Posts Tagged ‘Parliament’

Improving intelligence oversight.

datePosted on 14:35, May 22nd, 2013 by Pablo

Now that the Kitteridge and Neazor reports have been tabled, discussion can more fully proceed to the issue of intelligence oversight. The government has proposed bolstering resources for the Inspector General of Intelligence, and adding a Deputy Inspector General to what until now has been a one man shop. That is a step in the right direction, but it falls very short of the mark when it comes to robust, independent intelligence oversight mechanisms. Here I outline one way of achieving them.

Currently the IG is dependent on the NZSIS and GCSB for resources and cooperation and answers to the Prime Minister. That puts him at the interface between politics and operational matters in a chain of responsibility, which reduces his freedom of action.

The IG’s office should be strengthened in terms of staff and moved to become an agency of parliamentary services. It will answer to the Parliamentary Committee on Security and Intelligence, although its staff and funding source will be independent of the Committee. The Committee will have powers of compulsion under oath that allow it to force intelligence managers to release operational details or classified information to it upon request. It would meet at least once a month and receive scheduled classified briefs from the directors of the SIS and GCSB as well as senior managers in the DPMC handling intelligence flows. At any time the Committee would be able to order the appearance in special session of officials from the Police, Customs, Immigration, Treasury and other agencies that employ intelligence collection and analysis services.

All of this would require that the staff of the committee as well as that of the IG have security clearances akin to those of personnel employed by the agencies being overseen. That will require background checks and security vetting of staff. Members of the Committee would be required to sign secrecy oaths under penalty of law.

The transition from the current ineffectual oversight mechanisms to something more effective will take time and money. It will therefore be resisted not only by the agencies being overseen (who naturally will be discomfited by increased scrutiny from agencies unattached to the Prime Minister). It will also be opposed by political sectors focused on cost-cutting, quick results, or maintaining the current system because of the weight of institutional legacies and/or advantages it gives governments when it comes to the interpretation and implementation of intelligence priorities. But it is certainly worth doing.

The time is opportune for change. The sequels to the Dotcom case have exposed serious problems in the political management of intelligence issues as well as deficiencies in the conduct of intelligence operations. The government has proposed significant changes to the 2003 GCSB Act, particularly section 14, that will have the effect of strengthening the GCSB’s powers of internal (domestic) surveillance at the behest of other agencies–foreign and domestic. The justification for this rests on the increasingly transnationalized nature of security threats, whereby the intersection of local and international crime, foreign corporate and political espionage, irregular warfare networks and non-state actors makes much more difficult precise definition of what constitutes a domestic as opposed to foreign intelligence concern. These are grey area phenomena, and the response cannot be given in black and white.

I agree that the security threat environment has changed and is much more “glocal” or “intermestic.” I agree that it requires statutory revision in order to better account for the changing nature of intelligence operations under such conditions. What I am proposing here is a parallel revamp of oversight mechanisms that promote more independence, transparency, accountability and compliance at a time when the scope of intelligence agency authority is being redefined and expanded well beyond traditional espionage operations.

The issue is worth debating and therefore should be the subject of a larger inquiry such as proposed by Labour and the Greens. If nothing else the Kitteridge and Neazor reports can be used as the starting point for a more thorough discussion of the role, functions and purview of NZ intelligence agencies given the changed nature of the threat environment and the equally compelling need to maintain  a better measure of democratic accountability than has heretofore been seen.

 

Against Centrism.

datePosted on 09:51, November 16th, 2011 by Pablo

The iron law of oligarchy states that the first duty of the organization is to preserve itself. This means that agents will go against the interests of principals for tactical and strategic reasons. For class-based parties the two main sources of rank and file betrayal are vanguardism and centrism. Vanguardism refers to the centralization of decision-making authority within a party elite, which sees organizational democracy in instrumental terms rather than as a social good.  The elite agenda is, foremost, about self-preservation justified in ideological terms.

Centrism refers to the tendency of class-based parties to move to the ideological centre in pursuit of wider mass appeal. This often means turning on what were once considered foundational principles of such parties, particularly adherence to a class line. The 20th century saw the emergence of a number of these type of party, New Zealand Labour being one of them. Once that “centrist” ideological space was captured electorally by the likes of NZ Labour (the permutations of the centrist shift by Socialist and Social Democratic parties are many), other parties emerged to fill the void and stand on principle. Few of them have survived, and those that do have married indigenous and environmental planks to an amorphous anti-capitalist platform.

One such party is the Green Party of New Zealand. It emerged as a party dedicated in principle to advancing the causes described above. It championed the environment as well as indigenous rights within it, and worked hard to provide an anti-imperialist, pacifist, human rights focused and anti-corporate counter-narrative to the market-oriented discourse of Labour and the collective Right. The composition of the Green Party caucus through its first decade in parliament showed a clear class consciousness. For many Left voters the Greens provided a tactical option under MMP, since a five percent party vote coupled with electorate votes for Labour candidates helped keep Labour ideologically “honest” when in government. Or so the Greens thought.

In practice the Green experience with the 5th Labour government was less than ideal, and in fact was marked by an increasing distance between the two erstwhile Left partners. Yet, as it replenished its ranks of MPs the Green Party began to emulate Labour and other Left-based “centrist” parties: it moved away from a strong class-based orientation and towards a more moderate stance on all original three ideological pillars. It saw an increased party vote in 2008, although it is unclear if the added support came from disgruntled Labour voters or genuine voter preference for a “reasonable” Left alternative to Labour’s increasingly corporate orientation. Whatever the cause, by 2011 the Greens have stripped out the Red in their ideological watermelon. There are no longer a working class-oriented party, and in fact have shifted to one that seeks the support of middle class voters who are not so much opposed to the status quo as they are seeking NIMBY relief within it.

The Greens are predicted to get 10 percent of the party vote in the 2011 election, with some estimates rising to 12-15 percent. The surge in support clearly has roots in voter disgust with National and Labour, but also is believed to be coming from moderate Left voters who feel more comfortable with Green occupying the ideological “space” formerly held by Labour. By moderating its policies and compromising on its foundational principles, the Greens have gone mainstream. The billboard vandalism scandal may be a perverse indication of that (with grassroots activists going outside the caucus mandate to make their point).

For voters who saw the Green party as the honest Left alternative, this is unfortunate. The Green march to the centre leaves those who believe in the essence of class conflict in capitalism (and its cousin, class compromise) devoid of electoral alternatives. Specifically, there is no longer a competitive Left option that challenges the fundamental logics of the contemporary New Zealand socio-economic system. Instead, there are only accommodationists of various centrist stripes, the Greens now being one of them. They may challenge along the margins of the dominant project, but they do not question the fundamentals. Despite the presence of Leftists and anti-imperialist/corporate rhetoric in the Mana Party, it appears to be more personality-driven and ideologically incoherent than a proper class-based party. That means that there is no genuine, politically viable alternative to the Left-centrist logic.

This type of political centripidalism is a natural aspect of  first past the post party systems, especially presidential ones. But MMP is supposed to give voice to parties of principle as well as catch-all parties, and is in fact considered to be a hedge against centralism. For both methodological individualists such as those on the libertarian Right as well as the collective good advocates on on the class-based Left, the move to centralism under MMP could well be a death knell (which ACT may prove in this election, and which the demise of the Alliance previewed in the last one).

In effect, what is good for the Green Party leadership and organization is not good for those at the grassroots who want a legitimate Left parliamentary alternative that is electorally viable and committed to questioning the status quo. In order for the Greens to have remained as such they would have had to eschew the temptation of centrism and accept their role as a minor party on the ideological margins that speaks truth to power rather than be a contender for power as given. That would have meant keeping to a more “militant,” or “activist” line that did not deviate from the foundational principles of the Party.  The iron law of oligarchy suggests that never was going to be the case (and perhaps membership preferences have changed so that it would not be so), and given that Labour sold out the rank and file a long time ago (its corporatist relationship with the CTU, EPMU and other trade unions notwithstanding, since these also subscribe to the iron law), that means that in this election there is no real choice for those on the Left who want to vote for a party that can substantively influence policy rather than provide a minor corrective or circus side show to the dominant political discourse.

That being said, I am sorely tempted to vote Mana in order to try and keep the Greens honest from the Leftish fringe!

PS: Left for another time is discussion of the fact that in the absence of institutional (party) avenues of voice and redress, ideological militants of all stripes gravitate to extra- or illegal means of doing so. In the measure that formerly principled parties go centrist or are not replaced by successful others, the ideological void they leave behind is often filled by those of less institutionalist persuasion.

Two current events

datePosted on 08:56, July 15th, 2011 by Lew

Since I’m in the middle of deadline crush, and I spent yesterday afternoon socialising instead of working, just a couple of quick notes.

Vulnerability of Labour’s Capital Gains Tax:
Overall my initial impressions of the CGT and associated policy is that it’s pretty good, but vulnerable to attack. There are the usual economic and ideological objections — full of loopholes, won’t raise enough revenue, raises rents, punishes people for getting ahead, will require more borrowing in the medium term, and so on — but for mine the best attack line rests on the coincidence of taxation rates between CGT and GST. If I were running the National party’s attack campaign, I’d be leading with “Tax off fruit & veg, tax on houses”, or better yet, “tax on bricks & mortar”. Just another of many reasons why GST off fruit & veg is bad policy.

Misunderstanding of Hone Harawira’s Oath Stunt:
So Speaker Lockwood Smith ejected Hone Harawira from Parliament for swearing his oath to the Treaty of Waitangi rather than to the Crown — despite having pulled a similar stunt in 2005 without incident. There is the usual sort of wailing and gnashing about this around the traps, and it seems to have pressed everyone’s ‘sanctimonious outrage’ buttons. What I find strange is that people seem reluctant to see the stunt for what it is — mutual base-arousal, brand politics for both Harawira and Smith. Hone Harawira was, to a large extent, elected to anger and infuriate uptight honkeys like Smith and the KBR and the talkback haters, and inasmuch as his defiance of procedure has achieved that he’s winning. Smith, for his own, has brought a new dignity and solemnity to Parliament, and his personal brand of conservatism requires that he takes a firm stance. Both acted perfectly well to type, and in a sense each has done the other a favour, by granting an opportunity to grandstand. The people who are hating on Hone were never going to vote for him; and likewise for Smith. To an extent there’s also some base arousal by the māori party, too — they have fallin in behind Hone, and are calling for the Treaty to be included in the oath. That’s a useful societal discussion to have.

I find it particularly ironical that the sort of people who are so scathing and disrespectful about Māori ceremony have their dander up regarding this rather minor infraction of procedure; many seem to be raising the counterfactual of ‘imagine the outcry if this happened on a marae!” The thing is, though, in Te Ao Māori as elsewhere, kawa are made to be broken. How and when and why they are broken, and by whom, is key. With suitable mana, ihi, wehi, you can get away with a lot. There is a famous account of Dame Whina Cooper lifting her skirts to remind the men present to respect where they came from. I think, in these terms, it was much worse for Hone that his korowai fell off.

Contra this view, however, Annabelle Lee-Harris from Native Affairs says she’s heard from left-wing Māori who are angry with Hone for trivialising and causing another sideshow; that they thought he was “indulgent when Māori in Te Tai Tokerau are in dire straits’. So maybe I’m wrong. But the bottom line is: Hone Harawira was elected to Parliament by a higher power than the Speaker; all else is procedural.

L

Gulp!

datePosted on 08:36, March 16th, 2011 by Lew

ACT MP and lawyer Hilary Calvert, on the Marine & Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Bill, in Parliament last night:

“Historical use of the seabed any significant distance from the shore seems impossible to prove, and allowing for title over it to be granted over it to iwi allows for unjust and potentially divisive future claims. No one historically crawled about on the seabed miles from shore. There was just no chance of anybody holding their breath from 1840 til now on the seabed. It’s not gonna happen.

(My emphasis.)

Once again, I think we all owe a debt of gratitude to the ACT party for illustrating so plainly to us what — and how — they really think.

L

Fire in the House

datePosted on 21:17, May 5th, 2010 by Lew

The opposition was strong in Parliament today. I’m stuck for time, so what follows is somewhat stream-of-consciousness.

Front and centre was the government’s failure to perform on unemployment and wage growth, the subject of criticism from both flanks. Bill English had led off with “the budget will be about the many, not the few”, and then “but seriously …”, to a stinging rebuke from David Cunliffe, who listed the government’s failings as he saw them. This adoption by the government of Labour’s own tagline looks like an attempt to muddy the counter-campaign and poach their emphasis, trying to set up National as the party representing “the many”, rather than the policy merits of the government’s program, but if so it’s a fairly ham-fisted one. While “the many” looks on its way to becoming this election cycle’s “hard-working Kiwis”, the government’s attempt here to muscle in indicates that National has accepted Labour’s rhetorical framing, although they disagree with it. If you adopt your opponent’s narrative, you need to be able to make it your own — either that, or you need to dismantle and discredit it. English did neither.

Cunliffe was strong, also raising the variance between English’s aspirational and controversial “Plain English” ad and the policy track he has delivered. Sir Roger Douglas also took aim, and was forced by the Speaker to rephrase the question (to Paula Bennett): “Which is more important? Young people getting jobs, or pandering to the Left?”.

Bennett also took a bit of a pasting on the matter of the identity of one Peter Saunders. The Standard has picked this up so I’ll not elaborate more. Wayne Mapp, standing in for the Minister of Agriculture also stumbled on a line of questioning from Sue Kedgley regarding AgResearch’s GM cattle trials. Not exactly a shock since, not being the minister himself, that information wasn’t top of his mind, but it contributed to the general atmosphere.

Then it was all on in General Debate, with Goff, King and Cunliffe leading off on the same topic matter (jobs/wages) with a couple of fiery speeches, and re-emphasising the “smile and wave/photo-op/government by poll” meme and the retrenchment of the government’s mining plans. Judith Collins concentrated on David Cunliffe’s lack of orthodox economic credibility, and purported concern for Goff having to shoulder the dual burden of leading a party in which Cunliffe was both the finance spokesperson and a leadership contender. Nice concern troll, but what’s more interesting is how much she was looking forward to seeing Cunliffe’s expenses records — and the threats hurled across the House while she thought she was not miked — “You wait, just you wait! …” Some irony in this given that it was just yesterday Collins raised the most threadbare defence of her (or someone else’s) extensive use of the ministerial self-drive car: “All the travel is within the rules – that’s all I’m prepared to say on it.”

So, while superficially an ordinary sort of Wednesday (albeit one where the Member’s Day was not clobbered by urgency), I think this has provided a few glimpses of the 18 months to come: a robust focus on core materialist issues from the Labour party, ahead of the budget, and a clear desire to debate the policy merits; combined with continued attacks on the credibility and perceived competence of English and Bennett in particular; the government attempting to subvert the opposition’s framing rather than exclusively arguing the merits; Collins v Cunliffe shaping up as a key battle. Nothing flash, but it’s starting to look like something resembling a threat. Most importantly, something to require the government to rethink its own gameplan. Until now they’ve had the ability to act almost with impunity, their errors going unpunished. If today’s performance is any indication, no longer.

L

Convincing the Police we have a right to protest

datePosted on 13:01, July 4th, 2009 by Anita

It is good to see that – after a 12 year battle – the right to protest in Parliament grounds is finally being reaffirmed. The short version is that in 1997 the then speaker Doug Kidd authorised the arrest of 75 people protesting against education reforms in Parliament grounds and later trespassed them all. It has taken 12 years for the speaker’s office and the Police to finally agree to apologise and pay compensation.

It is frustrating that in a supposedly open democratic society there are so many example of the Police and authorities trying to stifle dissent, and that it takes many years and many costly lawyer hours to get to a point the courts finally make them back down. Recent examples that spring to mind are people being arrested and prosecuted for writing in chalk on a footpath, using a loud hailer and blowing a whistle again on a public footpath, and burning a NZ flag (which required a High Court appeal). If you’re interested in more examples I found this article while I was checking I remembered the chalk incident correctly.

In theory the Police are there to protect our rights, including our right to participate in democratic protest, but it frequently feels like their main goal is to protect the dominance of the current power elite. It was interesting to see this scenario appear in the ethics training material the Police have developed since the Commission of Inquiry into Police Conduct (driven by the Police rape trials)

Ethical dilemma example 7
I would like to imagine this is a sign of a turning tide, and the Police will now be protecting our right to protest, but recent examples of deliberate and exploitative infiltration of protest groups, and the use of defenders of torturers like Mark Lowenthal by the Police for training and advice is hardly a good sign. Do these recent examples pass their own test?

NZ Police SELF test

Reading between the choices of spin

datePosted on 16:01, June 18th, 2009 by Anita

When National leaked and then announced the home insulation fund they had a choice about how to spin it. I can easily think of four options they had (I’m sure there are others):

  1. Environmental/climate-change: home insulation reduces energy consumption, thus reducing the amount of generation required, thus reducing the use of thermal generation (read thermal as burning stuff :) which in turn reduces CO2 emissions which in turn reduces the effects of climate change. 
  2. Environmental/sustainability/primary-production/innovation: NZ businesses are doing some really interesting work in sustainable home insulation using NZ’s primary products rather than imports. A nice photo op with a company making home insulation from wool and voilà, the story is about innovation, sustainability and government support for agriculture and primary production in a recession.
  3. Health/education/social-development: Insulated warm dry homes improve family health and child education outcomes by reducing sickness and deafness. Photo op: Minister visits family in recently insulated home, since insulation went in the kids are much more healthy and doing much better at school, little Moana might even trundle over to the Minister with a picture book and read it to him. PR gold – government cares for families and kiddies!
  4. Traditional-infrastructure/building sector: Insulating homes means the existing builders, insulators and contractors will have more work and will weather the recession.

National chose option 4 – why? It’s not the best PR option and it’s not the most on message, every other option had clear weathering the recession messages plus something forward looking and visionary. Instead they chose the staid dull message which appeals only to the traditional infrastructure industries.

The only explanation I could come up with is that traditional infrastructure is where National’s traditional funders and backers have come from, perhaps they wasted a golden opportunity for positive spin for a little old fashioned pay back?

This post was, in part, inspired by Zetetic’s post about National’s current lack of attention to the concerns of female voters. A couple of  their options would’ve been great options if they cared about women voters, instead they chose the spin best suited for the Fletcher Building board.