Gordon Campbell on the GCSB Bill protests, and the outpouring of Royal Baby Love

Tomorrow, the parliamentary committee that heard submissions on the GCSB Bill will report back. Few will be expecting significant changes to this egregious betrayal of our civil rights and national sovereignty. The politicians have made a hash of our privacy rights and endorsed a system that treats all of us as potential criminals. Which makes the anti-GCSB public meeting in Auckland tonight and the nationwide rallies planned for Saturday, 27 July against the GCSB Bill all the more important. These occasions may be the only opportunity that most of us get to make our outrage publicly visible. Dr. Rodney Harrison QC, Dame Anne Salmond, Tech Liberty’s Thomas Beagle and Kim Dotcom will be addressing the 7pm meeting in Auckland tonight. (Details below.)

Harrison, who presented the Law Society’s excellent submission on the GCSB Bill, has identified to Audrey Young of the NZ Herald some of the problems with the Dunne-over-lightly version of the Bill:

The bill unnecessarily broadens the functions and powers of the GCSB,” he said. “The need to do so has not been demonstrated.” He also said the promise of a review of the GCSB and SIS in 2015 “merely holds out false hope… History demonstrates that intrusive powers once conferred on security agencies are never curtailed, only ever increased when the opportunity arises.”

Moreover, Harrison added:

“Increased oversight after the event, whether real or ultimately illusory, cannot prevent excessive surveillance and gross abuses of individual privacy, if that is what the empowering legislation itself permits. Equally, periodic future review of the legislation is no comfort, if flawed legislation is to be permitted to operate in the meantime.”

Exactly. As Scoop reported in its initial coverage of the Bill, Thomas Beagle of Tech Liberty had identified other flaws (eg regarding the collection, treatment and retention of meta-data) that the Bill fails to address. If we believe in the freedoms that this legislation violates, all of us should be turning out to support the actions planned over the next few days. These include:

Auckland: Public Meeting 7pm tonight at Mt Albert War Memorial Hall, (cnr New North Road and Wairere Avenue.) Speakers: Dr. Rodney Harrison QC, Kim Dotcom, Dame Anne Salmond, Thomas Beagle.

There will also be a public rally against the Bill in Auckland on Saturday, and similar protests will be held on the same day throughout the country. For each city, the times and locations can be found here:





Palmerston North:







Baby Love
The Wellington earthquake, the X Factor final, the royal baby…it has been a week of terrifying and essentially meaningless events coming one after the other, and its not even Friday yet. In case you’re feeling guilty, it is quite OK to feel sick to death already of the Baby Prince, though his services to the media did generate a few memorable headlines (“Too Posh to Push” about his delayed arrival) some bonkers analysis from the German press (“With every contraction, Kate becomes a worker”) some entertainingly useless factoids (“The heaviest male heir to the monarchy in 100 years”) and so on. Not to mention that the celebrations surrounding The Birth will allegedly inject a suspiciously precise 243 million pounds into the British economy – and as you might expect, businesses run by the Royal Family have been among those scrambling to peddle their share of the baby bling:

Her Majesty’s palace shops will sell baby clothes and souvenirs celebrating the latest arrival in the Windsor family….Prince Charles is also set to profit with handmade baby shoes going on sale in his Highgrove shop. They will either be emblazoned with a Union Jack design or tractors on the front – priced at £22.50 a pair.

Some observers have felt enough, already, and said its time to bring down the curtain on the entire, thoroughly dodgy Windsor dynasty. Others have pulled out the sympathy card and empathised with the little blighter’s life of constant surveillance of his every rite of passage and future indiscretion (“The media drones are already overhead”) but hang on….given the realities of PRISM and the GCSB Bill, the same now goes for all of us. We’re all royals now, in that sense. The paparazzi from the security agencies are watching our every move, and we don’t get the consolation of taxpayer-funded holidays on the ski slopes of Europe, or on Caribbean beaches.

Strip it away and you’re left with the monarchists, pulsating at various levels of zeal. For some reason, the foes of Big Government seem more than willing to wave flags for the British monarchy, even as the royal birth extends this institution’s thousand year incarnation of the overbearing hierarchical state. On the other side of the argument are the crabby republicans, who seem equally willing to be the killjoys at the party. It is quite an easy role to slip into. Mainly because there is a growing body of evidence that the Royal Family is not merely a charmingly retro pageant whose main players have no inclination or ability to wield political power in the 21st century. Quite the contrary. Earlier this year, the US Foreign Policy magazine tentatively suggested otherwise (in a story headlined “Queen Elizabeth May Have More Power Than We Thought”) in the wake of a Guardian investigation into the meddling by Prince Charles and his mother, in the process of democratic governance:

Whitehall papers prepared by Cabinet Office lawyers show that overall at least 39 bills have been subject to the most senior royals’ little-known power to consent to or block new laws. They also reveal the power has been used to torpedo proposed legislation relating to decisions about the country going to war…

The new laws that were required to receive the seal of approval from the Queen or Prince Charles cover issues from higher education and paternity pay to identity cards and child maintenance. In one instance the Queen completely vetoed the Military Actions Against Iraq Bill in 1999, a private member’s bill that sought to transfer the power to authorise military strikes against Iraq from the monarch to parliament. She was even asked to consent to the Civil Partnership Act 2004 because it contained a declaration about the validity of a civil partnership that would bind her.

Assent and veto processes are one thing. Routine, day to day meddling – which seems to be more Prince Charles’ style – is something else again. Less than three weeks ago, the British courts upheld Charles’ right to withhold from the Guardian the letters he had written to try and influence government decisions.

Judges have ruled that the public has no right to read documents that would reveal how Prince Charles has sought to alter government policies. Three high court judges have rejected a legal attempt by the Guardian to force the publication of private letters written by the prince to government ministers.

Cabinet ministers conceded that the prince’s private letters…. contained Charles’ “most deeply held personal views and beliefs”, which could undermine the perception of his political neutrality. In a verdict published on Tuesday, the lord chief justice of England and Wales, Lord Judge, ruled that the attorney general, Dominic Grieve, had acted properly when he employed a rarely used veto to block publication of the letters. The lord chief justice, however, noted that the existence of the veto was troublesome and appeared to be “a constitutional aberration”.

….Tuesday’s ruling follows an eight-year battle by the newspaper to shed more light on the way the heir to the throne seeks to influence government ministers, even though he holds no elected position. Grieve had argued that disclosure of the 27 “particularly frank” letters between the prince and ministers over a seven-month period would have seriously damaged his future role as king.

Right. What I’m getting at here is that the theoretical perils of an elected head of state rather pale into insignificance when compared to the actual, behind-the-arras shenanigans of the unelected head of state that we currently have. Transparency about what matters – as opposed to photo ops about what doesn’t – isn’t a strength of the House of Windsor. Oh, and in addition, there is evidence that Prince Charles is not averse to testing the legal limits of tax avoidance.

Such tax dodges not only deny his loyal subjects the wherewithal to fund the social services on which they depend. All those schools and hospitals for which the royals turn up to the cut the ribbon would be far better off if Charles wasn’t simultaneously seeking to find an escape route for his millions, in the fine print of the tax code. The upshot is that Prince Charles could be paying a lower proportion of his income in tax than do his domestic servants.

Labour MP Austin Mitchell said: “In the figures published it appears that Prince Charles’ direct tax plus indirect tax is 24 per cent of his income for 2012 and 23.6 per cent for 2013. It looks to me that Prince Charles pays a smaller proportion in tax than any of his domestic servants.”

So yes, there is a definite downside to the royal celebrations. And that downside exists regardless of whether you consider it acceptable that the future 43rd British monarch (as supplied by “the firm” from the House of Windsor) should also one day become the King of New Zealand. Arguably these days, our economy has more important ties to the Middle Kingdom than it does to the monarch residing in Buckingham Palace. Perhaps it is time we grew up, shrugged off the royal panto, and elected our own head of state. Having done so, we could then join the Americans in treating the Windsors as a fascinating, bemusing, but completely irrelevant piece of theatre.