People smuggler boats heading for New Zealand?

Asylum seeker boats arriving in Australia have prompted the Australian authorities to blame New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern for their appearance.

It is important (once again) to distinguish between an asylum seeker and an economic migrant. Asylum seekers are unlikely to have documentation for reasons mentioned later in this article. An economic migrant might have left via illegal means, but is this is where the vetting system that New Zealand has, exists. It can help separate those in genuine need from those who left simply because they wanted a better lifestyle.

There are however a few reasons why getting to New Zealand might not be all that those daring – and foolish – enough to make the journey, believe.

The first reason is our weather. The Tasman Sea is comparatively small compared to the Pacific and Atlantic Ocean, but anyone who has sailed or flown across it or anyone who is familiar with New Zealand weather patterns will know what an unbelievably stormy tempest it can turn into. Whether it is a tropical depression coming from the Coral Sea, a southerly storm coming off the Southern Ocean or a big northwesterly rain system coming from Australia, all of these can make what might seem like placid waters, not so placid after all. It needs to be a proper ocean going craft to make it across the Tasman Sea in the conditions mentioned.

The second reason is New Zealand customs. Maybe smugglers think New Zealand is a soft touch and that they will be let off easily. New Zealand customs are not corrupt and nor are the police. That is often the biggest surprise a lot of non-New Zealanders coming from overseas countries get when they come into contact with New Zealand authorities.

Ms Ardern says that the people smugglers are parasites. She is right. What now needs to happen though is that New Zealand introduce minimum penalties for people smuggling – say $250,000 fine per smuggler/25 years in jail/confiscation of any boats seized.

People generally do not pay people smugglers the money that they do, just so that they can get better economic conditions. These people are most likely to be from countries where law and order has broken down, where the Government is not working and might not be in full control of the country of origin. They might be from countries suffering internal strife such as ethnic persecution or civil war. They might have made a stand against a regime that was backwards, which then decided to kill them and their families, leaving them no alternative but to flee.

And what a lot of people do not understand is that authoritarian regimes do not like people leaving because they are scared that they will take knowledge of the regime with them. So, getting appropriate visas and following normal convention is not going to be possible because that will tell the regime that these people want to leave and they might then get arrested or even murdered. The people who have come to New Zealand often came from countries with non-existent consular services in other countries, so this idea that they should have just waited in line is ridiculous when the authorities will not allow the line to exist.

So, rather than blaming a New Zealand Prime Minister with a social conscience for the arrival of boats in Australia, how about Australia look at the causes of them leaving for their lands in the first place. The ambulance is no use at the bottom of the cliff.

Minister right to deny secrecy to fishing companies

It has come to my attention that the Minister for Primary Industries, Stuart Nash, has rejected calls for secrecy on videos recorded on trawlers at sea that show dead marine birds and dolphins.

Aside from raising suspicions about whether the industry is trying to hide poor or illegal practices, the application for secrecy also means it would be more difficult to track any catches of protected species.

New Zealand prides itself on being responsible, but incidents such as those that happened with the Oyang trawlers where one of numerous offences was the improper catching and misreporting of fish taken, show another less savoury side. This has the potential to affect our reputation overseas, given that increasingly people are looking at the chain of supply to ensure that the products they consume came about as the result of legal and ethical practices.

In a letter to Mr Nash, the representatives of the fishing industry claimed that the videos would be used by individuals and organisations that have an anti-fishing agenda. The industry representatives also claimed that by making the videos subject to the Official Information Act, the Minister was in effect showing poor judgement on what are considered to be commercially sensitive issues.

Mr Nash rejected the letter, saying that he sees no grounds for changing the Fisheries Act in terms of those acting under it meeting their obligations to the Official Information Act.

When a company fishes commercially in New Zealand waters and operates ships out of a New Zealand port they are completely subject to New Zealand law. That means the company must ensure that New Zealand occupational safety and health provisions must be complied with, that when a ship goes to sea it is in a seaworthy condition and the crew are fit to be working on board. When the ship returns to its New Zealand port it does not drop ballast water that should have been discharged away from the coast. Most of all though unlike Oyang 75, which wound up being forfeited as a result of grossly negligent practices, physical and sexual abuse of crew and other crimes, it is expected that the crews on board are treated with dignity and paid their due wages.

If a company operating a fishing trawler or any other ship cannot or will not do that in accordance with New Zealand law, it has no place operating in our waters.


New Zealand passports among worlds most powerful

This week Henley and Partners released their ranking of the value of individual nations passports. This is a valuation listing based on the number of countries an individual passport will give a person access to.

The New Zealand passport is powerful in that it will admit a holder to 171 separate countries. This is seventh equal and places New Zealand ahead of even much more influential nations such as the United States, but behind Germany, whose passport permits a holder to enter 177 separate countries, the most of any nation in the world.

I have to admit, it is actually quite an attractive document to open up. With a black cover that has the Crown insignia and fronds of a silver fern imposed on the front, and an outline of New Zealand on the back with the international code for New Zealand, NZL, the passport is immediately distinctive. Each page set aside for visas has a background design based on a theme specific to New Zealand. On one page you can see a whale, and on another, the tail of a diving whale recognizing the importance that Maori placed on sea life and colonial history of having whaling stations along the east coast. Pages 36-37 for example has a background image of Aoraki/Mt Cook, with a silver fern and topographic map imagery superimposed across the lower parts of the page.

It is a reminder of the good international stead that we as a nation are held in around the world. It is also a justification of the work that goes into ensuring our borders remain secure and are protected by properly resourced, funded and trained people.

The passport is therefore a highly sought after document and unfortunately, like those of other well respected nations, there will always be a few people who seek to obtain one illegally or use one for illegal purposes. They are the people who should never be allowed to hold a New Zealand passport again in their lives.

I believe that a 10 year New Zealand passport should only be available to New Zealand citizens who have resided continuously in this country for more than 10 years. The 5 year passport would be available to anyone who successfully applies to hold one.

Henley notes that whilst some countries, such as the United States are closing or restricting border access, most countries appear to be trying to improve access. It is thought that this is largely for economic reasons, such as tapping into the economic potential of tourism, freer migration.

Peter Dunne advocates a Republic of New Zealand

DISCLAIMER: I am a supporter of a New Zealand Republic if a binding referendum finds New Zealanders to be in favour.

When Peter Dunne made his valedictory speech today, several weeks after quitting Parliament, he advocated that New Zealand become a republic. Mr Dunne, who has been an advocate for constitutional reform for the duration of his time in Parliament, has triggered a divided reaction on social media.

The Stuff media item has a poll, that I read at the time of writing this article, showed a narrow lead in favour of a Republic. Commentary was as divided as it was often ill informed, with many people not being clear on how a republic works or even why they opposed one.

So, below I ask and answer some key questions about New Zealand and the Republic debate. The answers to all these questions and more can be found and explored in greater detail in:

Holden L.J., “The New Zealand Republic Handbook”, 2009

What is a Republic

A Republic is a style of governance where supreme power is reliant on the consent of the citizens it governs. There is no hereditary leader like in a Monarchy where succession is passed on down through a royal family. In a Republic the President is either directly elected (such as in the United States), or by an elected assembly.

What types of Republic are there?

There are several types of Republic, notably the Parliamentary Republic, Presidential Republic, Islamic Republic and Peoples Republic.

Perhaps the most famous is the Presidential Republic, which is the style of the United States, where the President is not only head of state, but also the chief decision maker. New Zealand, whilst not being one, is closest to the Parliamentary Republic in that there is already a Parliamentary structure in place, headed by the Prime Minister. The role of a President would be most likely to appoint/dismiss Governments, receive heads of state and – heaven forbid – declare war.

The other two Republic types that are well known are the Islamic Republic and the Peoples Republic. Iran is an Islamic Republic with a Supreme Ayatollah who is the head of state and has influence on the President of Iran. The final one is the Peoples Republic, which variously includes – but is effectively the same in function – the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea (North Korea), Democratic Republic of the Congo and the People’s Republic of China (China – not to be confused with Republic of China (Taiwan))

Will New Zealand have to leave the Commonwealth?

No. Numerous nations in the Commonwealth are Republics – Fiji, India, South Africa, to name just a few. As long as a member does the following it is a member of the Commonwealth:

  • Recognize the Queen as head of the Commonwealth
  • Respect the wishes of the people
  • Respect human rights, liberty, rule of law and free and fair democratic elections
  • Be a sovereign state

Why ditch the Monarchy if Republics are unstable?

Political instability generally has more to do with historical, social and economic circumstances rather than constitutional ones. Sierra Leone and Pakistan are Republics that started lives as unstable monarchies where coups were instigated before they became Republics.

Will the constitutional status of the Treaty of Waitangi be affected?

No. Responsibility will remain where it has been all the time: with Parliament and the Head of State, the only difference being a New Zealander would be head of state.


Ghahraman not misleading public

Today it has emerged that Green List Member of Parliament Golriz Ghahraman allegedly defended suspected participants in the Rwandan Genocide. It also emerged that in the reaction to this news, there are a frighteningly large number of people who either cannot or will not understand that defendants in court cases – big or small – have a right to a fair trial just like anyone else.

Not surprisingly the right-leaning commentators are jumping up and down. On articles on Facebook about this story, there have been people calling for Ms Ghahraman to resign. Others have suggested she should go back to Iran. Many of them I think have a thinly disguised contempt for an Iranian-New Zealand woman who has fled persecution and managed to build a successful life in New Zealand and established herself as a respectable person in the legal circuit. The accusations that she cleaned her Wikipedia article are not surprising in the least as anyone can try to amend it and sometimes information is put up that is not from a verified source. If Ms Ghahraman actually did do that, she did it at her own discretion and would have known full well the ramifications just like any other educated person attempting such an act.

The outrage that has been spouting on Facebook seems rather misplaced as well. It is almost as if it is some sort of unpardonable offence to be on the defence team for person accused of activities of a genocidal nature. It is almost as if ensuring that the accused bad guys are somehow not entitled by the reckoning of these commentators to a fair trial like any other human being is.

Where is the justice if for the victims if the accused are not put to trial so they can defend themselves and let the jury in a court of law determine whether or not they are guilty? Would these people prefer that an innocent person is found guilty by flimsy association whilst the ones who carried the mass murders, the rapes, the mutilation and everything else that went on continues on their not so merry way?

Ms Ghahraman would have seen injustice in her time in Iran and possibly in New Zealand as well. She might have seen criminals getting off free and continuing their crimes because the victims were too scared to come forward, particularly if the perpetrator was in some sort of position of power at the time of the offences. Who wins then? Not the victims. But nor do they win if an innocent person is tried, convicted and punished for something they did not do.

Sometimes third world countries are not suitable locations to have the trials of suspected war criminals or genocide participants. It may be because the country is still too unstable and a trial might open up wounds that are just starting to heal. It might be that the local judiciary is not in a position to carry out its responsibilities or not.

But does that mean Ms Ghahraman should be ashamed of defending a person who was later convicted? No. As a lawyer involved in a trial if you are not on the prosecution you will be on the defence. It would have been good experience for her and as long as she does the job to the honest best of her ability, conducts herself in a professional manner and complies with any court protocols, then I have two words and two words only: WELL DONE.