17 Apr 2018

Minister surprised journalist included in reference group

8:27 pm on 17 April 2018

The Minister responsible for New Zealand's spy agencies is surprised that a journalist has been included on a new reference group established by the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security.

No caption

Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

Andrew Little said the 11 member group will act as a 'sounding board' for the Inspector-General Cheryl Gwyn, but won't be privy to classified information, or operational details of the SIS or GCSB.

One member of the group is New Zealand Herald reporter David Fisher, while Nicky Hager - whom Mr Little describes as an "observer" of the intelligence agencies - is another.

Mr Little said he thought there were some "interesting" choices when shown the list last week.

"I was shown the list, I thought some of the choices were interesting but then I think what is important is that we are bold enough and brave enough to know that it is alright to have critics of organisations and of the government involved in this sort of exercise.

"It is a healthy thing in our democracy."

But Mr Little was surprised a New Zealand Herald journalist was on the reference panel.

"I would have thought there is a question about a journalist complying with their ethics in doing so, but that's a judgement call in the end that they have to make."

And National's spy spokesperson Gerry Brownlee said the creation of the reference group raised a number of serious questions - particularly around the inclusion of the investigative journalist Nicky Hager.

"The Inspector-General has said this group has been brought together to help her stand 'in the shoes of the public."

"But several members of her group are far from objective in their view of our intelligence relationships, or in some cases the existence of intelligence services at all," Mr Brownlee said.

He said Mr Hager had repeatedly questioned the legitimacy of the country's spy agencies.

"Will this group have top secret clearance? If so, how can we be sure the information they will have access to will be secure?

"Will the Inspector-General be sharing intelligence with them? Where will the line be drawn?"

The full list of those people on the panel:

Ben Creet - Issues Manager, Internet NZ

Professor Rouben Azizian - Director, Centre for Defence and Security Studies, Massey University

Dr Nicole Moreham - Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, Victoria University of Wellington

Dr Paul Buchanan - Director, 36th Parallel Assessments

David Fisher - Journalist, New Zealand Herald

John Ip - Senior Lecturer, Assistant Dean (Academic), Faculty of Law, University of Auckland

Nicky Hager - Journalist, Author

Thomas Beagle - Chairperson, NZ Council for Civil Liberties

Treasa Dunworth - Associate Professor, Public International Law, University of Auckland

Suzanne Snively - Chair, Transparency International

Deborah Manning - Barrister