Salient: Victoria University of Wellington Students' Newspaper. Vol. 32, No. 9. 1969.
Opinion — Realism and Security
Realism and Security
The Current debate on the New Zealand Security Service is being carried on at a superficial and often impractical level. Assertion, counter-assertion and political naivety are all in evidence. What I will try to do is recapitulate the history of the recent debate, trace out some of the political implications, and conclude by suggesting some measures that could change our security set-up.
The present debate has a long history. Social commentators and others with political affiliations have long questioned both the need for a security service at all, or at the least considerable modification of the existing system. This debate has (again) been revived at this year's Labour Party conference, when Roger Boshier supported a remit that the Security Service be abolished. This was lost and the conference adopted a watered-down version which aimed at modifying the service and specifically aimed at placing it on a statutory basis, thus making it directly accountable for its activities to Parliament. That the Labour Party is now committed to changing our security service in this way is largely a consequence of pressure from within the Labour Party, and more directly, to Mr. Boshier's persuasive powers as a speaker. It is at this point that political implications arise.
The Prime Minister has made two significant comments: first that an international spy ring is operating in this country: second that he would be prepared to comment on Roger Boshier's assertions at a later date—the most important of these being the allegation that he had in his possession a complete list of security agents and that this had come from inside the Security Service. (Under questioning Mr. Boshier has been unable to directly substantiate this allegation, but he has produced strong inferential evidence to support his views.)
Quite clearly, it is in the Prime Minister's interests to cast as much discredit as possible on Mr. Boshier's evidence, since in doing so he could also cast some secondary discredit on the Labour Party's judgment and on the stand that it took at the Conference. Thus, the changing nature of the Security Service has already become another party political football—and this is the last thing that ought to happen. The substantial question at issue is clear: what sort of Security Service can be provided which fulfills its functions with the minimum degree of personal interference, poses the minimum threat to civil liberties, and offers the maximum degree of freedom of expression and action?
At present the debate is bogged down on whether there should be a Security Service at all: that is a non-issue. While New Zealand is a party to regional defence alliances (e.g., Seato, Anzus, Anzam) and to other non-military but equally vital economic arrangements, such as those between Commonwealth countries, we have no choice but to provide for effective security. If we wish to pull out of these alliances then and only then will the abandonment of a security service become a matter for debate. To recommend disbandment at this stage is to be politically naive: the Labour Party has chosen the course of political realism.
There are a number of alternative courses of action open to those who object to the present security system: firstly it is possible to institute some protective devices; second, the "Communist-hunting" activities of the Security Service could profitably be abandoned in favour of more desirable objectives. To expand on both of these points.
One of the most objectionable features of the present Security Service concerns the nature and accuracy of the information that is supplied. There are a number of cases on record where individuals have been transferred from one Government department to another because of allegedly being "security risks". In some of these cases it has been admitted that the information supplied was false, and in at least one case, substantial costs have been awarded. Many persons, and particularly those associated with the New Zealand Council for Civil Liberties, have long been concerned to provide a greater degree of protection to, and recourse for a wronglymaligned person. One possible avenue exists: the Ombudsman.
It may well be that the statutory powers conferred on that office can be interpreted so as to provide for a vetting of "secret files". This course of action could only be implemented if a specific complaint was lodged. The Annual Reports presented by the Ombudsman to Parliament contain no evidence that suggests that such a complaint has been lodged, thus one cannot be sure that Sir Guy Powles' jurisdiction docs in fact extend into this area. If his terms of reference could be interpreted in this way then this may be the best way of providing an external check on the accuracy of the contents of security service files, and the safest way of providing protection for a person who felt he had been unjustly treated. It might of course be possible to broaden the base of this suggestion, and empower the Ombudsman, or a commission of enquiry, to investigate the contents of all files at present held by the Security Service. Those files found to be objectionable should be destroyed. The Labour Party might be prepared to incorporate these suggestions into its proposed pattern of reform.
In addition to this specific recommendation, it seems to me necessary that the Security Service switch the emphasis of its activities. Public comments by Brigadier Gilbert and others suggest that the most important job of the organisation is to provide information on persons engaged in political activities. In this respect a degree of specialisation seems to exist, in that those persons assumed to represent the political pink are more often suspect than those assumed to represent the political blue. The Security Service would be much more profitably engaged if it spent its time protecting agriculturalindustrial information (such as that produced at Ruakura research station), or ensuring that confidential information relating to New Zealand's marketing arrangements was kept confidential. These are legitimate areas of security.
In summary: Let the debate on our security service continue. But please focus attention on the real question: What kind of service caters for New Zealand's interests best and infringes personal liberty least. Above alt the issue needs to be taken out of the party political arena and politically de-fused: it is much too important for that.