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It is time for this nonsense to stop. How long can the Government, and some of its senior public service representatives, maintain the charade of establishing panels, inquiries or working parties to make public policy?
The establishment of the new Intelligence and Security Reference Group is the most astounding. It will raise serious issues within New Zealand, especially with the appointment of author and journalist Nicky Hager and senior investigative journalist David Fisher, the author of a book on Kim Dotcom.
Apart from the two journalists providing their views on the intelligence services of New Zealand, former acting Soviet ambassador to New Zealand Prof Rouben Azizian, the director of the centre for defence and security studies at Massey University has been included on the panel. Also included are: Thomas Beagle, chairman of the NZ Council for Civil Liberties, Suzanne Snively, the chairwoman of Transparency International, and barrister Deborah Manning.
Inspector-general Cheryl Gwyn has formed the panel to help her "stand in the shoes of the public" when viewing New Zealand’s intelligence services.
National Party GCSB and NZSIS spokesman Gerry Brownlee rightly questions the objectiveness of those appointed.
There will be unease among some of New Zealand’s five-eyes partners following the appointment of Messrs Fisher and Hager. Mr Hager has made his feelings on New Zealand security agencies very clear. Also, the Government is undertaking a review of the New Zealand Defence Force’s version of events in Afghanistan following the publication of a book co-authored by Mr Hager. Prof Azizian’s appointment will hardly win favour either.
The points needing clarification include how Ms Gwyn decided on who should be in her group, the legitimacy of their role when it comes to terrorist threats, just how much information they will be given and whether Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was consulted before the appointees were announced. Ms Ardern, it should be pointed out, is the Minister for National Security and Intelligence. Did she approve the formation of the group?
It is true the appointment of people like Ms Snively and Ms Manning will appeal to the Left, as they both have represented New Zealand and New Zealanders in matters of transparency. But whether this group has high clearance needs urgent addressing.
Ms Gwyn needs to explain whether she will be sharing any actual intelligence with her new group — and if not, how will it operative effectively? — and whether the group’s opinions have any oversight of New Zealand’s intelligence operations.
There is discomfort a group of amateurs will be advising the Inspector-general how the public feel about intelligence services when several of them are already deeply opposed to the activities of the service.
The threats of terrorism are real and seen close to home.
Justice Minister Andrew Little has expressed surprise at the appointments and is also surprised to find a journalist on the advisory group.
It is hoped Ms Gwyn will only listen to the group’s members — rather than actually sharing any information with them. There needs to be the utmost assurances this is the case, otherwise suspicion will remain.
The intelligence group is unlikely to be the last advisory group set up by the Government. Already, there is a tax working party led by former Labour finance minister Sir Michael Cullen.
Other former Labour Cabinet ministers to be appointed by the Government included Pete Hodgson and Annette King. Former prime minister Sir Geoffrey Palmer is part of the panel investigating the Defence Force.
On Tuesday alone, three new panels were announced.
Labour is in danger of grinding itself to a standstill as the endless reporting back from panels and groups continues through the next two and a-half years.
The continual creation of working parties and advisory groups, led by Labour Party faithful, come with the expectation the findings have already been predetermined and the consultation is just a cover.
There is much good to be had from public consultation. But Ms Gwyn’s appointments are a step too far for most New Zealanders. Ms Ardern will be wise to take appropriate steps on her return.