Just deport Karel Sroubek and be done with it

Karel Sroubek, who tried to import MDMA ecstasy powder, and was found guilty of misusing passports to come to New Zealand has been denied parole by the Parole Board for the third time. Mr Sroubek, who arrived in New Zealand after fleeing the Czech Republic on a friends passport, has a long record of criminal activity, including associations with gangs in New Zealand and the Czech underworld. His third application for parole was met with “see you in November”, when the next hearing will be scheduled.

As far as I am concerned Mr Sroubek has no place in New Zealand. The combination of his long record of criminal activity both in New Zealand and in the Czech Republic in my estimate more than qualifies him for deportation. The botched review of his case by the Minister of Immigration, Iain Lees-Galloway and his decision to grant a convicted criminal with existing links to New Zealand and Czech criminals, residency, undermines the value of being able to stay in New Zealand indefinitely. The subsequent decision to remove any prospect of removal points to a Minister failing to accurately assess and understand the gravity of Mr Sroubek’s past.

People with knowledge of Mr Sroubek’s case and his time in the New Zealand prison system say that he has been an excellent inmate and that he has been keeping himself occupied with yoga classes. He has been encouraged to employ one of the prison psychologists available, and has said he will, but not in prison. However, when he was asked about residences he could stay at upon release from prison one is that of a person on parole themselves and another is that of a person with strong gang connections.

Over the years other prospective residents have been deported from New Zealand for much less than the crimes Mr Sroubek has committed. Several of them had contributed far more to the country than Mr Sroubek has, and due to unfortunate circumstances such as visa difficulties, ill family members and so forth, were deported. I fail to see what makes Mr Sroubek so important that he must stay here, especially considering the gravity of his criminal record, the lies that have gone with it and the probability of reoffending. Just deport him and be done with it.



The racers are marshalling: New Zealand readies for Election 2020

2020 is not event two weeks old, and our Parliamentary representatives are either still on holiday or in the office planning the year ahead, but already some political certainties are playing out across the country. The most notable and most obvious one plays out every three years and is commonly known as the General Election.

The date has not been set yet, but possibly the first election debate this year will be over whether Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will set a date early in the proceedings as her predecessors former Prime Ministers John Key and Bill English did. Both set dates fairly early in the third year of the terms they were Prime Minister in.

The smaller parties are not waiting for a date to be set. In the last year a bracket of new parties have sprung up around former candidates, such as the Sustainable Party, which is led by Vernon Tava. In the case of the Prosperity Party obscure individuals who might have what it takes to be a genuine candidate. They have released policy platforms that are surprisingly in depth, almost like they expect to sail straight into government.

In the last few election cycles I would have been able to tell you months in advance who I would be voting for. But in 2020 I am now coming into my second year of not having a clue who I support any more. Whilst the minor parties look interesting, a number of questions arise including, but not limited to:

  1. How realistic are they about their election prospects
  2. What work have they done on establishing their own functions, party constitution and compliance with the Electoral Finance Act and other relevant legislation
  3. Can they identify their values

I also have questions of the parties in Parliament, which I will mention briefly shortly. Before that I want to run a quick ruler over the five Parliament parties, in terms of challenges facing them:

National: The largest party in Parliament has been doing better in the polls of late. However its leader Simon Bridges has been very quiet on the subject of the bush fires, and it is well known that National wants to amend the zero carbon legislation. National are also not saying much about the change in public mood over harsher criminal sentencing. It has a potentially damaging liability in failing to ascertain the truthfulness of M.P. Jian Yang about his links to the Chinese Communist Party.

Labour: Has done well off Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s image as warm and compassionate. It has not done so well off the delivery of policy, particularly in housing, social welfare and justice. Certain Ministers have become a liability and several others are at risk of joining them. It has the potential to pick up more seats, particularly if National do not lift their game on climate change and the environment.

Greens: After almost single handedly blowing themselves to bits in 2017 with Metiria Turei’s admission of misusing benefits, the Greens have rebuilt themselves remarkably well. The elevation of Marama Davidson to the co-leadership does not seem to have harmed them as much as I thought it would. Their primary challenges will be accepting that climate change is going to have to be balanced with the economy; accepting that a whole new infrastructure genre in terms of public works is going to be necessary and understanding that there will always be a place for a Defence Force in New Zealand.

New Zealand First: Not having been a party member for the last 2 1/2 years, I cannot so easily comment on internal happenings any more. I will just say that if they are the same as they were when I left, then the party still has an existential crisis that is still excessively reliant on leader Winston Peters pulling another trick out of the bag. It’s policy platform is still the best in Parliament by some distance, but its betrayal over the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement is a huge stinking dead rat.

A.C.T.: By far and away my least favourite party in Parliament, but also the one that proportionate to its size has probably had the biggest impact this year. David Seymour – love him or hate him – has had a big year. His insistence on freedom of speech when criticizing Green M.P. Golriz Ghahraman following the terrorist attacks deservedly drew a lot of criticism from people. That said, it may have done a back handed favour to everyone by shining a light into a not well understood area regarding when free speech becomes hate speech. Substantially more to his credit, he also successfully got through Parliament the controversial End of Life Choices Bill regarding euthanasia.

So, the questions I have for the big parties as you take your places along side the smaller parties in the election race of 2020 are:

  1. Would you be willing to recognize market economics are not working in New Zealand? If not why not?
  2. The constitutional framework of New Zealand has been more overtly challenged in the last few years. What are your thoughts on possibly having to adopt a formal constitution?
  3. What steps are you taking to ensure all donations are properly accounted for under the Electoral Finance Act?

Challenges facing New Zealand in the 2020’s

As we enter the 2020’s with bush fire smoke descending on New Zealand from our Australian neighbours and the world watches U.S.-Iranian relations deteriorate further (more on that tomorrow), it is important to note our own considerable challenges. They cover a broad smorgasbord of issues that without significant action in the near future, have the potential to cause significant grief in years and decades to come. I briefly look at what I consider to be the major challenges here:

CONSTITUTION: Whilst our current framework gives New Zealand flexibility that an entrenched constitution such as that of the United States does not, the latter has some features that we should consider adding. The framework which consists of seven significant Acts of Parliament includes the Bill of Rights Act 1990, the Human Rights Act 1986 and the Constitution Act

There have been challenges in Parliament in recent years to the framework that need to be addressed before one renders it useless. They include incidents where Parliament has voted to remove a Commissioner without doing due diligence; legislation passed that directly undermines the legal right in the Human Rights Act 1986 to peaceful assembly . Such steps are not only highly improper, they pass into grey areas of New Zealand law and potentially set a dangerous precedent.

ECONOMY: Since 2016 the economy of New Zealand has been stuttering along, partially caused by global uncertainty as the situation in the Middle East continues to deteriorate; uncertainty over Britain and Brexit and the U.S.-Chinese trade war. But we cannot blame it all on international concerns.

Long standing concerns about the lack of diversity in the economy and a lack of emphasis in terms of investment in science research and technology still exist. New Zealand will not become one of the higher wage earning nations in the west until they are.

EDUCATION: Whilst this Government is on the right track having another look at Tomorrow’s Schools, I am concerned that the students are missing some very basic teaching in the rush to embrace digital technology. Many students struggle to show mathematical working on paper; construct basic sentences and that not enough is being done to embrace books. Whether the Minister will address this remains to be seen.

The tertiary education sector also faces a number of challenges. They include the sector reforms announced by Chris Hipkins, who has embarked on what I consider to be an overly radical reform whereby all of the institutions are merged into a mega institute. The push back is understandable, though some of the smaller institutes that are vulnerable to failure should be closed before they implode.

ENVIRONMENT: Since Labour came to office there has been a welcome escalation in the war on waste. To the Government’s credit it has banned plastic bags, announced a phase out of fossil fuels and acknowledged that water quality is a major issue. This is one somewhat brighter area despite the many and considerable challenges facing the natural environment.

But the Government must step up the tempo. The review of the Resource Management Act, whilst a good idea is in danger of just adding to the confused 800 page beast it already is. It needs to announce how it is going to tackle the phase out of fossil fuels in conjunction with economic and social leaders, and the war on waste is really only just beginning.

FOREIGN POLICY: New Zealand foreign policy is largely correct in my book, with four significant exceptions. Two are super powers competing for our attention and support. The third is the willingness to continue to put New Zealand first by taking a third way as opposed to a Chinese way or an American way.

It is the fourth that should concern us the most as we need to do more to help our Pasifika neighbours. The Samoan medical emergency caused by measles has shown it does not have the ability to cope with this all on its own. They also need to be reassured that New Zealand takes their environmental concerns seriously and will push them at the United Nations.

POVERTY: This is really a combination of social, background, medical and education factors working (or not working) together. Neither National or Labour have really tried to acknowledge this. Nor have they tried to address the neoliberal economic model that favours a small select group of people and ignores the rest. Trickle down economics is a myth perpetuated to make people believe that market economics work for all. They do not and poverty is a significant consequence of it.


A turbulent end to a turbulent year (and decade): The New Zealand experience

By the time you read this, New Zealand will have about 39 hours left in the 2010’s. It has been a decade that has seen some of New Zealand’s finest moments as a nation and some of its worst. I look at them here.

2010: It started out looking promising, with the economy looking upwards after the global financial crisis, but ended with 29 men missing presumed dead in a mine that exploded. New Zealand’s Parliament had a poignant moment when Maori M.P. Te Ururoa Flavell led a solemn rendition of Whakaaria Mai (How Great Thou Art)shortly after the explosion was announced. Internal politics was rocked by the sacking of the elected Environment Canterbury council by the Government, which replaced the councillors with Commissioners. Then out of the pre dawn darkness on 04 September 2010 came a magnitude 7.1 earthquake that announced a seismic odyssey that would culminate in disaster the following year.

2011: For many New Zealanders – Rugby World Cup victory aside – this year will be remembered for one thing only: a devastating aftershock of the 04 September 2010 earthquake tore through Christchurch on 22 February 2011 at 1251 hours. 185 killed; 6,000 injured and a damage bill totalling U.S.$25 billion. It was followed by powerful aftershocks on 13 June and 23 December 2011. In these darkest of hours New Zealand rallied beautifully – political divides and regional antagonism’s were put aside to enable the disaster response to continue unhindered. Outside of this Prime Minister John Key swept back into office with a resounding thumping of Labour in the polls, only hindered by the shock return of New Zealand First from 3 years in the wilderness.

2012: Christchurch’s recovery continued slowly, but steadily forward, pock marked by contestable decisions made by the Minister for Earthquake Recovery Gerry Brownlee who – by any realistic admission – had the devils job. 7,000 homes had been condemned the year before, which brought immense pressure on the rental accommodation market. Better fortune was had at the Olympics as the rowers, Valerie Adams and the cyclists gave us one our best medal tallies since Los Angeles in 1984.

2013: New Zealand’s economy continued to be one of the top performers in the O.E.C.D., to the delight of National, whilst Labour squabbled and the Greens and New Zealand First consolidated their gains. The economy, fuelled by explosive growth in dairy farming continued to rebound following the whammies of the Christchurch earthquakes and the G.F.C. Socially, New Zealand took a giant step forward when Labour M.P. Louisa Wall’s Same Sex Marriage Bill passed through Parliament in a 77-44 conscience vote.

2014: A stormy year both inside and out, with New Zealand having one of its stormiest and wettest autumns in years with some locations having already had 3/4 of their average annual rainfall by May. The storms in the sky were matched by National storming to victory in the September 2014 general election, on the back of economic growth, a hard line on beneficiaries. Somewhere among this, the All Blacks continued their dominance as the best rugby team in the world, the Black Caps began to realise that their current bunch were not bad and had the potential to be something special.

2015: The year began with a cricketing spectacle hosted by New Zealand and Australia in the form of the 2015 Cricket World Cup. This briefly – for five weeks diverted the country’s attention from worsening issues around housing, poverty, living expenses and a deteriorating world scene. The National-led Government of Prime Minister John Key continued to consistently out perform Labour, whose civil war eased just enough to accept Andrew Little as its leader. A Rugby World Cup Final win over Australia was happily lapped up by New Zealand in early November.

2016: After years of explosive growth the dairy farming bubble began to show signs of strain. Although demand was not lessening, New Zealanders were beginning to realise there are limits as to how much of the white gold could be produced before a negative toll on the environment began to undermine it. But it was – following another great Olympics, and overall relatively stellar year for sport – a magnitude 7.8 earthquake inland from Kaikoura that happened just after midnight on 14 November, that catapulted New Zealand on to the world stage again. It was followed 3 weeks later by Prime Minister Key announcing his resignation, clearing the way for Deputy Prime Minister Bill English to take over.

 2017: In January Prime Minister Bill English had every reason in the world – except one – to think that he was going to still be Prime Minister come December. National far out polled Labour, which looked like sitting ducks for another electoral thrashing. But no one saw that Andrew Little would suddenly quit as leader, thrusting his young Deputy Leader Jacinda Ardern into the spotlight. It was a master stroke of sorts. Ms Ardern seized the moment. After a quick rebrand began one of the most dizzying stories in New Zealand political history. For decades New Zealand First leader Winston Peters has said he will support the largest party in Parliament, thus giving Mr English reason to think his 56 seats plus N.Z.F.’s 9 were going to form the next Government. Except Mr Peters went with Labour and the Greens to the eternal fury of National.

2018: Perhaps it was a case of being a rabbit caught in the headlights, but for a few months in 2018 the new government had a case of inertia, not quite knowing how to get started. Some Ministers who thought they were fit for purpose quickly began to find out that maybe another three years on the Opposition benches learning might have been useful. The economy continued its slower growth, bounced around by international turbulence as much as uncertainty about the domestic economy. No major policy releases were made on social welfare. Kiwi Build got off to a probably terminally rocky start with only a few homes being built initially. Perhaps the greatest talking point was a decision to phase out oil and gas by 2050.

2019: A year that has been bookended by disaster. On 15 March 2019 in New Zealand’s worst shooting a gun man opened fire in two mosques killing 51 people. The international response – America aside – was hugely sympathetic. But divisions opened up as soon as an amnesty to enable people to hand back high capacity rifles, spare parts and modifications that could enable them to be like the AR-15 used. But it was not all bad news for New Zealand. The Silver Ferns netball team stunned world champions Australia in the 2019 Netball World Cup Final, a match few expected New Zealand to reach, never mind win. The Black Caps cricket team lost to England in the Cricket World Cup Final. In politics though it was a year of missed opportunities for the Government of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to show her socio-economic policy credentials, with yawning failures on Kiwi Build, poverty and to some extent the economy. With 2019 almost at an end, the onus will be on Labour to deliver on some big promises before the election. But the real news in December 2019 was the sudden eruption of Whakaari (White Island)on the 9th, killing 19 people and leaving dozens suffering horrendous burns and injuries from flying rocks, in a brutal reminder of the dynamic geology under our feet.

Thus comes to an end a turbulent decade in New Zealand. A combination of tragedy and heroism, the exclusive and the inclusive have defined this country in a way that few in 2009 would have even dared to dream.

What will the 2020’s bring us?

New Zealand’s problem with race

We are one of the most friendly nations in the world, a French girl told me one when she was working as a temp at my work. Everywhere she had gone people had gone out of her way to help and she was forever grateful. I was delighted with the praise, but wondered later on if it was because – like me – she was caucasian.

For all of our perceived – and mostly true – friendliness, New Zealand has a race problem. As Taika Waititi, a film maker who grew up in poverty and has widely experienced racism against his Maori heritage, correctly said last year, New Zealand is “racist as”.

In The Press yesterday was an article by Stuff, which talked to several different people with mixed backgrounds and found that sometimes racism is casual. A child might be playing and the mother of another child says “how is it to have a nigger child?”, using the offensive slur that denigrates Africans and those of African descent. It might be a security guard racially profiling a customer of Maori descent and only stopping when staff told him to let the customer go.

New Zealand racism is not as overt as can be seen in countries like Italy where supposed football fans make gorilla imitations in the stands when watching players from Africa, or throw banana skins onto the playing field. Nor does it necessarily have the political backing seen in some European countries as well as the United States for people and nationalities of particular ethnic groups.

Sometimes it can be crude – a swastika drawn in a public place, perhaps by skinheads, but also possibly by a disaffected person with an interest in controversial symbols, or just wanting to stir up a bit of community tension. In these instances, if it is simple graffiti, the local council will generally clean it up; the Police get involved if someone is targetting particular groups. Sometimes it occasionally becomes very public – and quite nerve wracking – when organizations such as Right Wing Resistance and the National Front of New Zealand stage rallies to protest the ethnic and religious diversification of New Zealand. In these cases, the Police can be called as there will often be a crowd of counter demonstrators and the tensions typically run high at these events.

At work I have seen racism. A Chinese girl in the staffroom when I worked in a supermarket job was told only a chink would eat vegetables on noodles at lunch. Another time staff had to between a customer who had been denied service and person behind the Lotto counter, calling them “white ______” and so on before being escorted away by security.

At the pub, myself and another guy interjected when a couple of guys talking about the Football World Cup some time ago started describing the African players as baboons and chimps. They were embarrassed enough to leave, but not apologize.

Have you, the reader witnessed racism against another person, or had something denigrating said about your racial heritage? If so, what happened and did anyone intervene?