23 Sep 2016

Spy law meeting made secret at last minute

11:36 am on 23 September 2016

The parliamentary committee discussing proposed new spy laws has pulled a U-turn, refusing to make a session public, despite earlier promising to do so.

The Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB)'s spy base at Waihopai, near Blenheim.

The Government Communications Security Bureau spy base in Waihopai, near Blenheim. Photo: SUPPLIED

The government has said it wanted full transparency and cross-party support on the changes.

The Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee was due to open its proceedings on the Intelligence and Security Bill at 10am.

But just minutes after Security Intelligence Service (SIS) director Rebecca Kitteridge walked into the room, the public was informed the session was no longer open.

The controversial bill has been described as the most significant reform of the legislation governing the SIS and the Government Communications Security Bureau in the country's history.

Green Party co-leader James Shaw said closing the session at the last minute was an extraordinary thing to happen.

He said it compounded the Green Party's concerns about the secrecy and lack of transparency at the country's spy agencies.

"Transparency and accountability, when you are dealing with issues of privacy and national security, is absolutely paramount."

"It's really important that we have maximum public transparency around security intelligence services, because what we've seen over the course of the last few years is that they simply have not be living up to the laws that they currently have," Mr Shaw said.

The committee's chair, National Party MP Mark Mitchell, said a briefing from the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet went over time, and so the committee decided to hold the public session at another time.

"We'll definitely have another public session at some time."

Mr Mitchell said they were not trying to hide anything.

"Absolutely not. There was no conspiracy going. It was purely logistics."

The minister in charge of the SIS, Chris Finlayson, said he was keen for the committee to get as much information out to the public as possible.

The bill comes in response to a review released earlier this year.

It would give the agencies the legal ability to spy on New Zealanders.

Submissions on the bill close on 7 October.

The committee is due to report back to Parliament early next year.