Director-General of Security Rebecca Kitteridge speaks to media while Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern looks on (Getty Images)

The Bulletin: Spy agency overhaul calls, and response to March 15 inquiry report

Good morning and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Response to Royal Commission report into March 15 terrorist attack, slow progress on climate change criticised internationally, and ‘digital handshake’ to be added to Covid app.

The security services have come in for criticism in a Royal Commission report into the March 15 terrorist attacks, which left 51 people dead and many more injured. As Justin Giovannetti reports, spy agencies were basically unaware of the terrorist, having failed to put enough of a focus on the dangers of far-right and white supremacist extremism. Nor did they necessarily have the capability to detect and stop his plans, with the caveat that the terrorist took steps to conceal them in advance. As a result, one aspect of the recommendations from the report is to expand the security state, with a new agency focusing on counter terrorism. A full list of recommendations can be read on the NZ Herald.

In response, the PM apologised on behalf of the government. Her full speech has been published here. “Ultimately, this roughly 800-page report can be distilled into one simple premise. Muslim New Zealanders should be safe. Anyone who calls New Zealand home, regardless of race, religion, sex or sexual orientation should be safe. New Zealanders deserve a system that does its best to keep you safe, and that is what we are committed to building. But an apology would be hollow without action,” she said. In Australia, the shadow minister for multicultural affairs has made a statement to parliament calling for reflection and action, in light of where the terrorist grew up, reports Toby Manhire.

One problem in the system of information sharing came to light yesterday morning, from Stuff’s Jody O’Callaghan. She reported that the gunman was treated in a Dunedin hospital for a self-inflicted gunshot wound in 2018, sustained while cleaning it, but that information was never passed on to police. It’s easier to say with the benefit of hindsight, but had mandatory reporting of gunshot wounds been in place at the time, police may have visited his home and discovered the arsenal of weapons being assembled. It is also well documented that police bungled the checks around him gaining a gun licence.

 As the NZ Herald’s (paywalled) Audrey Young writes, the report’s findings push back very strongly against the perception that New Zealanders are under mass surveillance – if that was the case, the terrorist may have been picked up. However, the creation of a new counter terrorism agency has also been criticised as the wrong solution to the problem. The blogger at No Right Turn has long been a critic of the security state, and argued yesterday that “as usual, the spies will be given even more money and power, despite a massive display of incompetence which saw 51 people killed.”

Another of the recommendations is for reform of hate speech laws. Stuff reports that the government has promised no changes will be made without first consulting the public, and other political parties for their views. The report found that existing laws didn’t offer “workable mechanisms to deal with hate speech”. However it’s a tricky balance, because democratic societies require freedom of expression, and figuring out where the line is can be challenging.

The response from the Muslim community has highlighted the failure of government organisations to keep them safe. As the NZ Herald reports, many of those who lost families, and those who survived on the day, are still suffering from the damage done. Writing on The Spinoff, Anjum Rahman said that it showed it was time to examine deeply the culture and society that had produced the terrorist, and allowed his actions to go ahead, both in Australia and New Zealand. To quote an important section at length:

A second aspect of the report is that the closest relations of the terrorist – his mother and sister – were concerned about his views and his mental state. His sister stated that she began to have concerns in early 2017. His mother reported feeling “petrified” about his mental health and increasingly racist views. Who could these women report their concerns to, and how?

In order for close family members and friends to report concerns, they would need to feel assured that there was a system with the capability and resources to treat their relative with care and compassion. They would need to be aware of whom to report to, and understand the consequences of making that report. They would want to be sure that the reporting would lead to positive change for the individual concerned without infringing on their social and political rights.

At the time these two women felt concern, they had no awareness of the terrorist’s planned massacre. They just knew that something was wrong. We, as a society, needed them to raise those concerns with someone.


New Zealand’s slow progress on climate change is starting to be an embarrassment on the world stage, reports Newsroom’s Marc Daalder. It’s being noticed in both diplomatic and academic circles, that the rhetoric of the country in no way matches the reality of emissions cuts to date. It’s certainly something to think about in the wake of a climate emergency being declared, a gesture some criticised as hollow.


A “digital handshake” Bluetooth component is being added to the government’s Covid tracing app, reports Justin Giovannetti. The option can be turned on or off at will, and will allow people to contact trace much more quickly and easily, if they return a positive test. Check-ins with the QR codes will still be necessary regardless, but they’re also very easy to do. For those wondering about the privacy implications of that, the privacy commissioner has endorsed the upgrade.


One year ago today, the eruption of Whakaari/White Island resulted in the deaths of 22 people, with 25 more injured. The damage that was inflicted on them was terrible, and for some survivors will be lifelong. Dr David Galler was part of the intensive care team at Middlemore that day, and has written about what he saw that day, the medical response, and the aftermath. I would also recommend this piece from Stuff’s Matt Shand, reporting on emergency service personnel looking back at that terrible day.


Home ownership rates are at their lowest in decades, reports Eva Corlett for Radio NZ. That comes from an analysis of multiple sources of information, compiled by Stats NZ. Ownership rates generally haven’t been this low since 1951, after peaking in the 90s. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the rates are far lower for people in their 20s and 30s, and for ethnic minorities.


Public health authorities are investigating a spike in norovirus cases at Auckland early childhood centres, reports One News. Norovirus bugs are the type that can cause vomiting and diarrhoea. It may be due to a change in cleaning products being used since the start of Covid-19. Hundreds of people have been made sick as a result of the outbreaks.


Parliament’s speaker has apologised to a person for effectively accusing them of rape, bringing to an end a long running defamation saga. The NZ Herald reports Trevor Mallard made the comments after the release of the Francis report on bullying and parliamentary culture, and while he did not directly name the accused man, it was apparently clear to many in the building who he was talking about. The claims about the man were not substantiated by a parliamentary services investigation.


Best Journalism of 2020: It has been a difficult year in terms of public relations for Emirates Team NZ, with plenty of questions raised about whether everything is quite above board. And as Jimmy got in touch to point out, a lot of that came to light through the work of the NZ Herald’s Hamish Rutherford – here’s an example. I’ll quote from Jimmy’s email, with a few of the saltier parts taken out:

“I think Hamish Rutherford’s slow and considered investigation into the [redacted] within Team New Zealand and America’s Cup Events, showing Dalton for the [redacted] that he is; and the terrible treatment of the whistleblowers by Team New Zealand, MBIE and the Government (they’ve kind of thrown them under the bus really) has been a really interesting slow-burn story unfolding over several weeks.”


Got some feedback about The Bulletin, or anything in the news? Drop us a line at thebulletin@thespinoff.co.nz

Is Flynn Rider a simp? Discuss.

Right now on The Spinoff: Danyl Mclauchlan says farewell to Astoria, the Wellington insider institution that is closing down. Michael Andrew reports on the bidding wars erupting over prized puppies. A small business owner writes to the PM about the need to level the playing field between commercial tenants and landlords. Terry Boucher writes about the tax tools available to the government’s box against runaway house prices and inequality. Leonie Hayden writes about the complex feelings stirred up by the new Toi Tū Toi Ora Māori contemporary art exhibition. Sonia Gray introduces a new Frame documentary, about raising a child that is gifted but troubled. Max Tetlow meets Niko Walters, a fast rising young artist who has just released a first album. And Alice Webb-Liddall trawls through the best details in the list of 2020’s top google trends.


For a feature today, an insightful piece about the value of localism in media. Stuff’s Glenn McConnell reports radio station The Breeze has just finished the year with cracking ratings – nothing particularly unusual about that, given it’s a broadly popular station. But they’ve done it in part through a big investment in regional-specific shows, which is a big change from the recent era of commercial radio consolidation. Here’s an excerpt:

Wratt says the company has been focusing for the past few years on shaking up The Breeze with a focus on local programmes.

“We put new local shows into The Breeze in Hawke’s Bay, Nelson, Auckland and Waikato,” he says. There are also local broadcasters in towns across the South Island, in Wellington and the Bay of Plenty.

On the face of it, his focus on local shows is unusual. Increasingly, media organisations have been pulling out of smaller towns to save money.

“That’s really a sad part, and a big part of my job is to fight against that loss. The audience really wants this, and we need to keep connecting with that audience… to do that sometimes you’ve got to go local, which costs more money, but you’ve got to do it,” he says.


Pakistan’s cricketers have been affected mentally by their spell in quarantine, reports Al-Jazeera. With a total of ten positive tests among the touring group, the whole lot had to effectively go into lockdown. And while a few of them broke the rules right at the start of their stay, most appear to have followed the rules, and as such you’ve got to feel for them a bit having to come out of such a situation and be immediately competitive.


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