The hall echoed with the sound of apathy.

I attended the Auckland public meeting on the Intelligence Review organised by the NZ Council on Civil Liberties and a coalition of activist groups under the “Get Smart” banner. The idea was to encourage the public to join in submitting a “People’s Review” of the NZ intelligence community that would go beyond the rather narrow terms of reference of the formal Review undertaken by Michael Cullen and Patsy Reddy. The meeting was held in a inner suburb library hall at 6:30 on a Thursday night. It had the makings of a stirring call to popular participation and civic action.

Counting myself, a total of ten people showed up to listen to the speakers and debate issues relevant to the Review. The speakers spoke about the evils and sins of the CIA, GCSB and SIS at home and abroad, about the dangers of recent expansions of spy agencies powers and related legislation such as the hastily passed foreign fighters bill, and about the patently bogus questions asked on the public submission forms for the Review (such as asking if people felt that the government should protect them from terrorism). But truth be told, the empty hall echoed with the sound of apathy. Not so much from those of us who attended and spoke, but from those who did not.

In any event it was a pretty dreary and dispiriting affair. Nowhere to be seen were those who championed Kim Dotcom’s “Moment of Truth” or the voluminous clouds of conspiracy-mongering that went with it.  From what I could tell, there was no one from UNITE, MANA, Internet Party, GPJA or any other activist group other than the Communist League. The usual assortment of Left pundits and party progressives, from the bombastic to the erudite, were nowhere to be seen. It was so bad, even Penny Bright did not show up.

I was told that meetings in Christchurch and Wellington were better attended, but from the looks of the Auckland gathering the issue of how, why and when the NZ intelligence community does what it does is no longer of import to local chattering classes, much less the fair minded among them.

I sure hope that I am wrong. I suggested at the meeting that a two pronged approach to the Review needed to be undertaken. On the one hand, the broad questioning of the intelligence community outlined in the terms of the People’s Review is necessary for framing the larger counter-narrative to the official lines spun upon us about the value and benefits of NZ’s intelligence operations. On the other hand, detailed, sophisticated and technical submissions sharply focused on the terms of reference are needed to prevent Cullen and Reddy from claiming that no practicable or actionable information was obtained from the submissions. I offered some thoughts on the need for better intelligence oversight mechanisms and how they could pave the way for further reforms of the intelligence community and legal frameworks governing it.

My comments were preceded by those of a fellow who spoke of spying on Maori at TVNZ. I was followed by a fellow from the Communist League. At that point it was time to take my 18 year old cousin in law back to dinner because even his eyes were rolling in the back of his head.

If this meeting is symptomatic of the state of the NZ Left, then it is well and truly  screwed. Or perhaps it is just a Jafa thing.

8 thoughts on “The hall echoed with the sound of apathy.

  1. Sounds like it wasn’t very well publicised Pablo.

    Did you know the identities of the other nine members of the audience? Sorry couldn’t resist… :)

  2. Good on you Anne, for the call on IDs I have a good idea why two other audience members were there. One other (semi-sleeping) audience member looked to be a guest or friend of one them. Two of the other audience members were selling/koha-ing “The Militant” outside the hall. That leaves me and three other interested parties without collective motive. I gather you were one of them.

  3. “I gather you were one of them.”

    No. Just having a ‘wicked’ thought.

  4. I was at the meeting in Chch on Monday organised by the Christchurch Progressive Network and would estimate north of 100 people attended. Disappointing to hear this about the Auckland event. Good on you for going.

  5. Sorry Pablo. I’m being obtuse. The thought crossed my mind that one of the ‘nine’ other attendees may well have been there in an official capacity so to speak.

  6. Obviously we were disappointed by the turnout but I’m hoping it was caused by a failure of marketing rather than overall apathy.

    Thanks for your constructive comments about the Review.

  7. It was a good effort Thomas that should have been better received. Maybe a lack of marketing was the issue but given the sponsors I had assumed that word of the event had been widely disseminated.

    Anne: I doubt that was the case given who attended. But maybe the Communist League duo are working under deep cover.

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