Gordon Campbell on stonewalling about the GCSB, and MMP

This week has seen two examples of turkeys refusing to vote for an early Christmas – while busily denying the evident self interest involved. First, the GCSB is refusing to identify the 88 people it has illegally spied upon – as revealed in the Kitteridge report – and is donning the cloak of national security to justify its refusal to be transparent. According to GCSB boss Ian Fletcher, there would be a risk of disclosure of operational secrets if the GCSB came clean and told the people concerned that they had been spied on. That stance would be hilarious, if it wasn’t so patently self serving…. eg. I’m sorry we can’t tell you whether you have been a victim of our illegal modus operandi, because that would reveal our modus operandi. (Surely, it can’t do much more damage to reveal who you’ve secretly been spying on illegally, given that the secret that you’ve acted illegally is no longer a secret? Surveillance can’t be so customized – can it – that merely knowing the target will reveal the M.O. involved? There may be 50 ways to leave a lover, but surely not 88 ways to install a video camera.)

What we do know is that in the GCSB’s case, that M.O. was definitely illegal. Therefore, informing the people on the receiving end….yikes, that would enable them to sue the GCSB for compensation because it had illegally violated rights to privacy, and had – quite possibly – put the people involved at a disadvantage in other ways (such as applying for jobs, travel visas etc) that we can’t begin to imagine and certainly can’t be told about. Yes, definitely a good idea to play the “neither confirm nor deny” card to enquiries, to chant the national security mantra and to hope that the whole thing can be successfully swept under the carpet.

Meanwhile, the government will presumably be trying to make a deal with Kim Dotcom to settle his damages claim for being subjected to the same kind of illegal surveillance. As the Minister responsible for the GCSB and its rogue actions, does John Key want to be looking down the barrel of 88 Dotcoms all asking for similar deals? No way. That’s why the turkeys at the GCSB are definitely voting for vegetarianism. In the national interest, of course.

Similarly, the government has no appetite for the MMP reforms. Justice Minister Judith Collins is claiming that because she has pre-determined that she can’t get a bill through Parliament incorporating all of the Electoral Commission proposals for MMP reform, she won’t put any of them in front of Parliament. Certainly, if one can believe Labour leader David Shearer, Collins’ attempts to explore consensus have lacked the Crusher’s usual vim and vigour. He claimed on RNZ this morning that Collins wrote him exactly one letter seeking consensus (which he agreed to) before she canned the whole project for the alleged lack of a consensus. At the first hurdle, the crush turned to mush.

One again, the self interest is pretty obvious. Act and United Future would be voting for their early demise if they supported the main trade-off – ie a new MMP threshold of 4% and the related scrapping of the ‘coat-tail’ provision that benefits parties who get one electorate seat, and can subsequently bring in more MPs in proportion to the party’s percentage vote. National currently benefits from these aspects of the status quo, and such arrangements could well be crucial to its quest for coalition partners at the next year’s election. For the same reason, Labour opposes keeping the ‘coat-tail’ provision for the 2014 election – but it benefitted (in the early 2000s) from the same provision with respect to the Alliance.

Why should Collins introduce a Bill regardless of the eventual outcome? Because this is a matter of public interest, as reflected in the demands since MMP was first introduced for opportunities to revisit it in a referendum, to fine tune its workings etc etc – and the National Party was at the forefront of those demands that MMP should be subjected to this oversight, to public inputs and reviews and re-calibration. But now – and out of sheer self interest – National is baulking at putting those calls for accountability to the test.

What would be gained, even if all the measures did not achieve consensus? En route, the public would be able to see what aspects of MMP each party stood for, and what their rationalizations were for voting accordingly. It would mean that when and if National in 2014 – or Labour at some future date – sought to do sweetheart deals at electorate level to concoct a workable coalition, the public would be able to judge them by their record of what they said and voted for in the House. As with the GCSB, thje government will be more than happy that such information never gets a chance to be placed on the public record.

Adieu, Aaron
One turkey who has voted early for Christmas was Aaron Gilmore. I confess to being dead wrong on this point. Last week, it had seemed more consistent with his behaviour-to-date that Gilmore would cling to that backbencher’s salary and deny his enemies the satisfaction of his voluntary exit. It didn’t turn out that way. It would be nice to speak well of the departed and say he did the decent thing in the end after the party had left the revolver on his desk and shut the door behind it – but the decision to go looked to be consistent with the usual behaviour of a bully when confronted by a bigger bully.

Pita Sharples was probably right to indicate that others had done worse with fewer consequences – the double dipper from Dipton springs to my mind – but not many will be sorry to see Gilmore’s departure.