The non-deal that New Zealand’s handicapped/special needs community are getting

I call it a non-deal because practically every Member of Parliament has systematically ignored this very important, yet much marginalized section of the New Zealand community. I call it a non-deal because only one or two parties across the entire political spectrum have policies to help these people. I call it a non-deal because few people in influential places in the private sector seem keen to help either.

If a person in a wheel chair is crossing the road, they often find themselves navigating around rubbish bins, toys and other obstacles. They often find that the lip of the curb is too high for them to get their wheels over. If there is sharp debris on the footpath, it can puncture the tyres and render them immobile. Many places do not have wheel chair access, such as commercial premises. If they do have access, a relatively small thing such as a slight lip or step in the door way can be sufficient to bar entry.

It is almost as if society want to remove handicapped people instead of trying to adjust to the fact that they have particular needs that are essential for them to contribute.

It is not just those that are physically handicapped that are getting a raw deal from New Zealand, a country that prides itself on a fair go for all. Autistic people present a range of symptoms that might inhibit their development. Milder forms of it such as Aspergers Syndrome often involve repetitive behaviours, narrow interests and difficulties communicating feelings. Very often they struggle to read social environments. Because of this, many employers are reluctant to give them a chance to work and as a result about how of people world wide with Aspergers do not have jobs.

Only the National Party, Green Party and Labour Party have released or plan to release policy regarding disability.

Election results don’t bode well for United Kingdom

In England, the Conservatives led by Boris Johnson have swept to power in a vote that has rocked Labour and the Liberal Democrats. After almost completely losing their majority under former Prime Minister Theresa May to the Labour Party in 2017, Mr Johnson stormed back into office on the back of his “Get Brexit Done” message and increasing his party’s representation in Parliament to 365 seats. In a 650 seat Parliament that is a 39 seat majority

For Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and his party the election was a disaster on a scale that one has to go back decades to find a similar size rout. His party only scored 203 seats. Not surprisingly Mr Corbyn resigned from the Labour Party, which will elect a new leader in early 2020. Where Labour goes from here, I am not sure, but it will surely be looking at other Labour parties around the world and wondering how they managed to so utterly mess it up for the wider Labour movement.

For Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson, the failure to take her own seat and the near complete lack of progress in the party across the country – up a paltry 1 seat in Parliament – has led to her stepping down. The Liberal Democrats are a far cry from the victorious middle party of 62 seats that forged a coalition with the David Cameron edition of the Conservative Party in 2010.

In Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon’s Scottish National Party swept to victory, strongly suggesting that Scotland’s desire for independence is hardening. With 48 seats out of 59 it was a decisive showing of the party that will lead any moves to make Scotland independent. This is despite Mr Johnson saying that Scotland would not be allowed to hold a vote on leaving. As Scotland voted to remain in the European Union, to have the Conservative Party romp to victory on a LEAVE platform is directly contrary to Scottish ambitions. Thus in the days and weeks ahead we can expect to Scotland begin pushing for a referendum on whether to leave the U.K. or not.

In Ireland the expanding centre ground of Irish politics is overshadowed by the likelihood that Britain will exit the E.U. in a few weeks with some sort of hard border forming. Many will be wary about the potential return of the “Troubles”, the stormy period in Irish-English history rocked by violence. But it also means that the union between the four constituent parts of the U.K. might be finally coming to an end, which may open the way for northern and southern Ireland uniting after many painful years.

In Wales, the only part of the U.K. that does not appear to be wracked with separatist spasms, politicians are probably most likely to wait to seeĀ  how Ireland and Scotland behave over the several weeks..

What does this mean for New Zealand?

New Zealand will likely continue to enjoy good access to the United Kingdom. Given our historic closeness to the U.K. I cannot imagine a really radical change coming except that crossing the border might change somewhat. How the probable break up of the union that made the United Kingdom possible goes, I am not entirely sure.

Irrespective of whether the United Kingdom disintegrates, I believe New Zealand’s good relations with all factions mean that we will be a high priority for negotiating trade deals and establishing diplomatic relations with. But before then we need to see how Brexit goes – will the next seven weeks whilst we wait for Mr Johnson’s version of Brexit to play out go smoothly or will Britain be plunged into Parliamentary infighting like it was over the northern hemisphere summer? Will Ms Sturgeon conclude the time for a Scottish independence referendum has come and demand it from London?

Hasty legislation will not help restrictions on foreign donations to N.Z. political parties

The Government has announced a plan to ban foreign donations exceeding $50 to New Zealand political parties.

This follows intense lobbying by the Green Party to enact changes. It follows revelations that a Chinese racing billionaire made a $150,000 donation to National that could not be pinned to electoral laws as it was made through a New Zealand company.

Whilst I welcome the ban, the Government is being hypocritical in trying to ram the legislation through in a single day. It smacks of the indecent haste that the National-led Government of Prime Minister John Key used to employ to slip legislation that they knew would be contentious through without being subject to the appropriate scrutiny at the Select Committee stage. Such indecent haste was used on a number of occasions, such as:

  • The Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Act 2011
  • The Crown Minerals (Crown Land and Permitting)Act 2013

And 51 other such recorded instances between November 2008 and September 2017, 31 one of which occurred in the first term.

How is it possible to have the necessary scrutiny that such legislation needs if it is passed in a day? I find myself in one of those rare moments agreeing with National that the haste is unnecessary.

So, let us see this legislation through. Ultimately it does need to pass, but it should be subject to a few weeks of public submissions and then the appropriate Select Committee processes handling those submissions. Then it should go back to Parliament for the remainder of its journey through the House. In order to make this clear, I have written the following e-mail to the Speaker of the House:

Kia Ora Mr Speaker

I wish to express my concern as a New Zealand citizen at the speed with which the Minister of Justice intends to pass the legislative changes to restrict foreign donations.

Ultimately the law does need to pass. Political parties on both sides of the House have acknowledged this. But the indecent and reckless speed with which the Minister intends to do this is not only not going result in workable legislation, but also Parliament’s ability to abide by it shall be compromised.

As the Speaker of the House this concerns your office and its ability to do its job.

For this legislation to work it needs to go before a Select Committee, even if it only has seven days for submissions and a couple of days having submissions heard.

I hope that you are able to communicate this to the Minister of Justice in your capacity as the Speaker before the House attempts to deal with this legislation in a more advanced stage.

Thank you.

End of a personal era: Reflections on 16 years of Amnesty activism

For 16 years, I have been an Amnesty International member. I joined Amnesty in early 2003 as the Iraq War drew near, thinking that there would be significant human rights abuses committed, but also because of growing concern around the War on Terror.

During those 16 years Amnesty International New Zealand have done almost much for me as I have done for them. They have given me a plethora of skills from their numerous workshops and a Leadership Course that I was able to participate in early on. My public speaking, my knowledge of procedure such as being in a chairing/co-ordinating role all stemmed from that. And in return I have been able to return that support with solid activism, vastly improved knowledge of human rights as an issue.

I have seen much change at Amnesty in that time. When I first joined a young lady from Sri Lanka who fled the country with her parents was on the International Executive Council. New Zealand Annual Meetings were two day affairs that could fill a hall. Its work in addressing cases such as – but not limited to – the Abu Ghraib prison abuses, the continuing attack on journalists and human rights activists in Russia and China’s increasingly dystopian view of dissent and dissidents. I remember the division in the organization following the 2006 decision to support abortion and the near complete absence of church based Amnesty groups as a result.

I have after 16 years come to the conclusion that it is time to step down from being a front line member. It is time for someone else to take my place along side my very able fellow activists, some of whom have become good friends. At this stage I do not envisage being gone forever, but I have no activist plans for 2020 whatsoever.

Over the last year and in particular the last few months, I have noted a drift from the human rights activism of Amnesty. It had been dealing with a plethora of issues from dystopian China’s rounding up of Muslims in Xinjiang to ending hate; from on going efforts to end the death penalty to stopping. In the last few months, climate change activism has been creeping in, which I have found unsettling. Whilst not denying we have a problem, I honestly do not believe this is a job for Amnesty.

I hope that Amnesty takes a look at itself and sees that the mandate it has, was not made for climate change activism. I have been told quite clearly by Amnesty New Zealand staff that it falls well within the mandate. But they miss the thrust of my argument, which is there are plenty of other organizations out there who are better structured and resourced to make a more tangible difference than Amnesty. I am told in gold faith it still will, yet one could not help but note that Greta Thunberg has been made an Ambassador of Conscience for climate change activism. Nor, if you follow social media such as Facebook, can you fail to notice the increasing presence of Amnesty members at climate rallies, and not going as themselves which they might have been asked to do in a past time, but as Amnesty members. I think the time might be running out for the larger membership to be formally asked what it thinks should happen on the subject of climate change activism.

I am not the only one in my group having second thoughts about Amnesty. Across the country I am sure that there are numerous groups which are having or have had honest discussions with their members about whether they think Amnesty has exceeded the mandate. If they have not, I hope that they do or 2020 might roll around with the new activism starting minus a few members that were understood to be on board.


Male suicide: The pile under the rug is too big to ignore


That is the number of people who committed suicide in the year to June 2019. That is the number of funerals to devastate family, colleagues and friends alike across New Zealand in those 12 months, no doubt causing any number of searching conversations, sleepless nights wondering what could have been done to help them.

Have you ever had a friend, a family member or close colleague on suicide watch or something approaching it where you and/or others were sufficiently alarmed as to intervene? What was the outcome?

Suicide on the whole is an ugly beast that, despite much chatter about intervention and making sure the vulnerable people in our lives are okay, we are only really starting to get our heads around. We say we care to people who we know are having tough times, but how many of us have actually tried taking the person concerned aside and quietly talking to them one on one; messaging them if you have social media and just randomly checking up on them?

Now, how many of you have had this conversation or similar with suicidal male contacts?

Because of those 685 who committed suicide last year, 112 were young males between age 15 and 24. Of these 685, 169 were Maori and 34 were Pacific Islanders.

One major problem that really bugs me about New Zealand is – although it has improved in recent years – is the idea that the New Zealand male needs keep his personal health to himself. The New Zealand male according to the stereotype that we have inadvertently helped to create is a rugged, rugby loving, stoic “she’ll be right, mate” kind of person.

But also our youth are under immense pressure – pressure to conform to society, struggling with their growth from boys and girls into young men and ladies. They are under pressure from their peers to be like them, try radical – and not always legal – things, get their first dates, driver licences, drink alcohol, establish a social media profile. And in a world where the internet is as much a medium for dishing out abuse as it is for social good. Gender, sexual orientation among other factors of ones identity all come under scrutiny.

Despite the efforts of various prominent New Zealand figures – Sir John Kirwan and his autobiography about his struggle with depression; Mike King and his campaign, among others – I sense that there is still a deep reluctance in many parts of society to talk about the well being of our male family/whanau, friends and colleagues. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern acknowledges this as do government agencies and community groups.

I think the biggest challenges will actually come from families in our Maori and ethnic communities for whom talking about things like suicide is strictly taboo. How we talk to them about that needs to be addressed because those “are you okay” conversations that people like Sir John and Mike King have raised, although a simple thing to do, might be the only way to get someone thinking about ending their lives to realise that actually, people do care.