Politics

Ardern, Peters take different line on foreign interference

Members of the Government are looking at cracking down on foreign interference in New Zealand elections, but it appears not all coalition parties are on the same page. 

In comments made to The Financial Times, Peters said the Government was “conscious of comment and concerns and we are listening”.

“In the case of the independence, neutrality and sovereignty of the New Zealand political system there will be proposals that will be ready for the next general election to ensure those concerns are addressed,” he said. 

A spokesperson for Peters later clarified that the proposals were being worked on by New Zealand First, meaning they do not yet represent the view of the Government as a whole. The party would look at a ban on all foreign political donations.

The Prime Minister appeared to be unaware of Peters’ remarks in her weekly post-cabinet press conference on Monday, although as leader of the Labour Party she has no jurisdiction over New Zealand First policy. 

Ardern said she would be waiting to hear back from the Justice Select Committee’s hearings on foreign interference in elections, before making any policy proposal. 

“I’m quite interested to hear what the select committee comes back with specific advice on, we’ve always said we’re not complacent generally on this issue, we need to constantly ensure that we have the tools in place and are vigilant on this issue,” Ardern said.

She noted that NZSIS head Rebecca Kitteridge had told Parliament that New Zealand currently had the ability to respond if it found any direct examples of inference.

Ardern said it was important to have the “legislative framework required to manage these issues”.

Ardern would not say whether Huo should recuse himself as chair of the committee during a future hearing with Brady, given his potential conflict of interest. 

The select committee Ardern referred to was thrown into disarray last week when it emerged that Labour MPs had blocked Canterbury University Professor Anne-Marie Brady from appearing before the committee.

Brady has written extensively on Chinese interference in New Zealand.

Chair Raymond Huo, a Labour MP, said the matter was procedural and the decision looks almost certain to be reversed when the committee meets again this week. 

But Huo’s role in the decision remains contentious. He was singled out in Brady’s landmark paper Magic Weapons as someone who "works very closely with PRC representatives in New Zealand”.

Huo has denied Brady’s claims. 

Ardern would not say whether Huo should recuse himself as chair of the committee during a future hearing with Brady, given his potential conflict of interest. 

“It’s not a job for me to determine the way select committees conduct their business, they’re committees of Parliament,” she said. 

The controversy over potential Chinese interference played out against the backdrop of some good news for New Zealand’s relationship with China. 

Ardern announced today that Chinese representatives would attend the opening of the China-New Zealand Year of Tourism, which had been delayed amidst accusations China was boycotting the event in response to the GCSB’s decision not to approve Huawei’s involvement in Spark’s 5G network.

The event will be held at Te Papa on March 29 and be attended by the China’s Minister of Culture and Tourism, Luo Shugang. 

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