Serious Fraud Office lays charges regarding New Zealand First Foundation


Yesterday it was announced by the Serious Fraud Office that they had charged two individuals in relation to ongoing concerns around New Zealand First Foundation.

It is possible that this will be the long awaited evidence that behind all of the smoke emanating from the N.Z.F.F. there really is a fire. For months claims have been circling of improper financial management by the party and/or the N.Z.F.F. I take you through the media version of events as they are alleged to have unfolded.

On 03 October 2019 former N.Z.F. Party President Lester Gray left his role. It came amid concerns about financial impropriety in the party.

In February 2020, two Radio New Zealand journalists, Guyon Espiner and Kate Newton, discovered that Talleys Fisheries had made a host of donations to politicians from New Zealand First, National and Labour. The donations themselves were not the problem, rather it was how they were handled – or not handled.

In March 2020 former N.Z.F. Member of Parliament Ross Meurant explored his time in the party and the influence of the deep sea fishing industry in an article for Sunday Star Times.

In July 2020 rumours of an impending Serious Fraud Office announcement were made. They followed revelations that Talleys organized two New Zealand First fundraisers and that New Zealand First M.P.’s Shane Jones, Clayton Mitchell and leader Winston Peters were there.

Perhaps though, the most telling concern was that it has emerged that Mr Peters is alleged to have tried to stop the announcement of charges against individuals. This lead reporter Luke Malpass to write about how the announcement of the charges, particularly in this light might be the torpedo that finally finishes off N.Z. First. Too many fishy allegations and donations to be ignored.

With a bit less than three weeks to go and voting starting in less than a week, New Zealand First is running out of time to plug the leaks. It would take a mighty effort to win back the critical 4-5% of the voting public that has not been with the party for sometime now. That does not mean it is impossible, but given N.Z. First exited Parliament in 2008 with similarly poor poll ratings, I struggle to see how it will come back from this.

Is New Zealand First about to be subject of Serious Fraud Office announcement?


Minister for Fisheries Stuart Nash has apologized to New Zealand First leader Winston Peters and New Zealand First Member of Parliament Shane Jones for comments made in a telephone call, which aired on television two nights ago. But as this apology goes to air, New Zealand First are facing the prospect of a potential Serious Fraud Office announcement, following revelations that Talleys Fisheries organized two New Zealand First fundraisers.

Perhaps this is related to another suspected fire onboard the good ship New Zealand First. For months there have been concerns about a New Zealand First Foundation, which Talleys has made donations totalling at least $27,000 to. The donations themselves, I should be clear now are not the problem. The problem is how they were handled – or not handled. If the N.Z.F.F. is not part of the party then the likely offences are corrupt or otherwise illegal practices. If the N.Z.F.F. IS a part of the Party then the Party Secretary could be accused of offences around the maintenance of records or failing to declare donations.

In March of this year, a former New Zealand First Member of Parliament and advisor Ross Meurant lifted the lid on his time in the party following an investigation into the N.Z.F.F. by Stuff in 2019.

Potentially serious stuff.

Irrespective of whether Mr Jones wanted to stop camera’s from being placed on fishing trawlers, there is a good case for them being there. Those of you who have followed this blog for awhile will know that I have been following the activities of trawlers around New Zealand, particularly after some serious incidents at the start of the 2010’s. New Zealand marine fisheries are viewed by some as a sort of wild west in terms of (un)lawful conduct, by other nations.

New Zealand’s human rights record, which I take more seriously, is also at risk if we do not make sure that fishing vessels are compliant with New Zealand law and be prepared to prosecute their owners then they are not. The Oyang case, the scampi and hoki allegations show that the actual corruption in the industry is as great as the potential corruption. That it involves Ministers of the Crown is something everyone should be paying attention to.

Why New Zealand and Pacific Islands need to stand against whaling


This is not about scientific research, irrespective of what you hear from the Japanese Government and the fishing crews. It is about what it has always been about: killing whales for commercial consumption as food.

Japan has an appalling record of whaling, alongside Iceland and Norway, which carry out similar activities in the northern Atlantic Ocean in equally hostile environments.

I want to see Japanese whalers barred from entering all ports in Pacific basin countries other than their own. New Zealand has always been one of the more admirable nations when criticizing Japan on the subject of whaling. But it is time to step up a notch and flatly deny them use of our ports.

The case for not slaughtering whales is compelling. Aside from being a highly unethical industry to be a part of, whales make substantial environmental contributions. A whale has significant natural ability to absorb carbon. A sperm whale for example could absorb a similar level of carbon to 694 acres of forest.

There is a second strong strand of reasoning for supporting the end of whaling. Whale watch tours contribute substantially to the local economy of many countries. In New Zealand the marine environment off the coast of the seaside town of Kaikoura is a natural home to whales. Here a deep canyon starts just a couple kilometres off the coast from South Bay on the south side of the Kaikoura Peninsula. It quickly plunges from the beach to 6,000+ feet below sea level in just a few kilometres. Because this is where the plankton and other food that they feed on is most concentrated it brings whales in close to the shore and it is not at all uncommon to see whales, orca, dolphins and seals.

Pacific Island nations can be helped to develop such tourism projects as well. Many of them have a wide range of whales and other sea life in transit passing through their waters. It would be a potentially significant source of income and help prop up economies that are going to suffer heavily as a result of climate change impacts on their physical environment.

Whilst Japan can be made to move out of the Antarctic fisheries, it is important to note that the closer one gets to Japanese whalers the more resistance they will put up. Indeed the whaling programme in Taji is the site of what environmentalists consider to be mass murder, as the sea turns a bloody shade of red from the mammals being slaughtered. Documenting this is a dangerous exercise as the whalers are extremely hostile to anyone who tries, with scuffles, blocking of all media and threats of prosecution to anyone watching. Not only that, but the Japanese police in Taji are considered to be sympathetic to the whalers.

It is important to raise this issue as a bloc of New Zealand + Pacific Island nations. We cannot rely on Australia to support this as long as the ruling Liberal-National coalition remains in office, but in order to stand up to super power interference, the island nations are too weak to stand on their own.

 

Backtracking on fishing boat camera’s is a cop out


Minister of Fisheries, Stuart Nash is having second thoughts about installing cameras on fishing boats following criticism from the industry. His change of heart comes after a letter accusing him of reacting to hysteria is made known to the public.

This is a cop out. The fisheries industry is simply scared that the many claims of bad practices, maltreatment of staff and non-compliance with regulations around reporting catches will be found out and that they will be made to clean their act up.

It is also disappointing that a party that traditionally supports human rights is back tracking on a measure that will help stamp out the illegal practices that are known to be going on. It will help put some credibility back into an industry whose reputation is going to be tarnished by this if the minister drops the surveillance camera programme.

New Zealand cannot afford to let its reputation as the “Wild West” of the high seas continue. It erodes the confidence that international and domestic customers can have that our fish are caught properly and in compliance with best environment, labour and regulatory practices.

We are a first world country, not a third world country. We have obligations under international and domestic law that need to be upheld and which other nations can subject New Zealand to scrutiny on. Each time the United Nations send a special rapporteur over or the periodic report show casing progress and answering criticisms is delivered to the U.N. Human Rights Committee, this is something that we can be potentially challenged on.

New Zealand needs to understand that people are starting to become aware of issues with supply chains and their role at the end of those chains as consumers. This is why for example there were concerns a few years ago about live sheep exports to Saudi Arabia, a country not known for having a strong animal rights record. The concerns that the sheep would die en route and that the carcasses would be a health hazard by the time they reached a Saudi port were credible.

The same awareness is becoming true of fisheries both inside and outside of New Zealand. It is exacerbated by the fact that our fisheries have boats operating in them crewed by non-New Zealanders. They have reported on numerous occasions mistreatment, non-compliance with records and other problems. The ships captains and executive officers have been known to be hostile towards third party observers being on board.

 

Keeping super power influence in check in South Pacific


Yesterday on the Q+A programme Minister of Foreign Affairs, Winston Peters raised the issue that Chinese influence in the South Pacific is going to be a significant concern of this Government’s foreign policy. The remarks, which come at the start of a week long tour of the South Pacific where Mr Peters and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. will meet Pacific leaders, come against a backdrop of growing Chinese influence in a year where Chinese President Xi Jinping appears intent on becoming a 21st Century emperor.

China has been expanding its interest in the South Pacific for years. It has turned a blind eye to the Frank Bainimarama regime of Fiji committing human rights abuses against Fijians. In return for such activities being ignored, South Pacific nations have permitted Chinese mining and forestry companies to set up businesses on their lands. One might ask what the problem with this is?

Simple. These island nations will not see the economic benefits. They might be employed to work on building the roads, but there is unlikely to be any sharing of the royalties taken from the business. It also remains to be seen how much tax if any that the Chinese companies will be made to pay to their Governments so they can provide basic services for their people.

It is not to say that Western companies are any better. The Ok Tedi mine where tonnes of pure copper sulphate solution was allowed to pour straight into the local river, completely destroying the ecosystem is one example of a mine project gone bad in Papua New Guinea. The company responsible was B.H.P. Billiton. Whilst litigation of the case happened and resulted in a $29 million pay out in the 1990’s the environmental, economic and social costs of the damage will take an estimated 300 years to fix.

These countries have very weak legal systems, and endemic corruption at all levels. Because of this, several South Pacific Island nations are potentially at risk of becoming failed states with governance that simply does not work properly any more. The corruption means that there is a risk that organized crime or militants linked to terrorist groups might use these nations as a back door into Australia and New Zealand.

All nations are quite vulnerable to climate change and the outlying parts of Kiribati, Tuvalu, Niue are at risk of becoming uninhabitable in the next 50 years. Over fishing and deforestation are also likely to impact on their economies.

This is where New Zealand and Australia become very important players. As the regional powers with the means to influence the United States and China, both nations have an obligation to look after their smaller Pacific Island neighbours and act as role models in terms of how their governance should be in an ideal world. Right now neither nation is doing a particularly good job of this – following the Papua New Guinea earthquake last week, Australia has so far only just begun to move relief supplies in; New Zealand to the best of my knowledge has not yet done anything at all.

Mr Peters will also be well aware of the growing influence of the United States on Australia. Mr Trump, who is unlikely to be received by South Pacific island leaders strongly denies climate change, which many cite as a key problem for them. Instead, Mr Trump seems more in the sphere of influence that Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull promotes. Mr Turnbull’s Government has shown open skepticism of climate change, and both view China as a common problem. In “making America great again” by promoting policies that put America first Mr Trump seems to be putting America on a collision course with China.

Thus far the South Pacific island nations have not featured strongly on Mr Trump’s agenda. How long that is the case remains to be seen. Should Mr Trump become fixated on these little nations, the other question is context.