6 Dec 2017

Calls to combat foreign political influence

5:36 am on 6 December 2017

New Zealand is being urged to follow Australia's lead and crack down on foreign espionage and interference in politics.

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Photo: RNZ

The Australian government yesterday announced plans to ban political donations from overseas and introduce a register for foreign lobbyists.

The Minister in charge of the NZSIS and GCSB, Andrew Little, declined to be interviewed but said in a statement he said he was satisfied NZ's intelligence agencies had the powers they needed to investigate and monitor threats, including from abroad.

"Section 58 of the [Intelligence and Security] Act expressly permits the issue of a warrant to either of the agencies to collect information in a way that would otherwise be unlawful in relation to espionage or other foreign intelligence."

The new Justice Minister Andrew Little says the three strikes law hasn't worked.

Andrew Little said he was satisfied New Zealand's intelligence agencies had the power needed to investigate threats. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

It comes amid growing concerns about Chinese foreign influence on both sides of the Tasman.

University of Canterbury professor Anne-Marie Brady said the new Labour-led government needed to closely study what Australia was doing and take action.

"Australia has a really clear, resilient strategy now ... and it's an approach our government could really learn a lot from."

Prof Brady recently published a major research paper which documented extensive links between China and former NZ politicians.

"We're certainly not immune from the pressures that Australia's experiencing."

She said the rules governing political donations should be completely overhauled, with 83 percent of National's donations and 81 percent of Labour's made anonymously.

"There is definitely work that needs to be done to look at how we can better protect the integrity of our system."

In New Zealand, political donations from overseas are allowed as long as they do not exceed $1500.

Canberra author and academic Clive Hamilton said New Zealand was late to the party.

"New Zealand should have been leading Australia to this," he said.

"China's influence operations are more advanced in New Zealand than they are in Australia."

Asked for evidence, Prof Hamilton referred to Prof Brady's research paper.

Prof Hamilton recently made headlines after his book about alleged Chinese influence in Australia was dropped by publishers.

Foreign policy expert Robert Ayson said New Zealand should not simply copy Australia or rush into a knee-jerk response.

"It's important for New Zealand to do this at the right time for itself rather than to respond to what our most important ally decides to do for itself."

Prof Ayson, from Victoria University, said the two countries were different and needed to take a case-by-case approach.

"Each situation has to be judged on its merits. As soon as we start to generalise, we get into difficulty.

"We don't want to be in a position ... where we start to think that any New Zealander who has a connection to Chinese business interests is suddenly some agent that's planted here."

He stressed New Zealand's prosperity in many ways relied on international involvement and so it was important not to scare that away.

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