Greenpeace has asked the State Services Commission to expand its investigation into the use of Thompson and Clark by a government agency to include Ministry for Business, Innovation & Employment, after OIA requests revealed the Ministry has also worked with the controversial private investigations firm.
This follows last week’s announcement by the State Services Commission (SSC) that it will be launching an inquiry into crown insurer,
Southern Response, for using Thompson and Clark (TCIL) to spy on Christchurch earthquake complainants. Greenpeace New Zealand’s executive director, Russel Norman, says the investigations methods used by TCIL are a “cancer to democracy”.
“Thompson and Clark are known for their Orwellian and oppressive spying on the advocacy groups who are a fundamental part of civil society. Previous governments have warned against using this company for very good reason, and it’s completely inappropriate for tax-payer funded agencies to still be working with them,” he says.
Multitudes of documents received under the Official Information Act (OIA) reveal that the Ministry for Business, Innovation & Employment (MBIE) has had a close relationship with TCIL for more than four years, and has worked with them to protect the oil industry and counteract the advocacy work of environmental groups like Greenpeace.
The documents and emails that have been released are a fraction of the full picture – MBIE declined a number of requests for certain correspondence with TCIL on the grounds that over 2,000 documents exist.
Norman says there is a clear trail of “teamwork” between TCIL, MBIE, and oil and mining companies.
“The documents we’ve seen show a highly collegial relationship between MBIE and TCIL that includes references to their drinking sessions and other social personal activities. At times it’s difficult to tell where MBIE ends and TCIL begins in these exchanges,” he says.
“It is clear that MBIE has also been assisting the spy agency to obtain commercial contracts by passing on contact details for mining companies that will be arriving in New Zealand in order for TCIL to pitch their services to them.
“This is a taxpayer funded Government regulator that we expect to do its job professionally and impartially. Instead, what we’ve seen feels like MBIE has been acting as little more than an agent for oil companies and their contractors.”
Last August, a reverse sting operation by Greenpeace revealed that TCIL had been spying on staff and volunteers, at times on a daily basis, for years. Staff had been watched, followed to their homes, photographed, and monitored.
The environmental organisation sued TCIL for invasion of privacy, and the case is ongoing.
Norman says the release of these latest OIA documents show there are even more layers to the story.
“We now know that TCIL has been passing information about peaceful climate activists to MBIE during this time. The exact detail is difficult to ascertain from the heavily redacted OIAs, but it’s plainly more than information obtained from public sources,” he says.
“The methods used by TCIL are a cancer to in our democracy as they primarily target citizens that engage in peaceful advocacy. The chilling effect of being under constant and intrusive surveillance for simply campaigning on important issues such as climate change, fundamentally corrodes what it means to live in a free and democratic society.
“We look forward to an SSC inquiry into just how deeply this unacceptable behaviour seeps into our public services sector, and we hope that the new Government will act quickly to restore the public’s trust.”