New Zealand Police have the balance right

Over the last few weeks, I have become aware of concerns that the New Zealand Police are being too cautious and can afford to lower their guard. I have become aware that people believe they are hiding something and that we should be suspicious.

I do not claim to speak for the authorities by any means. Nor do I claim to be a blind sympathizer who thinks the authorities can do no wrong. The can, but no law enforcement agency ever ever wants to be caught off guard by undesirables in the way the Sri Lankan authorities were caught off guard. Whilst Sri Lanka is going to have an inquiry into how the authorities managed to not pick up on the warnings being provided, potentially lasting damage has been done by that glaring failure.

But no law enforcement agency worthy of being such wants to become a reactionary, society fearing force that starts urging all kinds of restrictive measures. It does not want to be like the French following the November 2015 terrorist attack in Paris where events started being cancelled on a whim, where a radically beefed up police force far out stayed its welcome as a protecting force. That is a danger that Sri Lankan authorities are in grave danger of enacting themselves. Their move to ban social media points to a panic that runs the risk of making the Sri Lankan public panic. Too much and the story of the boy who cried wolf becomes applicable, so that when there really is an emergency, no one listens.

It is a tight rope to walk, a judging act where the tight rope walker has a long way to fall if they make a mistake. Right now the Sri Lankan authorities have just fallen off the side marked “overly cautious”.

It is for these reasons I am so glad I live in New Zealand. Our Police make mistakes and they know it. Like in every Police force there will be a few rotten apples who do not deserve to be commissioned officers of the force and should be dealt to forthwith. But, and I cannot really stress this enough, they are accountable. They are accountable in ways the vast majority of police forces simply are not. Their rapport and honesty with New Zealanders is a comparative joy and we show this through simple gestures such as getting cops manning the lines on crime scenes coffee or helping out in public events – recently a police officer said what really made his day was being on cordon duty at a crime scene and a kid came up and gave him a hug.

New Zealand Police I am fairly confident do not want to bear arms longer than they need to and that they are acutely aware of the implications that go with having visible automatic weapons for too long. This is why the terrorism alert has been downgraded to medium – it is still higher than the designation we had on 14 March 2019, but it acknowledges that at this time there is no good reason for maintaining an alert level that is physically and psychologically draining as well as financially.

I am sure that the Police are making an honest effort to do as good a job as they can in the circumstances. Are they going to get it absolutely perfect? No. There will be mistakes, like the failure to arrest the guy blasting off hate speech near the Christchurch mosque. There will be times when we wonder whether they took public sentiment on board, such as around the Louise Nicholas case, where they have considerably improved, but still have room for improvement. But compared with their Sri Lankan authorities, the work currently being done by our Police force looks pretty damn good to me.

In solidarity with our Sri Lankan brothers and sisters

Over the weekend devastating attacks against western targets occurred in Sri Lanka. The devastating bombings at the weekend of hotels and churches in Sri Lanka by militants comes at the end of a a 10 year lull in violence following the end of their civil war in 2009. Thus far 300 are known to have died and another 500 have been wounded.

Unfortunately the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka has admitted that his Government failed to heed warnings that militant violence was being planned. It is too early to really contemplate what punishment Sri Lanka will place on him and other relevant officials for failing to act.

It is also too early to determine what the impact will be on a country that is trying to turn the page after a bloody and brutal civil war. Recent tourists groups to visit had reported a hope that the tourism industry could look to the future, rather than over its shoulder at the legacy of past events.

There is concern that there might be communal violence in Sri Lanka following this. Sri Lanka has a history of scattered harassment of its Hindu, Christian and Muslim minorities, but the known violence on Sunday far exceeded any prior anti-Christian harassment. Six near simultaneous blasts occurred on Sunday and were followed a few hours later by two more.

What can I say that did not get said after Christchurch?

Arohanui (big love). Assalamu alaykum (Peace be on you). Big love to the Sri Lankan community one and all. May peace be on you in these dark hours. We in Christchurch can understand your pain, your grief. We stand with you just as you did with us a bit over a month ago.

I hope that we invite Sri Lankan officials to New Zealand so that they can see how we are handling the grieving process following the Christchurch attacks. It would be a chance for Sri Lanka, a country that has experienced terrorism in the past – numerous cricket tours of the country have been abandoned because of bomb blasts over the decades – to see how an approach built on empathy, a police response that is balanced and careful reform of intelligence is working. In return New Zealand officials might gain insight into how to deal with co-ordinated attacks should the unfortunate day arise when we have such horror.

Kia Kaha Sri Lanka.

The year in which the Government must deliver

There is such a vast broad platform of policy on which this Labour-led Government is promising to deliver, that it is a bit difficult to know where to start. There are some Ministers holding substantial portfolio’s such as Social Welfare and smaller yet critical ones like Local Government who have yet to pop their heads above the parapet. Maybe they have significant work in progress that is simply not ready to face the harsh glare of the voting public, but it would be good to know that they are not “Missing In Action”.

This is a year in which Labour and its New Zealand First and Green Party cabinet colleagues will need start delivering significant policy. Reviews can only go for so long before they start to imply that the incumbent government is frozen on policy making.Such a freeze tends to send a clear signal to the voting public that the Government does not know what it is doing, which 18 months into its first term would be a really dangerous sign.

It has so far been a year where the major call has been to scrap a capital gains tax which will give attempts at equality reform the wobbles. This move will pile on the pressure in terms of expecting the minimum wage increases the state of a living wage to perform. It potentially locks away billions of dollars in tax that could be used to help fund projects that might now struggle to be seen or heard. And it is a move I am disappointed to see happen.

There are things that I am expecting the Government to deliver or start work on in this term:

  1. A comprehensive waste recycling programme that covers wood, paper, glass, plastics and aluminium – we have the know how, but do we have the will?
  2. Announcing how it will reform New Zealand’s schools 30 years after Tomorrow’s Schools, which was seen as a visionary programme in 1989, but is not so now
  3. Reform of Ministry of Social Development – I have mentioned in the past, the failings of this Ministry, which is straight jacketed by a legislative framework
  4. Reform of the justice system, which has lost the confidence of victims of crime and seems to be failing to address the reoffending of youth
  5. Sustainability – we might be phasing out oil and gas, but is electricity able to sustain New Zealand’s energy needs on its own; the reduction of carbon emissions affects the marine ecosystem; fresh water quality and usage is not sustainable
  6. Transport – a much larger investment in railways is needed; New Zealand also needs to look at a long term plan for the sea going merchant ships

Of course the terrorist attacks have overtaken all of this and we need to revisit how we gather and use state intelligence. We will need to revisit our constitutional arrangements sometime in the next decade or whenever the Head of State, Queen Elizabeth II passes on. And if that is not enough the West Coast flood event of 25-27 March 2019 raised some alarming questions about the readiness of the West Coast for a bigger disaster.

Much going on, but how is the Government going at delivering? Find out this year (and next).

The other issues happening in New Zealand

A mass of flowers adorns the Botanic Gardens fence on Rolleston Avenue in Christchurch, paying tribute to the people who were killed or injured in the terrorist attack on 15 March 2019. The flowers are starting to wilt and will soon be removed. The sense of respect and suffering though is still strong.

For days we attended the vigils, laid flowers, made donations of all sorts. We grieved. We cried. We felt sick and sad The country changed in terms of our perceptions that New Zealand is free from the sort of hatred espoused by the gunman.

But life goes on, and for our own mental health and to move this great country forward, we must come to a time when we move on, whilst never ever forgetting. Three weeks on, many New Zealanders, myself included are looking for normality to resume.

A Royal Commission of Inquiry has been announced into the Christchurch Mosque attacks, with Justice William Young expected to head it. Today Parliament will move the Arms (Prohibited Firearms, Magazines and Parts)Amendment Act to its Second Reading as the Finances and Expenditure Committee seek to make sense of the 13,000+ submissions that arrived in the space of 48 hours.

However it is still the New Zealand that has lost 112 people in road accidents since 01 January 2019. It is still the same country that has an 89,000 ton a year electronic waste problem; a country with a justice system failing to deliver sentences that both the public and the prison population both respect; a country with unhealthy house prices; a country with its biggest measles out break in year.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern might have wowed the world with her warm compassionate embrace of the Muslim community in the days and weeks after the attacks. It was certainly the right thing to do and it was admittedly very well played. Yet this is the same Prime Minister leading a Government with a Minister of Housing whose pet Kiwi Build scheme is in potentially terminal decline 18 months after it started. The same Prime Minister made a gamble in 2018 when her Minister of Energy and Resources, Dr Megan Wood announced that New Zealand would go free of oil and gas by 2020.

What do I think our major priorities other than dealing with the aftermath of the terrorist attack should be?

  1. The future of Tomorrow’s Schools, the 1989-vintage model of how our education should be administered and the review that the Minister, Chris Hipkins ordered
  2. New Zealand’s burgeoning road toll. Desperate for attention, the Grim Reaper has claimed 112 lives since the start of the year
  3. Reviewing how Kiwi Build is (not)working and make appropriate amends – I cannot see it getting even 40,000 or 50,000 of its promised 100,000 houses on current performance
  4. Addressing our waste issue – far too much is going straight to the landfill and the war on plastics, whilst nice only has a certain degree of practicality as no coherent plan is in place to get people on to more sustainable material
  5. Overhauling the Ministry of Social Development umbrella agencies and the legal framework under which they operate

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is going to have to make some choices in terms of her Ministers.Who are all of her Ministers and what do they do?

  • Some, like Minister of Local Government Nanaia Mahuta and Minister of Social Development Jenny Salesa are barely visible – they might have policy announcements, due, but would do well to raise their profile
  • Others like Minister of Education, Chris Hipkins have major announcements due soon and will be nutting out the final details of their announcement.
  • High profile ones like Minister for Regional Development Shane Jones who is regularly courting media interest with his provocative and – at times – thought provoking comments, and Minister of Foreign Affairs Winston Peters who has had a number of high profile engagements

Now that the mourning is coming to an end, the harder questions and conversations need to start. Has New Zealand really learned from this or is it all just for show?

Stand with Christchurch

Yesterday, Friday 15 March 2019, white supremacists committed acts of terrorism against multiple Mosques in Christchurch where people were peacefully going about their prayers. In the ensuing attacks, 49 people were murdered. Improvised explosive devices were found by Police near the scene of at least one attack.

This is NOT what Christchurch stands for. This is NOT what New Zealand stands for. We are horrified beyond belief that such utter cowardice could be perpetrated against people carrying out totally legitimate activities.

Because of that, Will New Zealand Be Right will not publish until Sunday 17 March 2019. Stay safe. Reach out to any any friends you have in ethnic communities. Give thanks to the Police for the magnificent job they are doing bringing these people to justice.