Thursday, August 22, 2013

The morning after

John Key's over-reaching and intrusive spy bill passed its third reading last night and will be law in a little over a month. Which means that the GCSB will be able to warrantlessly collect all our metadata, track us where-ever we go, whoever we talk to, and pass the information on to their foreign paymasters.

The good news is that we have an election in 2014. And Labour have made a pretty strong commitment to repeal the law (after reviewing it, but they seem clear on what the outcome will be). The problem is that as a party, they are part of the status quo, and have always supported the national security state. Their natural coalition partner, the Greens, are not so encumbered, and have a sizeable faction wanting to disband the GCSB entirely and withdraw from the US five eyes network. Abolishing the GCSB and closing Waihopai is official Green party policy.

This is not a recipe for a happy coalition. Everyone involved is going to have to walk a tightrope to try and get a deal they can live with. Failure will result in the Greens potentially self-combusting - or in them following the lesson of the Alliance and pulling the plug and forcing an election in order to avoid doing so. Either way, the stakes are high.

How can Labour and the Greens resolve this problem so they can work together on all the other things they have in common? The first step has to be to de-escalate. Labour's current policy - review then repeal - is negotiating with a gun to the Greens' head. Its telling them that its Labour's changes or Key's. That's not a good way to deal with a party of principle, and invites them to pull the trigger on their own, much bigger, election-gun instead. So if Labour wants this to work, it is going to need to shift from "review then repeal" to "repeal then review". Given their certainty on the outcome of the review, that's not that big a deal. But it will take the heat of the issue, and allow the Greens to reach a compromise they (and Labour) can live with.

Such a repeal need not be absolute. The improvements the bill makes to the oversight regime can stay. But in terms of powers and functions, there must be a roll-back to the status quo ante: no domestic spying powers, and all powers tightly focused on foreign intelligence. Once that is done and our privacy restored (at least to 2003 levels), the review of what sorts of spies we need, their powers and oversight regime can begin.