Holding youths in police cells a ‘continued embarrassment’ for NZ – Children’s Commissioner


Judge Jane McMeeken said it was "outrageous" a 14-year-old Canterbury was in police cells for several days.


Judge Jane McMeeken said it was “outrageous” a 14-year-old Canterbury was in police cells for several days.

Police cells – where youths were kept “effectively in solitary confinement” – were supposed to be a last resort for the courts, but information released this week showed 11 youths were in police custody alongside adults around the country.

Ministry of Justice figures showed 168 children and youths were remanded in police custody in the year to April. Of those, 127 spent more than 24 hours in police cells.

Children’s Commissioner Judge Andrew Becroft said the increase in youths being remanded in police cells was “alarming and concerning all of us”.

“These are real issues, genuinely of life and death, and when we place a child in a police cell we’re playing with fire.”

It was “unacceptable in a civilised community”, but as long as the courts had the option available to them, there would not be pressure on the Government to provide a range of community-based facilities, Judge Becroft said.

It “mystified” him that government had not removed the option.

“There’s no logical, principled, or sane reason to keep the police remand option there.

“[The option] is a stain on our otherwise good youth-justice name and it’s a continued embarrassment for us in the international community.

“It’s time for the Government to put a stake in the ground, a line in the sand and say ‘We’re going to end this option’.”

New Zealand’s principal Youth Court judge, John Walker, said judges were right to be concerned about youths jailed in police station cells.

“This is an ongoing problem and shows no sign of going away.

“They are effectively kept in solitary confinement, there is no facility for exercise and limited showering facilities. They receive, few, if any, visits from anyone.”

Walker said most youths had been declared to be in need of care and protection by the Family Court.

“Whatever offence they are alleged to have committed, they are very vulnerable.

“Holding them in cell blocks where adults are being held who are yelling, kicking cell doors, screaming out, being held while they sober up, is completely unacceptable.”

Some young people could not be bailed because of family circumstances or not having a place to live.

Christchurch Judge Jane McMeeken put social-welfare authorities on notice on Wednesday, saying they must find accommodation for a 14-year-old boy facing a robbery charge because she could not keep remanding him to a police cell.

She visited the cell and said it was “outrageous” he had been kept there for several days.

A Ministry for Vulnerable Children Oranga Tamariki representative on Wednesday said no child should spend more than 24 hours in police custody, but said it was not always possible given a recent surge in youth arrests.

Ministry South Island regional manager for youth justice Peter Whitcombe said keeping youths in adult cells was “a tragedy” and plans were in place to increase the number of youth-justice beds.

“The number [of youth arrests] have been higher than usual over the last three weeks and that’s meant we do have the pressure on youth-justice beds,” he said.

A home in Dunedin was opening in late July that would house up to five young offenders who did not require a secure residence, Whitcombe said. Similar homes would also open in Rotorua, Palmerston North and Whangarei.

Plans to implement one-on-one foster-care placements in “safe, loving” homes in Christchurch were in the pipeline.

Police have said youth crime was on the rise in Christchurch. Synthetic cannabis was the drug of choice for the city’s young people and was a significant driver of offending.

Canterbury police family violence, youth and victims services manager, Inspector Glenn Nalder, said officers did their best to care for youths in the cells.

When possible, police would place youths in the same cells in a separate area to adult offenders so they were able to interact.

“Their health, wellbeing and welfare is our primary concern.

“While there’s no specific day facilities or exercise facilities, we can place a young person in a larger holding room [where] they have access to televisions and age-appropriate reading material.”

Nalder said any amount of youth crime was “concerning”.

“We do what we can to work with young people in the early stages of their offending to try and keep them out of the justice system and we emphasise alternative actions as a way of minimising the future likelihood of further offending.”

On Thursday even more pressure went on the system after two 16-year-olds were remanded in police cells after a Waikuku petrol station ram-raid.

The 14-year-old who had concerned Judge McMeeken was released on supported bail on Thursday. He was “an incredibly vulnerable young man” who caused harm to the community, she said.

Police opposed his release on bail, but the prosecutor accepted that there was no alternative.

 – Stuff

Toothless Official Information Act needs overhaul and constitutional backing


Democracy around the world is under threat, and New Zealand is not immune. Here, government attitudes to official information are hampering democratic debate and accountability, writes Sir Geoffrey Palmer.

Throughout the western world, democracy is facing challenging times. People are trusting politicians and political processes less than they used to. Brexit and Donald Trump are symptoms.

New Zealand is not immune to these trends.

We may be relatively free of corruption, but our democracy is not as robust as it could be.

Democracy and democratic processes involve much more than elections. They also involve ongoing dialogue and discussion between the governors and the governed.

Here, New Zealand is falling short. We are a democracy, but we are not a deliberative democracy. The public has few opportunities for deep involvement in political decision-making – at best, they are consulted, often after the government has already made up its mind.

The result is alienation from and cynicism about political processes. Voter turnout declines from election to election. Many eligible voters cannot see the point.

One important reason for this alienation is lack of information.

Public opinion is one of the most important checks on government power, but only if people know what is going on.

In New Zealand, the media is becoming less interested in politics and government. It rarely reports in depth on parliamentary debates or lawmaking, even though these things deeply affect New Zealanders’ lives.

The government, with its control of the policy and legislative agenda and its substantial team of Beehive spin doctors, has considerable influence over the political news agenda.

And one of the most important safeguards of open government, the Official Information Act, is outdated and increasingly toothless.

The Official Information Act was brought in because a well informed public can better participate in the democratic process; because secrecy is an impediment to government accountability; and because better information produces better government and greater public buy-in to political decisions.

Those principles remain sound but they are being imperfectly executed.

With some ministers, the act tends to lack support and acceptance. Some simply evade its requirements.

Some public servants do not like the act either.

In a little reported development, the international lobby group Reporters Without Borders downgraded New Zealand’s press freedom ranking this year because of government practices of delaying and charging for OIA responses. The Act was being implemented in a way that “obstructs the work of journalists”.

The act is showing signs of its age and it is in serious need of refreshment.

The OIA has been reviewed twice by the Law Commission (with reports in 1997 and2012) and once by the Office of the Ombudsman (reported in 2015).

The Law Commission’s more recent report made 137 recommendations for wide-ranging reforms, including extension of the act to cover much of parliament’s work, and the creation of a new statutory oversight office to ensure the Act was being properly implemented.

Nothing has happened.

There has been clear political resistance by successive governments to making changes and freeing up further the release of information. Yet a strengthened Act would increase protection against corruption and questionable decision-making in both central and local government.

The conclusion to be reached after more than 35 years of the law in action is that the present policy settings are inadequate and do not serve the interests of transparency in government as well as they should.

Despite the fact that New Zealand has had the Official Information Act since 1982, it is still often difficult to get information about public affairs in a timely fashion.

In my view, changes are needed.

Redrafting the whole act is essential if real progress is to be made in improving access to official information. The Law Commission has done the work, and the Act needs to be reconstructed.

Like much New Zealand legislation the act should be conscientiously enforced.

The Ombudsmen have the function of recommending disclosure after complaints. The performance of the office has been spotty and somewhat soft in this regard, although it has improved recently.

There needs to be a greater commitment to openness and the act needs to have teeth that it presently lacks.

In A Constitution for Aotearoa New Zealand, Dr Andrew Butler and I propose to make openness and transparency a constitutional requirement. We are seeking feedbackon that proposal.

A powerful commitment to greater openness of government information in a written codified and judicially enforceable constitution would be a safeguard worth having.

It would be a strong nudge to the executive government not to game the act. And to improve it.

Nothing could be more important in strengthening our fragile democracy and protecting the people against corruption and misuse of state power.



NZ Herald
9 Jun, 2017 4:24pm

Attorney General Chris Finlayson. PHOTO/ John Stone

The people of Parihaka have been given a long-awaited apology by the Crown for actions in the late 1800s at a reconciliation ceremony attended by hundreds.

Attorney General Chris Finlayson delivered the apology, saying acknowledging the suffering the Crown’s actions caused for many generations at Parihaka was an important part of reconciliation, but looking forward was also important.

“For the vision of Tohu Kakahi and Te Whiti o Rongomai was not one of protest and resistance. Theirs was a vision of self-determination, co-operation and peace.

“In the past, the Crown felt threatened by that vision and sought to undermine it. Today the Crown comes to Parihaka to make a contribution to the fulfilment of that vision.

“Parihaka has waited a long time for this day.”

In a symbolic move, the Crown party was met at Parihaka by children singing – an echo back to the invasion of the township by Crown military forces on November 5, 1881. On that day, the troops were greeted by children performing a haka and singing before being offered loaves of bread baked for them. The troops sacked much of the village and arrested the leaders as well as many of the men.

It was also acknowledged in the formal apology, which referred to the songs and gifts of food as their village was destroyed.

“The Crown now joins Parihaka in paying tribute to the men, women and children who responded to the Crown’s tyranny with dignity, discipline and immense courage.”

The Crown apology spoke of the goals of Te Whiti and Tohu Kakahi, saying while Parihaka had promoted peaceful engagement between Maori and Pakeha, “the Crown responded to peace with tyranny, to unity with division, and to autonomy with oppression”.

It apologised in particular for imprisoning Parihaka residents for acts of passive resistance, such as ploughing settlers’ fields, with imprisonment without trial and for the sacking of Parihaka in 1881, including forcible evictions, desecrating homes and sacred buildings. It also apologised for the rape by Crown troops after that invasion “and for the immeasurable and enduring harm that this caused to the women of Parihaka, their families and their uri (descendants) until the present day”.

It addressed the arrests and detention of Te Whiti and Tohu Kakahi for 16 months without trial.

The formal apology was part of a reconciliation package for the community, including a Deed of Reconciliation and $9 million for Parihaka to use for their development – including new buildings, as well as archaeological work.

It is aimed at continuing the legacy of the community’s founding prophets Te Whiti and Tohu Kakahi, who set up Parihaka in 1866 after being forced off their own lands during the Land Wars.

The Parihaka agreement was not a Treaty of Waitangi settlement because the community is made up of people from several iwi.

Finlayson said despite that, the reconciliation with Parihaka was an important step in addressing the historic grievances in Taranaki.

Finlayson said the events at Parihaka were among the most shameful in the history of the country, but were not well understood. He said the Crown’s actions left the people “impoverished, demoralised and vilified,” causing harm for generations of Maori in the Taranaki.

Legislation will be introduced to Parliament for the reconciliation package to take effect.

The full text of the Apology in English and te reo Maori:

Crown Apology
In 1866, the settlement of Parihaka was established as a final refuge for Taranaki hapū whose homes and cultivations had been repeatedly destroyed by Crown troops, and who had recently suffered the indiscriminate confiscation of traditional lands that had sustained them and their tupuna for generations, and which formed the very bedrock of their identity.

At a time of unprecedented loss and continuing Crown violence, the people of Parihaka chose to establish their new community under principles of compassion, equality, unity, and self-sufficiency. Under the leadership of Tohu Kākahi and Te Whiti o Rongomai, the community at Parihaka asserted their customary rights to land and political autonomy through symbolic acts of protest while promoting peaceful engagement between Māori and Pākehā. Parihaka became a place of refuge and a source of inspiration for thousands of people from across Taranaki and from elsewhere in Aotearoa.

The Crown acknowledges that it failed to recognise or respect the vision of self-determination and partnership that Parihaka represented. The Crown responded to peace with tyranny, to unity with division, and to autonomy with oppression.

The Crown therefore offers its deepest apologies to the people of Parihaka for all its failures, and in particular for the following actions:

• For imprisoning Parihaka residents for their participation in the ploughing and fencing campaigns of 1879 and 1880, and for promoting laws that breached natural justice by enabling those protestors to be held in South Island jails without trial for periods that assumed the character of indefinite detention;

• For depriving those political prisoners of their basic human rights, and for inflicting unwarranted hardships both on them and on members of their whānau and hapu who remained behind and sustained Parihaka in their absence;

• For invading Parihaka in November 1881, forcibly evicting many people who had sought refuge there, dismantling and desecrating their homes and sacred buildings, stealing heirlooms, and systematically destroying their cultivations and livestock;

• For the rapes committed by Crown troops in the aftermath of the invasion, and for the immeasurable and enduring harm that this caused to the women of Parihaka, their families, and their uri until the present day;

• For the arrest and detention of Tohu Kākahi and Te Whiti o Rongomai for 16 months without trial in the South Island;

• For its imposition of a pass system which regulated entry into Parihaka, denied residents the freedom of movement, and prevented supporters from providing Parihaka with supplies following the invasion;

• For compounding these injustices by returning land under a regime that deprived owners of control and ultimately the ownership of much of the Parihaka reserves, and which remain in place to this day.

The Crown denied Parihaka the right to develop and sustain itself on its own terms, and then failed for many years to address the resulting grievances in an appropriate way. The Crown profoundly regrets these actions, which have burdened the people of Parihaka with an intergenerational legacy of grievance and deprivation, and which have burdened the Crown with a legacy of shame.

On the 7th day of November every year, the whānau of Parihaka come together to remember those tupuna who, in 1881, met the Crown’s soldiers with songs and gifts of food, and who honoured their commitment to peace while their homes and gardens were destroyed and leaders imprisoned.

The Crown now joins Parihaka in paying tribute to the men, women, and children who responded to the Crown’s tyranny with dignity, discipline and immense courage. It is the Crown’s sincerest hope that through this apology, Parihaka and the Crown can now acknowledge their shared past, move beyond it, and begin to work together to fulfil the vision of peaceful coexistence that Tohu and Te Whiti described.

He whakapāha hukihuki nā te Karauna ki a Parihaka
I ngā tau i muri tata mai i te kī taurangi ki te Māori, e kore nei e whakararurarungia tana pupuri ki ngā whenua i pīrangitia ai e ia, ka tīmata tā te Karauna āta pāhua i te tangata whenua o Taranaki. Nā te kirimana hoko, nā te riri ā-patu, nā te muru me te ture hoki i riro ai i te Karauna ngā whenua mōmona o Taranaki, me te aha, noho ai tana iwi i roto i te rawakore, i te ngākau-kore, i roto hoki i te whakahariharitaetanga. Ka whakaū te Karauna i ana whakapāha ki te iwi o Taranaki mō te nui o ana korenga i hāpai i ngā mātāpono o te mahi tahi me te mahi pono e whakatinanatia nei e te Tiriti o Waitangi, mō te nui whakaharahara hoki o te kino i hua ake i aua mahi rā ki ngā whakatipuranga Māori o roto o Taranaki.

I tēnei wā, e tāpae ana te Karauna i te whakapāha e whai ake nei ki te iwi o Parihaka o mua, o nāianei hoki.

I te tau 1866, kua whakatūria te pā o Parihaka hei punanga whakamutunga mō ngā hapū o Taranaki, i rite tonu rā te ukuukua o ō rātou nei kāinga me ā rātou nei māra e ngā hōia o te Karauna, ka mutu, nō nā tata tonu rā rātou i pāngia kinotia ai e te muru kurī noa ihotanga o ngā papa kāinga nā reira i ora ai rātou me ō rātou tūpuna mō te hia whakatipuranga, i noho rā hoki hei tūāpapa ukiuki mō tō rātou tuakiri.

I te pāhuatanga kāore anō i kitea i mua, i te rere tonutanga hoki o te tūkino a te Karauna, ka whakatau te iwi o Parihaka ki te whakatū i tō rātou kāinga hou i raro i ngā mātāpono o te aroha, o te tauritenga, o te kotahitanga me te tino rangatiratanga. I raro i te ārahitanga a Tohu Kākahi rāua ko Te Whiti o Rongomai, ka whakaū te iwi o Parihaka i tō rātou mana ki te whenua, i tō rātou mana motuhake hoki mā te tohe whai tikanga i a rātou e whakatairanga ana i te rangimārie ki waenga i te Māori me te Pākehā. Ka noho a Parihaka hei punanga, hei whakahihiritanga hoki i te tini tāngata puta noa i Taranaki, otirā, i Aotearoa whānui tonu.

E whakaae ana te Karauna i tino kore rawa atu nei ia i whakaae, i whakamana rānei i te whakakitenga o te tino rangatiratanga me te noho tahi i whakatauiratia rā e Parihaka. Ko tā te Karauna urupare ki te rangimārie ko te ngarengare, ki te kotahitanga ko te whakawehewehe, ki te mana motuhake ko te tāmitanga.

Nō reira, e tāpaetia nei e te Karauna tana whakapāha nui whakaharahara ki te iwi o Parihaka i ōna hapa katoa, otirā, i ēnei mahi e whai ake nei:

• I te mauheretanga o ngā tāngata o Parihaka mō tā rātou whai wāhi ki ngā mahi parau me te whakatū taiapa o te tau 1879 me te tau 1880, i te hāpai ture hoki e takahi ana i te tika me te pono mā te tuku kia mauheretia aua tāngata ki ngā whare herehere o Te Waipounamu me te kore i whakawāngia mō ōna wā e kīia ai tērā he mauheretanga whakawā-kore;
• I te korenga o te mana tangata o aua mauhere ā-tōrangapū i manaakitia, i te whiunga take-koretanga nei hoki o rātou tahi ko ērā o ō rātou whānau me ō rātou hapū, i mahue iho rā ki te ukauka i te pā o Parihaka i tō rātou tamōtanga, ki te whakawiritanga;
• I te pāhuatanga o Parihaka i te marama o Noema, i te tau 1881, e peia rā te tokomaha i āta haere ai ki reira ki te kimi āhurutanga, e turakina ai, e hāparutia ai hoki ō rātou kāinga me ō rātou whare tapu, e tāhaetia ai ngā kura tongarewa, e āta ukuukua ai ā rātou ngakinga me ngā kararehe;
• I ngā pāwheratanga a ngā hōia o te Karauna i muri mai i te pāhuatanga, me te taumaha hārukiruki, me te roa o te mamae o tēnei tūāhuatanga i pā atu ki ngā wāhine o Parihaka, ki ō rātou whānau me ō rātou uri ā mohoa nei;
• I te hopunga me te mauheretanga o Tohu Kākahi rāua ko Te Whiti o Rongomai i Te Waipounamu mō te tekau mā ono marama, me te korenga i whakawāngia;
• I tāna whakature i tētahi pūnaha whakauru e whakarite ana i te urunga ki Parihaka, e whakakore ana i tā ngā tāngata whenua haereere noa, e aukati ana hoki i tā te hunga tautoko tuku i ngā ō ki Parihaka i muri mai i te pāhuatanga;
• I tana whakahē kē atu i ēnei takahitanga o te ture mā te whakahoki whenua i raro i tētahi kaupapa nā reira i kore ai i noho ki ngā tāngata whenua te mana whakahaere, otirā, te rangatiratanga o te maha o ngā whenua rāhui o Parihaka, e mau tonu nei i tēnei rā.

Nā te Karauna i takahi te mana o Parihaka ki te whakawhanake, ki te ukauka hoki i a ia anō i runga i tāna i pai ai, ka mutu, kāore hoki i tika te whakatauria o ngā whakamau i hua mai ai mō te hia tau nei. Inā te ngoto o te whakapāha a te Karauna i ēnei mahi kua whakataumaha nei i te iwi o Parihaka ki te whakamau me te takaonge tuku iho mō te hia whakatipuranga, kua here nei hoki i te Karauna ki te whakamā tuku iho.

I te 7 o ngā rā o Noema, i ia tau, karapinepine ai ngā whānau o Parihaka ki te maumahara ki ngā tūpuna nā rātou nei i tāpae atu te waiata me te koha kai ki ngā hōia o te Karauna, i te tau 1881, ā, nā rātou nei hoki i whakahei tā rātou ū ki te maungārongo i te wā tonu e ukuukutia ana ō rātou kāinga, ā rātou ngakinga, i te wā anō hoki e mauheretia ana ō rātou rangatira.

I tēnei wā, e tū ana te Karauna i te taha o Parihaka ki te mihi ki ngā tāne, ki ngā wāhine, ki ngā tamariki hoki i utu rā i tō te Karauna ngarengare ki te tū rangatira, ki te whakawhenuatanga me te māia whakaharahara. Ko te tino tūmanako o te Karauna, mā tēnei whakapāha e wātea ai a Parihaka me te Karauna ki te whai whakaaro ki tō rāua ao o mua, e anga whakamua ai, e tīmata ai hoki tā rāua mahi tahi ki te whakatinana i te tūrua pō mō te rangimārie o te noho tahitanga i kōrerotia rā e Tohu rāua ko Te Whiti.

HRF AGM 28 JUNE 2017



to be held on





AT 6.00PM

(with drinks/nibbles from 5:30pm)





Confirmation of Minutes of AGM held on Wednesday 24 February 2016

Chairperson’s Report

Financial Statements

Election of Officers

General Business 

Guest Speaker: 

Nicky Hager: Hit and Run and Human Rights

Ombudsman urges ministers to follow OIA rules


A top government watchdog wants an assurance ministers aren’t flouting the law when dealing with requests for official information.

Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier, left, has written a letter to Prime Minister Bill English after the Transport Minister's office tried to stop KiwiRail from releasing a report.

Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier, left, has written a letter to Prime Minister Bill English seeking an assurance ministers are complying with the Official Information Act. Photo: RNZ

Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier has written a letter to Prime Minister Bill English after the Transport Minister’s office tried to stop KiwiRail from releasing a report.

Judge Peter Boshier says the White Ribbon campaign has been damaged.

Chief Ombudsman Peter BoshierPhoto: SUPPLIED

He said such incidents risked eroding public confidence in the government and democracy.

The Official Information Act sets out the rules for responding to requests and is designed to keep ministers and officials accountable.

Mr Boshier said he had asked Mr English to confirm his ministers were committed to the Act and understood their obligations, particularly in an election year.

“It’s so important that we get this Act flowing better than it has been and it hasn’t necessarily flowed that well.

“And that’s why I’ve used this as an opportunity to exhort the Prime Minister to help me and support me in getting the roles crystal clear.”

He said “leadership from the very top” was necessary to guarantee government accountability and openness.

“We are coming down increasingly heavier where we see instances where the Act is not being compiled with – and in some cases, where it’s been flouted.

“I think there’s an understanding that we mean business.”

New Zealand First last week released emails which show Transport Minister Simon Bridges’ office urged KiwiRail not to release the business case for a proposed new rail line in Auckland.

His staff pushed back even after KiwiRail insisted it legally had to be released.

Mr Boshier wouldn’t comment on the specific case, saying he had yet to properly investigate it, but said he would look into it if someone made a formal request.

“There’s no doubt in this case that if it was felt there had been an error and we were asked to investigate, we would do so.”

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters last night lodged a request asking that Mr Boshier do just that.

He said the government had been acting in a “very smug and arrogant and interventionist way”.

“They’ve been outed breaking the law, so to speak, and carrying on as if accountability doesn’t matter.”

National MP and leader of the House Simon Bridges.

Simon Bridges Photo: VNP / Daniela Maoate-Cox

Mr Bridges, though, defended his office’s actions and said his officials’ objections were valid.

“[The document] is a very early draft, materially wrong in a number of respects, in relation to something that will need to be decided by government.

“Historically, those things have not been released in quite a number of cases.”

He said, nevertheless, the document now either would be or has already been released.

Mr Bridges said he personally had had no knowledge of the email exchange.

Mr English said in a statement he expected all ministers and their staff to comply with the law.

A spokesperson said his office gave Mr Boshier that assurance last week.

UN ‘not aware’ of Afghan raid dispute – Brownlee

The government denies the United Nations has asked it for a full investigation into a controversial 2010 SAS raid in Afghanistan.


Photo: RNZ/Jane Patterson

The United Nations Committee Against Torture has asked the government to report on what measures it has put in place to fully investigate the allegations about the raids made in investigative journalists Jon Stephenson and Nicky Hager’s book Hit & Run.

The book, released in March, claimed six civilians were killed instead of insurgents in the raid.

It also claimed homes were destroyed, wounded people were not treated and a prisoner was mistreated.

The Committee Against Torture released a list of questions for New Zealand to report on prior to its examination by the committee in Geneva, which will likely take place in 2019. Question 27 related to the Afghan raids:

“Please indicate what measures the State party has put in place to ensure that all allegations relating to ‘Operation Burnham’ will be fully investigated and addressed.”

Prime Minister Mr English decided in April not to hold an inquiry into the operation.

Foreign Minister Gerry Brownlee said the UN committee was asking the question based on factual inaccuracies written in the book.

Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee.

Foreign Minister Gerry Brownlee Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

“The wording that they have used indicates that they are not aware that the government has disputed the allegations and, in fact, I think conclusively disproved the allegations made in the book that was published earlier in the year.”

However, he said the government would respond to the request for information.

Amnesty International NZ executive director Grant Bayldon said an investigation was “clearly the right thing to do”.

“We have very real concerns about the impartiality of military forces investigating military conduct. It’s not too late for the Prime Minister to order a thorough, independent inquiry. We owe it to New Zealand’s international reputation and the men and women who represent us in conflicts overseas to remove any shadow of a doubt about our military conduct.”

Gordon Campbell on the causes of poverty


One of the enduring myths of the conservative right is that poverty is primarily a state of mind, and that welfare assistance only corrodes the mindset necessary for people to pull themselves out of poverty. Such views have been given a new lease of life by Ben Carson, head of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development. “You take somebody with the wrong mind-set,” Carson said in a radio interview last week: “You can give them everything in the world. They’ll work their way right back down to the bottom.” In similar vein, Carson has suggested that public housing shouldn’t be heated too cosily lest that too,should promote a welfare dependent mindset.

Last week, Carson’s views received some grudging support on RNZ’s own conservative radio show, The Panel.

In fact, as the New York Times pointed out in a rejoinder, the research evidence indicates that Carson may have confused cause and effect, and got them around the wrong way.

Poverty is in some ways a state of mind, studies show, in that it can cause people to think less clearly, to sleep less well, to contend with distraction and to internalize shame. But it’s the experience of deprivation that leads to the mind-set, researchers say. It’s not the mind-set that leads people into poverty, or that explains why many never escape it.

In experiments, they’ve shown that people who are asked to think about financial problems — or who experience financial strain — perform worse on spatial and reasoning tasks. Poverty, they argue, exacts a mental tax akin to lowering a person’s IQ. And those mental costs have a way of reinforcing poverty. If you’re worried about eviction, you may forget a doctor’s appointment; if you’re preoccupied with how to pay the bills, you may be worse at making other decisions. That is a very different thing, however, from saying that people who don’t have the right attitude remain poor.

This is not to deny personal responsibility, and a role for motivation. Yet… is being on welfare really the main determinant of future negative social outcomes that the likes of Bill English and Paula Bennett routinely suggest, and should such beliefs on their part be allowed to shape the policies (and budgets) when it comes to social investment? The causal nexus of sustained poverty is complex but the bulk of research, as the NYT also points out, indicates that income is a far stronger predictor of life outcomes like educational attainment, than the time spent on welfare.

Geography also plays a role. Be born poor say, in Northland and you may face higher odds than being poor in New Plymouth, or Auckland.

One large recent study, led by the Stanford economist Raj Chetty, showed that poor children face very different odds of scaling the income ladder — of achieving the Ben Carson story — depending on where they grow up. Poor children in Montgomery, Alabama. for example, are less likely than poor children in San Francisco to reach the middle and upper class as adults.

Logically, the geographical factors also help to undermine the poverty-is-mindset argument. Do more people in one region all happen to have a worse mindset than those living elsewhere in the country? Hardly. The same arguments, the NYT adds, apply internationally as well – in that a son’s income is more closely linked to a father’s income in the US than is the case elsewhere in the developed world. As an aside, such statistics fly in the face of the belief in American exceptionalism that is so dear to so many US conservatives:

Why is there so much more poverty here than in other wealthy countries? Are Americans more likely to have the wrong mind-set? If U.S. exceptionalism derives from particular strengths of the American character, can it also be true that a vast share of Americans — more than 40 million lived under the poverty line last year — lack the will to lift themselves up?

Regardless, critics of welfare continue to warn that the provision of assistance enables the recipients to blame society for their hardship. Yet the allegedly ‘toughlove’ alternative – if you’re poor, you have only you and your bad mindset to blame – would seem to run the risk of being equally self-defeating. If you individualise the cause of poverty, this turns a social problem into a psychological one, and personal fault readily gets internalised. Among other things, the shame involved can easily erode the ability of those in need to perform the ‘pull yourself up by your bootstraps’ response that’s being expected of them.

As the researchers cited by the NYT conclude, we don’t draw similar conclusions – from the example of the occasional exceptional individual – about groups other than the poor. (eg John McCain’s life story, they say, doesn’t imply that veterans who struggle with PTSD haven’t tried hard enough.) The risks of the’ social investment’ approach to poverty – and the related use of Big Data tools honed in the insurance and finance sectors to ‘predict’ abuse and dependency among a target group of “problem” families that share similar characteristics – are genuine, and they go largely unacknowledged by the politicians keen to promote this approach. The risks include tendencies to circular reasoning, racial profiling and cultural stigmatisation. As with Ben Carson, cause and effect can be confused.

After all, the value of predictive modelling work lies in its alleged ability to accurately predict those cases where child abuse will later be substantiated. Circular reasoning can readily creep into this process, and raise the spectre of racial profiling and stigmatisation. To critics [of the Predictive Risk Management] approach, that’s a problem with the three main risk factors cited above: families already known to CYF are subject to more surveillance and monitoring, therefore children already known to them are likely to have a flag in the system for subsequent babies born to those parents.

“This,” as one social work academic interviewed for this article told me, “would partly explain why contact with CYF for older children and parents’ own CYF histories are such strong predictors. “

This isn’t to say, she added, that abuse isn’t occurring among such families – but if abuse is occurring elsewhere and amid other families, it is less likely to be picked up due to less monitoring; plus if older children have been substantiated, that too is likely to add to the risk picture and will lead to the substantiating of other children from the same families.

This should suggest to us that the mindset of the people driving the current social investment policies may be as questionable as the mindset of the poor…at least when it comes down to explaining why poverty and negative behaviours recur, and why certain social groups are being selectively targeted by the authorities. As one researcher in the above Werewolf article pointed out:

To offer an individualised ‘service’ that does not, indeed cannot, address the broader social policy issues is deeply problematic. It assigns a stigmatised status to individuals in a manner that removes all attention from the wider policy landscape, and implicitly creates a narrative that there are certain people ‘out there’, who are fundamentally different from the rest of us, who have some kind of innate tendency to abuse children that, unless identified and prevented, will eventually express itself like a hidden gene waiting to trigger an inevitable disease process.

The risk of isolating and pathologising families – and communities – should be of concern to all of us. Unfortunately, poverty and its damaging side effects are a product of the same economic policies that have been applauded in last week’s Budget coverage.

No one wants children to be abused, and a focus on prevention is welcome, but ‘othering’ a sector of the population with no attention to the social landscape that contributes to their problems sorely challenges the ‘effective intervention’ side of the argument, while strengthening the stigma downsides.

Meaning: we can’t ‘fix’ poverty by focussing only on its consequences.

Attorney-General v Taylor – A public law geek gets very excited

May 30, 2017

Last week, a five member bench of the Court of Appeal issued their decision in the matter of theAttorney‑General v Taylor. It’s a remarkable judgment that confirms the existence of a novel remedy for someone who has had their fundamental rights interfered with by legislation – a formal declaration of inconsistency. That may not sound like much of a remedy to some people, but as the Court itself said (at paragraph [76]) a declaration of inconsistency “is made in the reasonable constitutional expectation that the other branches will respond to it by reappraising” the offending legislation.  

I won’t rehearse the detail of the decision. Professor Andrew Geddis has written a very good account of what was decided and why it is important. I want to step back from the detail of the decision and talk about what I think it might mean in a broader context.

A remarkable judgment

First, I want to nerd out and gush a bit about the decision. I got genuinely excited multiple times when I was reading it. The mix of the important subject matter (fundamental rights), the grandeur of some the underlying concepts (the role of courts in a liberal democracy) and the fluency with which the judges parsed the various arguments before the court all left me very impressed (and perhaps a little breathless). I’m not too proud to say that there was more than one moment where I literally stopped reading to pump my fist, despite being the only one in the room.

I know not many other people will have had this reaction, and fair enough. I’m a special case. But it really took me back to some of the more impressive judgments I read when I was an undergrad or young lawyer.  Simple phrases like “Thomas J (dissenting)” or Baragwanath J’s “It is necessary to start from bedrock” in Air New Zealand Ltd can send shivers down my spine. That happened reading this case. I wish it happened more often.

Why do we have courts?

Much of the judgment deals with the complex issue of the relationship between the different branches of government, and how they interact with each other. The Attorney‑General, who represents the government in these proceedings, argued that only Parliament could authorise the courts to issue a declaration of inconsistency (which it hasn’t). If the courts were to claim that jurisdiction for themselves, they might be overstepping their constitutional boundaries. They might be doing Parliament’s job instead of their own, which could undermine their political independence (and therefore their legitimacy) or strain the relationship between the judicial and political branches of government.

These are cogent arguments, and from reading between the lines in the judgment the Attorney‑General’s lawyers put them forcefully. They have particular force in a New Zealand context because of the way we organise our government. We like Parliament to have the final say on difficult issues, and prefer that the courts take a back seat on most occasions. There is an active debate going on in New Zealand at the moment about whether this is the best way to organise government, but in any case it’s what we have. So the argument to the Court was taihoa, don’t get ahead of yourselves, and leave this issue to the political system without interfering.

Thankfully, the Court was having none of that. It acknowledged the constitutional concerns involved, and essentially concluded that it is the courts’ job to deal with breaches of fundamental rights the best they can. This will mean being sensitive to the constitutional issues involved, but as long as they do so the courts are not going beyond their ordinary role. Rights issues may well have a political dimension, and Parliament is never excluded from having its say. But in any system that relies on legal rules and processes, human rights also have a legal dimension. It is for the courts first and foremost to investigate that legal dimension, and that role is preserved by confirming the power to issue a declaration of inconsistency in appropriate circumstances.

This, I would argue, is precisely what we have courts for – to ensure that we, as a social and political group, vindicate fundamental rights. Good on the Court of Appeal for affirming this in unambiguous terms (and doing so with such style).

Policewoman firing Taser at man lying face-down on ground ‘unjustified’ – IPCA


A policewoman firing a Taser at an angry man for a third time, while he lay on the ground in Christchurch, amounted to ...


A policewoman firing a Taser at an angry man for a third time, while he lay on the ground in Christchurch, amounted to excessive force, the IPCA says.

A police officer who fired a Taser at a man as he lay face-down on the ground used unjustified and disproportionate force, an inquiry has found.

The policewoman, who graduated from Police College fewer than two years earlier, had already twice used the Taser on the angry and abusive man.

The Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) has found her first two uses of the Taser – and her colleague’s use of the pepper spray – were justified, but the third use of the Taser was not.

Two female officers attended a domestic incident involving a father and son fighting in a Christchurch driveway about 9.40pm on April 1, 2016.

When the officers arrived, they found the son standing outside the front door.

The son he became aggressive and began swearing at them.

Noticing blood on the son, the officers became concerned about his father’s safety, the IPCA report said.

The son refused to answer questions and clenched his fists.

The officers went to arrest him for disorderly behaviour, but he refused the probationary constable’s command to get on his knees.

She drew her Taser and warned him she would use it if he did not obey.

The son became angrier.

Believing he was would attack, the probationary constable fired the Taser at him.

When the Taser prongs failed to connect, the son began walking towards the her.

The other officer used pepper spray on him while the probationary constable reloaded her Taser.

She fired the Taser a second time, hitting the son in the torso. He fell forward onto the ground.

About eight seconds later, the probationary constable fired the Taser a third time, while the son lay face down on the ground.

The probationary constable told the IPCA she did so because she thought he was reaching behind his back to remove the Taser probe.

If he did so, they would have no option other than to physically fight with him, she believed.

“The son was not being assaultive or threatening when the Taser was used for the third time. That use of the Taser was for compliance, which is a breach of policy.

“It was not necessary and amounted to excessive force,” IPCA chairman Judge Sir David Carruthers said.

 – Stuff

Defence Force sits on Operation Burnham info

Nicky Hager & Jon Stephenson launching Hit & Run. which made explosive claims about the  SAS in Afghanistan


Nicky Hager & Jon Stephenson launching Hit & Run. which made explosive claims about the SAS in Afghanistan

Video footage of the controversial Afghan raid at the centre of claims in the book Hit and Run remains secret after the New Zealand Defence Force confirmed the US military has still not agreed to its release.

NZDF is also refusing to release other details about the raid, including an International Security Assistance Force report.

Authors Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson claimed in their book Hit and Run, released March, that SAS soldiers were involved in the death of six Afghan civilians, including a young child, during a raid in 2010.

The Chief of Defence Force, Lieutenant General Tim Keating reject the books claims


The Chief of Defence Force, Lieutenant General Tim Keating reject the books claims

The book claims the SAS led raid on two villages in the Tirigiran Valley but Defence Force chief Lieutenant General Tim Keating has accused them of major inaccuracies, saying Kiwi troops never operated in the two villages identified as the site of the attack. Keating has rejected calls for an inquiry.

The video footage could shed more light on the claims and counter claims and NZDF has confirmed it has the video in its possession.

Stuff lodged an Official Information ACT request with NZDF seeking a copy of video footage taken during the raid. The request also sought further detailed information including the ISAF report, briefing reports, operational plans and other planning documents.

In its response today, NZDF refused to release the video footage, saying it did not have permission from the US military to do so.

“No video footage was taken by the NZDF during Operation Burnham….the NZDF has asked the United States to declassify and release video imagery captured during Operation Burnham and passed to the NZDF. That permission has not been received at this time.”

Its grounds for refusing to release other documentation was to protect the security and defence of New Zealand.

An ISAF report was conducted after the raid and raised the likelihood of civilian casualties but Keating confirms he saw only the executive summary.