8 Mar 2019

Labour MPs backtrack on Anne-Marie Brady committee decision

3:32 pm on 8 March 2019

Labour MPs have backtracked on their decision to block China expert Anne-Marie Brady from speaking at Parliament after push-back from the Opposition.

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Labour MP Raymond Huo, right, originally declined to hear from Professor Anne-Marie Brady, because he said a deadline for public feedback had passed. Photo: RNZ

Professor Brady had asked to address MPs about foreign interference in elections as part of a justice committee inquiry, but the request was turned down yesterday when the four Labour MPs voted against it.

A government spokesperson said the committee chair, Labour MP Raymond Huo, had a rethink overnight and the committee would briefly reopen submissions to the public later this year.

Mr Huo declined to be interviewed by RNZ, but in a written statement he said he "welcomed" new submissions.

He said yesterday's decision to block Prof Brady was "purely procedural" and denied he had shifted stance under pressure.

"That's my own initiative," Mr Huo said.

However, just hours earlier Mr Huo made no mention of that position in a separate statement sent to RNZ.

"As Committee Chair, I am satisfied that the correct procedure has been followed and that the [intelligence] agencies will keep the committee well informed about any issues of foreign interference that may arise," he said.

In that earlier statement, Mr Huo stressed the deadline for public feedback had passed more than five months ago and was "widely publicised".

Public submissions for the inquiry closed in September last year, but the committee was not tasked with considering foreign interference until October.

Committee member and National MP Nick Smith yesterday called for the committee to reconsider, saying Parliament should hear from New Zealand's most published academic around the risks of overseas interference in elections.

Dr Smith this afternoon told RNZ he was pleased Mr Huo had had a "change of heart", but said it was only because he had spoken out.

"It's blatantly obvious that the Beehive has recognised that silencing an academic on as issue as sensitive as protecting New Zealand from foreign interference was a really bad look and they've had to reconsider."

The committee will hear from the government's spy agencies on 3 April.

Prof Brady did not want to comment on the matter when approached by RNZ yesterday.