Monday, May 28, 2007

Absolutely unacceptable

That is the only way to describe Solid Energy's actions in hiring a private investigation firm to plant spies in the Save Happy Valley campaign. It's also the only way to describe Solid Energy CEO Don Elder's reaction of "so what?" and his claim that his company's actions have been "legal, ethical and moral". The last two are simply laughable; as for the first, s4 (1) (c) of the State-Owned Enterprises Act 1986 requires Solid Energy to be

an organisation that exhibits a sense of social responsibility by having regard to the interests of the community in which it operates.

Socially responsible businesses do not spy on the community they serve. Neither do they attempt to undermine the democratic right of citizens to protest and criticise their actions. I would expect SOE's, as publicly owned bodies, to show special regard for this. Unfortunately, it seems that in the case of Solid Energy, its managers have forgotten who they are managing it for. It's time they were reminded. Heads should roll over this, starting with that of Dr Elder. And if the board of directors is unwilling to do it, then the Minister of State-Owned Enterprises should get directors who are.


Listening to Don Elder on the radio this morning left me with the same feeling, he has to go, he is obviously a spineless, egomaniac, the situation is very creepy, I also have no trust in what Ryan (the 'spy')is saying to media at present, he is probably still being paid. Hope like hell, all this backfires on Solid Energy.

Posted by Anonymous : 5/28/2007 02:01:00 PM


Given that the protesters are in fact acting illegally (including IIRC vandalism and tresspass), why should Solid Energy not infiltrate their ranks? If my business was being targetted by bunch of vandals, I'd make it my job to learn as much about their actions as possible.

S.E.'s actions were legal, and in this case, they were moral too.

If the protestors had a mole within S.E. who was leaking them information, would you approve?

Posted by Anonymous : 5/28/2007 04:08:00 PM

well Duncan, Solid Energy has been standing back and watching these actions, knowing every detail, while complaining loudly. Possibly legal, definitely not moral.

Posted by GZ : 5/28/2007 04:58:00 PM

If they consider crimes are being commited they should go the police.

I really think that this governments parting shot should be to fix the management of SOE's. The current process is broken - the government seems to exercise no more control over them than it does with Cullen Fund investments.

I'd suggest:
- SOE directors should hold their posts at the discretion of the Minister (in the same way that Ministers themselves do). If they don't like this they can leave.

- There should be a public interest director on each board. They should have an appropriate staff in the SOE with the ability to check on everything the organisation does.

- As a general principle, SOEs should be expected to act legally, ethically and in accordance with government policy.

- SOEs should have a clear statement of the public interest in their operation which they are obliged to follow. This should go back to three reasons to keep a company in state ownership:
1. Maintaining continuity of essential services
2. Preventing abuse of monopoly
3. Protecting a public interest that requires a business to operate outside a strict commercial framework.

Posted by Rich : 5/28/2007 05:05:00 PM

YOu really think that heads will roll

Did nt maharey say that christine rankin should be fired, yet when he got into power, did stuff all...I wouldnt hold your breath for their action.

These protesters, who have had public sympathy eroded for their dangerous blockading of the railway, have however got some of that lost PR back with this.

Posted by Anonymous : 5/28/2007 05:09:00 PM

I wonder how correct it would be to blame the protestorts alone, given that some of the "protest" was done by people in the pay of Solid Energy and acting on instructions from same. It's not just a matter of SE knowing what was going on, they were paying participants to be there on both sides of the protest.

I don't think that SE actually set this up like the dynamite-on-helicopter stunt, but I do wonder what *exact* instructions the spies were given.

Posted by Moz : 5/28/2007 05:20:00 PM

At the end of his article in the Sunday Star Times, Nicky Hager suggests it may have in fact been illegal under the Private Investigators and Security Guards Act (section 34) for Thompson & Clark to hire people who do not hold certification. Anyone know more about what whether this reading is correct?

Posted by Anonymous : 5/28/2007 05:22:00 PM

drivel, poor little darling get real socialist dream, any person or any organisation has the right to sus out what is going on in an activist movement,

Posted by Anonymous : 5/28/2007 05:30:00 PM

This press release from the Save Happy Valley Coalition quotes the relevant portions of the act:

"(1) No holder of a private investigator's licence shall, either by himself or in partnership with any other licensee, employ or permit to act as a responsible employee in the business of a private investigator any person who is not the holder of a certificate of approval to be a responsible employee of a private investigator.

(3)Any person who—

(a) Being a licensee, employs any person as a responsible employee, or permits any person to act as a responsible employee, in contravention of subsection (1) or subsection (2) of this section …
commits an offence [against this Act]."

I'd be interested in a lawyer's opinion.

Posted by Anonymous : 5/28/2007 05:39:00 PM

Hager is complaining about this??? That's rich, considering the means by which he's obtained information in the past.

Posted by Anonymous : 5/28/2007 06:08:00 PM

Hager, unlike Solid Energy, is a human being and so has more rights than a corporation. Specifically, he can form the opinion that it is in the public interest that information supplied to him illegally be published. He can also find out information illegally, and qualifies for whistleblower protection and so on in some cases if he does.

Solid Energy, on the other hand, is an unthinking fictional entity with no morals or ethics. As such, its actions are constrained only by the law. Whether that's a good thing is open to debate, and I suspect Duncan falls on the "corporations should have more rights and fewer obligations than humans do", since that's the way it is in the USA.

Posted by Moz : 5/28/2007 06:23:00 PM

This is OUTRAGEOUS. There is NO justification for it. After the cold war the role of the espionage agencies was changed to include economic security. So this type of spying is *clearly* the role of the SIS.

How dare Solid Energy usurp official government functions like this!

Posted by Anonymous : 5/28/2007 07:25:00 PM

How many private sector companies use spies and other dirty tricks against citizens? It is possible that Solid Energy's bosses are doing no more than their private sector mates (maybe they are acting in an even more restrained fashion). There's no way of telling under the "corporate veil" legal fiction.

Posted by Anonymous : 5/28/2007 08:10:00 PM

I presume the objection is not to 'spying" but rather to "payng for spying" afterall protest organizations would I presume engage in spying.

So we are saying people should not be paid for providing information unless the organization to which they belong agrees.

That might be a wider net than one at first imagines


Posted by Anonymous : 5/29/2007 09:28:00 PM

GNZ, the problem is the subversive or clandestine nature of the information-gathering, and actually most protesters don't bother with that. There's a huge amount of the sort of stuff I/S does because almost all the information required is public, either by legislative fiat or simply because it's easily visible in public - from simple stuff like "where is the head office of Solid Energy" to "when do the coal trains run". Even stuff like "how do we get on the roof of building X and is there anything there to tie our banner to" is often public. So spying is rarely necessary for protesters.

Where it could be called clandestine is that it's rare for protesters to do the latter while wearing big badges saying "protest scouting mission in progress". While that might annoy some people, it's hardly spying.

You could also call any whistle-blower a spy with some accuracy - they're often beyond saying exactly what they're up to, and almost by definition what they do is based on not saying they're going to do it. But at the same time, almost always your whistleblower has exhausted their ability to make the change they want in the organisation and going public is the last resort - hence whistleblower protection laws - and so in that sense it's not actually spying. Someone with a history of being openly unhappy going public when their concerns are not addressed is expected and IMO legit.

Think about the Corngate and Exclusive Brethren leaks - those are technically spying, since the information wasn't supposed to be public as far as the source organisation was concerned, but in both cases unethical if not actually illegal behaviour was what was being concealed. Spying or whistleblowing... your call.

Paying someone to lie for your organisation in order to render legitimate opposition less effective is not legitimate in my opinion.

Posted by Moz : 5/29/2007 10:49:00 PM

"S.E.'s actions were legal, and in this case, they were moral too."

Sounds reasonable to me

moz said "from simple stuff like "where is the head office of Solid Energy" to "when do the coal trains run"."

and this is a good time to say that you idiots should not be asking "when do the coal trains run" because I know that you bunch of morons should do everyone a favour and stay off the rail tracks. considering that each time you were at real risk of being run down by a train if there is a next time all my sympathys will be with the rail personnel and not any for the protestors

Posted by Anonymous : 5/31/2007 02:21:00 AM

I think we need to do a lot mroe to encourage whistle blowers and if it takes money then money it is.


Posted by Anonymous : 5/31/2007 08:35:00 PM