New Zealand ignoring other security threats


There was once a time when navigating national security was a straight forward issue for New Zealand and indeed much of the world. The threats were distant and being monitored by our allies. But slowly but surely what started out as a nice back yard in which New Zealanders thought they could have a beer, has turned into a crocodile pit. Last year one of the inhabitants of the crocodile pit had a go at New Zealand. We hastily removed it, checked the foliage around the edge and then went back to our seat.

For the last several months, for obvious reasons New Zealand as a nation has been fighting COVID19. It caused us to shut down for a month and then spend another 3 weeks on Level 3. We did it and with the exception of the last month, where a bit of a COVID surge has occurred, completely stopped it. But in that time have we been paying enough attention to other national security threats?

We were right to be more concerned about our internal well being. No one really understood COVID19 when it first became a problem and its ability to spread around the world caught many nations dozing at the wheel. The global pandemic has infected 15 million around the world, of which nearly 4 million are in the United States. Of the 3.97 million Americans who have or have had COVID19, nearly 145,000 have died, which is more than all Americans killed in World War 1 or getting close to the size of Hamilton.

With our borders shut, some might argue that other security threats were no longer a problem since no one could get in or get out. Planning a terrorist attack unless the attackers had all of their resources ready to go, was out of the question and any suspect transport activity would have been much more easily spotted by the Police, and other than a supermarket, what would they attack anyway?

Daesh was really a consequence of failed western geopolitics. New Zealand for the most part rightfully stayed out of that conflict, which had nothing to do with us and would only expose New Zealanders to unnecessary danger from one of the most backward entities in the world. New Zealanders understood this.

Then we had 15 March 2019. An Australian-borne New Zealander shot up two mosques in Christchurch, killing 51 people during afternoon prayers. New Zealanders were revolted. The Prime Minister acted decisively, introducing legislation within ten days to restrict the potential for firearms similar to the one used to indiscriminately murder New Zealanders in the future. But against this backdrop of a rapid Government response, toxic right wing conspiracy nuts tried to derail the legislation. Mixed among them were activists who believed that the gun man was doing New Zealand a favour by killing so many Muslims.

He was not. He was trying to incite violence and division.

Not surprisingly the Police response to the attack was massive, and received widespread international applause. Armed Police stood guard at the mosques and at places such as Christchurch’s justice precinct for weeks following the attacks to reassure New Zealanders. This is not to say we should put armed Police back on the streets again just to reassure the public that New Zealand is safe. Considering the recent revelations that Maori and Pacific Island communities feel unsafe when armed Police are around, perhaps the most immediate thing we can do is take steps to disarm that fear and thus disarm the distrust that fear can stoke.

New Zealand Police really need to invite the leaders of all of our ethnic minorities to a hui. At that hui they need to go through all of the individual minorities one on one and then as a group to find out their specific concerns. They need to identify common themes coming out, such as among the Maori and Pacific Island communities, the fear of armed Police; among Islamic and other religious communities the fear that 15 March 2019 might not be the last. These people are as much New Zealanders as you and I. Let us make them feel valued and welcomed and not feel like social pariahs.

Internationally we need to look at how much we want to do with a United States Government that openly demonizes Muslims and other religious communities. We need to look at whether our Defence Force should be deployed in war zones that started because of some foreign power or another having a geopolitical agenda. New Zealand needs to also have a critical look at whether we make a big enough effort to help our small Pasifika neighbours, some of whom have barely functional governments.

COVID19 might have been the dominating thing on our domestic radar, and in many respects still is, but that should not we stop paying attention to potential threats overseas or domestically. They are still there lurking like ambush predators, awaiting a suitable moment, and we need to be ready.

A volcanic wake up call for New Zealand


In January 1991 I visited White Island volcano in the Bay of Plenty with my parents. It was an awesome yet surreal place, completely hostile to everything except a colony of birds living on its flanks and broken scrub in which they had made their homes. It helped to fuel a long standing interest in volcanoes and a desire to work on them. But nearly 29 years later in an eruption in broad daylight it has shown New Zealand and the world why volcanoes command respect.

The eruption at 1411 hours New Zealand time 09 December 2019 was tiny by global standards. It only lasted a few minutes, but in that time it has killed one person, injured 23 and left another 27 unaccounted for.

So, how did one small eruption that would probably have been forgotten by many by the end of the year except for the fact that it was lethal, manage to cause such grief? And how can this be prevented from happening again?

White Island is a volcano with a crater lake covering the main vent. Between the water and the magma below there is a layer of sediment that changes in chemical composition to almost crystallize and bound the debris covering the vent together. If the magma is at depth then fumarole activity will be lesser because the sealed vent provides less routes for the vapours to escape. As it rises the fumarole activity increases. Directly above the magma a mass of volcanic vapours rises towards the surface and as it pushes its way through the fluid saturated debris steam pressure builds. When the overhead mixture can no longer sustain the pressure it explodes.

Unfortunately eruptions through lakes tend to happen with quite short notice – only a few minutes in some cases, though the warning signs might be overt: seismic activity, a disturbance in the crater lake and increased venting. In the case of White Island where the boat/helicopter is some several hundred metres from the vent, even if they ran back, they might not make it before the explosion.

The explosion in a confined space can be devastating. A cloud of superheated rocks, mud and steam will expand at several hundred metres per second in all directions. If conditions permit a ground surge of falling debris will move across the crater floor and immediate surrounds at possibly over 100km/h. Whilst there are instances of people surviving such conditions, their injuries are likely to be acute. Based on the available footage of yesterday, that is what appears to have happened.

White Island, like New Zealand’s other volcanoes is monitored 24 hours a day 7 days a week by GeoNet, which has a network of seismometers, camera’s and other instruments in place. They provide real time seismic, photographic and other coverage of the volcanoes. Yesterday, just before the eruption, the GeoNet camera on White Island’s flank took an image that showed people on the crater floor perhaps 50-100 metres from the crater rim. The seismometer showed elevated activity that had been continuing for about three weeks was still happening. Last week a GeoNet statement said that it had entered a phase where an eruption should be considered possible.

Duty volcanologist for Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences (G.N.S.), which operate GeoNet, Brad Scott, has said that it is up to individual tour groups whether or not they operate from one day to the next. They operate through various alert levels. Hard hats, fully enclosed shoes and breathing masks are compulsory.

Over the next few days as the authorities piece together what happened, New Zealand will learn the story of how White Island caught authorities, tourist operators and locals alike off guard. But for now we focus on the survivors, those that are missing and those that were injured.

 

Addressing crime in New Zealand


My previous article explored some of the reasons for crime happening in New Zealand. This article explores how to address it.

The idea of what constitutes justice in New Zealand is one that has been controversial since the country was founded. Equally controversial is how sentencing regime under which judges hand down sentences is administered. The question of whether to jail or not is hotly debated as New Zealand often looks to the United States or overseas for ideas instead of coming up with our own.

But jail is just one tool that can be used in New Zealand, and nor is it – as we shall see below – necessarily the best sentence for many convicts. Jailing is expensive and resource consuming. Some prisoners for the first time in their lives might be experiencing order – a clean bed, shower, regular meals and supervision. It is indeed sad and quite wrong that a place of state imposed punishment somehow becomes the preferred accommodation of prisoners. And we as a nation have to look at how it came to be that.

But jail is at risk of being the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff, when solutions are needed to stop people falling down that cliff.

In thinking of how we might address our jail population, I envisage only those who pose a direct and immediate threat to society being imprisoned. I am thinking of Malcolm Rewa, Steven Williams. For offences such as drunk driving an overhaul of how the demerit point system works to enable “residual points” that accumulate if more than one such offence is committed might be better, with harsher sentencing such as jail being restricted to those offences that kill, injure or damage property. When those residual points reach a national limit, that person has to permanently surrender their driver licence.

In many instances it is not the jails or the police that are at fault. Rather it is the courts, whose interpretation of the law, has become archaic. The police are the ones who look for the offender, bring them to trial and collect the evidence. The courts are where the trial is held and the accused is found not/guilty, as well as sentenced. It is this last part of the courts role and responsibilities where the New Zealand justice system fails the public on the issue of sentencing. Judges fail to jail that small percentage of criminals who are simply too dangerous to stay in society, and many of the ones that are there in their place, might not be best suited to jail.

In the first instance, I would be happy if there were considerably expanded community programmes where prisoners are put to work in the community. Some will call it abuse of labour, but when prisoners are released from prison they will be expected to somehow live outside of the institution that released them. That means finding somewhere to live; finding a job with an income that can sustain them in terms of the basic necessities, such as food, clothing, any medical assistance, power, rent and transport. In preparation for life on the outside would it not be best to have them in some sort of prison based preparatory programme?

Many prisoners are quite skilled. They might have been in another time before they derailed builders, farmers, tradespeople and maybe forestry workers. New Zealand is screaming for more trades people and labourers. The safer ones who are not going to behave like Mr Williams, the man who murdered Coral Burrowes, and try to harm their fellow inmates, might appreciate that someone thinks enough of them to provide them an opportunity for redemption. Prison might be their night-time lock up, but during the day, they could be helping the communities that they damaged.

A second idea would be to look at Finland, where authorities have adopted a quite radical approach to jail. Not being able to envisage this myself, I do have questions such as how well would such ideas work here? Would the New Zealand public accept such a radical change in philosophy, and how well conditioned for post-jail life would it leave the prisoners?

A third idea would be to either legalize or decriminalize cannabis. I have not seriously discussed the legalization or decriminalization of cannabis here, but it needs to be made clear now that there is a difference between the two:

  1. Decriminalization in this instance is the removal or loosening of criminal penalties for possessing small amounts of cannabis – it has the effect of telling the authorities to look the other way
  2. Legalization is the removal of laws that criminalize the possession and/or personal use of cannabis; the authorities treat it is as a substance that can be regulated and taxed

Both have their merits and both have their downsides. The legalization of cannabis might be the best move, but it would involve substantial preparation – the criminal laws, the medical framework for treating such addictions and their social, medical, legal and economic consequences would all need to be revisited. The judicial, court and police systems would need to be reoriented. Before that, it is possible we may see a move to decriminalize cannabis.

 

Asian “El Chapo” drug syndicate on the rise in New Zealand


Meet Tse Chi Lop. The Chinese Canadian man is known as an Asian El Chapo. He is a billionaire who has done exceptionally well out of the drug trade in ketamine, methamphetamine and other Class A drugs. Tse Chi Lop is the boss of a giant criminal network called Sam Gor. It operates in a dozen countries. The drugs, which mules have taken much risk to ship into countries as diverse as New Zealand, Canada, Taiwan, Japan and Myanmar have given fleeting albeit distinct looks into the life of a drug baron considered to be the most wanted man in Asia.

One such mule is Cai Jeng Ze, who was caught at Yangon Airport by Myanmar authorities, his cellphone yielded a plethora of data – it showed what happened to people who did not comply with the syndicate; all the normal data such as contacts, names and social media messages describing activities.

When New Zealand Police intercepted a shipment of methamphetamine earlier this year, it was probably not loss to Tse Chi Lop whose empire would simply ship another consignment over. 1,500 kilogrammes of methamphetamine was intercepted by New Zealand authorities in the first part of 2019, which is just part of a flood of crystal methamphetamine arriving.

How New Zealand is going to manage this burgeoning flood I am not sure. Certainly our customs and police need a long term budget increase to do the kind of work that will be necessary to help their international colleagues to locate Tse Chi Lop and bring him to justice. But of significant concern is that the United Nations representative on the U.N. Agency for Drugs and Crime suggested that the war on drugs paradigm is going to have to change significantly as this is too big to be out policed.

But will political parties come on board with the need to change the paradigm towards what the United Nations representative is suggesting? I am not sure that National and A.C.T. would.

The Hikurangi Trench: New Zealand’s biggest tsunami hazard


Last night on the Seven Sharp programme, the hosts had a flat of young people in Napier City conduct and earthquake and tsunami evacuation drill. The earthquake, a fictional magnitude 8.9 on the Hikurangi Trench has triggered a tsunami and the occupants have 20 minutes to reach ground, with 60 seconds to get what they need and get out of the house. The objective immediately post earthquake was to get to Hospital Hill in a set period of time before a tsunami arrived.

The participants in the Seven Sharp drill did not quite make it. 2 young ladies and a young man had 60 seconds to decide what to take and get out of the house. They had to reach Hospital Hill about 2 kilometres away in the estimated 20 minutes they would have. They were out the door in a minute and were pretty sensible about what they took with them – something to stay warm, water and so forth and they had to carry it. Speed was of the essence, and at times despite the foot wear they were wearing, the ladies were running where they could.

One day there will be a substantial earthquake on the Hikurangi subduction zone. It will be anywhere between magnitude 8.5 and 8.9. It will last between 4-5 minutes and be felt the length and breadth of New Zealand. The above drill was aimed at Hawkes Bay, which will feel the full effect of the earthquake and be one of the first places to be hit by the tsunami – Gisborne and Wairarapa being next.

The biggest problem will not necessarily be the earthquake, although that will in itself be a massive event. Rather it is the tsunami risk that should cause people the most concern. From the subduction zone boundary to coastal Hawkes Bay is 110 kilometres. In the travel time of a tsunami that is about 20 minutes, possibly less.

One should not rely on the authorities to issue a warning in time. The warning system might well have been damaged in the earthquake. The people manning it might have injuries or other more immediate concerns such as making sure their headquarters is safe to occupy and getting the Emergency Operations Centre established in accordance with the Civil Defence and Emergency Management Act, 2002. During that time a tsunami heading for nearby coast lines would have a significant head start.

In a real event though, things will be about 10x tougher. We will assume that it is indeed at night time. When the shaking stops different people will react differently to the situation. A lot will be in shock and not thinking coherently. Before one can leave the house or building they are in to go inland they need to be able to safely clear a route and make sure all of their fellow occupants are safe. 1 minute would easily pass in that time – 4-5 minutes to get out might be more realistic. The power will most certainly be out in large parts of the city if not across the region so there will not be any working street lights, traffic lights or other lighting to guide them. There will be constant aftershocks and some might be substantial events in themselves. In a city built on marine sediments, liquefaction will have flooded many roads, which will also be cracked. Downed power lines, foot paths blocked with debris from buildings and trees pointing in crazy directions will also hinder progress. And if all that is not enough, there will most certainly be people who are – semi-understandably – panicking even though that is the worst thing one can do and trying to drive out despite the obstacles and potentially blocking others.

The tsunami will behave differently depending on several physical factors. For example the sea floor topography will help to determine the size and shape of the waves as they approach. Will they slow down gradually as they run up a fairly open and gently grading beach, where the classic waves that most associate with tsunami’s will form? Will they be coming up a narrowing bay that forces the waves to converge and become closely packed with short distances between them?

So, there you have it. Could those of you in a tsunami inundation zone find your way to high ground following a big earthquake?