Fisher on Robertson

May 18th, 2016 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

David Fisher writes:

Tony Robertson is a stone-cold killer and rapist who has never taken responsibility.

After he murdered Blessie Gotingco, he worked hard to avoid responsibility for doing so but the evidence was such that it must have been easy to banish “any reasonable doubt”.

When the calls for the inquiry came, the question turned. It effectively asked: “Did somebody else enable Robertson to murder and rape through inaction or incompetence?”

A Government-ordered inquiry by long-time public servant Mel Smith found “Robertson, and only Robertson, can be held responsible for what happened to Mrs Gotingco”.

Robertson did what he did and no one else need shoulder the blame. Corrections and police staff did their jobs when it came to Robertson.

In this awful case, it all comes down to a young man whose character is fundamentally deficient due to a deviant and murderous streak which sets him apart from almost everyone else.

The sad reality is that once someone has served their full sentence, you can’t stop them committing further crimes once released if they are determined.

This is one of the reasons I support three strikes – so the worst of the worst are not released once it is clear they will continue offending.

Robertson was considered for parole on four occasions. The board was confronted with an angry and violent young sex offender who refused to admit guilt in the face of overwhelming evidence. It kept him inside as long as it could. Robertson knew when he was getting out, and it wasn’t early. He told the board: “I will do my time and go out on my statutory release date in December 2013.”

And that was the target date — the point at which there was no legal way to keep Robertson in jail and away from the rest of us.

And he came out and killed almost straight away. So very very sad for the family and friends of the victim. Hopefully this time he will never be released.






Fisher on the intelligence agencies

November 10th, 2015 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

A long and interesting piece by David Fisher on the intelligence agencies:

John Key has opened up the spy agencies to public scrutiny in a way which we have never seen in New Zealand.

We know more now about what they do and even how they do it.

We know how the two agencies are managed, in that the GCSB and NZSIS both have top-flight lawyers in charge.

There will always be those who say we don’t know enough. For those people, we now have improved oversight of the agencies. This also happened under the Prime Minister’s watch as minister in charge of the agencies.

The new Inspector General of Intelligence and Security Cheryl Gwyn – another superb lawyer – has been a breath of the freshest air.

Mr Key has since stepped away from directly overseeing the agencies, which is a further liberation. It seems right that the most powerful weapons of state should sit with someone whose role is to objectively challenge his Cabinet colleagues.

Now, even at a ministerial level, the SIS and GCSB answer to a lawyer, this time Attorney General Chris Finlayson.

In terms of oversight and public disclosure, we are heading into an era unparalleled in our history. Citizens now have more ability to see and have explained the tasks done in their name. Again, it might not be enough but it is considerably more than we have had before.

I’m glad to see this recognition. If you go back 10 years, no PM would answer any question on the intelligence agencies. The oversight reports were few and extremely bland. It is vastly different to what we have today with both the Inspector-General and the two directors going into considerable detail (within reason) of what they do.

That’s where we have come to, three years after Mr Key had to admit Kim Dotcom and one of his co-accused had been illegally spied on by the GCSB. He also had to apologise – a concession which must have been galling.

That single event appears to be the point at which the Prime Minister stopped taking at face value the assurances given by the intelligence agencies, and began a programme for reformation which is huge in its scale and largely behind closed doors.

I think that was a catalyst, aided by the Snowden revelations. He sent in the Cabinet Secretary to review their compliance, and having found it lacking, then made her one director, and two deputy solictor-generals the other director and the Inspector-General. They are not just all lawyers, but all lawyers whose background is very focused on legal compliance.

But there have also been reports which paint a picture of the state of New Zealand’s intelligence services, past and present. None are individually explicit in their descriptions of how bad it was but the collective run of reports gives an impression of the intelligence community as an isolated part of government, lost to the public they were serving, changing purpose and shape under a cloak of secrecy.

There is a pattern which flows through these reports, whether it be NZSIS boss Rebecca Kitteridge’s investigation into the GCSB, or the Performance Improvement Framework reviews or the most recent Gwyn report. Every reviewer is insistent staff at these important and powerful agencies all had good intent, but that they were left operating in frameworks not quite right, or in some cases flat out wrong.

It is almost tragic the intelligence services sought out such eager and patriotic staff only to subject them to a bureaucratic acid trip.

Part of the problem I think is that the culture was too mixed in with the military, and the senior leadership all tended to be ex-military. Top military officers often have some very fine skills, but they are not necessarily all the skills you need to have an agency working correctly.

John Key’s response to a community which cultured problems and surprised him with embarrassment was to throw back the curtains, hire his own directors and to put serious lawyers in charge. There are those within horrified at their new reality, which includes the need to “inform the public of what we do and why it is so important”, as one recently disclosed report stated.

Accountability and transparency make the intelligence community one in which all New Zealanders have a stake, by simple virtue of it being more accessible.

John Key has made some mistakes in this area, such as personally requesting Ian Fletcher to apply. But I do think there hasn’t been enough focus on the massive changes he has introduced, and also how he personally has been far far more willing to talk on details of intelligence operations than any predecessor. There are some dangers with this, as you can’t go into detail on everything, and where you draw the line has consequences. But our level of transparency and independent review is far greater than in the past.

Do we benefit from Five Eyes?

April 21st, 2015 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

David Fisher writes in the NZ Herald:

The law also says such intelligence gathering must be to support the “national security of New Zealand”, the “international relations and well-being of New Zealand” and “the economic well-being of New Zealand”.

The issue which does arise is our motivations for doing so – and whether those are purely New Zealand’s motivations.

A National Security Agency document, among other material taken by Snowden, states that the GCSB “continues to be especially helpful in its ability to provide NSA ready access to areas and countries that are difficult for the United States to access”.

In essence, our relationship with China is of use to the US and allows New Zealand to operate as a Trojan Horse – or even Trojan Kiwi – for NSA intelligence gathering efforts.

Beyond doubt the US (and UK, Australia and Canada) benefit from NZ being in Five Eyes. We get them intelligence they could not easily get elsewhere.

But by the same basis, New Zealand I am sure benefits greatly by being able to access intelligence gathered by the US, UK, Canada and Australia.

This is why countries agree to co-operate on things – when it benefits both sides. And I’d say with this agreement, we gain a hell of a lot more than we give.

We present internationally as a proud, South Pacific country which is forging its own principled path through history. In our bid for a seat on the UN Security Council, Prime Minister John Key said: “New Zealand has an independent foreign policy outlook that listens to and respects the views of other countries.” Our branding for the bid carried the words: “Integrity, independence, innovation.”

It appears, from the Snowden documents, our “independent foreign policy” is supported by a dependence on the Five Eyes intelligence network of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and United States.

This argument is made a lot, often by people from the left. But I think it is a nonsense argument to suggest being in Five Eyes is incompatible with having an independent foreign policy.

First I would note empirically that we got elected to the Security Council despite our involvement in Five Eyes known to all UN members. And I am sure those countries no exactly what that means – as they do much the same when they can.

But more to the point an intelligence sharing arrangement is a fairly minor part of overall foreign policy. People judge our foreign policy on numerous things – what conflicts we get involved in, how we vote at the UN, what we say, how we deal with their countries, who we trade with etc etc.

Being independent is not the same as being non-aligned.

Successive Prime Ministers have said New Zealand gets a great deal more our of the relationship than we contribute.

I’d say a huge amount more.

Former Prime Minister David Lange carved a path for an independent foreign policy on nuclear weapons. He said in the famous Oxford debate “we have been told by some officials in the United States administration that our decision (to be nuclear-free) is not, as they put it, to be cost-free; that we are in fact to be made to pay for our action”.

It was a threat made, said Lange, “not by our enemies, but by our friends”.

If we tap the Chinese data link ourselves – assuming we are capable and it is worth the effort – and don’t pass on information, do our Five Eyes partners refuse to tell us of terror plots in our backyard?

That’s being silly, even stupid. Security agencies swap information almost daily to help prevent terror plots. Even unfriendly countries such as China, Russia and the US will share information to help prevent terror plots.

Five Eyes is a formal agreement to share all foreign (not domestic) intelligence information with each other, and (this is important) not to spy on each other. It means we don’t have to ask the US on a case by case basis to access their foreign intelligence, and vice-versa.

New Zealand has its own inquiry to come. United Future Peter Dunne voted for the new GCSB Act secure in the knowledge he had won from Mr Key a regular inquiry into the activities of the security agencies, the first due to begin prior to the end of June 2015.

Presumably the inquiry will see New Zealand talking about the activities of its security agencies.

As a forum, its a good place to answer the question about our Trojan Kiwi spying on China.

If the nation is making trade-offs, does the nation need to know?

The nation knows about Five Eyes. It will not be a bad thing to debate generally our security arrangements.

But there is a difference between publicising the agreement, and publicising details of specific interception activities. Doing the latter benefits countries other than NZ – the exact thing that it is being suggested the Five Eyes agreement does.

Fisher on Radio Live on the Warners e-mail

September 16th, 2014 at 10:59 am by David Farrar

Listen to David Fisher on Radio Live talking about the Warner’s e-mail. Some quotes:

He did not present it at the Town Hall. I think that is extraordinary that we have two and a half years of this … conspiracy theory against me and I’m going to present this evidence. Initially it was going to be at the extradition hearing and then he said it will be on September 15 … Dotcom spent two and a half years saying I’ll show you the evidence, and then not. …

I’ve been following thsi case right from the outset Sean and the feeling I’ve had, the belief I’ve had, my honest belief is that there is not a conspiracy theory. I don’t believe there is any evidence that shows Key knew about Dotcom prior to the raid in January 2012

Fisher is the author of Kim Dotcom’s biography.

Another interesting discussion is whether the Internet Party should declare the cost of the Moment of Truth as a campaign expense, and would this push them over the spending limit? Their expenses return is going to be very closely scrutinised and I’d be very nervous if I was the party secretary.

David Fisher said he has no doubt it should be treated as an expense for the Internet Party.  Plunket also interviewed Andrew Geddis on this issue.

Journalist or Author?

June 20th, 2014 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

A High Court judge has ruled that a book written by a New Zealand Heraldjournalist about internet tycoon Kim Dotcom is not “news activity” and does not get special legal protections.

The book’s author and media commentators fear the ruling could have a “chilling effect” on New Zealand journalism if reporters were unable to protect their sources.

Click here to read the ruling by Justice Helen Winkelmann.

Justice Helen Winkelmann handed down her ruling on Monday, stating that material gathered by Herald senior journalist David Fisher to write The Secret Life of Kim Dotcom: Spies, Lies and the War for the Internet can be accessed by New Zealand Police and the GCSB in their case against Dotcom.

I can’t say I’m surprised by this ruling. Otherwise it would have given some authors a special status that other authors do not have.

Dotcom’s lawyers argued that the book was based on material gathered in the newsmaking process and was therefore an exception under the Privacy Act.

However, Justice Winkelmann found books were not within the definition of news activity by a news medium acknowledged under the Privacy Act.

“…the writing and publication of a book cannot, at least in this instance, be construed as news activity,” the ruling said.

News activity was preparing and publishing articles.

“Investigative journalism takes its form in long, detailed articles, which are covered by the Act’s definition. Books, however, are not.”

I think there is a difference between journalism and writing a book. A journalist is generally working for a news source, and they don’t get paid based on the sales of the news medium. But an author publishes a book for profit, and that is the primary motivation of books – profit, not journalism. Nothing wrong with that, I say.

Fisher said the ruling could compromise journalism in New Zealand if sources believed their interviews could be obtained through the courts.

“I think the ruling has the potential to undermine the public’s confidence in a free press,” he said. “The impact of the ruling has a potential chilling effect on anyone who wants to deal with a journalist who is writing a book.

I would never assume that telling things to someone writing a book has the same journalistic protection as talking to someone writing for a newspaper etc.


December 7th, 2010 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

David Fisher in the HoS wrote:

It could be dubbed the Slingshot law.

Consumer organisations have singled out the company while asking the Government to force phone and internet companies to a scheme designed to protect customer rights.

And the Government has signalled it is prepared to listen to rein in phone and internet customers that refuse to be accountable.

The Telecommunications Users Association of New Zealand and Consumer New Zealand wrote to Telecoms Minister Steven Joyce on Friday.

“TUANZ is fed up,” said the organisation’s business manager Katherine Hall. “We’re fielding calls from disgruntled – mostly Slingshot – customers on a regular basis.”

Hall said there was nowhere to direct customers of companies which did not belong to the Telecommunications Dispute Resolution Scheme.

The scheme is intended to be an option of last resort for frustrated customers who want independent arbitration. Membership is voluntary but includes Telecom, Vodafone and a host of other providers.

“Those who are signatories have smartened up their act and those who haven’t have a licence to frustrate and annoy.” …

A similar scheme in Australia was compulsory for phone and internet companies. Joyce said he had told the industry he was comfortable with membership being voluntary “provided that all carriers are members”.

“I advised them at the time that if they are not able to do this I will be considering a range other options.”

I’m hesitant about making the TRDS compulsory. What is preferable is that telco and internet providers who are not members of it, in the media etc when they fail to provide good service.

I suspect David’s articles on Slingshot may do more towards improving their customer service, than joining the TDRS would have.

So long as it is easy to leave a badly performing provider when they give crap service, then generally they will suffer the consequences of making customers wait on hold for an hour.

In another article, it is reported:

Many of the people who did email said they would leave Slingshot if it were not for the $149 “early termination fee” to get out of their contracts. Callander told me customers would not be held to that fee if they were leaving as a result of a problem that was Slingshot’s fault.

In the end, I told Callander that I was treated so poorly I didn’t want to remain a customer. Callander now accepts my time on hold was not an isolated incident.

Also, customers should be free to shop around. Many phone and internet companies charge early termination fees. The fee is usually included on contracts that give good deals (including bandwidth and hardware) over 12 or 24 months.

If one has an early termination fee, and the reason you are leaving is crap service (not just cheaper price elsewhere), then I’d tell the company you won’t pay it as they have not provided an adequate service. If they take you to the disputes tribunal, you’d probably win I reckon.

I’m unhappy again

November 28th, 2010 at 11:08 am by David Farrar

This seems to be my week for being very unhappy with the Government. This story actually offends me even more than the electoral finance changes. the electoral finance changes were at least made for the right reasons – to get bipartisan agreement on electoral law.

But this story in the HoS by David Fisher makes my blood boil, if it accurately reflects the situation.

Readers may recall that earlier this year the Government banned certain methods of killing animals, which included shechita – the traditional Jewish method, which is necessary to have food as “kosher”.

I’d not commented on the issue previously as I felt a bit conflicted. I don’t believe in religious beliefs trumping laws, but I do think it is desirable to try and allow communities to practice traditional beliefs – within limits.

If it was purely an issue of animal welfare. I was content to leave it to the  Government to find that balance between animal welfare and traditional practice. I’m not an expert on either.

But the article reveals:

A farming company part-owned by a Cabinet minister was able to give him a briefing about how the Government could protect its lucrative trade with Muslim countries by banning Jewish slaughtering.

This is where my blood boils. That it appears it was not animal welfare, but appeasing foreign Governments, that was part of the motivation for the law change. Now the Minister can’t control what people who lobby him say in their submissions to him, but what is disappointing is that he then referred to those concerns in documents to other Ministers.

Carter was being sued by the Auckland Hebrew Congregation for changing the law in May to make traditional Jewish slaughter of animals illegal. The case was set to begin in the High Court at Wellington tomorrow – until an embarrassing backdown by Carter who on Friday overturned the ban he asked Cabinet to support.

The practice of shechita on poultry was declared no longer illegal while the Government also agreed to negotiate the ban on sheep. New Zealand Jews will still have to import beef from Australia, where shechita is allowed.

Good to see a compromise. But my concern is not whether there is a ban or not, but about what was driving the ban.

Carter did not respond to requests for an interview.

In a statement he said: “Claims that business interests determined my decision on the Commercial Slaughter Code of Welfare are totally baseless. Animal welfare was the primary consideration in making this decision and I have said many times that animal welfare is a priority of mine.”

There is considerable wriggle room between trade interests “determining my decision” and “animal welfare was the primary consideration”. That does not rule out that trade interests were a strong secondary factor which influenced the decision, even if not determining it.

SST on Cook vs HoS

July 5th, 2009 at 9:47 am by David Farrar

I suspect the Sunday Star-Times enjoyed getting to print this article:

REPORTERS at the Herald on Sunday newspaper were instructed to steal stories out of the Sunday Star-Times in what the tabloid paper’s former assistant editor calls “industrial espionage” on an unprecedented scale.

The revelations are included in an early draft of a brief of evidence from Steve Cook, who was assistant editor at the Herald on Sunday until he was sacked following rumours of drug dealing.

Cook has taken a case to the Employment Relations Authority (ERA) claiming unjustified dismissal he was not charged by police with any offence and although the authority struck out evidence relating to the industrial espionage claims, the Star-Times has obtained a copy of the initial brief.

In it, Cook says that for a period in 2005 soon after the Herald on Sunday’s launch, reporter John Manukia would be dispatched on Saturday nights to the Fairfax presses in South Auckland to get an early copy of the Star-Times.

Manukia, later sacked for fabricating stories, would take the paper back to the Herald on Sunday offices and, acting on instructions from executive staff, “would proceed to lift stories from the SST without any attribution for publication in the following day’s Herald on Sunday”.

Cook says the practice ceased in July 2005, following a “near catastrophe”. The Star-Times had obtained exclusive extracts from a biography of All Black Justin Marshall, which its rival wanted. Manukia was dispatched to the presses to get a copy of the paper.

“That night the Fairfax presses were running late, so when Manukia eventually got his hands on a copy of the newspaper there was only time to phone through details from the book. I asked Manukia to give me the title of the book but instead he gave me the headline on the SST story.”

The Herald on Sunday went to press with the erroneous title, and when editor Shayne Currie discovered the error, “was left with no choice but to stop the presses”, Cook wrote.

Currie yesterday said the behaviour was not “standard practice”. In a statement to the Star-Times he said: “I recall this happened on two, possibly three, occasions, in 2005. It has not happened since. On one of those occasions we did a `spoiler’ story on the new Justin Marshall book, which was being extracted in the SST.”

Media commentator Jim Tully damned the practice, saying lifting stories from another media outlet without attribution was “both unethical and potentially risky as past experience has shown. It is indicative of the intense competition between the Sundays and suggests a note of desperation in not being scooped by a rival.”

I think things are less intense now, but I do know newspapers hate nothing more than missing a story their rival covers.

Cook also gave details in his early brief of “the most incredible example of industrial espionage ever seen in the newspaper industry in this country”. A Herald on Sunday reporter had rented an apartment across the road from the Star-Times offices in Auckland and had a view of the editor’s office, including a whiteboard with details of upcoming stories. Cook claims the reporter was given a telescope and told to ring through details of what the Star-Times was doing that week.

But senior Herald on Sunday reporter David Fisher put a statement on the Public Address website on Friday, saying the telescope was his, and that the so-called spying was “a joke driven by a sense of mischief”. Currie said the incident was a “silly prank” which gained nothing and he did not find out about it until later.

David Fisher’s blog on the issue is here. I trust David entirely as to this being the context to the story.

The ERA heard on Friday that Cook was dismissed from the Herald on Sunday last year after a chain of events that began with a visit to the paper by two drug squad detectives.

They told Currie that Cook and a company car had been spotted on several occasions at a property they had under surveillance.

Currie said that over the following days and weeks Cook refused to provide a satisfactory reason for being there and would not hand over notes. Cook said he wouldn’t provide the notes because he did not trust Currie, who had given his home address to the police officers.

Even I had heard about the rumoured drug involvement. But the key issue will be whether Cook was legally entitled to refuse to hand over his (alleged) notes to his editor, and also whether the HoS followed correct process in dismissing him.

The Listener on Hawke’s Bay DHB

March 12th, 2008 at 10:33 am by David Farrar

David Fisher puts his investigative skills to good use in the latest issue of The Listener. The article will not be online for a week or so, so I really recommend people interested buy a copy.  Some key points I noted:

  • The e-mail between Hausmann and CEO Chris Clarke in January 2006, discussing details of the contract Hausmann was tendering for, was only accessed by Board Administrator Deborah Houston as she was filling in for his PA. Hence there may have been many more e-mails like that.
  • King’s appointment of Peter Hausmann was at whim, and while legal (she can appoint anyone she wants) failed to follow best practice by having the potential appointee go before an interview panel.
  • The Cabinet Appointments and Honours Committee staff alerted King’s office to the extent of Hausmann’s conflicts of interest
  • A senior Ministry of Health staffer wrote a letter describing Hausmann’s appointment as posing a “huge risk”.
  • Peter Hausmann asked for an inquiry not just into his own actions, but for a full review of the Board’s performance and governance. The Ministry of Health advised there was no need for this, and that it should be into Hausmann’s conflicts only as they believe “these are prima facie serious matters”.
  • Pete Hodgson ignored the Ministry advice, and by making the review so much wider, meant the review took much much longer to complete, which in itself led to greater dysfunction.
  • Ray Lind recorded several conversations with staff and board members, without telling them at the time.
  • These secret recordings were only discovered when PWC audited the e-mail system and found Lind had e-mailed himself a copy – the e-mail had been deleted but was on the backup tape.
  • Hausmann had access to the RFP months before his ten competitors did, and at least one of them complained about the lack of time to respond when it went public
  • The e-mails to and from Hausmann regarding the RFP were deleted from the DHB’s e-mail system. This is arguably illegal under the Official Information Act.
  • The only backup tape which had the e-mails was May 2005, and of the 12 backup tapes given to PWC, it was the only one damaged.
  • DHB Management were severely criticised by the Audit Office for another (Wellcare Education) contract they gave to Hausmann’s company.
  • An e-mail from Hausmann, after he was appointed to the Board, was sent to a senior manager extensively advocated on behalf of Wellcare Education, which Hausmann’s company’s owned.

The failings of both King and Hodgson, but also Lind and Clarke seem numerous. Deleted e-mails, official advice ignored, preferential treatment, secret recordings, appointments without interviews, to name a few.

What Annette King has yet to answer is why she appointed Hausmann? She says she just met him and as impressed with him.  But why did she ffail to follow best practice? She says she was not legally obliged to do so.  Fine, we know that.  But the question is why did she not have an interview panel as normal?

And has Pete Hodgson explained why he ignored the advice from Ministry officials who had no political interest in the outcome? Did he talk to King before making that decision? Did he talk to Hausmann, Clarke or Ray Lind?

And why did DHB management not once, but twice, fall over themselves to give preferential treatment to Hausmann?