Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Overseeing the SIS

Something interesting on the Order paper today: the nomination of the Intelligence and Security Committee. Despite its name, the committee is not a Parliamentary select committee, but created by the Intelligence and Security Committee Act 1996. It has the task of examining the "policy, administration, and expenditure" and bills and parliamentary business relating to the SIS and GCSB, but cannot inquire into any individual complaints or other matters normally dealt with by the SIS's in-house "watchdog", the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security.

The committee's membership consists of the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, and three other MPs - two nominated by the PM and one by the opposition in consultation with other parties (and with the PM having a veto). Traditionally, membership has been jealously guarded - last term the extras were Michael Cullen, Winston Peters, and Rodney Hide - but it seems that this is changing. The new nominees include Rodney Hide and Tariana Turia for the government, and Russel Norman for the opposition.

This could get interesting - both Turia and Norman are likely to be far more critical of the SIS and its antics than any members in the past. They may even insist that the committee actually meets. Possibly they might even push for a review of SIS policy to ensure it does not spy on peaceful political activists as it has done in the past.

OTOH, there's a danger that both Turia and Norman could be co-opted and silenced by their membership. Both need to make sure that that does not happen.