Greens won't back new spy law

Greens won't back new spy law

The Green Party won't be supporting new legislation governing New Zealand's spy agencies, though there are some parts the party is in favour of.

The Government on Monday introduced a Bill to Parliament which would roll four pieces of existing legislation covering the Security Intelligence Service (SIS) and the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) together.

Labour says it will support the Bill to the select committee stage, but Greens co-leader Metiria Turei says it will vote against it on its first reading.

Among the changes are expanding the five-member Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) to seven. Currently, it's made up of the Prime Minister, two MPs nominated by the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and one other nominated MP.

"We don't think that it properly protects New Zealanders' privacy and their right to be free from unjustified surveillance. There are some good things in the Bill, like the expansion of the Intelligence and Security Committee, but that's not enough for us to vote for at first reading," Ms Turei says.

Labour says a number of changes need to be made - including who is on the committee and the definition of "national security".

Even without the Greens' support, the legislation still has the numbers to make it to the select committee stage, where the party says it will "engage actively in that progress".

The changes come five months after a wide-ranging report by Dame Patsy Reddy and Sir Michael Cullen into the country's spy agencies and the legislation governing them. There were 107 recommendations in total.

Prime Minister John Key says he's isn't "deeply opposed" to increasing the number on the committee, so long as it still "functions well".

But Labour leader Andrew Little says there should be nine on it, taking into account the Greens and NZ First, yet still leaving National with a majority.

"I've long said the ISC needs broader representation. I don't think the provision in the Bill introduced yesterday goes far enough to allow the breadth of representation I think is justified. I think any party of any reasonable size - I'd say of more than two MPs or probably slightly higher - should be represented on the committee."

Mr Key says who represents the Opposition on the committee is up to Mr Little, but says he would prefer to have a working committee rather than one mired in political debate.

"I don't think it's a matter of some parties are good and some parties are bad, despite what people may think. I think it's about whether people constructively want to go there.

"I'm not saying people need to say in blood and in stone they're going to change their stripes, but realistically we want a functioning working committee because a lot of the stuff we discuss is highly confidential. We want to do it in a framework that's a discussion, not a political debate."

Mr Little also doesn't believe the Prime Minister or anyone with ministerial responsibility over the agencies should be chairing the committee.

When asked whether he was suggesting he should chair it, Mr Little says in some overseas jurisdictions - including the UK - senior Opposition MPs head their equivalent committee.

Mr Key said he wasn't "overly bothered" by who chairs the committee and said it wasn't a "big issue".

On Mr Little's suggestion of nine people on the committee, Mr Key said, "Once you get a committee like that, it gets too big and to unworkable, I think."