Why New Zealand needs to condemn Saudi Arabia’s human rights record

This blog was going to be about the detention of female Saudi Arabian activists making a stand for women and a call to petition Minister of Foreign Affairs Winston Peters to speak out. But the same country deciding it is okay to attack a bus full of civilians and the fact that this is a war crime, forced a change.

Saudi Arabia is a country that has long shown open disdain for human rights. It regards them as a “western” concept, perhaps because much human rights law was developed in the West. But western or not, there is nothing humane or proper about attacking civilian targets.

A country that attacks a civilian bus, killing dozens of people including numerous children as Saudi Arabia did a few days ago and thinks that such conduct would horrify many New Zealanders. A country that uses military grade munitions and delivery systems to destroy hospitals, homes and schools would horrify New Zealanders.

It should also horrify people to know that two nations we respect and admire are supplying Saudi Arabia with those munitions and delivery systems. Their names are Britain and United States of America. Both have supplied combat jets and cluster munitions, despite these being subject to international bans – which notably none of the United Nations Security Council permanent five members have recognized, lest it jeopardize the lucrative sale of weapons.

In his valedictory speech as President of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower made mention of the potential threat posed by the military industrial complex. That was in 1961. It was before the Cuban Missile Crisis, Exercise Able Archer 1983, a host of wars where one could argue the main reasons for having them were nothing to do with national security, humanitarian emergencies or caused by internal strife. What would the former President think today if he could see the current orgy of violence and in particular America and Britain’s role in arming the combatants?

But those nations are not New Zealand. Those nations are not a country in the southwest Pacific with a record of defending human rights.

New Zealand needs to make stand against the human rights abuses of Saudi Arabia. Our trade is not so great that we should suffer a crippling blow if the Kingdom throws a diplomatic hissy fit – noting the recall of their Ambassador to Canada, and expulsion of Canada’s Ambassador for having the gonads to tell Saudi Arabia imprisoning female activists is not acceptable conduct. Our reputation for being a nation that champions a fair go and common decency will certainly not suffer from having a bit of steel in our spine.

New Zealand had opportunities to condemn earlier actions by Saudi Arabia that involved war crimes in Yemen. It has had opportunities to speak against the imprisonment of and flogging of activists such as Raif Badawi, who was sentenced to 1,000 lashes – 50 were struck before human rights activism brought enough pressure on Saudi Arabia to desist (so far)in carrying out any further. Unfortunately under the National-led Government of Prime Minister John Key, securing trade deals was a higher priority than protecting universal human rights.

If Canada stands alone, Saudi Arabia will assume that it is just one country that is annoyed. But if others including, but not limited to New Zealand join in the Kingdom will see that – whether they acknowledge it or not, being something altogether different – war crimes and any other illegal war like acts are not okay.

As for stopping Britain and the U.S. from supplying more weapons to cause more civilian deaths, tragically that is probably going to take them being referred for war crimes to the Hague and a change of Government in both countries.


Government cleaning out non performing diplomats

The Government is set to announce a clean out of diplomats from New Zealand’s overseas missions. The announcement comes at a critical time as New Zealand attempts to adjust the country to an unsettled geopolitical environment created by Brexit, the divisive nature of current American politics, capped off by high international tensions with Iran.

One of the diplomats being pulled is Tim Groser, current ambassador to the United States. Mr Groser, prior to going to the United States was Minister for Trade in the National-led Government of former Prime Minister John Key. In that capacity Mr Groser was tasked with pushing the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement to a fruitful conclusion. It was under Mr Groser’s watch that the many major concerns about the T.P.P.A. became known to the public and the beginning of the backlash occurred.

Mr Groser’s time in Washington D.C. does not appear to have been overly successful. Indeed one insider admitted that during his ambassadorship, the residency of the New Zealand ambassador has been “party central”, with numerous functions and parties hosted.

Mr Groser is not the only diplomat being recalled.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Winston Peters believes that the idea of political appointments to the diplomatic posts is not a good look and not in New Zealand’s interests to continue. Mr Peters views Mr Groser as a political appointment because it was made by the previous National Government when Mr Key was still in office.

There are other key diplomatic posts opening up, including one in Dublin. This is a well sought after post because among other boards, it is home to the International Rugby Board, as politicians it was noted in the Government of Mr Key love to be seen with rugby royalty.

Mr Peters said that the Washington post is just one of many being reviewed and necessary recalled by the new Government. Others include a possible posting to London.

I believe that New Zealand needs to put more focus on building diplomatic ties with African and Latin American countries more than anywhere else. Neither of these two regions is very well understood by New Zealand, despite growing communities of Latin American nationalities and African nationalities in the country. Aside from sharing New Zealand’s wariness of war, Latin America also offer opportunities in trade and have been one of the few international bright spots in the last few years with the end of the Colombian civil war. And Africa, for all its mystery, remains the least understood part of the world in just about all respects. Trying to better understand this continent of mystery when some Governments take an ivory tower view of thinking they know best, when they do not, is not only a really good idea, it is essential.

Potential Brexit trade war bad for New Zealand

Fears are growing that a messy Brexit dissolution of the United Kingdom’s union with Europe could lead to open trade hostilities between the two parties. So great is the fear that Minister of Trade, David Parker, warned the United Kingdom and European Union against commencing trade hostilities.

Trade hostilities do no country any favours. They are the war like equivalent of two countries vying for some sort of supremacy or other advantage, except that tariffs take the place of bullets with exporters and importers being the casualties in the front line. And behind the front line, you and myself, the regular civilian consumers who can only make the best of the market conditions of the day as they can try, are the real losers. With increased costs passed on by importers, they will be more selective as to when they get out the EFTPOS card or the credit card or hard earned money that they will want to know is well spent.

The increasingly messy dissolution of the union between the U.K. and Europe as a result of the 2016 referendum has alarmed many. It stems from the desire of the two parties to divide up tariff rate quotas on agricultural products, The concerns are that this would have a negative impact on how New Zealand meat, butter and cheese gets into the E.U.

In a world with a slowing economy being buffeted by increasingly stormy conditions that exporters and importers have little say over what looks like an increasingly worrisome storm. The combination of E.U. discontent, high petrol prices due to increasing angst over the Iran deal and the desire of the U.S. and Israel to possibly launch military action against the Islamic Republic, to say nothing of a failure to address the causes of the last economic crisis all point to a potentially messy divorce.

In a part of the world where freedom of movement is celebrated by way of the Schengen free zone, people living in member nations can move freely within 27 separate countries.Would the Schengen free zone still exist in an economic sense when the issue is resolved? Would any dissolution of the zone or damage caused by tariffs affect non-European nations ability to conduct trade issues of the day?

None of this can be good for the global economy any more than it could be good for the New Zealand economy. This is shown by the number and range of countries that are opposed to the plan for tariffs. Alongside New Zealand are Canada, United States, Thailand, Uruguay and others.

Two years after that shocking June 2016 announcement that the United Kingdom would seek divorce from the European Union, the real economic costs are only now just starting to come out. And as they do, the criticism of the result whose implications probably not that many voterrs understood is only going to get louder and more diverse.

Was Brexit in a purely economic sense such a great idea now?

An alternative economy?

If one has read the print media, online media or watched the television news of late, they will have seen the stories about economic gloom. The stories about trade wars being started by the United States President Donald Trump, the increasingly messy state of Brexit and so forth all raise potential “red flags”. So, what about potential “green flags” with regards to economic development?

For awhile now I have been convinced that as long as National or Labour are in office, conventional, almost tunnel vision like economics will be the serving of the day. Bland, boring, and potentially missing significant opportunities to develop a more sustainable economy without causing job losses.

I have a vision of a quite different economic direction to the one that the politicians of the last two generations have insisted on steering New Zealand through. It stems from an understanding that the current reliance on tourism, agriculture and niche industries is not sustainable. New Zealand might look relatively calm in a stormy international sea, but it ignores the fact that we are quite vulnerable for several reasons (among others):

  1. Our exports rely too heavily on a few major industries
  2. An all in trade war would be damaging for everyone and New Zealand would not be exempt
  3. Customers overseas are becoming socially conscious and starting to research the history of what their countries are importing to make sure nothing detrimental such as animal abuse, slave labour or environmental negligence was involved

New Zealand has vast opportunities before it to develop green industries, but also to smarten up existing ones as well as completely new ones. A few examples:

  • Developing mineral recycling plants to retrieve and make reusable the gold, silver, copper, etc from Waste Electrical Equipment and Electronics (W.E.E.E. – also and hereafter known as e-waste)
  • Develop medicinal cannabis products for dispensation – public support for medicinal cannabis is now very high
  • A potential biofuel stream exists, from which we could be investigating alternatives to Unleaded 91 and diesel – several years ago Kiwi Rail did a trial with a biodiesel blend; using strands of the waste stream such as cooking fat and fuel waste, green waste and so forth

Obviously feasibility studies will need to be conducted to ascertain what will work and what will not. The relevant industry groups such as Federated Farmers, Automobile Association will need to be consulted on proposals that are relevant to them. Assessments of their economic viability will need to be carried out should any of these ideas or others not listed be found to be possible in New Zealand.

With these ideas come potential challenges. Little groundwork has been done on where Waste to Energy plants could fit in the overall New Zealand energy scene. Likewise with biofuel, a failure to tackle it in 9 years of the National Government means we are about 15-20 years behind European nations such as Denmark, the United Kingdom and others. It is also true that industry figures will need to be won over and resistance is inevitable in some quarters. But all potentially visionary ideas have to start somewhere, somehow.

With regards to cannabis reform and the associated socio-economic benefits, New Zealand politicians are inching towards medicinal cannabis. There seems to be an aversion to simply getting on with developing the appropriate legal framework. This would also give known cannabis growers something legitimate to do instead of supporting the black market, something that is already starting to happen in the East Cape area.

And then there is taxation. When I was in New Zealand First at one of the Annual Conventions I attended there was a debate during policy remits about whether a Spahn tax could be employed, possibly in place of one of the existing taxes. I also noted last year when doing research for my Graduate Diploma from the Open Polytechnic, the existence of Pigouvian taxes. Would, rather than – or to complement an emissions trading scheme – a Pigouvian tax on carbon emissions be some sort of disincentive to pollute? Whilst not being an economist, and freely admitting that it is possible that none of them will work, simply knowing that such taxes exist makes me wonder if anyone has investigated their suitability in a New Zealand context.

Does economic policy really need to live within the narrow confines of raising and lowering income taxes, increasing G.S.T. every so often and continuing to try to develop industries that are nearing their peak in New Zealand? Not necessarily.

Andrew Little correct to stand up to Peter Dutton

Yesterday, reacting to the deportation of New Zealanders who had lived their entire lives in Australia, Minister of Justice Andrew Little sharply criticized Australian Minister for Immigration Peter Dutton for the breach of human rights.

I applaud Mr Little for standing up to Mr Dutton. Mr Dutton has made it his mission in office to wage full on war against anyone who is seeking asylum, is a refugee or  otherwise in a vulnerable category of residency. Mr Dutton, who is reported to enjoy his work, was a detective in the Queensland Police force before he became a politician in 2001.

One method Mr Dutton employs is the use of offshore detention centres on tropical islands such as Manus, Christmas and Nauru. People who get sent there stay in centres and have been found to be severely wanting both in terms of their management, and a severe lack of basic amenities. Violence including riots, hunger strikes and so forth have been commonplace.

Another is the deportation to New Zealand or to other countries of people found to have committed a crime, whether they were born in that country or not. In the case of New Zealand, people who left New Zealand very young as children and have spent their entire adult lives in Australia have found themselves deported back to a country where they have nothing, know no one or any support.

Obviously I do not condone whatever crimes they committed. But the ethics of deporting a person to a country that they have no connections whatsoever to and are in danger of just committing further offences raises significant moral issues. They also serve to strain ties with those nations who have not had to deal with these people before and now find themselves with no choice but to take them in.

His policies have inspired United States President Donald Trump’s attempt to build a wall on the Mexican border, to wage the war he has been against illegal immigrants. Whilst many of the immigrants whose citizenship status is questionable in the United States, the vast majority were fleeing from countries where diplomatic relations with other countries are weak and seeking legal avenues for emergency protection signals to the Government that one is fleeing.

Mr Dutton wields considerable power. Aside from being Minister of Immigration, he is also in charge of the Australian Border Force, which are equivalent to Immigration and Customs Enforcement in the United States. The A.B.F., like I.C.E. in the United States have had considerable controversy in their time in existence, including the two examples I have mentioned above.

Mr Dutton was wrong to say New Zealand does little for defence. The South Pacific is a largely peaceful region, which very much how New Zealand wishes to keep it. Mr Little understands this perfectly. Mr Little also understands something Mr Dutton does not – if a nation does not want to have large numbers of asylum seekers arriving then it should not be interfering in that nations affairs. A lot of the asylum seekers arriving in Australia are from nations where Australia has joined the United States and other western powers – on occasion New Zealand too – in interfering for reasons of “national security”.