Dunne turnaround on spy bill

ANDREA VANCE
Last updated 11:43 23/07/2013

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OPINION: So the deal is "Dunne", as the headline writers put it.

To the surprise of absolutely no-one, Peter Dunne performed a U-turn on his flip-flop and agreed to support the expansion of the GCSB's powers to spy on New Zealanders.

None of the concessions he claimed to have won on the proposed Government Communications Security Bureau and Related Legislation Amendment Bill, address his repeated assertion that only the domestic Security Intelligence Service should be allowed to spy on Kiwis.

Both he and Prime Minister John Key insist the changes improve the accountability of the GCSB and the transparency of its operations. But they do nothing to allay considerable public concern about what happens to information the GCSB harvests.

There is still no mechanism in the new laws to ensure our private communications are not fed into any kind of global surveillance programme, such as the NSA's PRISM.

New Zealanders remain in the dark about what participation in the Five Eyes intelligence alliance really means for our correspondence.

The changes also do little to dilute the considerable influence the prime minister has on the oversight functions of the intelligence agencies.

Greens co-leader Russel Norman dismissed the deal as a "cosmetic stitch-up."

It's a position that's hard to disagree with, especially when you consider the amendments will not be incorporated to the draft of the bill agreed on by the intelligence and security committee on Monday.

Instead, Dunne will be allowed to present them in a supplementary order paper to Parliament, granting him a speech and a further moment in the sun.

Key's insistence that he wanted more than a one-vote majority for the laws also looks a bit flimsy when you consider he never approached Labour to talk about a compromise, or their bottom lines. "Negotiations" appear to have been done solely through the media.

Labour had proposed a "sunset" clause, which would have allowed the GCSB to assist other agencies while an independent inquiry weighed up whether an expansion of their powers was justified.

Key wasn't interested in this compromise - which would have secured the cross-party support he claims to want. Likely this is because he had every reason to believe Dunne would come to the party. (He suggested yesterday that the Government's overtures to NZ First were rebuffed).

One Labour source suggested yesterday that Dunne "owed" Key after he was forced to resign over the leaking of the GCSB report. Dunne flatly denies he was the source - but has admitted he considered it.

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A cynic might suggest the UnitedFuture leader also withdrew his support to rehabilitate his public image.

His party was working to rebuild membership after it was forced to deregister last month.

As the legislation hung in the balance he was courted by the media - and for a time certainly appeared to be something of a privacy champion.

Judging by the abuse that spewed forth on Twitter last night, he is now seen as no-one's champion.

In the long term, his support for the bill, may only cement the view that he is prepared to trade principles for pragmatics to secure his political future. With that in mind, pundits will watch keenly for any signals of electoral accommodations by National in Dunne's Ohariu electorate next year. 

- The Dominion Post

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