Dangerous celebrities

July 3rd, 2015 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Public figures such as Kiwi celebrity Jemaine Clement should seek the facts before sharing their opinions on the vaccine debate, an immunisation expert says.

Clement, best known as one of the Flight of the Concords duo, has posted messages on his Twitter feed backing Hollywood star Jim Carry’s anti-vaccination comments.

Carey’s own Twitter ravings to his millions of followers criticised the danger of immunisation, saying jabs poison children with mercury and aluminium.

In a series of tweets, Clement defended Carry’s right to make such observations, saying: “well I guess anti anti vaxxers are important too! My argument is about not closing down debate.”

But this has earned the oprobrium of Dr Nikki Turner, director of the immunisation advisory centre at the University of Auckland.

She said public figures had a lot of influence through their words and they should undertake some basic investigation before taking stances.

For example, in New Zealand, vaccinations no longer contained thiomersal, a neurotoxin Carry said he was against.

And in another story:

Dr Barham-Floreani insists that her position on vaccination is “pro-choice” rather than anti-vaxx. But the vaccination chapter in her book Well-Adjusted Babies (with which Miranda Kerr is apparently so enamoured) is heavy on anti-vaccination content, including:

She implies links between SIDS and vaccinations, quoting a “medical historian” who says, “there is absolutely no way a pathologist can tell the difference between crib death and death caused by vaccination.”

Carrey, Kerr and Clement are experts in acting. If you want to learn how to be a better actor, you should listen to them.

However taking the advice of celebrity actors on whether you should vaccinate your children is stupid and dangerous – it’s like getting medical advice from some bloke in a pub.


General Debate 3 July 2015

July 3rd, 2015 at 8:00 am by Kokila Patel


July 3rd, 2015 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

A very good open letter to Murray McCully by 28 NZ legal academics about the situation in Nauru. Some extracts:

As you know, in May and June 2014, five members of the Nauruan parliamentary opposition were suspended indefinitely from Parliament. For more than a year, five out of seven opposition MPs (in a 19 member Parliament) have received no funding or resources and have been unable to participate in parliamentary proceedings.

That’s almost the entire opposition nobbled.

During the course of 2014 and 2015, there have been a number of other significant incursions into the free speech of Nauruan citizens, including a 2014 direction from government to local media not to speak to members of the opposition, a May 2015 government directive to Nauru’s only internet service provider to block Nauruan citizens’ access to Facebook, and a May 2015 amendment to Nauru’s Criminal Code introducing a vaguely worded offence that punishes speech which has the “intent to stir up … political hatred”.

This is banana republic stuff. Stirring up political hatred is code for criticising the Government. And no Government should tell ISPs what to block, let alone Facebook.

The dismantling of an effective judicature together with the silencing of the media, opposition and even ordinary citizens on Facebook means that the government of Nauru is now virtually immune from scrutiny of its actions.


The five suspended MPs have also had their passports cancelled so that they cannot travel outside of Nauru – a denial of the right to freedom of movement recognised at international law.


Over the past 18 months, you have expressed publicly on several occasions your concern about these developments and have undertaken to raise various issues with the Nauruan government. Nothing has come of this “softly softly” approach and the time for a more forceful approach has arrived. As you have previously acknowledged in relation to Nauru, there is a close connection between democracy and the rule of law, and the effective operation of the justice system. It is not tenable for New Zealand to continue in its role of principal funder of Nauru’s justice sector while democracy and the rule of law are in such disarray and while so many basic human rights are being denied. As well, given our historical ties to Nauru and our position as a Pacific neighbour, New Zealand owes it to the citizens of Nauru to do everything it can to encourage its government to restore democracy and the rule of law.

And it is in our sphere of influence.

1.    Make urgent representations to the government of Nauru in respect of its persistent breaches of human rights and its disregard for the rule of law and parliamentary democracy;

2.    Persuade the government of Nauru to:

  • revoke its decision to cancel the passports of opposition MPs;
  • lift the suspension of opposition MPs;
  • restore freedom of expression and other civil and political rights;
  • and refrain from further interferences with the operation of the justice system;

3.    If Nauru does not move swiftly to take remedial action, withdraw New Zealand funding from Nauru’s Department of Justice and Border Control.

The time for talk is past. Give them three months otherwise the funding stops. We should not prop up authoritarian governments.

UPDATE: McCully is seeking a meeting with the Nauru Government. Good, but we need more than a meeting.


The other defaulting countries

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

Greece has defaulted on it IMF payments. So have three other countries. Know which they are?

Zimbabwe (2001), Somalia (1987) and Sudan (1984).

For an OECD member and fully developed economy to be in the company of those three countries say a lot about how monumentally badly their country has been managed.


PM’s Christchurch Speech

July 2nd, 2015 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff has the speech here. Major aspects are:

  • A Greater Christchurch Regeneration Bill.  The most directive powers under the current legislation will either expire or be amended to provide explicit roles for councils and, in certain cases, Ngai Tahu. The new legislation will apply to a much smaller area and some core provisions will be updated.  It will expire in five years.
  • CERA to go by April. Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet will provide overall coordination, monitoring and advice on future use of the red zone. The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment will lead the residential rebuild, procurement and oversight of the public sector rebuild.The Ministry of Health and Land Information New Zealand will pick up other operational functions.
  • A new entity, which we propose to call Regenerate Christchurch. The Earthquake Recovery Minister will work closely with the Mayor, the City Council and officials on how this new organisation will operate. We expect it will work along the lines of an urban development authority. It will deliver on both the Government’s and City Council’s objectives for the central city. We will work together to establish its objectives, functions, funding and powers – along with the appointment of a board.

Looks like more power going to back to the City Council, CERA to go, and a new urban development agency.

Also announced:

So today I can also confirm that Fletcher Residential has been selected as the Government’s preferred development partner for a new $800 million residential precinct in central Christchurch.

The East and North Frame Residential Precinct will provide around 940 new townhouses and apartments to accommodate up to 2,200 residents.

And there will be space for small-scale commercial activities to support the residential community.

For its part, the Government will sell seven hectares of land between Manchester and Madras Streets, from the river down to Lichfield Street, along with a small block in the North Frame.

Fletchers will progressively purchase blocks of land as the residential development is constructed and sold.

Construction will be spread over eight or nine years, and we expect the first homes to be completed within 18 months of a development agreement being signed.

We anticipate that will happen by the end of November this year.

Fletchers will be responsible for designing, building and selling the completed development, subject to minimum requirements agreed with the Government.

The townhouses and apartments are likely to be priced at between $400,000 and $900,000, but this will be for Fletchers to determine.

Christchurch’s centre was dying even before the earthquake. Getting a vibrant inner city going as a place to live, not just work, is crucial.


Left has won only one out of the last 13 European elections

July 2nd, 2015 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

The Guardian reports:

These are challenging times for Europe’s centre-left parties.

Since last year’s European parliament elections, where the centre-right European People’s party (EPP) emerged as the largest bloc, there have been 13 parliamentary and presidential elections in the EU. Of these, the centre-left has won only one – in Sweden.

Following the ousting of Denmark’s centre-left government last Thursday, only a third of the EU’s population of 503 million is now led by a centre-left head of government or state. Austria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, France, Italy, Malta, Slovakia and Sweden are the only EU members that are on the centre-left.

France won’t be for long. Hollande is toast.



Local Govt rating income up 6%

July 2nd, 2015 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Stats NZ has published accounts for all of local government for 2014.

They show taxation revenue up from $4.81 billion to $5.11 billion – a 6.2% increase – way beyond inflation. That’s an extra $300 million taken out of NZers pockets.

My proposal:

  1. Have Stats NZ calculate the inflation cost for Local Government (LGI)
  2. Pass a law saying no Council can increase their overall rates income by more than the LGI per capita
  3. If 10% of residents petition for a referendum, then a referendum can approve a rates increase higher than the above

Some alternatives to global mode

July 2nd, 2015 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

If you wish to be able to pay someone for the content you consume, and were reliant on global mode, here’s a few alternatives.

  1. UnoTelly has a one month free trial for NZers
  2. Hola – takes 30 seconds to install
  3. Fast VPN
  4. Hotspot Shield
  5. Unblockus

I use Hola – it is great, and free.

UPDATE: Read comments below about Hola. May be worth avoiding.

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Our most popular films

July 2nd, 2015 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Flicks has run a survey of NZers over which films are their favourites. The top 10 are:

  1. The Shawshank Redemption
  2. The Empire Strikes Back
  3. The Godfather
  4. Pulp Fiction
  5. The Fellowship of the Ring
  6. The Dark Knight
  7. Forrest Gump
  8. Star Wars
  9. The Matrix
  10. Goodfellas

Seen all but No 10. Happened to just rewatch The Empire Strikes Back last weekend. The best of the six.

The Shawshank Redemption is my favourite film and have viewed it a dozen or more times.

I’d have Kill Bill Vol I in the top 10. It didn’t even make their top 100!

They also have the 10 most hated films. They are:

  1. Battlefield Earth
  2. Sharknado
  3. Twilight
  4. Batman & Robin
  5. The Room
  6. The Last Airbender
  7. Jack and Jill
  8. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
  9. Movie 43
  10. Disaster Movie

Luckily not seen most of them. Actually loved Sharknado – but only because it was so over the top bad it was funny.



Textor on restating centre-right beliefs

July 2nd, 2015 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Mark Textor writes in the AFR:

Even outside of partisan party politics, enhanced by media megaphones, a shouting match is going on between a very few. Like many fights, most decent people are silently walking away to avoid it.

Most want the false and divisive constructs of politics to go away: Christian versus non-Christian, middle class versus others, country versus city, indigenous versus non-indigenous, bosses versus workers.

Promoting these suit the shock jocks on the right and outrage merchants on the left looking for micro audience-based sales. I find that this is leading many decent-minded conservative centrists to question their beliefs.

A modern alternative affirmation of conservatism is needed for those who have walked away from the shouting. Here’s a new one for them:

Textor’s statements are:

  1. We respect the continuity, strength and certainty that the rule of law and our constitution brings.
  2.  Conservatism is about resisting gratuitous change, but not resistance for its own sake.
  3. Our economy must be managed according to the principles of a fair, competitive and open market, but the end point is not the economy itself but a better life.
  4. If you are a citizen of this country, you have equal rights and, yes, equal responsibilities to other citizens and the country.
  5. We will not tolerate the intolerant.
  6. Those who obtain the privilege of leadership; be parental in nature: respectful and aware of true needs of those under your care, but be clear and consistent in your actions.
  7. Work and enterprise brings dignity and the opportunity and vibrancy.
  8. Conservatives conserve important things.

Not a bad list.


The secret NZ First Deputy!

July 2nd, 2015 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

It says something about the culture of NZ First, that they seem to regard the identity of their deputy leader as a confidential secret.

Stuff reports:

Winston Peters says questions about New Zealand First’s deputy will soon be made clear, urging reporters to “be patient”.

Since Ron Mark returned to Parliament in 2014 there has been speculation that he may replace Tracey Martin as deputy, with talk mounting that a challenge had taken place this week.

This is like the days of the former USSR, where leadership changes were only announced some months after someone had died!

UPDATE: I understand that Mark did defeat Martin by one vote for the Deputy Leadership, after Richard Prosser swapped camps. We’ll find out tomorrow if this is correct, but heard from a parliamentary source.

It seems that Mark blames the Martins for his low list ranking last election, as he was seen as a threat – so this is a delayed utu.

If correct a shame for Tracy Martin, who I’ve found to be a decent MP. But the bigger issue is this is really all about who will succeed Winston Peters as leader. My money is still on Shane Jones.


General Debate 2 July 2015

July 2nd, 2015 at 8:00 am by Kokila Patel

Labour says scrap the system because of a 0.3% error rate

July 2nd, 2015 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

The chaos caused by the new car registration system has led to it being labeled the “Novapay of transport” by Labour.

The party’s ACC spokeswoman Sue Moroney said minister Nikki Kaye needed to scrap the entire system after errors emerged in the lead up to its launch today.

The new system links each car model and make to a “risk rating” then adds a fee to the cost of car registration that is between $68.46 for the safest vehicles and $158.46 for lower ranked models. Previously, all motorists paid $198.65.

The system has caused frustration with motorists after computer errors impacting about 9000 motorists.

It’s not acceptable that there were errors, but let’s put this in context. Around 9,000 motorists were affected. There are over 3.5 million motor vehicles registered in NZ. That is a 0.25% error rate.

The individual ranking of each make and model fluctuates against a database of accident data at Monash University, an Australasian safety ranking system based on laboratory tests and information from the insurance industry.

Excellent – data based costings.

The idea of linking the cost of registration to risk rating was hoped to encourage motorists towards safer cars – a premise Ms Moroney said was flawed.

“It’s not a perfect science. The minister has implemented a system that pretends it is a perfect science and it will change behaviour.”

No one has claimed perfect science. What is being claimed is that it is sensible to have a higher levy for less safe vehicles, just as less safe industries have higher ACC premiums.


Nothing to see here

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

The Herald reports:

Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant jihadists have beheaded two women in Syria for sorcery, an extension of the punishment which is normally reserved for men.

Well I guess that is a form of gender equality!

Many refugees say Isil’s strict rule was welcomed initially as a counter-measure to widespread corruption and banditry as Syria fell apart, but that it is increasingly resented.

A number of people, including teenage boys, have been “crucified” – suspended by their wrists in public but not to death – for failing to observe the Ramadan fast, which began earlier in June.

They really are not into this concept of separation of church and state are they.


Family First ruled a charity

July 1st, 2015 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

A charities lawyer says charities can now speak out on political issues without fear after a landmark High Court judgment overturning the deregistration of the lobby group Family First.

Sue Barker of Wellington law firm Sue Barker Charities Law said “hundreds” of charities would be affected by the judgment, which follows on from an earlier Supreme Court judgment last August ordering the Charities Board to reconsider its deregistration of Greenpeace.

Both organisations were deregistered on the grounds that their purposes were primarily “political” rather than “charitable”.

Deregistration means that they cannot claim tax exemptions for their donations, and usually means that the Inland Revenue Department will no longer allow donors to claim tax rebates for donating money to them.

A majority of the Supreme Court in the Greenpeace case ruled that an organisation with charitable purposes could also have political purposes, depending on the objectives being advocated and the means used to promote those objectives.

It held that the objectives did not have to be generally accepted and could be “controversial”, and ordered the Charities Board to reconsider Greenpeace’s application for registration.

A Greenpeace spokesman said today that Greenpeace was about to resubmit its application “in the next few days”.

High Court Justice David Collins has now ordered the board to reconsider Family First’s case too. He said Family First would still need to show that its role was “of benefit to the public” by analogy to other cases, but he warned against applying that test too narrowly by comparing Family First only with existing charities.

I’m pleased for Family First that they have been treated the same way as Greenpeace. If Greenpeace are eligible, then Family First should be also.

However my view is that the definition of charity and charitable purpose under the law needs to be reviewed. I certainly think charities should be able to do advocacy that is related to their charitable work. But if an organisation primarily exists to lobby for law and policy changes, then they should no more be eligible to be a charity, than a political party would be.

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If you think it is all the fault of the IMF, then crowd fund Greece!

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

The Telegraph reports:

A crowdfunding campaign attempting to save troubled Greece from bankruptcy has raised more than €130,000 in just one day – although it still has a long way to go to reach the €1.6bn needed.

The ‘Greek bailout fund’ campaign was started by 29-year-old London-based Thom Feeney, who says Greece would be better letting “the people” decide its fate rather than European ministers.

It has attracted funds from almost 8,000 investors – and is rising by the minute.

“The European Union is home to 503 million people, if we all just chip in a few Euro then we can get Greece sorted and hopefully get them back on track soon. Easy,” he writes on crowdfunding website Indiegogo.

“It might seem like a lot but it’s only just over €3 from each European. That’s about the same as half a pint in London. Or everyone in the EU just having a Feta and Olive salad for lunch.”

That’s a great idea. If you think Greece needs to liberated from the IMF and European creditors, bail them out yourself.


Parliament 1 July 2015

July 1st, 2015 at 1:27 pm by David Farrar

The order paper is here.

Oral Questions 2.00 pm – 3.00 pm

  1. Hon ANNETTE KING to the Minister of Health: How much has been spent by the Government on the Social Bonds Programme to date?
  2. MELISSA LEE to the Minister of Finance: How is the Government’s programme of fiscal management helping keep interest rates lower for longer?
  3. METIRIA TUREI to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by his statement that “… we believe that New Zealand can make a positive difference to world affairs and provide a unique and independent voice at the world’s top table”.
  4. PAUL FOSTER-BELL to the Minister of Health: What steps is the Government taking to improve access to Primary Care for New Zealand families?
  5. GRANT ROBERTSON to the Minister of Finance: Does he agree with ANZ economist Cameron Bagrie when he says the New Zealand economy is “heading off-piste”?
  6. MARAMA FOX to the Minister of Trade: How many Māori organisations have been consulted during the last 5 years of negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement?
  7. Dr PARMJEET PARMAR to the Minister of Transport: What recent announcements has he made on investment in New Zealand’s land transport network?
  8. RICHARD PROSSER to the Minister for Primary Industries: Is he concerned at the threat posed to New Zealand’s grain industry by the huge volumes of grain being dumped into New Zealand due to EU/Russia sanctions?
  9. CHRIS HIPKINS to the Minister of Education: Does she stand by her statement “I am satisfied that all the contract funding to partnership schools will be spent on meeting the contracted outcome for each school, which is to deliver educational achievement”?
  10. BRETT HUDSON to the Minister for Small Business: What actions has the Government taken to encourage small businesses to list on the New Zealand share market?
  11. KELVIN DAVIS to the Minister for Primary Industries: Is he aware of reports that local wood manufacturers have been refused the opportunity to buy swamp kauri from Kauri Ruakaka mill, which was formerly called Oravida and is allegedly involved in exporting raw swamp kauri, and what is he doing to ensure that this irreplaceable resource is managed responsibly?
  12. JULIE ANNE GENTER to the Minister of Transport: What percentage of the National Land Transport Programme announced yesterday will be spent on new rail infrastructure?

National: Four questions on interest rates, primary heath care, transport funding and small business

Labour: Four questions on social bonds, the economy, charter schools and raw swamp kauri

Greens: Two questions on world affairs and transport funding

NZ First: One question on grain dumping

Maori Party: One question on TPPA

Government Bills 3.00 pm to 6.00 pm and 7.30 pm to 10.00 pm

Reserves and Other Lands Disposal Bill – committee stage continued

The bill makes a number of changes to the status of parcels of land, land titles, and previous Reserves and Other Lands Disposal Acts.

  • Introduced: July 2008
  • 1st reading: March 2009, passed 113 to 9 with only Greens opposed
  • Select Committee report: September 2009, supported unanimously with amendments
  • 2nd reading: May 2015, passed unanimously

The committee has dealt with Part 1 and is now debating Part 2.

Standards and Accreditation Bill – committee stage

The bill amends and consolidates the law relating to standards and conformity assessment bodies “to ensure the New Zealand Standards and conformance system is viable, well-functioning, and meets the needs of business, regulators, and consumers into the foreseeable future.”

  • Introduced: July 2014
  • 1st reading: November 2014, passed unanimously
  • SC report: March 2015, supported with amendments with a minority report from Labour
  • 2nd reading: May 2015, passed 61-60 with Labour, Greens, NZ First and Maori Party against

There is no set time limit for the committee stage. The bill has two parts so debate is likely to last at least two hours. There is a minor SOP from Minister Goldsmith.

Radio New Zealand Amendment Bill – committee stage

The bill amends the Radio New Zealand Act 1995 to implement a new Radio New Zealand Charter

  • Introduced: June 2009
  • 1st reading: June 2009, passed unanimously
  • SC report: December 2009, supported without amendments with a minority report from Labour
  • 2nd reading: May 2015, passed unanimously

There is no set time limit for the committee stage. The bill has six clauses but is supported by all parties so unlikely to have a lengthy debate. so debate is likely to last at least two hours. There is an SOP from Minister Adams defining what commercial-free means.


A post Charleston poll

July 1st, 2015 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

USA Today reports on a poll in the wake of the Charleston shooting:

  • 42% says confederate flag is racist and should not be flown in public, and 42% disagree
  • 56% say tighter gun laws would not prevent more mass shootings, 40% disagree
  • 76% say easier access to guns would not prevent more mass shootings, 18% disagree
  • 78% say Congress will not pass gun control legislation, 15% disagree
  • 52% do not want gun control to be a major focus of the 2016 election, 43% disagree

The Bentley mystery may never be solved

July 1st, 2015 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

The father of murdered Ashburton teenager Kirsty Bentley has died, still denying any involvement in her death. 

Sid Bentley, 64, who died on Monday after a battle with cancer, was a suspect in his daughter’s 1998 disappearance and murder, along with Kirsty’s older brother, John.

Both denied their involvement. 

Interviewed recently, Sid Bentley’s wish was for his ashes to be buried with his daughter’s. 

Last year, Sid Bentley said it was his dying wish to see his daughter’s killers caught and that his “conscience is clear”.

If he was the killer, the mystery will probably never be solved. A very sad case.


Auckland transport funding

July 1st, 2015 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Their city’s share of the overall “partnership” pot from the national programme will include $1.175 billion for public transport, $960 million to maintain highways and local roads, and $91 million to improve cycling and walking.

That is additional to $24.75m the Government said last week it would contribute to Auckland from its $100m urban cycleways fund.

Again this is what you call a balanced approach to transport. It is not a choice of roading or rail. They are complementary, not substitutes. However some (not all) public transport advocates won’t be happy until it is zero dollars for roads. Proof in point:

Almost $2b has been earmarked for public transport nationally, a 21 per cent increase, and investment in cycling will more than triple – to $251m.

But the Green Party says the programme is focussed too heavily on “carbon-polluting transport infrastructure, rather than building a clean, balanced and efficient system for the 21st Century.”

Transport spokeswoman Julie Anne Genter said National had chosen to continue spending more than $1b a year “on a few carbon-polluting motorways that haven’t even passed a business test.”

The Greens are basically against all spending on roads.



Hockey wins vs Fairfax

July 1st, 2015 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

News.com.au reports:

TREASURER Joe Hockey has won $200,000 in a defamation case against Fairfax Media.

The Federal Court today decided Fairfax had defamed Mr Hockey with a newsstand poster and two tweets relating to a story it published on May 5, 2014, with the headline ‘Treasurer for Sale’.

They will need to pay Mr Hockey $120,000 in damages for the poster and $80,000 for the tweets.

I’m glad Hockey won. I thought that way Fairfax framed their story was reprehensible.

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General Debate 1 July 2015

July 1st, 2015 at 8:00 am by Kokila Patel

An attempted coup in NZ First?

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

Normally coup and NZ first do not go together as we all know Winston is Leader for life. But it seems there was an attempted coup for Deputy Leader reports the Herald:

New Zealand First members including leader Winston Peters have refused to comment on whether deputy leader Tracey Martin faced a challenge for her position.

Ron Mark was rumoured to be making a bid for the party’s deputy leader position, but this afternoon it was confirmed that – if any challenge was in fact made – it was unsuccessful.

Mr Peters has left it to his party members to shed some light on the situation.

He was asked repeatedly by media who his deputy leader is and whether he could confirm Ms Martin would remain in that position.

“I cannot discuss caucus business, that’s confidential. I am restricted by that. We do not discuss caucus business outside of caucus,” Mr Peters said.

During question time he faced jeers of “who’s deputy”. Ms Martin sat in the party’s deputy chair.

Afterwards, most NZ First MPs refused to comment, but Denis O’Rourke confirmed that Ms Martin remained deputy leader.

Mr Mark also said he was not the new NZ First deputy leader, but would not comment on whether he had made or planned a challenge.

Which strongly suggests he did, or tried to.

Wait until Shane Jones is parachuted in as the Deputy Leader. That will really upset both Ron and Tracey!


Plunket comments cleared

June 30th, 2015 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

A talkback host’s comments describing award-winning New Zealand author Eleanor Catton as an “ungrateful hua” and a “traitor” were not in breach of broadcasting standards.

The Broadcasting Standards Authority (BSA) has declined to uphold two complaints about RadioLive host Sean Plunket’s comments about Catton speaking critically about the National government at a literary festival in India earlier this year.

Plunket called Catton an ‘ungrateful hua’ and a ‘traitor’, amongst other things.

The BSA received complaints that Plunket’s comments constituted “bullying” and a personal attack on Catton.

The authority’s decision said that “the severity of [Plunket’s] attack and the hostility and aggression of the language used? raised the question of whether this attack went too far”.

However, Plunket’s comments did not breach broadcasting standards, it ruled.

Catton was “powerfully exercising her right to freedom of expression and has had to suffer the responses including those from the broadcaster”, the BSA said.

“Conversely, the broadcaster has exercised its right to freedom of expression and it will have suffered consequences from those who objected to what Mr Plunket said and the way in which he said it.”

The decision from the authority considered that “?different views have been expressed and have been evaluated and those who have expressed or broadcast these views have been judged accordingly”.

“This is how we think things are meant to work in a liberal democracy.

“We do not think that our society would be better off if views such as those of the radio host were staunched.”

Another defeat for the opponents of free speech.

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The Harmful Digital Communications Act

June 30th, 2015 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

This afternoon Parliament will pass into law the Harmful Digital Communications Act. If I was an MP, I’d vote against the bill.

In saying that I recognise a significant amount of good will come from this bill. I also recognise that Amy Adams has made improvements to it, which have mollified some of the concerns people have had with the bill, which is why Labour and NZ First are now supporting it. In fact ACT is the only party against – David Seymour explains why here.

Here’s the good aspects to the new law:

  • The approved agency (will be Netsafe who are very good) will get legal standing, and be able to far more effectively mediate cases with Facebook, Google etc where real harm is happening – especially cyberbullying of teens
  • Specifics behaviours which are despicable such as encouraging someone to kill themselves, posting revenge porn etc will face criminal sanctions
  • Has an extensive safe harbour for intermediaries such as Kiwiblog and Trade Me, so that we’re not liable for content generated by others on our sites, so long as we pass complaints on promptly
  • Rather than me having to judge if a comment is harrassing, threatening etc, I can allow the Approved Agency to mediate, or the District Court to rule

The bad aspects include:

  • The 10 communication principles are too wide, and principle No 10 especially could lead to severe restrictions for online speech, with the principle being used to stifle legitimate criticism
  • The timelines for the safe harbour are very tight
  • A few dedicated trolls could make life hell for content hosts by constantly taking them to court, especially as there is no filing fee
  • Different legal standards now apply to offline and online speech

The Press editorial is opposed:

The purpose of the statute is high-minded enough.  It is designed to deter, prevent and mitigate harm to individuals by digital communications. But the thresholds set by the new statute are perilously low and potentially pose a  threat to freedom of speech. …

Both the agency and the District Court must  decide matters according to “communication principles” contained in the new statute.  Some of these are ludicrously wide.  One, for example, prohibits  digital communications that make a false allegation.  As those with experience of defamation law know, that can be an area of endless argument, and the new statute has none of the safeguards provided by two centuries of development of defamation law.  A similar risk arises from the prohibition on a communication that may be “grossly offensive to a reasonable person in the position of the affected individual”. It does not take much imagination to see how that provision could be used by a deeply religious person to resurrect blasphemy laws that have largely (and properly in a secular society) fallen into disuse.   

A complainant will not be able to obtain any redress unless he or she can show that the offending digital communication has caused  harm. But harm has also been given an alarmingly expansive definition by the statute. It is defined as anything that causes a complainant “serious emotional distress”, a disconcertingly subjective notion. 

The statute requires any decisions to be consistent with rights and freedoms contained in the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act. It is odd the new statute should state this explicitly because those provisions should apply anyway. Presumably it was in recognition of the fact that the new statute potentially threatens those rights and freedoms.

The BORA reference should mean that the court only orders material to be removed in extreme circumstances. But until we have several cases go through the system, we don’t know what sort of approach will be taken.

As I said, there are good aspects to this law. It will help a number of people considerably. But as with The Press I fear the communication principles are too wide, and it will result in people ironically being bullied by others using the law for exercising their free speech online.


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