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


685.

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.

 

Little appetite for war against Iran


Ever since the United States pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal the risk of a war between the two nations has increased. Ayatollah Khamenei began to increase the rhetoric against the United States, saying how it wanted war. President Donald Trump believed that the deal was fundamentally flawed from the start, and at the behest of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who believed it compromised Israeli national security, withdrew from it. Initially Iran said it would continue to comply with it in full. But when it was revealed that the other powers signatory to the agreement were not complying with their end of the deal in full, Tehran immediately said that should they not resume within 60 days it would withdraw.

Which is precisely what Mr Netanyahu and Mr Trump wanted. But now with the war hawks attempting to ratchet up the drum beat of war to another level, it is time to look at why the hawks could be in for a brutal surprise should Iran and the United States come to military blows.

There is a distinct difference though between the Iraq War and how any war against Iran in terms of the support that the United States has. Whilst many nations friendly to America expressed considerable reservations or expressed condemnation of its 2003 invasion of Iraq, it did have the support of a few nations. They included the United Kingdom, Spain, Australia, the Netherlands, Iceland, Portugal, Japan and South Korea, along with a number of eastern European, central Asian and Latin American countries.

In many respects the United States and Israel would be facing a very different foe to the demoralized Iraq that was invaded in 2003. Among the primary reasons:

  • Iran has not suffered a major conflict since the Iran-Iraq War ended in 1988 and has rebuilt
  • Iraq’s military was severely depleted, badly trained, paid and resourced – much of its equipment was useless for lack of parts, ammunition
  • Iran has significant powerful allies including Syria and Russia
  • Its compliance with the nuclear deal means the grounds for military action based on a grave and present threat are non-existent, which American allies generally recognize
  • International support for a war against Iran is almost non-existent
  • Much of the promotion of a hard line against Iran has more to do with bolstering the military industrial complex and certain politicians than achieving any real good
  • The risk of an Iran-U.S./Israel conflict becoming a direct clash between the U.S. and Russia is real

Iran is suffering under heavy American sanctions and diplomatic pressure on other countries to stop buying Iranian oil. However several nations including South Korea still do so. It has refused to have anything to do with the petro-dollar and some are suggesting it might be investing in crypto-currency such as Bitcoin.

None of this is to say that the Iranian Government or the Ayatollahs are saints. They are not. Iran has one of the most appalling records of any nation in the Middle East when it comes to womens rights, the death penalty, torture, arbitrary detention and extra-judicial killings. Human rights activists such as Nasrin Sotoudeh are regularly imprisoned without justification, and almost always on trumped up charges such as posing a threat to the Islamic Republic

Nor is it to say that Iran respects its neighbours. During the Iraqi sectarian violence following the U.S. invasion in 2003 it armed militias to destablize the country and disrupt the attempt to restore the country. It arms Hezbollah militants fighting against Israel, by supplying them with Qassam and Katyusha rockets, drones and small arms. It point blank refuses to recognize the state of Israel in any form. Iran may have interfered in the Afghanistan war and its chief regional rival is Saudi Arabia.

But if we take all of this and acknowledge the willingness of Russia to exercise veto powers when U.N. Resolutions against Iran are proposed, the extent to which Russia has enabled Hezbollah to be armed, and so forth, it is clear Russia has a significant stake in Iran’s well being.

To the extent it could be compared with America’s in Israel.

Challenges facing N.Z. intelligence following Christchurch attacks


Since the World Trade Center attacks on 11 September 2001, there has been a renewed focus world wide on terrorism inspired by the Islamic religion in defence of perceived Islamic values.

Until 15 March, many New Zealanders thought there was little risk of terrorism of any sort happening here. The Green Party and other left leaning organizations regularly questioned the need for the Government Communications Security Bureau (G.C.S.B.) and New Zealand Security Intelligence Services existing. However, the opponents of these two agencies have never articulated a workable solution to abolishing them.

Now that there has been an attack and the two agencies responsible for our security failed in their job, New Zealand must ask itself whether its current arrangements are fit for purpose. If not, what would be better arrangements?

My own concerns stem from the security assets on New Zealand soil as we know them, working for a foreign Government instead of New Zealand and subject to a foreign powers. Two U.S. surveillance sites at Tangimoana in the lower North Island and Waihopai in the Wairau valley of the upper South Island. Both are signals intercept stations that can monitor peoples faxes, phone calls and e-mails.

A notable feature of the increased focus on this one particular source of terrorism as opposed to all other known or perceived sources has been the use by the Security Intelligence Service of informal conversations with young men of the Muslim faith. During those conversations it was claimed the S.I.S. applied pressure to these men to continue spying on their mosque.

It is debatable whether or not such a threat existed in New Zealand. The right wing of New Zealand politics believed such a threat existed (and still does), whilst ignoring the causes of much Islamic militantcy around the world such as American wars in the Middle East. These causes also include support of Israel even when the latter violates international law and their arming of nations such as Saudi Arabia to commit war crimes in other Middle East countries. In a setting where lawlessness caused by constant war that breaks down the security and judicial apparatus it is easy to become influenced by violence since it seems to be the only solution with currency.

During 2002-2004 an Algerian asylum seeker named Ahmed Zaoui tested New Zealand’s mettle after arriving in several European countries with no proper documentation. He was subject to unfair trials before being deported. He wound up in New Zealand and was jailed. Eventually he was freed. It was not because many people necessarily thought he was completely innocent, but because no charges were brought against him, so it violated New Zealand law to keep him imprisoned.

Few – if anyone – believed that an attack by anyone of far right persuasion was possible and when concerns were raised about groups such as the National Front and Right Wing Resistance, they were dismissed as flights of fantasy.

I attended a counter protest to a National Front rally in Christchurch in 2013. There was a clear tension between the two groups. The National Front members were out numbered probably 12-15 people for every one of their members. But they were dressed in uniform that appeared to match that of the Nazi Schutzstaffel (S.S.)and when their members left, they gave Hitler salutes. They distributed anti Asian/Muslim/minority propaganda. Their leader, Kyle Chapman was linked to the fire bombing of a Marae. They had a website which was listing job adverts for people with computer coding skills to bulid or enhance the site.

There is nothing that I am aware of which says the gunman was a member of either organization. He was a loner, a radical who saw extreme wrong in being a tolerant and diverse nation; in looking out for minorities; in viewing them as somehow such a threat that only violence would suffice as a response. But he and anyone who might have assisted him managed to go by unnoticed.

Clearly our national surveillance and security agencies missed the biggest threat to New Zealand since France blew up the Rainbow Warrior in 1985 – though I do not think we could have reasonably expected a Government whose nation N.Z. helped free in two world wars to appear as a terrorist threat.