Saturday, June 08, 2013

The Greens should support leakers, not oppose them

Yesterday, in the wake of Peter Dunne's resignation over the Kitteridge leak, Winston Peters immediately called for him to be prosecuted. That's expected - Peters is a xenophobic authoritarian happy to cloak himself in ridiculous claims of "national security" to persecute his political opponents. What was unexpected was seeing this call echoed by the Greens:

Green Party co-leader Russel Norman said the inquiry into the leak to Fairfax Media does not confirm whether Mr Dunne in fact did it, and police need to investigate and force Mr Dunne to release the emails.

"Clearly (inquiry head) David Henry didn't have sufficient powers to make Peter Dunne release the emails. If the police are investigating a Crimes Act offence, then they do have the powers to get Peter Dunne to release the emails."

Dr Norman said it needs to be seen whether Mr Dunne has breached the Crimes Act.

Firstly, the idea that this leak breached the Crimes Act is utterly ridiculous. Both the offences of espionage (which peters accused Dunne of in Parliament on Thursday) and wrongful communication of official information require that the information in question "be likely to prejudice seriously the security or defence of New Zealand". John Key was quite clear in his press conference that that was not the case, and there is no possible way in which the leak of material exposing GCSB wrongdoing could be seen in that light. So, the idea that an offence has been commited is pure bullshit, and the Greens should not be trading in it.

Secondly, such prosecutions are highly dubious in a democracy. Quite apart from philosophical objections (like treason, they get the relationship between citizen and state exactly backwards and are a relic of feudalism), leaks are the lifeblood of democracy. And the more sensitive and embarrassing the leak, the greater the public interest in protecting the leaker. If Dunne leaked this report, he should be viewed as a hero, not a criminal (I take the government's assertion that the report would be published anyway with a grain of salt, given that they broke their word that they would publish the Inspector-General's report into the same wrongdoing). A party like the Greens, committed to democracy and freedom, should be encouraging such leaks, not calling for them to be punished - especially given the shit we're learning about what the GCSB's foreign masters have been getting up to.

Russel Norman has sought to justify his position on the grounds that such leaks undermine the idea of Parliamentary oversight of intelligence agencies. Firstly, this wasn't an ISC document, so that's just a non-sequitur. But more importantly, Parliament pays the bills, so it has an absolute right to scrutinise what is done with our money, no matter how secret and sensitive. And I regard it as not just a right, but a duty of politicians on the ISC to inform the public of wrongdoing. If Norman seriously believes what he's said, then he is not doing his job properly, and should resign immediately so that his place can be taken by someone less credulous and authoritarian.

Calls for leakers to be prosecuted should be seen in the same light as calling environmentalists treasonous economic saboteurs: the last refuge of scoundrels. I expect the Greens to support democratic values and be above such things.