Author: Hoverd, W.J.
Published in National Security Journal, Volume 1, Issue 1, October 2019
Attorney General by 31st December 2019. At this stage, it is futile to try and closely investigate the nature of the inquiry itself (simply because it’s impossible to objectively know whose agenda to trust), but its very existence points to a larger focus for the study of national security. That of the role of the Fourth Estate, in this case the New Zealand media, in holding the government to account. Importantly, the role of the Fourth Estate is to scrutinise the state’s language and action as an accountability function. The Gordian knot of the media challenge to the national security sector, is that due to the nature of the sector’s work it necessarily has to respond to media in a closed manner. In turn, because of its very nature the national security sector is evasive and non-transparent in its responses to media scrutiny. This elusiveness then perpetuates a cycle of additional media criticism and attempts to find out more information. Elsewhere, I have written about how these challenges result in national security discourse being contestable.47 Elusiveness inevitably leads to a lack of trust and this then compounds to a point, that when national security statements are made explicit by government they are not necessarily trusted either. Official Information Act (OIA) requests for information, media scrutiny, leaks and the potential for sensationalism will continue to be a characteristic of this type of criticism. The unfortunate consequence is that when it comes to Inquiries such as that into Operation Burnham, even the informed viewer cannot gain any form of objective insight into the matter at hand and, as such, is unable to discern who to have trust or confidence in.
The nature of what constitutes a national security threat in New Zealand has also evolved. For example, biosecurity is now a major concern. On July 22nd 2017, Mycoplasma bovis was found on a farm in South Canterbury.48 While not a food safety risk, Mycoplasma bovis is a bacteria that can cause a range of very serious conditions to cattle.49 On-farm, it is spread through fluids i.e., saliva and milking machines. Off-farm, it is spread through the movement of cattle and equipment that has been in contact with other infected animals.50 A recent estimate of the cost of this bacteria outbreak falls between $200 million and $1 billion to the NZ economy.51 The Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) calculates the scale of the outbreak is as follows:
At the time of writing, MPI’s latest update says there are 173 properties confirmed to be infected by M.bovis, 134 of which have been cleared of the disease, with 104,583 animals culled. Eighteen of the 39 “active” properties are in Canterbury.
Notices of direction have been issued restricting animal movements on 229 properties, thought to have received cattle from infected farms, while another 592 properties thought to be at risk are being tested.52
MPI has been the lead agency in the response to the Mycoplasma bovis outbreak. This role originally involved containment, detection and prevention. Now MPI has been tasked with eradicating the bacteria completely from New Zealand farms.53 Interestingly, we see that as one part of its response to the outbreak that MPI has broadened