Dunne versus Cunliffe on dealing with immigration issues

Peter Dunne blogged yesterday that immigration is a major part of electorate business for him, and he explains how he deals with it.

Amidst all the drama surrounding David Cunliffe’s recollections or not of his dealing with Donghua Liu, it is worth remembering that one of the most important roles an electorate Member of Parliament has is to advocate on behalf of constituents when they have an issue with the government or one of its agencies. Such advocacy often leads to the mounting of the strongest of cases on behalf of the constituent one feels able to, even if there are times when one’s personal sympathies for the case, or confidence about its outcome are not great. The point is that as that person’s representative one is obliged to ensure their case is at least fairly, properly, and fully considered before a decision is reached upon it.

Matters relating to immigration are amongst the most sensitive of cases MPs deal with for understandable reasons. In my own case, as an electorate MP of nearly 30 years standing, immigration matters have consistently accounted for about two-thirds of the individual cases I have handled. In that time, I have seen many harrowing situations, and written probably thousands of support letters to successive Ministers of Immigration. I have won cases I expected to lose, and lost cases I had expected to win.

However, I have always followed two firm rules for immigration – and actually all constituency – cases, aside from the obvious point of keeping clear and full records. Any letters of advocacy I write on behalf of a constituent have been drafted personally by me, rather than a member of my staff, as I am more likely to remember something I have written myself, rather than just affixed a signature to. Second and more important, I have never accepted a donation or gift in return for pursuing an immigration case. Where there have been occasions – usually after the event – where someone offered to make a donation, I have always referred them directly to the Party Treasurer. So I actually never know whether any of these offers have ever been followed up, which is as it should be.

He then goes on to say that Cunliffe seems to have not worked like this.

I say this not to be sanctimonious, but because it strikes me that David Cunliffe has done neither. I do not think he had full oversight of Mr Liu’s approach to him regarding his immigration status, but I do think he – and his colleagues it would appear – had way too much involvement, more than they are letting on now, in respect of Mr Liu’s financial support. It is that ambiguity and shadiness that is doing the damage now.

Add to that Mr Cunliffe’s strident flaying of Maurice Williamson over his dealings with Donghua Liu and the firestorm of hypocrisy now engulfing him is both obvious and utterly predictable.

Coming so close to an election it is a loss either way for the Labour Party. Change the leader now and Labour is surely doomed – there is no Messiah in the wings to surge through and sweep them to victory like Bob Hake’s takeover in Australia a month before the 1983 election. Keeping the leader simply reinforces the perception of slipperiness and lack of trust. Little wonder then that for some 2017 is now not looking too far away after all.

In fact on RadioNZ this morning Cunliffe implied that his staff would have met the ‘constituent and typed the letter and he just signed it “in good faith”.

It sounds like Cunliffe has been a fairly hands off with some of his MP responsibilities, like he seems to be in his leadership role at times.

Civilian Party and United Future announce campaign deal

The Civilian Party and United Future have announced a joint campaign deal similar to Internet-MANA.

UnitedFuture leader Peter Dunne and Civilian founder Ben Uffindell say it is a sensible union as there is more in common between them than between Kim Dotcom and Hone Harawira.

Both of them went to school and university in Christchurch.

“I lead a party and I’m a civilian, that’s exactly the same as Ben” said Dunne.

“We had a problem that people wouldn’t take us seriously, this shows that we can also be sensible” said Uffindell.

The parties had both experienced the difficulty of signing up 500 members, and both were relying substantially on the same donor for their campaign funds, the Electoral Commission.

The deal would combine the complementary age and experience of United Future with the youth and spoof of The Civilian.

The joint party will be called Civilised Future.

There were some obvious differences but Dunne said there were precedents, citing the obvious differences between Dotcom and Harawira.

He also pointed out previous parties with contrasting personalities, like Bill and Ben, and especially McGillicuddy and Serious.

Uffindell was looking forward to joint policy development, combining his fresh ideas with those of a wily old campaigner.

One policy that was likely to have appeal to voters of all ages was Flexi-Icecream. This would allow people to choose their own flavour.

Dunne and Uffindell will be joint party leaders. The rest of the party list will alternate between fishers, shooters and satirists.

They will differentiate themselves from other parties by targeting people who voted last election.

They were confident that Dunne’s experience with worms and Uffindell’s barbs would combine to catch a significant number of votes.

Budget winners and whiners

There’s no way of knowing if the budget is an election winner for National (it won’t harm their chances and will probably enhance them) but as a smart, sensible, pragmatic budget that appears to care for families it has to be a winner for National for the moment.

Peter Dunne is claiming it’s a good budget for UnitedFuture with some justification. It nudges Paid Parental Leave in their policy direction and with Dunne having an involvement in health and families the extension of free doctors visits and prescriptions for children have to be a personal win.

There is little specifically for the Maori Party but it won’t do them any harm.

The budget was never going to slash public spending so ACT don’t win anything from it.

The opposition parties made it look like they were losers with very negative attacks, but this may clash with general public perceptions.

In reality Labour mustn’t be disappointed with aspects of this budget at least. David Parker has acknowledged this. If this was a Labour budget they would be applauded, and it won’t cause them any difficulties if they take over Government and economic management later this year.

But David Cunliffe has chosen a very negative reaction, which portrays it as a loss despite claiming National have stolen some of their policies. And National have cunningly sold it as both prudent and caring, and Labour are left claiming they would do more – which means spend more, so their claims that the surplus is fudged looks sticky.

Russel Norman tried to portray it as a ‘cabinet club’ budget, benefiting a select few rich people at the expense of the poor. It don’t think he’ll get much credit for this approach, it’s hardly a way to build support.

Winston Peters grumped about it as if the country has lost something but it’s his mojo that’s hard to find.

Hone Harawira complained there was nothing in it for Maori and “we didn’t even get crumbs for kids” but both those groups will benefit from more free health care and an improving financial position for the country. What Harawira means is he didn’t win handouts for his constituency.

The handout mentality didn’t win anything from the election. Many will applaud that.

National have crafted a crafty budget and are the big winners, with Dunne picking up some of the glory.

It won’t win the election but it will make it harder for Labour and Greens to win. They were practising losing speeches yesterday.

They can still win the election, but they have to start looking like potential winners.

Yesterday John Key and Bill English looked like they were on the podium already. People like voting for winners, not whiners.

MPs on ‘bugger the consequences’ banwagon

National MPs seemed to have been pressured and spooked into forcing a reversal in dealing with legal highs. Labour also jumped on the ‘bugger the consequences’ banwagon. Election year angst comes to mind.

It has been reported that National MPs forced a change to a temporary ban of all legal highs after they were “relentlessly lobbied by local mayors and community action groups”. Peter Dunne had to front the embarrassing double back flip despite still claiming that bans didn’t work up to the day before they reversal.

Legal-highs move forced by Nat MPs

The Government was forced into a u-turn over legal highs after a backlash from National MPs.

Sources say Prime Minister John Key was put under pressure at weekly caucus meetings as MPs were relentlessly lobbied by local mayors and community action groups.

A source said Key feared “a revolt” after a push by Cabinet ministers Paula Bennett, Nikki Kaye and Todd McClay, who wanted the legal highs off the streets in their electorates.

Discipline within the National Party ranks is so tight that open dissent is rare. But it was a case of “to hell with the act” regardless of embarrassment about a flip-flop.

A public backlash, an outcry from local councils, and intense media scrutiny saw discord within the party grow, and threaten to boil over into the public arena.

A senior National source confirmed there was “quite a bit of angst” from within the party. “The feeling was there has to be something more we could do . . . I wouldn’t quite use revolt but I would say it was being raised continuously as an issue.”

We can only guess how much of this was due to genuine belief that a ban was the best approach and how much was due to election year panic, but it’s likely to be a mix of the two.

Dunne was reluctant to abandon his legislation, but was forced into taking a compromise proposal to Cabinet that left much of the bill intact, the source said.

This explains the contradictory statements by Dunne last week up to and including the announcement of the reversal. He has seemed very committed to the Act as passed by 119 MPs in Parliament last year.

This looks like political pragmatism under pressure of numbers more than Act pragmatism.

Dunne was in the Chatham Islands last night and could not be reached for comment.

And we can only guess at the coinciding of this news with his trip to the Chatham Islands but there is a hint of “I was made to change it” coming out here.

The National MPs who forced this have taken a big risk, although Labour has attached itself to the same ‘ban and be buggered about the consequences’ banwagon.

The effective shutting down of all legal high sales may make shop precincts look a bit better for mayors and MPs in the short term but if this turns into an openly ugly under-supported addicts’ angst there could be a backlash for MPs who jumped on the banwagon.

If their ban doesn’t work, as Dunne, the NZ Drug Foundation and many others have kept telling us, what then?

The synthetic cannabis and natural cannabis problems won’t go away by trying to sweep them underground.

Politicians playing silly buggers on drugs?

Ross Bell from NZ Drug Foundation suggests politicians are ‘playing silly buggers’ on rushing through banning law to stop sales of currently legal psychoactive substances.

He also asks why, if substances pose “more than a low risk of harm to individuals using the product”, the Regulatory Authority hasn’t removed them from sale under the current law.

Black market fears over legal high ban

An emergency law banning legal highs will lead to binge-buying, fire sales, a boosted black market and addicts withdrawing without support, warns the New Zealand Drug Foundation.

Foundation boss Ross Bell said the political parties were “playing silly buggers” with the issue because they had all agreed to stagger the implementation of the Psychoactive Substances Act, introduced in July last year, meaning a testing regime had still not been developed.

Cabinet gave the go-ahead for a law change two weeks ago. Dunne will introduce the legislation to Parliament under urgency on May 8. “It had been my intention to hold the announcement to much nearer the time to prevent panic-buying and stockpiling.”

He admitted his decision to bring the announcement forward was a political one, sparked by Labour’s planned announcement.

Labour leader David Cunliffe said the substances had been “ruining too many young lives”.

“I think we’ve all been shocked and saddened by it, and also by reports that young Kiwis have been turning to prostitution to fund the habit that these highly addictive drugs create.”

He said the Government had “fallen asleep at the wheel” over introducing a testing regime.

“Had we known 18 months down the track that no regime would yet be in place, we would have insisted back then that all drugs had to go through the testing process before they were allowed onto the market.”

But Bell said Labour had been spurred on by media coverage of the issue and had “decided to jump on the bandwagon”.

Ross from the Drug Foundation has also been active on Twitter, claiming that any substances shown to be a risk could be removed from sale (banned) under the current law.

NZ Drug Foundation ‏@nzdrug

Why not simply use the power in the existing law and immediately remove those products causing harm?

Simply stated that Authority has that power already and questioned whether law change needed.

…allow the Authority to revoke licenses. This neither requires a law change nor rely on any direction from the minister.

Psychoactive Substances Act 2013 – 40 Revocation of approval:

(1) The Authority may, at any time, by notice in the Gazette, revoke an approval of a psychoactive product granted under section 37 if the Authority considers on reasonable grounds that the product poses more than a low risk of harm to individuals using the product.

(2) If the Authority revokes an approval, the Authority—

(a) must notify the person who applied for approval of the product:

(b) may issue a recall order for the product under section 88.

(‘Authority’ means the Psychoactive Substances Regulatory Authority)

So why the sudden rush to change the law if the current law could remove any substance deemed to be a risk?

Maybe the media and politicians should be asking that instead of playing silly buggers.

Seven Sharp’s stink perception

Seven Sharp ran an item last night ‘revealing’ that Peter Dunne’s son James is a legal representative for the legal high industry. They promoted it as an exclusive.

This is covered well by Karol at The Standard in Father & son: Dunne deals?

Seven Sharp said at the least there is an appearance of conflict of interest.

I had already noticed that a James Dunne was representing the legal high industry and presumed there was either a family connection oe it was a coincidence, but I didn’t think it mattered.

Peter Dunne can’t instruct his son what he should or shouldn’t do in his professional capacity. James Dunne can’t instruct his father on what he does in Parliament.

One thing pointed out by Seven Sharp was James Dunne’s promotion on his company profile:

valuable inside knowledge of how Parliament works in New Zealand

Obviously in some ways he will have a very good insight into how Parliament works, his father has been an MP all his life, but he could have worded this much better.

My biggest issue with this is with Seven Sharp. They have promoted it as big news:

Peter Dunne and Legal Highs Son

An exclusive on the link between a Peter Dunne and the man fighting against his crackdown on legal highs.

And as Karol says they “claim that at the least there is an appearance of conflict of interest.”

That’s because they have created that appearance and highlighted it as significant news. They have provided no evidence at all to make it any more than a manufactured perception. If they had said nothing there would be little or no public perception.

TVNZ have tried to create news out of nothing of substance. This is stink journalism.

And as some of the comments at The Standard show, it has initiated a bout of stink politics.

NZ First MP claims Psychoactive Substances Act has failed

Asenati Lole-Taylor (NZ First list MP) has called on ministers to resign because they are “responsible for the weak and ineffective Psychoactive Substances Act”.

Pacific Guardians report STEP DOWN: National & United Future MPs for failed ‘Legal High’ law

Heads should roll as a result of the National government’s irresponsible handling of legal high drugs according to NZ First MP Le’au Asenati Lole-Taylor.

“The two ministers, Todd McClay and Peter Dunne, responsible for the weak and ineffective Psychoactive Substances Act should do the right thing and resign from parliament,” she told Pacific Guardians in an exclusive interview. “They are one of the reasons why New Zealanders from Whangarei to Invercargill are marching today [Saturday, 5 April] because those two had the chance to ban these drugs in 2013 but they didn’t.”

She made the comment while walking amongst hundreds of people last Saturday calling for a blanket ban on legal highs.

“The law that was passed in 2013 has failed New Zealand miserably. Proof of that are these marches showcasing the grave concerns of the New Zealand public that the law and parliamentarians are failing them and it must be addressed urgently.”

Failure of the law, she points out lies squarely on the shoulders of the National government and the two ministers responsible.

Lole-Taylor and all her NZ First colleagues voted for the bill last year, which passed 119 votes to 1.

“They failed because they had the opportunity since 2011 to make a law that will control or ban the drugs – but because of they subscribe to the cavalier, hand-off-the-wheel attitude this government takes to governing New Zealand, they have failed the people of this country once again.”

Lole-Taylor and all her NZ First colleagues voted for the bill last year, which passed 119 votes to 1.

She repeated her call for Mr McClay and Mr Dunne to step down.

“The two men must be held accountable for their lack of action in this case. Families have lost loved ones, a growing number of young people’s lives are wrecked by addiction, their jobs as well as businesses are suffering, all those things could have been avoided if Peter Dunne and Todd McClay as law makers did their job.”

She said their performances “are well below par of what’s expected from members of this country’s executive. They should stand down and remove themselves from running in the September election.”

But before that time, “they should pay a visit to every individual family that has suffered a tragedy from legal highs, and then make a national apology to all New Zealanders for having let them down miserably,” she said.

“Their performance in this debacle whether it is through lack of courage to push through what is right against opposition from their caucus; or perhaps, I suspect, they just don’t have what it takes.”

Lole-Taylor and all her NZ First colleagues voted for the bill last year, which passed 119 votes to 1.

In the meantime Peter Dunne blogged about the Act yesterday in Dunne Speaks:

A year ago the country was up in arms about the sale of synthetic cannabis in corner stores, dairies, groceries and convenience stores around the country. There were no restrictions on who could purchase these substances, and there was a cumbersome procedure in place which allowed me as Associate Minister of Health to temporarily ban products shown to be harmful. Since 2011, I had banned just over 50 different products under that regime.

But it was clearly not enough. Every time a product was banned, the chemical combinations were manipulated and a new product emerged, often within days of the first ban being applied. It was a never ending game of catch-up which no-one found satisfactory. It was time to turn the situation on its head to ensure that only those products proven to be low risk through a testing process equivalent to that for registering new medicines, could be sold, and even then in restricted circumstances. And so, the Psychoactive Substances Act was conceived.

Since its passage in July last year its impact has been dramatic. The number of outlets selling these drugs has been reduced from around 4,000 to just over 150; the number of products being sold has fallen from about 300 to 41 and is likely to continue falling; and, sales have been restricted to persons aged 18 and over, with no advertising or promotion permitted. The Police and hospital emergency rooms confirm the availability of these products and the number of cases of people presenting with problems associated with their use have fallen sharply. Yet still there are people up in arms.

How can this be? After all, the market has shrunk; the number of products is down over two-thirds and retail outlets numbers have fallen over 95%. The present situation is far more tightly controlled than ever before, even at the time we were banning psychoactive substances. And I have already foreshadowed more regulations are coming in the next couple of months.

So he claims that the Act is working as intended, to an extent. He  highlights what he thinks is holding the Act back.

Sadly, one of the major reasons has been the inexplicable tardiness of local authorities in implementing their local plans to regulate the sale of psychoactive substances. And some Mayors have shown an ignorance of the issues that borders on breathtaking stupidity.

The facts are these: as the Act was being developed various local authorities and Mayors pleaded with the government to give them local powers, similar to those they already have to regulate the sale of alcohol in their areas, to control the sale of psychoactive substances. Parliament listened to their pleas, and by a vote of 119 to 1 gave them the powers they were seeking.

But – and here is the rub – despite the grandstanding and tub-thumping of the Mayors (just before last year’s local elections significantly) nine months later only 5 of 71 Councils have implemented the local plans the Mayors said they needed so desperately. That delay is unacceptable. It is time for them to stop bleating, and start using the tools they implored Parliament to give them.

Drug use and abuse is a major problem but there are no simple solutions. Blanket bans don’t work, as ongoing problems with other drugs proves. Per capita New Zealand is one of the highest users of cannabis in the world.

Attacking ministers who are trying to take practical steps to address legal high issues is not going to achieve anything except perhaps pander to uninformed voters.

Dunne on psychoactive substances and cannabis

The sale and use of psychoactive substances are very topical issues. How cannabis is related to this often comes into discussions.

I asked Peter Dunne some questions on this.

1. You recently attended a United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs Meeting, Vienna, Austria and spoke about New Psychoactive Substances. What reaction did you get in Vienna about New Zealand’s Psychoactive Substances Act?

The response was positive and interested. I had separate meetings with the European Union, the Dutch, the British, the Americans the Australians and the head of the UN Commission where our legislation was the major topic. All are watching to learn from us, most we believe we are on the right track.

2. Are you happy with how the implementation of the Act is progressing?

I am very frustrated by the lack of response from local government. Only 5 of 71 Councils have so far prepared their local policies. Their tardiness is the major reason for the current public controversy.

3. Was the relationship between cannabis use and synthetic substitutes discussed, especially the effects of cannabis being illegal encouraging drug users to use legal but unknown drugs?

There was not much discussion about cannabis in Vienna, other than general confirmation that there should be no legal relaxation.

4. How are other countries dealing with the cannabis/legal high issues?

Many are applying bans, although all acknowledge that they are ineffective and merely drive things underground. That is why most are looking at what we are doing. In general, they seem to be about we were 2 to 3 years ago in this debate.

5. Is anything being done in New Zealand or being considered to being done about the claimed anomaly between far better known and claimed less harmful cannabis use remaining illegal while synthetic drugs are given approval to be sold.

In a word, no.

6. What are the chances of New Zealand’s laws relating to cannabis being reviewed in the next three years.

Zero I think.

7. Now your Psychotic Substances Act has been successfully introduced and is being implemented do you have any plans for or do you want to try and address cannabis or any other recreational psychotic drug issues?

It is my personal view that is possible that in the future the regulated market approach could be applied to cannabis, but that is not a priority. In any case, all the pharmacological and toxicologist and international advice I receive strongly suggests cannabis would fail the low risk test.

 

Dunne on New Psychoactive Substances

As Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne attended a United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs Meeting, Vienna, Austria last month (Marcgh 2014).

Part of his speech outlined New Zealand’s approach to dealing with  New Psychoactive Substances.

New Psychoactive Substances (NPS)

I want to outline New Zealand’s proposed approach to address the seemingly intractable problem of controlling NPS – a problem which affects our country and many others around the world.

In 2012, the New Zealand Government decided that our drug laws were ineffective at dealing with the rapid growth in NPS, as new substances can be developed at such a rate that each time one is restricted several more become available, therefore keeping one step ahead of any controls. Indeed, in 2011 New Zealand had introduced interim legislation to create temporary bans on the importation, manufacture and supply of substances and banned approximately 40 (mainly synthetic cannabis) substances in under two years.

However, this still required the Government to identify untested and potentially harmful substances which were already being sold on an unregulated market with unknown effects on consumers. The temporary bans also seemed only to enhance the market’s efforts to replace the banned substances with new, potentially more harmful products.

Furthermore, attempts to create ‘blanket’ bans on groups of substances in other jurisdictions appeared to have been little more effective than bans on individual chemicals.

So we decided to take a different approach through legislation which I introduced in 2012, and was passed by Parliament in July 2013 as the Psychoactive Substances Act 2013. This legislation is intended to provide sponsors of NPS the ability to demonstrate to a national regulatory authority that their products meet certain safety standards – and if they do, the products may be marketed and sold from licensed retail outlets.

We are currently operating under a transitional regime while regulations are being developed.

However, after six months in operation the legislation has already brought about profound changes to the psychoactive substances market in our country. These include:

  • a product may only receive interim approval if it is considered a ‘low risk of harm’ by an expert committee
  • the sale of products is prohibited from convenience/grocery stores, liquor outlets and petrol stations
  • products are restricted to people aged 18 years and over
  • advertising of products is prohibited and there are strict controls on packaging and labelling

There are currently around 40 products on the market with interim approval. This compares with an estimated 2-300 unregulated products on the market previously.

All products without approval are prohibited by default.

There are approximately 150 retailers with interim licences and a smaller number of holders of other licences such as for import, manufacture and wholesale. This compares with an estimated 3-4000 unregulated sellers prior to the legislation. A number of products have not gained approval,or have subsequently been withdrawn from the market, because they pose greater than a low risk of harm.

Products and the activities of licence holders are being monitored by a national regulatory authority and by local police and health boards. It is early to determine outcomes of what is a unique approach to controlling NPS, but I am confident it will prove to be successful.

New Zealand is of course willing to share its experience with other Member States.

To those like weka (“As much as I hate to agree with PG” just because) I sourced this via a Google search as I knew Dunne had recently been in Vienna. I’ve posted it here because it’s relevant to the discussion – no implication should be taken from this about whether I agree or disagree with any of it.

Problem for Problem Gambling Foundation

There was a flurry of criticism this morning when the Problem Gambling Foundation advised it was losing Ministry of Health funding for the bulk of it’s current services.

Trevor Mallard was quick off the mark.

Govt silences casino deal critic by axing funding

The Problem Gambling Foundation is being forced to shut its doors after losing government funding because it has vocally opposed National’s dodgy convention centre for pokies deal, Labour’s Internal Affairs spokesperson Trevor Mallard says.

It also appears that Mallard was wide of the mark. Criticisms have been premature.

The funding hasn’t been cut, it is being moved to a “superior” provider. From the Problem Gambling Foundation’s media statement Statement on Ministry of Health contracts:

While the Ministry describes PGF as a valued provider of quality services it has told PGF it has a superior offer for the clinical and public health services PGF provides.

Mallard acknowledges the change of service provider despite his “axing” headline:

“The Ministry of Health has said it has received a ‘superior contract bid’ but as the Foundation is the largest provider of problem gambling services in Australasia, it is hard to imagine a more qualified organisation to do this work.

“The Government’s deal with SkyCity stinks and the public knows it. An additional 350 pokie machines in Auckland will cause significant harm to the community.

“The Problem Gambling Foundation has spoken out about the dangers of this deal and are now paying the price.

“Internal Affairs Minister Peter Dunne and the Ministry of Health need to explain the reasons for this outrageous decision,” Trevor Mallard says.

Stuff explain in Problem Gambling Foundation loses Govt funding:

A spokesman from Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne’s office confirmed today that the other organisation was the Salvation Army.

The spokesman said the Salvation Army bid for the contract was more efficient, and offered more services and value for money.

It’s tough on the PGF but funds for services should be contestable. The Salvation Army have a record of providing a wide range of services – and they have also been critical of the Government.

Internal Affairs minister Peter Dunne and the Ministry of Health both “emphatically deny” any political involvement.

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