Why I am grateful for the New Zealand Police

Over the last 72 hours I have watched coverage of the death of a black American named Floyd George, who was arrested in Minneapolis and pinned to the ground by an officer who placed a knee on his neck. Mr George lost consciousness and later died in hospital. Widespread outrage at the latest example of police violence in the United States, which has led to business premises being torched in Minneapolis and reports of disturbances in Los Angeles, have reminded me why I am extremely grateful that I live in New Zealand.

Whilst the vast majority of American police officers are probably honourable men and women who just want to protect their communities as best as they can, the American police force at all levels has several major ingrained problems:

  • It is trigger happy
  • The militarization of the force

There is no doubt that the U.S. police force have a lower threshold for the use of firearms than in New Zealand. Nor is there any doubt that the tendency to shoot first and ask question’s later has had some bad outcomes. An Australian lady was shot dead when Police arrived to respond to a suspected rape that she had just reported. In another case, Eric Garner was shot dead by an officer later found guilty of murder.

In recent years, the U.S. police force has been given access to armoured personnel carriers, sniper rifles and other equipment generally reserved for military use only. The militarized nature of the equipment and its deployment in places with large black populations following controversial police actions, has caused significant tensions in recent years.

Is this to say though, that the New Zealand Police are perfect? Of course not. They have had their moments when they have done things that have had significant fallout.

I am reminded of two big failures in 2007 that elicited substantial negative public reaction around the country and reminded the Police that they needed to lift their game. One was the case of police officers who allegedly raped a lady named Louise Nicholas. Ms Nicholas was a young adult when three Police officers allegedly went to her house for non-consensual sexual intercourse. Whilst they were acquitted, it brought significant light onto several corrupt officers who were fired, and one jailed for obstruction of justice.

The other big failure of the Police was in 2007 when in testing the counter terrorism suppression laws, raids were conducted around New Zealand. They were response to an alleged paramilitary camp that was supposedly training individuals for an Irish Republican Army type guerilla war to form an independent Tuhoe nation based on ancestral Maori land in the Urewera mountains. These acts were in numerous cases found to have breached peoples civil rights and there was a significant uproar about it. In Christchurch I knew of activists who were at home studying for university exams when Police turned up demanding to search their flat, looking for a man who had been invited to attend the paramilitary camp. They asked to see the warrant and when none was produced, were told to leave. In the North Island, raids occurred around Ruatoki, near the Urewera’s, with 17 arrests. Most went free after it was found the charges were inadmissible.

At the other end of the scale, respect across the country mushroomed in light of the 2019 terrorist attack on mosques in Christchurch, where 51 people were murdered.  On that day Police responded to the attacks within six minutes and were able to apprehend the suspect, who pleaded guilty to all charges earlier this year. Two police officers rammed his car as he drove to a third mosque with the intention of attacking it. Further adding to the respect was the enormous compassion and sensitivity that they displayed towards the victims of the attack.

People on social media sometimes accuse the Police of having a vendetta against them. I have to ask what their background was. Did at some point in the past they have an interaction with the Police caused by them doing something they should not have? Maybe the Police response was over the top – I certainly know of cases where this has happened, but did the complainants ever take their complaints to the Independent Police Complaints Authority, and if so, what did the I.P.C.A. say?

On occasion we hear of Police officers being rude when first. The very vast majority of them are polite and considerate, but one needs to remember that they might have just come from having to deal with someone who resisted arrest or had to break up a domestic assault case.

So, as we watch the growing violence following the death of Floyd George, we here in New Zealand can be very grateful for the restraint and compassion that our force displays.

Winston Peters wants Level 1 now – Not so fast Winston

It has been revealed that New Zealand First leader Winston Peters wants New Zealand to go to Level 1 now. Mr Peters, who believes we have been at Level 2 for too long, said that Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern admitted at a Cabinet Meeting that she thought we need to get to Level 1 as quickly as possible.

Not so fast Mr Peters. Whilst it is true that at the time of sending this to publish, there had been no new cases for 5 consecutive days, New Zealand needs to 28 consecutive days of no new cases to completely break all transmission. After 28 days with no new cases, two full incubation cycles will have passed. After 28 days if the current run continues, there should also be no active cases left in New Zealand.

Then we can move to Level 1. And I would fully expect to do so at that point. I understand the desire to get out of Level 1 quickly, but COVID19’s tail is still thrashing around. There are still 22 live cases that need to be fully recovered before we can move along from running at 2/3 speed.

At Level 1 COVID19 will be like a bad storm disappearing into the distance, and people can get on with cleaning up the mess it left behind – all the while hoping that when the borders reopen a second storm does not come marching in and put all the hard done recovery work back to square one. New Zealand will need to have a much more robust quarantine system in place than the one currently in use to protect the country from those who are coming from jurisdictions where COVID19 has not been so well managed.

We will need to work closely with Australia and our Pasifika neighbours whose weak health systems cannot sustain the level of care that COVID19 hospital patients require. So it was welcome news yesterday to hear that $37 million has been allocated to supporting research for a vaccine and to help ensure that our Pasifika neighbours do not miss out because of nationalist politics in larger countries.

For myself personally, Level 2 still seems like Level 2.5 despite the easing of restrictions. My work requires cars to be sanitized before they are handed over to customers. Our staff room still observes social distancing and higher level sanitization requirements. We bring our own cutlery and glasses. I still observe the distancing where possible in public.

At Level 1, with COVID19 hopefully permanently consigned to the history books, we can overhaul hygiene legislation with the hindsight gained from from nine weeks of lock down. Among the changes I want to see are:

  • Requiring all people entering bars, restaurants, cafes and eateries to sanitize their hands
  • Require inspectors to check the availability of sanitizer stations as part of their (re)licencing of premises
  • Suspend licences for any premises that are non-compliant; cancel licences for any premises that do not meet requirements when the second check happens


The problem with personality politics

It is a problem that rears its ugly head every election cycle.

Personality politics is the art of playing the person instead of playing their politics. To me there is nothing to be gained from indulging in the kind of poo slinging that this style of politics encourages – it is a highly destructive, demeaning practice which goes some way towards justifying the oft-spoken view that politicians are just big kids behaving like little kids.

One has only to look at the last several New Zealand election cycles and see what happened to the key candidates. In the  2005 campaign there were the Exclusive Brethren allegations that permeated the National Party’s campaign. In between there have been posters that intoned former Prime Minister John Key to be a Nazi or a “Jewish Banker”. From the 2014 election campaign came the Dirty Politics book written by researcher Nicky Hager to the most recent attacks on Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s character, in which she has been called a Communist, a pig with lipstick (Gareth Morgan), a hater of freedom.

The problem however goes beyond the simple attacks on politicians. As a result of allegations leaked to the media, it has a negative influence on the release of policy which often goes missing in action. Elections are meant to be as much about which party has the best policy platform for the next Parliamentary term as about which party is the most in tune with New Zealanders views on the world.

Thus no one should be really surprised that the number of people who say that they like a particular politician but cannot name or describe a single policy that that politician stands for is large. They like their style, but the devil is in the detail – do they support a social welfare system; will they support research/science/technology so we can offer our skilled labour better jobs.

This maybe made worse by the tabloid nature of a lot of media these days. In New Zealand and Australia we can blame it on the excesses of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire whose influence encourages media to print high exaggerated and often completely misleading articles with click bait headlines and little substance to them. The interference run by Mr Murdoch has heavily influenced politics in Australia where a direct correlation between the rise of former Prime Minister Tony Abbott and the destruction of the Prime Ministership of Julia Gillard can be made.

For their part the media might be taken in by a politician who is charismatic and has a joke up their sleeve, but not ask critical questions such as whether Carmel Sepuloni is going to clean out Work and Income management for their systemic lying; will any politicians consider a G.S.T. tax cut instead of raising/lowering income taxes for the umpteenth time?

So whilst it might provide nice click bait headlines and a mud fight at the election, how much good personality politics do for New Zealand is questionable at best.



Chinese designs on Hong Kong and Taiwan must be checked

For months China has been trying to rein in an increasingly restless Hong Kong protest movement. The movement which sprung up last year was originally intended to stop the Hong Kong legislature passing laws that would enable Beijing to extradite dissidents, instill pro-Beijing views into children and station security forces there. The laws led to a protest movement that caught the attention and respect of much of the free world. They were men and women of all ages who had made home in Hong Kong and were prepared to put their livelihoods and lives on the line for their freedom.

Initially they succeeded. The laws were shelved and when elections were held, pro-democracy candidates swept the ballot in one of the most comprehensive routs I can remember. But in doing so, they angered the dragon. They angered Beijing, which resolved to bypass the legislature altogether and simply impose the law, which was done last Friday.

New Zealand has a long relationship with China. In its early days Chinese gold miners worked in harsh central Otago conditions to lay down water races so they could sluice gold, and were the subject of considerable discrimination whilst doing much to enrich the history of the province. It has a tricky balancing act to maintain as China is now our biggest export market and could cause massive damage to the economy if it chose to stop tourists coming here; stop taking our exports.

At the same time, China must learn – and New Zealand must participate in this teaching – that what it is doing in Hong Kong is not acceptable. It is not acceptable to bully other territories into submission simply because they have an alternative thought. Which is why the condemnation yesterday of China’s moves on Hong Kong and the fact that every party in Parliament spoke out against it, is to be applauded.

In 1972 the then United States President Richard Nixon visited China and re-established relations with the Peoples Republic. Following the vision of Deng Xiaoping, Paramount Ruler, China began opening up. It realized that command economics could not work and started developing a market economy. Chinese businesses were encouraged to innovate; Beijing joined the W.T.O. and began to show an interest in helping poor countries develop their natural resources.

But for all of China’s huge economic progress and the improvement of living standards in the worlds most populous nation, the Chinese Communist Party rules the country with an iron fist. Its tolerance for dissenting views of Beijing and in particular for those expressing a desire for democratic reform is quite frankly atrocious. It is not uncommon to have police officers awakening people in the night and taking them down to the local station “for a chat”, which may be more accurately described as a warning to cease and desist. Many a human rights lawyer, journalist, activist has been arrested and put in state run “re-education” camps. Its 1989 Tiananmen Square crack down in which the Chinese Peoples Liberation Army was deployed in huge numbers and killed or wounded 3,000 people

Hong Kong for the most part has been a model of people power and peaceful protest. Some days hundreds of thousands of Hong Kong citizens have been on the streets. Much of the violence seen on television has been the result of security personnel agitating the protesters into committing acts of violence so they can be arrested. The Hong Kong Police Force by contrast have increasingly become a model for how not to deal with protesters. In the last two years the protests and protester movement putting up the protests has increased dramatically following attempts by Beijing to increase its level of control over Hong Kong . The new law change that I have described will no doubt see that distrust increase further.

Similarly China is becoming increasingly annoyed with Taiwan. The island nation that has grown rich and powerful and has been one of the true highlights in the global war against COVID19, is widely seen by Beijing as a renegade province that it wants back. Beijing fails to recognize that Taiwan is an independent nation. Formosa was never been a part of China, prior to becoming Taiwan. Ever since the Nationalists left the mainland to the Communists in 1949, Beijing has been plotting how to take the island nation without triggering a war. Taiwan’s very success and the high level of respect around the world for what it has achieved could be described as inducing Beijing’s envy. The rejection of the “One Nation Two Systems” rule which meant in return for China having control of Taiwan it could maintain its free and democratic governance, has been seen as an affront to Beijing. Although Beijing’s dream of taking Taiwan by force is unlikely – not least because it could a massive U.S. military response – as long as Taiwan is not directly ruled by China, Beijing will have designs on it.

New Zealand, like other nations, must stand firm against them.

The challenge facing a Todd Muller led National

On Monday 18 May 2020 a poll was released which sounded the death knell of Simon Bridges time at the helm of the National Party. It had National on an abysmal 30.6%, which would have given it only 37 seats in a House of 120 Members of Parliament. The same poll had Labour on a whopping 59%, which would have given it a majority not seen in Parliament since Mixed Member Proportional voting was established in New Zealand.

By the end of the week, Mr Bridges was gone. No one knows how comfortably the previously almost completely unknown Todd Michael Muller rolled Mr Bridges in the leadership vote, but the latter was gracious in defeat. Mr Muller was equally magnanimous in victory.

When he had his post-coup press conference, Mr Muller presented the most senior members of his new line up. Gone was Paula Bennett, who had been Deputy Leader. Shadow Treasurer Paul Goldsmith had kept hold of the Treasury, whilst the machiavellian Judith Collins is likely to hold a significant post such as Justice. Gerry Brownlee, Member for Ilam had

Mr Muller faces several challenges, and he has just under four months to address them.

Probably the most important is New Zealanders want their economy moving again, without a doubt, but they also want to know that National will pay due attention to environmental, housing, social welfare and crime. They want to know that the old “get rid of the R.M.A.” will not be core environmental policy; that housing will become affordable again for the average Jim and Jane; that the crime and the poverty often behind it will be addressed. The COVID19 pandemic might have been a black time for the New Zealand economy and there is no doubt that a lot of people have been hurt by it, but New Zealand has an unprecedented chance to shape the post-COVID economy in a way that will be beneficial for generations to come.

The second one is his team. There are Members of Parliament in National that have been around a long time, like David Carter, Gerry Brownlee, Nick Smith, in addition to a bunch of M.P.’s who were Ministers under former Prime Minister John Key and Bill English. They are showing their age now. Former National Party President Michelle Boag once suggested a term that has become synonomous with M.P.’s who are past their best, but not wanting to leave Parliament: dead wood and in this category, one could include Anne Tolley, Paula Bennett. With a team of 55 other Members of Parliament to work with, Mr Muller has significant options, such as Chris Bishop

The third is New Zealand. With an immensely popular Prime Minister in charge and – despite the likes of David Clark and Phil Twyford putting their incompetence on display – several competent Ministers such as Andrew Little (Education), Ron Mark (Defence), Grant Robertson (Treasurer), and James Shaw (Climate Change), only a monumental mistake is likely to prevent Jacinda Ardern from being a two-term Prime leader of New Zealand.

It is the early days of Mr Muller’s leadership of the National Party and no doubt he has ideas of his own about what New Zealand should look like. But before then he needs to establish himself as leader, make peace with or send to the back bench those that are not on board. That is a lot to do in four months.