Inadequate Defence: Campbell Live's Rebecca Wright interviews Justice Minister, Judith Collins, on the GCSB Amendment Bill. Like so many of her colleagues, the Minister was unable to offer a cogent and/or accurate defence of her Government's legislation.
SOMETHING’S VERY WRONG when senior Cabinet Ministers cannot defend their own Government’s legislation. The spectacle of multiple National Party politicians struggling to justify the GCSB Amendment Bill to Campbell Live’s Rebecca Wright was more than a little disconcerting. Stuttering and stammering, none of them were able to draw together the rudiments of a convincing defence. Indeed, their uniformly uninspiring replies suggest a Cabinet characterised not so much by its intellectual acuity, as by its mental and moral vacuity.
Not that they care. From the Prime Minister to the lowliest back-bencher, the National Government appears to be driven by disdainful contempt, bordering on outright hatred, for practically every evidence-based and logically argued case submitted in opposition to its policies.
This has been especially evident in relation to the GCSB Amendment Bill.
In spite of the fact that he possesses no legal qualifications, the Prime Minister felt perfectly free to dismiss the New Zealand Law Society’s submission on the Bill to the Intelligence and Security Committee. The Society, he claimed, had simply misunderstood the legislation.
Unfortunately, Mr Key (unlike most reasonable people) did not feel obliged to demonstrate exactly how the Law Society got it all so badly wrong. The Prime Minister declaring its argument deficient was apparently all that was required for the submission to be set aside. Taking their cue from Mr Key’s response, the Prime Minister’s colleagues continue to treat the Law Society’s comprehensive deconstruction and condemnation of the Bill as if it were a C-minus undergraduate essay.
The same dismissive attitude is manifest in the Government’s response to the criticisms of Sir Geoffrey Palmer. In spite of the critic being a former Law Professor, Attorney-General, Law Commissioner and Prime Minister of New Zealand; and ignoring the fact that he, like Mr Key, at one time held ministerial responsibility for the country’s security services, Sir Geoffrey’s objections to the GCSB Amendment Bill are, apparently, as muddled and mistaken as the Law Society’s.
All the more puzzling, then, why the same National Party cabinet ministers and back-benchers who’ve been so quick to allege that all those who characterise the GCSB amending legislation as a vast, unwarranted and potentially dangerous expansion of the State’s ability to pry into the private affairs of its citizens have got it wrong, become so utterly incoherent and/or obfuscatory when asked to set us right.
And how reassuring it has been (at least to those of us who still believe in the virtues of democracy) to hear coherent arguments, both for and against the GCSB Amendment Bill, coming from the mouths of ordinary New Zealand citizens. Whether it be the young Maori man in Kaitaia’s main street, who had been following the issue closely on the Internet, and who was eloquent in his condemnation of the Government’s expansion of the security services’ powers. Or, the Four Square store proprietor who was pleased to know that the Government “had his back” when it came to the threat of international terrorism.
These responses, captured by the irrepressible John Campbell and his team, as part of a week-long, televised, opinion-gathering road-trip from Cape Reinga to the Bluff, are also rather puzzling. Because, according to the Prime Minister (and just about his entire caucus) nobody out there cares about the GCSB – or its amending legislation.
What they do care about, says the Prime Minister (and, again, the National caucus nods its collective head) is the recreational Snapper catch-limit. (As if Kiwis can only be concerned about one issue at a time!)
But as Campbell Live (demonstrating with considerable élan just how vital a free media is to the processes of democratic government) has shown us, emphatically and indisputably, the Prime Minister’s claim is untrue.
From Northland to Southland, ordinary Kiwis have been paying close attention to their Government’s plans to expand the GCSB’s powers. Most are uneasy. Some are frightened. Practically all of them do care – a lot – and, unlike Mr Key’s Cabinet, are perfectly capable of telling us why.
John Key vs John Campbell: Game, Set and Match to the Prime Minister. (And, unlike his interlocutor, he did it all without notes!)
POSTSCRIPT: Goaded into action by the power of Campbell Live’s reporting, the Prime Minister agreed to a live interview with John Campbell on Wednesday night. The latter gentleman discovered to his cost that while National’s Cabinet may have struggled to defend the GCSB Amendment Bill, the Prime Minister was made of considerably sterner stuff. Even opponents of the legislation, watching the exchange, agreed that it was Game, Set and Match to the Prime Minister.
This essay was originally published in The Dominion Post, The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 16 August 2013.