5 Oct 2012

Former spy agency head to conduct Rena review

5:55 am on 5 October 2012

Opposition parties are questioning the Government's appointment of the former head of its spy agency to review the official response to the Rena disaster.

The Government confirmed on Thursday that an independent review of Maritime New Zealand's reaction to the ship's grounding on Astrolabe Reef, off Tauranga, on 5 October last year.

Simon Murdoch was the director of the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) when the agency began its illegal surveillance of internet entrepreneur and New Zealand resident Kim Dotcom. He is also a former head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

The Labour and Green parties say that while Mr Murdoch he is a well-respected and long-serving public servant, the timing of the appointment is not the best.

They say there are still questions about the conduct of bureau while he was in charge which may undermine public confidence in the Rena inquiry.

Green Party ocean spokesperson, Gareth Hughes told Checkpoint on Thursday that Mr Murdoch should not be allowed to lead the review as it is likely he will be part of the police's investigation into the GCSB's illegal spying.

Mr Hughes says there are many more equally credible people in New Zealand who could take over the role.

Labour also has concerns about the breadth of the review, saying the involvement of several other agencies should also be scrutinised, as should the ministers who made the initial decisions following the grounding.

Environment spokesperson Grant Robertson says an internal review is not good enough, and in order to be effective, any inquiry should have the power to subpoena witnesses.

Maritime New Zealand chief executive and director Keith Manch told Checkpoint that Simon Murdoch is the right man carry out the review and his previous role with the GCSB is irrelevant to how he will do the job.

"He has all of the right experience and credentials to do this job. I've got confidence that he will do a good job and I think it's better to wait and see the results of the report that he comes up with and make a judgement then."

Mr Manch says the review will look into the overall handling of the grounding, including responses to oil leakage, salvage efforts and wildlife, and is standard practice following large-scale incidents.