Labour U-turns on blocking China critic Anne-Marie Brady's foreign interference submission

The Government is now considering allowing China expert Anne-Marie Brady to make a submission on foreign interference after previously blocking her.

The Canterbury University professor wanted to make a submission to the Justice Select Committee regarding its inquiry into foreign interference in the 2017 general election and 2016 local elections.

The select committee is evenly split between National Party MPs and Labour Party MPs. And while the National members supported Ms Brady making a submission, the Labour members voted against it, on the grounds her request was late. 

"As Committee Chair, I am satisfied that the correct procedure has been followed and that the agencies will keep the committee well informed about any issues of foreign interference that may arise," Labour MP Raymond Huo said on Friday morning.

But the Prime Minister's Office now says the professor may be invited to speak. It's understood the select committee chair, Mr Huo, will appeal to his colleagues next week to allow Ms Brady to submit. 

National MP Nick Smith, a member of the committee, expressed concern over the decision to block Ms Brady from making a submission. He said he felt her input was important, considering her experience in New Zealand-China relations.

"I find it gobsmacking that New Zealand's most published academic in this area is being blocked from appearing before the committee," Mr Smith told Newshub. 

National MP Nick Smith.
National MP Nick Smith. Photo credit: Getty

It cannot be denied that Ms Brady has a lot to share on the subject. Her 2017 paper Magic Weapons described the United Front, a Chinese Government group aimed at promoting the policies and ideals of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to control outside forces.

Her house was burgled in February last year and her old laptop was taken that she'd used for research while travelling in China. It sparked outcry from academics around the world, who penned an open letter decrying China's alleged involvement. 

Mr Smith said the professor wrote to the select committee to express her interest in appearing before them to discuss China's foreign interference. He said Labour members voted against it because it was too late. 

The committee chair Mr Huo reiterated this, telling Newshub the closing date for submissions on the inquiry was over five months ago on 23 September 2018. He said the date was widely publicised by committee staff.

But Mr Smith rejected that, arguing the decision to look into foreign interference wasn't made either by the committee or the Minister of Justice Andrew Little until after she had made her submission.

He said the New Zealand Electoral Commission, one of the first submitters, raised the issue of foreign interference. He said they wanted a particular focus in the inquiry on the issue of foreign interference given what's occurring internationally.

Professor Anne-Marie Brady.
Professor Anne-Marie Brady. Photo credit: Canterbury University

The committee concluded in October, he said, that it would give particular focus to issues of foreign interference, and would focus on international hacking, domestic media campaigns engineered offshore, and foreign donations trying to influence elections.

He said Mr Little then wrote to the committee on October 25 asking the group to look into foreign interference - which was well after the closing date for submissions.

"My point is, for [the Labour members] to say that Anne-Marie Brady should have submitted in September, the decision to look into foreign interference wasn't made either by the committee or the minister until after that," Mr Smith said.

"[Ms Brady] finds out that we are doing this work, she writes to us, and says, 'I've done a lot of research in this area, I'd love to make an oral submission'," he explained.

"We considered her letter [on Thursday] in the Justice Select Committee. National moved that she'd be invited to make a submission and to appear - Labour members voted against that motion."

Raymond Huo and Andrew Little.
Raymond Huo and Andrew Little. Photo credit: Labour

Mr Huo said: "What I can add is that it appeared to be a set-up by National MP Dr Smith."

"I personally would welcome a submission from Prof Brady. But again, whether to reopen or not is a business for the committee - that's where any discussions should take place."

As well as her submission being late, Labour argued that it only wanted to hear from Government agencies, which Mr Smith said was "complete crock".

"The Justice Committee has asked the Security Intelligence Service, the Government Communications and Security Bureau (GCSB) and the National Assessments Bureau to appear," Mr Huo said.

Mr Smith said while that's appropriate, those agencies "will not do anything other than what their ministers allow them to say".

"They didn't get that advice, they just made it up - its straight politics."

He said as a little country "we need to be concerned" about foreign interference.

New Zealand's relationship with China appears to have soured recently. Last month an article published in the Global Times, urged New Zealand to "desist from undermining China's growing influence".

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's trip to China was also postponed last year, prompting suspicion that China may have taken offence to the GCSB warning against Huawei building Spark's 5G mobile network.