GCSB and SIS's 'hands tied behind their backs' - Simon Bridges

8:55 am on 25 March 2019

New Zealand spy agencies' balance between privacy and security has tipped too far towards privacy, and should be revisited, National Party leader Simon Bridges says.

Watch Simon Bridges speaking on Morning Report:

The party is calling for the government to hold a Royal Commission of Inquiry into New Zealand's spy agencies and police after the Christchurch terrorist attacks.

The Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) and the Security Intelligence Service (SIS), which have been criticised over an apparent lack of monitoring of right-wing extremists, will face some sort of inquiry - as well as the police, customs and immigration.

However, the terms of reference for the inquiry are yet to be established.

Both the SIS and GCSB have confirmed in written statements that they had no intelligence themselves or from any of their partners about the Australian man who's been charged with the shootings.

A 28-year-old man has been charged with murder, and more charges are likely, after a lone shooter killed 50 people and injured dozens at two Christchurch mosques on 15 March.

National Party leader Simon Bridges said yesterday New Zealand's security risk had "changed" and a review of security legislation was needed to make sure people were kept safe.

He said a decision made by the former National government in 2013 to abandon Project Speargun, a more intrusive regime which would have scanned internet traffic coming into New Zealand, should be reconsidered.

"I think we were overcautious in 2013/14," he told Morning Report today.

"I think the case is what we have right now are security agencies with two hands tied behind their backs.

"Other countries we compare ourselves with, the Aussies, the [United States], they have different systems but it seems to me they take this altogether more seriously and they have more intelligence in the cyber-security area by a long long way."

National Party Leader, Simon Bridges.

National Party leader Simon Bridges Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Mr Bridges sits on the parliamentary committee which scrutinises the security agencies. He said he would not comment specifically on whether a white supremacist threat was ever mentioned in these meetings.

But he said it looked like the eyes of the security agencies were on Islamic extremism, Asia and cyber-security matters; and white supremacy "doesn't seem to be something that was a focus".

He said by definition there had been a failure in intelligence because 50 people had died, but he was not ready to start pointing the finger at the spy agencies.

"I think that the basic question is could this have been foreseen and prevented.

"And why a royal commission I think is ultimately pretty simple. Royal commissions are preserved for the most serious of things, the most important of things, and I look at this and say 'this is it'."

He said since the terror attack everything has changed.

"Our risks now are more, we've lost an innocence and we know not only are we not immune to these things, they may well happen again."

A royal commission could take a year to two years to be completed and changes would be needed sooner than that, Mr Bridges said, particularly given the change in the national security threat level from low to high - a first in New Zealand's history.

He said as much as possible the commission should be held in the public domain.

The Human Rights Foundation has released research to RNZ showing that the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service (SIS) used informal chats and offers of payment to young men from the Muslim community who were not advised of their rights, and who felt pressure to spy on their mosques.

At the same time, it appears comparatively little state monitoring of white supremacists was going on.