Ex-GCSB head to helm Rena review

SIMON MURDOCH: Long career in foreign affairs.
SIMON MURDOCH: Long career in foreign affairs.

The official who presided over illegal spying at the GCSB will review Maritime New Zealand's response to the Rena grounding, a move Labour says "won't add confidence".

Simon Murdoch was acting director of the Government Security Communications Bureau from July 1 to December 19 last year, when internet millionaire Kim Dotcom was placed under illegal surveillance.

Murdoch, who was also former chief executive of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, was named head of the Rena inquiry by MNZ this morning.

The announcement comes a day before the one year anniversary of the cargo ship grounding on the Astrolabe Reef, off the Tauranga coast.

Labour's environment spokesman Grant Robertson said his appointment had "unfortunate timing".

"While he has a long and respected career, his actions as the head of the GCSB are under scrutiny at the moment and it certainly won't add confidence to the Rena inquiry."

However, MNZ director Keith Manch disagreed, saying Murdoch has "exactly the right experience and credentials" to do the review and his report would be public.

He said he began discussing the role with the former GCSB boss before the Dotcom spy scandal came to light.

"It's not an issue from my perspective. The bottom line is ... he is the right person to do this kind of work and I'm confident he'll do a good job."

Tauranga City Council mayor Stuart Crosby said he didn't have an opinion on whether Murdoch's appointment was appropriate or not, but said he was just happy an inquiry would be carried out.

"The inquiry is important. I wouldn't want to see an inquiry for blame, but rather an inquiry for learning."

He said lessons needed to be learnt to prevent or manage a similar situation should it ever happen again.

The review will focus solely on MNZ's response to the Rena - including planning and preparedness, oil spill response, salvage oversight, and communications and community engagement.

It will be overseen by Transport Ministry chief executive Martin Matthews, MNZ chairman David Ledson and Manch.

Robertson said the review was "too narrow" by only focusing on MNZ, and should also look at other agencies and the role of ministers.

"It's essentially an internal review. I think the people of the Bay of Plenty are owed more than that.

"New Zealand has got huge lessons to learn from this. I'm really disappointed, it's way too narrow."

Robertson also called for an inquiry that would allow to subpoena witnesses.

"A ministerial inquiry would at least show the Government is treating this with the seriousness it deserves," he said.

Manch said Murdoch will not only be talking to MNZ staff, but also central and local government and other key agencies that helped with the response.

"He'll cover the issues that have been referred to, but the review addresses what's appropriate in terms of Maritime New Zealand's operational response," he said.

"There will be things that have been done very well, but inevitably there will be areas where things could have been done better and we can take lessons away from this incident."

Manch said a review of large scale incidents, carried out independently, was standard practice for emergency response organisations.

The review will not involve public submissions. It is expected to be completed early next year and it will be made available to the public with any recommendations for possible changes.


Meanwhile, the Bay of Plenty community has been given $1 million by Rena charterer Mediterranean Shipping Company SA (MSC).

The company did not accept legal responsibility for what was described as New Zealand's worst environmental disaster but said it wanted to donate to the community as a "goodwill gesture".

The $1m would contribute towards cleaning the coastline of oil and debris and caring for wildlife impacted by the grounding. It would also assist local iwi who suffered because of the pollution and tourism businesses that can prove they suffered financially in the wake of the grounding.

Crosby said the donation was a "generous amount" considering the MSC had no legal responsibility.

"We've set up a structure where we have advertised for applications for the grant. A distribution committee has been set up and I'm one of those.

"We will assess the applications and they will be delivered quickly. It's really about restoration in those areas - what's required for restoration and what applications can add value to our community in the future."

MSC said it had pledged assistance in the past and were now following through with its promise.

The donation comes days after a comprehensive financial settlement was reached between the Government and Rena owners Daina Shipping Company.

Daina will pay $27.6m, but there was still a shortfall of about $20m on the clean-up costs, which were so far around $47m.