Minister of Justice admits N.Z.’s justice system is broken

This is a startling admission to make at any international forum, but to say so at the Universal Periodic Review of Human Rights, which happens every five years in Geneva, is something else altogether.

It is an important admission too, as those who have been short changed by its unwieldy ways will attest. Whether one is a victim of violent assault whose attacker get an unacceptably light sentence or was released on parole early; whether one is a victim of serious fraud and watched the people who took thousands of your dollars, which you will never see again, this is a vital first step in the long road rebuilding the justice system.

Sometimes it is the Police who mess up and fail to take a rape case seriously and the alleged attacker goes on to attack others. Sometimes it is Corrections determining that a previously violent offender is allowed out on parole and within a matter of days has committed new offences. Sometimes it is the Courts handing down a wet bus ticket instead of an actual sentence.

No matter who failed in their duties, the results are the same: a gnawing sense of injustice stoked by the knowledge it was totally avoidable.

National Party Justice spokesperson Mark Mitchell is of a frame of mind that does not understand the importance of speaking for all peoples as Mr Little did when he mentioned various minority groups. He might have gone too far in suggesting that the effects of colonialism are still impacting on our society, as at least Treaty grievances have the benefit of there being a path to remediation, which is something not necessarily available for other ills.

New Zealand’s justice system must work for all New Zealanders – irrespective of age or skin colour, wealth or whether or not they have just become a citizen or have been one their whole lives. It must be built on the principles of a fair and unbiased trial or appropriate hearing. It must not permit guilt unless beyond reasonable doubt; detention in jail longer than it is necessary to determine whether charges will be laid or not.

Do pieces of Act of Parliament such as the David Garrett “Three strikes” legislation work? I am not sure of the answer to that, but it seems patently ridiculous to me for someone to commit say two assaults, do time for them and then get 25 years for stealing a car. It is not that I condone stealing cars – I do not condone any improper or illegal interference with other people’s bodies or property – but to get 25 years for such an offence simply because a clause in legislation was triggered, and not on the merits of the offence harms the offender unnecessarily.

Is there a risk of interference by people in order to pervert the natural course of justice so that a person or interest of theirs may be given a more lenient sentence, or no sentence at all? Quite possibly. No doubt politicians and figures of influence such as the C.E.O.’s of large companies have attempted this, and will try to do so again in the future.

Can the watch dogs – the Privacy, Human Rights Commissioners and so forth – do their jobs without political interference? One would hope so, though former Prime Minister John Key rounded on the Human Rights Commissioner because it criticized provisions in legislation regarding the form and function of the Government Communications Security Bureau in a statutory report. He suggested that it would do well to learn to make submissions like everyone else wanting to be involved in the democratic process.

At the end of the day, this is just the beginning. The Government must now look at how it is going to address the admissions made by Mr Little and regain public confidence in the justice system.


Jami-Lee Ross saga not over: M.P. claims he was told to die

Highly explosive new allegations have surfaced from former National Party Member of Parliament and Member for Botany, Jami-Lee Ross. Mr Ross, who hit the headlines in October 2018 as he burnt his Parliamentary bridges, mentioned that a fellow National M.P. whom he admitted having an affair with had suggested to him that he should kill himself.

These are potentially career ending allegations for the female National Party Member of Parliament who is alleged to have told Mr Ross that he should die. If true, the suggestion that a fellow human being should kill himself is a criminal offence under Section 43 of the Crimes Act, 1961.

Nearly 4 months after Mr Ross went on leave from Parliament amid a fit of damaging allegations of misconduct by National Party Leader Simon Bridges, Mr Ross has spoken of the time between the first explosive revelations and his admission to a mental health facility. The new allegation follows a barrage in October 2018 in which Mr Bridges was alleged to have asked Mr Ross to break up a donation from a Chinese donor that was too large to be legally kept secret.; that in doing so names had been falsified to hide the real donor; that Mr Bridges had accused Mr Ross of harassing four women; that National M.P.’s were highly critical of Mr Bridges’ decision making.

The National Party reaction to that was explosive. Mr Ross was expelled first from the Caucus and then from the National Party entirely. Over the next several days credible fears set in for Mr Ross’ health, culminating on Saturday 20 October with Mr Ross being compulsorily admitted to mental health institution following alarming calls to his wife that he was on the railway tracks, which forced trains to be stopped whilst Police frantically searched for him.

Mr Ross told of the harm it did to his wife Lucy who thought that her husband was going to commit suicide and that it had been suggested to him that he not see their children. He described the mental health unit room that he was locked up in and realized that he had significant mental health issues, regretting not having sought help earlier.

Mr Ross is eyeing an improbable return to Parliament. It is improbable because there is no way that the National Party would allow him back. The Speaker of the House, Trevor Mallard would need to be convinced that he would not be readmitting an unstable Member who might sow further discord on arrival back in the House. And other questions such as what will happen to the by-election that was triggered by his removal from the National Party. If he did win a by-election who would he seek to represent is yet another question.

I see no future in Parliament for Mr Ross. He is too badly damaged by these allegations and his mental health should take priority. Mr Ross should retire from Parliament and perhaps work in the private sector. New Zealand taxpayers will want to know that they are not funding a damaged Member.

If his allegations prove true there may yet be more trouble to come for National. Mr Bridges is barely ahead of fellow National Party member Judith Collins who many think might try to roll him. And if the suicide allegations prove true, the M.P. who suggested Mr Ross kill himself might be made to resign from Parliament – certainly her credibility, like that of Mr Ross, would be shot.


Challenges facing the minor parties in 2019

The new year has begun and in a few weeks Parliament will be returning to our television screens. Members of Parliament will be coming back after the Christmas break refreshed and ready for another busy year. In this article I look at the achievements of 2018 among the minor parties and what to expect in 2019.

Association of Consumers and Taxpayers (A.C.T.):

The one man band of David Seymour can do only so much. A rebranding of A.C.T. is not likely to result in any significant internal change. Unless A.C.T. can get more than 1.0% in of the party vote at the next election and Mr Seymour holds his Epsom seat, A.C.T. will not grow. A complete dissolution of the party and starting over from scratch is not likely to help either because it risks losing the Epsom seat and destroying whatever replaces A.C.T. Mr Seymour, unlike the larger parties does have the advantage of being able to pick the battles that A.C.T. wishes to engage in, such as economics, charter schools, deregulation, justice and Mr Seymour’s pet “End of Life Choices Bill”.

Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand:

To be a Green Party member right now must be one of the more exciting things happening on the left of the political spectrum. It is a chance for the social justice crusaders to make good on their promises of so many years, a chance to enact some Green policies. Priorities in 2019 will include pushing for a euthanasia bill to be passed in Parliament, which might find them in the rare and unusual position of supporting A.C.T. – politics can create strange bedfellows at times – in getting David Seymour’s End of Life Choices Bill through. It will also see more progress being made on the landmark announcement in April last year that New Zealand will be rid of oil and gas by 2020, which is something I am watching closely, not least because I do not believe that this is realistic given the economics of alternative energy sources.

Internally the Greens have a few challenges. Marama Davidson’s crusade to reclaim “the c word”, deserved the derision it got from all corners of the internet. I am sure Green party strategists must have shielded their faces from the sight of her making that speech. Attacking the Defence Force as it undergoes necessary equipment upgrades not only to pursue the many non military activities it assists in such as disaster relief, fisheries enforcement and search and rescue will appeal to the far left peaceniks, but not their Labour or New Zealand First colleagues.

New Zealand First

My old party will be proud of what it has achieved in 2018. Minister of Foreign Affairs, Winston Peters had a stellar year with an injection of funding for South Pacific affairs, and being able to meet numerous foreign counterparts. Minister of Defence and former soldier Ron Mark will be pleased that he was able to get one major Defence Force acquisition signed off. Minister for Children and Minister in charge of Oranga Tamariki, Tracey Martin also enjoyed a good 2018, being able to enact changesĀ  that were stalled by the previous National-led Government.

It will also be a year of major challenges. New Zealand First exists in Parliament because of a core of extremely dedicated party members and volunteers. However its internal organization is lethargic and at election time almost freezes, like it does not know what to do. It’s lack of emphasis on South Island members and electorates has seen many committees be abandoned and left to wither on the vine. Only one Member of Parliament is from the South Island. Addressing these issues will have significant benefits for the 2020 election campaign.

So, with 2019 now underway and New Zealand just waiting for Parliament to resume next month, commentators are waiting to see whether the proverbial dogs (National, Labour) wag the tail or the tails (A.C.T., Greens, New Zealand First)wag their masters.

A radical or not a radical?

A week ago there was a column by Damien Grant in the Sunday Star Times. Mr Grant was commenting on the rise of what he terms “left wing commentators”. It was sparked by new U.S. Congresswoman Alexandra Ocasio Cortez having an interview with a C.B.S. journalist who asked her if she considers herself to be a radical. She said that she does consider herself to be one.

The column, which has attracted significant dissent in the Sunday Star Times letters for good reason. The tone of Mr Grant’s opinion suggests an intolerance on his part of people who lean more towards social justice and transparency.

Mr Grant goes after the #MeToo movement, calling them bullies. I would have laughed at the sheer silliness of the allegation if it were not for the fact that I believe Mr Grant genuinely believes it. If it were not for the #MeToo movement the problem with sexual violence would not have had the blow torch it deserved turned on it in the way it has. It should not have to be radical to improve the lives of hundreds of millions of women around the world for whom sexual violence has turned their lives upside down. Giving them a more equal footing is not radical in the least. It is common sense.

Then Mr Grant swings from attacking a movement that by and large has done the world a huge favour, to suggesting businessmen should punch journalists, the very people who are meant to bring us the news and find the stories. Wow! Does that mean Mr Grant is willing to have a businessman thump him in the face? Maybe, maybe not, but one cannot escape the fact that such intonation is reckless.

That he considers the many people who are starting to realize our way of living is simply not sustainable, and are starting to stand up to the “business as usual/free market capitalism is great” mantra of A.C.T. and National to be barely left of centre indicates much to me. It should not be radical or revolutionary to promote and want a better future for our planet, our communities, our way of life – something that will not happen if we continue trashing the environment in the ruthless manner that we are. People who are rising up against “the system” are becoming radical because the way the intertwining man made systems in our lives are interlocked, the only way to make things better might well end up being to break and remake “the system”.

That Mr Grant considers this to be dangerous tells me he very much lives in fear of a system that has created such dangerous levels of wealth that a few thousand people have subjected billions of their fellow humans to abject poverty, being broken.

So, who is a radical and what could be considered radical?

Radical to me would be break the system completely and rebuild it from scratch. The system that has persisted since 1945 was made on the back of an extremely destructive world war with 55 million killed, scores of countries across Europe and Asia completely wrecked. Could humanity adopt another societal system without another, probably catastrophic World War? I am not sure we could.

But it would certainly be a radical thing to try.


Make New Zealand egalitarian again

Egalitarianism (noun): the doctrine that all people are equal and deserve equal rights and opportunities

My interpretation is identical: egalitarianism is based on the premise of a fair go for everyone, with same access to opportunities and same responsibilities before the law.

This is how many New Zealand politicians believe New Zealand should be. This is how I believe New Zealand should be as well. Egalitarianism is not something that we should allow to die. It was once something we collectively took pride in before the politics of division, the idea that dystopia is somehow better began to creep in.

I see some dangerous distortions creeping into New Zealand society. They are mainly socio-economic, such as encouraging proverbial rat race conditions that make a few get very wealthy, whilst. These are aided by willful hindrance of justice by removing or undermining watchdogs such as the Human Rights Commission and Privacy Commission, and also deliberate dilution of Bills of Parliament to sit in legally murky zones.

It should not be like this. New Zealand is better than that.

We can address these distortions though. But to do so one needs to understand what they are and how they work.

  1. Justice – whilst some aspects of justice certainly need a kinder, more compassionate approach such as that which Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern espouses, failing to address the very weak “wet bus ticket” approach of judges when handing down sentences erodes confidence in the justice system
  2. Dilution of laws – the deliberate dilution of various Bills of Parliament regarding these mean employers can operate in legally grey zones; people on work visas can be exploited because there is not a strong judicial and enforcement component. The same can be said for environmental laws – the R.M.A. still works, but there is a lot of grey zone non-compliance because councils have been made to streamline their regulatory sections, which has contributed to the decline in fresh water quality
  3. Constitutional reform – whilst no politician has directly attempted to usurp key Acts of Parliament, the risk remains, and there has been attempts at tinkering around the edges, which is why I believe a light but robust constitution that checks the executive, legislative and judicial wings of governance, needs to happen
  4. Education about the legal system – some of the arrogance shown today by youth is down to a refusal by politicians to make civics compulsory in school, even though everyone deals with the law at some point in their life

When these are addressed I think much of the social injustice happening in New Zealand and loss of confidence in society, the marginalizing and isolation of vulnerable sections, as well as the perceptions of greed will disappear. It will not be an overnight job – the best time for constitutional reform would be when the Queen of England passes on and we are left to decide whether to accept her successor as a head of state. The distrust between some sectors of the community and law enforcement will persist until the judges become more consistent and all students are made to learn how the legal system works.

But it can be done.

The real question is does New Zealand have the will to do so?