Were Cantabrians really spied upon?

As if all the intrigue and outrage associated with the Canterbury earthquake recovery process were not enough, there is a new assertion to make the jaw drop even lower.

Southern Response, the government-owned company responsible for settling claims by AMI policy holders for Canterbury quake damage before April 5, 2012, is now facing accusations it spied on claimants.

The suggestion is it did this through the security contractor it hired, named by Newshub as Thompson & Clark, which has a record of being implicated in borderline unethical and immoral practices.

Southern Response would not specify it hired Thompson & Clark - which says on its website it is ''New Zealand's leading security, corporate intelligence and protection agency''. However, it confirmed it employed security to protect staff from angry claimants.

Now the State Services Commission has launched an inquiry into Southern Response, to consider if by contracting a security company it may have breached operating standards.

Thompson & Clark's sketchy website says it has an ''impeccable record of nationwide coverage for a variety of clients''.

The company has been accused of spying before, on environmentalists, with Greenpeace last year filing a civil suit alleging it had caught spies tracking its staff and supporters, and compiling dossiers on them.

In 2007, Solid Energy was upbraided by the government for using paid informants after accusations it hired Thompson & Clark Investigations, which paid a 25-year-old University of Canterbury student $400 a month to infiltrate the Save Happy Valley environment group.

Southern Response chairman Ross Butler said the security contractor was chosen early in 2014 because of threats and aggressive behaviour from customers towards staff.

A Newshub investigation last week discovered hundreds of quake-affected Christchurch residents may have been spied on while trying to get insurance claims settled and found that $180,000 of taxpayer money was paid to Thompson & Clark.

Tensions were certainly running very high at times in Christchurch after the quakes, particularly among the many frustrated in the extreme by delays and inaction over their claims and having to deal with the Earthquake Commission and its dubious engineers and inspections team.

While responsible people cannot condone threats of violence, it is not difficult to understand how some claimants may have got to breaking point.

New Zealanders will be watching the commission's investigation closely and awaiting its outcome keenly. Spying on citizens by a private company in cahoots with a government agency is a very serious matter indeed.

Safe and predictable hands

The news that perennial public servant Dame Margaret Bazley will come out of retirement to oversee an external review of incidents of sexual harassment during 2015 and 2016 at law firm Russell McVeagh will come as little surprise to many.

The 80-year-old has a list of achievements almost as long as a public service manual and her influence on righting off-balance organisations and leading inquiries is probably unprecedented. She is a safe pair of hands and, in one of her more recent roles as government-appointed chairwoman of the commissioner-led Environment Canterbury, ruled the regional council with an iron fist and her omnipresent handbag.

Dame Margaret has been a huge inspiration for many younger women in business and aspiring to leadership roles. Rather than wheel her out again for another review, maybe this would have been a good chance to let one of her acolytes do the job instead?

Comments

Plenty of Cantabrians became wealthy from this process and the whole of New Zealand is picking up the tab. Of particular concern was the use of middle men earning exhorbitant sums of money from Insurance payments to coordinate tradies in 2011. I think Insurance companies were free and easy with the payouts at the start and ultimately New Zealand has been ripped off.

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