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Hipkins and the Intelligence Committee 

In brief
  • PM Hipkins wants to consult with other political parties over recommended Intelligence Committee changes;
  • Reviewers point to lack of independence; 
  • Reviewers also propose defining “national security” to incorporate diversity and Treaty obligations in intelligence law; whatever that means.

Hipkins has reservations

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins has expressed his reservations about removing himself and other ministers, as recommended by a third party review of the Intelligence and Security Act. He has decided to consult with other political parties before responding to the recommendations.

The review, conducted by former Supreme Court judge Sir Terence Arnold and lawyer Matanuku Mahuika, focused on the Intelligence Security Act 2017.  

The three main recommendations include overhauling the committee, removing the distinction between warrants for spying on New Zealanders and non-New Zealanders, and defining “national security” in the law. 

Hipkins and the Intelligence Committee  - Centrist
Andrew Little is Minister of New Zealand Security Intelligence Service. Image by NZ Labour Party

No independence

The reviewers highlighted concerns about the lack of independence of the Intelligence and Security Committee. They argued that the committee, which meets infrequently, had insufficient time and capacity to effectively scrutinise the agencies and called for its composition to be changed. 

Currently, the committee is chaired by the PM, with other busy government members, such as the intelligence agency’s minister Andrew Little and foreign minister Nanaia Mahuta.

The reviewers recommended the committee consist only of MPs from significant political parties and be expanded to investigate the operations of the agencies and other government organisations with national security responsibilities.

Regarding warrants

It is suggested the distinction be removed between warrants for spying on New Zealanders and non-New Zealanders, when the issue is the “protection of national security.” They argued that the higher standard currently applied to warrants for New Zealanders should also be applied to foreigners. 

The intelligence agencies supported this recommendation, and there was no opposition from other consulted parties. However, the distinction is going to be maintained for spying warrants related to international relations or economic well-being.

Diversity and the Treaty

The review also proposed defining “national security” under the law to provide guidance and constraints on the agencies’ behaviours. Typical of reviews these days, the recommendations included incorporating Treaty of Waitangi obligations in the law and ensuring the agencies perform their functions in a manner that reflects New Zealand’s multicultural and diverse society. It is hard to see what that has to do with security and sounds more like ideology. 

The review was initially prompted by the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Christchurch mosque terror attacks. The Intelligence and Security Committee considered the report in a closed-door meeting three weeks prior to its public release. 

Feature image by NZ Labour Party

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