputation. When asked about whether Fonterra was too large a corporation to effectively regulate its own food security issues, Key demurred.

Key was then asked about whether he had a majority to change the Inquiries Bill to enable his inquiry into Fonterra to take place. He said that he believed he had the support of the Labour Party but did not know if urgency would be required or whether he had agreement over that. He said a Supplementary Order Paper would be introduced on the Inquiries Bill but that the amendments in it were technical in nature.

The press conference then moved on to the GCSB Bill, and what he would say to those New Zealanders attending a meeting in Auckland tonight to oppose it.

Key replied that they can take confidence that the Bill is necessary, well-balanced, and is a tidy-up of Labour's previous legislation. He said there is always a point where privacy and national security intersect, but was confident the Bill had balanced that well.

Thereafter followed a series of questions about the technicalities of how the GCSB interacts with police and the SIS, and what exactly protects New Zealanders from having their metadata monitored.

Key was asked what would protect people and businesses in New Zealand from being monitored by foreign agencies in the US, Britain and Australia, using tools such as PRISM and X-Keyscore. He said that the government would protect New Zealanders from threats when it saw fit, and that his understanding of whether or not such foreign agencies were a threat might differ from others', in particular those of Scoop Editor Alastair Thompson who had asked the question. He would not, however, clarify whether he saw them as a threat or not when asked to do so.

Key said that under the GCSB Bill, which he was looking forward to making a 3rd Reading Speech for, there would not be wholesale surveillance of New Zealanders' emails, and that the scans of data merely checked for things like viruses, and did not look at the content.

Thompson pointed out that a number of legal jurists absolutely disagreed with this assessment, but Key said he believed they were wrong. Key grew impatient with Thompson's subsequent question that elaborated on this point, and attempted to head it off before it was finished.

"You can just interrupt like you did John Campbell, or you can answer the question," said Thompson.

"Thanks very much," said Key, and then abruptly left the press conference.

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ENDS

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