NZ Prime Minister shakes up security agency governance

John Key breaks with a long-standing tradition that the Prime Minister is directly in charge of the Security Intelligence Service and Government Communications Security Bureau.

New Zealand's Prime Minister, John Key, has appointed his Attorney General as the new minister in charge of the country's security agencies.

john key
John Key

Chris Finlayson will be minister in charge of the Security Intelligence Service (SIS) and minister responsible for the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB).

The change signals a new model for the way the agencies are overseen, Key said.

“The security and intelligence sector has been undergoing significant change at agency and operational level,” he said. “It makes sense for us to also take a fresh look at how the governance of the sector is structured."

He said the new structure would align New Zealand with Australia and Great Britain.

Key, as Prime Minister, will take on the new role of Minister for National Security and Intelligence.

"In this role I will be responsible for leading the national security system – including policy settings and the legislative framework,” he said.

As such, he will lead the national security sector and set the overall framework it operates within.

“The Responsible Minister will operate within the framework I set and exercise ministerial oversight of the NZ SIS and GCSB, including approval of [interception and surveillance] warrants."

Amy Adams, who will retain her Communications portfolio, will be appointed acting Attorney-General instead of Finlayson where there is a specific role for the Attorney-General under New Zealand’s security and intelligence legislation.

“For example, Ms Adams will have responsibility for appointing reviewers to conduct the periodic review of the intelligence agencies, the legislation governing them and their oversight legislation,” Key said.

Key said he also intends to create a new National Security Committee of Cabinet, which he will chair, with oversight of the intelligence and security sector

Key's GCSB role proved a tumultuous one. He had to deal with the agency misusing its interception powers, pass new legislation to legalise domestic surveillance and counter allegations of mass surveillance made by Edward Snowden, Glen Greenwald and Kim Dotcom.

New Zealand is one of the so-called Five Eyes intelligence alliance along with Canada, the USA, the UK and Australia.

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