Monday, July 01, 2013

Heads must roll

Last week we learned that the Henry Inquiry into the leak of the Kitteridge Report had tracked journalist Andrea Vance's movements around Parliament. Over the weekend, we learned that the spying had gone further, and included not just information on Vance, but also Peter Dunne's email metadata, identifying who he had been emailing and how often (something which seems to be common practice from the Key government). Both the Prime Minister and the Speaker of the House deny authorising this spying; apparently Parliamentary Services cooperated with Henry on their own initiative.

This boggles the mind. You would expect Parliamentary Services of all people to understand Parliamentary Privilege and the separation between the legislature and executive. But no, apparently they just handed over this information on request, without any warrant or statutory authorisation.

The Greens are calling the spying illegal, and have called in the Ombudsman. But I'd go beyond that: this is a clear breach of Parliamentary Privilege. Standing Order 406 states that

The House may treat as a contempt any act or omission which—
(a) obstructs or impedes the House in the performance of its functions, or
(b) obstructs or impedes any member or officer of the House in the discharge of the member’s or officer’s duty, or
(c) has a tendency, directly or indirectly, to produce such a result.

Spying on members and tracking who they communicate with clearly impedes them in their function as elected representatives. Spying on members of the press gallery for doing their job does the same (in that communicating with the media is one of the key functions of MPs). Henry shouldn't just be investigated by the Ombudsman - he should be dragged before the Privileges Committee. As for the Parliamentary staff member(s) who so obligingly handed over information without once thinking about the constitutional implications, they must be sacked. There simply is no other remedy.

But beyond this, the question of the PM's spying on Ministers raised in the Herald article also needs to be addressed. Ministers occupy a dual role in our system, acting as both legislators and members of the executive, and while the Prime Minister may reasonably expect corporate ownership and surveillance of their functions in the latter role, he cannot possibly do so in the former. Worse, his actions here raise the prospect of the potential for him to spy on his backbenchers - or on the Opposition (and with Parliamentary Services being so obliging, they can't be trusted to say "no"). MPs should not tolerate this. They should demand that no spying is done on the Parliamentary network without a warrant (and therefore under the MOU with the Police [PDF], the oversight of the Speaker). Furthermore, they should protect themselves by demanding that the Parliamentary network be separated completely from that used by Ministers, and that it be encrypted end-to-end so that information on it cannot be stolen for political purposes. Anything less, and they're simply asking for a future Muldoon to abuse them.