Hard News by Russell Brown


Perhaps Scoop was on the money after all: The series of stories in yesterday's Sunday Star Times detailing claims by "dissident spies" that the SIS illegally bugged Maori individuals and organisations certainly warrants further scrutiny.

The SST stories, by Anthony Hubbard and Nicky Hager - Citizens targeted by SIS, Spies blow whistle on Operation Leaf, and 'We could see it was for dirt collection' - and an accompanying editorial actually don't go as far as Scoop's original November 11 story, in that they don't name the three individuals Scoop claimed had been subject to particular scrutiny - Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia, Nga Te Ata iwi affiliate Whititera Kaihau and Ngai Te Rangi's Brian Dickson - and they are justifiably cautious about alleging political direction of the surveillance. At least one of the contract spies says that, in principle, surveillance of groups that could be "manipulated" is appropriate. That is, after all, the task of an intelligence service.

The issues here are the extent and purpose of monitoring, and whether the checks and balances in the system - particularly with regard to the oversight of interception warrants - are being applied. I'm just old enough to recall the all-too-active role the SIS played in the Muldoon years and I have no wish to go back there. As a matter of historical interest, here are some quotes given to me by Brian Kirby in 1994, for a story I wrote in Planet magazine on occasion of the tenth anniversary of the 1984 hikoi, which took place while Muldoon seemed determined to stonewall Maori aspirations by any means necessary.

I have no doubt that from the late 70s and riught through to recent times, if not now, that government informers, most of them working for the SIS, infiltrated most Maori organisations and key positions in Maori authorities and trusts and the Ministry of maori Affairs as it was then …

I remember going to Richard Prebble in 1983 and saying there was a problem and did he realise the rumours and talk about Maori arming themselves may not be just rumours. I was very worried that all hell was going to break loose and that it was going to do so round about where I was living. He asked me how did I know that and I said there were some young Maori who lived just up the road from me who were determined to have a revolution and they'd got quite an arsenal.

Richard said 'are they all men?', and I said 'yes', and he said 'oh well, it's just boys letting off steam'. But he investigated and about a fortnight later he rang me and said 'hey, so Miss So-and-so and Miss-so-and-so are involved in that group?' I said 'yes', and he said, well, now we know women are involved we are worried!'

I don't think the either the temperature of radical sentiment or the degree of surveillance now are anything like they were then (indeed, it's tempting to see Operation Leaf as the work of an agency that doesn't have enough else to do). And we don't have any equivalent of Ripeka Evans declaring "I feel I have the right to take the blood or white people if necessary," either.

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister's denial of the claims, based on advice from SIS director Richard Woods, was unusually forthright - in that it was issued at all - and Newstalk ZB is reporting a flat-out dismissal of the "disgusting" claims, by Peter Cozens at Victoria University's School of Strategic Studies.

Both Helen Clark and Jim Anderton, who also sits on the committee overseeing the work of the SIS, have called for the dissident spooks to take their claims to Paul Neazor, QC, the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security. Perhaps that is what should now happen, although the SST's reporters, who have done a good job here (and utterly trumped the Herald on Sunday's Rodney Hide-inspired non-story about Hubbard Foods, um, getting a grant), clearly can't give up their sources. The system theoretically allows for whistleblowing and, even though oversight of the SIS has not been particularly encouraging in the past year, it ought to be given a chance to work. (Although No Right Turn is noting that going to the authorities would potentially expose the dissidents to prosecution under the SIS Act. It would be very helpful for the Prime Minister to clearly state this will not happen.)

(NB: Just got an email from someone who discussed the story yesterday, in an off-duty context, with a Fairfax executive. He confirmed that Fairfax saw it as a key work of reporting in the context of the Sunday paper battle, and got the impression there might be more to come ...)

Clark is, of course, in Chile on Apec duty, and her discussions on a trade agreement with China have predictably attracted the ire of the Green Party. The MFAT joint study released on Saturday predicts a trade boost, in New Zealand's favour, of around $400 million annually from such a deal. China's tariff barriers on New Zealand exports currently range as high as 20% on kiwifruit, 23% on seafood, 38% on over-quota wool and 14% on dishwashing machines (by comparison, our tariff rate on whiteware imports is 5%). New Zealand, on the other hand, applies a zero tariff to 95% of all imports by volume, and by 2009 is committed to reducing tariffs on clothing, footwear and carpets.

In the end, I think we have too much to gain to not pursue a robust deal with a large and expanding economy such as China's, but the devil will be in the detail of the "adjustment implications" for some New Zealand manufacturers. The points made in the Council of Trade Unions' submission to MFAT are not unreasonable; most notably that the manufacturing sector employs 300,000 New Zealanders - twice as many as agriculture and forestry combined. The impact on Fisher & Paykel's business has been much speculated-upon, but as Andrew Little of the EPMU said recently, F&P's ability to expand into the international premium appliance industry " is a sign that New Zealand manufacturers can foot it in the face of global competition."

So anyway, I did go to the P Money show on Friday night after all, and the house was duly rocked. The show's highlights involved Scribe, who, it must be said, remains miles ahead of anyone else in the game in terms of both skills and charisma. Half the reason I went out was to see what was happening, and, with the Coolies and others packing Eden's Bar on K Road, Jakob attracting a decent crowd a few doors down at the Rising Sun and Somerset selling out the nearby King's Arms, it seemed like a lot was happening.

After an early morning up to see the All Blacks - thankfully - edge out Wales in a thriller of a test match, I participated in a joint production between National Radio's Outspoken and the BBC Service's Outloook, on the topic of 'The Changing face of New Zealand'. It seemed all-too-short but was quite good fun, and it was nice to meet Kim Hill, Raybon Kan and Gaylene Preston. You might think all us media types would know each other, but we don't. Got home in time to see the blogging story in Frontseat, and found myself cringing at the footage of my unfortunate typing style. I just got a job involving typewriter use before I ever learned to type, alright? But they are two very productive fingers …

Then, today, it was another short sleep and early rise to be on Breakfast with Michael Wallmansberger, talking to Paul Henry about why I signed the civil unions ad. I don't mind the getting up, it's leaving the house that gets me. Really, the things you gotta do for human rights …

PS: If you skipped over the new Great New Zealand Argument posting, Jim Traue's Ancestors of the Mind, hop on over and read it.