Appeal to John Key, visiting Latin America, to go to Hugo Chavez’s funeral

My contribution to new Daily Blog today is an appeal for Prime Minister Key, currently visiting Latin America, to go to Hugo Chavez’s funeral, with all the reasons why.

Rule Britannia: Key keeps the ban on Catholics in the Royal Succession Bill

I am including here the link to my first contribution to The Daily Blog, a new left political/cultural blog. Other regular contributors to the blog include Chris Trotter, Jane Kelsey, Matt McCarten, Laila Harre, John Minto, Martyn Bradbury, Sue Bradford, Wayne Butson, David Slack and Selwyn Manning. This Daily Blog contribution analyses the discriminatory Royal Succession Bill, now before Parliament.

Dotcom case shows the cost of spying is spooky

Oped published in the New Zealand Herald on 18 December 2012

By Keith Locke

The Dotcom case is focusing more attention on the Government Communications Security Bureau and its association with the Five Eyes electronic spying network.

Chief High Court Judge Helen Winkelmann has asked the GCSB to name the entities (including foreign intelligence agencies) that were in receipt of some of the information the bureau had illegally gathered on Dotcom.

Hopefully, the judge will have more success in prising information out of the electronic spy agency than I had during my 12 years as a member of Parliament.

When I was an MP, even the most basic information was deemed too secret to disclose.

Back in 2006, I had no luck in getting then Prime Minister Helen Clark to even admit that New Zealand was a formal member of a five-nation electronic spying network. When I asked her direct parliamentary questions about our ties with UKUSA, the intelligence sharing treaty which underpins the Five Eyes network, she simply refused to answer.

This was a bit silly, because it was by then public knowledge that the five UKUSA signatories were the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

John Key – Helen Clark’s successor as Minister in Charge of the GCSB – was no more co-operative.

One of an MP’s responsibilities is to monitor departmental expenditure, but I couldn’t do that for the GCSB because the government would only provide the bureau’s gross annual expenditure.

There were hints at what the GCSB might be spending its money on, but no figures were provided. I discovered in the GCSB annual report for 2009 that there had been a “significant investment” in the satellite communications interception station at Waihopai, and I wanted to know more. I felt taxpayers were entitled to know what was being spent on Waihopai and surely the government could provide at least an overall figure or the year.

But Key wouldn’t tell me, on the grounds that under the Public Finance Act intelligence agencies are not obliged to provide expenditure details. I countered that that act didn’t prevent the government disclosing some expenditure details – in the public interest – when there was no genuine security issue involved. It seemed to me that the Prime Minister didn’t want to disclose the annual spending on Waihopai for fear there would be more public debate on whether it was money well spent.

Such a debate could raise awkward questions about the spy station, such as how much useful information New Zealand gains for itself, or whether partner agencies such as the United States National Security Agency are the main beneficiaries. In turn, this raises a broader question of whether operating the Waihopai facility for the Five Eyes network compromises our independent foreign policy. The potential for our foreign policy to be compromised grows as the United States shifts its attention towards Asia and becomes more interested in the communications of Asian governments intercepted by the satellite dishes at Waihopai. These are Asian governments, such as China and Japan, which have otherwise good relations with New Zealand and might be upset that we are helping America spy on them. Another problem with the impenetrable shroud of secrecy around the GCSB is that it breeds incompetence of the sort we have seen in the Dotcom saga. It is a rule of thumb that the more opaque and unaccountable a government agency is, the more mistakes it will make.

In practice, there is very little oversight of GCSB activities. The Prime Minister clearly isn’t able to give it much time, even though he is both the Minister in Charge and the chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee, the only oversight body in the Parliament. It is hard to judge the effectiveness of the Intelligence and Security Committee because, unlike similar bodies overseas, it meets in total secrecy. The only other person engaged in oversight is the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, Paul Neazor. He is handicapped by being part-time, and judging by his annual reports he concentrates his attention on the Security Intelligence Service, not the GCSB.

It is a pity that despite all the attention on the GCSB’s illegal surveillance of Dotcom, there has been little debate about the mission of the agency and how much value we are getting from it.

We need more public discussion on what New Zealanders gain or lose from the Waihopai facility, and from the other significant GCSB facility, the radio communication interception station at Tangimoana near Palmerston North.

It would also be worth reviewing whether another key GCSB task, helping protect the security of government computers, is being carried out adequately in the light of the failures in Work and Income and some other departments.

The GCSB budget is $64 million so the agency is worth more public attention, particularly in times of financial restraint.

Keith Locke is a former Green MP. He was also the party’s spokesman on intelligence and security issues.

Political spying challenged

Interviewed by Selwyn Manning on Triangle TV –  15 October 2012

Change the New Zealand flag

Over the years I have been promoting two related issues, New Zealand becoming a republic, and changing the New Zealand flag away from the present one, which is a hangover from the old colonial days, with a British Union Jack in the corner.

After watching the Olympic coverage I wrote a letter to the New Zealand Herald, which was published in the 11 August edition. It read:

“Does anyone now doubt that New Zealand’s symbol is the silver fern. All our Olympic athletes wore it, and the large stylised fern on the rowers singlets was particularly beautiful. New Zealand spectators joined the party with innumerable fern flags. It is the fern that stirs our emotions, so let’s get on an make it our official flag.”

Battered nation syndrome

News: The NZ frigate Te Kaha joins the US RIMPAC war game off Hawaii for the first time in 28 years and exercises with US nuclear subs. However, Te Kaha is then barred from docking at Pearl Harbour because of NZ’s anti-nuclear policy.

Once upon a time there lived a small nation called Aotearoa, the youngest daughter of Britannia. As she grew up Aotearoa became romantically attached to the brawny Americana, who had come to her assistance when Aotearoa was threatened by the neighbourhood bully Japanica.

Aotearoa stayed in love with Americana even when he started beating up on some of the locals (such as those in Seasia) and when he stocked up on armaments that could destroy the whole neighbourhood. Much as she loved Americana, Aotearoa decided she had to ask him to leave the doomsday weapons at home when he came to visit.

Americana decided to show who was boss around the hood and cancelled these home visits. This distressed Aotearoa as she was still very much attached to Americana and missed him greatly. She kept sending Americana presents wherever he happened to be, even in places like Afghanistania.

Finally, Aotearoa was doing so much for Americana that he relented and said she could bring her war toys to Hawaii and play with Americana and the other members of his gang.

Aotearoa was overjoyed and enthusiastically joined the war game. She particularly liked playing hide and seek with Americana’s nuclear subs – despite her long-standing allergy to radioactivity and Armageddon.

It was great. But when it was over Aotearoa was shattered to learn that she was the only one of the mistresses (who included Australiana) not to be invited back to Americana’s big place in Pearly Harbour. Americana said coldly that she would have to amuse herself that night.

Like battered nations before her, Aotearoa now had a choice. To accept this slap in the face, or to turn her affections elsewhere. It was a difficult decision. For all its ups and downs Aotearoa’s affair with Americana had lasted 70 years. And she knew what could happen other suitors that had walked out on Americana – Irania being the latest example. No she would stick with it.

So Aotearoa meekly told Americana that she understood why she wasn’t welcome at the Pearly Harbour party. Yes, she has been a bit naughty, but she still loved him and would try even harder to please him.

TO BE CONTINUED: Find out in the next installment whether Aotearoa takes Australiana’s medicine and overcomes her anti-nuclear allergy. Or whether she finally takes the plunge and signs up to an assertiveness workshop for battered nations?

Navy should be anti-nuclear too

(The following was a Letter to the Editor from me as published in the 25 June issue of the New Zealand Herald)

I am disturbed that our navy seems to be operating as if we were not a nuclear-free country opposed to nuclear weapons.

In the June-July issue of Navy Today Te Kaha’s commander, Jon Beardsmore, expresses his enthusiasm for exercising with American nuclear submarines when his frigate joins the big RIMPAC [Exercise Rim of the Pacific] naval exercise off Hawaii at the end of this month.

Commander Beardsmoore says: “For us it’s the only operation where we get to operate with nuclear submarines, so from any anti-submarine aspect it is a great environment.”

Surely it is against the spirit of our anti-nuclear legislation for Te Kaha to practice attacking nuclear submarines, or to help American nuclear subs improve their defences. We should not be playing any part in preparations for a nuclear war.

Exercising with nuclear submarines also runs counter to the good work New Zealand does promoting nuclear disarmament on the world stage.

Keith Locke, Mt Eden.

Trying to Make New Zealand Intelligence Services More Accountable: My Efforts in Parliament

By Keith Locke

(The following article was published in the May 2012 issue of Peace Researcher, the journal of the Anti-Bases Campaign. To see the other interesting articles in Peace Researcher go to http://www.converge.org.nz/abc.)

[Peace Researcher editor’s introductory comment: Keith Locke was a Green MP from 1999 to 2011. He has been credited with being the most respected member of the House, yet maintained his Leftist credentials with honour and humility. Prepared to ask the hard questions, and constantly issuing press releases that pinpointed what was really happening in both NZ and overseas, Anti-Bases Campaign owes Keith a tremendous debt; no other MP has ever been prepared to raise the military and intelligence questions that he demanded answers for, and no other MP has ever so persistently tried to penetrate the wall of secrecy and bullshit erected around the affairs of the Security Intelligence Service, the Government Communications Security Bureau and other related agencies. This article will concern anyone with an interest in the covert operations of our spooks. The Editors of Peace Researcher wish Keith the best of luck in retirement, and long may his energy to pursue the big issues continue. Ed.]

One of my missions during 12 years in Parliament was to make our intelligence services more accountable. I made less progress than I’d hoped for. I asked many questions of Prime Ministers Clark and Key – the Ministers formally responsible for the security services – but I was usually told that they didn’t comment on intelligence or security matters. This isn’t to say that pressure from MPs like me (and the public) has not had some impact. The Security Intelligence Service (SIS) now makes a show of being more open, but it is still mainly a show because the information in their Annual Reports – and on their Website – is pretty non-specific. We are hardly surprised to find out that they are chasing terrorists – but what does that mean in practice? I couldn’t find out through Parliamentary channels, even though, for ten years, I was the Green Party’s Parliamentary spokesperson on intelligence services. It was from my work in migrant communities that I got some idea of what the SIS was doing to “fight terrorism”, and it wasn’t pretty. I discovered the SIS was visiting mosques, and regularly questioning members of the Sri Lankan Tamil community. Read the rest of this entry »

Amnesty International Human Rights Defender Award 2012

On Saturday 12 May I was most humbled to receive from Amnesty International the 2012 Human Rights Defender Award. There were many other strong nominees (see below). I thank the many people who have sent messages of congratulations since I was given the award.

With Amnesty International's new Executive Director Grant Bayldon and Chair Helen Shorthouse after being presented with the Human Rights Defender Award.


Amnesty International Honours Unique New Zealander

Sunday, 13 May 2012, 10:25 am

Press Release: Amnesty International Aotearoa New Zealand

Amnesty International Honours a Unique New Zealander with a Genuine Dedication to Social Justice Causes

Keith Locke was tonight announced as the recipient of Amnesty International Aotearoa’s Human Rights Defender Award.

In a ceremony at the Human Rights Commission in Auckland the award was presented to the former Greens MP in recognition of a life dedicated to the promotion and protection of people’s human rights here in New Zealand and around the world.

“When we at Amnesty speak to communities or people here in New Zealand who have also sought our advice and help, Keith’s name is often mentioned as someone who has unfailingly assisted them,” said Rebecca Emery, Deputy Director at Amnesty International.

“Keith is truly a unique New Zealander who comes from a family that has shown a genuine dedication to social justice causes through generations, and for this reason, it is a pleasure to close our 50th birthday year by honouring him as a true expression of what it means to be a Human Rights Defender.”

“The award is emotional for me because it’s an award from my peers, said Keith.

“To me it’s the highest award I’ve achieved in my life because it’s from people I respect so much.”

Keith acknowledged the other award nominees as they are all people he’s worked alongside and has great respect for.

“I’m very humbled for receiving this award and it will be treasured,” said Keith.
 
Keith Locke’s political journey has been a colourful one and he has been at the forefront of speaking up on numerous issues, which other MPs have shied away from, such as Tibet, East Timor, Sri Lanka, China and numerous issues in the Middle East.

Amnesty commended Keith for being a domestic watchdog in the areas of search and surveillance issues, anti terror and refugee issues, including his tireless campaigning for the rights of Ahmed Zaoui.

“The high calibre and diverse range of nominations received this year is testament to the recognition that the defence of human rights in our part of the world is as crucial as it is to the rest of the world,” said Rebecca Emery.

Background
: The nominees for the 2012 Human Rights Defender Award included Journalist/War Correspondent, JON STEPHENSON, Leader of Dewan Adat Papua (DAP) FORKORUS YABOISEMBUT, Former Chief Human Rights Commissioner in NZ, ROSSLYN NOONAN, Director/Producer/Co-Editor & Producer/Subject of the film Brother Number One, ANNIE GOLDSON & ROB HAMILL, Barrister & Founder of Slave Free Seas, CRAIG TUCK, Human Rights Advocate, MARIANNE ELLIOT, and Asylum Access Thailand, MICHAEL TIMMINS.

The judging panel for the Award included Dr Judy MacGregor of the Human Rights Commission, Meg Poutasi of Pacific Cooperation Foundation and Rebecca Emery, Deputy Director at Amnesty International.

“Human Rights Defenders are vital in the current New Zealand fabric, it is they who help keep the government honest and give others a voice,” said Dr Judy MacGregor.

Interview with me and Amnesty Deputy Director Rebecca Emery on TV3 Firstline on 14 October.

My recent political commentary appearances on TV

I have been doing some political commentary since leaving Parliament. On three occasions I have been a panel member on Bomber Bradbury’s “Citizen A” show on Auckland’s Triangle Television.

Here are the three shows:

12 April:  On consultants and need for a lobbying register, the Greens high polling and the need for an investigation into the SAS’s role in Afghanistan.


1 March: On the Housing Corporation cutbacks, NZ Ambassador to US Mike Moore’s invite to tobacco company to free trade deal party,  and Lucy Lawless’s direction action against Shell re drilling in the Arctic.

26 January 2012:  On the Ports of Auckland dispute, the Occupy Movement, and NZ on Air and the pre-election poverty documentary.

I have also been on TVNZ’s Sunday Q and A panel once. Topics covered were: