- In mid-December, New Zealand's minority
National Party government rushed legislation through parliament, as a matter
of emergency, to give the country's Security Intelligence Service (SIS)
retrospective powers to break into private homes and remove documents,
personal belongings and communications material, including computer hardware
- The legislation was drawn up in response
to a recent legal ruling. The Court of Appeal heard a case brought by an
anti-APEC activist, Aziz Choudry, who claimed that the SIS had acted illegally
when agents secretly broke into his Christchurch home two years ago. The
SIS involvement in the break-in was discovered when a check was done on
the numberplate of a car that witnesses saw leaving the scene. The court
supported Choudry's contention that the SIS interception warrant, current
at the time, did not permit its agents to enter his house.
- From the outset, it was clear the government
was very concerned about Choudry's case against the SIS, and alarmed at
the implications of a finding in his favour. Submissions were made that
the whole affair was a matter of national security, and therefore not within
the jurisdiction of the courts. As the legislation was being put through
parliament, Prime Minister Shipley indicated that further legal steps would
be taken to overturn the Appeal Court's decision.
- The new law to strengthen the state's
security and intelligence powers follows three years after major changes
to security legislation that was originally framed in 1969. The last rewrite
occurred, also in considerable haste and with little publicity, immediately
prior to Christmas in 1995. One of the main effects of the 1995 Act was
to substantially expand the definition of "security" to include
the country's "international well being and economic well being".
- This change was made under conditions
in which broad sections of the population were disaffected with the whole
structure of official politics--in particular, with the parties of social
reformism, Labour and the Alliance. There was clearly a fear in ruling
circles that social opposition would begin to emerge outside the framework
of parliamentary politics.
- The security laws immediately allowed
the SIS to target any political organisation, union or individual that
opposed the prevailing economic doctrines and was thus deemed a security
threat. As a result, Choudry, who is a university academic, and his anti-APEC
group were put under surveillance.
- The most recent legal changes will further
strengthen the powers of the SIS. Significantly, the new law was introduced
into parliament with the full support of the opposition Labour Party, as
was the 1995 legislation. Labour leader Helen Clark hailed the SIS, saying
it had a continuing role "beyond the Cold War era".
- The Labour Party leadership has already
gone to great lengths to reassure big business that the National Party's
economic policies will continue if it wins office at the next election,
due later this year. In supporting the new security laws, Labour is also
signaling that it is prepared to deal ruthlessly with any opposition from
working people to the attacks on their living standards.
- Moreover, the increased powers for the
SIS takes place in the context of demands from big business and the media
for the elimination of a broad range of basic democratic rights which may
act as a barrier to implementing even harsher economic measures.
- In the case of public education, the
government is preparing to compulsorily introduce its bulk funding scheme
across all schools. The measure will make school boards responsible for
all aspects of finance and administration, including staffing, and will
be used as a means to further cut education spending. Teachers will no
longer be centrally employed but will have to sign individual or site employment
- Accompanying these preparations has been
a media campaign against teachers who have opposed bulk funding. The National
Business Review, the mouthpiece of big business, editorialised that as
public servants, teachers should not have the right to campaign politically
against any government policy, and urged the State Services Commissioner
to find legal grounds to prevent them from doing so.
- The major daily newspapers have unanimously
called on the government to override all opposition, including that of
a majority of elected school boards. Wellington's Evening Post issued a
strident demand that the "power" of the Post Primary Teachers'
Association be "broken," even though the union leadership has
already guaranteed not to organise national industrial action against bulk
- For some leading business ideologues,
such moves against the basic democratic rights of workers are only a half-way
house. Just prior to Christmas right-wing commentator Gareth Morgan, chief
of the Infometrics economics consultancy, wrote an article in the Evening
Post arguing that parliamentary democracy itself no longer serves the interests
of business. According to Morgan, the problem with elected politicians
is that they invariably pursue their own short-term electoral interests,
and these are a hindrance to the "stability" and plans of big
- What is increasingly apparent is that
the economic onslaught demanded by the bankers and corporate chiefs cannot
be carried out democratically. As a result the discussion in ruling circles
is increasingly focussed not simply on strengthening the state and police
powers but of turning to more dictatorial forms of rule.
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