Archive for the ‘New Zealand’ Category

NZ still has lowest gender pay gap in OECD

August 4th, 2015 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar


This was tweeted by Conrad Hackett of Pew Research.

I’d previously blogged a similar graph with 2012 data, but this includes 2013 data.

Now only do we have the lowest pay gap in the OECD, but it is massively smaller than countries such as Australia, UK, US and Canada.

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Maori Council and Donna Hall

August 4th, 2015 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Lawyer Donna Hall’s Lower Hutt-based firm Woodward Law has been dismissed by the Maori Council from handling its Trans-Pacific Partnership claim.

The executive of the Maori Council met on July 28 and resolved to dismiss Hall’s law firm from acting on one of its claims 

Wellington lawyer Hall is the wife of council co-chairman Sir Eddie Durie, a former High Court judge and Waitangi Tribunal chairman.

In most organisations the wife of an officer would be ineligible to act as a lawyer for the organisation. A clear conflict of interest.

An email from the council’s co-chairman Maanu Paul to Hall last Friday states that Woodward Law, of which Hall is the principal, was fired by the council’s executive committee last week from working on its TPP claim.

Hall is denying all allegations, saying the meeting had “no formal standing”, as the executive committee was “acting as a caretaker only” pending council elections.

In other words she is ignoring it.

The Maori Council is working on a claim to the Waitangi Tribunal, saying an urgent inquiry is needed into the TPP trade agreement because it could jeopardise Treaty rights.

According to Maori Council minutes from July 28, disclosed to Fairfax Media, Woodward Law is alleged to have filed the claims on behalf of the council, but without its knowledge.

So the claim is not from the Maori Council. It was made without their knowledge. So who is funding the claim? I suspect taxpayers ultimately are.

This move had to be approved retrospectively and was done under the proviso that another lawyer, Kathy Ertel, also worked on the claim.

But on July 24, Woodward Law circulated a note saying one of its own lawyers, Peter Andrews, would work on the TPP claim.

The minutes suggest Ertel was never approached by Woodward Law to work on the claim, in what is described as representing a “clear breach of the directives given to Woodward Law”.

It was resolved to dismiss Woodward Law from the TPP claim and hand it to Ertel.

It was also resolved that, if there was evidence Woodward Law was “undermining the mana” of the council, a complaint would be made to the New Zealand Law Society.

In a statement, Hall said: “The ‘minute’ … contains serious defamatory allegations. They are denied. Many of the allegations are easily shown to be false from contemporaneous documentation.”

If they are true, it suggests that the Maori Council is subservient to Donna Hall’s law firm, rather than the other way around.

The minutes also suggest there was also a potential conflict of interest when Durie, as Hall’s husband, got Woodward Law to file an application in the High Court in 2014 to give him a second term as Maori Trustee on the Crown Forestry Rental Trust board.

This was made without the knowledge of Paul or the executive committee, the minutes allege.

“In other words [Durie] instructed his wife to file an application to put himself back on the CFRT Board without bringing the matter to the executive. Had he done so, and resiled from voting, the conflict could have been dealt with appropriately.”

What is shocking here is that Durie is a fomer judge, and should know better.

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Tiwai stays open

August 4th, 2015 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

lectricity company share prices rose on news that the Tiwai Point aluminium smelter will remain open and run at full capacity at least until the end of 2017, even though Meridian Energy remains the sole supplier after other power companies proved unwilling to make much more than token gestures to supply the smelter.

Meridian shares led the charge, rising 6.4 per cent to $2.395 on the NZX, with Contact Energy up 3 per cent to $5.10, Genesis Energy up 3.5 per cent at $1.77, MightyRiverPower up 3.3 per cent to $2.85 and Infratil-controlled TrustPower up 2.2 per cent to $8.

Meridian’s chief executive Mark Binns told BusinessDesk a new price for about 30 per cent of the aluminium smelter’s electricity is “a hell of a lot better than the old price” it was receiving under the contract renegotiated in 2013, although it remains below market rates.

Good to see a commercial deal done, without any subsidy or intervention by the Government.


Prince Charles being made a New Zealand Field Marshall!

August 4th, 2015 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Prince Charles is to be given three military titles when he visits New Zealand in November.

The Queen has given her approval for the Prince of Wales to be made Admiral of the fleet of the Royal New Zealand Navy, a Field Marshal for the army and Marshal of the Royal New Zealand Air Force. 

These are what you call the equivalent of a five star general. It’s the rank Kin Jong-un gives to himself!

We have never had a non-honorary appointment at this rank.  Prince Philip also holds these ranks.

Outside of war we never appoint anyone to four star rank of General, Admiral, Air Chief Marshall, and I think even in war we never have.

The Chief of Defence Force is given three star rank as a Lieutenant General, Vice Admiral or Air Marshall.

The Vice CDF, Commander of Joint Forces and section heads gets two star ranks – Major General, Rear Admiral and Air Vice Marshall.




The Kia competition

August 3rd, 2015 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

A reader writes:

Not sure if you saw Fair Go last night, but Kia had a competition that required people to go into central Auckland for 22 days in a row to take a selfie with a car to win it. At the end of that 22 day period, only 2 contestants were left. They then had them do a race from Auckland Airport to North Harbour Stadium on the day of the U20 Soccer World Cup final. They set an impossible time limit of 60 minutes (under the best possible conditions (No U20 world cup traffic and no rain!) and no other tasks for them to do in between, it took Kia 55 minutes during a test run). The fastest racer got there in 67 minutes (with the other racer arriving about 10 seconds later), and Kia refused to give either of them the car. Then Kia put out an unapologetic press release on Facebook right before the Fair Go story aired.

I find it absolutely fascinating that a major companies PR department could possibly think that this (no one winning the car because they “timed out” during the race) would be an acceptable option, not least the preferred option, especially with memories of the Americas Cup “Time-out” situation in the race that would have won NZ the cup (and was my final straw in seeing the Americas Cup as any kind of valid sporting competition). It’s not like Kia has that much goodwill in their brand to begin with (given that they are generally the low-cost option). It’s not a car that someone is usually that excited to get.

I’d love to hear further details about how the PR company could have misread the culture so badly if you or people you know have any further inside details.

It does sound like a huge PR fail. We’ll have a competition where it is impossible to win the prize. What do you all think?


A decent sentence

August 2nd, 2015 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Three generations of women in a Gisborne family turned on a 12-year-old relative who claimed she had been sexually assaulted by her uncle, in a case that a judge said “made a mockery of notions of whanau”.

The case involved a mother and daughter forcing the girl to retract claims that her uncle had indecently assaulted her, after a jury had found him guilty.

The women, aged 48 and 29, and both closely related to the offender, have been jailed for three years for attempting to pervert the course of justice. They cannot be named, to protect the girl.

Three years is a decent sentence. It is in fact longer than the sentence of the original offender, whose conviction they were trying to overturn.

In mid-2013, while the offender was in custody pending sentencing, the two women made repeated visits to the girl’s home, where they would take her aside from her parents and tell her “what her responsibilities were”, the judge said.

They marched the girl to Gisborne District Court where, in front of a registrar, she signed a sworn retraction of her allegations. 

Judge Adeane said the language used in the retraction was certainly not the girl’s and, when she was spoken to privately by an independent lawyer, she reaffirmed her allegations against her uncle.

Throughout this time, the women were regularly phoning the offender in prison. The judge said these calls, which were intercepted, displayed the “energy and urgency” the women were putting in to persuade the girl to retract her allegations.

The women told the man they would assault the girl after the affidavit had been signed, and would get her to sign it “even if we have to kill the little beggar”.


Another relative, concerned at the pair’s actions, contacted police.

Well done that person.

The uncle was sentenced to two years and three months’ jail in July 2013, after a jury found him guilty of indecently assaulting the girl when she was aged 10-11. He was sentenced to a further year in jail for his part in attempting to pervert the course of justice.



You don’t want to catch the flu in hospital

August 1st, 2015 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Three Waikato Hospital nurses have been suspended for defying a controversial new policy forcing non-vaccinated workers to either get flu jabs or wear face masks.

Waikato District Health Board has defended its stance, saying any staff member who refused to comply could face the sack.

Last month, the board became the first in the country to make it compulsory for unvaccinated staff to wear masks, to protect employees and patients from the flu.

I think this is fair enough. Patients in hospital are vulnerable to sickness, and catching the flu from a nurse could literally kill you.

Nurses still have the choice – get vaccinated, or wear a mask.

“When considering that our employee numbers are in excess of 6,500, the reality is that almost all staff are getting on with doing their duties and they recognise that the intent of the policy is to provide a safer clinical environment for our patients and fellow employees,” the spokesman said.

But the Nurses Organisation sees the measure as a “punitive action” against staff, some of whom have turned to the union for support.

The DHB is putting the rights of patients not to catch the flu in hospital ahead of the rights of staff to give them the flu.


Surgery not the answer for obese teenagers

August 1st, 2015 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

More weight-loss surgery is needed to help the growing population of obese teenagers, a Christchurch surgeon says.

Dr Richard Flint said gastric band surgery, which radically reduces the size of the stomach, was the best available option for weight loss but remained largely unavailable.

District health boards (DHBs) lacked space, paediatricians, dieticians and funding but misguided prejudice also played a role, he said.

Obesity was a significant and growing problem among New Zealand’s youth with 21 per cent of 15-24 year olds obese, according to the latest available Ministry of Health national health survey.

“I think, if there was a programme up and running, you could probably operate for as many hours as the day would give you to be honest,” Flint said.

I think gastric band surgery is a very sensible option for some adults, when other measures have failed.

But I think for teenagers, it is inadvisable. It should be the last resort, not the first resort.


ACT wants world cup matches easy to view

August 1st, 2015 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

David Seymour has announced:

ACT Leader David Seymour intends to introduce a Bill to let people watch the 2015 Rugby World Cup in bars and function rooms.

“For such an important one-off event as a Rugby World Cup on the other side of the world, outside our time zone, I think sports enthusiasts should be able to celebrate the occasion in the same way they would if these matches were within normal New Zealand hours,” said Mr Seymour.

“I know many Kiwis overseas who watched the last World Cup from the UK, in pubs that were able to open and screen live matches. In England they changed their licensing laws to accommodate viewing the English matches during the 2014 FIFA World Cup held in Brazil.

“Current licensing arrangements are too inflexible to allow for this special occasion. Bars seeking special licenses are having to jump through all sorts of ridiculous nanny-state hoops. Police have indicated to licensees that they will oppose applications unless the licensees agree to conditions like ticket-only sales, fancy dress, live music, quizzes, guest speakers or themed food.

Totally support this. requiring every bar in NZ to get a special liquor license just so they can screen Rugby World Cup games after their normal closing time is silly.

“On the first sitting day after recess (11th August) I intend to seek leave to table a short Bill allowing bars and function rooms to open for the broadcast of any Rugby World Cup matches.

“I will seek advice from the police on how best this should be monitored.

“I have asked the Clerk’s office to assist in drafting a short Bill which will accomplish this.

“If my motion to table a Bill is accepted by the House, I will ask the Prime Minister to advance this as a government Bill, so that the Bill doesn’t languish ineffectively at the bottom of the order paper until the World Cup is over.

Hopefully no MP will oppose such a sensible bill.

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Did the system fail or did Robertson fail?

July 31st, 2015 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

There’s an article at the NZ Herald on the killing of Blessie Gotingco by Tony Robertson. It asks and answers 10 questions on the case and concludes that the system didn’t fail.

Many killings are preventable. A wrong parole decision, a lack of supervision by Corrections etc. But in this vase the sad reality might be that Robertson was always going to do something like this.

Some of the 10 points the article makes are:

  1. Robertson was not given parole and served every day of his sentence
  2. He didn’t get preventive detention at 19 because he didn’t have a long enough history of sexual offending, and the Court of Appeal had overturned a preventive detention sentence in a similar case
  3. He was constantly monitored by GPS. Once he was telephoned within two minutes of going somewhere he shouldn’t, and arrested within 45 minutes of not responding
  4. An extended supervision order had been granted to take effect when his six months of release conditions expired
  5. Probation Service checked up on him 38 times in five months – much more than average

The only good news is that it is likely he now will get preventive detention.

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$1.2 million for a basic Council website is too much

July 31st, 2015 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

The Christchurch City Council has spent $1.2 million upgrading its “outdated” website.

The revamp included new software, new content and staff training and took three and a half months. The site was last overhauled in 2009 and that version ran on systems that would not be supported past this month.

The $1.2m spend came out of the council’s IT capital budget for this financial year.

The director of a Christchurch web development company said the total cost was a surprise.

“That takes my breath away. You vaguely hear of those sorts of number getting thrown around. I’m struggling to get my head around where that cost would come from.”

The director, who asked to remain anonymous as his company did web development work for the council, said parts of the design, such as the user elements for rates and dog registration, were quite technical, making precise cost estimates difficult.

“[But] we’d have happily done the job for half that and probably, I believe, still arrived at the same result.”

$1.2 million is a huge figure. If they had designed a website where you could interact online with the Council in every area, that sort of price might be justified, but it is primarily just a static website.

As an example I went to their services section to see what could I do online. Under burials, there is no online form to book one in. You download a pdf, print it out, then have to scan it back in and e-mail it to them.

Other services which you can’t do online are:

  • Dog registration
  • Tenancy application
  • Report to noise control

Incredible that they spend $1.2 million and can’t even convert some pdf forms into online forms.


Alfred Vincent

July 30th, 2015 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

New Zealand’s longest serving inmate has spent more time behind bars than infamous Nazi Rudolf Hess.

Now 77-year-old Alfred Vincent’s case is heading to the United Nations amid claims he has been wrongly jailed for 40 of the past 47 years.

Auckland-based human rights lawyer Tony Ellis wrote to Vincent last week with news he planned to lodge his case to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention by September.

He said Vincent had spent a disproportionally long stretch behind bars in Canterbury prisons for seven convictions in September 1968 of indecent assault on five boys aged 12 to 14 – offending that carried a maximum jail sentence of seven years. 

At the time, he was sentenced to preventive detention because of six previous convictions for indecencies with boys, which saw him jailed for several years in the mid-1960s.

Well he wasn’t sentenced to seven years. He was sentenced to preventive detention. That’s basically a life sentence.

And note that he has been convicted 13 times of sexual assault on young boys. That to me seems to indicate that preventive detention was the appropriate sentence – there was little indication he would stop if not locked up.

“I think it is appalling in a civil society such as ours that you can lock someone up for 47 years when the finite sentence was for seven years. If you do a double murder, you don’t stay in for half that long. It’s absurd,” Ellis said.

I think it is appalling he molested 13 boys before the community was made safe from him.

A psychologist planned to reassess Vincent this monthfor Ellis’ case, and an Auckland University law student was helping Ellis to wade through about 2000 pages that the Department of Corrections had released on Vincent.

Vincent was due to appear in front of the Parole Board in late August, three years after his last appearance, when the board imposed a three-year postponement order.

“I do want to be released from prison,” he said in his parole assessment report in 2012.

“I don’t have sexual thoughts any more. I get locked up at 7pm every night, I keep to myself and I stay in my cell.”

If he is no longer a threat, he should be released. That is how preventive detention works. But I presume there is a reason the Parole Board have not granted him parole. The fact they have scheduled him to appear only every three years indicates he was not seen as a close call.

In 2012, Fairfax contacted all four of his surviving victims from the 1968 preventive detention charges. Three supported his release.

They’re unlikely to now be his targets.

But as I said if he is truly no longer a risk to the community he should of course be released. But the Parole Board needs to judge that off more that his own assertion that he is safe.

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Mercy backfired

July 29th, 2015 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

When Tony Robertson was found guilty of abducting and molesting a 5-year-old girl a decade ago, a judge could have locked him up indefinitely.

If he had received preventive detention then, it’s likely Auckland mum Blessie Gotingco would still be alive now.

But 10 years ago, the sentencing judge opted to show mercy towards the then-teenage Robertson standing in the dock before him – in the hope he would turn his life around while behind bars and emerge a reformed man.

But it didn’t happen.

And Blessie died.

In prison, Robertson completed no courses of treatment.

He was repeatedly denied parole because of his lack of reform.

He continued to deny responsibility for his attack on the 5-year-old girl. It was all a police frame up, he insisted.

Just as he now denies raping and murdering Blessie Gotingco – her death was an accident, and evidence of rape was planted by police, he said.

At least this crime will have a life sentence, and his denial of responsibility should mean he never gets out.

Robertson’s offending began at age 16, in 2003, and included convictions for assault, aggravated robbery, possession of an offensive weapon, wilful damage, threatening to kill, burglary and receiving.

Then came the Tauranga kidnapping, when he was 18, in 2005.

The offending took place over two days, the worst of which was on December 15.

On December 14, he attempted to lure two children into his car with promises of Christmas presents, saying he knew their mothers and would take them home, court records of the case show.

And when he was caught:

And when questioned over testimony from the other children he tried to entice, who had identified him, he said: “Maybe I’ve got a twin brother that drives the same car as mine.”

Not exactly remorseful was he.

Having been found guilty, he was shown leniency by the sentencing judge.

“You are not simply to be assumed a lost cause at the age of 19,” Justice Patrick Keane told him at that time.

The judge opted not to sentence Robertson to preventive detention – which could have kept him locked up for the rest of his life.

Crown prosecutor Simon Bridges (before he became an MP) had pushed for the tougher sentence, arguing further that if preventive detention were not meted out the sentence should be at least 12 years.

But Justice Keane said that though it was possible the kidnapping and abduction was the start of what could become a pattern, Robertson had a history of violent, rather than sexual, offending.

Sadly the Judge got it wrong. I can see why at 19 he was reluctant to  give him preventive detention, but let us hope he gets it now.

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So Kiwis prefer Australian anthem to our own?

July 29th, 2015 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Labour leader Andrew Little has described the national anthem as a “dirge” and said many New Zealanders preferred to sing along to the Australian anthem than our own.

Mr Little made the comment during debate in Parliament on the Flag Referendums Bill, a bill Labour is opposing despite Mr Little’s own desire for a new flag and Labour’s 2014 policy to start the process to secure that change.

Mr Little said while thousands of New Zealanders wanted a change of flag, they did not believe it was the right time.

“This is not a poor reflection on New Zealanders, many of whom would like something different. Many of them want a change to the national anthem too, because they are sick of singing a dirge every time you turn up to a festive occasion. Most of them sing along to the Australian national anthem before they sing along to our own.”

I don’t know any Kiwis who do this. Genuinely interested if you do.

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Dickinson on global impact visas

July 28th, 2015 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

Michelle Dickinson writes:

“One hundred inspired New Zealand entrepreneurs can turn this country around.”  Sir Paul Callaghan

I was there specifically to hear his announcement on something I’m passionate about and have recently had a small involvement in called Global Impact Visas (GIVs).

Today the government officially announced it would be considering them.

John Keys official speech said that the government “will consider a new global impact visa targeted at young, highly-talented and successful technology entrepreneurs and start-up teams, who want to be based in New Zealand, employ talented Kiwis and reach across the globe.”  The bigger question is what should these visas look like in order to shape a global export focussed New Zealand?

Remembering that GIVs do not yet have a formal policy framework, I think its an exciting time to be in as we can create something with a unique design for a fast changing economy.

From think tank conversations I’ve been involved in, the purpose of the visa seems to be to give a limited number of high impact entrepreneurs and investors the ability to establish or be involved in new ventures each year by moving to New Zealand.  My arguments with this visa design is that it must be flexible around the concept of how success is measured, which can not just be financial success if we are to attract entrepreneurs with global impact potential.

So why might we want this flexibility?

As I spend time on the West Coast of the US, some of my entrepreneur friends who live in Silicon Valley and LA find themselves stuck because they dropped out of university (or never even started) in order to pursue their tech creating dream.  This is great until you see the points system that our immigration systems rate you on which focus points on how much work experience you have, how many tertiary degrees you have and how much money you have, which scores unfavourably for many incredible young tech entrepreneurs.  We only have to look at our current non degree holding home grown stars, Sam Morgan, Peter Beck and Sir Peter Jackson to see that our current scoring system can let incredible people fall through the cracks.

The GIVs offer a way to rank potential candidates on merit which can include their local and global impact potential.  How this is measured however is still very much being debated, but I think it needs to ensure that those who do not qualify under our existing visa schemes but have potential for impacting New Zealand enterprises have a visa entry route which recognises their unique skills.

If they can come up with a scheme that is fair but flexible, I think it is a great idea.

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du Fresne asks if Hager is a journalist

July 28th, 2015 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Karl du Fresne writes:

Central to the case, it seems to me, is whether Hager is entitled to call himself an investigative journalist.

That’s apparently how he prefers to be described, and most of the media oblige him by using that term. The court heard that the Crown accepts he is a journalist.

This ishelpful for his image because the word “journalist” conveys a sense of professional impartiality.

But to my knowledge Hager has never worked as a journalist in the commonly understood sense of the word, and I resent him appropriating the description.

Journalists follow certain rules. They are expected to approach issues with an open mind and to report them in a balanced and objective way.

(Some people dismiss objectivity as unattainable, but in fact it’s a wise and perfectly workable principle that has underpinned mainstream journalism for decades.)

Ideally, if not always in practice, journalists are expected to maintain a certain detachment. Where there’s another side to a story, they are expected to report it.

I think that last part is key. Journalists are meant to tell both sides of a story.

Everything he does is calculated to challenge and undermine what we loosely call “the establishment”.

Sure, he uses journalistic skills, and uses them very well. He could show journalists a few things about digging beneath the surface and uncovering information that powerful people would prefer to keep hidden.

But that’s partly a reflection of his motivation, which is that of a doggedly determined Leftist crusader.

What he does is entirely legitimate and even praiseworthy in an open democracy, providing it’s done lawfully.

Hager’s books make an important contribution to informed debate and help voters make decisions on important issues, such as state surveillance and honesty in government.

But does that make him a journalist? I don’t believe so.

He was more accurately described in police documents as a political author.

You could also call him an activist (which he apparently dislikes), a campaigner, an annoying pebble in the shoe of the establishment – but not a journalist.

I think author is the best description.

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NZ has third highest material living standard

July 28th, 2015 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

New Zealand families have the third-highest material living standard in the world, a local study has found.

Researchers at public policy research institute Motu used data from 800,000 households across 40 countries to create the new measure for wellbeing, which took into account homes that included a 15-year-old.

The measure is based on ownership of possessions such as books, internet connections, whiteware and cars, as well as the number of bedrooms and bathrooms in a house.

These are measures that actually matter to families – far more than whether the guy down the road has an even better car.

The top 10 are:

  1. USA
  2. Canada
  3. NZ
  4. Australia
  5. Liechenstein
  6. Luxembourg
  7. Ireland
  8. Norway
  9. Sweden
  10. Italy

They did look at inequality also. NZ was in 20th out of 40 countries.

Motu senior fellow Dr Arthur Grimes said the results should call into question the widespread negative impression of living standards in New Zealand compared with other developed countries.

“Our results show New Zealand is still a great place to bring up children, at least in material terms.

“Not only do we have wonderful natural amenities, but contrary to what GDP statistics tell us, most Kiwi families have a high standard of material wellbeing relative to our international peers.”

A great place to live in, NZ is.


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Guest Post: All jails are bad

July 28th, 2015 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

A guest post by David Garrett:

All New Zealand jails are bad…apparently

The headline on Monday said “Jails bad. Full stop”. The story beneath revealed that – surprise surprise –  serious incidents occur  in  all  the country’s jails, both state and privately run. Even union boss Beven Hanlon, who usually repeats a “state prisons good, private prisons bad” mantra ad nauseum, was quoted as saying state run prisons were just as bad as privately run  ones. What is the problem?

First the basics. To get sent to prison in New Zealand you generally  need to be a really bad bastard. Those sent to prison have, on average, appeared in court eleven times,  before finally being sent to jail. That is eleven court appearances, not eleven charges. At each appearance, a criminal might be facing a number of charges. By the time prison is the sentence, all the other non custodial alternatives have been tried.

Prison inmates are, by and large, there for serious or repeated violence, class A drug dealing or manufacture, or sexual offences against both  other adults and children. Although people like Kim Workman imply inmates are largely poor unfortunates who had a bad day when they committed the offence(s) for which they are arrested and  jailed, this is nonsense. Anyone  who has any experience of our prisons – particularly the members of  Mr Hanlon’s union – will tell you so.

So, a group of violent dangerous men all grouped together without much to do;  places where ongoing problems and violence are just the way it is? Well, actually, no. I have been inside prisons in both New Zealand and the United States. The atmosphere in United States  prisons  could not be more different from those  in New Zealand.

In 2007 Garth McVicar, Stephen Franks and I made a study tour of  the US to learn more about three strikes laws – especially how to avoid the well publicised injustices which the early version of three strikes gave rise to in California. We also visited prisons and spoke to both prisoner lobby groups, public defenders, and probation officers. We learned a great deal.

In Arizona we visited both ordinary prisons and the famous tent jails for which Sheriff Joe Arpaio is so well known. The very first thing we noticed was how well behaved the prisoners were. Some of the guards  were middle aged women. None of the guards were armed. Prisoners obediently and quickly complied when one no nonsense lady ordered them to “stand up straight behind the line”. When ordered to move they moved. No-one answered back. No prisoner said anything. Talking wasn’t allowed.

At the tent jail we visited it was lunchtime.  For lunch the prisoners were  all in a large airconditioned  mess hall – about 200 of them. Our group was shown through by one  unarmed guard.  The men had the kind of faces and body language one sees in jails here. But the atmosphere was entirely different.

One or two of the prisoners shouted out derogatory remarks about the food they were getting. On the spur of the moment I decided to share lunch with them – a filled roll, a pot of yogurt and a piece of fruit – rather than the lunch laid on for us. As the men moved closer to our small group – and our lone guard – I instantly regretted my decision. I asked if we had anything to fear (whether we did or not I was already frightened). Our guard said “Oh no…they’ll move back if I ask them to”. And he did, very softly. And they did.

My first thought was this behaviour must be obtained through intimidation and violence. We asked if we could speak to the prisoners one on one, and speak to whoever we wished to. Our hosts readily agreed, and so we did. I remember stifling guffaws as one tattooed middle aged female  inmate told an earnest young journalist accompanying us that this was her first time in prison.

We were not told of any  violence by the guards, although many inmates complained that the rules were “ real strict man”. They moaned about the food, and of course about the oppressive heat in the cell blocks which were not airconditioned. What is not well known is that inmates volunteer for Sheriff Joe’s famous chain gangs, and being sent to tent jail is a privilege to be earned. Five minutes inside the blocks and you understand why.

Since that visit I have become aware of various claims of wrongful death in Arizona prisons. No doubt those commenting on this piece will post links to such stories with alacrity. It goes without saying that no-one should be killed in jail.

Some years after the US trip I found myself an MP, and made it my business to visit as many New Zealand prisons as I could. The atmosphere was starkly different from those in Arizona and California. There is an air of barely suppressed violence in every one. Most notably, the prisoners are visibly contemptuous of their guards. They know  the guards can do very little to them. The prisoners can no longer be put in solitary confinement or fed bread and water  for disciplinary infractions. No extra time can be imposed. Parole Boards no longer hear evidence  from those who have been in charge of the freshly scrubbed and shaved inmate appearing before them meekly claiming to be ready for release.

One short visit to a few US jails doesn’t make me an expert on prison management.  However one would have to deaf dumb and blind not to see the glaring differences between their prisons and ours. How do they do it? Would their methods be acceptable here? Would their methods be culturally transferable? I don’t know. What I do  know is I felt a damn sight safer in the company of one guard in Arizona than I did with half a dozen prison officers tagging along in New Zealand.

When even Beven Hanlon is saying public prisons are just as bad as the private ones, it’s time to take very hard look at how we are managing our prisons and our prisoners. It’s time to take some lessons from overseas, learn from them,   and where appropriate  adopt them here. Just as we did with three strikes.

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Public Service Sick Leave

July 27th, 2015 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Inland Revenue Department staff are being hauled before their manager if they have even one day off ill, as the tax agency grapples with its high level of sick leave.

The meetings, dubbed “welcome back conversations”, are part of a new initiative – Supporting Positive Attendance – introduced after the IRD noticed skyrocketing rates of staff taking sickies.

After starting the project two years ago, it had gone from second worst to third worst department in the public sector. The tactics have raised the eyebrows not only of staff, but also of an employment expert who says the department is dancing close to the edge when it comes to obligations under the Holidays Act and possibly the Privacy Act.

But the IRD is standing by its policy and says the initiative has saved taxpayers $6 million in two years.

A spokesman said that since the project was rolled out over 2013/14, average sick leave taken each year had reduced by nearly two days a person.


What I find interesting is the huge differences in average sick leave per employee by agency. You have:

  • MSD 10.5
  • TPK 9.7
  • IRD 9.1
  • Customs 8.3
  • Stats 7.9
  • SFO 4.7
  • MFAt 4.3
  • Treasury 3.8
  • DPMC 2.9
  • Defence 2.6

Now you can understand MSD and IRD being higher because many of their staff will be call centres.

But why would staffers at Stats NZ have twice as much sick leave as those at Treasury?


Have the Police decriminalised cannabis?

July 27th, 2015 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar


Salient reports:

Chris Fowlie is the head of the National Organisation for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) and he really doesn’t like the way the police enforce the Misuse of Drugs Act. In a recent post on The Daily Blog, he argued that the authorities maliciously target harmless dope smokers, causing them far more harm than a joint ever could.

The statistics he cites appear to back up his argument: since 1994 there have been nearly half a million drug arrests, accounting for 11 per cent of all recorded crime. 85 per cent of the arrests were for cannabis, and 87 per cent of those were for personal amounts. On average, that equates to the police arresting 15,800 users a year for possession of personal amounts of pot. That’s 43 a day, or one every 33 minutes.

Fowlie says these statistics “are illustrative of how drug policing in New Zealand has gone off the rails”. But actually, the opposite is true: a closer look at the data shows that in fact there has been a huge decline in police arrests for possession and use over time. In averaging out arrests over two decades, Fowlie focusses on the noise and misses the signal.

You can see the trend above.

In the period between 1994 and 2014, annual recorded offences for possession of all illicit drugs halved. Offences for cannabis possession specifically did likewise. More interestingly, recorded offences for using illicit drugs fell from 1,307 down to 260, which was largely driven by 1,046 fewer cannabis use offences. The Police prosecute significantly fewer people for possession and use of drugs than they did two decades ago.

And this has occurred at a time when Ministry of Health figures suggest that the prevalence of drugs in New Zealand has remained stable and, particularly in the case of cannabis, relatively high. The data shows that 42 per cent of Kiwis aged 15 and over have smoked pot at some point in their lives, and 11 per cent have smoked pot in the past year. That’s 397,000 past-year tokers. The same survey showed that only two per cent of past year cannabis smokers reported experiencing legal problems as a result of their use.

So why have arrests halved if use has remained the same? There’s a simple answer: the Police are decriminalising cannabis in New Zealand.

I wouldn’t go that far. I would say that the Police are sensibly prioritising crimes that actually have victims.

Another explanation for the decline is that there has been a wider shift in the way that police approach low-level criminal offending. Wilkins says that “it would be a mistake to say it is a change that is specific to drugs. It reflects a wider change in police philosophy.” He believes the trend extends to other low-level crime, such as petty theft, and says the decline in arrests is a case of better allocation of police resources. “There’s a desire to be more effective and efficient, so that means reprioritising low-level offending.”

This is supported by the data. At the same time as possession and use charges for cannabis have come down, the number of manufacture and import charges have increased. The last 20 years have also seen the rise of meth, which Wilkins says has taken up more policing resources.

“If you’re a policeman and you have two markets—meth and cannabis—you have to ask yourself, ‘which is the best use of my time?’”

And I’m for prioritising meth over cannabis.

Encouragingly, Police Commissioner Mike Bush agrees that alternative approaches to prosecution can lead to better outcomes for users. Last month he heaped praise on Auckland Constable Scott Wolfe, “whose empathy for a methamphetamine addict helped turn her life around”.

In a post on his “Commissioner’s Blog”, Bush explained that Constable Wolfe “arrested the woman for possession of a cannabis pipe and, recognising the signs of methamphetamine use, discovered she had a heavy addiction and was living in a car”. Instead of prosecuting the woman through the traditional court system, Constable Wolfe referred her instead to Te Kooti o Timatanga Hou—The New Beginnings Court, which is focussed on homeless and disadvantaged people.

“She’s now in rehabilitation, has reconnected with her child and made huge improvements in her life,” said the Commissioner. “This is a superb example of the difference we can all make by showing a little understanding and using our initiative.” Indeed.

Yep, a good call.

Yes, there is. Professor Mark Bennett, a lecturer at Victoria University’s Law School, says that “if a certain offence will not be followed up on and there is little danger of detection and/or prosecution, there are questions around the legitimacy of this from both a rule of law and democratic perspective.”

The police can’t just decide to stop enforcing the laws of the land without there being repercussions. Dr. Dean Knight, another law lecturer at Victoria, says that one of the roles of the police is to follow the democratic will of the people and enforce the laws they voted for. “The Police probably shouldn’t effectively repudiate laws through non-enforcement,” he says.

We might think it’s fine for the Police to decriminalise pot, but what happens if one day they decided to stop prosecuting theft, say? Or assault? Or corruption? This is particularly concerning given the fact that the public is largely unaware of changes in police policy.

We already have this with electoral offences. Over many years the Police have shown no inclination to prosecute electoral law breaches.

But there is always going to be a degree of Police discretion over how actively they enforce some laws. Otherwise they’d be arresting jaywalkers or the like.

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Safer at work than home

July 27th, 2015 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Unions are running a campaign which is basically claiming the Government (and employers) for all work place deaths. They arrange crosses at protests to try and suggest that every work place death is preventable and they are all the fault of the Government and employers.

So I thought I’d look up the ACC data on all accidental deaths. How many accidental deaths occur in workplaces, as opposed to home or other places?

Do we blame the Government for deaths at home, or just those at work?

This is not to say that some work place deaths are not preventable, and that sometimes the employer is responsible. That is why we have prosecutions. In some industries such as forestry the death toll has been horrendously high.

But what I reject is the notion that every death is preventable and is the fault of the Government or the employer.

So what does ACC tell us on fatal accidents.


These are for 30 June years. So over the last five years only 12% of fatal accidents have occurred in work places. 32% have occurred at home and the rest on the roads, sports fields hospitals and other places.

Also of interest is the total number of fatal accident claims has actually fallen since 2010/11.

Do we know what proportion of the workplace accidents, involved employer culpability? In some accidents there are definitely things the employer could have done to have a safer workplace. But in others, it might be procedures were not followed, or just sheer bad luck (you slip etc).

Our workplace accidents rates are higher than many other countries and need to be lower. But that doesn’t mean all workplace fatalities are the fault of the employer or due to the nature of our OSH regime. Men are 20 times more likely to die in workplace accidents than women. Is this all due to what occupations they are in, or a reflection that men are often less risk averse (with bad results).  Changing male culture around risk may be just as important as workplace safety regulations.


Wrong to say alcohol causes cancer

July 26th, 2015 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Dr Samir Zakhari of the US Distill Spirits Council writes in Stuff:

Cancer is not an easy topic.  Most of us will know someone who has been affected by this terrible disease in its many forms.

And as a society we are desperately seeking both the cause and the cure for cancers with great advancements being made on both counts.  But as our knowledge advances one thing is clear – to say that one thing causes cancer is simply wrong.

Unfortunately last month in Wellington a group of academics made such a claim – and not for the first time.  They said that alcohol causes cancer which is simply incorrect and not supported by any credible research .

The reality is excessive use of alcohol can be one of many factors, but that is not the same as saying “causes”:

Cancers are caused by many things. The key to managing the risk of getting cancer is knowing what those factors are and trying to manage exposure to them. And yes, immoderate consumption of alcohol over an extended period of time does increase your risk of getting some cancers – as does lack of exercise, diet, genetics, age, gender, smoking, drug use and a range of other lifestyle-related factors.

Alcohol is not the same as tobacco. Tobacco is harmful to you full stop. Alcohol is fine in moderation.

Globally there is recognition that moderate alcohol consumption can be part of a healthy lifestyle.  There are many well-documented health benefits associated with moderate consumption – particularly in later life and associated with cardio-vascular function.

The key to this statement is the word ‘moderate’.

The New Zealand Government’s Health Promotion Agency recommends that, to reduce the long-term health impacts associated with alcohol, women should have no more than two standard drinks a day and men no more than three with both sexes having at least two non-drinking days a week.

Again, moderation.

Dr Zakhari’s background:

Dr Samir Zakhari is a researcher on the medical effects of alcohol consumption, and a former director of the Division of Metabolism and Health Effects with the American National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. He is now senior vice president of science at the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States.

UPDATE: The article in Stuff was edited from the original submitted, which made it less clear. The paragraph that was submitted is:

Unfortunately this week in Wellington a group of well-intentioned researchers made such a claim – and not for the first time.  They said that moderate alcohol consumption causes cancer.  While chronic abusive alcohol consumption is associated with a plethora of health problems including cancer, attributing cancer to social moderate drinking is simply incorrect and is not supported by the body of scientific literature.

So chronic alcohol consumption is a factor, but moderate consumption is not.


NZ 7th best reputation

July 26th, 2015 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

New Zealand has increased its ranking to seventh in a list assessing the reputations of 55 countries. Last year it was eighth.

Canada has beaten last year’s leader Switzerland to top the 2015 “RepTrak” rankings, issued by the Reputation Institute, which has offices in many countries.

Since the survey began in 2010, Canada has ranked first all but two years and has not been placed lower than second.

The institute gathered information online for its rankings from more than 48,000 people in G8 countries. It says this enables it to “measure the public’s perception of 55 countries based on three dimensions: effective government, appealing environment, and advanced economy.

“Countries with strong reputations are perceived positively in all three dimensions.”

The top 10 are:

  1. Canada 78.1
  2. Norway 77.1
  3. Sweden 76.6
  4. Switzerland 76.4
  5. Australia 76.3
  6. Finland 75.1
  7. New Zealand 75.0
  8. Denmark 74.5
  9. Netherlands 73.7
  10. Belgium 72.3

The bottom five countries are Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Russia and Nigeria.


Otago University – guilty until proven innocent

July 25th, 2015 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Critic reports:

University of Otago student is taking matters into his own hands after feeling he has been wronged by the university’s proctor.

The student, who wishes not to be named, was given a fine and had access to his online course resources suspended for a week after Campus Watch officers claimed he had been drunk and abusive to them. After much discussion, viewing of CCTV footage and GPS tracking on his phone, his name was not cleared until OUSA’s Student Support got involved. He was then found to be innocent. The student, however, is still demanding an apology for the illtreatment, which he has not yet received.

On 23 April, the student was waiting outside a lecture hall to enter a law exam, and was approached by Campus Watch for being “abusive” and “causing a lot of ruckus” the night before. “I was kind of shocked at the time,” said the student. “I’ve never been accused of something like that.” 

The student said he had been home all night, though the officer was “pretty sure it was him” and his ID was taken. After his exam, which he finished early because he was “freaked out”, the student called Campus Watch to complain about what had happened. “I couldn’t have been in two places at once,” he said.

After not hearing anything further, he assumed the allegations had disappeared. On 7 May, after making multiple attempts to submit assignments online, the student realised his access to Blackboard had been cut. This was because he owed $50 to the proctor for missing a meeting.

The student had received an email that he was required to see the proctor about the accusations, but had not checked his student email in “a long time”. Letters are normally sent to students who are required to see the proctor, but he was told “a change in staffing” meant this wasn’t done.

So suddenly he is cut off from online resources – all on an accusation.

At a later meeting with the proctor, which he attended with his partner whom he was at home with at the time of the alleged incident, the student was again told he had drunkenly abused staff. The Campus Watch officer attended the meeting and said, “he was smiling, he was very smug”. The officer said it was definitely him; however, a second officer said although the two looked similar, he “couldn’t with confidence” say it was this student.

The Campus Watch officers should have taken details at the time, not gone on this guys looks like this other guy.

The student discovered he had GPS evidence on his phone that showed he was at home the entire time. However, the proctor refused to accept this, claiming he could have left his phone at home.

No student goes out without his or her phone!

CCTV footage was obtained and, in an email, the student was told the footage “looked very much like him”. However, in a second meeting, which the student attended with a Student Support advisor, the proctor was said to have done “a complete 180 with his behaviour”. The accusations were then dropped. The student was cleared, though he has not received an apology or compensation for having his services cut off for a week while assignments were due.

Philippa Keaney, acting manager of Student Support, said: “Despite the advocacy of OUSA Student Support, and the provision of extensive evidence to prove [the student’s] innocence, the Proctor’s Office continued to treat [the student] as the guilty party over a number of weeks.”

“One of the principles underpinning the New Zealand criminal justice system is the presumption of innocence unless adequate evidence to the contrary is produced. It appears that [the student] was not accorded that courtesy in this case.”

Seems like it is guilty unless you can prove yourself innocent at Otago.


Remove the kids

July 25th, 2015 at 6:54 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

A mother who refused a blood test after police suspected she was driving drunk while dropping her child at school has pleaded guilty to refusing to give a blood sample and dangerous driving.

Beverly Hale also pleaded guilty two mistreatment charges which relate to her children not wearing seatbelts at the time of the offending.

Drink driving with kids in the car, and not wearing seatbelts. This must come close to reckless endangerment.

Hale was seen driving erratically along Wall Rd at 9am on May 6.

A concerned driver followed the woman to Hastings Central School, where Hale struck a parked car while trying to do a U-turn.

She had just dropped off her child at the school gate when police arrived.

Her other child, who was preschool-aged, was still in the back seat of the car and wasn’t restrained.

She was taken to Hastings Police Station, where she was processed for drink-driving and refused to have a blood sample taken.

I suspect the kids would be better off with a parent who doesn’t drive them drunk to school.