The Dim-Post

April 4, 2013

Consider the precedent

Filed under: intelligence — danylmc @ 10:27 am

Most of the focus on the GCSB appointment will be around the fact that the PM seems to have lied to the country about his role in the process, but it’s also worth flagging the precedent Key has set. Being GCSB Director is a very powerful position, and the Prime Minister is basically the only oversight. Even if you like and trust Key, do you trust future Prime Ministers who you probably won’t like and won’t trust to manipulate the appointment process to install one of their not-especially-qualified friends as head of the country’s signals intelligence?

59 Comments »

  1. No. Remember Erin Leigh / Clare Curran. And that was just a PR job at MfE.

    Comment by Matthew Hooton — April 4, 2013 @ 10:30 am

  2. I agree Key should never have phoned the guy up to suggest he apply but didn’t he then go through the normal state sector employment process which should provide the necessary oversight?

    If it doesn’t then some sort of change should be made.

    I’m inclined to think that NZ being a small place these sorts of positions will inevitably go to people politicians know.

    Comment by NeilM — April 4, 2013 @ 10:54 am

  3. Actually it happens in large countries as well. The field of potential applicants is probably always going to small but there always an element of middle class capture, of the same circles of people giving out the jobs amongst themselves.

    Comment by NeilM — April 4, 2013 @ 10:57 am

  4. I don’t understand why they shortlisted 4 people then only interviewed one who was handpicked outside the process. I wouldn’t run that process for an entry level public service job, so I don’t see why it didn’t happen for the top job

    Comment by max — April 4, 2013 @ 11:06 am

  5. The left have finally got to tag Key and are enjoying it.

    Comment by TransportationDevice A7-98.1 — April 4, 2013 @ 11:20 am

  6. If there is a change of government next year, the new PM will have to work with an appointee who is the personal choice of Key. In the circumstances, the new PM will expect Fletcher’s resignation, which in turn will taint the new appointment. Is there anyone in Key’s government who can explain to him that ‘New Zealand Incorporated’ is an imaginary construct and that he is not actually running a business?

    Comment by Margaret Pope — April 4, 2013 @ 11:21 am

  7. “…didn’t he then go through the normal state sector employment process which should provide the necessary oversight?”

    No, he didn’t. He was the only one interviewed for the position. They dumped the shortlisted candidates then didn’t readvertise. I fail to see how this is in any way ‘normal’.

    Comment by wtl — April 4, 2013 @ 11:22 am

  8. “but didn’t he then go through the normal state sector employment process”

    yes, but after all other candidates had been rejected without any interviews, leaving him the only applicant, and one that came with the PMs pre-approval. (nudge wink)

    Comment by framu — April 4, 2013 @ 11:23 am

  9. It would be more alarming if New Zealand’s intelligence community wasn’t an incestuous joke.

    Comment by Trouble Man — April 4, 2013 @ 11:27 am

  10. If State Services aren’t acting independently then that is alarming.

    Comment by NeilM — April 4, 2013 @ 11:34 am

  11. @NeilM,

    I agree Key should never have phoned the guy up to suggest he apply but didn’t he then go through the normal state sector employment process which should provide the necessary oversight?

    But what does it matter whether “normal state sector employment process” was followed or not? The appointment is at the Minister’s discretion. Key wanted this guy. And we all know that there’s no such thing as “standards”, “qualifications” or “rules” when it comes to government appointments. Right, NeilM?

    @TransportationDevice A7-98.1

    The left have finally got to tag Key and are enjoying it.

    Damn straight. I only hope you aren’t intending to rain on this particular parade.

    Comment by Flashing Light — April 4, 2013 @ 11:39 am

  12. “If there is a change of government next year, the new PM will have to work with an appointee who is the personal choice of Key. In the circumstances, the new PM will expect Fletcher’s resignation…”

    I have my doubts that, Margaret. AFAIK Labour hasn’t criticised Fletcher, merely the process. It’s a bit like saying that Susan Devoy will have to resign as Race Relations Commissioner….I can’t see it happening and nor should it.

    Comment by Ross — April 4, 2013 @ 11:43 am

  13. @ Flashing Light “Damn straight. I only hope you aren’t intending to rain on this particular parade.”

    Don’t worry Labour usually do something really really stupid at this point in the scandal lifecycle all by themselves to bring the rain.

    Comment by TransportationDevice A7-98.1 — April 4, 2013 @ 11:47 am

  14. @13 – That’s what worries me – How can Shearer mess this one up?

    Comment by Leopold — April 4, 2013 @ 12:15 pm

  15. @13 – That’s what worries me – How can Shearer mess this one up?

    Why do you think Robertson’s leading the charge on the issue?

    Comment by Flashing Light — April 4, 2013 @ 12:28 pm

  16. I was searching my thinking that surely a PM might want a particular person for a particular job, part of being the power of PM but not knowing much about it couldn’t really come to a conclusion.


    Mr Rennie said the role the Prime Minister had taken in Mr Fletcher’s appointment was not atypical of the way such appointments were made.

    He said unlike core public service roles such as the Secretary of the Treasury, the head of the GCSB and others such as the Chief of Defence Force, the Police Commissioner, director of NZSIS were all positions appointed by ministers and who serve at the pleasure of a minister.

    According to Rennie it isn’t unusual:

    How ministers involved themselves in the process varies. In my time some ministers have been at arms’ length, others are more involved.”

    He said one minister had gone so far as to interview the short listed candidates in such a situation.

    I don’t know if this usual practice is the best way of doing things but then are their positions a govt should be able to appoint to or not.

    Comment by NeilM — April 4, 2013 @ 12:53 pm

  17. Well that was a complete mess

    It should start off:

    “I was scratching my head thinking that surely a PM might…”

    Comment by NeilM — April 4, 2013 @ 12:55 pm

  18. Such appointments are a farce anyway. The people overseeing the appointment process are utterly at the mercy their relevant Ministers….and the consequences of that are worst when you have Ministers who have no interest in the ethics around separation of powers and related constitutional niceties. They just do not want to know.

    Comment by Steve (@nza1) — April 4, 2013 @ 1:26 pm

  19. @ NeilM – Wow! so the State Services Commissioner (they guy the NZ public *think* is handling the hiring of senior public servants, so they are seen as impartial across different governments, like Margaret Pope said), is actually letting Ministers run pretty much any kind of hiring process they want to pick ‘their guy’ for the most powerful and sensitive job in the public service? (ie defence, police, treasury, spies)? Just wow!

    My two cents – there was nothing wrong with Rennie rejecting the 4 short-listed candidates if they felt those people weren’t good enough (based on some objective criteria that the Auditor General can inspect, right?), and there is nothing wrong with Key as PM and Minister of GCSB calling a mate and suggesting said mate should chuck his hat in the ring for the job. All above board there.

    Where it goes wrong is next – the job *had* to be readvertised, Key had to make clear to Rennie and Fletcher that Key would be taking no part in the hiring process (as he is massively conflicted) and that Rennie should take no acount of Key’s mateship with Fletcher, and that Rennie should be able to clearly justify to outside scrutiny whoever is hired based upon the pre-agreed criteria (ie the criteria the original applicants were judged under – if there is a change of criteria Key should not ask Fletcher to apply, as it will always be perceived as corruption).

    In summary, Key had to dance carefully, but could have let his mate know about the job without queering the hiring process. But it now appears Key and Rennie stuffed up so badly that Fletcher’s position is untenable. Your mates must love you JohnBoy.

    Where to from here – audit by Auditor General and a couple of retired judges or law society folks, with said judges/lawyers picked by 3/4 of MPs agreeing. Little cumbersome, but this is one of the trickiest positions to review.

    Comment by bob — April 4, 2013 @ 1:43 pm

  20. bob, I didn’t express any opinion on what has happened just noted that Rennie is saying Ministers do play an active role – which I wasn’t aware of.

    On the one hand it makes sense, the govt gets elected and gets power. That’s how it works.

    The alternative as far as I can see is for civil servants to be completely responsible for these appointments which actually doesn’t make much sense either.

    Auditor General and a couple of retired judges or law society folks, with said judges/lawyers picked by 3/4 of MPs agreeing.

    Picked by MPs so back to square one.

    Comment by NeilM — April 4, 2013 @ 1:58 pm

  21. Picked by MPs so back to square one.

    MPs are not the same thing as the Government. And 3/4 of MPs is not the same thing as a Party being able to stack positions with whomsoever appeals to it.

    Comment by Flashing Light — April 4, 2013 @ 2:14 pm

  22. Well, yes, because I’m ambitiously relaxed for New Zealand.

    Comment by George D — April 4, 2013 @ 2:15 pm

  23. “Auditor General and a couple of retired judges or law society folks, with said judges/lawyers picked by 3/4 of MPs agreeing.”

    Isn’t one of these known as a quango?

    Comment by TransportationDevice A7-98.1 — April 4, 2013 @ 2:24 pm

  24. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jobs_for_the_Boys

    Damn you wordpress.

    Comment by TransportationDevice A7-98.1 — April 4, 2013 @ 2:26 pm

  25. NeilM – you are suggesting the US system, where the politicians appoint their own cronies. That does mean the public can judge a politician on results, seeing as they can’t claim disagreement with their own appointees. But it allows mates to suck on the public teat for very little ‘accountability’. I prefer our system, which demands separation of MPs from appointments.

    @ TransportationDevice – quango schmango, you come up with a better way to give retrospective scrutiny of a spy chief’s appointment😉 And my suggestion means MPs don’t do the scrutiny themselves.

    @ George D – aaaah, but are you ambitiously aspirationally relaxed for NZ?

    Comment by bob — April 4, 2013 @ 3:20 pm

  26. I’ve been saying the same thing about the Adams/Smith proposed intervention into local council planning and consent decisions. You might like and trust Adams/Smith to takeover building consents and call-in unitary or district plans – but consider the precedent when a Green minister or associate-minister of the environment starts to do the same thing…

    Comment by Bill Engrish — April 4, 2013 @ 5:02 pm

  27. On the one hand it makes sense, the govt gets elected and gets power. That’s how it works.

    When a govt gets elected it should exercise its power by changing laws or procedures according to the correct process, not by simply making shit up as it goes along.

    Comment by Adrian — April 4, 2013 @ 6:34 pm

  28. “When a govt gets elected it should exercise its power by changing laws or procedures according to the correct process, not by simply making shit up as it goes along.”**

    ** unless it’s the 4th Labour administration eh boys.

    Comment by Tim — April 4, 2013 @ 6:46 pm

  29. Aww, Timmy thinks he’s made some sort of cutting rejoinder. Adorable.

    Comment by steve — April 4, 2013 @ 7:22 pm

  30. um, no, just pointing out the hypocrisy stevie. but keep thinking your winning thats all that matters …

    Comment by Tim — April 4, 2013 @ 7:35 pm

  31. MPs are not the same thing as the Government. And 3/4 of MPs is not the same thing as a Party being able to stack positions with whomsoever appeals to it.

    Dominated by National and Labour. Labour have no intention if changing how these appointments are made, so I still think back to square one.

    Labour’s goal is damage Key’s credibility they have no desire to stop ministers being involved. Or did I miss something?

    Comment by NeilM — April 4, 2013 @ 8:27 pm

  32. Can you point a bit harder please cos I can’t see the hypocrisy in my comment.

    Comment by Adrian — April 4, 2013 @ 8:30 pm

  33. I was thinking of the US system where Obama gets to choose who heads the CIA. It’s an explicitly political appointment. There’s no pretence otherwise.

    I kinda think that’s the least worst option. What would be a workable alternative? (And then there’s the Senate confirmation hearings, which are designed to provide a check but wind up as more Kabuki).

    We vote in a government to make decisions and some of those will be appointments to the civil service. And political parties will choose who they want. For better or worse.

    Comment by NeilM — April 5, 2013 @ 12:11 am

  34. I was thinking of the US system where Obama gets to choose who heads the CIA. It’s an explicitly political appointment. There’s no pretence otherwise.

    That is true. But in the US there also is quite extensive congressional oversight of what the CIA does (see https://www.cia.gov/offices-of-cia/congressional-affairs/congressional-oversight.html). That doesn’t work quite so well in the NZ situation, where the separation between the PM and the legislature is a question of hats, and the PM’s party has majority support in the House. So I’d suggest caution in saying “let’s just be like the US”, when we aren’t.

    Comment by Andrew Geddis — April 5, 2013 @ 1:58 am

  35. “So I’d suggest caution in saying “let’s just be like the US”, when we aren’t.”

    We may as well though acknowledge that in this instance we are a lot more like the US system than we like to think and deal with that reality.

    If the opposition parties had a genuine interest in the issue they might spend than a scandal cycle considering the issue.

    Comment by NeilM — April 5, 2013 @ 8:38 am

  36. We may as well though acknowledge that in this instance we are a lot more like the US system than we like to think and deal with that reality.

    By stripping the PM and Director of their oversight roles for GCSB and handing those roles to a parliamentary select committee? Closest suggestion to that sort of reform would have come from the Greens.

    Comment by Pascal's bookie — April 5, 2013 @ 8:54 am

  37. Leaving aside the issues around (a) PM either being a pathological liar or suffering some form of degenerative mental disease and (b) the apparent corruption of the SSC appointments process, Fletcher might not be a bad fit for the role.

    There is some advantage in having an outsider and confidant of the PM being the head of his pet agency as he is unlikely to be subject to the institutional groupthink that has affected GCSBs recent performance.

    There’s no question that Fletcher has had an illustrious bureaucratic career, so there is an element of sour grapes emanating from from the military-intelligence administrata questioning Fletcher’s lack of insider cred.

    I suspect a lot of the whinging has to do with the clear signal implicit in Fletcher’s appointment is that he will be a ‘new broom’.

    Comment by Gregor W — April 5, 2013 @ 9:01 am

  38. That’s all fair enough Gregor, but it also raises questions.

    Is it why Jerry Mateperae was moved over to Government House?

    What are the issues within GCSB that require attention, and when were they indentified?

    Where they identified after Mateperae’s appointment or before?

    Given the govt knew about the issues in GSB in july, why wasn’t there tighter oversight in sept-dec when GCSB stuffed up DotCom?

    Comment by Pascal's bookie — April 5, 2013 @ 9:28 am

  39. All good questions PB that will never be answered, least of all under Carter as Speaker.

    Comment by Gregor W — April 5, 2013 @ 10:48 am

  40. The US system has built in checks and balances that our unicameral systems doesn’t. Any ideologue could hijack our way of doing things pretyy easily., As has been proved by Muldoon, Douglas and now Key.

    Comment by Northshoreguynz — April 5, 2013 @ 11:05 am

  41. “Closest suggestion to that sort of reform would have come from the Greens.”

    Whatever oversight there might be it will be by MPs so there’s no getting round the problem of political interference.

    But I think make it clear there are appointments that are political and tweak the checks and balances is a least worst option.

    Either that or do background checks on everyones’ mothers.

    Comment by NeilM — April 5, 2013 @ 2:57 pm

  42. Well, Brian Edwards is busy running interference for the PM. I am beginning to think he has outsourced his brain to Michelle Boag, a woman whose whereabouts, by the sound of Mr. Edwards on the RNZ panel this afternoon, Mrs. Edwards would be well advised to keep a close eye on…

    Comment by Sanctuary — April 5, 2013 @ 4:53 pm

  43. Whats the matter Sancy isn’t Edwards fighting the good fight against the man today?

    Comment by Tim — April 5, 2013 @ 5:03 pm

  44. Had there ever been any concern that the Attorney General is a political appointment (as political and cronyistic as it gets as they’re a minister) and not only that they get to choose the Solicitor General?

    Comment by NeilM — April 5, 2013 @ 8:08 pm

  45. Thats different, it’s the Law.

    Comment by Tim — April 5, 2013 @ 8:13 pm

  46. It

    Comment by NeilM — April 5, 2013 @ 8:26 pm

  47. There was more to that but iPhone went odd then had second thoughts about belabouring the point.

    Comment by NeilM — April 5, 2013 @ 8:31 pm

  48. um, no, just pointing out the hypocrisy stevie. but keep thinking your winning thats all that matters …

    You little scallywag!

    Comment by steve — April 6, 2013 @ 1:55 am

  49. So in fact the precedent was set some time ago. Helen Clark being at least as hands on and democracy survived.

    I was initially surprised but on second thoughts it makes sense to have an elected govt appoint people they want.

    I don’t tend do go on about failings in the media, sometimes I find the media helpful and sometimes not, but I thought it was quite remiss that no-one took the time to check what the normal process is and what happened under previous governments.

    If our politics is going to be based around these short-lived scandal cycles it would be handy if there was a little skepticism some where that could drive some one doing a little investigation.

    Comment by NeilM — April 6, 2013 @ 5:47 pm

  50. like colin espiner getting all upset at being called a knucklehead, huh.

    Comment by Tim — April 6, 2013 @ 6:31 pm

  51. I was initially surprised but on second thoughts it makes sense to have an elected govt appoint people they want.

    I don’t tend do go on about failings in the media, sometimes I find the media helpful and sometimes not, but I thought it was quite remiss that no-one took the time to check what the normal process is and what happened under previous governments.

    Originally, I largely agreed with NeilM’s view on this one, but then I hadn’t really been paying close attention. I think Tracey Watkins provides a nice overview of the situation here:

    http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/opinion/8518306/Hissy-fit-at-media-just-doing-its-job

    When he was asked if he had had any contact with Mr Fletcher since his school days Mr Key said he could not recall any particular occasions. And when he was later asked what role he played in the appointment, Mr Key responded: “Only that the state services commissioner came to me with the recommendation.”

    It wasn’t just that Mr Key misspoke. He was asked the question in various ways and the basic thrust of his response didn’t waver.

    You can play the semantic game all you like, but ultimately it boils down to one thing. By any acceptable yardstick, those answers were simply not true.

    If this affair has turned out to look more suspicious than it really is, John Key only has himself to blame.

    Comment by steve — April 6, 2013 @ 7:20 pm

  52. If this affair has turned out to look more suspicious than it really is, John Key only has himself to blame.

    I agree, Key actually had little to answer for. Possibly he just took offense at Robertson’s insinuations and dug a but of a hole for himself.

    Comment by NeilM — April 6, 2013 @ 7:30 pm

  53. A bit of an own goal from Key.

    I think the media could have done a better job checking whether or not Robertson’s allegations had any credibility but Key himself could have easily set out how this appointment actually works – and for extra ponits that he acted within the the legislation governing the GCSB that Labour enacted in 2003.

    I doubt whether many people would have taken Labours allegations about Fletcher being Key’s “best mate” very seriously.

    Comment by NeilM — April 6, 2013 @ 8:28 pm

  54. Possibly he just took offense at Robertson’s insinuations and dug a but of a hole for himself.
    I think the media could have done a better job checking whether or not Robertson’s allegations had any credibility …

    Here you go, NeilM … perhaps you can point out where Robertson made an “insinuation” that Key could have taken offence at, and what “allegations” have been leveled that have no credibility: http://blog.labour.org.nz/2013/04/04/diminish-divert-demean-john-keys-mo/

    Oh, and as for ‘Labours allegations about Fletcher being Key’s “best mate”…’, do you have a cite for this particular quote?

    Comment by Flashing Light — April 7, 2013 @ 4:31 am

  55. And you cite a Labour blog flushing blight??!
    Hahahaha

    Comment by Tim — April 7, 2013 @ 5:27 am

  56. Flashing Light:

    PM Shoulder Tapped Mate For Top Spy Job

    http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/PA1304/S00028/pm-shoulder-tapped-mate-for-top-spy-job.htm

    Robertson’s allegation that Key compromised the selection process proved to be untrue, as he will have well known at the time since Labour made appointments the same manner.

    Robertson also claimed Fletcher was unqualified and impugned the reputation of Rennie and the other members if the State Services who were part of of the appointment.

    No of that gotcha politics that Shearer so publicly promised to get rid of is justified by Key’s subsequent response.

    It’s a bit odd that the comparison is being made with Curran. Wouldn’t the most appropriate comparison be with Clark’s appointment of Ferguson?

    Comment by NeilM — April 7, 2013 @ 8:24 am

  57. @Tim,

    Identify errors in the account Robertson gives. Go on. Thought not.

    @NeilM

    So your quote of ‘Fletcher being Key’s “best mate”’ was just a bit of hyperbole, designed to make Labour’s attacks look silly? Because that term was never used, was it? And would you really dispute that Fletcher and Rennie were “mates”? “Friendly acquaintances”? “Friends who give and get benefits”?

    As for “Robertson’s allegation that Key compromised the selection process proved to be untrue, as he will have well known at the time since Labour made appointments the same manner” … the SSC head has expressed his “surprise” at Key’s decision to ring Fletcher personally. If you don’t know what “surprise” means in this context, then you haven’t spent enough time around Wellington.

    Finally, “the comparison is being made with Curran” because of what National’s response to that little episode was. How quickly the tone changes when the colour of the team is blue, not red.

    Comment by Flashing Light — April 7, 2013 @ 8:46 am

  58. If this process was perfectly normal (nothing to see here) then why was Rennie so “surprised” by it?

    Comment by Sacha — April 7, 2013 @ 1:50 pm

  59. If he was so surprised that he was alarmed at a breach of protocol he should have stopped the process yes?

    Comment by Tim — April 7, 2013 @ 1:55 pm


RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: