Labour-Green oil and gas naivety questioned

The Government announcement last that no more off shore oil and gas exploration permits would be granted was celebrated by the Greens and their allies (like Greenpeace), but it hasn’t received wide support. Questions are being asked of the possible negative effects, and the lack of planning or substance on the transition from fossil fuels to alternative forms of energy.

Listener: Is the Govt’s ban on new oil and gas exploration brave or naive?

Just transition or heart over head?

The decision to stop issuing offshore oil and gas exploration permits was not pre-election policy. Although Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was musing privately months ago about the politics of such a move, it is barely a month since she broke from her formal programme to accept a petition from Greenpeace on the forecourt of Parliament.

Always with an eye to powerful imagery, Greenpeace backed the moment with pictures of history-changing Labour leaders of the past: Savage, Kirk, Lange and Clark. Ardern could enter that pantheon with a huge symbolic gesture designed to make real her claim that climate change is “this generation’s nuclear-free moment”.

She has done so, in a move that is at once measured and justifiable yet also naive and arguably cavalier with a major industry. No other country with a significant oil and gas industry has made such a decision.

…the naivety of the Government’s new policy is that it will not, of itself, reduce global carbon emissions, but could increase New Zealand’s if it leads to more coal use in the meantime.

It is disingenuous to claim that existing permits might sustain a healthy oil and gas sector until the 2040s. The fruitless hunt for major gas fields in the Great South Basin since the 1960s proves the point that exploration is expensive and usually unsuccessful.

But perhaps the biggest risk is the promise of a Government-led “transition” to new industries of the future. Airy ministerial talk of capital being redeployed to new activities is a carbon copy of Rogernomics-era rhetoric. Capital was redeployed, but not necessarily in New Zealand.

The Government is talking a big game on its ability to direct the emergence of such new industries, but its capacity to deliver this upside of transformative change is untested and the value of the industries it is disrupting is all too measurable.

While radical change was necessary then ‘Rogernomics’ was executed hurriedly with more hope or desperation than planning.

Tim Watkin takes the similarity with Rogernomics style reform-and-hope policies, as opposed to David Lange’s ‘anti-nuclear moment’ – Oil be alright. But has Labour learnt the wrong lesson from its past?

Jacinda Ardern has drawn on our national pride in New Zealand’s nuclear-free stance to rally support for her decision to end offshore oil drilling. But her announcement has echoes of Douglas and Prebble as much as Lange and Palmer

When Jacinda Ardern was asked to justify her government’s decision to stop issuing oil drilling permits forthwith she drew on a memory that sits deep in her party’s – and our country’s – soul. Our nuclear-free status. The decision for me, however, recalls another controversial move by that same fourth Labour government.

For Ardern and her team, so long out of government, it is a chance to do the sort of thing they expect Labour government’s to do. The moral thing. Policies that show vision and make the world a better place. What’s more, it shows leadership in the Pacific.

As with our nuclear-free policy, the decision to leave the oil where it is gives New Zealand the moral high ground, a sense of mission and it gets us noticed. It’s also similar in that it will also do next to nothing in the short term to change global behaviour or make the world safer.

Our nuclear-free stance has been largely symbolic, as will this stance be, unless or until the rest of the world follows suit.

Like Rogernomics, last week’s decision was announced with no real consultation and ruthless speed. There was no time for opponents to circle the tankers. Like Rogernomics, it moved Labour away from the safe centre and took it to the edge of mainstream politics. And like Rogernomics, they have shown no sign that they have planned for the consequences – forseeon or unforseen – of this policy.

Talk to members of the fourth Labour government today and few resile from the thrust of the economic reforms, but almost all wish they had done it differently. More slowly, with transition funding and re-training upfront. With more consultation. More commitment to not leaving some people on the scrapheap.

Sadly, there’s no sign this government has heeded that lesson. Not yet anyway. The announcement came with the zeal of the nuclear-free dream, but without the legwork. There was no transition fund announced. No plan to find new purposes for the people and their skills. No three year grace period, for example, in which the country’s fourth largest export-earning industry could start on what Greens co-leader James Shaw has promised will be a “gentle transition”.

One could forgive Shaw and the Greens for being naive, given their lack of experience in power. The same could be applied to Ardern – but as Prime Minister she should be better advised. She seems to have believed her lofty hype over leading a generational change on climate change.

It is becoming increasingly apparent that the new Government was woefully unprepared for taking over. They have taken some quick and bold moves – like committing to major spending (handouts) for fee-free tertiary education – and leading the charge against climate change without any sign they know where this will take New Zealand economically.

But by embarking on this in a sudden, even sneaky, way and without a considered and consulted transition plan, it’s undermined the ‘what’ by buggering up the ‘how’. Labour has failed to learn from its own history. Or, at least, the part of its history Ardern says inspired this bold move. The question now is whether the government moves rapidly and with proper thought to live up to its promise of that “gentle transition”.

There is time for getting it right, or at least better and less risky, but there is no sign of this being recognised by the Government.

Another unlikely critic is Brian Fallow: Exploration ban a pointless, self-righteous policy

Resounding cheers greeted Jacinda Ardern and James Shaw when they went to Victoria University last Thursday to explain that morning’s announcement that no more offshore oil and gas exploration permits will be granted.

Gratifying to their ears, no doubt — but entirely undeserved.

This policy is self-righteous nimbyism, environmentally pointless, economically costly and politically counter-productive to the Government’s own agenda on climate change.

Tossing a trophy to the Green Party base, perhaps in the hope of reducing the risk that the Green vote gets wasted in 2020, smacks of ad hoc partisan politics as usual.

It is utterly at odds with the careful, consultative, consensus-seeking approach being pursued over the larger climate agenda.

James Shaw has set up a committee (according to National the 75th committee/group of this Government) to consult over climate change transition but as pointed out in Climate Change Committee announced, significant omissions this notably lacks direct representation from the key farmer and oil & gas industries.

Is there anyone in Labour capable of doing the hard work necessary to make such a transformative  policy work successfully without too many risks and adverse effects?

With Shaw in charge of the Climate Change ministry the only Labour MP (apart from Ardern) with related responsibilities is Megan Woods as Minister of Energy and Resources, and Minister of Science and Innovation, things that will be (or should be) a prominent part of the climate change/fossil fuel transition.

Climate Change Committee announced, significant omissions

James Shaw, Minister for Climate Change, has announced the members of the Interim Climate Change Committee. The members have a wide range of relevant experience, but notably there is no farmer or oil and gas industry or transport representation.


The Minister for Climate Change today announced the membership of the Interim Climate Change Committee, which will begin work on how New Zealand transitions to a net zero emissions economy by 2050.

“We need work to start now on how things like agriculture might enter into the New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme (NZETS), and we need planning now for the transition to 100 percent renewable electricity generation by 2035,” says James Shaw.

“The Interim Climate Change Committee will begin this important work until we have set up the independent Climate Change Commission under the Zero Carbon Act in May next year.

“The Interim Committee will consult with stakeholders and hand over its work and analysis to the Climate Change Commission,” Mr Shaw said.

Committee members have been chosen because of their expertise across key areas related to climate change: agriculture, agribusiness, climate change science and policy, resource economics and impacts, Te Tiriti o Waitangi, te reo me ona tikanga Māori and Māori interests, international competitiveness, and energy production and supply.

Dr David Prentice, the Interim Committee Chair, was most recently the CEO and Managing Director of infrastructure firm Opus International Consultants.

He led his company through the Global Financial Crisis and has a sound understanding of economics and international markets.

He is joined by Deputy Chair, Lisa Tumahai, who has significant governance experience and is Kaiwhakahaere of Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu. She is a person of significant mana and standing in the Māori community.

The committee members are:

  • Dr David Prentice, Interim Committee Chair
  • Lisa Tumahai, Deputy Chair
  • Dr Harry Clark, a New Zealand expert on agricultural greenhouse gas research
  • Dr Keith Turner, former CEO of Meridian and professional director
  • Dr Jan Wright, former Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment
  • Dr Suzi Kerr, an internationally renowned expert in the economics of climate change policy and emissions trading.

“If we want to help lead the world towards meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement, we must create a moral mandate underpinned by decisive action at home to reduce our own emissions.

“Setting up the Interim Climate Change Committee is a great step in that direction,” says James Shaw.


Typical Green style gender balance with a significant Māori position. generally it seems a reasonable mix of experience – but notably, no farmer representative, and neither is there any representative from the oil and gas industry or from transport interests. I think these are major omissions.

Legal ring fencing of the word ‘teacher’ proposed

It may become illegal to use the word ‘teacher’ unless you have a specific university degree – namely ” a three-year Bachelor of Education, a Bachelor’s degree with a one-year Diploma of Teaching, or a conjoint degree that combines study in teaching subjects with teacher training”.

This sort of silliness could be a coalition killer.

Newshub: Proposed Bill to restrict use of word ‘teacher’

A Bill which would make it illegal to use the title ‘teacher’ without a formal qualification is before a select committee.

Submissions for The Education (Protecting Teacher Title) Amendment Bill, fronted by New Zealand First MP Jenny Marcroft, closed on Friday.

It aims to “lift the status of teachers” by removing the ability of those without the qualification to represent themselves with that title.

“Clarity around the use of the title of teacher is essential in order to avoid any misunderstanding by the public about the qualifications,” the proposed Bill reads.

It would become an offence, punishable with a $2000 fine, to connect the word with any unqualified person or business.

Qualifications which could use the title are a three-year Bachelor of Education, a Bachelor’s degree with a one-year Diploma of Teaching, or a conjoint degree that combines study in teaching subjects with teacher training.

Those who aren’t qualified can still use the titles of lecturer, tutor or educator.

Educator sounds more school orientated to me than teacher.

I guess this is trying to emulate restrictions on the use of the word ‘doctor’ or the words ‘sir’ or ‘dame’, but it is risky using legislation to limit the use of such a widely used word like teacher.

National education spokesperson Nikki Kaye says the Bill “jeopardises many of our current teachers and early childhood teachers”.

“It has the potential to undermine and devalue our many educators who contribute to the wellbeing of our country.

“The impact of the Bill is not even isolated to the education sector. Are we going to fine every music teacher, dance teacher, and swimming teacher?”

“Even the Attorney-General has come out against the bill as it breaches the Bill of Rights, yet the Government continues to support it.”

But Ms Marcroft says it’s “nonsense” that there’s currently no differentiation between those that have “significant skills and training” and those who don’t.

“If we are going to have strong partnerships with whānau and communities to improve the educational outcomes of all tamariki, we must ensure the professional status of teachers is recognised,” she says.

“The Bill will elevate the public status of teachers and provide parents with a clear distinction between teachers who are fully trained and qualified, and those who are not.”

It’s highly questionable trying to legally limit the use of a common word used in a wide variety of ways.

Oxford dictionary: doctor

A person who is qualified to treat people who are ill.

North American A qualified dentist or veterinary surgeon.

A person who holds the highest university degree.

They are well established uses.

Oxford dictionary: teacher

A person who teaches, especially in a school.

That’s far more general.

This legislation seems to be a misguided attempt to fix a problem that doesn’t exist.

What about home teaching?

If the Government wants to assign a unique word to teachers they should make one up rather than legally ring fence a widely used and interpreted word.

Enough of that, now I must move on to teach you lot how to comment properly – perhaps you should have to be qualified?

Griffin won’t voluntarily hand over Curran recording

After a weekend and a bit of pondering RNZ chairman Richard Griffin has advised that he won’t hand over a recording of a phone conversation between he and Clare Curran, despite acknowledging this is in breach of a select committee directive.

It’s hard to know whether he is staunch in protecting the recording, or is wanting the select committee to demand more strongly that it be handed over.

NZH: RNZ chairman Richard Griffin won’t hand over Broadcasting Minister Clare Curran’s voicemail

RNZ chairman Richard Griffin says he has no intention of handing over a voice message left on his mobile phone by Broadcasting Minister Clare Curran.

“No, I have no intention of handing it over, so I’m in breach of the select committee directive,” he told the Herald.

He declined to comment further, saying a letter outlining the reasons why had been sent to the Economic Development, Science and Innovation Select Committee.

The committee had requested the voicemail and other communications between the Minister and Griffin following his and RNZ chief executive Paul Thompson’s appearance last week to correct the record over a meeting between RNZ’s former head of content Carol Hirschfeld and Curran.

Select committee chairman Jonathan Young said the committee would meet on Wednesday to review last week’s hearing.

He said a number of issues would be canvassed. Whether to ask Hirschfeld to appear would be discussed only if it was raised by a committee member.

National MP Melissa Lee, who has driven questions over the meeting, said she had not yet had a chance to review the committee documents so would not say whether she would raise the possibility of Hirschfeld appearing.

So this issue will get another airing after the select committee meeting tomorrow.

Davidson (Green) question ‘not a patsy’

When the Green Party (James Shaw) announced last month that they would give their parliamentary oral questions to National they reserved the right to still use some of them. They chose to do so today, giving new co-leader Marama Davidson her first crack at holding the Government to account.

Here is Davidson grilling the Prime Minister:

Question No. 1—Prime Minister

1. MARAMA DAVIDSON (Co-Leader—Green) to the Prime Minister: Ka tū a ia i runga i tana kōrero mō te iti rawa o te mahi haumi i roto ratonga tūmataiti, ā, nā runga i tērā, “we didn’t know it would be this bad” ā, mēnā kua pēnei rawa, ka pēhea te nui o te iti rawa o te mahi haumi nei?

[Does she stand by her statement on underinvestment in public services that “we didn’t know it would be this bad”, and if so, how significant is this underinvestment?]

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN (Prime Minister): Yes, absolutely, and much of that we could see from Opposition, as could New Zealanders in everyday life, as they saw individuals sleeping in cars or being unable to access health services. But what we are seeing now is in almost every portfolio I can find other signs of under-investment.

Marama Davidson: Does she agree that the state of the books she inherited from National represents a moral and fiscal deficit, which we see every day in our homeless and unemployed, in our impoverished families, and in our threatened species?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Yes, and being in Government obviously is about making choices and about priorities. The last Government decided that the priority, rather than investing in issues around unemployment and homelessness, was tax cuts—a huge amount of which went to the top 10 percent of income earners. This Government has different priorities.

Marama Davidson: How significant is the under-investment in health in light of revelations that there is sewage and mould running through the walls of Middlemore Hospital, as a direct result of it?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I would say Middlemore Hospital is emblematic of a much wider problem. District health boards are telling us that 19 percent of their assets are either in a poor or a very poor state. If you add to that the fact that they’re running what will be an estimated up to $200 million deficit, I think it’s fair to say New Zealanders in every walk of life will be experiencing issues with their health services.

Marama Davidson: Has there been significant under-investment in other areas of Government spending, and has that impacted on core services, as we have seen in our health system?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As I say, health, I think, is emblematic of what’s gone on in other areas. You’ll hear today, for instance, the Minister of Education talking a little bit more about the under-investment in early childhood education, which, essentially, has meant that parents have been picking up the tab from a lack of investment from the last Government. I’m happy to share the numbers.

Marama Davidson: What plans does she have, if any, to restore investment in public services to urgently help those who are struggling the most, such as the 10 to 20 homeless people I spoke with who were sleeping outside the City Mission yesterday morning?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As I say, we identified from Opposition that this was an issue. We made a very deliberate decision to cancel the tax cuts. The second decision that we made was to run a slightly longer debt track than the last Government, because we wanted to prioritise investing in housing and making sure that there wasn’t the scale of homelessness we saw under the last Government. As I say, Government is all about priorities, and ours are very different to the last Government.

Marama Davidson: Will the Government consider any new taxes in the future to help solve these problems, given that it has ruled out any new revenue streams this term?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: As we’ve said, there will be no new tax regimes in this term of office, from this Government. Of course, we do have the Tax Working Group under way, but they may very well produce an outcome that could be fiscally neutral as well. Ultimately, we have budgeted and set out a debt track that allows us to make the investment that is the priority, and we did things like cancel tax cuts, so we could reinvest in health, education, and housing.

Medicinal Cannabis hearing – first day

The first hearings on the Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis) Amendment Bill were heard by the health Select Committee in Parliament yesterday.

RNZ: Medicinal Cannabis Bill prompts calls for broader allowances

Under the Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis) Amendment Bill before Parliament, only those terminally ill and with a year left to live would have a legal defence against prosecution for illicit marijuana use.

Drug Foundation director, Ross Bell…

…told MPs on the first day of hearings on the Bill that was not good enough. He said the Bill should be extended to also cover those with severe and debilitating conditions.

“Only focusing on terminal patients isn’t good enough, and in reality, the terminal patients aren’t getting arrested by the police but many other patients are. And the way that police use their discretion means that a lot of people are getting prosecuted still.”

Mr Bell said the same statutory protection should also extend to those who support patients.

“The so-called green fairies, people that will be administering the medicine or even cultivating the medicine, you know. And I think again you’re going to hear stories of people who are on their deathbed or are severely physically limited that they can’t access the medicine, they can’t even administer the medicine.”

Green MP Chloe Swarbrick…

…has backed the Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis) Amendment Bill, but she also identified gaps, saying legal protection for the terminally ill stopped short of what is needed.

“That doesn’t address access, it doesn’t address availability, it doesn’t address the quality of the product and it certainly doesn’t address affordability.

“We’re all quite aware of the gaping black hole that presently exists”.

“I’m aware that my Bill was evidently voted down because people were concerned about the provision, the so-called ‘grow-your-own’ provision, but what we have right here is people still needing to get access to cannabis illegally. Somebody has to grow it.”

“We currently have a situation where police on the frontlines are being quite open about the fact that they are defacto decriminalising the use of cannabis for medicinal reasons or recreational reasons or otherwise. What we are – as the Green Party – concerned about there is that there is no rule of law.”

The College of General Practitioners…

…said doctors want the best for their patients, but clinical trials and Medsafe approval are needed before medicinal cannabis is made more widely available.

Asked if those with chronic illnesses should be included in legal protection, the college president, Tim Malloy, said doctors would struggle with who that would cover.

“That’s going to be the issue. It’s not whether this applies to them or not, it’s how do you define it and what are the criteria and what do you have to have tried beforehand. So there’s a whole body of work that needs to be done to define that for us.”

GPs also said they wanted health equity, and part of the reason for the Bill was to improve access to beneficial treatments, including the potential for medicinal cannabis.

“There is an equity issue here as Pharmac does not currently fund Sativex and most people would not be able to afford it — a thousand dollars a month — without funding.”

Shane Le Brun of the Medical Cannabis Awareness New Zealand charity…

…said those most at risk of being prosecuted for illicit cannabis use were not the terminally ill at all.

“I’m quite plugged in with who’s getting busted by the police and it’s not terminal patients. There’s no one who’s two months from death’s door that has the police knocking on their door, so that whole part of the Bill was actually toothless.”

Mr Le Brun also questioned whether others who were very ill but not near death needed medicinal cannabis for pain relief too.

“Are we happy with really sick people to be hauled before the courts for growing something that helps them, especially when the legal options cost thousands of dollars a month?”

Shane has done a heap of very good work on this issue, and is busy networking with those of possible influence on the Bill.

On demand video of submissions and future live streaming: Health Select Committee (Facebook)

Medical cannabis submissions – livestreaming

Join us for a livestream of oral submitters on the Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis) Amendment Bill.

SUBMITTERS – WEDNESDAY 4 APRIL:
 New Zealand Drug Foundation (9:45 – 10am)
 Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand (10 – 10:15am)
 ActionStation (10:15 – 10:30am)
 Pharmaceutical Society of New Zealand (10:30 – 10:45am)
 Auckland Patients Group (APG) (11 – 11.15am)
 Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (11.15 – 11.30am)
 Medical Cannabis Awareness New Zealand (MCANZ) (11.30 – 11.45am)
 The Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners (RNZCGP)(11.45am – 12pm)
 Medical Research Institute of New Zealand – MRINZ and Medical Cannabis research collaborative (12 – 12.15pm)

The livestream starting at 9:45 am, Wednesday:

https://t.co/VUkvzu81QT

Historical homosexual convictions able to be wiped

Last night the Criminal Records (expungement of convictions for historical homosexual offences) Bill passed its third reading with Parliament voting unanimously for a Bill that will allow men convicted of homosexual ‘crimes’ up until the offences were scrapped in 1986 to have their convictions wiped from their records.

This bill was started by the previous National-led Government and continued by the current Labour-NZ First-Green Government.

RNZ: MPs vote for historical homosexual convictions to be wiped

Parliament has voted unanimously to support legislation allowing men convicted of historical homosexual offences to have them wiped from their records.

Consensual sex between men aged 16 and over was decriminalised in 1986, but convictions for offences before that time remained on record and can appear in criminal history checks.

The scheme will allow people to apply to the Secretary of Justice to have their convictions expunged, without formal court hearings or needing to appear in person.

 

It was terrible law that was scrapped in more enlightened times, but sadly failed to address the damage done for a further thirty two years. At least sorting things out belatedly has the full support of all parties and MPs.

Last July Men convicted for homosexual activity receive apology from govt

The Justice Minister has formally apologised to New Zealand men who were convicted in the past for consensual homosexual activity.

Parliament decriminalised consensual sex between men aged 16 and over in 1986, but convictions for offences before that time remained on record and can appear in criminal history checks.

Advocates for the men say the stigma of the convictions has been devastating for many, but the apology is a step in the right direction.

Amy Adams delivered the apology in Parliament this afternoon, during the first reading of a bill that expunges those historic convictions.

“Today we are putting on the record that this house deeply regrets the hurt and stigma suffered by the many hundreds of New Zealand men who were turned into criminals by a law that was profoundly wrong, and for that, we are sorry.”

Ms Adams said it was unimaginable today that New Zealand would criminalise consensual sexual activity between adults.

“Almost four years ago, this Parliament passed [the marriage equality law] to allow same-sex couples to legally marry, and I was proud to vote in favour of it.

“Today is another historic day for the New Zealand gay community and their families, as Parliament formally apologises for the hurt cause by the convictions and takes the first reading of a bill to expunge those convictions.”

During the debate of the bill, Labour’s Grant Robertson told the house that the imprisonments, the arrests and the fear did not just ruin lives, it killed people.

“Hundreds, possibly thousands of lives have been lost because men could not bear the shame, the stigma and the hurt caused by this Parliament and the way that society viewed them as criminals.

“It is for all of that, that we must apologise.”

So now the apology has been followed by legislation that allows men to set their records straight. It won’t undo all the damage done to people’s lives – some of which have been lost – but it will help those who have been burdened by convictions.

Contempt of Court law to be considered by Parliament

It’s a bit ironic that after nine years as Attorney-General it is from Opposition that Chris Finlayson is got a bill into Partliament that will consider Contempt of Court law changes that would toughen up on criticism of judges, especially via social media, and also publishing information that could prejudice an arrested person’s right to a fair trial .

Audrey Young (NZH): It took a move to Opposition for Chris Finlayson to make progress on contempt law

A proposed new law of contempt, setting boundaries for what can and can’t be said by the media, particularly social media, about defendants, trials and judges is going to be examined by Parliament.

One of the most controversial parts of the bill is likely to be penalties for making untrue allegations against judges, which will attract a fine of up to $50,000 or up to two years imprisonment.

Some abuse of judges was calculated to intimidate judges individually or collectively, said the bill’s sponsor, former Attorney-General Chris Finlayson.

I’ve seen what look like examples of this on a particular website that shouldn’t (mustn’t) be named here (for legal reasons).

“Such abuse is capable of undermining the rule of law. Judicial independence and impartiality is at the heart of the rule of law.”

The previous National Government commissioned the Law Commission to look at the law of contempt. It came up with plenty of recommendations and a draft bill to implement them.

But Finlayson was unable to convince the Ministry of Justice to make it a legislative priority so it languished.

So in Opposition Finlayson adopted the Law Commission’s bill as his own private member’s bill – which was recently drawn from the biscuit tin in the regular ballots for members’ bills.

So it is just by the luck of the draw that has enabled this to be considered by Parliament.

And Justice Minister Andrew Little will seek the support of his Cabinet colleagues to adopt it as a government bill after it passes its first reading, which is likely to be next week.

“Now that it has been drawn and has to be considered, we might as well do it properly,” Little said.

That’s very good to see from Little. He has made a good start as Minister of Justice in the Labour led government, on more than this issue.

The Administration of Justice (Reform of Contempt of Court) Bill will set those laws out in one place and come up with rules that will apply equally to mainstream media, and people commenting or blogging, tweeting or posting publicly through social media on the courts.

It will also cover disruptions in court, jurors who breach the rules by doing their own independent research, the enforcement of court orders, and malicious attacks on judges.

A lot of the time, people did not know what the boundaries were, including tweeters sitting in the back of a courtroom.

“I want to get this thing properly debated for the sake of the system,” said Finlayson.

“I think there is a danger in our system that we become obsessed when looking at justice questions with ‘law and order’ type issues and we don’t look at the other areas that are so fundamental to the efficient and successful running of our state.”

One of the issues on which he expected there would be debate was on criticism of judges.

Judges should not be immune from criticism for their decisions, he said.

“I’m not concerned about judges being criticised for their judgments but I am concerned about the abuse of judges and the attempts to intimidate judges, be it individually or collectively.

“Fair criticism is different from abuse.”

The aim of the bill was to make sure the boundaries were clear and people knew what they can and cannot do.

In the modern era of social media it will be good for this to be clarified.

Little has some concerns about what limitations are put on the criticism of judges.

Free speech versus the functions and  integrity of the judicial system.

What the bill does:

  • A person or organisation commits an offence if it publishes information that could prejudice an arrested person’s right to a fair trial, and is liable for up to six months imprisonment or a fine of $25,000 for an individual or $100,000 for an organisation.
  • Publishing untrue accusations against a judge punishable by up to two years imprisonment and a $50,000 fine for individuals and $100,000 for organisations.
  • A person wilfully disrupting court proceedings may be fined up to $10,000 or imprisoned for up to three months.
  • A person disobeying a court order may be fined up to $10,000 or imprisoned for up to three months.
  • A juror convicted of intentionally researching information relevant to the case is liable for a fine of up to $10,000 or imprisonment of up to three months.

That’s what is being considered by Parliament, it hasn’t been agree on yet.

The first one is of particular interest to users of social media – it is important that the law is clear on this.

Little has concerns about the last one.

He is also opposed to making it an offence for jurors to research cases…

“Most jurors get a pittance as a substitute for their wages. Most are reluctant to be there and they are doing it out of a civic duty,” he said.

“A better balance needs to be struck but that can be dealt with at select committee.”

I would think it would be difficult to discover let alone convict a juror for intentionally researching information relevant to the case.

Speaker appears to protect Peters from questions in Parliament

Trevor Mallard started in his role as speaker promising a better way of managing the parliamentary bear pit, but as time goes on he is raising eyebrows rather than standards.

In a bizarre exchange in Parliament yesterday he seemed to be protecting Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters from questioning over a serious claim that an NZ First minister was behind a threat made by new MP Jenny Marcroft (as alleged by National MP Mark Mitchell – see NZ First claims ‘misunderstanding’, Peters instructs apology to Mitchell).

Oral Questions — Questions to Ministers

Question No. 2—Deputy Prime Minister

2. Hon PAULA BENNETT (Deputy Leader—National) to the Deputy Prime Minister: Does he stand by all his statements and actions?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Deputy Prime Minister): Yes, I do, in their context.

Hon Paula Bennett: Does he believe his actions and those of other Ministers have met the bar set in 2.57 of the Cabinet Manual, which states: “Ministers are expected to act lawfully and to behave in a way that upholds, and is seen to uphold, the highest ethical standards.”?

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I’m going to ask the member to rephrase the question to make sure it is entirely within the responsibility of the Deputy Prime Minister. He has no responsibility for any other Ministers.

Hon Paula Bennett: Thank you, sir. Does he believe his actions have met the bar set in 2.57 of the Cabinet Manual, which states: “Ministers are expected to act lawfully and to behave in a way that upholds, and is seen to uphold, the highest ethical standards.”?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Yes, and compared with that member and her colleagues, my actions are as pure as the driven snow.

Hon Paula Bennett: When he said yesterday in his statement as Deputy Prime Minister, “Mr Mitchell may have misunderstood her underlying point.”, what was the underlying point Mr Mitchell misunderstood?

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Because this is a very finely tuned matter, I’m going to do what I did with Dr Smith last week and seek an assurance that that statement was made by the Deputy Prime Minister and, in the body of the statement, uses that appellation for the Minister.

Hon Paula Bennett: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I expected your question on that. I have a copy of it that’s clearly under the Deputy Prime Minister, and clearly has it written as his statement. I’m happy to—

Mr SPEAKER: Yes, the member tables it and continues with the question.

Hon Paula Bennett: Thank you. Would you like to hear the statement again?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: No, I heard it. We’re not slow learners over here. Can I just say that when I was first made aware of—

Hon Gerry Brownlee: Just answer the question.

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Well, if you keep quiet for five seconds, old man, you’ll hear it. [Interruption] Can I just say that when I first heard of a report of this conversation, I knew that someone had got the wrong end of the stick, and so I thought, seeing as my colleague had allowed another parliamentary colleague to get a mistaken impression, that we should correct it as fast as possible. I thought that was the right thing to do. I mean, there’s nothing big about this, but we’re surely not going to have Mr Mitchell trying to make a mountain out of a molehill?

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Having listened to the reply and looked at the statement, I accept the member’s word, and it is very clear that it is headed “Deputy Prime Minister”. It is, however, clear to me that there is nothing in the statement that is the responsibility of the Deputy Prime Minister.

Hon Paula Bennett: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. In all fairness, the statement that has been put out is clearly “Deputy Prime Minister”. It doesn’t even say “Leader of New Zealand First” on it. I double-checked that. So he has made those comments as the Deputy Prime Minister and, as such, he has responsibility for them as the Deputy Prime Minister and should be answering accordingly.

Mr SPEAKER: I think you have to go quite a lot further than mislabelling a statement—[Interruption] minus three supplementaries—in order to bring something into ministerial responsibility. He might be responsible for mislabelling a statement, but there are areas which he is not responsible for, and the activities of Ministers, as was made very clear by the Prime Minister, as all senior members of the Opposition will know, is a matter for the Prime Minister and not the Deputy Prime Minister.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think the problem with your ruling is that it ignores the fact that the Rt Hon Winston Peters, putting out a release under the banner of the Deputy Prime Minister, has made an accusation against one of our members that he now, apparently, simply cannot be questioned upon. It is not an unreasonable thing to ask him “What did he mean? What was the other side of the story, which my colleague apparently has not understood?” To say that the House can’t question the Deputy Prime Minister about a statement he makes as the Deputy Prime Minister, I think, begins to—frankly, it just shields him from any of the normal scrutiny that would go on someone who makes, from a ministerial position, such an accusation.

Hon Chris Hipkins: The closest example I can think of where the House has dealt with this matter before was when the then Labour Opposition was trying to question the then Prime Minister, the Rt Hon John Key, about statements that he had made in his capacity as the leader of the National Party, but he had made them at his prime ministerial press conference. The Speaker of the House at the time—I can’t actually recall what the exact issue was, but I remember arguing about it—argued that he had made those statements in his capacity as leader of the National Party even if the venue in which he had made them was his prime ministerial press conference. The question is not where a statement is made or how it is cited or the title that is used in citing; it’s whether the Minister has ministerial responsibility for the matters in question. In this case, the Deputy Prime Minister does not have ministerial responsibility for the issues he’s being questioned about.

Hon Nikki Kaye: I did want to rise to speak because you have taken three Opposition questions as a result of my outburst. I am, frankly, appalled that, in this House, a Minister could put a statement out with the words “Deputy Prime Minister” and then, as Speaker, you could somehow know that he wasn’t acting in his responsibility and he had mislabelled the statement. That’s why you got the outburst. I would ask you to reflect on this. It’s a very serious matter. It’s not possible, in my view, for the Speaker to know what’s inside a Minister’s head. They’ve issued a statement in the capacity as Deputy Prime Minister.

Mr SPEAKER: Can I just make it absolutely clear to Nikki Kaye that I am quite offended by her comments then. I know what the responsibilities of the Deputy Prime Minister are, and that’s what’s important, and I ruled that way.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: There is no comparison between the example given by the Hon Chris Hipkins and the current situation. For a start, if a person is being interviewed by a group of journalists in a stand-up situation, they may well be asked a range of questions and they may answer them without actually specifying “I am now taking this hat off and putting this hat on.” That was, you will recall, established well by the Rt Hon Jonathan Hunt, when he sat in the chair that you now occupy, some years back. But, in this case, the Deputy Prime Minister, on the Deputy Prime Minister’s letterhead, put out a statement making an accusation against a colleague of mine, suggesting, effectively, that my colleague had got the wrong end of the stick. We’re just now saying, “Well, what was the right end of that stick?” He must know for him to have made that statement. Given that this is not a trivial matter, any suggestion that someone gets in the road of a member of Parliament doing their work—the elected work that they are sent to this place for—is a serious matter. Therefore, for Mr Peters to simply say, “Well, you know, the Hon Mark Mitchell must have got the wrong end of the stick or got the wrong meaning, etc.”, cannot just stand as a statement by the Deputy Prime Minister that says, “Close off; nothing to see here.” Surely, he can be questioned about what he actually meant?

Mr SPEAKER: If, in the body of the statement, which I’m sure the leader of New Zealand First approved, it had said “Deputy Prime Minister”, I would have had more sympathy. But the fact that it has been printed by a press secretary on an inappropriate letterhead does not—[Interruption] minus another three—bring it within the Deputy Prime Minister’s responsibilities.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Does that mean that a Government press secretary should know the difference between a letterhead that says “Leader of New Zealand First” and that of Deputy Prime Minister? You can only assume that it was done through the offices that are located on the ninth floor, which are Government offices—ministerial offices—not party offices.

Mr SPEAKER: In actual fact, I think, as the member is aware, there are a number of people who are employed in those offices who are dually employed, including in his own leader’s office.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER: A further point of order?

Hon Gerry Brownlee: Yes it is, because that implies that there is some level of bad behaviour going on in the Leader of the Opposition’s office—in other words, using of taxpayer funds illegitimately, unreasonably—and that is not the case. But it would be worse if that was somehow to be the reason why there would be an excuse for the Deputy Prime Minister to make an accusation on Government letterhead, using Government resources to make that accusation, but then not come under any scrutiny in the House whatsoever.

Mr SPEAKER: I do want to, if I can, draw this to a close as soon as I can, and I want to be very careful about reflecting on mistakes made by staff members—especially a person who has had quite a history around these buildings, working for a number of parties. But it is clear to me that someone made an error in putting it on this letterhead.

Hon Louise Upston: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I’ve got two points of order. The first is around the process of tabling documents and the supplementary question from the Hon Paula Bennett. You, as Speaker, had then asked for the document, and yet there wasn’t a process of tabling it. So my question is: have you made a ruling, as a result of that action, that you have to sight any documents that are made by members of this House in a supplementary question before you allow them to be raised on the floor?

Mr SPEAKER: The answer to that is no, and I let the member ask her question. Carry on—second point.

Hon Louise Upston: Sorry, Mr Speaker, on that first point—

Mr SPEAKER: No, no, the first point’s been dealt with. If the member has a separate point of order, she may raise it, but that point of order has been dealt with. Second point of order?

Hon Louise Upston: The second point of order is the assertion that you’ve made, Mr Speaker, about a staff member making an error. As a member of this House, I’m curious as to what’s led you to that conclusion, given that it is a document that’s on letterhead from the Deputy Prime Minister.

Mr SPEAKER: The member will resume her seat now. If she is curious about my rulings and requires tutelage, I’m happy to explain it to her but not to take up the time of the House. I’ve made an indication to members that if they don’t understand my rulings, if I’ve not been clear enough, then I’m willing to talk to them about it, but points of clarification—or points of curiosity, as this one might be characterised—are not allowed under the Standing Orders. I’m going to warn the member: she’s disputed my ruling once already; if she disputes it again, I will view it very seriously.

Hon Louise Upston: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. In terms of the Speakers’ ruling that you have just used, could you please bring that to the attention of the House? I’ve been listening to the comments around me and I just want to know what that ruling is, please.

Mr SPEAKER: Well, I think the member’s now trifling with the Chair.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Thank you, Mr Speaker. My point of order is simply that if we are now to move on from this—get it all nicely resolved; everyone is happy to an extent—is it reasonable that we, effectively, lose six supplementaries because of a mistake made by one of Mr Peters’ staff members?

Mr SPEAKER: No. The six supplementaries have been lost because members on my left breached the Standing Orders.

Fletcher Tabuteau: Is the Deputy Prime Minister aware of any molehills that have been transformed into mountains of late?

Mr SPEAKER: And three of the supplementaries have just been given back because the member knew that that was not a proper question.