Our national attitude is a national disgrace

She’ll be right

It is a favourite New Zealand and Australian phrase. Normally used to mean everything is going to be alright, “she’ll be right” it has long been a commonly used by people in an optimistic or apathetic tense to dispel what might be perceived as unjustified concern about something. But after the White Island eruption, people are asking whether we are too casual in our outlook and understanding of risk. Has the time come to rein in our laid back attitude to safety and well being?

I have long been concerned about this attitude. In fact it was the primary inspiration for the name of this blog. I wanted an attitude or something else that would have a definitive  aspect of New Zealand culture in it, something catchy or likely to make people stop and think about the purpose of the blog.

We have long been too casual in many respects in my opinion when it comes to a whole range of issues. From racism towards new arrivals in New Zealand to how we prepare for natural disasters; from understanding how our constitutional framework operates to whether we are serious about ending poverty in this country – underlying the ad hoc efforts made by successive governments with no real idea about what they need to do or the rationale for those steps is a deep seated undercurrent of “she’ll be right”, that New Zealanders ought to stop worrying.

New Zealand was found to be short on mining expertise, proper enforceable regulations to ensure that due monitoring is carried out. The Royal Commission found a host of problems, many of which could be linked to years of mismanagement that had given rise to a culture of unaccountability, dollars being more important than humans. Nine years later though I am not sure how much attention has been paid to making sure the recommendations are being followed through. Was this the “she’ll be right” attitude kicking in because people just wanted it to come to a close, or because they genuinely honestly things had come to a close?

Then we had the Christchurch earthquakes. Buildings that were meant to have been evacuated following the Boxing Day 2010 aftershock or earlier events, collapsed killing people devastating families and prompting ourselves to undergo an examination of how we address such events. Both the authorities and land lords were found to have short comings. But nearly 9 years on because the apathy strand of our “she’ll be right” attitude is still carrying influence, slowly eroding the meaningful progress. Some people it turns out just do not want systemic changes to happen.

So, I am calling it out for what it is: a national disgrace that is dragging the country and its reputation through the muck. A few decades ago when this country was still relatively unknown to the world and the reputation, how we present ourselves as a nation might have been embarrassing, but if the world did not get a hold of news about the blemish, we might live to fight another day in the same state. With globalized 24 hour saturation media coverage – if an event that happened here is not being mentioned in New Zealand media, Al Jazeera, C.N.N., the Guardian, B.B.C., or an Australian media outlet could well be picking it up and broadcasting it to unknown millions.

So, if I may put the question to you, the reader, upon reading the above, do you agree with the statement below:

New Zealand will not be right if we allow the “she’ll be right” mentality to function at the highest levels.

The worrying case of the ousted Auditor General

Over the last two days in The Press, journalists have been retracing the events that lead to the Auditor General being ousted by Parliament in what is potentially one of the most worrying challenges to an official who is supposed to be left alone. They are retracing events that potentially call into question the independence of the most powerful watch people in New Zealand. And which is being called an unprecedented breach of the constitutional framework.

When the Auditor General’s office is tasked with a job, the outcome of it is something New Zealanders – apolitical or not – should pay attention to. It is the work of an office whose primary role is to ensure that New Zealand public entities do their job, are accountable for the work they do and are at their most efficient – so says the official description on the website for the Office of the Auditor General.

Martin Weavers was effectively made to resign to preserve himself after Members of Parliament told him the alternative was to be labelled disabled. It stems from a fraud case that happened at a Government department he had been head of prior to becoming Auditor General, a role which Mr Matthews is meant to act as the chief watch dog for fraud. Parliament thought he was not fit for the role. A hearing where he was not allowed to have any witnesses speak for him was considered hostile and when he was informed the following day that he was not fit for the role and that Parliament wanted him gone, his lawyer challenged the then Speaker of the House David Carter on the grounds. Mr Carter said because he was disabled – which Mr Matthews said is simply not true.

In 2018 Mr Matthews’ legal team consisting of former Prime Minister Sir Geoffrey Palmer, his lawyer Marie Scholtens and former National Party Attorney General Paul East continued fighting for him. Mr Palmer said that in effect the case had led to a “weaponised” environment in the Officers of Parliament Committee.

Current Speaker of the House Trevor Mallard has refused to reopen the case. But Mr Matthews is now petitioning Parliament to reopen his case. National Party Member of Parliament Nicola Willis accepted the case after Labour M.P. Grant Robertson failed to do so.

I believe Parliament have in effect attacked the independence of the watch dog in treating Mr Matthews in the manner that they have. It appears that Members of Parliament seem not to understand this is a matter that might affect Mr Matthews’ rights under the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act, 1990. Furthermore, only four grounds are set out as potential grounds for removal of the Auditor General and none of those were obviously met in making Mr Matthews’ resign in 2017.

This leads to questions which need to be asked of Parliament:

  • Will Parliament account for its actions in an appropriate setting
  • If Parliament is found to be in the wrong for having treated Mr Matthews like that will they accept the findings
  • Will moves be made to strengthen the Office of the Auditor General so that future such attacks cannot happen
  • Who will make sure that this happens

Dealing with N.I.M.B.Y.ism in New Zealand

N.I.M.B.Y.ism officially has two different categories of people who use the term:

  1. The business and industrial sector in times of exasperation in attempting to classify the people who are opposed to a development in their neighbourhood
  2. The local community activists who perhaps for reasons of social conscience or a general concern about the likely environmental impacts likely to be caused by a proposed project such as a waste-to-energy plant

However I imagine there to be more than just these two groups, and I describe later in this article other types of N.I.M.B.Y.ists. I also wonder how accurate these classifications are – yes business and industry might be exasperated with opposition to a major project that has aesthetically, environmentally and socially displeasing characteristics, but it is what is driving that opposition that we should be looking at.

In New Zealand the Resource Management Act requires that applicants of a proposed activity seek approval from the neighbouring property owners. A large dam creating a reservoir and generating power is obviously going to affect numerous land owners, need numerous resource consents. The consents will also need in depth Assessments of Environmental Effects filled out, engineering reports into the suitability of the land on which the dam will be built and so forth. There will be recreationalist’s concerned about the impact on fishing and boating; environmentalists will be concerned about the trapping of sediment behind the dam and the flooding of a valley when the lake fills up; communities will be affected in that property prices might change and the character of communities nearby will be altered. No one can blame them for opposing something like this in their backyard.

At the other end  of the scale construction of a three bedroom house will most likely only need one resource consent – maybe two if its fence is non compliant with the local plan. A house being built is significantly less likely to attract the attention of local activists. It will probably relative unobtrusive. The scale of the earthworks and environmental effects will be able to be summarised in a few pages as well as the mitigatory measures that will be taken.

Sometimes the people who fall in the N.I.M.B.Y. classifications have credible points. Maybe the project is not suited to its proposed location. Maybe the communities and the environment really will suffer. These N.I.M.B.Y.ists might not be so much opposed to the activity as they just recognize that the proposal is poorly thought out.

But there are some who will probably protest for the sake of protesting. These are what I call dead end N.I.M.B.Y.ists. These are not necessarily the ones that engage with the intention of helping a cause or because they see some significant injustice. In the same way one makes no progress going down a dead end street, one should not expect to make progress in dealing with a dead end N.I.M.B.Y.ist. They are there to shut down a proposed activity or project at any cost. No amount of reasoning, no number of fact or truths will persuade them that ones proposed activity is somehow beneficial.

If one thinks about the various aspects of a major infrastructure project like a wind turbine installation, it is possible that a fourth group exists. One might call these the environmental/ecological N.I.M.B.Y.ists. They generally approve of the type of project, but because certain bird life live near the wind turbines it is not appropriate there. The problem then becomes a questions of where is appropriate.

But is it possible that there are business or industrial N.I.M.B.Y.ists? These could be those who object to activities, that they perceive as not being business friendly, such as the conservation estate.

So, what is a N.I.M.B.Y. to you?

New Zealand needs to stand by Samoa

Following the printing by the Otago Daily Times of a highly offensive Garrick Tremain cartoon, I think it is necessary to reiterate the importance of showing our support for Samoa. The historical links between New Zealand and Samoa help to provide back ground to this. With Samoa dealing with a major measles outbreak, hopefully some historic context will enable people outside of Samoa to understand New Zealand’s chequered pass in administering the islands.

Our treatment of Samoa and Samoans following World War 1 was an abomination. A ship carrying soldiers returning from Europe asked if it could dock in Samoa in late 1918 or early 1919. The consequences of it being allowed to dock reverberate through Samoan history to this day.

Word of an influenza outbreak had reached the small Pacific Island in 1918, but few had any obvious understanding of how it works. Influenza was a foreign thing. It was the result of the environment that the troops fighting in World War 1 had to bear – inhospitable conditions year round for four years including terrain so blasted no one knew where they were. As the troops boarded ships home in all directions from Europe, the combination of close living quarters, and medical treatment – or lack off – would have severely tested the health of any human who put up with it. When it docked in Apia for a few days it enabled the spread of influenza throughout a population not known to have had had any past outside connections to such an emergency. The ship’s crew had not presented signs of influenza, despite two crew being sent ashore in Auckland, but by the time it reached Apia many of them had it.

Samoa would suffer horribly. 7542 were killed in the outbreak. And for that one can only say how sorry we were to see the influenza pandemic back. Yes, it is true that Samoa has had lower vaccination rates than normal. Yes it is true that a botched round left two infants dead. These were some of the contributing factors in determining how the nature of the incident will affect their work.

New Zealand announcing that it stands with Samoa is barely a start. Whilst we have made welcome efforts to help Samoa fight the measles, M.M.R. is something that can be fully immunised against and thus we can afford to give them substantially more assistance in fully eradicating a disease that was thought to have been removed as of 1978.

New Zealand’s $1.4 billion money laundering problem

New Zealand has long been viewed as a soft spot for money laundering, high end fraud, among other crimes. Across the last few years numerous examples of money laundering activity in New Zealand or linked to New Zealand businesses have appeared

  • In 2016 an expert said that New Zealand banks were missing large numbers of suspicious monetary transactions
  • Also in 2016 the so called Panama papers showed how a steady flow of foreign cash into New Zealand became a flood as its holders sought to avoid it being taxed in the proper jurisdictions
  • The same year John Shewan’s report found 12,000 foreign trusts existed in New Zealand – a number that plummeted to 3,000 within a year suggesting many were used for money laundering or other improper monetary purposes
  • In August 2019 $9 million was seized in an anti-money laundering sting in Auckland
  • Just a few days ago the Chief Executive Officer of Westpac resigned after allegations that Westpac failed to pick up 23 million individual breaches including payments to Philippine based child exploiters

Now it has emerged that New Zealand has a N.Z.$1.4 billion money laundering problem. This estimate does not include the domestic cheats who do not pay due taxes to Inland Revenue Department. Globally it is part of what the International Monetary Fund believes to be a $6.5 trillion problem.

New Zealand needs to crack down hard on money laundering. As the resignation of Mr Hartzer shows, money laundering can be linked to some extremely dark criminal activities including child exploitation. A significant part of the crack down would need to ensure a long term budget increase for the police unit investigating financial crime. There would also need to be a revisit of the amendments made to the Anti Money Laundering and Countering Financing of Terrorism Act 2009.

The Government seems to be rising to the challenge. It has made changes that took effect in January for real estate agents. In August changes for the racing industry and businesses with high value products regarding the need to comply with the A.M.L.C.F.T. Act took effect. In 2018 the obligations for businesses providing trust services, lawyers, conveyances and accountants were changed.

But there is more that can be done. I believe that tightening the sentencing regime for those convicted of money laundering, conspiracy to participate in money laundering and providing support for those involved in it can be tightened up. Whereas many of the people who commit offences against the human body are disturbed, come from messed up backgrounds or may simply not have had a loving family to show them right from wrong, organized crime is quite different. The victims of money laundering – although individual victims certainly exist – are whole communities, businesses and in the worst cases the reputation of entire nations.

Whereas the impacts of rape, murder and so forth – certainly not trying to put any of these crimes down in terms of their gravity – on the individual, the family and their lives are well documented, how well do people know about the absolute worst of white collar crime? How well do we know what we as a society, as a nation and as a people are missing out on by not tackling money laundering and the people who engage in this kind of activity?

I fear the answer is not very well at all.