New Zealand can be a voice for human rights, in the region and on the world stage

BY ANNA NEISTAT

Anna Neistat, Senior Director for Research with Amnesty International, holds a copy of a report she co-authored titled ...

DAVID GRAY

Anna Neistat, Senior Director for Research with Amnesty International, holds a copy of a report she co-authored titled ‘Island of Despair – Australia’s “Processing” of Refugees on Nauru’ in Sydney, Australia, October 17, 2016 that concludes many of the 410 asylum seekers held on the tiny Pacific Island are being driven to attempt suicide to escape the prison-like conditions they face in indefinite detention on behalf of Australia.

OPINION: These are hard times for human rights. Wherever one looks, humanity’s most cherished freedoms are under assault.

Across the Western world, intolerant politicians are riding to power on a wave of their own hateful rhetoric. In recent weeks, three African countries and Russia pulled out of the International Criminal Court, to preserve their relationships with war criminals and to evade justice for their own crimes.

In parts of Asia, authoritarian-minded leaders are peddling a false trade-off between security and human rights. Yet the people who live within these countries are reduced to an afterthought.

In Malaysia, national security laws are being used to choke dissent. And in the Philippines, in the name of ridding the streets of drugs, people are being unlawfully killed in them by the thousands.

A photo from Amnesty International claiming to show children playing near a fence at the Australian-run detention centre ...

Amnesty International

A photo from Amnesty International claiming to show children playing near a fence at the Australian-run detention centre on the Pacific island nation of Nauru.

 The conflict zones of Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Afghanistan continue to see large scale civilian casualties with little prospect of the perpetrators being brought to justice. And from Europe to Pakistan to Australia, the desperate people who have fled these conflicts are being hounded by the authorities, or abandoned to a cruel fate in camps and detention centres.

But these times also offer an opportunity to countries willing to seize it. Against this bleak backdrop, governments with strong human rights records can step forward to lead. Countries should not be distinguished by the size of their militaries or economies, but how they engage in the service of humanity.

New Zealand is well-placed to make a difference. In the past, it has shown it can take a stand for human rights. Kiwis shattered the glass ceiling some time ago, with two women prime ministers to date – a key step towards gender equality. At the height of South African apartheid, they also took a stand for racial equality.

Even before it became a signatory to the Refugee Convention, New Zealand welcomed hundreds of refugees who fled World War II. Since then it has continued to resettle people who escape persecution in different parts of the world, providing the opportunity for them to rebuild their lives, while creating a stronger and more diverse country in the process.

New Zealand should honour that tradition, and urge its closest allies to fulfil their own international obligations. In recent months, across the Tasman, Australia has earned global notoriety for dispatching refugees and asylum seekers to the Pacific islands of Nauru and Manus, to be “processed”.

Processing is Australia’s euphemism for a system that does the opposite of what refugees need, minimising protection and maximising harm.

Immigration minister Michael Woodhouse welcomes Afghan refugees to New Zealand in 2013.

John Selkirk

Immigration minister Michael Woodhouse welcomes Afghan refugees to New Zealand in 2013.

Recently I travelled to Nauru to carry out a human rights investigation for Amnesty International on the island. In a career that has taken me to war-zones across the world, nothing prepared me for what I saw there.

Almost everyone I spoke to vividly described how they have suffered great mental anguish, and how it has driven many to self-harm and thoughts of suicide. On Nauru, harm is intentionally being inflicted on people, with the aim of intimidating and coercing them, so that their plight can serve as a deterrent to stop others from attempting the same desperate journeys.

It is a policy of punishing the victims, and under international law it amounts to torture. It’s not a claim I make lightly, nor is Amnesty International alone in characterising these human rights violations as extremely serious. Last week, Francois Crepeau, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants, said conditions on Nauru are “cruel, inhuman and degrading.”

Yet the Australian government remains unmoved, issuing reflexive denials in the face of indisputable facts. Echoing its criticism of Amnesty International’s report on Nauru, it said it “rejected” the Special Rapporteur’s findings.

New Zealand can chart a different course by responsibly resettling refugees, and urging Australia to face up to the reality of its actions and do the same. By showing leadership, New Zealand can claim its place as a voice for human rights in the region, and on the world stage.

Dr Anna Neistat is  lawyer who leads  Amnesty International’s research worldwide. She has conducted more than 60 investigations in conflict areas around the world, including Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, China, Zimbabwe, Nepal, Kenya, Yemen, Chechnya, Sri Lanka and Haiti. Most recently she spent time on Nauru conducting research into Australia’s offshore detention facility there, which she spoke about in Christchurch on Friday morning.

 – Stuff

Last updated 05:00, December 2 2016

Time has come for a written constitution

Sir Geoffrey Palmer (left) and Andrew Butler.PHOTO: GRANT MAIDEN PHOTOGRAPHY

Sir Geoffrey Palmer (left) and Andrew Butler.
PHOTO: GRANT MAIDEN PHOTOGRAPHY
A constitution for our times: let’s have it now, argues Andrew Butler before the Dunedin launch of his co-authored book with Sir Geoffrey Palmer on the issue. 

Public power. Who has it? What do they use it for? What limits must be respected? Who can enforce those limits?

Those are the sorts of questions that lie at the heart of any country’s constitution.

But in New Zealand it is not easy for people to find the answers to these basic questions. That’s because New Zealand is one of only three countries without a proper written constitution.

In our recent book A Constitution for Aotearoa New Zealand, Sir Geoffrey Palmer and I say it is time for New Zealanders to adopt a written constitution fit for our times. Through our website, Facebook page and Twitter handle, we are seeking your views on whether New Zealand should have a written constitution, and if so, whether some aspects of how public power is exercised in this country need to change.

To understand the principal rules of how public power is exercised in New Zealand, you have to wade your way through a jumble of statutes – some from New Zealand, but quite a few very old ones from England; and a plethora of obscure conventions, letters patent and manuals. The relationship between all these sources of law is obscure and unclear.

We share this untidy approach to constitutional law with the UK. Brexit has shown how fragile an unwritten constitution can be. No-one knows who has the power to get the UK out of the EU. The courts have had to step in and answer these basic questions. Those newspapers that didn’t like the recent decision saying only Parliament can approve exit labelled the judges as “Enemies of the people” and “Traitors”. What a farrago. No wonder a publication like The Economist, that has long opposed a written UK constitution, accepts the time has come.

In our proposed constitution, we aim to continue the best of our constitutional traditions, while proposing some innovations we believe will make our system even stronger.

We propose that, unlike at present, Parliament cannot pass laws that are inconsistent with the Bill of Rights or other important constitutional principles, by a bare majority of 50% plus 1 of MPs. But nor do we favour an American-style Bill of Rights where the last word is left for the courts. Instead, we favour something more middle of the road. Under our proposed constitution, the last word would lie with Parliament. It could override the Bill of Rights where either 75% of MPs are in support, or a simple majority of the people at referendum provide approval.

That is consistent with New Zealand tradition. The Electoral Act 1993 provides that core features of our electoral system can only be changed by referendum or 75% support of Parliament. We are simply seeking to roll out the same level of protection for other core features of our constitution.

We propose that the Bill of Rights be expanded to include rights like privacy, property and a clean environment.

We propose that New Zealand finally becomes a republic. We understand the warmth for the Queen. But as an institution, the British monarchy does not reflect modern New Zealand.

Too much law is passed in a rush, increasing the likelihood of mistakes, perfunctory public consultation or short-term knee-jerk laws in time for the next election. We propose a four-year term of Parliament, so the Government and MPs have time to make careful policy proposals and legislation.

So why is this a good time for change?

First, the flag debate showed New Zealanders were open to discussing who we are and where we want to be.

Second, the 2013 Report of the Constitution Advisory Panel recorded significant support for setting out New Zealand’s constitutional rules in an easily accessible written document. Our draft constitution does this in 40 pages.

Third, developments such as Brexit, the US presidential elections and rising extremism in Continental Europe show there is public disquiet with the way in which power is being exercised. Will New Zealand be immune? Unlikely. Now is a good time for a refresh to see what additional checks and balances our system needs so as to maintain public confidence.

Fourth, when the idea of a written, supreme law constitution for New Zealand was last seriously mooted in 1960, one reason against was that New Zealanders were British; a written constitution was seen as un-British. Immigration trends during the past 20 years mean if it was ever true that Kiwis were British, we are no longer. New New Zealanders have grown up in different places where they do not have the Westminster tradition. Making it easy to access the rules of the game is important if we want these new Kiwis to be able to participate fully in public life.

What do you think? Let us know on our website www.constitutionaotearoa.org.nz  or come along to the Dunedin launch of our book and Q&A at Otago Museum tomorrow at 7.30pm organised by the University Bookshop and chaired by University of Otago law professor Andrew Geddis. Entry $5 at the door.

Andrew Butler is a Wellington litigator and co-author of A Constitution for Aotearoa New Zealand.

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Editorial: The first “three-strikes” case shows what a poor law this is

ACT leader David Seymour says the three-strikes law is working well.

MARION VAN DIJK / FAIRFAX NZ

ACT leader David Seymour says the three-strikes law is working well.

OPINION: A man who groped a prison guard’s bottom has been sentenced to seven years in prison.

This absurd situation has come about because of a harsh and misguided piece of legislation – the “three-strikes” law passed in 2010.

The law says that anyone who commits three crimes from a long list of 40 must be sentenced to the maximum possible penalty for the final offence.

Raven Casey Campbell is the first person to reach a third strike. His offence was plainly an indecent assault – and one that caused distress and humiliation to his victim. Yet equally plainly, it was far less serious than many crimes that bear the same name, and entirely undeserving of a seven-year jail term.

Even the law’s most gleefully punitive supporters agree. As consolation, they point out that the sentencing judge has allowed Campbell the possibility of parole after two years and four months.

It is only partial consolation, however: if not for the three-strikes law, Justice Kit Toogood said Campbell would probably have received 12 months in prison, something closer to a reasonable sentence.

Even to restrict the punishment as he did, the judge had to use what the law’s backers had hoped would be a rare exception to the rule – and declare that it would be “manifestly unjust” to imprison Campbell for the full seven years with no parole.

ACT MP David Seymour cheerfully argues that this “safety valve” shows the law is working. Actually, it shows that the law is a mess.

The Campbell case, after all, follows earlier judgments that it would also be “manifestly unjust” to send two murderers to prison for their entire lives, with no chance of parole, on their second strike. (The longest non-parole period ever ordered in New Zealand, by comparison, is 30 years).

Again, one of those men was only facing that likelihood because of a relatively low-level indecent assault as his first strike.

In upholding those decisions, the Court of Appeal decided that findings of manifest injustice did not, as it turns out, need to be “rare or exceptional”. In other words, there might be rather a lot of them.

So when will a sentence be handed down that actually matches the law’s draconian presumptions? And what sort of law needs constant resort to a “safety valve” to prevent gross injustice?

A poor one. The “three strikes” law invites harsh sentences because it includes so many offences, some of which, like those against discharging firearms, are comparatively minor, and most of which cover crimes that can vary widely in their seriousness.

The law’s drafters understood and ignored this. Their original bill applied the three strikes on the basis of the actual sentences imposed by judges, not the offences – a fairer approach. But that was ditched, with the result that unjust punishments keep emerging, and that New Zealand’s prisons are expected to hold an extra 700 offenders by 2060.

Against this, the law’s supporters argue that its escalating warnings deter criminals. In fact, this is hotly disputed. The Court of Appeal calls the evidence for such deterrence “equivocal at best”.

A final warning certainly did not deter Campbell from his offensive, brief and highly consequential act.

 – The Dominion Post

Government agrees on ‘landmark’ recommendations to address gender pay gap in workforce

By STACEY KIRK

Stuff

A case led by Aged care worker Kristine Bartlett and E Tu Union, has resulted in a landmark court decision, and ...

CRAIG SIMCOX/FAIRFAX MEDIA

A case led by Aged care worker Kristine Bartlett and E Tu Union, has resulted in a landmark court decision, and Government agreement to set up an easier process for all claims of gender pay inequality.

Women will be able to file complaints over pay equality with their employers, rather than the courts, following a Government decision to back the recommendations of an expert panel.

It has been described as a “landmark” win by unions, which have applauded the decision.

The announcement was made by senior ministers, who confirmed the Government had agreed to principles that would provide guidance to both employers and employees in how to assess and resolve claims.

It also laid out a process for bargaining, to address pay equity in the workforce.

The Government set up a working group more than a year ago, to address the pay gap between men and women.

It’s work ran parallel to negotiations with unions over pay rates for caregivers.

It delivered its recommendations to Cabinet earlier this year, and the Government has agreed to all 21 recommendations.

That included one to compare roles between males and females, as part of the assessment to discover whether gender-based pay discrimination was at play.

The Government had also decided to supplement that recommendation to clarify how to chose an appropriate job for comparison, when making a pay claim, Workplace Relations and Safety Minister Michael Woodhouse said.

“This was an area the Joint Working Group was not able to agree on.

“However the Government believes this needs to be addressed to ensure the process is clear and effectively addresses pay equity claims for all parties.”

Minister for State Services Paula Bennett said she wanted to thank unions and employer representative on the working group for their work.

Women’s Affairs Minister Louise Upston said gender should not affect what people are paid.

“Occupations should not be lower paid just because women make up most of the employees.”

There would now be a “pathway for resolving issues, as happens with other employment matters”, which included bargaining, mediation and ultimately the Employment Relations Authority.

Labour leader Andrew Little said the Government had finally caught up, after “dragging the chain” for eight years.

“I don’t think there’s any room here to be quibbling about this, we’ve just got to get on, get some good legislation in place and get the processes moving so that women can be paid not on the basis of their gender, but of the work they do.”

Little said the Government’s supplement to a recommendation over establishing comparative modes of work has the potential to be problematic.

“Because you can anticipate there will be businesses who roles and occupations are dominated by women.

“Part of me says ‘lets see how it looks’. The reality is we’ve got a long way to go before women in New Zealand get an extra dollar in their pocket.”

Council of Trade Unions President Richard Wagstaff was a lead negotiator in the development of the Principles.

“I am pleased that the Government is committed to being on the right side of history in making real progress to paying working women what they are worth,” he said.

“This decision is a result of a brave women, Kristine Bartlett and her union E tū, deciding to take on her employer in order to address historic low and pay and gender based discrimination in her industry.”

Last year Bartlett fronted a case against TerraNova, on pay rates in the aged care sector.

A landmark Court of Appeal decision found women in predominantly female workforces could make a claim for pay equity under the Equal Pay Act.

The Government set up the working group in response to that decision, and went into negotiations separately with unions over the wages and salaries of about 50,000 workers in aged and disability residential care, and home and community services.

Those negotiations were ongoing.

Wagstaff clarified where the working group disagreed on selecting a comparator to assess equal pay claims.

“Our view is that the fairest outcome is for the best and most relevant comparator to be selected in each circumstance. The Government has a different opinion and wants to implement a hierarchy of comparators.

“We do not support this as a starting point. We think that this will waste time and create unnecessary paper work.”

A comparator was a non-female-dominated job that can be used as a way to value work.

BusinessNZ was also part of the working group.

Chief Executive Kirk Hope said the Government’s agreement was a major breakthrough.

“The principles require the reasons for any undervaluation of work to be taken into account, and require comparisons between industries or groups to be made based on the skills, responsibilities, conditions and effort involved, with the sensible provision that comparisons should be made within similar businesses or industries in the first instance.”

The Public Service Association said New Zealand could “once again claim to be a leader in gender equality”.

National Secretary Erin Polaczuk said it was a “huge step forward” for workers of any gender in New Zealand.

“There are many jobs in New Zealand that have historically been done by women, like support work or administration and clerical – and their work is undervalued.

“Today’s decision by the government sets about righting that wrong, and we’re delighted.”

But she said the Government’s view on finding an appropriate comparator was more complex.

“When putting together an equal pay claim, employees have to find a job they can compare their work to, in order to put a proper value on the work they do.

“Cabinet’s proposing a ‘start close then move out’ mechanism, where employees must try to find a comparison in their own business, then their industry and then their sector.”

The PSA would now raise equal pay claims for thousands of low-paid women – after previously advocating for social workers and admin/clerical workers, Polaczuk said.

With only three sitting weeks left at Parliament, the Government would introduce a bill next year to amend both the Equal Pay Act and the Employment Relations Act.

Philippines President shouldn’t have been allowed in NZ – Human Rights Foundation

Newstalk ZB staff
Tuesday, 22 November 2016, 7:54PM

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte stopped over on his way back from meeting with Apec leaders in Peru. Photo / AP

UPDATED 9.26PM The Chairman of the Human Rights Foundation says New Zealand has standards for granting visas, and he wouldn’t have thought the president of the Philippines would meet them.

President Rodrigo Duterte is in Auckland to refuel his plane on his way back from the APEC meeting in Peru. He met with New Zealand’s Foreign Minister Murray McCully tonight for an hour.

Foundation spokesman Peter Hosking told Larry Williams he’s not assured Mr McCully would have tackled President Duterte on his human rights record, and he suspects it wasn’t confronted at APEC either.

“It certainly wasn’t on any agenda that I know of. Perhaps there were some leaders who had a private word with him, but I’m not particularly confident about that either.”

LISTEN ABOVE: Human Rights Foundation spokesman Peter Hosking spoke with Larry Williams

After tonight’s meeting, Murray McCully described President Duterte as “a tough guy but he was warm, courteous and actually quite charming”.

“He’s a very engaging character and it’s not difficult to discuss sensitive issues with him. He is very happy to engage on those issues.”

McCully would not confirm whether they talked about the extra-judicial killings Duterte has encouraged although he said it was wide ranging discussion and included the South China Seas.

“We talked about everything,” McCully said. “I don’t want to talk publicly about what was a private discussion but we discussed the full range of issues.

“He doesn’t beat around the bush. He has got quite firm views and he expresses them, and very colourfully.”

McCully said his meeting was a courtesy call because president was in the country on his return from Apec and it was “the appropriate thing to do to have someone from the Government call on him and welcome him and make sure that he is being looked after here.”

Serco illegal mail opening not isolated incident – Kelvin Davis

Kelvin Davis Kelvin Davis

Labour’s Corrections spokesman says Serco’s illegal interception of an inmate’s mail highlights a lack of transparency around what goes on in prisons.

Guards at a Serco-run prison in south Auckland were forced to apologise to an inmate after opening and reading their letter to New Zealand First MP Mahesh Bindra.

Kelvin Davis says there isn’t much prisoners can do.

“The bars and the gates that keep people inside can also keep scrutiny out, and there’s very little that prisoners can do about it.

“They’re not listened to. Their complaints get thrown in the bin. So they’re between a rock and a hard place, to be honest.”

Prisoner correspondence with politicians is considered legally privileged under the Corrections Act and should not be opened.

Mr Davis says prisoners’ reintegration into society will continue to be disrupted if they leave prison angry with how they’ve been treated.

He says the law-breaking is counterproductive to what prisons aim to do.

“To be honest there’s probably another couple of thousand people in prison who also need apologies for their mail being tampered with. It isn’t an isolated incident. It’s just really hard to prove.

“Prisoners say to me all the time that they suspect that their mail has been tampered with.”

He says prison guards cross privacy boundaries because they know they can get away with it.

“If a guard wants to open something, and especially if he or she suspects it’s about him or her, just take it and destroy it, and no one will know any different.”

Mr Davis says there’s a total lack of transparency in what goes on in our prisons.

Newshub

Monday 7 Nov 2016 5:00 a.m..

 HRF Note:

“Section 109 Mail between prisoners, official agencies, and members of Parliament

A staff member must not open any mail and an authorised person must not read any correspondence and a prison manager must not withhold any mail that—

(a)

is from a prisoner to an official agency; or

(b)

is from a prisoner to a member of Parliament and is addressed to that member at Parliament; or

(c)

is from an official agency or member of Parliament to a prisoner, and accompanied by a covering letter addressed to the prison manager stating that the agency or member of Parliament is acting in an official capacity in respect of the prisoner.”

Seoul *weakened* its climate ambition after the Paris Agreement, joining Saudi Arabia, Australia and New Zealand in laggards’ corner

South Korea leads list of 2016 climate villainsTwitterRedditEmailPrintFriendly.comSumoMe

Published on 04/11/2016, 10:27am

By Karl Mathiesen

It has been a year brimming with self-congratulation and post-treaty goodwill. Across the world, politicians have dined out on the signing of the Paris agreement and its rapid ascension into international law.

But as the head of the UN climate body and the president of next week’s Marrakech talks said on Friday, it’s just a piece of paper. Now it’s time to actually start cutting emissions.

Back at home, the world’s major emitters have at best left their climate plans unchanged. Some have actually implemented policies that will lead to more, not less CO2 in the atmosphere.

Before diplomats and politicians return to the table in Morocco, Climate Action Tracker (CAT) has released its updated analysis of who has been naughty and who has been nice in 2016. Sadly, the latter is a very short list.

Source: CAT

Source: CAT

South Korea

Leading the deplorables was South Korea. The country’s per capita emissions are rapidly increasing, said CAT, a rarity among the 21 countries in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum. By 2035, it’s per capita energy use is set to overtake the US.

South Korea hosts the Green Climate Fund, but its coal-sponsoring export-import bank caused a flap at board meetings throughout the year by first applying for accreditation to disburse fund money, then withdrawing without explanation on the brink of a decision.Diplomats accused the bank of wasting precious time and resources.

When it comes to domestic climate policy Korea was the only country to shift radically into reverse in 2016. Its major domestic climate law, the Green Growth Act, was amended this year to replace its previous 2020 emissions reduction target made at the 2009 climate talks in Copenhagen.

The new policy is the 2030 target outlined in South Korea’s Paris agreement pledge. The problem? The new target cuts roughly the same amount of emissions as the one it replaced, except ten years later. (You can see them on the graph above marked as the grey circle and black square).

Source: CAT

Source: CAT

Saudi Arabia

The Saudis are not known for their climate leadership, but the year following the Paris agreement was a particularly brazen one for the petrostate.

Despite massive potential for renewable energy, with solar efficiency in the desert among some of the highest in the world, the countrystripped back its target for clean energy from 50% to 10%. This opens the way for oil and gas generation.

Seemingly uncaring that their country is predicted to be hit harder than many others by a warmer climate, Saudi Arabia’s despots are yet to sign the Paris agreement, while dozens of others have actually ratified it. Instead, they argued this year that the goals enshrined by the agreement should be built on factors other than science.

Source: CAT

Source: CAT

Australia

Where to start? Under the leadership of the mercurial Malcolm Turnbull, formerly a climate hawk, Australia has continued 2016 where it ended 2015, an isolated and ridiculed pariah.

It continued to push for the economically unfeasible Carmichael coal mine, slashed funding for renewable energy research by A$1bn, opportunistically blamed renewable energy for causing a major blackout and called for coal power stations to be reopened.

Oh, and it appointed a man who once described the “moral case” for coal to be environment minister.

Source: CAT

Source: CAT

New Zealand

Elsewhere, the problem was less active backtracking and more a listless drifting. Countries with question marks hanging over their policies failed to do anything about them.

In 2016, New Zealand’s romance with creative accounting continued apace, despite increasing scrutiny from civil society and its media.

The country plans to use carbon credits bought from Ukraine and Russia to meet its targets. Unfortunately those credits appear to be bogus.

Under plans developed last year, the government also wants to change its own rules on counting carbon in forests to make them simpler. The problem? They want to time the rule change so they get a huge windfall of carbon credits that have no real-world impact on emissions.

Note - Nepal could not be ranked as it has not indicated a specific emissions reduction target. Source: CAT

Source: CAT

Meanwhile, in Nepal…

In a year when most governments forgot that incrementalism involves more than one step, the Himalayan republic was a beacon.

Before Paris, countries submitted their intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs). These laid out the voluntary cuts in carbon each country would make. Now, as Paris enters into international law on Friday, countries have replaced their INDCs with NDCs – meaning it’s game time. Most countries NDCs were carbon copies of their Paris pledge.

But little Nepal, with its per capita GDP of $689, actually improved its ambition in 2016, adding new targets that signal its commitment to low-carbon development. By 2020 it aims to get 20% of its energy from renewable sources; increase its electric vehicle share, cut fossil fuel use in transport by 50% by the middle of the century and reduce deforestation.

Climate Home

Something Different: A Movie Review

Movie review: I, Daniel Blake

This is the second of veteran English director Ken Loach’s little films with big ideas to win Cannes’ grand prize, the Palme D’Or. And for the 80-year-old king of social realist cinema, who supposedly retired in 2014 only to recant after the Tory election win in 2015, it’s something of a return to form.

That’s to say, yes, it’s another film fiercely angry about contemporary Britain’s treatment of its more unfortunate citizens.

But like Loach’s previous My Name is Joe and Ladybird, Ladybird, which this sometimes resembles, it’s made into affecting human cinema by its characters and the riveting performances behind them.

Scene from the film I, Daniel Blake. Photo / Cannes Film Festival
Scene from the film I, Daniel Blake. Photo / Cannes Film Festival

At some point the two leads in this, convalescing fifty-something Newcastle builder Daniel (Dave Johns) and struggling young single mother Katie (Hayley Squires) visit a foodbank.

Without warning, the episode becomes a devastating emotional moment. It’s hard not to think that through misty eyes, the Cannes jury ticked their ballots right then.

Johns, a stand-up comic, is great casting as Daniel. The widower is off work because of a heart attack but finds himself in a humiliating Kafkaesque loop after he applies for a sickness benefit.

His doctor says he shouldn’t work. Social services say no, according to its Q&A health checklist, which we hear Daniel answering in the movie’s hilarious opening, he’s not sick enough.

Scene from the film I, Daniel Blake. Photo / Cannes Film Festival
Scene from the film I, Daniel Blake. Photo / Cannes Film Festival
So, to get any benefit, he must apply for jobs he can’t then accept. On one of this repeated visits to the benefits office he meets Katie who, with her two kids, has shifted from London because Newcastle is the nearest social housing.

She too finds herself at the mercy of the welfare agency. They cut her benefit – a “sanction” – after turning up late to an appointment with the department.

Meanwhile, Daniel finds it tough dealing with a department which is “digital by default” when he’s “pencil by default”. One where those quizzing sickness benefit applicants are deemed “healthcare professionals” and rulings are given any an anonymous Orwellian “decision-maker”.

There’s something intriguing about a Loach film, which can have feeling of being improvised and taking on an agency which has a scripted corporate response for dealing with the messiness of real lives.

While so much of this rings true, there’s but one false note here. That’s a point late in the film when Daniel attempts to rescue Katie from a bad decision she’s made to ensure her family is fed. It feels like a rare staged “movie” kind of moment in a film that otherwise eschews clichés.

It’s also touching in how it celebrates common decency – Daniel becomes a surrogate grandad to Katie’s kids; he’s mates with the young black guy next door who helps him with online benefit applications in between doing dodgy deals to import trainers from China.

Scene from the film I, Daniel Blake. Photo / Cannes Film Festival
Scene from the film I, Daniel Blake. Photo / Cannes Film Festival

It’s funny too in a if-you-didn’t-laugh-you’d-cry kind of way.

The chuckles come mostly care of Johns’ playing Daniel’s quiet exasperation. His reaction at having to endure all four of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons while being put on hold with the department is priceless.

And while it’s a typically plain-looking Loach film, there’s grim poetry in the script by Paul Laverty, his eighth for the director. You could write songs from some of the lines. There’s one in that opening interview when Daniel gets asked everything from the mobility of his limbs to the movements of his bowels.

An increasingly infuriated Daniel pleads: “Isn’t anyone going to ask me about my heart?”

I, Daniel Blake may be an incensed political film. But it runs on the hope that a decent bloke will get asked just that.

Cast: Dave Johns, Hayley Squires
Director: Ken Loach
Rating: M (offensive language, adult themes)
Running time: 100 mins
Verdict: Veteran political director in top form

TimeOut

The Police (and pretty much everyone else) Know how to Prevent Crime, Why Don’t the Politicians?

By Jess Berentson-Shaw

October 26, 2016

It was nicely done really; Judith Collins neatly deflected the question posed by a delegate at a Police Association’s Conference about when the government was going to start addressing the causes of the crimes, notably child poverty. She repelled that pretty brave question by simply saying child poverty was not the Government’s problem to fix.

The following week the Government announced it would be spending $1billion to provide 1800 additional prison beds. While that is a one off cost, it also costs $92,000 to house each prisoner per year, so the on-going cost will be over $150m. Labour also announced it would be funding 1000 more frontline police at a cost of $180m per year.

This is all ambulance at the bottom of the cliff stuff. No-one has attended to what that member of the Police force was saying; deal with low incomes and low opportunities in childhood and you don’t need to spend billions on new prisons, or constantly have to fund more frontline police.

Let’s look at what the evidence has to say.

Low Incomes & Few Opportunities in Childhood Leads to Crime

Children from low-income communities are both more likely to perpetrate and be the victims of crime.

Incidence of violent / property crime for 15-21 year olds are significantly higher for those from more deprived backgrounds. Young people from lower socio-economic backgrounds are responsible for approximately 49% of officially reported youth crime (and 28% of self- reported, i.e. actual crime).

It is unlikely that merely lacking money directly leads to a child committing crime. Rather, a child who grows up poor is more likely to be a low achiever in their education with more behavioural and or mental health issues, and it is these factors that influence their likelihood of running up against the criminal justice system.

There are nearly 20,000 children with a parent in prison, and statistics show that those children are more likely come from poor communities, have poor education outcomes and end up repeating the cycle of crime. There is a strong relationship between having a family member in prison as a child and ending up in prison as an adult. In one study in New Zealand, around half of prisoners had family members in prison when they were growing up, and it is estimated that in New Zealand around 2% of children have a parent in prison at any one time.

The statistics show that life for children who have a parent in prison is pretty grim. They are more likely to experience a lack of resources, their family is more likely to be dependent on a benefit, they struggle behaviourally and at school, and have poor health. In such circumstances it is hard to see how the children of prisoners in New Zealand have much opportunity to escape a cycle of poverty and crime.

Statistics New Zealand data shows that while there have been reductions in youth crime appearances in court overall, the gains have been mainly for European/Pakeha children. In 2013/2014 European children made up 27% of youth court appearances (falling from 33% in the 10 years since 2004) yet Māori children went from 45% to 57% of all youth court appearances. Whilethe absolute numbers of appearances for all ethnicities have gone down, both apprehensions and appearances in court show a serious overrepresentation of Māori young people. Low income is noted to be a key factor in the criminal offending of young people.

Young People with Low Incomes are More Likely to be Victims of Crime

Children are far more likely to be the victims of crime than they are to be the perpetrators. On average each year in New Zealand, 12.5 children (aged up to 18) die as the result of assault. This is high internationally. The Child and Youth Epidemiology Service reports that hospitalisation for abuse is eight times greater for children living in poor communities compared to those in the least poor.

When asked, 14% of young people reported they had witnessed adults hitting or physically hurting another child in their home in the last 12 months, while 7% had seen one adult hit or injure another Reporting witnessing violence in the home was more common if young people lived in a poorer community

Investment in the Early Years Prevents Crime

Instead of competing in some sort of bizarre race to the bottom with the United States for the most number of people incarcerated per head of population, we need to attend to what works to prevent crime.

While the idea of scaring young people out of crime (boot camps, prison visits etc) might have popular appeal, it is a total failure as it has been found to increase the probability of crime. What does work is reducing the stress on low income and families and providing families with sufficient material resources to ensure their kids have opportunities to thrive.

As we discuss in our book ‘Money Works’ (due early 2017), increasing the incomes of low-income low opportunity parents using unconditional cash assistance reduces children’s likelihood of engaging in criminal activity. Yes giving parents more money, and trusting them to identify where the pressure points in their family life are, improves both the economic position of a family and reduces stress (the key pathway between poverty and poor outcomes for children).

A substantial body of research supports unconditional cash assistance in countries similar to New Zealand. Just one of the studies from this body of evidence was a “natural experiment” called the “Great Smoky Mountains Study of Youth” in western North Carolina. In this experiment profits from a casino built on an Eastern Cherokee reservation were distributed to some but not all families in the local community (tribe members received about US$4000 per adult per year). Almost overnight, the receipt of the casino profits moved some of these children (who coincidentally had been researched since birth) out of poverty.

The children and their families lifted above the poverty line experienced remarkable changes in well-being compared to those families who were not lifted out of poverty. One of the many changes was the families’ involvement in crime. Those parents who received cash had fewer interactions with the criminal justice system (fathers were 50% less likely to be arrested) and children were 22% less likely to be arrested as teenagers; parents had better mental health, and parented more positively. These improvements were greatest for the poorest families. The authors of the study concluded that‘Overall, the results indicate that parents in households with additional incomes make better choices in their personal behavior and with regard to criminal behavior.” As this study shows it is the lack of income and stress that causes poor decision-making, not the other way round, as some people falsely believe.

In a world where cash confers choice & opportunity why deny it to low-income families?

As we have explained before, additional (and unconditional) cash allows low-income parents to provide fairer more equitable opportunities for their children. It does so partly because it acts as a tool to alleviate stress. No families have exactly the same problems, types of financial pressure and stress in their lives, so it makes little sense for Governments to prescribe to all low-income families how to improve their lot through assistance laden with behavioural conditions.

Cash also protects children from the negative biological impacts of poverty related stress (which include less than optimal brain and immune system development). Cash will not solve the problem entirely, but it is an extremely cost efficient and wide ranging compared to the targeted solutions that are currently favoured.

Politicians in denial of the evidence

Why don’t politicians get the link between few opportunities in childhood and a life of crime? Why are they determined to avoid admitting that investment in early years is a much better spend than on prisons or policing later? Even Bill English has called prisons a ‘fiscal and moral failure’. While Minister Collins might claim that spending on prisons is ‘planning for the future’ it is just the inevitable outcome of poor policy and failing to attend to what works.

It is getting utterly farcical. First there is a refusal by Government to admit low incomes in childhood are a real problem, then a claim that we can’t measure it, then that there are no good measures anyway, then that we can’t set a target to reduce poverty and finally Mrs Collins claiming it is not the Government’s problem. It is like watching a toddler refuse to own up to eating the cake despite the crumbs all over their face: deny, deflect, blame.

Invest in the Future not Prisons or Police

If Governments really want to invest in the future, prevent children from engaging in crime, relieve the stress in families and reduce parents interaction with the criminal justice system then spending $1billion a year on low income families with children under 5 seems a pretty good place to start.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jess Berentson-Shaw

JESS BERENTSON-SHAW

Dr Jess Berentson-Shaw is a science researcher working for the Morgan Foundation. Jess holds a PhD in Health Psychology from Victoria University.Jess has over 10 years’ experience working on applying science and evidence to public policy. She worked on improving the use of science in public health practice in NZ, before working as a Research Fellow at University College in London, where she researched how doctors and clinicians translate scientific evidence into their clinical practice. While in the UK she also developed a national data collection system, which was used to determine what factors contribute to poor outcomes for women and babies during pregnancy and birth. On her return to New Zealand she directed a research group that specialised in the independent evaluation and application of research and science to health policy and practice. Jess loves science and what it can do to make the world a fairer place.

Geoffrey Palmer and Andrew Butler: Simplified constitution critical for futur

An un-entrenched Bill of Rights has existed in NZ for 25 years - and has been breached at least 37 times by new laws passed by Parliament. Photo / Mark Mitchell
An un-entrenched Bill of Rights has existed in NZ for 25 years – and has been breached at least 37 times by new laws passed by Parliament. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Sir Geoffrey Palmer and fellow lawyer Andrew Butler are authors of A Constitution for Aotearoa New Zealand published by Victoria University Press.

In the Herald recently, Noel Cox raised two main objections to our proposed constitution. First, Cox dislikes a written, entrenched constitution despite the rarity of any arrangements like New Zealand’s anywhere else on this planet. Second, he worries about the Treaty of Waitangi.

His first point assumes that a written, codified constitution cannot be flexible. We disagree. New Zealand does not need a constitution etched in stone. It needs one with the capacity of being changed either by a referendum of the people or by a special majority of 75 per cent of the members of Parliament.

This is precisely the current position in fundamental elements of the electoral system, guaranteed by section 268 of the Electoral Act 1993; it has been in place in previous legislation since 1956.

We recognise the need to keep the constitution up to date; that’s why we propose it be formally reviewed every 10 years.

Unless our constitutional machinery is kept in good order, it will deteriorate and that is what is happening to it now.

The prime danger with New Zealand’s constitution is that it can be changed at any time with a majority of one in the House of Representatives. That means that anything goes. There are no constitutional restraints except elections.

We have had an un-entrenched Bill of Rights for 25 years. Over that time Parliament has passed laws that breach it on at least 37 occasions, in spite of the Attorney-General advising MPs in writing that they were doing so. Parliament needs greater encouragement to honour human rights better than it does.

To say it is debatable whether New Zealand has lost anything by not having entrenched constitution seems to us just plain wrong.

The first thing we have lost is clarity about what the constitution is and where to find it.

Of what does the New Zealand constitution consist? The most recent scholarly answer, not from us, is that the New Zealand constitution is located in 45 Acts of Parliament, including six passed in England, 12 international treaties, nine areas of common law, eight constitutional conventions, three-and-a-half executive instruments, one prerogative instrument, one legislative instrument and half a judicial instrument.

How many New Zealanders can find that material let alone understand it?

When the issue of a written constitution was last considered in New Zealand in the 1960s, it was rejected partly because it was said New Zealanders were British and did not need to write it down.

We are no longer in that condition and there is real value in writing down what our fundamental rules of government are.

Every legal organisation in New Zealand whether it be a company, trust or incorporated society has a constitution, but not New Zealand itself. Odd that.

Cox admits that “The Treaty is now politically all but entrenched … ” That is the case and to a much greater degree than many people understand. So why deny the reality? Are we scared of it? There are few mysteries or difficulties left that we are likely to encounter by making it part of a formal constitution.

Far from being unmanageable, as Cox opines, drafting a written constitution once the Crown is removed makes things much more orderly, understandable, less mysterious and more rational.

We need to know who has what powers and how they must be exercised.

Cox says we must be prepared to tackle large issues. We are so prepared.

We believe that New Zealanders would welcome the opportunity to sort out where they stand and what they stand for. Based on the huge volume of submissions it received and the many public hearings it held, the Government’s own Constitutional Review Panel in 2013 noted “a consensus that our constitution should be more easily accessible and understood”, and also noted that “one way of accomplishing this might be to assemble our constitutional protections into a single statute”.

A muddled and confused approach is unlikely to be sufficient for the challenges New Zealand will encounter in the future.

What is needed is a constitution that sets out the rules, principles and processes about government in one document so they are accessible, available and clear.

We need to eliminate the need for significant unwritten constitutional conventions and customs which are unclear in important respects.

We need greater force in the protections given by our Bill of Rights.

Our proposed constitution aims to provide an accurate map about how we govern ourselves. We have already had helpful feedback on what we propose; we seek your views at www.constitutionaotearoa.org.nz.