Second firearms overhaul announced

The Government has announced the impending second tranche of firearms legislation. The announcement was made following the second of several gun amnesty collection days to recover firearms that had been made illegal in the wake of the 15 March 2019 terrorist attacks.

When the Government announced its plans for dealing wit New Zealand’s arsenal of military grade automatic and semi-automatic weapons, it was intended to happen in two phases. The first, immediate phase, would quickly end the legality to own weapons such as the AR-15 which was used in the Christchurch terrorist attacks. This was the emergency legislation that was pushed through Parliament at speed in March and was enforceable by the end of the same month.

Because a lot of New Zealanders are unaware of Parliamentary process there was a perception that the Government intended to confiscate peoples firearms without whim or reason. This was despite the government being clear that it was intended to be a temporary stop gap measure whilst more comprehensive legislation was drafted. The perception, which was rumoured to have been enabled by American firearm lobbyists, was coldly met by politicians from both sides of Parliament with the exception of A.C.T. Member of Parliament David Seymour.

It would be followed by the much more comprehensive and permanent legislation that would set in law a tighter regime around the acquisition and ownership of such firearms. In the meantime there would be amnesty days up and down the country where people with firearms that had been banned could be surrendered to the Police at drop off points. The owners of the guns being surrendered would be given an indication as to how much they would receive in financial compensation for handing them over.

The Police acknowledge that there are many guns that they probably do not know about. An estimated 200,000 to 300,000 potentially illegal firearms are thought to be circulating within New Zealand.

The new laws will target those with criminal histories; people with mental health issues including those who might have tried to use a gun to kill themselves. Those who are espousing open violence against society or particular individuals or groups of individuals are also likely to be seen as a red flag to Police when issuing gun licences. A firearms register will be established by the Police, and the cost of maintaining the firearms licencing office will be better offset by changes in the cost of licencing. New offences and the matching penalties are also likely to be added.

This time there will be a select committee period lasting three months. There will be substantial time for firearm advocates and firearm safety advocates to get their messages into submissions and prepare for hearings in front of the Select Committee. This was, contrary to the honest beliefs of some, always intended to happen – there was never any intention to block the permanent tranche of legislation from public scrutiny.

The utopian dream versus the dystopian nightmare: Part 2

Dystopia, the opposite of utopia, describes a society that has strongly undesirable characteristics. It is translated as “not a good place”, and would be possibly similar to what George Orwell describes in his novel “1984” where society is distinctly unwelcoming in all facets.

Whereas a utopian society would not allow a disaster like the Grenfell tower fire in London or the Chernobyl nuclear reactor meltdown to happen, a dystopian society would make a major effort to cover up the disaster, arresting people who asked too many questions, blocking media from finding out what happened. Instead of asking for assistance, the authorities might decide to uniformly evacuate the area around the disaster and turn it into a no go zone. If it involves civilian attempts at showing dissent, the response may be decidedly ugly with a military response like the Chinese employed in Tiananmen Square, with thousands being rounded up.

Agencies relating to social welfare, housing, justice and so forth may be disempowered or completely disbanded. Any remaining functions simple to dispense to those who can afford it. If one cannot afford rental accommodation it is not the problem of the state.

The range of powers and responsibilities that the police have will expand so that a degree of immunity to infractions such as arbitrary detention of those classed as undesirables, denial of legal aid and so forth exists. Rather than being a force for societal good, they start to become the visible enforcement of the state’s will.

The economics of a dystopian society are distinctly unfriendly to all but the wealthiest. Power and wealth assist each other in a relationship that becomes addictive: more wealth means more power and vice versa. A distinct few have near complete control of all of the natural resources, the infrastructure and media. The state assets such as the electricity grid, the railways, the telecommunications are all sold off to investors not based in the country. The wealthy few live a clearly disconnected life from the rest, with trappings that 99% of people probably do know about.

A dystopian techno-state where traditional forms of media simply disappear – newspapers die out or are subsumed – might form. Radio is either taken over and digitized or taken off air altogether. So-called undesirables can be electronically blocked on a system so that they are completely cut off from information and news. Pay screens that only open up to paid subscribers becomes the norm. The same state might use electronic algorithms to monitor peoples internet and media worth, building up a profile as China is currently doing that form a profile on a completely unsuspecting target human

Fear is an instrument used to keep the masses in line. It might be expressed in subtle things such as running adverts asking if you trust your neighbour, your family and friends. Are certain types of activity such as social activism, community groups and the like some sort of menace? Cameras are watching your every move in public. You have no say over what they see and what happens to the footage, or who can use it. To give effect to this, enforcement instruments such as curfews where one has to be in their house by a certain time; segregated areas where ethnic or social minorities are banished to with notably poorer infrastructure and amenities may show up.

Dystopian society can creep in, slowly like the shadows moving. It might be confused at times with increasing authoritarianism, as some of the traits are distinctly so. It does not make overt moves unless politicians with authoritarian ideas have managed to take power.

New Zealand has fortunately not shown any overtly dystopian notions but we only have to look across the Tasman Sea to Australia to see flashes of dystopia manifesting. The out pouring of grief following the 15 March 2019 terrorist attacks might not have happened in another western country. In Australia a combination of traditional conservatism mixing with overt hatred of minorities, topped off with a burning paranoia about refugees and asylum seekers, has seen Australian Government ministers show almost callous disregard for minorities.



Unifying the state sector? What does that mean?

It has come to my attention that proposals are being considered to dismantle the entire state sector and start again. The proposals come amidst continuing frustration over the delivery of services in social welfare, health, education, housing and a plethora of other sectors. But how much planning has been given to the proposals?

Continuing change, simply to say that the Government wanted to be seen as acting decisively on a matter is not helpful at best and possibly quite damaging at its worst. It leaves both the public and the private sectors wondering what is the aim of the reforms. It removes continuity of supply in terms of delivering promised services and at a quality that is acceptable.

This is not to say that I disagree with the proposals, as there is plenty of room for improvement in all sectors of Government and state sector is no different. But I wonder how much of it would exist if the Chief Executives and other senior staff in the agencies that operate in this sector were vetted properly. There are ways of instituting change in the public service without simply tearing it up and starting again:

  1. When agency bosses are appointed perhaps more effort should be made to encourage people from lower down the ranks to move up instead of hiring people not necessarily from New Zealand and potentially with no ability to relate to how their agency impacts on New Zealand
  2. Have them sign – if they do not already – a declaration of any prior criminal record, including being vetted by the Police in the same way that people working as teachers, social workers and early childhood education staff would be expected to
  3. Perhaps have a minimum of x number of years experience in the sector that they want to work in in New Zealand so that when they take a higher role they at least know about the sector

To some extent this is a great advert for something that is sorely missing in the education system, which Mr Hipkins also by chance happens to be the Minister for: Civics. We lack a compulsory Civics course in Years 12-13 at High School, which among other things could include a segment on how key Acts of Parliament such as the State Sector Act, the Social Welfare Act and so forth work – being high school students they would not be expected to know these acts intimately as I doubt even many experienced civil servants know the Acts as well as they probably should, but to be able to write a paragraph in an exam detailing the basics would be helpful. It would also help to unravel what I think is one of the great mysteries to the average person on the street – what does a bureaucrat do each day and how do they justify their job.

Mr Hipkins has a unique opportunity here. As Minister of two separate yet somewhat interlinked portfolio’s he has the opportunity to stream line certain aspects that over lap. By addressing the need for a Civics paper so that all New Zealanders are made to learn how the legal system Mr Hipkins might well be encouraging people to become more informed about the changes being wrought on their lives by Acts of Parliament. And if that makes them better informed about the state sector, all the better.

Time to overhaul name suppression laws

Recent proceedings in courts have laid bare the issue of how up to date our name suppression laws are. From the foreign media violating name suppression orders around the suspected murderer of Grace Millane to Joanne Harrison who used name suppression to continue her offending, the circumstances might be different, but the risk of a miscarriage of justice increases dramatically when abused.

On one hand when dealing with cases where naming the offender risks harming the victim, such as father harms son/daughter, there is a good and obvious case for name suppression. On the other hand if one is dealing with a person who has a litany of serious crimes in the past and the judge has decided that somehow despite the past record, that person deserves name suppression, then there is a clear problem.

Let us look at a few examples. One of the most recent is Joanne Harrison, who has been sent to jail for large scale fraudulent use of taxpayer dollars. A recidivist offender, whilst under name suppression, Mrs Harrison went on to commit even bigger crimes, taking advantage of the fact that no one knew of her or her history. Now we are only just becoming aware of the scale of Mrs Harrison’s offending and the impact that it would have had because another judge has finally decided that the offending is too grave for the public to not know about.

Just before Christmas last year, an English woman on a working visa to New Zealand went missing just after arriving in Auckland. A few days later she was found dead in the Waitakere Ranges. It was a homicide. Not long after that the Police arrested someone on suspicion of murdering Grace Millane. Then something illogical happened: the Judge imposed name suppression on New Zealand media, but the media from other countries, namely Britain ignored it and so did social media. Within a short period of time the whole internet knew who had been arrested. This drew criticism from the Minister of Justice Andrew Little and the New Zealand Bar Association.

But here is the problem. He is only SUSPECTED of murdering Ms Millane. Yet by the weight of public opinion he was tried, convicted and sentenced by the public on social media on the same day he appeared in court to enter his plea and apply for name suppression. The trial is not due to start until 04 November 2019. We now run the risk that this person will never get a fair trial because the public are already convinced beyond reasonable doubt he did it.

If we approach the problem from another angle, sometimes the Judge is confronted with a highly affluent figure who has spent considerable money on hiring a good lawyer. Despite the severity of the charges the affluent figure might get their name suppression simply because the lawyer knows enough about the legal ins and outs to find a way of justifying name suppression and does so. Here this can become a major problem, because let us suppose for example it involves a large sum of money that they were responsible for the appropriate use of, it disappears and later on turns up in private accounts. The defendant shows little understanding or remorse for what they did and only appears regretful that s/he was caught in the first place. The defendant continues to pose a risk that the public is not aware of because money was able to buy name suppression.

I am thus not of the opinion that name suppression laws should be completely dumped, but I think there is a strong case for radically overhauling how we apply them. Perhaps all media entering a court room should sign an agreement stipulating that whilst covering the proceedings they agree they are subject to New Zealand laws including judge rulings on the case

In the case of Grace Millane if there comes a point where the judge is convinced the prospects of a fair trial are wrecked, no one gets justice. Not Grace. Not the defendant. Nor her family. No one.

And that is not okay.


Errant stores dragging liquor industry down

A business that operates bottle stores and a dairy in Auckland has been heavily fined after the Labour Inspectorate found it to be in substantial breach of New Zealand labour laws. The business which was taken to the Employment Relations Authority by seven migrant workers who complained about their working conditions, lack of pay and accommodation arrangements was ordered to pay $196,542 – $96,542 in wages owed and a $100,000 penalty.

This is the latest in a string of liquor store violations of employment law or some aspect of their liquor licence. The Labour Inspectorate notes that 60 stores have been found wanting because of such breaches since 2012.

It was not said in the article whether Mr Reddy would be stripped of his managers licence. Irrespective, I do believe he should be made to undertake correctional training under supervision with a warning about long term consequences if further violations come to light.

What really bothers me is the number of people in this industry, but also the hospitality sector who are not from New Zealand and yet seem to think that because the authorities in their country of origin were corrupt, that ours will be too. More to the point, I wonder what it would take to get the message home to prospective managers from other countries, that compliance with New Zealand law is not something they have a choice about.

12 stores in the Bottle-O chain are currently facing investigations into alleged abuses of New Zealand law.

Without suggesting that the owner of the franchise is culpable, such a large number of stores being simultaneously investigated by the Labour Inspectorate does raise some serious questions about the culture of those places.

I believe that the communities in which they operate deserve to know whether these stores are compliant with New Zealand law. Stores that are found to have breached the law, should be made to display a notice in their front window for 12 months noting that they are in breach. The notice should mention what the breach was and should only be able to be taken down by a Labour Inspectorate staff member at the end of the notice period and assuming that no further violations occur in that time.

Should they commit further offences, their trading licence should be suspended until such a time as the Labour Inspectorate is satisfied that the operators are now fully compliant. Any further abuse of the law following that should be construed as a third strike and the offending premises shuttered.