Labour backs NBR against SFO
The National Business Review's confrontation with the Serious Fraud Office featured as opposition MP’s argued late into the night against the proposed Search and Surveillance Bill.
Part three of the bill, which deals with production orders and directly relate to the Serious Fraud Office’s ability to demand documents from media organisations without a warrant, dominated the debate.
Labour's Phil Goff argued during the committee stage debate that the Serious Fraud Office “abuses its powers”.
“The SFO didn’t use conventional investigation techniques, their first instinct was to use these extraordinary powers regardless of whether they were appropriate in the circumstance,” Mr Goff said.
He added that it was the duty of the fourth estate to hold government accountable and that for the media to be effective in its authority, sources would need to be confident that information given to the media would be kept confidential.
“It is vital to protect that confidentiality and the freedom of the press,” Mr Goff said, referring specifically to the SFO’s use of production orders against theNational Business Review during its inquiry into South Canterbury Finance in 2010.
“They went into the National Business Review’s newsroom and seized the documents. Is it any wonder New Zealand’s ranking for media freedom has dropped? We are talking about international agencies that regard New Zealand no longer able to protect the freedom of the media,” Mr Goff said.
He said Labour wanted the government to tighten the use of production and examination orders by the SFO at the same time these powers were being conferred on the police.
“Regrettably, the government was not prepared to show the flexibility and common sense to agree to that. If they had agreed to that, then this piece of legislation could have gone through with the overwhelming support of this house and that would have been the sign we are getting the balance right,” he said, adding that it wasn’t too late for Justice Minister, Judith Collins, to “come to her senses” and to protect the role of the fourth estate.
The opposition is calling for the same rules to apply to the SFO as apply to the police.
“The police have to get a warrant, the warrant has to be from a judge, the person can claim media privilege and there are certain protections in terms of police production orders, but none of those protections arise in terms of the SFO,” Labour's David Parker said.
Mr Parker put forward amendments to apply the same rules to the SFO as would apply to the police.
“It doesn’t take away the power for the SFO to get a protection order, but it does say that for the purposes of this legislation, that for the purposes of obtaining a production order the SFO director is an enforcement officer and all the provisions of the act which apply to the commissioner in the respect of production orders apply to the SFO director,” he said.
Labour’s Kris Faafoi said consideration of Mr Parkers supplementary order paper around the powers of the SFO would go a “long way” to the support of the bill by Labour.
Despite the opposition's robust arguments, Mr Parker’s proposed amendments were lost by seven votes.
Part three of the proposed Search and Surveillance Bill was passed by one vote, with 61 votes for part three to be passed with amendments made by Ms Collins to 60 votes by the opposition calling for part three not to be passed in its current form.
Parts four and five of the bill are expected to be debated in the committee stage shortly, with the third reading of the bill expected to be completed soon.