John Key began to fight back against the damage being done by the GCSB scandal urging reform for the bureau. But has he jumped the gun before doing the numbers? Let's see what ACT and United Future have said...
The GCSB spying controversy this week keeps giving new angles, each one more likely to have New Zealand voters changing the channel or turning the page. As John Key has this today again had to defend his honesty following the leaking of the Kitteridge report into reforming the Government Communications and Security Bureau, it'll be interesting to see how Key and his party manage this politically.
Key's push-back strategy seemed to begin in earnest today, as he spoke about changes to the law governing the GCSB - on one hand giving our spies more power, saying that it should be changed to allow spying on New Zealanders, and on the other insisting on more rigorous oversight.
You've got to give him points for courage under fire -- got a failing agency that's been breaking the law? Hey, why not argue they need more power?
Many voters will have made up their mind, subject to new information that somehow damns or clears.
There will be a few who don't like the idea of being spied on and will worry at the free hand being given to those who already have significant power and the damage to democracy. But not many. There will also be a few at the other end who think the authorities need as much power as possible in troubled times.
More will be in the middle. There will be some, like those I overheard in a cafe this lunchtime, saying 'he seems to think he can do as he likes' and that a man used to such power and wealth isn't good at being held accountable.
And there will be others whose eyes glaze over at another process story and say 'you won't have anything to worry about if you don't do anything wrong'. They'll shrug off something that's unlikely to directly affect them. (For a country that has such a low opinion of politicians, we're very trusting of them and their agents.)
Key will be hoping the latter are the majority if he's to come through this unscathed.
Upon his return from China he says he'll announce the law changes he wants made, but it seems at first blush that he may struggle to get the numbers to pass any law that gives the GCSB more power.
Labour, the Greens, the Maori Party and Mana will all vote against, I'm sure.
So it comes down to ACT and United Future. Can they be convinced?
John Banks will again be in a bit of a tangle. This keeps Dotcom in the limelight and, consequently, reminds everyone of Bank's donation scandal. If he votes for a law change that would have meant the Dotcom spying was legal, he looks to be butt-covering, even vindictive.
He also stands at odds with the liberty and freedom principles of his party. Small government is ACT's raison d'etre and what's bigger than big brother spying on Banks' fellow New Zealanders?
Former ACT deputy Heather Roy in 2007 gave a speech on civil liberties in which she described the security measures at airports post-9/11 as "over the top", and which ended:
Finally, I would like to say that throughout history the majority of the world's population lived in poverty and under tyranny. We in New Zealand may not, but that is no accident. The freedoms we enjoy today were argued and fought for over many generations. Many people faced huge dangers to defend them, and we have an obligation - a duty - not to throw them away lightly.
The same year, then-leader Rodney Hide voted against the Terrorism Suppression Amendment Bill, arguing:
"We cannot fight terror by terrorising our own people. We cannot defend our freedoms, which we cherish, by adopting fascist policies. We oppose terrorism because we all wish to live in a free and open society... We do not want to concede awesome powers to our political leaders."
Then there's Peter Dunne. His party's policy is to "uphold the principles of democracy, freedom of expression, religious belief, free assembly and the right to dissent".
That must give him some concern as to who the 88 New Zealanders spied on by the GCSB in the past decade are - mere dissenters? On the basis of that, would he want to make such investigations easier?
Dunne has written and spoken about his discomfort with the GCSB scandal and is illegal actions. On his own blog last October he wrote:
"Free societies operate on the basis of mutual consent. We respect the authority of the state because we believe it to be exercised in our best interests. When confidence in our institutions is diminished by their own actions, the cohesion of our society is eroded.
That erosion and where it might lead is what has me feeling uncomfortable right now."
And he's quoted as saying at a Petone speech in the same month:
"The incompetence of the intelligence agencies is on the face of it so intolerable as to raise wider questions about purpose and intent," he said on Tuesday night.
Is it credible that they failed so badly, or were there other forces at play?
I accept that the cock-up theory, rather than conspiracy, is usually a more reliable and accurate explainer of events like this, but the ineptitude that has surrounded all of this leaves me wondering,"
When concerns about Chinese communications company Huawei were reported, he wrote:
"Basically, are they [the GCSB up to it? That is a question we have not had to ask before".
Which raises the question, how could he vote to extend the powers of an organisation he doubts is even up to its existing work? That he called "incompetent" and "inept"? And that he fears has eroded our social cohesion?
What would the ability to use its powers and technology on its own citizens do to our trust in the authority of the state?
It seems to me that Dunne and Banks would have to be remarkably politically flexible to hold these positions and vote to give the GCSB greater and wider powers. Which would leave Key's hopes for that part of his reform at least, dead in the water before they're even launched.
It's now just a matter of waiting for ACT and UF to declare -- has National been able to turn them or has it jumped the gun without coalition support?