TOP’s Exclusion – The Canary in the Coal Mine

This fiasco is actually about democracy and MMP itself. With this election increasingly threatening to leave us with a two-party duopoly, we need to defend against anything that has the potential to harm the pluralism that is essential for a vibrant democracy.

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So The Opportunities Party is officially not invited to the political leaders debate because of a long-standing TVNZ rule to block parties currently polling under 3%.

TVNZ will come to regret this decision.

There will be two major reactions to this. The first is “it’s the rules mate…end of story.” Look no further than Mike Hosking’s recent opinion piece in The Herald for a clear example.

The other reaction is “well, we get those are the rules, but are the rules fair?”

That is a much more interesting response, because it also leads to a question. Why are we content to abide by TVNZ’s rules? And what is it that makes so many of us instinctively rush to defend them?

Firstly, let’s not forget that TVNZ is supposed to be a publicly owned enterprise. In reality it is anything but – it’s more of a Frankenstein, consisting of some good output, cobbled together with flashy ‘info-tainment’ and a celebrity-host culture that is a far cry from what public interest journalism is all about. One of TOP’s policies, Democracy Reset, proposes that it’s become so unhelpful to democracy that we really should sell it, and use the proceeds to fund journalism that recommits to being in the public interest.

TVNZ’s confused model is also exactly what creates arrogant and opinionated characters like Hosking. We should never forget that he is not a journalist – his societal function is to protect the status quo and deride progressivism or change. TVNZ – that public service we pay for – enables him, and thus enables and supports his function.

From this it is not such a difficult logical leap to see that TVNZ’s rules are just another, more formalised way to protect the status quo.

Doesn’t it seem strange that The Maori Party, Mana and ACT are represented at the debate despite them all polling lower than The Opportunities Party? In fact the latest NewsHub poll has TOP polling higher than all of them put together. And this is notwithstanding the substantial margin of error that exists when below 5%.

TVNZ justifies this with its other rule – that incumbent parties automatically get a spot. You can argue the merits of this as an isolated rule, but what you can’t argue is that these two rules together essentially protect incumbents and disadvantage new parties.

And who actually benefits from that? Because it is not the New Zealand public.

Red, Blue, Nothing New

The problem here is not TOP, it’s not Gareth, it’s not any party, and it’s not just people who are upset because the rules disadvantage them. The problem here is the rules themselves.

TOP will continue to campaign as it has done. Its internal polling paints a far more favourable position than is currently reported. It’s always a potentially fraught exercise, but I bet that they will easily make 5%. We are going through a period in society where the ‘experts’ have proven themselves to be spectacularly wrong on many, many occasions. I think they are wrong again.

That also reinforces why, as a thinking, critical public, we need to be smarter than simply parroting Hosking’s submissive and jingoistic stance of “it’s the rules mate” – that is precisely what he and TVNZ want us to do. Which is precisely why we shouldn’t do it.

This fiasco is actually about democracy and MMP itself. With this election increasingly threatening to leave us with a two-party duopoly, we need to defend against anything that has the potential to harm the pluralism that is necessary for a vibrant democracy.

TVNZ is doing just that. What’s even worse is that we are paying them to do it.

Time to wake up New Zealand.

 

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The Rise of the Duopoly and the Fall of the Evidence – Labour’s ‘medicinal’ cannabis policy fudges the facts

‘Medicalisation’ is a compromised policy that has its roots in vague and emotive beliefs amongst the public, which are generated primarily by media bias, and then unfortunately perpetuated by politicians for political gain.

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Watching the ‘Leaders Debate’ last night I couldn’t help but feel that this election, as entertaining and unpredictable as it is, is fundamentally unhealthy. Parties will rise and fall, there will be winners and losers and those in between – but I fear the biggest casualty of the night may be MMP itself.

The latest poll numbers make sorry reading for anyone interested in the plurality of our political system and the benefits of proportional representation under MMP. The latest NewsHub poll has National on 43.3%, Labour 39.4%, NZ First 6.6%, Greens 6.1%, The Opportunities Party 1.9%, Maori 1% and ACT 0.6%.

As we move closer to election day there is a real possibility that no third party will reach the 5% threshold. They will then need to rely on electorate seats to have any presence in Parliament at all. That is a disastrous outcome.

Proportional representation has allowed minor parties to advance some of the more radical and defining legislative proposals in our country’s history. It has allowed for policy programmes and ideas that would not normally be pursued by establishment parties to enter the conversation. It has helped to keep our democracy relatively vibrant.

The second Leaders Debate on Monday night made me realise the limitations that a two-party duopoly can impose. It stifles the breadth of opinion and limits the horizon for discussion. As a medical professional, one moment demonstrated this to me more clearly than others – the response by both leaders to the idea of medicalised cannabis.

Medical Cannabis and the “Smokescreen”

Many medical practitioners, myself included, have real concerns about the vague public understanding around the medicinal qualities of cannabis. Unlike many politicians, we have that irritating tendency to try and base our decisions on the evidence. Unfortunately for those who wish to believe otherwise, the medical evidence to support medicinal cannabis is weak.

The most recent systematic review in the Journal of American Medicine demonstrated moderate-quality of evidence for its use in chronic pain and muscle spasticity, and only low-quality of evidence for nausea and vomiting, weight gain in HIV, sleep disorders and Tourette’s syndrome.

In contrast to this, there is good evidence for the harms related to use. Population-based studies show increased rates of psychosis associated with cannabis consumption, and the carcinogenic effects associated with smoking remain unknown. Chronic smoking is linked to respiratory complications, such as chronic bronchitis, and also other mental health issues, including social anxiety, dependence and possible depression.

An article in 2016 authored by two mental health physicians based in Wellington, Professor Giles Newton-Howes and Dr Sam McBride, and published in the New Zealand Medical Journal addressed the discrepancy between the evidence and the public and political position:

“Bearing in mind the weak evidence of effectiveness of cannabis as a medicine, the lack of regulation compared to other medical products and elsewhere, the uncertainty of active drug dose in botanical cannabis, and the significant risks associated with smoking (the most common mechanism of cannabis use) it is surprising there is the capacity to enable doctors to use botanical cannabis at all as a medicine in New Zealand.”

The authors continue that:

“This is not to say that cannabinoids may not be valuable for some patients for some symptoms, nor that many of these problems cannot be overcome.”

This is a considered opinion based on clinical experience and empirical evidence which should be taken into consideration by those in charge of policy. The medical profession is not ruling out potential benefits that further research could reveal, it is merely pushing back against pressure to ‘medicalise’ cannabis – pressure that is generated primarily through the media’s role in formulating public opinion, and by those who use that opinion for political gain.

The article cites the highly publicised case of Alex Renton in 2015, whose family successfully advocated for access to cannabis-based products. They note that:

“This portrayal [by the media] has led to the acceptance of the notion of “medical cannabis”, although this term is poorly defined and often left to the subjective view of the end user to decide upon.”

The authors then make the case for regulation at the legislative level as being the best and most evidence-based way forward.

“There is also evidence…that legislation has a place in the regulation of cannabinoids and this can lead to a harm reduction approach. Regulation at law has been a common mechanism to manage the population-wide use of psychoactive substances. The success of broad smoking regulation to reduce rates of tobacco smoking is an example of this. The failure to implement the primary recommendations related to alcohol use and the lack of impact in relation to associated harms is the converse.”

In short, many facts suggest that a frank and grown-up discussion about cannabis in this country is overdue. But what is important is that this is done in an evidence-based fashion. If we are genuinely interested in reducing the harm associated with cannabis, and paving the way for the potential for further research and possible medicinal use, then we must discuss legalisation and steer clear of the evidence-free whirlpool of ‘medicalisation.’

‘Medicalisation’ is a compromised policy that has its roots in vague and emotive beliefs amongst the public, which are generated primarily by media bias, and then unfortunately perpetuated by politicians for political gain.

The Leaders Who Don’t Lead

This is what makes the responses of both Bill English and Jacinda Ardern in the Leader’s Debate to this question disappointing. Like any political system or formal ideology, there is usually an acceptable range of debate. The media plays a key role in maintaining this, most obviously by choosing the questions, which frame or bracket the limits of discussion.

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I’ve always believed that the first thing one should do before committing to answering a question is to check what answers are actually allowed by the question. It is then possible to see if one’s opinion is being restricted.

Patrick Gower’s question about medicinal cannabis appears like a progressive and bold one, until you realise that it is restricting the concept of liberalisation of cannabis to ‘medicalisation’ – which we have just discussed is not something broadly supported by doctors (who of course would be expected to prescribe it), mainly due to a lack of evidence for its efficacy, and a lot of evidence for specific harm.

Bill English gave a vague and faltering response that didn’t endorse medicalisation and made mention of the need for further research. In many respects is was a pretty shabby, routine non-response. The sad thing is that it was actually better than Jacinda Ardern’s.

Jacinda response was simply “yes.” This was met with praise in the media for its directedness and will no doubt be well-received by Labour’s base and by those in our society who have unfortunately been misled as to the merits and deficits of cannabis as medicine. In truth, it is an ignorant reply not based in reality.

The fact Jacinda and Labour felt they could answer it so emphatically is not a testament to their boldness in addressing the very real problems with our cannabis laws – although this is inevitably how it will be perceived – it is actually an abdication of leadership on this issue and another example of the pursuit of votes over the pursuit of rational policy.

‘Medicalisation’ is an unnecessary and non-evidence based “stepping-stone” that can allow the Labour party to appear to be more socially liberal in regards to drug policy than it actually is, given it continues to not support legalisation, which is the consensus of many experts in the medical and legal community and the New Zealand Drug Foundation.

What was left out of that entire interchange on Monday night was the evidence-based solution – legalisation. What is even more frustrating, is that the minor parties, apart from NZ First and ACT, are openly supportive of legalisation or very close to being so.

This goes back to the main point – that the merit of MMP is the ability to broaden discussion. Personally I think it’s wrong that we have ‘Leaders Debates’ that exclude minor party leaders. Even at the current polling, they still have the support of around 15% of the electorate.

We can see clearly in this example, as in many others during the debate, that without the presence of minor parties on stage and in the public spotlight, there is often no one to call out the orthodoxy of our establishment party positions – there is no one to state the obvious.

The Protectors of Duopoly

The most egregious thing about all of this is that we have a multitude of political commentators whose job it is to convince us that a vote for minor parties is ‘wasted’ and that the duopoly is here to stay. We must not listen to them. They are ‘manufacturers of consent’, and opinion-creators – they are an arm of the establishment, and the protectors of a broken status quo.

John Armstrong’s opinion piece in The Herald last month entitled “This election is a two-party dogfight now” is the prototypical example.

Don’t dabble with New Zealand First. Don’t smooch with the Greens. Ignore the minor parties if you are serious about wanting to change the government at next month’s general election. To optimise the likelihood of a change you must cast your party vote for Labour. Likewise, if the retention of the status quo is your priority, you must vote National.

My response to that is that for those of us who want real change, a vote for either Labour or National is the retention of the status quo. He goes on:

“The upshot is that a vote for the Greens is now akin to a wasted vote for those who want a change of government. Worse, it would be a completely wasted vote if the Greens fall below the 5 per cent threshold.”

I still find it hard to understand why one can’t see the logical fallacy in proclaiming that a vote for a minor party is ‘wasted’ if that party doesn’t get to 5%. Within that argument is an obvious injunction – don’t vote for minor parties. And what would not voting for minor parties do? Not get them to 5%! By that logic, there would be no minor parties at all. This is just tautological scaremongering.

MMP on the Ropes

We must ask ourselves, who benefits from a regression to duopoly? Obviously our two major parties. And in addition to them is the middle class and that upper section of our society who hold significant wealth, as both Labour and National have no interest in taxing wealth to reduce inequality.

The boldest plans to reduce inequality, tackle climate change, end punitive and ineffective drug laws, reform criminal justice, and enshrine and protect Maori rights are found only in minor party manifestos.

If the truly progressive cannot remain loyal to truly progressive policy – as advocated by the Greens, The Opportunities Party, Mana and the Maori Party – and instead choose to throw their support behind Labour, then our democracy will suffer a terrible blow.

MMP is about plurality of opinion and vibrancy of political discussion. Blind allegiance to Labour with the only goal being to “change the government” may end up decimating minor parties with progressive ideas.

For those who would normally vote for the Greens, or who are considering voting for them or The Opportunities Party, but think that voting for Labour is the better option – please consider the injury this could inflict on the vibrancy of our democracy. This regressive National/Labour duopoly is not in the interest of the average New Zealander.

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Newton-Howes, McBride, ‘Cannabis in New Zealand – Smoking gun or medicalised smokescreen? NZMJ April 2016 

For more recent systematic review http://www8.nationalacademies.org/onpinews/newsitem.aspx?RecordID=24625

 

Winston, Meteria and the Missing Story

In these two examples the media has served their societal function with aplomb – hide the real story, the one that would make us awake and angry at the right things, and work overtime to promote a different one – one that focuses on personal culpability and character assassination. 

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With the revelation that Winston Peters was overpaid superannuation we have another ‘scandal’ for the media to completely distort. Predictably, they have done a very fine job.

What is the function of the the mainstream media in society? It is to follow the dictates of the Establishment – indeed it is really just one of the more powerful and influential arms of the Establishment. Crucially, it’s job is to shield the systemic inequalities from our criticism, to re-direct our frustrations to shadows, and to inoculate our protest.

Over the last few months we have two excellent examples of it doing just that.

Meteria Turei lied about her circumstances to get the benefit. Instead of the story being why one would need to do that, it became how dare one do that. It did not lose it’s moral aspect, it simply changed the target. Instead of helping us reflect on the deficiencies of a society that would push someone into such a situation, we were directed to reflect on the deficiencies of Meteria herself. This was a very deliberate, constructed narrative, with the express intention of both discrediting Meteria and distracting us from where our anger really belongs.

If you were caught up in the finger-wagging against Meteria don’t feel too bad. These are institutions that spend a great deal of money and energy to create opinion and false outrage. They should not be underestimated.

Turning to Winston, well, they’ve done it again. The story here is not that Winston was overpaid, nor is it that someone must have breached his privacy. They are just part of the event. The most important story is actually the fact that he didn’t even know he was being overpaid.

Because what does that tell us? It tells us that relatively wealthy people, such as himself, are receiving a universal benefit in superannuation, that is paid for by you and me, which they don’t need, and indeed sometimes, don’t even notice.  

The story is that in a nation of escalating income and wealth inequality, of worsening poverty and a housing crisis out of control, we are for some reason content to shell out the same amount of money to every person over the age of 65, whether they’re a millionaire couple in the city, or an isolated grandfather barely staying above the poverty line.

Why are we content to do this? Because our Establishment politicians are too gutless to tackle the problem, and because our media keep us from seeing the problem even when we have real-world examples of its terrible logic.

In these two examples the media has served their societal function with aplomb – hide the real story, the one that would make us awake and angry at the right things, and work overtime to promote a different one – one that focuses on personal culpability and character assassination.

Like the magician’s assistant, the media’s job is to draw our eyes to the flashy distraction. We then miss the way that the trick is really done.

 

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Criminal Justice and Maori – The Worm at the Core of our Nation

It is a bittersweet irony that the European system of justice, which appears to be failing on all reasonable indices, will have to turn back to the principles of a justice system that it considered primitive and sought to supplant. Restorative Justice is tikanga Maori through and through, but its principles will benefit us all.

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The staggering ethnic disparity in our criminal justice system speaks to generations of disadvantage in a range of factors, including socioeconomic status, drug and alcohol abuse, inter-generational trauma, cultural dispossession and ethnic bias.

The simple fact is we have a criminal justice system that that is sick with institutional racism. This is not just my conclusion, or the conclusion of Maori advocacy groups – this is the conclusion of the Department of Corrections itself.

Shocking Statistics

New Zealand has the 2nd largest prison population relative to its size in the western world, second only to the United States. It is 84% higher than the advanced economy average.

While Maori make up just 15% of the general population, Maori men account for 50% of the male prison population and Maori women account for 57% of the female prison population.

For young Maori the statistics are even worse – of all prisoners under the age of 20, Maori account for 65%. When it comes to re-offending things don’t get any better – there is an 80% likelihood of a Maori prisoner being reconvicted, compared to 67% for non-Maori.

Overall, 40% of Maori men over the age of 15 have done prison time or a community sentence.

These statistics are truly shocking, but what is worse is that they are not particularly new. In many ways they are very well known, in fact so common they have become normalised as part of our natural social environment.  This must change.

The Problem

Key to understanding this is acknowledging the fact that although Maori are over-represented in this area for a variety of reasons, they are most certainly over-represented due to the very fact that they are Maori. Socioeconomic status, past offences, gender, drug and alcohol use all play their contributory roles. But if we forget that ethnicity itself is a risk factor, then we lose the wood for the trees.

Don’t just take my word for it. In 2008 the Department of Corrections compiled a report entitled “Over-Representation of Maori in the Criminal Justice System”. In it they referred to the idea of “Bias and Amplification”:

“It is generally understood that each stage of the criminal justice system, from apprehension through to sentencing, contains a significant degree of built-in discretion with respect to decision-making.”

These stages would include the judgment of officers “on the beat”, the decision after apprehension of whether to arrest a person, the decision whether to proceed to prosecution, the decision of the court to then convict or not convict, and once convicted the decision of the judge regarding appropriate sentencing options.

This process continues on even after sentencing. Parole Boards make decisions with respect to those imprisoned, for instance if part of the sentence can be served as Home Detention or whether an early release may be granted. Probation Officers supervising community-based sentences and orders also exercise discretion in notifying breaches of conditions or whether recall-to-prison proceedings should be initiated. The report states that

“The explanation inherent to justice system “amplification” is that systemic factors exist at one or more of these step in the process, which serve to increase the likelihood that, relative to non-Maori, Maori will progress further into the justice system and be dealt with more severely…the result of such influences would be that Maori “accumulate” in the system in disproportionate numbers.”

The report thus defines the method by which any perceived bias could occur. It is not dissimilar to the “Swiss-cheese” model of risk known to most medical professionals, which postulates that a succession of small errors is much more common in the production of adverse events than any single large one.

When it comes to apprehension an important point raised was the extent to which the detained person cooperates with the Police officer. Perceptions of bias among Maori and Pacific Islanders were very common and studies have demonstrated Maori hold relatively negative attitudes towards police. The report admits that:

“It is conceivable that this negativity may motivate hostile and uncooperative responses when in direct contact with the Police…such behaviour could in turn increase the likelihood that the Police take the matter further.”

There is also evidence that in individuals with a history of family violence, police sanctions “more often result in criminal acts of defiance than deterrence.”

Turning to prosecution, the data clearly illustrates that Maori are moderately more likely than Europeans to be prosecuted, and are prosecuted in higher numbers than the number of apprehensions might suggest. The report lists one of the most important factors involved in this as a history of previous offending.

With regards to sentencing, the report admits that “on the scale of severity, fines are typically regarded as at the less severe end.” A review of all persons sentenced between 1996-2004 revealed Maori typically received a fine less frequently than did Europeans or other sections of the total population. The report states that:

“It seems likely…that ability to pay, an obvious consideration of whether a fine is imposed, reduces the probability that Maori would receive monetary penalties, given the well-documented disparities in annual income between Maori and non-Maori.”

So Maori, owing to pre-existing economic disadvantage, are barred from receiving what is widely considered punishment that is at the “less severe end.”

A similar trend is apparent in the most severe penalty, namely imprisonment.

“Maori were more likely to receive a prison sentence. Between 11% and 13% of convicted Maori receives sentences of imprisonment, as opposed to 7-9% of Europeans, a statistically significant degree.”

In its summary report makes explicit reference to non-ethnic factors contributing to the above disparities:

“Much of this apparent ethnic difference is able to be shown to be related to other factors which validly apply, equally, to all ethnicities – factors such as previous offending history.”

But it then continues:

“However…a number of studies have shown evidence of some greater likelihood, associated only with ethnicity, for Maori offenders to:

  • have police contact
  • be charged
  • lack legal representation
  • not be granted bail
  • plead guilty
  • be convicted
  • be sentenced to non-monetary penalties
  • be denied release to Home Detention

Finally it makes a rather categorical admission:

“There appears to be sufficient evidence to conclude that ethnicity, in and of itself, plays some small but tangible role at key decision making points, in ways that are not intended by the justice system.”

Remember that this is a government commissioned report, conducted by the Department of Corrections which concludes that racial bias does in fact exist within the criminal justice system. Also remember that this was in 2008.

For those stubborn individuals in our society and political realm that continue to deny that ethnicity plays a role in disadvantage, that statement, my friends, is what they call a coup de grace. There is no debate on this issue anymore – there is only disingenuous political sentiment and ignorance.

History

If we establish that being Maori, in and of itself, is important then we need to think about why that is. It is easy to consider it from the perspective of unconscious (or conscious) bias on behalf of those involved in the system, for example police officers or judges. While this may be true, what is likely to lead to more fruitful ideas is recognising what justice actually means for Maori, and how traditional Maori concepts around justice are ignored in the current system.

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Unfortunately the focus of law, policy, media and research involved with criminal justice focuses too much on factors such as poverty, alcohol, lack of education, solo parenting, employment or physical and mental health, while ignoring Maori ethnic and cultural identity directly. It then ignores what is a crucial factor – the intergenerational effect of the trauma of surviving colonisation.

There is abundant evidence from Maori scholars such as Mason Durie and Moana Jackson that engagement with a secure and healthy Maori identity is central to addressing the vicious cycle of poverty and harm. A healthy identity is one where people may access their language, cultural norms and practises. It is also one where these are validated and endorsed by society at large.

So what are some of the concepts of justice in Maori society?

Tikanga Maori and the Justice System

The structural framework of Maori society is based upon whakapapa, or genealogical connection. Personal identification starts with membership of larger groupings, such as the whanau, hapu, or iwi, and individuality is secondary to the collective.

The key dynamic of tikanga is to maintain equilibrium between parts of the human and non-human world. This is achieved by utu, meaning balance or reciprocity. Social and legal factors are controlled through the complementary principles of tapu and noa.

Tapu means a person, place or thing is ‘off-limits’ unless certain protocols are followed. Notably, there is an inherent tapu attached to all human beings. Noa means that a person, place or thing is ‘safe’ to use or access. Essentially, tapu and noa designate what is lawful and what is not. To break the tapu of a person or resource is an offence, or hara.

Another important concept is mana, or a person’s reputation, charisma or influence. Mana may derive from many factors, such as mana atua (birthright), mana tangata (gained via deeds or actions) and mana whenua (in accordance with the geographical location of the tribe, i.e. citizenship).

The basic principle of offending in Maori society is the breach of tapu through commission of hara, which affects mana and requires utu. The aim of dispute resolution was therefore to restore balance, and the mana of the parties involved.

Owing to the collective nature of society, an insult by one member of a hapu against a member of a different hapu was viewed as an offence of the first hapu against the second. This kind of collective responsibility could be more functional than individual culpability as recompense may be more possible when it is shared amongst many rather than applied to a single person. There were consequences for the individual also, mainly whakama or shame. The fact that the whole hapu could be injured by an individual’s actions would work as a powerful deterrent.

The essential difference between the Maori system of justice and that of European society is that, owing to a worldview predicated on harmony and balance, reparation is of far more importance than punishment. Maori society also made it imperative that the victim be included in this process in order to ensure a stable and enduring outcome. The emphasis on the future also prioritises reintegration of the offender into society and the healing of the victim.

Moana Jackson sums up the system very well:

“The rights of individuals, or the hurts they may suffer when their rights were abused, were indivisible from the welfare of the whanau, the hapu, the iwi. Each had reciprocal obligations found in shared genealogy, and a set of behavioural precedents established by common tipuna. They were based too on the specific belief that all people had an inherent tapu that must not be abused, and on the general perception that society could only function if all things, physical and spiritual, were held in balance.”

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Colonisation

The common law system introduced by European settlers imposed many concepts alien to Maori ideas of justice – including the notion of an atomised individual (as opposed to collective), a materialistic focus, the exclusion of the victim from the process and the lack of focus on reparation. It is also sadly ironic that Maori had no concept for that European penalty known as imprisonment.

All of this explicitly breached the principles of Article Two of the Treaty of Waitangi – namely tino rangatiratanga, or Maori sovereignty over Maori affairs.

Maori psychiatrist and scholar Mason Durie identifies loss of access to Te Ao Maori, through loss of land, language and tikanga, as the historical events that define modern Maori identity. The material, physical and psychological damage perpetuated on Maori by ‘assimilationist’ policies, including the loss of land and resources, and the trauma of surviving violence and illness that decimated entire generations, should not be underestimated.

The resulting disadvantage Maori found themselves in also helps to entrench the institutional racism via under-representation of Maori as legislators, judges, lawyers and jurors. There is a clear sense among many Maori that the legal system is not shaped in any way by Maori, which directly contributes to Maori distrust of this system.

For example, historically Maori were not allowed to sit on juries for trials of non-Maori defendants until 1962. To this day there remains concerns about Maori representation on juries – the current law provides that potential jurors must be over 18 years of age, registered on the electoral roll, live within 30km of the court and have no disqualifying convictions. Many Maori do not meet these criteria – owing to a predominance in rural areas and previous convictions, or transportation/childcare barriers.

Another problem is the ability of “peremptory challenges” to allow the Crown and defence to dismiss jurors without cause. Evidence has shown that prosecutors often view Maori as anti-police an anti-Crown, while being empathetic to defendants. The research showed that Crown counsel were twice as likely to challenge Maori as non-Maori in High Court, and three times as likely in District Court.

So much for being judged by a “jury of one’s peers.”

Maori Women

It is an interesting fact that prior to European contact, Maori women had a legal standing in their society that was superior to Pakeha women’s standing in theirs. They had their own separate legal rights and could own and dispense property. They retained their own name and family connections upon marriage, which could also be dissolved without prejudice to her reputation or consequence to her assets.

Simply put, the colonial system and the imposition of European law reduced the status of Maori woman and was a disaster for them.

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Much commentary has been made upon the change from the extended whanau to the nuclear family unit, where Maori women lost much support from this network and became isolated in individual households with full responsibility. In Maori society there was no clear distinction between a public and private sphere, which arguably lessened the likelihood of domestic abuse, which appeared largely absent in Maori society and if present was visible and dealt with in a very straightforward way.

Today young Maori women are more likely to be the victims of violent crime than any other group in New Zealand and the most likely to be repeat victims of violence. Much of the violence perpetrated against Maori women is at the hands of Maori men.

Policy for the Drivers of Crime

The Opportunities Party policy on Criminal Justice is part of a combination of policies that seek to address the drivers of economic inequality, a variable that is consistently identified as being directly correlated to the incidence of crime.

These policies include Tax Reform, Thriving Families Unconditional Basic Income, Real Deal Cannabis and Real Action on Alcohol policies, Education policy, Rental policy and the Unconditional Basic Income for 18-23 year olds.

Taken together, they seek to address the various factors associated with crime, with the evidence suggesting they would result in lower crime and lower criminal justice costs. TOP identifies that despite this problem being obvious for decades, Establishment Parties such as Labour and National have failed to fix it.

Underlying this is the ‘worm at the core’ of these kinds of parties – the need to appease the “vociferous segment of the public who demand simplistic retribution”. Those who just want to “lock ‘em up”. It is another example of Establishment parties betraying the evidence in pursuit of votes.

Tikanga Maori Policy

The Opportunities Party’s policies to address the socioeconomic drivers is all well and good, but this entire piece has been about the fact that being Maori, in and of itself, is associated with poorer outcomes in the criminal justice system. So what are they doing to address that?

Fortunately, as a cornerstone of their policy they champion an increase in funding and support for the Restorative Justice system. As we’ve seen, the traditional Maori concept of justice placed much more emphasis upon reparation and victim support than punishment. It is therefore a policy that is in accordance with tikanga Maori.

It’s also a policy that works – reoffending rates for those who participated in restorative justice were 15% lower after a year than comparable offenders who did not participate.

They also note that the traditional arena of European justice is the providence of judges, public servants and other experts and is often viewed as very “elite.” They describe how Restorative Justice “can be thought of as a state-provided space where citizens meet each other, in this case, offenders and victims, to heal their relationship” and that “this can be done in line with tikanga Maori if that is what the participants choose.”

People often speak of the wisdom of indigenous peoples, sometimes correctly and sometimes not. But it is interesting that the European system of justice, which appears to be failing on all reasonable indices, will have to turn back to the principles of a justice system that it considered primitive and sought to supplant. Restorative Justice is tikanga Maori through and through, but its application would benefit all members of New Zealand society equally.

The Opportunities Party also propose raising the age of the Youth Court from 17 to 20. They cite evidence that since 2011 the Youth Court has overseen a 48% reduction in youth offending. Maori are, on average, younger than non-Maori in population terms, and would benefit from such a change.

Liberals and The Death of Policy

For all those who consider themselves in favour of Maori rights and correcting Maori disadvantage, there seems to be a conspicuous absence of outrage at the disgrace that is our criminal justice system.

This is both a personal failure, and a predictable outcome of allegiance to Establishment Parties, both Labour and National, who are evidently aware of this untenable state of affairs, and more evidently unperturbed by it.

I grow weary of seeing my liberal friends continuing to throw support behind a party, namely Labour, who have shown no willingness to really address this problem. I understand that everyone has the right to vote for whom they wish, on whatever grounds they wish, and I understand that very often people vote for a personality or in response to a feeling. This is all part of politics.

But if we are happy to ignore sound policy to rectify this extremely concerning issue, then we should be honest with others and ourselves that fixing Maori disadvantage, and therefore institutional racism, is just not a high priority for us. And personally I think that makes a mockery of our professed liberal values – because what could be more repugnantly illiberal than a racially biased state that disproportionately incarcerates its ethnic population?

Lastly I think ignoring this is an abdication of one’s duty as a New Zealand citizen. Our founding document is a beautiful and unique one that stipulates a shared duty-of-care between Maori and non-Maori. We are failing to honour it, to our severe detriment.

Maori over-representation in crime statistics and incarceration is an issue that sits at the crossroads between income inequality and racial prejudice. To address it properly we need bold policies that will right both of these terrible wrongs. The Opportunities Party’s policies are the best chance we’ve ever had of doing that.

So y’know, let’s actually do this.

 

theredgreenpen 

 

‘Over-Representation of Maori in the Criminal Justice system – Department of Corrections, May 2008

This piece is also heavily indebted to  – Chapter 12 – Maori and the criminal justice system in New Zealand, Criminal Justice in New Zealand, Tolmie and Brookbanks, 2007

Despise Mike Hosking? Then let’s fix the failed enterprise that created him.

TVNZ is the Doctor Frankenstein of New Zealand public enterprises – divided, erratic, troubled, and prone to creating monsters. If you’d like to see the back of people like Hosking the solution is pretty simple – change the system that created him.

 

Hosking1

There seems to be a bit of a crescendo recently in the degree of Hosking Hate. I’ve written about his ilk before (check out ‘The Unhooded Wolves’) and made a few general comments on what could motivate someone like him to have such a callous disregard for the plight of those less fortunate.

Our outrage at Hosking is all very well and good, but what we’re neglecting, and what I neglected in that piece, is a criticism of the institutional structures and incentives that create, sustain and promote his brand of vile nonsense. Without addressing this structure the problem will be just like the mythical Hydra – chop off one head, and another two pop up in its place.

Why have we forgotten the fact that TVNZ is a state-owned enterprise funded by taxpayers like you and me? With the reduction in print and TV revenues from advertising, TVNZ now find themselves in a volatile and highly competitive market. Over time the model has then shifted from the one we expect of a public enterprise – to serve the public – to one more consistent with big business.

That change has created a monster. A company that is beholden to the public to provide it with honest, informative content, but that must endear itself to flashy, populist practices as the current business media climate demands, will eventually find that it cannot do both at the same time. This is exactly TVNZ’s dilemna.

And what do we end up with as a result? We end up with journalism taking a back-seat to this relatively new wave of celebrity-style, TV personality “brands.” We end up with poorer, more biased content. We end up with overpaid creators-of-opinion-and-outrage, instead of journalists. Basically, we end up with people like Mike Hosking.

Say what you like about Hosking, but love him or loathe him the simple fact is that we the taxpayers are paying his salary, and the reason we pay for it is because we decided as a society that our news media should be held accountable and reflect our population. Except now that it patently doesn’t. So when Hosking delivers his divisive, incendiary and often outright racist commentary, just remember that we are paying him handsomely to do so. Feels wrong doesn’t it? That’s because it is.

If you’d like to see the back of people like Hosking the solution is pretty simple – change the system that created him. The Opportunities Party has a plan for this – sell TVNZ now, before it’s value declines further, and use the proceeds to create a Public Journalism Fund as part of NZ on Air. Media outlets can then compete for this funding, and will only be granted it if they pledge to do what they are supposed to – provide a service that delivers clear, unbiased news and information with the goal of helping create a more informed and educated population.

Our tax dollars are meant to pay for this kind of journalism – not for Hosking to continue to spew his intolerance all over prime-time television, then drive home in his white Lamborghini, lovingly subsidised by you and I.

To be clear, this proposal by The Opportunities Party is not part of a broad programme of selling off state assets – such as that conducted by the National Party. That was ideologically driven – part of a belief in reducing the influence of government in business. It was also illogical (although not for National) given the assets they sold were performing very well.

TVNZ is not performing very well. It is the Doctor Frankenstein of New Zealand public enterprises – divided, erratic, troubled, and prone to creating monsters. In fact it is helping to erode the quality of public discourse in this country. When we are less informed we are more susceptible to charlatans and liars and to voting for parties or policies that aren’t in our self-interest or the interests of our nation. Democracy then suffers. The restoration of a functional democracy is outlined clearly in The Opportunities Party’s policy number four, ‘Democracy Reset’ – I encourage you to check it out.

So next time you find yourself protesting Hosking’s unacceptable behaviour (which is likely very soon if not right this very moment) remember that there is a party with a policy that would not only help to end his terrible reign, but prevent any additional Hydra heads from popping up in the publicly-funded realm long after he is gone.

We could vote for TOP and a policy that sends a message to Hosking and TVNZ that their days are numbered. Or we could just continue to whine about him and somehow expect things to change. If we really despise him as much as we say we do, the choice is clear.

theredgreenpen

 

 

For the Truly Progressive, Labour is the ‘Wasted Vote’

Young and enthused Labour voters, who I remain optimistic are motivated by naturally progressive values, are being led astray by a party that co-opts the imagery and language of Progressivism, while following the Establishment playbook every time. If anyone’s vote is to be considered ‘wasted’, then sadly, it is theirs.

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I’ve been accused of being too negative towards the Labour Party instead of focusing my attention on National. I am unrepentant. I disagree with a great deal of National’s policies and definitely with its ideology. Notwithstanding some seismic change, they will never get my vote, and on this I think I speak for most young people with progressive values.

That’s not to say there aren’t undercover progressives in the National electorate who are as equally frustrated with our non-evidence based, incrementalist Establishment. The Opportunities Party is a broad church with only a few conditions of entry – give a damn about people and their right to meet their potential, especially the historically and currently oppressed, and believe in the facts.

But for me there is a bigger problem for progressives than the National party. One that is much closer to home. It is the uncritical tendency to equate the Labour Party with the ideas and values of the Progressive movement. This ends up making the support for Labour by young people with those values a sad mistake.

I don’t believe in ‘tactical’ voting. If you do, then you’re probably unlikely to agree with me. You will say a vote for Labour is a vote for a change of government. I would say that a vote for Labour is still a vote for the Establishment. An Establishment that has had 30 years to address soaring inequality, a broken Criminal Justice system, draconian drug policy, and Maori disadvantage and have failed miserably.

I am sure that a vast amount of people who support Labour have a strong sense of fairness and equality. I am sure that many want to see bold and radical changes to finally address the big issues of our time, such as inequality and climate change. And I am sure that their hearts are in the right place. That is why it is extra frustrating that their vote is not.

Tax Me If You Can

So what does the average young, liberal, perhaps progressive voter think about tax? I’d be willing to guess that they’d like to see a fairer regime – in accordance with the need to reduce inequality. Does that sound like you? Well if you’re a Labour supporter, you’ll be disappointed to know that it doesn’t sound like them.

Labour’s decision today to make no changes at all to the tax regime is emblematic of their unwillingness to make any significant reforms to address inequality. Bernie Sanders would have had a field day.

Closing the Gap released a press release today detailing their “disappointment at Labour’s approach to tax.” The release cites several authoritative sources, such as Associate Professor Lisa Mariott, School of Accounting and Commercial Law at Victoria University of Wellington:

“Our top tax rate currently sits at 33 per cent compared to UK and Australia where the rate is 45 per cent. Raising the top tax rate would mean more resources to reinvest in social services – so all New Zealanders can prosper.”

She continues on to say how it is high time for New Zealand to consider a wealth tax.

“In relation to taxing wealth, NZ is quite unique in not having any form of wealth tax.”

She then mentions the fact that just 1 per cent of the population holds 20 percent of the wealth, while the bottom 50 percent hold less than 1 per cent, and that:

 “By taxing wealth we can create a more equitable New Zealand.”

Later in the release Paula Feehan, Advocacy and Campaigns Director at Oxfam, details how New Zealand ranks very low globally in terms of the progressiveness of its tax policy – 30th out of 35 OECD countries.

“The index demonstrates that Governments have considerable powers to reduce the gap between rich and poor, and that only by addressing this gap can we end extreme poverty.” 

So Labour has the ability to do it, just not the will.

If a relatively damning release from a major organisation dedicated to reducing inequality and poverty isn’t enough to rattle one’s belief in Labour’s liberal credentials, perhaps adding a praiseworthy release from the New Zealand Taxpayers Union might help bring the edifice shuddering down.

“The Taxpayers’ Union welcomes Labour leader Jacinda Ardern’s ruling out of any increases in the top personal tax rate…With the possibility of a new capital gains tax, water taxes, and regional fuel taxes, we call on Ms Ardern, and Labour’s Finance Spokesperson Grant Robertson, to commit to reducing existing taxes to compensate for any new taxes that are introduced.”

It’s a sad day for the Labour Party when the quasi-libertarian organisation founded by National Party sycophant and general right-wing vitriol-spiller David Farrar approves of your tax policy. Its even sadder when those campaigning to end poverty deride it.

Of course Jacinda told us the other day that Labour hasn’t “ruled out” a Capital Gains Tax, whatever that means. But why the hesitancy? A Capital Gains Tax shouldn’t even be a controversial issue. In fact there’s evidence to show it doesn’t go far enough. Unfortunately for us all John Key and the National Party’s PR machinery did an excellent job of scaring the public into thinking it was the worst thing in the world.

What’s even more unfortunate is they seem to have also scared the Labour Party – and there is some accepted feeling that the Labour Party should know better. They don’t. We like to believe, or at least we hope, that a politician’s task is to listen to the advice of the civil service and implement that advice as policy for the betterment of the nation. The sad truth is that both major political parties very often don’t do this, for a good reason.

Modern political parties have become mirrors of electorate opinion. Instead of telling us the truth and the ways to fix it, no matter how hard they may be to accept, they have moved to a terriblly reflexive stance.  In effect focus groups can end up literally dictating policy. Think about it – “people are scared of crime!” (despite crime going down), “Let’s get tough on crime!” “People are scared of a Capital Gains Tax!” (despite the evidence for it), “No Capital Gains Tax!”. It goes on and on.

Sure, this kind of thing wins votes, and it’s exactly the strategy New Labour employed in the UK to spectacular success. But it is a terrible hollowing out of democracy.  It ensures we never get above the swamp of our prejudices and our private and collective fears.

It also ensures that major political parties rarely make significant, bold policy decisions. They’re just too high risk. So it becomes easier to recycle platitudes and trust in other factors, such as personality and a sense of optimism, rather than policy.

For example, you’d think that Labour’s Enviromental Policy would match the strong and visionary rhetoric Jacinda used at the Party’s launch. Unfortunately it doesn’t. In fact, at least according to their own website, they don’t even have an Environmental Policy.

The Wasted Vote

Jacinda’s arrival on the political scene may in the end be enough for Labour to win this election. But it isn’t a victory that Labour supporters should feel much pride in. Particularly if they are under the illusion that their vote for the Labour Party is a vote for any real chance of reducing inequality, fixing the housing crisis, addressing Maori disadvantage or tackling the obscene levels of extreme poverty.

Supporting The Opportunities Party often means you’re accused of ‘wasting your vote.’ Supporters of the Greens often also contend with this. But I am voting in accordance with my values, and for the evidence-based solutions that could lead to a society that embodies those values.

Young and enthused Labour voters, who I remain optimistic are motivated by naturally progressive values, are being led astray by a party that co-opts the imagery and language of Progressivism, while following the Establishment playbook every time. If anyone’s vote is to be considered ‘wasted’, sadly, it is theirs.

My hope is that I’m completely wrong – that once in power Labour will cast off the shackles of the election and proceed with real gusto, implementing policies distilled from the consensus of multiple non-political institutions, for example a Drug and Alcohol Policy actually supported by the NZ Drug Foundation. I hope, but I plan otherwise.

But The Opportunities Party has these kinds of policies, right now. Policies based on the academic consensus as to what will actually work. The most radical, progressive and well-researched set of policies that has ever been offered to the New Zealand public.

Now all we have to do is vote for them.

 

theredgreenpen

 

Establishment Parties have failed us on inequality. It’s time for something new.

The truth is very plain to see – over 30 years we have become a more unfair nation, and our health and happiness has suffered. We have the highest rates of youth suicide in the developed world. The National and Labour parties, both sides, have presided over this decline and seem incapable of arresting it.

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New Zealand housing crisis forces hundreds to live in tents and garages – The Guardian, May 2016

 

I’ve written before of an experience I had visiting a very sick girl in South Auckland. She was born with a crippling genetic disorder into a home wrecked by poverty. I can see her in my mind very clearly, working hard just to take a breath, her face drawn and tired. I can see her hooked up to the machine, propped up on a single mattress in the corner of a cold state house bedroom, while the rest of the family (seven if I recall rightly) shared elsewhere to give her peace. I met her mother. Amongst the anguish and concern on her face flittered guilt and shame. I could tell very quickly she was doing the best she could, under appalling conditions. The entire experience left me drained and saddened. It also made me angry.

Economic inequality in New Zealand is out of control. There is no excuse for ignoring it. Since the 1980s the gap between the rich and poor in this country has grown faster than in any other developed nation on the planet. After deducting the cost of housing, the average disposable income for someone in the bottom 10% of our nation is lower than it was in the 1980s. And although the middle class’ share of income has also declined, the surge in income to the rich is shown to be off the backs of our nation’s poorest people.

Wealth, defined as our income plus our accumulated assets, is even more unevenly distributed – the top 1% of adults own three times as much of New Zealand’s wealth as the entire lower 50% put together. The simple fact is that in a world of increasing productivity and connectivity, the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. That all of this is happening in New Zealand (previously a lauded model of egalitarianism in action) at such an astonishing rate should make us all ashamed.

But many of us aren’t. We seem to just blithely accept this state of affairs, or worse to outright ignore it. And when we are given the opportunity to change it, we seem to lack the gumption. The truth is very plain to see – over 30 years we have become a more unfair nation, and our health and happiness has suffered. We have the highest rates of youth suicide in the developed world. And the National and Labour parties, both sides, have presided over this state of affairs and done little to arrest it. Why is that?

National is the party of the property-owning class, and the gross disparities in accumulated wealth resulting from our property market is a major driver of that inequality. National also toyed with ‘trickle down’ economics in its devastating 1990 budget and still embraces debunked Neoliberal ideology that continues to drive down wages and perpetuate this inequality. They routinely ignore the evidence for certain problems, such as being “tough on crime”, in favour of pieced together policies that speak to people’s emotions rather than their intellects. They are draconian with respect to our prisons and our schools, and they still flirt with socially conservative positions that have no place in our modern, diverse nation.

Labour has been more helpful in genuinely trying to help those at the bottom, but their efforts are either too little too late, or based on old-fashioned thinking – they are window-dressing. The truth is both of these parties have let the New Zealand people down. By and large this has nothing to do with malice – it’s just what happens when winning votes becomes more important than fixing problems.

For example, both parties refuse to address the big problem of superannuation out of fear of losing the older vote. So we continue to give away the same amount of money to every single senior citizen, from those in cold homes struggling to pay the power bill, to the millionaires right at the top. Meanwhile, those at the bottom – people sleeping in their cars, people leaving their prescriptions unfilled, people working two jobs and still not earning enough to survive – all of those people who desperately need extra support are made to go without. Is that really fair?

I’ve been accused of having a go at Labour, when I ‘should’ support them, as they are more closely aligned to my beliefs than National – which is most definitely true. I also ‘should’ support them because it is the ‘tactical’ thing to do. I acknowledge this is just a matter of opinion, and many will disagree with me, but I don’t believe in tactical voting. I don’t believe in being told who I should vote for, and I don’t believe anyone has a right to my vote. I believe politicians have a duty to earn my vote.

The best way I can see to guarantee that bold change never happens, is to scare us into thinking that a vote for it is a “wasted vote.” I don’t believe in wasted votes. The only way to one day achieve the plan or vision for society that resonates with you is to vote for it.

This year I’m going to vote for the party with a policy plan that I believe will best help that very sick girl. National and Labour have had 30 years to make sure we protect her from such destitution and they have failed. I want a government that says that those with so much can afford to help those with so little.

We need to understand that our major parties often choose policies not based on their evidential merit, but on the likelihood that certain groups and special interests will like them. This has to change. I strongly believe people are good and empathetic when we are honest with them and speak to their hearts.

Most of all, I want to unburden that girl’s mother of her terrible guilt and shame – because that guilt and shame does not belong to her, it belongs to all of us. We have a collective responsibility to care for one another and we are failing to do so. We can’t keep trusting to the National/Labour duopoly to fix this for us. It is time for something different.

theredgreenpen