Prime Minister John Key says people opposed to the GCSB bill would "run for the hills" if there was a terrorist attack in New Zealand.
Last night around 1500 people packed the Auckland Town Hall last night to hear from high-profile opponents of the bill, which would allow the spy agency to snoop on Kiwis legally.
Speakers included internet tycoon Kim Dotcom, investigative journalists Jon Stephenson and Nicky Hager, Labour leader David Shearer, NZ First leader Winston Peters and Orcon founder Seeby Woodhouse.
Speaking about the bill and last night's meeting on Firstline this morning, Mr Key said those in attendance were "largely be affiliated to the left of politics" and their arguments not based in fact.
"My point is just there are some people on the left of politics who do not believe GCSB should exist, and they don't believe SIS should exist," says Mr Key.
"Their argument is that a small level of invasion of privacy for a very small group of New Zealanders isn't warranted when you look at that in conjunction with everything else that goes on – fair enough. But that's a luxurious position that they can take because they are not Prime Minister of New Zealand, and if there is a terrorist attack, they're not the person that they will ring up.
Mr Key says if there was a terrorist attack in New Zealand – at Auckland Airport, for example – the bills opponents would "run for the hills" and demand to know why more wasn't done to prevent it.
"That would include David Shearer and Russel Norman," says Mr Key. "They wouldn't want a bar of it. They'd be on your show saying the Government should have done more to protect people… Mark my words."
Mr Shearer however disputes Mr Key's claim he would head for cover.
"The last time an attack happened I was in Iraq. A rocket came in and people were killed and wounded and I helped out," says Mr Shearer.
"I take security very seriously and that's why we need to have a good bill that protects us and at the same time protects our privacy."
Recent criticism of the bill has focused on a perceived lack of clarity around how deep the GCSB will be able to look into New Zealanders' emails. Mr Key says it will only be a minimal amount of metadata – and without a warrant, definitely not the contents – but that hasn't been specifically written into the legislation.
Mr Key says it is there, however.
"If you go and have a look at section 8a of the bill and read that in conjunction – as you have to – with section 15a and 15c of the bill, actually it spells it out very clearly. What it basically says under section 8a, which is about cyber security, the function there is to protect information – not to access information, but to protect your information… It's quite different to section 8c, which is all about looking at content.
"So when I sign that warrant, assuming a company wants us to do that and the GCSB decides it's worth doing that, and we do that with a commissioner of warrants, that warrant will specifically say that you can't look at content of New Zealanders' [communications], and that that warrant will be reviewable by the Intelligence and Security committee.
"So it is in the law – that's absolutely where it is – and that's the way it'll apply."
Mr Key says if any future Prime Minister interprets the bill differently to him, they'd be "thrown out" of office. It's a contentious issue, because a large part of the Government's motivation for changing the law in the first place is because in its current form, key details – like whether the GCSB was allowed to help other agencies spy on New Zealanders – was open to interpretation.
"If you think about any law that the Government passes, okay… the Government as a player and participant in those is bound by those laws. We don't sit around saying, 'Oh, but the Government might just have a bad hair day,' and decide it's not going to obey the law on this particular occasion.
"That's a really serious issue for any government to be in, and I just don't believe future Prime Ministers will do that, because they'll be in breach of the law. They'll be thrown out."
Mr Key believes most New Zealanders understand the need for the GCSB to assist police and the SIS to spy on persons of interest, be they foreigners or Kiwis.
"[Their activities] include everything from you know, potentially drugs or whatever to international terrorism… I think New Zealanders would say yes, the Government is quite right to provide some sort of surveillance over those people because their actions and activities indicate they are of serious risk to New Zealand or New Zealanders."
Labour leader David Shearer will be discussing the latest developments in the GCSB bill story on Firstline tomorrow.