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Te Ururoa Flavell on the GCSB Amendment Bill (2013)

Te Ururoa Flavell, Co-leader of the Māori Party

Thursday 1 August 2013 4.40pm

Government Communications Security Bureau and Related Legislation Amendment Bill (2013)

Can I start by saying that the Māori Party will not be supporting this legislation.

Mr Speaker, in my first six months as an MP, in March 2006, I supported the call for a broader debate on intelligence and security matters.

From relatively fresh eyes as they were at the time I shared the word on the street– that the new anti-terrorism legislation being pushed through Parliament in way too much of a rush could see protestors or activists designated as terrorists – even myself at the time Mr Speaker.

I told a story from the very early days of the Māori Party, in late 2004, when a Sunday newspaper had revealed that the Security Intelligence Service had launched a major covert operation investigating the Māori Party, our members, our leaders, our associates.

Mr Speaker, Operation Leaf –the story revealed – had been a major SIS campaign targeting various Māori organisations over several years. The article disclosed that a former SIS agent allegedly said he’d quit the operation because of his disgust at a system that was spying on decent, law-abiding New Zealanders.

Understandably Mr Speaker we were very, very angry about that and yet the reaction from the Prime Minister of that time – Helen Clark - was that these allegations were simply, quote a “work of fiction” and laughable”.

Mr Speaker, I take the time to travel back over this period – as part of the history around surveillance and human rights in Aotearoa.

There are other episodes of course – the case of Algerian refugee Ahmed Zaoui – a political prisoner imprisoned, nearly half of it in solitary confinement and in maximum security, without charge or trial.

Or earlier still in 1996, when the SIS was caught trespassing in Aziz Choudry’s house – these all form the history of the bill we are debating today.

Mr Speaker, fundamentally that is one of the greatest issues we have with the whole debate around the Government Communications Security Bureau and the current legislation. For the very nature of the work in question is such that we will never know whether Operation Leaf was indeed fictional or fact.

Mr Speaker, the Bill is being put forward to make amendments to the objective, function, powers and limitation provisions; supposedly “to improve clarity about the legal parameters for the GCSB; and to accommodate changes in the prevailing security environment”.

Well the New Zealand Law Society as many have quoted already, were, upfront about what ‘clarity’ actually means. In their submission they said:

“The Bill empowers the GCSB to spy on New Zealand citizens and residents, and to provide intelligence product to other government agencies in respect of those persons, in a way not previously contemplated and that is inconsistent with the rights to freedom of expression and freedom from unreasonable search and seizure”.

Mr Speaker – that’s pretty hefty stuff from people who have high reputations– and it certainly alerts us to common concerns around the new powers to conduct surveillance.

Mr Speaker the underlying question must be, what does this mean for our people?

We have to recognise the impact of context.

Author Nicky Hager, of The Hollow Men, fame has noted that since the passing of Labour’s Terrorism Suppression Act 2002, and this is a quote - “people taking part in ordinary protests have found they are being subjected to much heavier policing”.

According to Mr Hager, police have routinely removed computers, and exercised far tougher measures against people exercising a legitimate right to protest.

Fast forward to 15 October 2007 and the raft of search and surveillance methods used in the Police ‘terror’ raids and the subsequent human rights breaches recorded in Operation Eight.

Let’s make no mistake - law enforcement needs must be adequately met, but at the same time, in a way which is consistent with human rights values.

And I tell you this - the Māori Party will never stop stating the obvious – that we want the system to be held accountable for decisions they took against so many innocent children who were taken from their homes, searched in the streets in their nightwear, causing significant trauma in the process.

We must have answers for the way in which the state embarked on a virtual Playstation assault against the innocent people in the sheltered valley of Ruatoki.

That shameful period was followed by an equally disturbing raft of legislation – including the Video Camera Surveillance Bill forced through in 24 hours; and the Search and Surveillance Act 2012 also known as the guilty by suspicion Act or the creepy peeping Act.

And here we are again Mr Speaker.

Actually whether the Government is red or blue is irrelevant – the secret surveillance of citizens appears to come with the territory of being the ruling power.

So Sir I come back to the question of why exactly this new legislation is required, and what will it do.

Earlier this year the Māori Party wrote to the Prime Minister requesting a copy of the names of the 85 citizens who were the subject of potentially illegal surveillance by the GCSB that were revealed in the Kitteridge report.

We suggested that to restore public confidence the public disclosure of the names was required. The response we received from Mr Ian Fletcher, Director of the GCSB left us in no uncertain terms that names would not be released in that to do so might “prejudice the maintenance of law”.

That is the catch-22 situation into which this bill is trapped.

In order to restore public faith and confidence we need to know more about the need for the proposed legislation – and yet the activities of the Government Communications Security Bureau, by form and function, are not readily available for discussion.

No explanation or justification for the conferral of the new powers are given.

The Explanatory Note states that the Act as it stands “was conceived at a time when the nature, extent, and potential impact of the cyber threat was dramatically different from the threat posed now”. But again - that explanation is only meaningful if one knows the nature and the type of threat that is now faced.

And this is a point made also by the Human Rights Commission. In a letter I received today from the Chief Commissioner David Rutherford he recommended that New Zealanders need to have access to more knowledge about the potential nature of the threats that surveillance might be used to monitor.

The Māori Party believes a little knowledge is essential to ensure whānau are safe from being unlawfully scrutinized by the state – and also safe from the potential threats that have supposedly pre-empted the need for this bill. That is the question that John Adams representing Huatau Marae outlined in his submission when he said:

“Robust checks and balances must be in place to ensure citizens seeking natural justice and due process are not labelled and treated as enemies of the state. History is littered with conscientious objectors to whacky government policy, and those seeking natural justice and confidence in public process being targeted for surveillance and/or marginalisation”.

Cherie Hereora echoed this same sorts of concern- defending the right of New Zealanders’ to privacy and the freedom to go about their daily lives without being watched by a government agency as if they are criminals.

Finally, Mr Speaker, I want to leave the last word in this debate to Public Health physican and Senior Lecturer at Te Kupenga Hauora Maori in Auckland University, Dr Rhys Jones.

Dr Jones of Ngāti Kahungunu, expressed great concern about the objective in section 6 of the bill around the ‘economic wellbeing of New Zealand’. His statement is powerful and warrants the attention of the House, so I quote directly from his submission. He said:

“If critics of government policies were deemed to be a threat to economic security the GCSB would have the power to spy on those individuals or organisations. This has serious implications for freedom of political discourse.

Government surveillance, or the provision for government surveillance, has a chilling effect on political expression and a detrimental effect on social relationships between citizens. It must be kept to an absolute minimum if we are to remain a free and democratic society. No justification has been provided for these powers, and therefore they should not be granted”.

Mr Speaker, the Government does not need any more power to survey New Zealanders. Freedom of association and freedom of speech are fundamentals of any democratic society.


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