It has been an incredible couple of weeks. Fascinating. From spying to Shearing, we have seen it all.
At the centre has been the GCSB Bill (now, of course, an Act, supported by the ACT party). The Bill’s introduction was characterised by John Key’s dismissive approach to any attempt at constructive dialogue despite the very rational calls from eminent citizens and entities. Finally, he was forced to engage when we saw his now almost mythical “performance” on Campbell Live.
This “performance” was notable for many reasons, none of them really addressing the substantive or procedural concerns around the Bill. When he did deal with content (both in terms of the Bill and the actual content of your communications), the Prime Minister got it wrong. Not to worry, though, a quick letter to the Herald will remedy that and we can take the PM’s assurance that he will not “in the first instance” grant a warrant to spy on the content of our communications.
To make sure we get it, the PM repeats this in the House during its final reading. He will not “in the first instance” grant a warrant to spy on the content of our communications. Just to repeat, not “in the first instance”. I wonder if the spooks will figure that one out? Just ask twice!
Now, to be clear: this is not how lawmaking should be done. If that is your intent, then articulate this in the legislation. An assurance in this context is completely meaningless: there is no transparent public oversight of the use of that assurance, and is too limited in its scope. Yes, such pronouncements in the House when courts come to interpret legislation can be helpful, but when will courts ever get near this? This really was amateur hour when it comes to making legislation.
Back to the “performance” on Campbell Live and this rather cavalier approach to lawmaking was clearly evident. At one incredible moment, the Prime Minister told John Campbell that it didn’t matter how he got there, whether by taxi, bus or Crown Car (this is not a direct quote), the important point was that he got there.
Well, to me that sounds incredibly Machiavellian – the end justifies the means. How instructive! This is how John Key deals with issues – he just wants them resolved and off his table yesterday (he should have checked the table a little better when he and Bansky were knocking back the PG Tips in that Newmarket Cafe…).
But, again, this is not how lawmaking should be done. You cannot rush it. It requires time, public consultation, consideration and discussion, especially when it comes to legislation of such import with the restriction on civil liberties and the increased exercise of state power.
Personally, I am a fan of process when it comes to lawmaking. I fundamentally believe it is through a commitment to process will take us a long way to ensuring fairness. But, this government isn’t interested in fairness. It isn’t interested in being accountable. It isn’t interested in representing us or engaging with us. It is only interested in exercising a paternalistic control over our country serving a narrow ideology proved fundamentally flawed by the 2008 Global Financial Crisis.
I will give credit to the PM for one thing, though. This has been the first official use of product placement in developing our legislation: “this statute is brought to you by Norton Anti-Virus”. This is genius. An entirely new revenue stream. Think of the possibilities! Maybe McAfee should sponsor the TICS Bill? We don’t need to sell our assets after all!
Unusually for a piece of New Zealand legislation, the passing of the GCSB Bill took place in an entirely apposite international context: the revelations of Edward Snowden, the verdict against Chelsea Manning, the Congressional attempt to reign in the NSA via the Amash Amendment (defeated), and the detention of David Miranda at Heathrow Airport (including the confiscation of his property) under Schedule 7 of the UK Terrorism Act. The Miranda detention is, in my view, a reprehensible abuse of state power entirely unintended by the legislation. It has a significant impact on the ability of journalists to do their work in holding the state to account and, accordingly, is an unreasonable restriction on freedom of expression.
These international events show a slippery slope towards an East German inspired relationship between a government and its people. Yet, this is the same slope we are so desperate to join through this rushed and poorly drafted piece of legislation.
On the flip side, the public meetings held around the GCSB Bill both in Mt Albert and the Auckland Town Hall represent a turning point in the history of this government. The energy at those meetings was fantastic. That was democracy at work and an example of concerted civil society action. We need to see more civil society and public engagement going forward no matter who is in government.
Following the passing of the GCSB Bill into law, we have almost immediately seen David Shearer’s resignation. Others have written and will write of the inevitability around this decision, laudable as it is. Others will also comment on Shearer’s style as a leader and the supposed charisma needed to run a successful political party.
But, for me, the problem with Labour under Shearer is that I never knew what Labour actually stood for. (Is it just me?) What is Labour’s platform? What is their political philosophy? What are their key messages on core issues around inequality? Does the Labour party even pretend to believe in egalitarianism any more?
That will be the challenge for Labour’s new leader. Tell us the platform. Give us the message. Who knows, if it is a good one, some folks might even vote for you.