Human Rights Commission calls for rent controls

December 10th, 2013 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Capping rent prices in the wake of big natural disasters and a warrant of fitness on all rental properties are among Human Rights Commission (HRC) recommendations to the Government prompted by the Canterbury earthquakes.

The HRC today releases a report that considers the human rights challenges that emerged during the quake recovery.

The Human Rights Commission may have legal expertise but I don’t think they have economic expertise.

If you put  a freeze on rents after a disaster, then that will help ensure that new properties are not built and/or rented out. It will lead to even greated reduced supply and homelessness.

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Kia ora

July 5th, 2013 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

A publisher was “gobsmacked” to receive a complaint about using a Maori greeting in an email to a prospective client.

A sales representative for Travel New Zealand sent an email to Queenstown clothing retailer Bonz requesting advertising support. The email began: “Kia ora …”

Bonz owner Bonnie Rodwell replied: “Sorry but why do we need to be addressed with Kia ora?

“Neither myself or [my office manager] speak Maori. Maybe more people would advertise with you if we were addressed with a little more respect. Whilst we have no issue with anything ‘Maori’ at all, we find it plain silly.”

A bloody silly response. Many Maori words are now commonly used by non-Maori. I use whanau and mana regularly. Kia ora is absolutely common place.

Travel New Zealand publisher Gary Cody says he was “absolutely gobsmacked” by Rodwell’s response last Thursday on the eve of this week’s Maori Language Week.

“I couldn’t believe that someone who relied on tourism is offended by that greeting,” Mr Cody said. He had complained to the Human Rights Commissioner, he said.

But that is equally a silly response. Why the hell would you complain to the HRC because a company expressed a negative view on your use of Kia Ora? Does Travel NZ think they shouldn’t be allowed to have a view contrary to their own?

I think both sides are being pretty stupid. Sending in an e-mail of complaint is stupid, but complaining to the HRC because they complained is equally stupid. They should both grow up.

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72 staff

April 21st, 2013 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

More than 10 jobs will be axed at the Human Rights Commission under a proposed shake-up which could see its head office moved from Auckland to Wellington.

The commission launched an organisational review after the Government signalled it would receive no extra baseline funding until 2020.

Chief Human Rights Commissioner David Rutherford said the review aimed to determine how the commission could make human rights more relevant and valuable to all New Zealanders.

But the Public Service Association said the shake-up would impact on the commission’s ability to ensure human rights were upheld.

Staff were told Thursday that 10 full-time jobs would be cut, as well as a number of part-time and fixed-term positions.

PSA national secretary Richard Wagstaff said the scale of the proposal, which would reduce staff numbers by about 15 per cent, had taken staff by surprise.

“In an organisation of its size with only about 72 full-time staff, that’s a pretty big hit and will have significant flow-on effects in terms of workload and efficiency.”

I’m amazed that the Commission currently has 72 staff. Some of the work the Commission does is very valuable, some of it less so. But for some reason I assumed that it had around 20 staff or so.

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Clarification on the paedophile privacy case

April 15th, 2013 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Steven Price blogs:

I confess I’m entirely befuddled by the Dominion Post’s front-page lead on Saturday, “Prosecution for breaching paedophile’s rights”. Can someone help me out here?

Isn’t the story conflating the Commission with the Office of Human Rights Proceedings, an independent office within the HRC? But why is the Office of Human Rights Proceedings bringing a “prosecution”? Does the DomPost mean a claim before the Human Rights Review Tribunal (it seems so, since it mentions the Tribunal later on)? That’s not a prosecution, which is a criminal action.

Or is it a charge that the Sensible Sentencing Trust has breached name suppression? Now, that would be a criminal prosecution, but why isn’t it being brought by the police?

If it’s a Human Rights Proceedings Office case, it sounds like a Privacy Act claim, and not a charge for breach of name suppression at all (some of the language in the story suggests it’s about the Privacy Act, though the Act gets barely a mention in the story). That would also suggest that the Privacy Commissioner has already been involved and either refused to uphold the complaint or couldn’t reach a settlement with the Sensible Sentencing Trust. That would be interesting to know.

And the Human Rights Commission has clarified:

A story published by The Dominion Post on Saturday 6 April “Prosecution for breaching pervert’s rights” and on Stuff.co.nz requires clarification.

The statement that the Human Rights Commission plans to prosecute the Sensible Sentencing Trust needs to be clarified.

The Director of Human Rights Proceedings is instituting proceedings under the Privacy Act. The Privacy Act requires the Director, at his discretion, to make the decision as to whether to institute proceedings.

The Director of Human Rights Proceedings is acting on a referral from the Privacy Commissioner that the Sensible Sentencing Trust interfered with an individual’s privacy.

This is quite important info. As far as I can tell, this matter doesn’t involve any of the Human Rights Commissioners. The agency that appears to be behind this issue is the Office of the Privacy Commissioner.

This whole issue is quite convoluted. The man’s identity was actually published in Truth in 2009, and I believe again last week.

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Is he a paedophile and a liar?

April 14th, 2013 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The SST report:

The serial paedophile at the centre of a name suppression stoush between the Human Rights Commission and the Sensible Sentencing Trust appears to have lied on oath about his job status and where he was living.

The man also lied about his identity when approached by the Sunday Star-Times last week.

The paedophile, who claims he has name suppression for sexually assaulting young girls but cannot produce a court record to prove it, denied he was the man in question when confronted at his workplace.

The man’s lie may be an attempt at damage control because it contradicts a sworn statement he made in support of a bid for interim name suppression being sought by the commission.

Trust spokesman Garth McVicar said the paedophile’s statement, sworn earlier this month, said he was living in the Wellington region and was unemployed.

But a source said the man and his partner took over the running of a central North Island motel about 14 months ago.

Company records show the man described himself as the “manager” of a company believed to be leasing the motel. Other records list his contact phone number as the same as the motel’s.

Yet the Human Rights Commission is using taxpayer money to take legal action against the Sensible Sentencing Trust for revealing he is a paedophile.

If there was some proof of a suppression order, then of course it should be obeyed. But to take action against the Sensible Sentencing Trust purely on the basis of the paedophile’s allegations that he has name supression is outraegous.

The fact that there is now evidence that the paedophile is also a liar, may cause the Human Rights Commission to reconsider the wisdom of taking him at his word.

Neither the commission nor the paedophile have been able to produce a court record to show the man was granted name suppression but documents from the commission show it is largely relying on the paedophile’s word that his name is suppressed.

The commission said a newspaper report of the man’s sentence of a year’s jail in 1995, for five counts of doing indecent acts on girls aged 10 and 14, did not name him.

The man had interim name suppression, but there is no record of it having been made permanent.

An interim name suppression application for the man, who, it is understood, has already received a payout of about $15,000 from police after his police record was anonymously sent to the trust, will be heard on Wednesday in the Auckland District Court.

The Sensible Sentencing Trust repeatedly told the commission it would not publish the man’s details if he could show he had name suppression.

A very reasonable position.

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The Human Wrongs Commission?

April 6th, 2013 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Phil Kitchin at Stuff reports:

The Human Rights Commission plans to prosecute the Sensible Sentencing Trust for breaching a serial paedophile’s privacy.

I’m speechless.

It stems from the trust printing the man’s name and details of his offending on its website. The commission says this breaches his privacy because the trust does not mention that he has name suppression.

However, neither the paedophile nor the commission have been able to supply a court record to prove he has name suppression.

Which is rather important. I don’t think taking the paedophile’s word for it is a good idea.

In January, the present commission director, Robert Kee, wrote to the trust saying it had not ensured it was publishing accurate information when it put the paedophile’s convictions on its website.

Publishing the information without referring to “the fact there is a suppression order” breached the man’s privacy, Mr Kee said.

But three paragraphs later, Mr Kee said he agreed with a judge’s minute that said there is “no record on the file of a final suppression order” being made.

He said the sentencing judge’s written decision was missing, but he believed the Human Rights Review Tribunal “could find on the balance of probabilities that there was a suppression order”.

Balance of probabilities? Not good enough. If you can’t find one, there isn’t one.

On one side of the case is the taxpayer-funded Human Rights Commission, which includes the Office of Human Rights Proceedings and prosecutes cases under the Privacy Act.

On the other side is the Sensible Sentencing Trust, staffed by volunteers and funded by donations.

In the middle is the convicted paedophile, a 58-year-old Wellington man whose offending is alleged to have spanned 14 years.

He was jailed for a year in 1995 on five counts of committing indecent acts on two girls aged 10 and 14.

At the same trial he was acquitted of a further two charges of rape and four charges of indecent assault on young girls.

Twenty years earlier he was charged and acquitted in three separate rape trials.

He also has a conviction for careless driving causing death.

The man lost his job as a chief executive when members of his organisation learned of his sex offending. Documents obtained by The Dominion Post from members of the organisation said he had access to children in his work and had lied about being employed when he was in prison.

I know which side I am on. If this proceeds, I’ll be happy to solicit donations from readers for the Sensible Sentencing Trust on this issue. You don’t have to agree with everything the SST says or does to be appalled by this prosecution.

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Bennett v Fuller

August 15th, 2012 at 2:50 pm by David Farrar

The Human Rights Commission reports:

The Director of Human Rights Proceedings announced today the resolution of a complaint under the Privacy Act against Hon Paula Bennett, Minister of Social Development.

The Director, Mr Robert Hesketh said, “On the basis of the Minister’s letter to me, I have agreed to close my file. The matter has been resolved to the satisfaction of all parties. The letter from the Minister is attached. We have all agreed that the letter speaks for itself and we will make no further comment.”

The complaint had been referred to the Director by the Privacy Commissioner. This is the normal process under the Privacy Act when the Privacy Commissioner considers a complaint has substance, but the parties cannot agree on a settlement.

The letter is here. Bennett says she maintains she was justified in her actions, but regrets the comments same others made re Fuller, and the hurt that caused.

I do believe that if individuals who receive state support portray themselves publicly as “hard done by”, that there is an obligation for the full nature of such support to be revealed. Without it, we the public, have incomplete information.

However the best practice in future would be for the individuals involved to be asked to consent to MSD releasing their details. If consent is refused, that should be publicised, and if then a decision made on whether to release without consent.

Note this does not apply to individuals on state support criticising the Government or its policies generally. Absolutely not. Only if they talk about their individual circumstances in a way which doesn’t provide the full picture.

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The Human Rights Commission

February 21st, 2012 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Catherine Harris at Stuff reports:

Moves are afoot to abolish the title of race relations commissioner, which minority groups and critics say could downgrade the position’s importance.

An amendment to the Human Rights Act introduced to Parliament late last year would abolish the title, although the duties would still be done by a human rights commissioner. …

Justice and Ethnic Affairs Minister Judith Collins said the bill would give commissioners more flexibility as they grappled with a wider range of issues not covered under old legislation.

“The leadership role the commission has in protecting and promoting race relations and equal employment opportunities will remain the same. There will still be fulltime commissioners leading these areas of work.”

I tend to be supportive of the change, and will outline why.

First let me say I am a supporter of there being a Human Rights Commission. Sure there may be individual cases where I disagree with a Commissioner on an issue, but I think it is a good thing to have a body dedicated to protecting and advocating for our rights.

It is worth noting that rights are not absolute, and sometimes is a balance. The right to free speech is weighed against the right to not have someone foster racial hatred, as (for example) the Nazis did. The right of an owner to run their business the way they want is balanced against the rights of employees not be sexually harassed at work.

The Commission currently has eight Commissioners, five of whom are part-time. There is a Chief Commissioner, a Equal Opportunities Commissioner, a Race Relations Commissioner and five others.

Now by signalling two areas out to have a dedicated Commissioner, you basically say these types of rights are more important than others. Hence you then get demands for a disabled rights commissioner, a sexual orientation commissioner etc etc. I’d even considered advocating for a Free Speech Commissioner. I am sure some would like a religious discrimination commissioner too, to protect rights of religiou, s minorities.

The trouble with that approach, is you create silos within the human rights arena, and have the perception of some rights are more important than others.

So I think a better model is to have one Chief Commissioner, and all the other Commissioners are general commissioners. Now certainly within that the Chief Commissioner would allocate commissioners to act in certain areas of expertise or specialisation. The idea is that the Chief Commissioner would have more flexibility,  and as certain areas of human rights gain prominence, be able to allocate more resources to them without needing to change the law.

I’m willing to be persuaded otherwise, but think the mooted change is superior to the status quo.

If however the status quo prevails, then I might start lobbying for there to be a Free Speech Commissioner – someone to argue for the rights of individual and the media to free speech, to advocate that  copyright laws should not stop  satire and parody, that privacy laws should not stop the truth coming out, that electoral laws should encourage public participation and that defamation laws should not be used to stifle fair criticism.

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HRC on Strengthening Parliament

June 23rd, 2011 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

The Human Rights Commission has published a discussion paper on ways to strengthen our parliamentary democracy. Some of their proposals are:

  1. A minimum 12 week period for submissions to select committees
  2. Establishing a dedicated Human Rights Select Committee
  3. All international reports and recommendations on human rights be tabled in Parliament and referred to this select committee
  4. Standing Orders to forbid major legislative provisions by way of Supplementary Order Paper
  5. Amend Standing Order 246 to make it a right for dissenting members to publish a minority report

I broadly support (1) as I think a minimum time for submission to be open would be helpful for the public. You would need some mechanism where this could be shortened when absolutely necessary.

(2) and (3) sort of go together. I’d love a focus on how to better protect our right to free speech.

(4) is well intentioned but probably unworkable. I support the principle but I’m not sure who could decide what is or is not major except the House itself.

(5) is a good idea. Minority reports should not need the permission of the majority.

I’d go further than the HRC in some areas. I would like the Attorney-General’s obligation to report on bills which may breach the Bill of Rights Act to not only apply for introduction/first reading but also to apply at second and third readings so NZers can know if an amended bill is deemed a breach of the Bill of Rights Act.

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Can you privately retract a public apology?

April 5th, 2011 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Yvonne Tahana in the NZ Herald reports:

Human Rights Commission adviser Marama Davidson has withdrawn an apology she made to David Rankin over swearing at him in te reo. …

On Friday, Ms Davidson apologised in writing to Mr Rankin. At that point the commission said its investigation was complete and that appropriate disciplinary action had been taken, although it declined to say what that amounted too.

A day after Ms Davidson’s apology, she allegedly rescinded it in a private email to Mr Rankin, who claims leadership of the Matarahurahu subtribe.

The email stated the issue between them was “confidential” and no media should be involved. It was from a “home computer in my own time and involving no one else except you and I”, she wrote.

“In my personal capacity, I completely withdraw in full the apology that i have made to you in public.”

I think Mr Rankin is right on this issue (I am not a fan of most of what he says). The private e-mail saying you withdraw the public apology, does totally undermine the public apology. What Davidson doesn’t seem to understand is that the sincerity of an apology matters. No one says she has to change her private opinion of anyone – but she should be genuinely sorry that she doesn’t regret the impact on the Human Rights Commission by her behaviour.

I don’t know Ms Davidson, but she seems to be rather stupid. What did she think would happen if she sent that e-mail retracting her public apology. That he wouldn’t complain again? If she ends up getting sacked over this, she’ll only have herself to blame.

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Not racist?

August 5th, 2010 at 6:59 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

The Human Rights Commission says Maori Party MP Hone Harawira needs to consider whether his personal feelings are helpful to race relations.

Good to have the HRC comment.

Mr Harawira said in a weekend newspaper interview he would not feel comfortable if one of his seven children brought home a Pakeha partner, and believed many Pakeha would feel the same about Maori.

Race Relations Commissioner Joris de Bres said members of the public had contacted the Human Rights Commission about the remarks.

He said Mr Harawira’s comments reflected an “unwelcome prejudice” toward Pakeha, adding that census statistics on babies’ ethnicities contradicted Mr Harawira’s views.

It is prejudice. Especially as it was painted purely negatively towards Pakeha. If Hone had said he prefers his children to date Maori as it helps keeps the Maori culture alive, that would be somewhat different. But he basically said he does not want them dating whiteys – would have no problems with Pacific Islanders.

Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples said the remarks were not racist and probably mirrored the feelings of many people. …

“I think it’s just not divisive at all. It’s a view point.”

Not racist and not divisive?

So if a Caucasian Member of Parliament came out and said that he would not want his children to date Maori or Pacific Islanders, that would not be racist, and that would not be divisive?

I’m very disappointed. If the Maori Party ever talk about prejudice or racism, then their words are going to be rather hollow in future.

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Human Rights Commission on Search and Surveillance Bill

November 4th, 2009 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

The Human Rights Commission Submission is here. Extracts:

Freedom of expression, the right to peaceful assembly and association and the right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure are fundamental human rights that are essential to the functioning of a democratic society. For this reason the State’s power to intrude on those freedoms, including through surveillance of its citizens and interception of their conversations and other communications, is necessarily constrained. It is a question of striking an appropriate balance between the public interest and individual liberty.

And the balance we had, appears to be tipping into the direction of greater state powers to intercept.

While none of these rights are absolute, a high threshold is necessary to justify any restriction. As the Attorney-General’s advice notes, “the greater the degree of intrusiveness, the greater the justification that is required and, further, the greater the attendant safeguards to ensure that justification is present”

Covert surveillance is probably the most intrusive thing the state can do, so the justification should be great indeed. And it should primarily be restricted to criminal law enforcement by the Police, and security agencies. Not open to local Councils, the Commerce Commission etc.

While it is correct that the Bill stipulates that a search warrant can only be issued under specific conditions, the powers that are authorised as a result are extensive and will apply not only to the Police but to a wide variety of other enforcement agencies . It is concerning both that an issuing officer no longer needs to be a Judge but can be any “… other person” (provided they have sufficient knowledge, skill and experience) and that the threshold for seeking a warrant is that the officer only needs to have a “reasonable suspicion” that an offence is being, has been, or will be, committed . For these reasons, the Commission is not convinced that the powers in the Bill are necessarily consistent with the right to be free of unreasonable search and seizure.

The Privacy Commission made this point also.

The Bill not only consolidates existing police search powers in one Act but extends either all or aspects of the search and surveillance powers in Part 4 to a wide variety of non-police enforcement agencies .

The Commission questions the rationale for extending some of the powers created by the Bill to agencies such as the Commerce Commission which already has the power under s.98A of the Commerce Act 1986 to issue search warrants. If the legislation is enacted in its present form, employees of the Commerce Commission will be able detain people to determine if they are connected with the search or apply for a surveillance warrant to use interception or tracking devices. Or Dog Control officers (who already have a power of entry under s.14 of the Dog Control Act 1996) being able to enter premises to install a surveillance device.

This is the problem of trying to have a one size fit all law. Just because an agency may require the power of entry doesn’t mean they should be eligible to gain surveillance warrants.

The wide reach of the Bill means that it could have a disproportionate impact on journalists. Private homes and offices will not be exempt. An item in plain view may be taken the course of a search even if not identified in the warrant if the enforcement officer has reasonable grounds to believe he or she could have got a search warrant had they wanted to: cl.119. An external IT provider could be required to assist a person holding a search warrant to access and copy material held on a computer: c1.125 and computers will be able to be accessed remotely, or hacked into: cl.108(i).

The only protection for confidential journalistic sources is cl.130 which reinforces the qualified protection provided by s.68 of the Evidence Act but a Court may order disclosure of material that would disclose the identify of a source or enable it to be discovered, if it would be in the public interest to do so: s.68(2). This effectively modifies the presumption against disclosure in ss(1).

I wonder if the Commonwealth Press Union put in a submission?

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Well that got my attention

October 23rd, 2009 at 11:53 am by David Farrar

I’ve not yet had time to read the Search Surveillance Bill, but have added it to my weekend reading, after viewing this story:

Sweeping powers to spy, bug conversations and hack into private computers could be given to a web of state agencies as diverse as Inland Revenue and the Meat Board.

The Human Rights Commission yesterday warned Parliament of the “chilling” implications of a proposed law that would see the intrusive powers usually only available to the police extended to all agencies with enforcement responsibilities.

It said that under the law, council dog control officers would be able to enter homes to install a surveillance device and the Commerce Commission would be able to detain people.

Inland Revenue would get the powers to assist its tax investigations, while the Meat Board would get them to enforce breaches of export rules.

The Human Rights Commission chief commissioner, Rosslyn Noonan, said the Search Surveillance Bill was giving the powers away to a “grab-bag of every possible agency”.

This summary sounds very bad:

WHAT’S IN THE BILL

THE POWERS:

Video surveillance, watching private activity on private property, installing tracking devices, detaining people during a search, power to stop vehicles without a warrant for a search, warrantless seizure of “items in plain view”, power to hack into computers remotely, power to detain anyone at scene of search.

WHO WILL GET THEM:

Every agency with enforcement responsibilities, such as: Inland Revenue, Meat Board, local councils, Overseas Investment Office, Accident Compensation Corporation, Environment Risk Management Authority, Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, Pork Industry Board.

I feel bad I haven’t been more up to date on this issue. At first glance it looks pretty horrific. Select Committee submissions have already closed but if the Select Committee doesn’t pare back the range of agencies and powers, then amendments can be done at the Committee of the Whole stage.

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