On the SIS report

While I

welcome the news

that SIS files on sitting MPs have been closed the bar has still been set too low for putting opposition MPs under surveillance. According to Paul Neazor,

Inspector General of Intelligence and Security

, the test should be whether the Member  ‘is suspected of undertaking activities detrimental to security.’

The problem lies with the broad definition of security in intelligence legislation. I don’t think an MP should have immunity if they engage in espionage, sabotage or an act of terrorism. But are we really likely to see an MP doing that?

The real problem is when MPs are deemed to threaten security  by engaging in “activities which impact on New Zealand’s international well-being or economic well-being”. The words are those used both in legislation and the Inspector-General’s report.

What best advances New Zealand international reputation or economic interests is debated in Parliament each week. For example, the Greens argue that the free trade and investment agreement with China undermines New Zealand manufacturing, and allows Chinese interests to buy up our dairy farms. The government holds that the increased New Zealand exports to China, particularly in dairy, outweigh any downsides. The government is worried Russel Norman tarnished our good relations with China by waving a Tibetan flag on the steps of Parliament. The Greens hold it enhanced New Zealand’s reputation with those struggling for democracy in China and Tibet.

For those who think it unlikely MPs would be spied upon for having views different from the government, that is exactly why a file was kept on me 55 years, including during my first six years in Parliament. The file demonstrates that my opposition to the Vietnam war, apartheid, and nuclear weapons was seen by governments of the day as a threat to security. The last entry in my file, in 2006, resulted from me having a different approach to the conflict in Sri Lanka. In 2003 I went to Sri Lanka on a peacemaking mission, talking to all sides in the conflict. This upset the SIS, which was clearly on the side of the Sri Lankan government. We can see today the tragic results of a failure to reach a negotiated settlement.

The Inspector-General discloses that by 2006 the SIS had accumulated personal files on 6,700 individuals, which is a huge number for a country more noted for its absence of politically motivated criminality. Who knows how many public service careers have been affected by the existing of such personal files. And who knows how many New Zealanders have been inhibited from engaging in public dissent for fear of having their activities recorded on an SIS file?