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Parker: Failure to move on SFO power disappoints

Shadow Attorney-General

7 December 2011 MEDIA STATEMENT
Parker: Failure to move on SFO power disappoints

Labour’s Shadow Attorney-General David Parker says he is disappointed that National will not move to curb Serious Fraud Office powers that have been described as ‘draconian’ by one media organisation.

David Parker said he wrote to retiring National Justice Minister Simon Power more than a year ago (9 November 2010) outlining his concerns with three aspects of the Search and Surveillance Bill relating to production and examination orders for the SFO and Police.

“I finally got a reply -- the day before the election,” David Parker said.

“Putting aside the remarkable coincidence that Mr Power finally addressed my concerns with a letter guaranteed not to make the media before the election; I am seriously worried that National will continue to show scant respect for media freedom.

“While I am relatively satisfied that there are sufficient protections for a free media in terms of protecting sources in most situations, that does not apply to the Serious Fraud Office where the Minister responsible for the SFO, Judith Collins, appears to have won the day,” David Parker said.

“Two recent events should still exercise our minds --- the silly, deplorable over-reaction by police serving search warrants on media after the tea tape affair, and, more significantly, last year’s disturbing case in which the National Business Review was forced to hand over material to the SFO relating to South Canterbury Finance.

“That case prompted NBR publisher Barry Colman to say that the SFO’s powers were so draconian that it was impossible for the NBR to resist without risking serious penalty,” David Parker said.

“No one is suggesting that the media should be able to obstruct justice, but the SFO should not be above normal law. That was the substance of my submission to Mr Power, but, with the urging of Ms Collins, he has seen fit to resist, and the SFO will continue to be virtually a law to itself.

“Mr Power’s final comment was that he hoped his successor will engage constructively on these issues,” David Parker said. “If that successor is Ms Collins, as has been widely suggested, then sadly the media can expect a continuation of draconian powers.

“During the last Parliament civil liberties came under attack on a number of occasions and it took the Labour opposition together with minor parties to avoid excessive state powers on a number of occasions. The make-up of the new parliament will make this harder.

“Our request to limit SFO powers is one which the Media Freedom Committee agrees and which parliament can cure at the same time as the search and surveillance bill is progressed. The year of delay and the timing of the reply suggest the national led Government is determined to proceed despite our, and the media's, reasonable request to curb SFO powers,” David Parker said.

Attached the letter from David Parker to Simon Power and the response from Simon Power.

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