China expert Anne-Marie Brady has been blocked from submitting to a select committee inquiry examining possible foreign interference in New Zealand elections.
Parliament’s justice committee last year asked for submissions on the 2016 local body and 2017 general elections, as part of its triennial review of the electoral process.
In October last year, Justice Minister Andrew Little asked the committee to widen the scope of its work and “look at the resilience of our electoral system against foreign interference risks”.
“It is vital that New Zealand’s electoral system is protected against illegitimate interference by foreign states,” Little told the committee in a letter.
The NZ Security Intelligence Service and the Government Communications Security Bureau are due to speak to the committee in April.
Brady, a professor at the University of Canterbury who has written extensively on China’s alleged influence and interference efforts in New Zealand, including in her “Magic Weapons” paper, wrote to the committee in February asking to appear before it.
However, her request was denied after a vote on Thursday when all four Labour MPs on the eight-person committee voted against it, resulting in a deadlock.
Brady unreasonably blocked – National
Committee member and National MP Nick Smith said Brady was being unreasonably blocked, and should be allowed to submit given her expertise and body of work on Chinese influence.
“National’s view is that a committee cannot do an inquiry without having access to people other than government officials,” Smith said.
“It’s an issue the Justice Minister has himself asked us to consider, and it’s an appalling look that the Government members are blocking an expert professor from being able to give evidence in Parliament.”
While the original submission process for the inquiry closed last September, Smith said its scope was only widened to include foreign interference following Little’s letter a month later.
Smith said Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern needed to intervene and ask the Labour members of the committee to reconsider their decision.
Brady was the only member of the public who had asked to make a submission on the issue, he said.
Labour MP Raymond Huo, the chair of the justice committee, has featured in Brady’s research on Chinese influence in New Zealand.
Brady’s Magic Weapons paper named Huo as someone who “works very closely with PRC representatives in New Zealand” and had connections to the United Front, a Chinese government department that promotes the CCP’s values at home and with the Chinese diaspora.
She said Huo made the decision to translate Ardern’s famous “Let’s do this” slogan to a Chinese phrase that literally means “roll up your sleeves and work hard” — a quote from Chinese Premier Xi Jinping.
Huo denied those claims, telling the NZ Herald that his connections with Chinese groups were part of being an effective MP and his translation resonated well with Chinese constituents.
Speaking to Newsroom about the decision to block Brady, he said the decision was “purely procedural” given public submissions had closed last year after being widely publicised as usual.
“New Zealand needs to pull together as a country to address this problem, and we need a bipartisan approach to addressing it.”
“As committee chair, I am satisfied that the correct procedure has been followed and that the agencies will keep the committee well informed about any issues of foreign interference that may arise,” Huo said.
A spokesman for Ardern echoed Huo’s comments, saying: “Our position would be that this is a procedural matter for the committee and that the various agencies presenting are well placed to provide information on foreign interference and the threat of it.”
Brady told Newsroom she had only become aware of the committee’s decision after being approached by media, and said the Government had made clear in a number of strategic documents that it was concerned about foreign interference activities in New Zealand.
“New Zealand needs to pull together as a country to address this problem, and we need a bipartisan approach to addressing it,” she said.
Brady called on the Government to pass new legislation addressing the issue, as well as “talk[ing] directly about the problem to the public, so they can make informed choices and know what the concerns are”.