Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Does the GCSB tell their Minister anything?

One of the basic conventions of our public service is the "no surprises" policy. If a department is about to release a steaming pile of shit into the public arena, for which the Minister may face questions in Parliament, they let the Minister know. This both preserves the Minister's confidence in the department and allows them to do their job of being accountable to Parliament for it. But according to Question Time today, that policy apparently does not apply to the GCSB.

The transcript isn't online yet (it will be here, in today's Question 10), but John Key was asked why Bill English didn't tell him that he had signed a ministerial certificate stating that release of further information in court would not be in the public interest. Key's answer was that English assumed that GCSB would tell him. Given the "no surprises" policy and the general level of ministerial oversight over departments, that wasn't an unreasonable assumption on English's part. But GCSB didn't tell Key until a month later, when they admitted behaving unlawfully. Its a gross violation of the "no surprises" policy, and it raises the question: does GCSB tell their Minister anything? Or are they essentially a rogue agency? And if so, why the hell are we giving them money?

This raises basic questions about the accountability of GCSB to its Minister, to Parliament, and ultimately the New Zealand public. Hopefully the Neazor report will give us some answers.