A Right to Housing in New Zealand?

MargaretBedggood3[1]

Last month the Citizens’ Advice Bureau joined a growing chorus of complaint and anxiety about the state of housing in New Zealand, especially with regard to children. A recent Salvation Army report, subsequent letters and discussion in The Herald and marches of protest on the streets have all recently emphasised the need for housing issues to be addressed. A question which has been asked but not further discussed is whether there is a legal right to housing here. If so, is it an enforceable right, in the courts, for example? If not, could it be?

One commentator mentioned the Millenium Development Goals. These have now been superseded by the Sustainable Development Goals. The first seven concern issues which are closely associated to housing, such as relieving poverty and improving health. The member states of the UN clearly then consider these to be important goals and have agreed to monitor and report progress on them. But they are not bound to do so. These Goals do not confer rights on anyone.

There is, however, another possibility. In 1978 New Zealand ratified the 1966 United Nations International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. This Covenant is one of two (with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights) which are intended to give legal force to the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the member states of the new United Nations in the aftermath of the horrors of World War II. Article 11(1) reads in part:

The States Parties to the present Covenant recognise the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing and housing…The States Parties will take appropriate steps to ensure the realisation of this right…

By ratifying this Covenant New Zealand thus recognised a right to housing and agreed to make it realisable here.

In states with a legal system such as ours an international treaty does not become immediately enforceable in a local court; that requires enabling legislation, such as a Bill of Rights or a specific law: for example, the Crimes of Torture Act 1989 outlawed the use of torture to conform with the United Nations Convention Against Torture. Our 1990 Bill of Rights Act protects only civil and political (CP) rights, not economic and social (ESC) rights such as a right to adequate housing. For many years, despite the existence of the Covenant and its ratification by many states, ESC rights were considered to be not as important as CP rights and less attention was paid to them in law and policy. But those days are long passed. The normative content of a right such as that to adequate housing has been increasingly clarified and thus also the extent of a state’s obligations and the role of the judiciary in their enforcement. In very many states, Constitutions and Bills of Rights now include ESC rights and cases are litigated over these rights on a regular basis in all regions of the world.

But not in New Zealand. Here successive governments have refused to include these rights in the Bill of Rights Act or to protect them through other legislation (except for some particular instances such as tenancy regulation). They have maintained this stance despite ongoing criticism from UN bodies and from local NGOs. Amnesty International and the Human Rights Foundation have made strong representations both in international forums and to the 2013 Constitutional Review Panel that this situation, so out of kilter with accepted international practice, be addressed.

One of the reasons given by the government for this lack of action has been that such rights are already well protected in New Zealand, presumably because, despite the lack of legislation, there are good policies and programmes in place to protect such a right. As regards the right to housing, this is manifestly not the case. Not only are children sleeping in cars but in one recent tragic case the coroner linked the death of a child to the conditions in which she was housed.

Having a right enshrined in legislation indicates that it is regarded as of fundamental importance, to be taken seriously by politicians and judges, by civic planners and by the citizens themselves. Such recognition provides a basis for complaint for individuals or for organisations working on their behalf, such as the Salvation Army or the CAB. It can serve as a springboard for lawyers and judges to take action to protect the rights of New Zealanders. There is already a body of information, painstakingly developed by lawyers, judges, NGOs and academics, to establish the several obligations of the state, local authorities and private companies and the roles of the courts, councils and the Executive.

We all do have a right to housing in New Zealand. We need now to make that right a reality.

Margaret Bedggood

Human Rights Foundation of Aotearoa New Zealand

Honorary Professor of Law, University of Waikato

 

Dirty Politics won’t die

Nicky Hager
Last year’s Dirty Politics bombshell keeps going off. The ruling by the High Court against the Police for raiding Nicky Hager’s home is an important judgement in yet another busy year for the various Dirty Politics characters. 
Yesterday’s landmark judicial ruling against the Police for raiding Nicky Hager’s house is just the latest chapter in the ongoing saga of Dirty Politics. For the best coverage of the ruling, see David Fisher’s Police house raid on investigative journalist Nicky Hager found to be unlawful.
For an explanation of why the judgement is so important for democracy and the public, see Regan Schoultz’s Hager decision: Why you should care and Matt Nippert’s Nicky Hager police raid ruling a win for journalism. Both pieces make significant points about the need to have properly functioning mechanisms that hold the powerful to account, and say the police raid undermined that mechanism.
But for the hardest-hitting criticism of the Police, see Gordon Campbell’s On the Police harassment of Nicky Hager. His short must-read column paints a picture of the Police acting as blatant stooges for the political Establishment, to take out a critic. And he warns that it will continue to happen.
Hager spoke about his victory and the “strange” actions of the police in a five-minute interview with Alison Mau – see: Hager: Police raid ‘weird overkill’.
Attention is now turning to the question of how the Police could get this case so wrong. Various politicians and partisans are pointing the finger at the National Government’s role in the saga – see Greg Presland’s blog post, What was National’s role in the police raid on Nicky Hager? and Sam Sachdeva’s Nicky Hager case ‘raises questions’ about political pressure on police – MPs.
To understand the case properly it’s worth going back and looking at some of the material from the court case in July. Alastair Thompson of the Scoop website used the Official Information Act to obtain the various court documents relating to the case – see: Inside The Hunt For Rawshark – Hager Raid Court File and Inside The Hunt For Rawshark – Hager Raid Court File Part 2. This includes my own affidavit, which you can read together with other Dirty Politics material.
The court case itself was also covered in depth by Jon Stephenson – see: Nicky Hager Case – Breaking News Reportage. See also Giovanni Tiso’s essays, The Life and death of the political author and The raid.
Of course, it’s also worth remembering the way the Police carried out their investigation, using controversial methods – see my October column, Libertarians against dirty politics.
And for more on the police investigation of Rawshark, see Paul Buchanan’s latest blog post, The Impunity Files, Police Edition: Trolling for Rawshark, and Juha Saarinen’s Hager, Whale Oil, Dirty Politics, Rawshark, and what the police should have done.
Cameron Slater’s ongoing Dirty Politics
You probably shouldn’t trust anything written in this column. At least that’s what Cameron Slater would have you believe. Slater has just launched his latest project with co-conspirator Simon Lusk, which includes an evaluation of political journalists and commentators. The first issue of their monthly Incite newsletter came out on Tuesday, and it labelled my work as “Not to be trusted” and gave me an evaluation of two out of ten. Other pundits and journalists fared worse – Richard Harman got 8/10, followed closely by Barry Soper on 7/10. At the other end of the scale, Rachel Smalley would have been very happy with her 1/10.
For an amusing review of the new publication, see Danyl Mclauchlan’s blog post, Why You Need Incite in Your Life – a Review of Cameron Slater’s $35 Monthly Newsletter. See also Pete George’s Incite review. For a more favourable spin, published on Slater’s Whaleoil blog, see Inside Incite (and why you should subscribe).
Pete George blogged that Slater’s Whaleoil blog could be in a perilous state – see: Conflict at Whale Oil. This blog post reports a testy exchange between Slater and the blog’s apparent co-owner, and in the comments section there are further revealing discussion from former Whaleoil volunteers.
Part of Whaleoil’s decline is financial, and the latest advertiser to pull the plug is entrepreneur Rod Drury – see Matt Nippert’s Xero boss withdraws advertising from Whaleoil. According to this article, “Rodney Hide has confirmed he was probably behind a series of Whaleoil posts attacking Xero that led Rod Drury to suspend advertising on the controversial blog.”
Not all is going badly for Slater however. He has was the first case of complaint for the new Online Media Standards Authority, and he won – see David Farrar’s OMSA rules in favour of blogger.
Slater also brought out a slim book this year about trade unions, titled “Dodgy Unions”, which got a very positive review on Amazon by a certain “B Edwards”, explained by blogger Pete George in his post Which B Edwards? This was followed by a more legitimate evaluation: Dodgy Unions – review. And it got the usual endorsement from Scott Yorke – see: Why you should get Cameron Slater’s book.
Slater also got some heat from his National rival Michelle Boag, who made further Dirty Politics-style claims about his activities – listen to RadioLIve’s Are Kiwi bloggers taking payment to stay silent? Slater categorically denied the allegation – listen to: Cameron Slater denies Michelle Boag’s claim he takes payment for silence.
The “Exoneration” of Judith Collins 
The reappointment to Cabinet of one of the main politicians in Dirty Politics has irked Nicky Hager, especially because of accompanying claims she had been exonerated – see Hager’s blog post, Spinning the return of Judith Collins.
Collins herself explains why she feels “pretty damn vindicated, frankly” in Tracy Watkins’ article, Judith Collins – ‘exonerated, vindicated’ and on the comeback trail. Watkins also reports on the various objections that might be made about her claims of exoneration.
For an examination of the official “Chisholm inquiry into Allegations concerning Judith Collins”, blogger Peter Aranyi has used the Official Information Act to obtain all of the witness transcripts, testimony and evidence for the inquiry – you can read all 60 of them here: Judith Collins Lester Chisholm Inquiry evidence.
Aranyi has commented on these files at length in follow up blog posts such as Who was actually on trial? and ‘Taking one for the team’. In the latter he discusses the transcripts of the inquiry, as well as Slater’s lessened financial situation, and concludes: “Maybe he could get an honest job. Does Mrs Collins need a press secretary?” He also highlights an extract on how Slater’s wife felt about the Dirty Politics controversy.
Celebrating the return of Collins, Matthew Hooton declared “It’s good to again know with certainty there is at least one right-wing minister in John Key’s cabinet” – see his NBR column, Collins’ return a good signal to the right (paywalled).
In this column he reflects on how Collins might yet become National Party leader: “Her moment comes if and when the public develops fatigue with Mr Key’s blancmange style of politics and perceives his government’s lack of a serious reform programme will only ever deliver slow relative economic decline”. Hooton argues that “the idea of a future Collins leadership is no longer as fanciful as it was 15 months ago, when the media mob so disgracefully drove her from office relying on the unsubstantiated testimony of a blogger.”
And for a faux-women’s magazine exclusive on Collins’ return, see Andrew Gunn’s Crusher Collins awakens the Force. Here’s John Key on why Collins had to be let back into Cabinet: “Judith’s always been really good at projecting the National-led government’s core philosophy. And I’d much rather she was inside the tent projecting out than outside the tent projecting in”.
Simon Lusk’s dirty politics
The most shadowy figure in Dirty Politics was self-declared political hit man Simon Lusk, who Duncan Garner profiled and interviewed last month on TV3’s Story – watch the nine-minute item: Shadowy political figure’s motto: ‘Dominate, intimidate and humiliate’.
The story involved claims by Lusk that he paid “people, on behalf of clients, to get a certain voting outcome”, which Garner examined in a follow up item, Lusk goes public on ‘koha to vote’.
There were also allegations of Lusk targeting and befriending Labour politicians. The supposed links to MP Stuart Nash were then examined in the six-minute item, Nash embarrassed by links to Simon Lusk. And a threatened campaign against another MP was explained by Isaac Davison in Phil Twyford won’t be intimidated by smear campaign.
All of these issues were then examined by RNZ’s Mediawatch – see: Dirty Politics players back in the frame.
Earlier in the year Lusk also published a book – see David Farrar’s Lusk: A Campaign Professional’s Guide to Winning New Zealand Campaigns.
Rachel Glucina and Scout
The gossipmonger at the centre of Dirty Politics, Rachel Glucina, has made plenty of news herself this year. For a good backgrounder on Glucina and the controversies she caused, see: Rachel Glucina: the queen of gossip.
Much of her notoriety in 2015 came out of her coverage of Ponytailgate for the Herald, which received criticism from the Press Council – see the Herald’s story, Press council rules against Herald on ‘Ponygate’ interview.
The Prime Minister’s Office was also caught up in the controversy, especially after it “declined to make public conversations or messages with former New Zealand Herald writer Rachel Glucina over Auckland’s Cafe Rosie” – see Andrea Vance’s Ponytailgate correspondence with gossip columnist probed.
Glucina left the Herald for a new job at Mediaworks. Upon this announcement there was a raft of humorous tweets and speculation on Glucina’s likely influence and future with the TV3 company – see my blog post, Top tweets about Rachel Glucina going to TV3.
The new project for TV3’s Mediaworks was announced as Scout. Not surprisingly, the actual scouting movement was very quick to distance itself from the new TV3 product – see Brittany Mann’s ScoutsNZ distances itself from Rachel Glucina website, seeks legal advice.
The site soon ran into all sorts of trouble, detailed in MediaWorks staff turn on Scout, Rachel Glucina’s new gossip site, and analysed on The Standard in the blog post, No Friends: The One about Rachel.
The Other players
Carrick Graham became known as Cameron Slater’s paymaster, and in June North and South magazine published Peter Newport’s excellent feature about him and his PR activities, which is now available free to read online: Carrick Graham: Without Apologies. Similarly, see my column Dirty digital politics.
Jordan Williams and David Farrar are still very actively running their lobby group, which David Fisher investigates in The Big Read: So what’s this Taxpayers’ Union, which purports to represent us all? Earlier in the year, the group was also in the spotlight for their focus on author Eleanor Catton – see the Herald’s Kiwis have been generous to Catton, says Taxpayers’ Union.
But is the group partisan? Not exactly. And David Farrar has the figures to prove it – see his blog post, Taxpayers Union critical regardless of party.
Ben Rachinger, another mysterious figure who was, for a time, close to Cameron Slater, also created some minor news about Dirty Politics this year which I covered my column, Dirty Politics “done dirt cheap”.
For an update on him see Keith Ng’s illuminating and indepth investigation The Whaledump Saga: Scooby-Doo Edition. Or for the main points see Danyl Mclauchlan’s Shorter Ng/Rachinger/Slater/Key.
There was another more high profile figure who related to Dirty Politics in some curious ways. In July, the then Conservative Party leader Colin Craig published his booklet Dirty Politics and Hidden Agendas, which was aimed at Cameron Slater, Jordan Williams, and others in his own party.
Craig explained this in a guest post on the Daily Blog, drawing parallels with Hager’s 2014 book – see: Dirty Politics, why should we care? But last month, in a typically bizarre twist, TV3 reported Colin Craig unveiled as ‘Mr X’.
Of course the character who has come out best from the Dirty Politics saga is Hager himself. Hager continued to publish vitally important research on New Zealand politics which I covered earlier in the year in three columns: Who cares about the #SnowdenNZ revelations?Should John Key resign over ‘mass surveillance’? and The ramifications of the spying scandal.
For more on Hager, see his essay about his investigative journalism, Loose lips, and his interview with Toby Manhire, “A Kick Back Against Government Intolerance” – an Interview with Nicky Hager.
Finally, for one of the best reads about Dirty Politics and how it played out for a television journalist covering last year’s election campaign, read Nicola Kean’s academic chapter on #PeakCray – Making Current Affairs TV During NZ’s Strangest Election.
——————–
Dr Bryce Edwards
Lecturer
Department of Politics
University of Otago
Dunedin, New Zealand
Work: (+64-3) 479 5091
Mobile: (+64-0) 21 225 2295
Twitter: @bryce_edwards
Skype: bryceedwardsnz

Opportunity for Climate Justice lost? Popular Resistance Newsletter

 

The fight for climate justice is about building a better world for all.
This newsletter is also available
on the web here.

The COP21 resulted in an agreement that was 25 years in the making, beginning with the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in June 1992. Until now the world had been unable to reach an agreement on combating climate change. Because the document required unanimous consensus it is the lowest common denominator. Countries that depend on oil as the basis of their economy, like Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, as well as those with strong climate denialism, like Australia and the United States, which combines denialism with corporate domination of government, all had to agree.

From CommonDreams.

From CommonDreams.

The lowest common denominator is not good enough. Friends of the Earth International described the agreement as “a sham.”  The New Internationalist,measuring the deal against the People’s Climate Test developed before COP21, described it as “an epic fail on a planetary scale.”  Climate scientist James Hansen said it was a “fraud . . . fake . . . bullshit.”

Low Expectations for COP21

We had low expectations going into COP21 recognizing the involvement of polluters and corporate underwriting and the reality that developed countries put corporate profits ahead of people and planet. The fact that they achieved a framework based on some science-based goals was better than expected. Now it is up to the people to push for policies at all levels of government to make the Paris Accord effective. We have the potential to use this deal to create a turning point in humanity’s struggle for climate justice and end the fossil fuel era, but only if the people mobilize to make it so.

Countries came to Paris with reduction targets, and renegotiating those targets was not part of COP21. While COP21 ended with an agreement to not raise the Earth’s temperature by more than 2º Celsius (3.6º Fahrenheit) and to attempt to keep it at 1.5º Celsius (3.47º Fahrenheit)  the targets of the nations, when combined, go beyond those levels. So nations must lower their targets and put in place policies to achieve greater reductions.

Activists call for a 1.5C warming limit (Photo by IISD/ENB)

Activists call for a 1.5C warming limit (Photo by IISD/ENB)

At the halfway point of COP21 there were concerns about the agreement being insufficient, whether nations were representing corporate interests rather than the needs of the planet and whether negotiations would end in disaster. As negotiations continued, civil society pushed negotiators to improve their positions to protect vulnerable communities and speed up the transition to renewable energy. As the end neared, the High Ambition Coalition, representing more than 100 countries, formed in secrecy six months ago, went public to push for a legally binding global agreement.

When the agreement was concluded there was mixed reaction – on one hand it was finally a framework that was universally agreed on, but on the other it provided inadequate funds for developing nations most impacted by the climate crisis, had no enforceable provisions and left it to individual nations to reduce climate emissions. There were no specific policies like a carbon tax or specific reductions in the use of carbon energy, just a framework.  On the final day, tens of thousands of people gathered throughout Paris drawing red lines in protest urging climate justice, stopping the construction of carbon infrastructure, moving investment from carbon to clean energy and urging that carbon be left in the ground.

"Sorry for the disturbance. We are trying to save the world." By Thom Mitchell of New Matilda.

“Sorry for the disturbance. We are trying to save the world.” By Thom Mitchell of New Matilda.

Creative Protest throughout COP21, Protests Bend to the Paris Emergency

The largest climate protests in history were planned for COP21 but the terror-attack in Paris resulted in a state of emergency that prevented large-scale protests.  This brought out an ongoing tension between movements and non-profit organizations, between front-line groups and big greens. The big greens cancelled the mass multi-hundred thousand person march that had been scheduled. Thousands of people went ahead with the march and predictably French security forces used pepper spray, tear gas, batons and arrests to stop them.

In ROAR Magazine they make the points that “Both experience and research in civil resistance tell us that our best bet against fear, intimidation and repression is to increase(not decrease!) participation” and that “It is well established that social movements win by polarizing the public and exercising non-cooperation to weaken and undermine power structures.”

Shoe protest in Place de la Republique. By The Straits Times.

Shoe protest in Place de la Republique. By The Straits Times.

Would mass protests have changed the political environment for COP21, resulted in larger amounts of money being agreed to for nations hardest hit, a binding agreement, enforceable goals? Because the COP21 was only a limited success civil society will continue to have to pressure the power structure, so these questions need to be debated, discussed and resolved within the climate movement.

On the same day that police tear gas and arrested 200 protesters, there was the empty shoe protest using shoes to show the thousands of people who would have marched – estimates were as high as 500,000 planning to march – and there was a human chain across Paris, with people holding hands to show solidarity for climate justice.

Building on the experience of climate protesters in other European cities, the Climate Games were getting organized for a series of protests months before the COP21 meeting.  Not only were they working on the big mass march, but also on smaller autonomous protests that would occur throughout the meetings. When the mass march fell apart the other protests continued. Climate Games organizers say that their purpose was not to shut down COP21 but build momentum for a spring offense for climate protests, knowing the results of COP21 would require escalation.

A flotilla of indigenous peoples demonstrate to be heard. (Photo: Joe Soloman, Flickr CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

A flotilla of indigenous peoples demonstrate to be heard. (Photo: Joe Soloman, Flickr CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

There were a series of a wide variety of protests that did go forward.  Indigenous peoples used kayactivism to urge keeping fossil fuels in the ground, Paris was plastered with wanted posters for ‘Climate Criminals’US fracking opponents disrupted Paris talks, a massive sun was painted around the Arc de Triomphe demanding renewable energy,  the Indigenous Environmental Network denounced false corporate ‘solutions’ a bank was taken over by song and dance protesting coal investment and ‘brandalists’ took over advertising posters throughout Paris highlighting the corporate takeover of the COP21. The Louvre was the site of protests, inside an oil spill denounced polluting carbon energy corporations sponsorship of the museum and outside the museum, performers dressed in black held up umbrellas with letters spelling out the phrase “Fossil Free Culture.”

By the end, with a call for mass action, activists said they would move forward on a mass protest despite Hollande’s ban and defy the ban.  They decried the deal saying it had failed humanity and the planet and promised to draw red lines throughout the city. They drew lines in banners, cloth, red roses and umbrellas calling for keeping fossil fuels in the ground and declaring no peace without climate justice.  Police were out in force but they just watched.

Westchester Woman Stands in Way of Crews Working on Gas Pipeline Near Nuclear Power Plant | NBC New York

Westchester Woman Stands in Way of Crews Working on Gas Pipeline Near Nuclear Power Plant | NBC New York

Paris is not the end but just another stage in the growing climate justice movement which has seen important victories in the United States this year like stopping the KXL pipelinestopping Arctic drilling and decentralized protests that delay and make carbon infrastructure more expensive.  During the COP21, the threaten of protests resulted in the Obama administration delaying a fuel auction of federal lands. And, Australian protesters shut down the three largest coal ports.

Activists are already planning an active spring, with coordinated protests being planned for May to shut down the most carbon polluting projects on the planet.  And protests against carbon-fuel infrastructure are continuing. Next Wednesday we are helping to organize protests against Bank of America for its funding of carbon pollution projects, our focus is on demanding BoA stop funding the fracked gas export terminal at Cove Point and other fracking-related projects.

Screen Shot 2015-12-09 at 10.22.45 AMThe Beginning of the End of the Fossil Fuel Era

The reality is that the slowness of the transition to a fossil free, nuclear free energy economy is not only inconsistent with climate science but also inconsistent with the renewable energy technology that already exists.  At a COP21 side event, a group showed that technology solutions for a 100% renewable energy are in place, finance options are available and scalable, and resource availability is plentiful. National Geographic published an interactive map of the world that showed the mix of renewable energy for each country and how much money would be saved per person in each country.  A report this week showed 2015 will be the United States solar market’s best year in history with a record-breaking fourth quarter. If world leaders listened to the science COP21 would have set a goal of complete transfer to clean energy within a generation, the goal should be a just transition by 2030.

Instead polluting corporations who profit from selling energy that is causing the crisis of climate change had a display of false solutions at the COP21. Some of the biggest polluters were pushing false solutions like clean coal and fracked gas; nuclear power and agribusiness were pushing their wares, along with bioenergy and REDD. The latter is not forest protection but cover for an offset scheme that undermines Indigenous rights while allowing for mass tree plantations. Bill Gates was in Paris to push a new initiative that was exposed as a front for new nuclear plants. Activists organized “toxic tours” of the false solutions exhibit and were immediately arrested by undercover police. Even media covering the event were removed.

COP21 Greenpeace Climate Before Profit GlobeIn the final week of COP21 negotiations, a leaked document showed that there cannot be climate justice if the triad of trade agreements being negotiated becomes law. These agreements, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP)) and the Trade In Services Agreement (TiSA), create a polluter’s paradise of legal protections , have no enforceable environmental standards and encourage extreme extraction and export of carbon energy. The leak showed that EU negotiators were told not to agree to anything that would restrict trade – putting corporate profits ahead of the needs of the planet. People concerned with climate change must mobilize to stop these corporate trade agreements or all other work for climate justice will fail. Click here to take the action pledge.

The link between stopping corporate power and climate change is one that links critically important issues. We must fight corporate power to achieve climate justice. The illegitimate rise of corporate power parallels the rise of climate gasses in the atmosphere.  In “Apocalyptic Capitalism” Chris Hedges forces us to face the reality of what we are up against:

“The global elites have no intention of interfering with the profits, or ending government subsidies, for the fossil fuel industry and the extraction industries. They will not curtail extraction or impose hefty carbon taxes to keep fossil fuels in the ground. They will not limit the overconsumption that is the engine of global capitalism. They act as if the greatest contributor of greenhouse gases—the animal agriculture industry—does not exist. They siphon off trillions of dollars and employ scientific and technical expertise—expertise that should be directed toward preparing for environmental catastrophe and investing in renewable energy—to wage endless wars in the Middle East. . . And as the elites mouth platitudes about saving the climate they are shoving still another trade agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), down our throats. The TPP permits corporations to ignore nonbinding climate accords made at conferences such as the one in Paris, and it allows them, in secret trade tribunals, to defy environmental regulations imposed by individual states.”

This is the harsh reality we must face if we are to act strategically to save the planet.  Not only does the campaign for climate justice require all of us to act, it requires us to change everything – how government’s operate on behalf of corporations and how the economy is disfigured for transnational corporate profits rather than the betterment of humans and the planet.

1cc3Where We Go From COP21

Once we stop listening to the lullabies of elected and unelected leaders and face reality, our course becomes clearer. At the foundation of our strategy must be the recognition that the lives of those in developed countries are not worth more than those in the undeveloped world. The billions who live on less than $2 per day are as valuable as those who spend $100 for lunch.  Recognizing this reality creates the global solidarity to move forward.

Also at the foundation of our next steps must be human rights. Climate change will violate the human rights of billions as rights to life, water, food, health, housing and security among others are all undone by climate injustice.  Already, 157.8 million people were forced from their homes in the past seven years as a result of extreme weather. These numbers will multiply rapidly. Tens of thousands of people are dying from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea and heat stress; between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause approximately 250 000 additional deaths per year. We cannot pick whose human rights will be protected, all must be protected.

COP21 Climate Justice Peace from the sky over Paris 12-12-15To move forward strategically it is also important to see something that was highlighted at COP21 but many did not see: the relationship between war, terrorism and climate. The neo-colonialism of western powers, led by the United States, going to war for the oil and resources needed for big agriculture, transit and the computer era is at the root of terrorism and closely connected to climate change. Not only does the war machine produce climate gases at immense levels but it leads to protecting the current fossil fuel- based economy.

Steve Breyman, discussing next steps after COP21, highlights that “the angry and energized climate justice movement is primed to pressure the big polluters like never before.” We have had some victories, have grown our strength and see the connections between issues. We know elected officials and dirty energy corporations “must be hounded and harangued to do what’s needed.” We must demand our country treat the voluntary goals as mandatory and make them stricter, move up the timetables and rapidly transition to a clean energy economy.

Breyman points out there is impressive “climate justice work being done at city, county and state levels” and with a dysfunctional federal government that work is important.  Successful campaigns to build on include fossil fuel divestment, pipeline and infrastructure resistance, opposition to fracking and extreme extraction, protests of the fake energy regulator FERC, zero waste campaigns and more. He sees the  “prospects for climate justice advocates to more firmly join forces with other movements, especially labor, peace, women’s, and indigenous rights are better than ever.”

1sfclimateThe evidence is increasingly on our side so as we stop the carbon-nuclear energy industries we must also be building the alternative. That begins by changing our lifestyles, but also getting government at all levels to make transitions to clean energy.  We should highlight the  “numerous convincing studies of the economic, ecosystem, and human health benefits of a full transition to a fully clean energy economy”  and how it is “far cheaper to take action now than later, that the longer we wait the greater the costs of all sorts.”

This is the path forward not only to saving the Earth and putting in place climate justice but also to building solidarity with people throughout the world and undermining the corruption of corporate power and militarism that currently dominates it. In short, the fight for climate justice is about building a better world for all.

Confessions of a Terrorist Sympathiser

Richard Jackson

 

Confessions of a Terrorist Sympathiser

Richard Jackson

I confess that I am a terrorist sympathiser. Of course, it is a profanity, a kind of blasphemy, to admit to such a thing, perhaps the greatest blasphemy in our society at the present time. Some may also consider that this is not the right time to make this confession and all that it entails. It will be said that in the immediate aftermath of an attack, condemnation and standing united against the enemies of freedom is the only ethically-defensible stance. But, for reasons I hope will become clear, I believe that this is exactly the right time to claim the ignominious label of terrorist sympathiser, and that sympathy for the terrorist is what is most needed right now if we are to break the current international cycle of violence and find more ethical and peaceful ways of responding to the challenge of contemporary political violence.

I am a terrorist sympathiser because I can understand how a young woman from Gaza might consider that she has no real future, nothing but daily humiliations, the continued threat of being shot by an Israeli soldier or firebombed by a settler, or being arrested and tortured by the police. I can understand that she might have had a family member, or a friend, killed in one of the periodic ritualised Israeli invasions of Palestinian territory. I can understand how living under a callous, apartheid-like regime could ignite into a smouldering sense of rage, humiliation, and powerlessness. I can understand how an intelligent, sensitive woman like that might feel that hitting back at her oppressor, that sacrificing her life for her community, that choosing the time and place of her own death, might seem like a way to reclaim her shattered sense of self-worth and self-respect, her agency, her sense of purpose, and in the end, advance the struggle for a free Palestinian state.

 

I am a terrorist sympathiser because I can understand how a young Sunni man from Bagdad might feel that his childhood had been ripped away from him in an illegal invasion and the civil war it precipitated. I can understand the trauma that comes from witnessing the destruction of his country and the deaths of more than a million fellow citizens. I can understand the process of brutalisation he would go through when as a young boy he sees bodies dismembered on the streets of his neighbourhood by coalition air strikes and the seemingly endless succession of insurgent car bombs. I can understand the rage he would feel at seeing pregnant women shot to death by nervous young American soldiers at a checkpoint.

I can understand his sense of utter horror when members of his family or friends and colleagues were abducted, tortured to death and their mutilated bodies dumped by the roadside by the Shia death squads operating out of the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior – soldiers trained and armed by the occupying U.S. Military. I can understand his humiliation to have had friends swept up and tortured in Abu Ghraib, sexually violated and the photographs shown all over the world’s media.

I can understand how this traumatised, unemployed young man with few realistic prospects of gainful employment or marriage and a family, a young man witnessing his country, his society, his history, his family, his life, being systematically destroyed, chooses to join a powerful, wealthy, successful insurgent group who promise him revenge on his persecutors and the authors of his humiliation – a group which offers a purpose, a mission, a community of brothers, a way out of his sense of powerlessness, a well-paid job. I can understand that this young man might join ISIS.

I can understand a young Muslim woman in France who feels despised by the society she lives in; who is spat upon every day while she waits at the bus stop, and told to go home because she’s a foreigner and a terrorist; who is forced to live in an urban slum full of crime and generational hopelessness; who faces discrimination when she applies for a job; who is told what she is allowed to wear in public, and told that she cannot publicly protest against the oppression of Palestine. I can understand that she has also had to watch while her country and its allies invaded, bombed, and tortured millions of fellow Muslims in country after country across the Middle East, year after year for more than a decade. I can understand that she might feel utter powerlessness because there seems to be no way to influence her government’s policies. I can understand that she might look at the history of the Algerian FLN and how they fought back against French colonialism and think that a military campaign might have a chance to end the oppression she sees – that if people on the streets of Paris feel the same insecurity that people in the Middle East feel that maybe the public will demand that their leaders change course.

At another level, I am a terrorist sympathiser because I understand that the terrorists hold to the very same moral framework that our own leaders hold to and publically defend. That is, terrorists, just like our leaders, believe that violence can be an effective and legitimate method for achieving their political goals, and that in defence of some values – such as protecting the innocent, freedom, justice – the means justifies the ends – that bombing, even if it causes the collateral or deliberate deaths of the innocent, is sometimes necessary. I understand that soldiers and terrorists often have the same reasons for what they do – they believe they are fighting for their people; they want adventure; they fight for their comrades. Sometimes, the only difference between a terrorist and a soldier, an insurgent or a freedom fighter, is who is doing the labelling – and when the labelling takes place.

I am a terrorist sympathiser because I understand that terrorists are often reacting to the long history of violence our governments have wrought on their societies, through invasion, coups, bombing campaigns, support for dictatorships, arms transfers, interference – and that they want us to experience the terror and insecurity that they have had to live with. I understand that their violence and our violence is not separate or distinct, but part of the same phenomenon: we attack them with advanced military technology from a distance; they attack us with their bodies, close and personal. It is action-reaction, tit-for-tat, a coordinated dance of mutual killing. Ultimately, violence is relational. Despite the comforting myths we tell ourselves, “our” violence is no different from “their” violence.

In a recent article in the New York Times online, a Dutch IS member who documents his life on Tumblr, defended the attacks in Paris by calling them a fair response to the bombardment of Islamic State positions by the French Air Force. He had earlier stated that assaults on civilian targets in France by the Islamists were “fair game,” as, he said, he had “lost count of the hospitals, markets and mosques bombed by the enemies of Islam.”

I am a terrorist sympathiser because I can understand how a man like Nelson Mandela, after years of peaceful protests and reasonable requests for freedom and dignity, who, facing increasingly violent suppression by a racist authoritarian regime, felt that he had no real choice but to engage in an armed struggle for meaningful change.

I am a terrorist sympathiser because I understand the former IRA prisoner who guided me around Belfast, and explained how the insecurity and injustice faced by his Catholic community, and the failure of the police to protect them from Loyalist gangs, led him to volunteer to be a member of an army of community protection, as he described it, and later to join the prison protests.

In fact, the life-story of every terrorist I have read or heard directly – from the Basque country, to Italy, Germany, Cyprus, Sri Lanka, Colombia, Kashmir, Chechnya, Peru and elsewhere – has been completely understandable to me. I could not say any of them were inhuman, or nonhuman, or incomprehensible; none of them were the monsters terrorists they are naturally assumed to be.

And lest someone argues that my sympathy is selective, I am also a terrorist sympathiser because I can understand how a young woman, after watching the Twin Towers collapse, would volunteer to go to Iraq to serve as a prison guard, and how after being told that Iraqis were involved in 9/11, how they were the enemies of freedom, how they were killing American soldiers, and how it was essential for them to be ‘softened up’ for interrogation, might then beat and abuse the prisoners in her wing – might strip them naked and drag them around like a dog on a leash.

Of course, to be a terrorist sympathiser – to even attempt to understand the reasons why someone would make this kind of choice and commit this kind of violence – is to commit a great blasphemy at this time and place in history. This is never more true than in the moments following a terrorist attack when loud, ritual condemnation is the only socially acceptable response. In our current age, terrorism, along with paedophilia, is one of society’s greatest taboos; one of the worst forms of evil there is. In our political discourse, in our laws, in our cultural depictions, in our minds, terrorism is inherently inhuman, savage, demonic – and terrorists are the original bogeyman; the wild man in the woods; the stealer of children. Following the Paris attacks, Malcolm Turnbull claimed the attacks were “the work of the devil”. In such a culturally resonant framework, terrorism does not belong to our world, but exists outside of it in a separate metaphysical realm.

In some respects, this is completely understandable, because terrorism involves appalling, spectacular violence, frequently targeted at the innocent. When we see the images, the macabre theatre of terror, we are not equipped to comprehend the moral forces behind it, and as a result, we become mute. It is the same mute incomprehension when we contemplate what it took to enact the mass slaughter of the Jews in the holocaust or the mass slaughter by machete in the Rwandan genocide. In such a situation, faced with the stark cruelty of the organised, deliberate violation of human beings, it is tempting to try and expel the perceived perpetrators out of the realm of everyday human life and politics – to abstract them to a metaphysical plain in which their actions must surely be governed by some kind of inhuman, demonic forces.

At the same time, we have to also acknowledge that our sense of mute horror at the stark reality of political violence is culturally conditioned and determined in part by our own, limited experiences. We don’t know what it is really like to live under the shadow of drone warfare, for example. It seems likely that to some communities in Pakistan or Afghanistan, the invisible, infernal machines who stalk people from the skies, and then unleash hellfire missiles which dismember and burn their children and brothers, are the epitome of supernatural evil forces – and not at all the technological, clean machines of war our society believes them to be. The reality is that the difference between being blown apart by a suicide bomber and being blown apart by a missile launched from a billion dollar warship or a predator drone is not related to its real material effects: the same mutilated bodies result; the same horrified survivors must find a way to live with their loss. The only difference is our belief about the legitimacy, and to some degree, the aesthetics of the violence: a computer generated image of a smart bomb dropped on a village in Pakistan looks less barbarous to us than a suicide attack on the streets of Paris.

However, at the risk of being labelled a blasphemer and a traitor, I would argue that it does us no good at all to isolate and expel the terrorist from the human realm to the metaphysical realm. In fact, while it may provide a fleeting psychological comfort, the retreat to “evil” as a framework for understanding political violence is harmful, intellectually and morally. It is harmful to both ourselves and to others. Intellectually, it is harmful because it is at heart a delusion: there is no evidence that terrorists, or any other person who commits a horrible crime, is non-human, purely evil in a metaphysical sense. Even the worst of us – Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Idi Amin, Osama bin Laden, the Rwandan genocidaires, the Paris attackers – were human beings with physical and social lives; with thoughts, feelings, dreams, hopes, fears and anxieties. They made choices, they suffered, they bled. Looking for the source of their actions outside of their humanity is an intellectual dead-end and of no practical use to anyone. We will never understand the roots and causes of human violence if we are unwilling to look for it in the socio-historical conditions of being a human being, and the political-economic conditions of twenty-first century life.

Locating the sources of violence in a non-human metaphysical realm – which includes laying responsibility on a kind of magical conception of the infectious role of wrong ideas – is tempting because it is simple and reassuring: we don’t have to look inside ourselves or admit that as human beings we are all capable of, and culpable in, violence. In particular, it allows us to maintain a series of comforting collective delusions about how we, the civilised, democratic West, have constructed the world we inhabit; it deludes us into thinking that the problem lies elsewhere, beyond the realm of our own politics, diplomacy, foreign policy, history, imperial decisions. It means we don’t have to take responsibility for making and maintaining a world order in which violence is acceptable, where force is used to settle disputes, where millions of young people are trained and equipped with weapons and flags to kill their fellow human beings, where the most powerful nations use technologically advanced death machines to maintain the global order that maintains their privilege. It means we don’t have to look at the conditions of the poor, the dispossessed, the persecuted, the under-privileged, the socially disadvantaged, the voiceless. It means we don’t have to recognise that terrorism most often emerges from situations where mass movements searching for social justice have been blocked or defeated.

Claire Veale, a French student writing in response to the Paris attacks, puts it this way:

It is important to recognize the attackers as human beings, capable of acting and thinking rationally, as it is a first step towards understanding the reasoning behind their actions. Religious fanaticism is simply a vector of violence, as has been the case for many other ideologies in the past, such as nationalism, fascism, or communism. These ideologies are not the root causes of violence. Although this may seem obvious, there is a need to stress that religious extremism is not the reason why a young man would take up a gun and shoot into a crowd, it is simply an instrument to channel their anger.

We must try to look at the very roots of these young men’s discontent. Debates should be opened about the school system, about the ghettoization of urban areas across France, about police violence and domestic anti-terror security measures, about the prison system, about structural racism, about our skewed justice system, about oppressive and strict secularism; and the list goes on. […] Amedy Coulibaly, another actor in the Paris shootings in January 2015, suffered the death of his friend in a police “slipup” when he was 18.

This kind of direct aggression perpetrated on a daily basis adds to the structural violence and discrimination young men from underprivileged backgrounds experience in European societies. War for them is not such a distant, disconnected reality, but closer to their everyday life. Every racist insult, act of police brutality, unfair trial, or discriminatory treatment brings them one step closer to carry out tragedies as the massacre in Paris. We must therefore question the very system we live in and the way of life we defend so defiantly…

Of course, the search for the origins of political violence cannot end here. Not all young Muslims in a Paris slum, or Baghdad, or Gaza, join militant groups or commit acts of terrorism; nor do all American young people become torturers in Iraq or drone operators in Nevada. This is not an argument for a kind of deterministic structuralism; I am not denying the role of individual agency or responsibility. Nevertheless, in the absence of an honest examination of the conditions which construct human subjectivity at this moment in history, we can never hope to understand the roots of contemporary political violence or the possibilities for peaceful alternatives.

Interestingly, a number of scholars have noted how the trope of the “evil” terrorist, as well as some aspects of contemporary counterterrorism, shares features with the medieval witch craze and European conceptions of “the devil”. Certainly, the similarities between the inquisition, the language of “evildoers”, and the tortuous, confessional interrogational practices seen in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay are disturbingly obvious. In fact, the term “religious terrorism” and the attempt to lay the blame for terrorist violence at the feet of “violent extremism” or the mysterious process of “radicalisation” is part and parcel of this broader framework in which terrorism is expelled from the realm of the material-political world and instead relegated to the metaphysical, spiritual world.

In part, this cultural frame which stretches back over hundreds of years of Western history is one of the reasons why I would argue that sympathy for the terrorist – by way of understanding, and a minimal level of empathetic projection – is not only defensible as an intellectual exercise to better understand the roots and sources of violence. I would go so far as to argue that sympathy for the terrorist is greatly needed at this particular historical moment; it is necessary if we are to break out of the entrenched cycle of violence we are currently trapped in. We need sympathy for the terrorist if we are to find other more ethical, peaceful and effective ways of responding to terrorism.

Sympathy for the terrorist is also necessary if we are to recover our ethical values and our sense of collective morality. The fact is that the lack of sympathy – of basic human understanding – is deeply implicated in our willingness to send killer drones into far away countries to hunt down suspected terrorists and kill them (and those standing in proximity to them) without any compunction, mercilessly, without any process of weighing of the evidence or any semblance of justice – and without considering the consequences in terms of increased hatred, insecurity, the creation of more militants eager to attack us. The lack of sympathy allows drone operators to refer to children as “fun-size terrorists” and liken killing them to “cutting the grass before it grows too long”. It allows us to never know or acknowledge the names of any of the people killed in our name, and for them to have, as Judith Butler calls them, ungrievable lives.

The lack of sympathy for the terrorist other is implicated in our willingness to kidnap, render, disappear and detain people from the streets of Karachi, or Nairobi, or Aden into a secret system of so-called black sites, beyond the law, beyond ethics and the monitoring of any human rights organisations – and with the cooperation of dozens of Western countries and little outcry from Western publics. It is implicated in our willingness to torture and abuse thousands of prisoners and detainees in Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, Bagram, and elsewhere – to refer to them as “animals”, “monsters”, the “faceless enemies of freedom”, as “a scourge” and a “cancer” in need of excising. It is implicated in the recent extension of the shoot-to-kill policy from the streets of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia, to the streets of Europe. The lack of sympathy for the terrorist is also implicated in our targeting of all Muslims and those who fit the racist imaginary of what a Muslim looks like (such as a Sikh man in a coffee shop) for human rights restrictions, profiling, surveillance, and harassment. It is implicated in our uncaring, xenophobic response to the refugee crisis which we authored in large part by our interventionist foreign policies.

The reality is that since 9/11, in our lack of sympathy, in our dehumanising and demonising of a whole class of untouchable human beings – those labelled as ‘terrorists’ and ‘terrorist sympathisers’ – we have opened the door to the worst kind of human rights abuses. After all, if terrorists are evil, monstrous beings outside of the human realm, then there is no reason why they should be protected from torture, from rendition, from extra-judicial assassination by drones or shoot-to-kill policies, from incarceration without trial, from surveillance, profiling, and everyday discrimination. Recovering our sympathy for our fellow human beings, no matter what they are alleged to have done or are suspected of, is a first step towards recovering a semblance of collective morality.

Finally, I want to argue that our complete lack of sympathy for the terrorist is dangerous because it blinds us to the possibilities inherent in the political – to the possibility that we can change how people act by the way in which we act towards them; to the possibility that underneath the violence and the posturing, they may want the same things all human societies do – security, self-determination, dignity, opportunity, freedom to live the way they choose. It blinds us to the power of dialogue, engagement, political contestation, as ways out of violence. It blinds us to the way in which violence itself can be a form of communication, a cry to be heard, to be listened to. There are enough examples to show that when individuals and political groups have genuine avenues for pursuing their goals and grievances, when they feel that they have a genuine voice, that this can change their political calculations away from the use of violence.

In this respect, in eliminating what has been described as “the grey zones” – those opportunities for dialogue, diplomacy, compromise, forms of accommodation, and those social, political and intellectual spaces of toleration and empathy – our lack of sympathy leaves us polarised, alienated, fearful; it leaves us in a world of sharp distinctions, of black and white crusaders and jihadists, heroes and villains, them and us; it leaves us trapped in an inevitable clash of civilisations. If we jettison our sympathy and understanding, if we expel the terrorist to the realm of the monstrous, inhuman other, we surrender to the violent logic of being either for or against, friend or enemy. And in the process of eliminating the grey zone, we simultaneously eliminate the possibility of imagining or discovering any nonviolent pathways out of the current intractable conflict, or indeed, imagining an alternative politics somewhere between the theocratic vision of ISIS and the neoliberal fundamentalism of the West.

I wrote my novel, Confessions of a Terrorist, in part to recover the kind of empathy and understanding we have lost in the past fourteen years since 9/11, before terrorists became the epitome of unfathomable evil. I wrote it so that the terrorist other could speak to us about his reasons and his humanity, so that we could have a dialogue with him about what he really wants, what he feels, what he hopes for. Until we can understand why a person, a human being, someone we might consider thoughtful and idealistic if we spoke to him, would choose to launch terrorist attacks against us, we have no hope of responding in a manner that doesn’t simply compound the current cycle of violence. The point here is that sympathy and understanding is at heart a process of imagining ourselves in the life-world of another. This is more easily achieved through the narrative voice than the academic voice.

Of course, as a final note, it is important to point out that sympathising with the terrorist – understanding their motivations, their hopes and dreams, their shared humanity – does not in any way imply condoning their actions, or excusing their moral responsibility for their actions. What terrorists of all kinds do – whether state terrorists or non-state terrorists – is deeply immoral and a violation of accepted ethical codes of behaviour. I am a pacifist by conviction. I view all forms of political violence – state violence and non-state violence, terrorism and counterterrorism – as morally problematic and empirically ineffective, capable only of creating the foundations for further violence. As Gandhi put it, “I oppose all violence because the good it does is always temporary but the harm it does is permanent”. Political violence is in essence the expression of a kind of necro-politics, or anti-politics, that drags us into a place without light or mercy. In the words of Martin Luther King Jr:

The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. So it goes. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.

In conclusion, recovering sympathy for the terrorist, recognising their humanity, their politics, their suffering, their aspirations, their sense of self in this particular historical epoch, is essential for understanding the roots of their violent actions. It is also essential for reconstituting our own shattered sense of collective morality, and for recognising and acknowledging our own role in the constitutive violence of the current system. Finally, it is the basis on which we can begin to search for an alternative politics of response to contemporary political violence, perhaps even one based on the moral injunction to love your enemies.

Professor Richard Jackson
The National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies
University of Otago

 

 

When losing is better than winning… NZ wins first Fossil of the Day award at Climate talks

Dead Heat in First Fossil of the Day Awards of the Paris Climate Summit

As world leaders up the ante on the opening day of the Paris Climate Summit, the first place Fossil of the Day award is a double-act. New Zealand claim a top spot for rather hilariously, or not, urging countries to phase out fossil fuel subsidies while shelling out big bucks to prop up fossil fuel production to the tune of $80 million.

Prime Minister John Key showed a degree of hypocrisy by claiming, at a Friends of Fossil Fuel Subsidy Reform event, that New Zealand is a leader on fossil fuel subsidy abolition – despite the country’s fossil fuel production subsidies have increasing seven-fold since his election in 2008. His phoney grandstanding came just a week after claiming that New Zealand ‘doesn’t need to be and shouldn’t be a leader in climate change’. Are you getting mixed signals too? Or is it just us?

Joining New Zealand on the winners podium (drum roll please) for a first placed Fossil Award is Belgium! With environmental leadership as murky as a tall glass of weisse beer it’s four governments from four different parties are still bickering over how to implement the existing EU climate and energy package from 2009, ensuring they were too busy to even consider doing the work necessary to prepare for the Paris Climate Summit.

Today Belgium is one of the few EU countries lagging behind on their carbon pollution reduction and renewable energy targets. There is such a severe state of gridlock in the Belgian environment office it’s as if the minister ate 5 boxes of Guylian Chocolates in one sitting. Because of this blockage on a Belgian climate agreement the country also lags behind in providing sufficient and durable climate finance.

For Belgium… the train has left the station for COP21 – literally. This weekend the Environment Minister missed the train to Paris. Why? Because the government was negotiating the restarting of old nuclear power plants that were canned over a year ago. Way to go Belgium…backwards.

Organization:

– See more at: http://www.climatenetwork.org/node/5403#sthash.Vkz7UQxh.dpuf

“A Kick Back Against Government Intolerance” – an Interview with Nicky Hager

Dirty_Politics_cover

Nicky Hager tells Toby Manhire’s The Spinoff about his case in the High Court, Dirty Politics a year on, and his next book – “one of the most important projects that I could imagine”.

Nicky Hager has been back in headlines lately after court documents revealed, among other things, that Westpac had provided his transaction statements to police without requiring any production order or other court authorisation. The bank has since said it will change its policy.

The court documents relate to action taken by Hager challenging the legality of a police raid on his home in October last year – which is understood to be coming any day now. The raid formed part of an investigation into the hacking of blogger Cameron Slater’s emails and other internet correspondence by an individual known simply as Rawshark, who provided the materials to Hager.

The documents formed the basis of Hager’s Dirty Politics, published in August 2014, shortly before that most extraordinary election.

After a packed session on Sunday morning at the excellent Tauranga Arts Festival discussing Dirty Politics and all that with Bryan Gould, I collared Hager for a quick chat in the sun outside the Pacific Crystal Palace tent.

Nicky Hager and Mandy Hager with Toby Manhire in Tauranga. Photo: Sandra Simpson

NICKY HAGER AND MANDY HAGER WITH TOBY MANHIRE IN TAURANGA. PHOTO: SANDRA SIMPSON

The Spinoff: How have you felt watching the response to the police/Westpac story, a lineup of supporters ranging from Seymour Hersh and Edward Snowden through to Matthew Hooton and Rodney Hide?

Nicky Hager: I was obviously heartened to have people on my side. I think it was such an outrageous part of the police actions against me that there were some unlikely supporters. It could be some were imagining what would happen if their bank records were able to be in the police hands.

And it’s an outlier. The most important issues, much more important issues, were about the police raiding my house and going after sources, not just seeing my bank data. And I’m not sure all those people would support me on protecting my sources and that’s the one that really matters.

What will happen next with the judicial review?

In the very near future, I think, there will be a decision coming out which is about my case but is really about journalism in New Zealand. Like all countries, we are experiencing a new intolerance to whistleblowers and people who provide leaked information. So this court case is happening at a really critical time for whether or not people who collect that information feel safe and whether or not people who provide that information feel safe.

I’m hopeful we’re going to have a decision which is a sort of kick back against the current intolerance from the government.

It’s over a year now since Dirty Politics, and to some degree at least it feels as though things have gone back to business as usual. Do you accept that, and if so is it because people didn’t grasp the detail or because they grasped the detail but don’t care?

I’ve had a bigger reaction nationwide from people who care about this, more than anything I have ever written, so I have no doubt about that.

The Minister of Justice who had to resign because of the book has not come back, the main dirty tricks person in the prime minister’s office [Jason Ede], who had to leave the job because of this, has not come back. When people say everything has gone back to normal, they’re possibly not realising how much did change, and what they’re perhaps really meaning is the Prime Minister, who was in many ways at the centre of the distasteful politics, has so far survived it.

None of us knows really how politics works. He’s survived at the moment by not answering the question and then not answering the question again and then refusing to answer the question again – relying on the lack of attention span of the media. He may get away with that, but I actually think that one is still playing itself out.

I think that when people say John Key got away with the book, and never had to answer the question – and of course he has got away with not having to answer the question so far – I think they’re not being optimistic enough. I think we may still see in the long run it will be seen to have bitten him badly and he hasn’t got away with it.

Do you think then that the way people do politics has changed as a result of the book?

I wrote a book about one area of politics, and there is absolutely no doubt that things have changed quite a lot. For example, at the time I wrote that book, quite a considerable number of journalists and news organisations were in extremely unhealthy relationships with this rightwing attack blogger, who was acting as a tool of various commercial interests and also of the prime minister’s office, for covert attacks on their opponents.

Most of those journalists have stopped doing that. Many of those media organisations have more or less apologised publicly for getting caught up in it. If one book can do that, I’m really happy with it, and that’s not the only change at all.

Do you read the Whaleoil blog?

No. I’ve spent a year and a half recommending to people that they don’t dignify it by looking at it, because it is not a genuine source of news and analysis. It’s a political tactic: to smear and discourage and hurt people, and so I don’t believe that I want to go there.

But there’s also a personal side to it. A strange side of politics is that if you do critical work, your opponents, people who don’t like what you write, often deal with it by personal attacks. In the anonymous world of social media, people feel unrestrained in their personal attacks. So I believe, I advocate this: I think in anyone who is in a position like me needs to look after their own peace of mind and mental health and not read those anonymous comments.

I will take anybody’s legitimate, public, owned criticism and I’ll think about it, but anonymous comments are the worst of people, and I don’t need to let them into my head. So I don’t go to the Whaleoil site, and I don’t go to many of those places where I’m just going to hear, you know, anonymous tigers behind their keyboards saying ridiculous things about me.

The Dirty Politics fallout must have soaked up a lot of your time. Have you been able to start work on anything else?

Yes I have. When I write a book or do a big project I always hope I can kind of weed the garden and get started on the next thing straight away. That’s not the way it works. In fact, part of writing books is you have the responsibility to go out and talk and talk and talk and talk, because talking is part of the way the book is disseminated. So I’ve done that. And I’ve had what I always call the “retaliation phase”, which in this case was the raid on my house and different things, which took some time.

But because I’ve been through this before I was determined that it would not take over my life. So I’ve had one of the most important projects that I could imagine in my life ticking away and going through the early processes of working towards eventually getting it together.

So I’ve had a very satisfying sense of progress right through all the other things so far.

Is that project thematically linked to The Hollow Men and Dirty Politics or something altogether different?

It’s always much better for me not to pre-publicise my work, particularly because until I’ve actually got it together, and cracked it, and feel confident enough to put it before the public, I never want to say, you know –

How far through the process are you?

I’ve got quite a long way and I’ve got quite a long way to go.

What’s the title?

Of course I’m not going to say what the title is.

I’ve actually got a draft title. To give you an answer on something which wasn’t intended to get an answer: I believe that when you write a book is half the job of the effectiveness of the book, and the power of the book. If you look around the world at which books work and which don’t, the title is far more influential than people give it credit for.

Really, even when I am in the research phase, and meeting confidential contacts, all that phase of the project – which may not even become a book yet – I’m already regularly wondering what the title of that book might be.

TPPA signing likely to be in New Zealand

TPPA

The official signing ceremony for the Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal is likely to will place in New Zealand next year but at Trade Minister level only.

Had it been elevated to leader level, US President Barack Obama would be coming to New Zealand, as he indicated he would like to do before his term is up in January 2017.

Mr Obama chaired a meeting of leaders and trade ministers of the 12 TPP countries on the sidelines of Manila including Prime Minister John Key and Trade Minister Tim Groser.

One of the debates inside the closed meetings was when to allow new countries to join.

“I think it is fair to say there is a range of views,” Mr Key told reporters afterwards.

“Some leaders are very much of the view that it is a foundation stone from which new entrants should be allowed to join so long as they meet the standard.

“Others took the view that maybe we should let it settle down a little bit first.

“But I would have thought if you can meet the standard, myself, I cant see why you wouldn’t let other people in.”

Asked whether the US was one of countries that wanted to let things settle down before considering new entrants, Mr Key said he thought the US was open-minded about it.

Trade Ministers are going to work on a proposed protocol for new entrants.

Several countries have already indicated an interest in joining including Indonesia, the Philippines and South Korea.

Mr Key said Mr Obama turned to him next after he had spoken which was a sign the US saw New Zealand as having “pushed the process and New Zealand being a leader in trade.”

The ceremony would showcase New Zealand as the place where the biggest free trade agreement was signed since the Uruguay round of the World Trade Organisation.

The deal cannot be signed before February 3 which is the end of the US Congress 90-day review period of the deal.

Mr Obama made a few opening comments to the meeting in public and said he wanted to ensure it was enacted as swiftly as possible.

“Obviously execution is critical after we have arrived at the text and I just want to once again commend all the leaders here for their extraordinary leadership .

“This is not easy to do. The politics of any trade agreement are difficult.

“The fact that everybody here stepped up and made some hard decisions that are going to pay off for decades to come I think is a testimony to the vision that was reflected.”

Earlier yesterday, Mr Key has a bilateral meeting with Chinese President at Xi Jinping’s hotel – and trade was on the agenda too.

They talked about possible negotiations to upgrade the 2008 New Zealand China Free Trade Agreement – its first with a western country.

But the upgrade, in the wake of other deals, is not an absolute certainty.

“We are as confident as we can be on the basis of the discussions we have had so far it is going to happen. But for an upgrade of the FTA to happen, we have to formally launch that process and work our way through that.”

New Zealand was very keen to do that and China has acknowledged it would make sense to occur.

“At this stage the officials in China haven’t formally ticked that off but the Preisdent’s comments were forward-leaning so I would have thought we are going to make progress there. That is my sense of it but you just cant guarantee when that process starts.” …

Health professionals welcome NZ climate target legal challenge 

 

Health professionals are welcoming a Waikato law student’s legal challenge of the NZ Government’s weak target for reducing climate emissions.

Sarah Thomson is suing the Government, claiming NZ’s greenhouse gas emissions targets were arrived at illegally, and that the pledge NZ will take to the upcoming international negotiations in Paris is “unreasonable and irrational”.

Earlier this year many health professionals and organisations – representing doctors, nurses, and public health professionals – submitted on NZ’s post-2020 climate target. Their submissions called for ambitious targets that would protect and promote the health of New Zealanders. They included the NZ Medical Association and the NZ Nurses Organisation, representing over 50,000 professionals.

But the consultation process made it clear that the health gains from climate action and the human health costs of inaction were being ignored. The emissions reduction target eventually submitted by New Zealand – an 11 percent reduction on 1990 levels by 2030 – has been widely condemned as grossly inadequate.

“New Zealand’s target is much lower than what scientists say is needed from countries to avoid dangerous levels of climate change that will be catastrophic to human health,” says Dr Rhys Jones, co-convenor of OraTaiao: The NZ Climate and Health Council. “Yet well-planned action to reduce climate-damaging emissions could immediately improve our health and wellbeing.”

Dr Jones says it is unfair that poor countries, who have contributed the least to this emergency, are being affected first and worst. In our own region, the Council is particularly concerned about the impacts on Māori and Pacific peoples in New Zealand, and on the health of people in Pacific Island nations. “New Zealand’s pathetic climate target shows contempt for the innocent peoples of low-lying Pacific Island states. Global warming will drive people from their land and result in profound adverse health effects. It is a particularly nasty betrayal by New Zealand – which of all countries should speak up and support the interests of Pacific Nations.”

“As health professionals, we have a duty to promote and protect the health of patients and populations. This government’s inaction in the face of urgently needed emissions reduction represents a clear threat to the health of New Zealanders and our Pacific neighbours. We support real steps to reduce climate change, including legal action, for a healthy future,” says Dr Jones.

ENDS

Media Spokesperson: Dr Rhys Jones, Ph. 021 411 743
Dr Rhys Jones (Ngāti Kahungunu) (rg.jones@auckland.ac.nz) is a Public Health Physician and Senior Lecturer at the University of Auckland, and Co-convenor of OraTaiao: The New Zealand Climate Climate and Health Council.

Background

OraTaiao: The New Zealand Climate and Health Council are health professionals concerned with climate change as a serious public health threat. They also promote the positive health gains that can be achieved through action to address climate change. See: www.orataiao.org.nz

News item: ‘Sarah vs the State: Government’s climate targets ‘illegal, unreasonable, irrational’’, http://www.nzgeographic.co.nz/atlarge/sarah-vs-the-state

About Climate Change and Health
See NZ specific climate-health information in the NZ Medial Journal paper:
‘Health and equity impacts of climate change in Aotearoa-New Zealand, and health gains from climate action’.

Health threats globally and for NZ include illness and injury from heat waves and extreme weather events, changing patterns of infectious diseases, and wider impacts from loss of livelihoods, food and water shortages, migration, and conflict.
Well-planned action to reduce climate-damaging emissions could improve health and wellbeing. Examples include rapid moves to more walking, cycling and public transport will cut transport emissions, reduce air pollution, and boost physical activity – impacting obesity, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and respiratory disease.

MfE Summary of Submissions on NZ’s Climate Change Target (includes 30 submissions from health professionals and health professional organisations)
http://www.mfe.govt.nz/sites/default/files/media/nz-climate-change-target-summary-of-submissions.pdf

Key Submissions by Health Organisations:
• The NZ Medical Association
• The NZ Nurses Organisation
• The NZ College of Public Health Medicine submission and supplement
• The Public Health Association
• OraTaiao: The NZ Climate and Health Council
• Pacific public health professionals
• The Department of Preventive and Social Medicine at the University of Otago

Government sued for “unreasonable and irrational” emissions target

A Waikato law student is suing the government over its climate change policy, claiming its greenhouse gas emissions targets were arrived at illegally, and that the low emissions reduction pledge it will make in the upcoming UN climate conference in Paris in December is “unreasonable and irrational”.

Thursday, 12 November 2015 06:49

Sarah vs the State: Government’s climate targets ‘illegal, unreasonable, irrational’

Sarah Thomson
Sarah ThomsonPeter Drury / New Zealand Geographic

A Waikato law student is suing the government over its climate change policy, claiming its greenhouse gas emissions targets were arrived at illegally, and that the low emissions reduction pledge it will make in the upcoming UN climate conference in Paris in December is “unreasonable and irrational”.

In June this year, a court in the Hague found that the Dutch government had been negligent in its climate-change policies, and forced it to adopt more ambitious greenhouse gas reduction targets on behalf of its citizens.* The decision was the first time a court has ordered a government to take more stringent climate action, and the first case globally in which a State has been found liable for failure to adequately mitigate climate change.

Could such a legal case succeed in New Zealand?

We are about to find out. Today, 24-year-old Hamilton law student Sarah Thomson filed papers in the High Court in Wellington requesting a judicial review of aspects of the government’s climate change policy.

Specifically, Thomson is challenging the legality and reasonableness of the government’s domestic greenhouse gas emissions targets and its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC)—the amount it commits to reduce emissions—to be tabled at the UN climate meeting in Paris.

She claims that the Minister for Climate Change Issues has not followed the process stipulated by the Climate Change Response Act 2002 in setting emissions reduction targets, and that the government’s INDC fails to take into account relevant matters concerning the dire impacts of climate change. New Zealand’s proposed contribution—an 11 percent reduction on 1990 levels by 2030—is claimed to be, in legal terminology, “unreasonable and irrational”.

Under the Climate Change Response Act, the minister is required to review the government’s emissions reduction target whenever the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) releases a new report, to ensure that the target aligns with the current scientific consensus on mitigating what the IPCC calls the “irreversible and dangerous impacts” of climate change. Thomson says there is no evidence that such a review was carried out after the IPPC’s latest report was released in 2014. If that turns out to be the case, she says, then the minister acted unlawfully.

The second prong of the review concerns the INDC that the government will present at Paris. Thomson contends that the 11 percent reduction target is inadequate in light of what climate scientists say is needed to prevent global temperatures exceeding the internationally agreed 2-degree maximum rise.

“I am asking the court to require the minister to set targets that are consistent with what the scientific consensus says needs to be done to avoid the disastrous consequences of climate change,” she says.

*

Thomson, who sat her final LLB exams a week ago, is by no means a seasoned climate campaigner. Although she grew up in an outdoors-loving, conservation-minded family (her father is involved in predator control and biodiversity restoration in sanctuaries such as the Maungatautari ecological “island” in the Waikato) she admits that until recently her awareness of the threats of global warming didn’t extend much beyond the fact that it would be unfortunate if the ice caps melted and polar bears went extinct.

“I was a bit naïve,” she told me. “I didn’t realise how bad things really are, and how seriously people are going to be affected. I felt I had to do something.”

She joined a group which was door-knocking in Hamilton to collect signatures for a climate-change petition. Then she listened to a talk given by Mary Robinson, the former prime minister of Ireland, in which she spoke about climate change as a human rights issue that was bearing down on our Pacific neighbours such as Tuvalu and Kiribati.

“People have the right to challenge the government’s decisions. I have that right, and so does everyone else. Climate change will affect everyone in New Zealand, so it’s to everyone’s benefit that this case be heard.”

But it was seeing the tepid commitment to global emissions reductions that the New Zealand government is taking to the Paris climate meeting in a little over two weeks’ time that raised her ire and prompted her to act.

“I looked at the summary of submissions [that people had made on the INDC target] and I was shocked,” she said. “Despite the insanely short time frame—people had less than a month to make a comment—the government still got more than 15,000 submissions, and almost all said of them we need more ambitious goals, around a 40 percent cut in emissions, and a substantial plan of action to meet those targets. But in the end the government came up with a feeble INDC.”

Thomson is not alone in criticising New Zealand’s INDC pledge. International climate analyst Climate Action Tracker described the 11 percent target as “inadequate,” and said New Zealand was far from doing its “fair share” on climate action.

“If most other countries were to follow New Zealand’s approach,” it wrote, “global warming would exceed 3–4°C, a world that would see oceans acidifying, coral reefs dissolving, sea levels rising rapidly, and more than 40 percent species extinction.”

Moreover, the organisation predicted that in 10 years New Zealand’s per capita greenhouse gas emissions would exceed those of the United States, the world’s most profligate per capita emitter.

But rather than simply complain about the inadequacy of New Zealand’s contribution to global climate action, Thomson has decided to test that contention in court. “This is our chance to be heard and to use the legal system to do that,” she said.

Underlying the action is the conviction that if a government acknowledges the severity of the threats posed by climate change in international forums, it cannot then choose a domestic path of action that underplays that severity—for example, by favouring economic goals over environmental obligations.

I asked Thomson how she felt about taking on the government over its climate policy.

“It’s an opportunity to create change,” she said. “Voting every three years isn’t enough. People have the right to challenge the government’s decisions. I have that right, and so does everyone else. Climate change will affect everyone in New Zealand, so it’s to everyone’s benefit that this case be heard. So I believe this is not only a legitimate action to take, but an essential one.”

She said she hoped the case would increase climate awareness ahead of the Paris climate meeting. “Compared with the flag referendum, there hasn’t been a lot of media on the INDC targets, and this will be a chance for a lot more people to hear about that and take part in that conversation, and hopefully stand up and voice their concerns about lack of government action.”

Kennedy Warne — New Zealand Geographic

 

* The New Zealand case differs significantly from its Dutch predecessor. Dutch law has several features that are not analogous to the New Zealand legal system. The Dutch case focused on the government’s duty of care towards its citizens and a concept called “hazardous negligence.” Neither principle exists directly in New Zealand law. Moreover, the Dutch constitution specifically requires the authorities “to keep the country habitable and to protect and improve the environment.”

Writing on the website of Wellington legal think tank Deconstructing Paris, Matthew Soar noted that New Zealand does not have an equivalent of the Dutch tort of hazardous (state) negligence. Nor does New Zealand have an equivalent constitutional article that prescribes a duty of care in relation to a habitable environment.

Of special interest in the Dutch court decision is the judges’ dismissal of arguments based on the small size of Holland’s greenhouse gas emissions (around 0.5 percent of global emissions) compared to those of other countries—an excuse for inaction that is also made by politicians in this country (New Zealand’s emissions are around 0.2 percent of the global total.)

“The state should not hide behind the argument that the solution to the global climate problem does not depend solely on Dutch efforts,” the judges’ ruling said. “Any reduction of emissions contributes to the prevention of dangerous climate change and as a developed country the Netherlands should take the lead in this.”

The same has been said for many years in New Zealand—that we should be leaders, not followers, in tackling our country’s low per-country but high per-capita emissions (we rank 11th in the world in per-capita emissions)—but those urgings have fallen on deaf government ears.

 

 

TPPA National Day of Action: 14 November

TPP dont sign

From Its Our Future:

While negotiators were able to complete a text in Atlanta, the deal won’t be signed until mid-February at the earliest. Saturday 14 November is another Nationwide Day of Action to stop the TPPA, and we need a huge turnout of people to send a simple message that even this government can understand: DON’T SIGN!

 With such a poor deal on the table, that shouldn’t seem too difficult a decision. The Government’s rosiest predictions on tariff cuts – a miserable $259 million a year by 2047 – are nothing compared to the influence that foreign investors will get over our public policy decision-making if this deal will goes through.

What we need now is for people to grab their flags and placards, join their local rallies this Saturday 14 November, and send a strong message to the Government saying DON’T SIGN this toxic deal.

 

Kerikeri – 2:30pm at Kerikeri Library

Auckland – 1:00pm at Myers Park

Hamilton – 1:00pm by Cock and Bull Te Rapa

Tauranga – 11:00am at Red Square

Rotorua – 1:00pm, at the Village Green – Corner of Whakaue St and Memorial Drive

Gisborne – 12.30pm, at Elgin Shops

Palmerston North – 1:00pm, The Square

Wellington – 1pm at Midland Park

Nelson – 11am at 1903 Square – near the church steps

Christchurch – 2pm, Cathedral Square

Little River – 1pm, Craft Station

Timaru – 1pm, Bay Hill Piazza

Dunedin – 11am at the Railway Station

Invercargill – 1.30pm – 3pm, Invercargill Library Meeting Room, TPPA Public Meeting

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