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Intelligence and Security Committee


Wednesday 11 March 2009 Hansard source (external site)

BrownleeHon GERRY BROWNLEE (Leader of the House) Link to this

I move, That under section 8 of the Intelligence and Security Committee Act 1996, this House endorse the following as members of the Intelligence and Security Committee:

Hon Tariana Turia and Hon Rodney Hide, nominated by the Prime Minister under section 7(1)(c) of the Act; and

Dr Russel Norman, nominated by the Leader of the Opposition under section 7(1)(d) of the Act.

I further move, That—

(a)the Intelligence and Security Committee will examine the Estimates Vote for each intelligence and security agency (Standing Orders 243, 244, 245, and 328 are to be read and applied accordingly)

(b)the Intelligence and Security Committee will examine the Supplementary Estimates for each intelligence and security agency (Standing Orders 243, 244, 245, and 331 are to be read and applied accordingly)

(c)the Intelligence and Security Committee will conduct a financial review of the performance in the previous financial year and the current operations of each intelligence and security agency (Standing Orders 243, 244, 245, 334, and 335 are to be read and applied accordingly)

(d)no select committee can examine an intelligence and security agency

(e)a bill or other matter relating to an intelligence and security agency may be referred by the House to the Intelligence and Security Committee (Standing Orders 243, 244, 245, 246, 247, 270, 271, 280, 281, 282, 283, 284, 286, 287, 289, 290, and 291 are to be read and applied accordingly)

(f)the Clerk will allocate any petition relating to an intelligence and security agency to the Intelligence and Security Committee (Standing Order 360)

(g)for the purposes of this order—

“intelligence and security agency” means the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service or the Government Communications Security Bureau; and

“Intelligence and Security Committee” means the Intelligence and Security Committee established by section 5 of the Intelligence and Security Committee Act 1996.

These two motions in combination set up and describe the work of the Intelligence and Security Committee, which is done so inside the auspices of the Intelligence and Security Committee Act 1996. We could have an interesting debate on these two particular motions, but much of the work that has gone on to establish this committee has been done by the cooperative arrangements between the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, and it is a long-held tradition in the House that that work is not upset by any contributions that lead to further motions or amendments to these particular motions. I am sure that all members, although they will want to make comment today, will respect that.

One of the interesting things about this particular debate is that we, under motion No. 2, are establishing that the committee comprises the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, the Hon Tariana Turia, the Hon Rodney Hide, and Dr Russel Norman. That would be one of the greatest spreads across political parties represented in this House that we have ever seen. It leads to a different era in which the matters that are referred to the Intelligence and Security Committee will be considered. The fact that there is widespread party representation, and the fact that a great deal more information about the various activities this committee oversees will now go to those parties, should be reflected in the debate today.

The Intelligence and Security Committee deals with matters that could affect the security of the lives of all New Zealanders. Although there are sometimes accusations that the committee’s work is somewhat secretive, the public can be assured, I think, that this wider representation will deal with many of the matters that might formerly have been kept secret. On that note, I commend to the House these two motions. The expectation is that the House will support them because of the process that has gone on behind the motions finding their way to the Order Paper.

CullenHon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Labour) Link to this

I rise to support both motions. I think the Minister, the Hon Gerry Brownlee, has adequately outlined the background to these motions. I think it is somewhat strange that every 3 years we have to have a motion that outlines the duties of the Intelligence and Security Committee, because it is the same motion every time. It seems to me that at some stage we should define in the actual Act what the functions of the committee are precisely, and deal simply with the issue of membership of the committee on a 3-yearly basis.

The Intelligence and Security Committee is designed to represent both or all—depending upon one’s point of view—sides of the House. There is a fundamental catch 22 about having a committee on security matters. By the very nature of things, one cannot deal in open committee with much of what the intelligence services deal with. As I think both Dr Norman and Mrs Turia will find out, perhaps, they will be disappointed that even the Intelligence and Security Committee, consisting of relatively senior members of the House, does not actually delve into vast amounts of detail. If they think they are going to find out where all our spies are stationed around the world, exactly what they get up to, and whom they are watching, they will be deeply disappointed.

There is no doubt that the argument will be made in a few moments that this committee should be an ordinary parliamentary select committee and go through ordinary parliamentary select committee processes. I do not believe that that is a real possibility in practice. All that tends to lead to, at the end of the day, is a great deal of misleading information probably being presented to the committee and the real information being presented to the Prime Minister and perhaps to the Leader of the Opposition, who has always been kept in the loop on security matters long before the 1996 legislation came into force—as is appropriate for the alternative Prime Minister at any point in time.

It is, however, important that there is some degree of oversight. I think that in the current constrained fiscal environment the committee will want to be very adequately assured that any requests for additional funding by the committees are necessary, but there is no question that the scope of New Zealand’s security interests has widened significantly over the years, not least because there is significantly increased activity in terms of what passes through foreign embassies and high commissions within New Zealand, and those matters have to be kept under some kind of scrutiny to make sure we know what is going on in that regard.

With that, I am very happy on behalf of Labour to support this motion and to wish the members of the committee the same long, happy, and enjoyable meetings that I had when I was a member of the committee over recent years.

NormanDr RUSSEL NORMAN (Co-Leader—Green) Link to this

Working within a few hundred metres of the parliamentary precinct are, presumably, a number of well-educated bureaucrats, who, like their counterparts elsewhere, occasionally pop down to Lambton Quay for a latte. However, unlike their fellow policy analysts, advisers, and general managers in other Government ministries or departments, they do not have any select committee scrutiny of what they do or what they do with taxpayers’ money. This means that even a junior analyst fresh out of university and now working at the Security Intelligence Service is likely to have a far better understanding of the intelligence agency’s workings than most, if not all, members of Parliament except, perhaps, the Prime Minister.

The committee we are discussing today, the Intelligence and Security Committee, is not a proper select committee, and it cannot perform the parliamentary oversight functions that the Green Party thinks are necessary. It cannot get information out of the security services in the way that other committees can. The Intelligence and Security Committee is chaired by the Minister who is responsible for the agency that the committee is meant to be overseeing—the Prime Minister—unlike select committees, which are chaired by an independent member of Parliament, as is appropriate when we are trying to oversee what an agency is up to and to keep it accountable. Considering the scrutiny that intelligence agencies face in other parliamentary democracies, this lack of proper select committee oversight does not actually protect our national security or create a culture of professionalism in our security services. The point is that we need to have proper oversight of the security agencies. We need to have a select committee that is chaired by someone independent—someone other than the Minister responsible.

That point has been made by many members in this Parliament over the years. Jim Anderton has made it. So have Matt Robson, Rod Donald, and Keith Locke, repeatedly, over the years. In fact, Rod Donald said in March 2000: “we believe that this committee should be abolished, and that the powers that rest with this committee should be returned to Parliament.”

I ask those who say that is impractical to listen to the former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, William Colby, who was someone we would think knew quite a bit about the oversight of security services. Mr Colby said: “We in the intelligence and security services can work under a system of parliamentary control. We can do our job and in fact we are stronger, because when we make mistakes and get in trouble, the responsibility is shared with the legislative committees. The intelligence service can do its important work and yet it can be under the control of our democratic system.” That is what the former director of the Central Intelligence Agency said. So if the former head of the Central Intelligence Agency thinks that, why on earth cannot we have proper parliamentary oversight of our security services? It is not only practical; it is essential in a democracy.

In the past the Green Party has derided the supervision of the intelligence services as being a joke, as a result of some of the things we have discovered. For example, through parliamentary questions it was discovered that the Intelligence and Security Committee met only once in 2005: on 14 June, for 43 minutes. It met twice in the previous year, for a total of 84 minutes. That is hardly enough time for its members to pour their coffee, chow down on some macaroons, and sort out what al-Qaeda is up to.

According to the SIS’s own website, there are approximately 200 staff ready to provide the Government with advice relating to our nation’s interests. The service also states that it is apolitical. However, in the past it has certainly shown a distinct political bias against the left. When we think about recent documents that have been handed to my colleague Keith Locke, we realise they also show that in the bad old days of the 1980s the service seemed to take an unhealthy interest in those who were fighting against apartheid in South Africa, whom the SIS seemed to identify as being a threat to the State. The SIS also made a habit of targeting law-abiding political dissenters. It targeted Aziz Choudry and David Small, presumably for their political beliefs—something that the courts later held the SIS accountable for, and the SIS lost in court. The persecution of Ahmed Zaoui by the SIS is well documented, and the courts have repeatedly upheld Mr Zaoui’s rights against the SIS. Keith Locke, of course, was targeted by the SIS for being a law-abiding dissident—something that we would think we would encourage and welcome in a democracy.

There are many hundreds of other law-abiding New Zealanders whose political beliefs happen to conflict with those of the SIS, and hence they have become targets for surveillance. In a free society it is wrong for the State security services to target people because of their political beliefs. In a free society a person should not become a target of the State security services simply on the basis of what he or she believes to be true.

Of course, on a minor aspect, what is perhaps more worrying is that there does not seem to be a report on the SIS website for the 2007-08 year. The last report of the SIS states: “We are a dynamic professional intelligence service, focused on the requirements of our core customers and stakeholders in government”. Well, really? Who would know? How would anyone know that? How do we know that the SIS is actually performing what it is supposed to do? Even with the large budget increases, the SIS finds it difficult to provide such basics as the adding of yearly reports to its own website.

Over the last few years the budget for Vote Security Intelligence has kept expanding. In the financial year 2006-07 the budget rocketed up to $43.49 million, without any explanation in the budget of what the money was for. What dangers is the SIS trying to dispel and protect us from, and how will this massive increase make any of us more secure? Increasingly, in this vote hardly ever is there an occasion for the razor gangs to go in. When are the razor gangs going to come into the SIS? Nobody knows what the money is spent on. The Green Party is committed to trying to ensure that there is some fiscal oversight and that the committee meets more regularly than it has in the past. Some of the money, we think, probably was spent on kitting out the new offices for the security services in the top floors of the defence building. But that can be only part of the story.

The big increase in funding just keeps going on, year after year. More money is being allocated, without any improvement in the oversight mechanisms as to how the money is spent. During the 9 years of the last Government, the budget for the security services more than trebled, but the oversight did not treble. While other public servants are busy clearing their desks right now, we have no idea what efficiencies the intelligence services are making, if any. We must have more oversight of the intelligence and security services and what they are doing. We are not here to provide a public relations opportunity for the security services. We are here to try to fix a system that is mired in the first-past-the-post era, and that should have been changed a long time ago. Bizarrely, considering that we live in an MMP environment, the Intelligence and Security Committee has only five members. Unlike select committees, there are only five members—presumably some people think the fewer members there are, the better it will be.

The Green Party intends to do its best to give the public a much better oversight of the security services than they have had in the past. We are in fact changing tack in how we are dealing with the Intelligence and Security Committee. We do not resile from our belief that the security services need to be given proper select committee oversight, as the security services are given overseas. We need to have a committee that can find out what the SIS and the Government Communications Security Bureau are up to. However, we will none the less do our best to make the current provisions work, flawed and limited though they are, and hence we have accepted the Leader of the Opposition’s offer of a nomination on to the committee. We will be voting for the motion.

KateneRAHUI KATENE (Māori Party—Te Tai Tonga) Link to this

Ernest Hemingway made a statement that, in many ways, could be the mission statement for the Intelligence and Security Committee. He said: “The best ammunition against lies is the truth, there is no ammunition against gossip. It is like a fog and the clear wind blows it away and the sun burns it off.” In this city of four seasons in a day, there has been more than enough gossip and lies, speculation and secrets associated with the Intelligence and Security Committee. The Māori Party has, with some reluctance, been drawn into many of these scenarios, as the press has brought certain allegations to our attention.

Information loosely reported in the media suggested that our networks, associates, and even, ironically, the new member of the Intelligence and Security Committee, have been investigated. There was the sensational scandal some 5 years ago, named Operation Leaf, in which computer geeks had supposedly been contacted by the SIS to plant bugs in the computers of Māori organisations. The Sunday newspapers were full of breaking news, revealing that the secret computer bugs would be frantically gathering intelligence on iwi business negotiations, finances, Treaty claims, and inter-tribal communications.

The riding instructions for Operation Leaf were supposedly to watch out for dirt on Māori leaders. I will not come to the House today and say that this is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. For a start, we had no way of knowing what really went on, no basis to judge the veracity of the journalistic reporting, and no insider briefing on what was mandated or authorised by the New Zealand intelligence community. But the point that I want to raise is not so much about the allegations but more, about the response made to them.

The immediate action taken by our co-leader Mrs Turia to the allegations swirling around the SIS was to write to the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, retired judge Justice Paul Neazor, to ask him to initiate an immediate inquiry into the SIS. One would think that the opportunity to ask questions and to challenge speculation would be a basic standard of a healthy democracy. Yet the reaction the party received at that time did little to engender respect, claiming the allegations were “laughable” and that the whole situation was “a work of fiction.”

What we are dealing with in this motion is the committee that is responsible for Parliament’s oversight of New Zealand’s intelligence services, including the SIS. It is an extremely serious context for considering matters that cut to the very bone of some basic principles of our democracy, such as transparency, integrity, privacy, confidentiality, and credibility. These are not matters we take lightly. They are not matters to be laughed at. Every new allegation and every new piece of information before the committee should be examined in the full light of day. Scoffing at the very basis of any allegation is neither appropriate nor wise. It is, therefore, a complete turn-round of events that, 5 years on, the Māori Party is now being invited to join the membership of this important statutory committee. We are extremely proud to speak to the Government motion around the membership of the committee and to confirm our support for Tariana Turia to take up her position at the table.

The time when concerns were raised around Operation Leaf was not, of course, the only time that the Intelligence and Security Committee has provoked interest. There was also concern about the surveillance that was attached to Aziz Choudry, whose home was broken into in 1996 during the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation trade Ministers’ meeting. Of course, there have been as many concerns raised by outside commentators as there have been allegations raised in the press.

Probably one of the strongest descriptions of the work of this committee was that put forward by Murray Horton, who claimed: “The SIS, and its nominal political masters, still operates an absurd and anachronistic culture of secrecy.” That is fairly strong language for a committee that is of such significance to the upholding of national security. Another description of this committee was provided by Auckland Council for Civil Liberties president Barry Wilson, who said that parliamentary oversight of the SIS was inadequate and was simply a “rubber stamp” for the SIS’s activities.

I wanted to lay down this foundation during this debate because we in the Māori Party believe it is absolutely vital, nay fundamental, to any freethinking democracy that all issues are put on the table and that speculation is laid to rest. The role of the Intelligence and Security Committee to examine the role, policy, administration, and expenditure of each intelligence and security agency must be done in such a way as to avoid any smokescreens, any fog, and any attempts to hide. If there is any ambiguity to be tested, we are absolutely certain that, with a committee of the calibre of the proposed membership, it will be tested by the ilk of that committee.

We soundly commend the Prime Minister for his wise choice of appointing the Hon Tariana Turia and the Hon Rodney Hide to the committee, just as we commend the decision by the Leader of the Opposition Phil Goff to appoint Russel Norman. They will be a formidable team, and we in the Māori Party wish them well in the interests of national intelligence and security, and in the interests of a healthy, functioning democracy. Kia ora.

Motions agreed to.

Mar 2009
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