Government says it has no plans to reform the Official Information Act

Concerns of abuse of the Official Information Act by Government Ministers have been growing for years.

Last December: Clare Curran is planning a few shake-ups

Broadcasting aside, Curran has also been given the newly created role as the Minister in charge of ‘open government’.

Falling under her Associate State Services portfolio it’s a natural fit for Curran who during her years in opposition was a loud campaigner for greater transparency.

She repeatedly criticised the National-led coalition for refusing to improve government practice in the area and for gaming the Official Information Act (OIA).

But, of course, when the shoe is on the other foot those strong views can sometimes mellow.

Curran was apparently “half-hearted” when asked by the Otago Daily Times if she agreed the OIA was being manipulated for political purposes but is clearer now that it has happened in the past, but won’t in the future.

How can she be sure that a Labour Minister won’t do the same thing a year or two down the line, once they’re feeling more secure in their power?

“Through better processes and protocols being in place that we all sign up to and agree to. I don’t think it is being made to agree to it (formally), it’s about a will and getting things right.”

To push through this change, she and Justice Minister Andrew Little will review the Act and previous recommendations from the Law Commission and the Ombudsman and take a policy to Cabinet.

While the final result may not be a major legislative change, Curran is supportive of a former Labour Private Member’s Bill that called for the Ombudsman to be given the power to fine departments and Minister’s offices that inappropriately withheld information.

Real change will take time, she says, with a culture shift within the public service needed.

“To change the way that advice is provided, to the way in which it is released to the public, is not something that can be turned around overnight.

“It’s hugely frustrating, it means that people feel there’s a deliberate attempt to keep every piece of information withheld from public scrutiny. That is the thing that has to be turned around.”

But it now appears that no review of the OIA will happen.

NZ Council for Civil Liberties: Disappointment as Government says it has no plans to reform the Official Information Act


Contrary to reporting last year, it seems that the Government currently has no plans to reform the Official Information Act.

At the time we wrote to Ministers Clare Curran and Andrew Little expressing our support for such a reform. We have finally had a response from Justice Minister Andrew Little that:

Although a review of the Official Information Act is not presently under consideration by the Government, such a review is possible at some point in the future.

Chairperson of the NZ Council for Civil Liberties, Thomas Beagle says:

We’re very disappointed that the Government won’t be reforming the OIA, it’s a vital tool in holding governments to account. The OIA has been steadily weakened over the years by both changes in how government works, and gaming of the law by Ministers and public servants.

Among other things, the Council would like to see serious consideration given to:

  • Further encouragement for extensive pro-active publication of documents.
  • Removing commercial sensitivity as a ground for withholding information, particularly for outsourced government services.
  • Giving the Office of the Ombudsman more resources and powers to enforce the Act.
  • Restricting the use of the “legal privilege” grounds to times when matters are actually before a court.
  • Reducing Ministerial interference with OIA requests.

We believe that the Official Information Act does need substantive reform, and that the reform process should include significant public consultation and participation. “The Official Information Act needs to be updated so that it can continue to be used to deliver open and transparent government in service of our democracy. We call upon the Government to reconsider its position and start the OIA reform process now,” says Thomas Beagle.

Waikeria ‘mega prison’ won’t be built but Government remains vague

Decisions on what to do about an escalating New Zealand prison population are still pending, but the government has revealed it has ruled out building a 2.500 bed prison expansion at Waikeria. other options are being considered.

Limited measures were announced in the Budget. Grant Robertson:

Our goal is to stop the spiralling prison population and reduce it by 30 percent over the next 15 years.

To respond to unavoidable short-term pressures, this Budget will fund accommodation for 600 more prisoner places in rapid-build modular units. Meanwhile, initiatives are being developed to reduce the number of people in prison, while keeping New Zealanders safe.

Three days later the Waikeria expansion was raised by Māori Development Minister Nanaia Mahuta in a TVNZ Marae discussion – Questions surround prison after Maori Development Minister says they won’t throw ‘$1 billion at a prison Waikeria’

Appearing on TVNZ1’s Marae, Nanaia Mahuta was answering a question from National MP Jami-Lee Ross about what the budget meant for struggling families.

“We aren’t going to throw 1 billion dollars at a prison in Waikeria. We want to put it into the regional economy,” Ms Mahuta said today.

Broadcaster Miriama Kamo asked Ms Mahuta directly if that meant the prison was a no-go.

“Let’s clarify, did you just say there will not be a mega prison in Waikeria?”

Ms Mahuta said it was a matter for the Corrections minister to decide.

“I think if you build bigger prisons, they’ll get filled.”

Finance Minister Grant Robertson was quick to respond:

This prompted more questions. Stuff: Government says Waikeria won’t be ‘mega prison’, but a wider decision is pending

Asked for further comment Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis said the wider decision was still pending but confirmed the “mega-prison” plans would not go ahead. However, he left the option open to expand the prison more moderately.

“We are looking at all the options to deal with the rising prison population and our current capacity crisis,” Davis said.

“I can confirm, we will not be building a mega prison with 2500 beds as proposed by the National government.

“But that decision alone does not deal with the challenges I have mentioned. And we will take action, but it will be considered and not reactive.”

Davis said he would be taking his time to make the right decision, looking at “all the options across the board”. He said he would be working with Justice Minister Andrew Little and Police Minister Stuart Nash.

The 600 prison beds announced in the budget will help address the problem, but only partially.

On Friday…

 …the union representing prison workers was calling on the Government to make a decision soon.

“All prison staff, including Community Corrections staff working in prisons, are under constant pressure, because prisons are so overcrowded they can’t do the rehabilitation work inmates need,” Public Services Association organiser Willie Cochrane said.

“600 beds will not be enough to ease the current crisis, because so many of the current prison areas are not fit to house inmates.

“If that expansion isn’t going ahead, we want to hear what more he’ll do to expand the capacity of our prisons in the short term and keep our members safe in the workplace.”

Cochrane said on Sunday…

…his members wanted a clearer response.

“Frankly, this comment from the Minister leaves us none the wiser,” Cochrane said.

“Our members welcome Labour’s commitment to cut the number of people in prison. But right now, the system is close to breaking point, and our members are getting frustrated at the time the government is taking to reach a decision.”

Labour has been vague on how they would address the growing prison population since before the election. Last August (The Spinoff):

Labour’s policy announcements have so far been all but silent on criminal justice policy. Other than 1,000 additional frontline police – a commitment that will significantly fuel rather than stem the prison population – there is no clear plan to tackle prisons. Indeed, Davis’ announcement-not-announcement of a prison run on tikanga Māori values was quickly quashed by then Labour leader Andrew Little. Until now, a question mark has hovered over Labour’s corrections policy.

Davis and his rise to the role of deputy leader of the Labour Party may yet represent one of the most exciting developments in prison policy in decades. Backed by a leader with a similarly clear vision for a more effective and humane approach to crime and punishment, a seismic shift in corrections policy could come by way of a Labour-Greens government.

With an incumbent prime minister who famously labelled prisons as “a moral and fiscal failure” and a minister of corrections desperately seeking options to reduce the prison population, Labour can put forward a radical platform to overhaul the prison system and National will be unable to do much more than nod along in agreement. There is the very real possibility – pinch me now – that this election we could see a rational, evidence-based debate on the way forward for New Zealand’s broken prison system. Let’s do that.

There has been little sign of “a rational, evidence-based debate on the way forward for New Zealand’s broken prison system”, just vagueness and delays.

Davis, Little and Labour are going  to have to make some major decisions on prisons and imprisonment rates soon.

Science versus ‘populist voice’ on criminal justice

It is often said that populist public pressure has pushed politicians into tougher penalties, and this has pushed the prison population to the extent that New Zealand has one of the highest incarceration rates in the developed world.

David Fisher has a ‘big read’ at the Herald on Justice path and bulging prisons – will NZ listen to scientist or sceptic?

Here is a little read of some of the main points.

  • It’s science sceptic versus scientist in the debate over our criminal justice path
  • Garth McVicar says academics and scientists shouldn’t be involved
  • The Prime Minister’s chief scientist says the choice belongs to the public
  • The verdict from Justice Minister Andrew Little

Science in crime and justice is bunkum and politicians should discard “academics and those type of people” in favour of the public voice, says the Sensible Sentencing Trust’s Garth McVicar.

That’s his take on the heavily researched, deeply referenced report published by the Prime Minister’s chief science adviser, Sir Peter Gluckman, into our criminal justice system.

In an extraordinary interview, McVicar ridiculed scientifically backed evidence and told Minister of Justice Andrew Little he had his “ammunition ready” to bring the Government down after a single term if bail and sentencing changes were rolled back.

McVicar and the questionably named ‘Sensible Sentencing Trust’ probably have a more extreme take on punitive punishment.

It comes as the Government prepares to unveil plans for a “justice summit” after Little declared “tough on crime” approaches followed by New Zealand for years did not work.

Little’s comments were supported by Gluckman, whose recent evidence-based review of our approach to criminal justice found our rising prison population has not made New Zealand safer.

In fact, he said “tough on crime” had nothing to do with our falling crime rate and “dogma not data” had actually made everything worse.

The article pits the different views of ‘the lobbyist’ McVicar…

As McVicar tells it – and this is in contradiction to the graphs, statistics and peer-reviewed research in Gluckman’s report – academics and scientists had led New Zealand into a crime-ridden society until the “evolution” of the Sensible Sentencing Trust.

McVicar says – and Gluckman’s report says this is not true – longer sentences, tougher bail laws and making parole more difficult to obtain have led to the fall in our crime rate.

…against the scientist Gluckman…

“Science isn’t about a single person or a single bit of data – the process of science is trying to understand over a good period of time what is going on in the world.”

As for public opinion, he says: “I think public opinion changes when it is informed by intelligent reflective conversation.”

Gluckman said the prisons report – as an example – gives the public information to make a decision. If we choose to continue to run our justice system the same way, more people will be locked up who will eventually be released, “brutalised” by prison and “over time we will escalate the crime rate”.

…the politician Little…

“In the end the whole criminal justice system is about taking people who have done things wrong and trying to stop them doing things wrong again.

“That will work for many of them. It won’t work for all of them.”

“In the end, the fewer offenders we have – particularly violent offenders – and the less recidivism we have, the better it is for community safety.”

Contrast this, he says, with increasing levels of incarceration, longer sentences and people who are inevitably, eventually released only to reoffend.

The policies of the past 30 years have not made New Zealand better, Little says.

“You’ve got to look at particularly our violent offending rate, which is going up.”

Little says: “There must be other options available that deal with the issue and keep us all safe.”

…and another politician, Opposition spokesperson Mark Mitchell:

The idea that “dogma” driven by lobby groups and magnified by media influenced politicians to create laws that didn’t work is a notion that doesn’t sit well with former police officer Mark Mitchell, now National’s justice spokesman.

“I completely agree that data and science should be a big driver of good policy decisions but I completely reject the notion that dogma has not only been an approach our Government has taken but previous Governments as well.

Mitchell says: “This is my own personal view, it’s too much of a simplistic and easy view to take that it’s just populism. It’s not actually populism – it’s people need to be safe.

The idea of “feeling” safe might be “emotive”, he says. “There’s nothing wrong with having emotive feelings. It’s always going to be the responsibility of the Government that they are doing the best that they can to keep good, law-abiding citizens and communities safe.”

Asked if jail works, Mitchell says it is “necessary in terms of making sure first and foremost communities remain safe and people remain safe and aren’t exposed to violence, in particular”.

But he does say more work needs to be done on rehabilitation and reintegration, so prisoners can “engage in a positive way with communities and rebuild their own lives”.

Back to Gluckman:

He cited evidence showing “successive administrations on both sides of the political spectrum” were “encouraged by vocal, professional lobbyists”.

It’s a phenomena dubbed “penal populism”, also seen in Britain and United States, where “politicians offer vote-winning, simplistic solutions for selected law-and-order problems”.

Choices made – not on evidence – led to rocketing prison costs and prisoner numbers but no sign of a safer public or crime rates falling.

Andrew Little and the Government have a big challenge dealing with escalating prison numbers, but also making the general population feel safer.

It isn’t sensible to just keep reacting to crime with longer and tougher sentences.

Perhaps there is a need for a Sensible Prevention Trust, and a Sensible Rehab Trust.

Review confirms sexual harassment, lack of support at Human Rights Commission

A Ministerial review has confirmed there was sexual harassment at the Human Rights Commission and there were poor response systems and failure to provide proper support. there are =reports that a ‘clear -out’ of the Commission seems likely.

Justice Minister Andrew Little…

…today released the Ministerial Review of the Human Rights Commission in relation to the internal handling of sexual harassment claims and its organisational culture.

“I acknowledge the work conducted by retired Judge Coral Shaw. Her findings reveal a system that failed to provide proper care and support for sexual harassment claims made by staff.

“The main conclusions reveal:

  • Some sexual harassment occurred within the HRC but was not prevalent or endemic
  • The Dignity at Work policy used to investigate the October 2017 incident was aged and outdated
  • The HRC has recently improved its systems and processes for dealing with sexual harassment complaints by adopting a new Prevention and Response to Sexual Harassment 2017 policy, but it was formulated without full consultation with the HRC employees

“In relation to the governance and management structures and arrangements of the HRC it’s a concern that the review found:

  • Staff members’ lack of information and trust in management to deal appropriately with their complaints is a potential impediment to the successful implementation of the Prevention and Response to Sexual harassment 2017 policy.
  • There is a deep divide between some staff and some managers and a lack of trust in the management and the Commissioners among some staff.
  • Strategic leadership by the current Board is compromised by a lack of cooperation and communication between Commissioners and between Commissioners and the Chief Executive.

“I announced the review of the procedures and organisational culture at the New Zealand Human Rights Commission, following recent concerns about the handling of allegations of sexual harassment.

“It is vital that New Zealanders have trust and confidence in the Human Rights Commission as New Zealand’s authority for dealing with complaints about sexual harassment.

“I am currently awaiting advice form the Ministry of Justice. I will also meet with the State Services Commission today to discuss the next steps to fulfil the report’s recommendations. I have spoken to all Commissioners and the CEO, and I will now deal with the question of Commissioner appointments, as a matter of priority,” says Andrew Little.

Click here to read the report

Newsroom: Changes likely at ‘toxic’ Human Rights Commission

A damning review into the culture of the Human Rights Commission has uncovered outdated sexual harassment policies,highly dysfunctional leadership and commissioners “barely communicating with each other”.

A clear-out of the Commission seems likely, with Chief Commissioner David Rutherford – singled out for some of the organisation’s problems – already confirming he will not seek reappointment.

A history of dysfunction

The review also uncovered “deep-seated personality clashes”, with some managers afraid of raising serious complaints against board members despite their concerns.

Former and current commissioners suggested the problems were not unprecedented, detailing dysfunction going back “many years” under previous commissioners.

However, the relationship between Rutherford and his colleagues had been described as problematic since he took on the role in 2011, with other commissioners critical of his communication style.

Rutherford told Newsroom the Commission’s board had accepted all of the recommendations from the report, which was “confronting to read”.

“The key thing is that we acknowledge we have to work together to get policies that make it safer for, or people feel safer to raise issues and complaints, that’s the issue.”

Rutherford said he took responsibility for all the issues raised in the report as chief commissioner, including the concerns raised about his communication.

“As regards my own leadership style, that’s something that you constantly have to think about and adjust as you go through life and I’ve done that…

“The real point at the moment now is to look forward – we accept that there are issues as raised by the judge and we need to work better as a team.”

He confirmed he would not be seeking reappointment to his role, but said he was committed to improving the organisation before his departure.

The Commission certainly needs a change of management and change of culture.

Third strike punishment avoided, law to be scrapped

Not long after he started in the job Justice and Courts Minister Andrew Little indicated that the three strikes law would be scrapped. He has reiterated this after a judge has worked around third strike requirement in a case that would have resulted in an assault of kissing would have meant a compulsory seven year sentence.

Last November: Andrew Little says three strikes law will be repealed

The controversial “three strikes” law will be repealed next year, Justice and Courts Minister Andrew Little says.

Little said the law, which mandates escalating punishments for repeat violent or sexual offenders, had not reduced crime rates and failed to act as an effective deterrent.

“It’s been eight years since this got onto the statute books and it’s not making a blind bit of difference. It’s time to find something new, something different.”

Yesterday: Third strike offender avoids non-parole part of punishment

A mentally ill man who kissed a stranger has joined a select group to earn a third strike under a law that is marked for repeal.

Daniel Clinton Fitzgerald had to be sentenced to the maximum term of seven years’ jail for indecent assault, but at the High Court in Wellington on Thursday Justice Simon France said he would allow Fitzgerald the normal possibility of parole after one-third of the sentence.

Without the judge making the exception Fitzgerald, 45, would have served the full seven years without parole.

The assaults happened on December 3, 2016, and he has been in custody since then, so he should be considered for parole in early 2019.

The Crown did not argue against Fitzgerald having the chance of parole.

Without the three strikes law he would have got a non-custodial sentence, the judge said.

Fitzgerald’s mental health contributed to his propensity to carry out the same type of offence, he said.

Judge’s can void a third strike maximum penalty if they see it as manifestly unjust’.

It is understood two previous offenders have reached the third strike level of a law introduced in 2010. Both received the maximum penalty for the type of offence they had committed, but under the exception for manifest injustice, both escaped serving the terms without the chance of parole.

Raven Casey Campbell, convicted in Hamilton of indecent assault for grabbing a female prison officer’s bottom, was sentenced to seven years’ jail but was eligible for parole after serving one-third of his sentence.

Kingi Ratima, also in Hamilton, was sentenced to 10 years’ jail for robbery and had the possibility of parole after serving half the term.

A 100% record of not implementing the full weight stipulated by the three strikes law.

In part this is because there has only been time for less serious offences with shorter imprisonments to have qualified for three strikes, but it could suggest a fundamental failure.

That’s how Little sees it.

Justice Minister Andrew Little said on Tuesday that Cabinet had signed off in principle the repeal of the three strikes law, but it would be “some months” before anything went to Parliament about it.

A criminal justice summit was planned for August to talk about problems and possible solutions, with plans being rolled out after that, he said.

He has been told that in the meantime everybody involved was trying to work around the law because it was seen as so insidious and unfair.

Normally judges go to great lengths to come up with appropriate and fair sentences, and they are open to appeal. See this as an example (male assaults female). And this sentencing for murder.

The three strikes law is too strictly prescriptive, and it is unbalanced for those with records preceding the three strikes law compared to those picking up strike warnings.

Legal blunder left 6 month NZSIS surveillance gap

Some journalism continues under the noise of media click baiting and copy/pasting and repeating.

David Fisher at NZH: Our spies disarmed by legal blunder amid ‘high threat operations’ against terrorists

A law-making bungle deprived our spies of a key weapon against terrorism in the wake of classified briefings warning of “an increasingly complex and escalating threat environment” in New Zealand.

NZ Security Intelligence Service documents revealed the blunder left our spies unable to use video surveillance tools to watch terrorism suspects in their cars, homes or workplaces for six months last year.

The documents, declassified and released through the Official Information Act, also revealed our spies have been involved in “high threat operations”.

It did not state what those operations were and NZSIS director-general Rebecca Kitteridge, in an interview with the NZ Herald, would not elaborate other than to say they involved police assistance.

She would not give details of the operations but said the NZSIS had taken active steps with the police to stop people who wanted to carry out terrorist attacks in New Zealand.

The details about the security situation in New Zealand is an unnerving backdrop to the blunder over warrants allowing visual surveillance.

Kitteridge revealed the hole in the law to former NZSIS minister Chris Finlayson last year.
In a memo on June 30, she said “the NZSIS no longer had the power to apply for a visual surveillance warrant” or to use emergency power to act without a warrant in emergencies.

The memo said warrants to allow visual surveillance were to “detect, investigate or prevent a terrorist act”.

But she said the NZSIS was unable to do so for six months after the old law expired on April 1 2017 because the new Intelligence and Security Act did not apply until September 28 2017.

Finlayson said he had gone through the law change “clause by clause with officials” and had told them “they had one last chance to indicate any concerns they may have had”.

“There were none.”

Finlayson said Parliament was in its closing stages prior to the election and he had “no intention of trying to ram stop-gap remedial legislation through the House”.

The new NZSIS Minister supports Finlayson’s judgement.

NZSIS minister Andrew Little said he supported Finlayson’s exercise of judgment and would have made the same decision.

A follow up at Newsroom: Officials to blame for spy law blunder – Finlayson

Former spy minister Chris Finlayson has thrown government officials under the bus for a blunder which deprived Kiwi spooks of visual surveillance tools, saying they would have been to blame had a terrorist attack occurred.

Speaking to media on Tuesday morning, Finlayson said he opposed an urgent law change due to the lack of time between the discovery of the blunder and the general election, coupled with criticism of his government’s previous use of urgency for intelligence laws and the drafting process for the new law.

“I had gone through that legislation, the draft legislation…clause by clause and I distinctly recall at the end of the meeting saying to people, ‘Right, state any further concerns or forever hold your peace, end of story’.”

There were “other mechanisms” that could have been used to cover the lack of visual surveillance powers, he said.

While the NZSIS had not explicitly raised the prospect of an urgent legislative fix, he believed Kitteridge’s briefings were “a precursor” to such a request.

Asked who would have been to blame had a terrorist attack occurred during the six months the NZSIS was without the powers, Finlayson replied bluntly, “They [the officials] would have been.”

Additional support from Little:

Current NZSIS Minister Andrew Little backed Finlayson’s decision to oppose urgent legislation, and said he did not believe New Zealand had been markedly more vulnerable during the six-month period.

“The security and intelligence agencies have a number of means and mechanisms to keep tabs on people who are regarded as a risk: visual surveillance is one of them, but in the relatively short period of time that they didn’t have access to powers to do that they were able to cover their needs off through other means,” Little said.

It’s difficult to know whether any damage was done by this blunder, but the danger period has now passed.

Waikeria prison decision deferred again

Some work has started on a controversial new prison at Waikeria, but no announcement has yet been made on what is being built.

On 29 March (Stuff) Andrew Little confirms decision on Waikeria within two weeks

Justice Minister Andrew Little has confirmed a decision will be made regarding the future of Waikeria prison within two weeks.

The Government originally promised to make the decision by the end of March but are pushing the deadline to mid-April.

Mr Little has previously said on Newshub Nation he wants to shift justice policy towards rehabilitation in order to lower prison numbers, saying what he saw when visiting Waikeria Prison “horrified him”.

“You have to ask yourself whether this is a place where someone can go from being bad to being good.”

Mr Little said he remained open to the idea of amending bail laws, which Labour previously supported tightening, but says there was no specific plan in place to change them

The Minister said within two or three months there would be a “high profile summit on criminal justice issues to get public debate going”.

Prison populations are projected to soar to over 12,000 by 2022.

Nearly four weeks later still no announcement but some work has started: Otorohanga still hoping for Waikeria prison expansion

Preparatory work has begun at the Waikeria prison site in the King Country, even though the Government has still not decided if it will go ahead with the expansion.

The Department of Corrections said that despite putting the expansion decision on ice, the Government agreed for Corrections to continue some preparatory work at Waikeria while options were considered.

Last Wednesday, Justice Minister Andrew Little said a decision on the “mega prison” would be made public within the next few weeks.

Another few weeks. The prison poses a dilemma for the Government, who have pledged to slash prison numbers but that will take time, and they are currently faced with having to deal with a growing prison population.

There are important legal considerations, as well as finding the money from a budget under pressure to deliver on election pledges.

Waatea News earlier this month: Waikeria decision sparks letter campaign

Campaign group Action Station says 1300 supporters have written letters to Justice Minister Andrew Little and Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis urging them to stop the new billion-dollar prison in Waikeria.

Action Station director Laura O’Connell Rapira says the community are passionate about supporting efforts to build a more compassionate justice system which prioritises prevention, restoration and rehabilitation, and an end to the over-incarceration of Maori people.

She says while the Government is concerned about the state of prisons and wants to end double-bunking, a new prison will inevitably fail in terms of reducing crime.

But in the short term growing numbers have to be housed.

There may be no real choice but to build a prison at Waikeria, but if plans are to substantially reduce the prison population this would be a good opportunity to take a radical new approach to prisons, especially in relation to the disproportionate number of Māori prisoners.

If it doesn’t work, then it can be scrapped as numbers are reduced, and if it does work well then older traditional prison space can be scrapped.

But there is an indication a different approach is not being considered.

RNZ: Govt yet to pursue idea of separate Māori prison

The Corrections Minister has not looked to advance an idea he pushed while in opposition, to establish a separate Māori prison.

And a decision on whether to build a new $1 billion prison at Waikeria in rural Waikato is still pending – a month after Kelvin Davis said a final decision would be made.

As Labour’s opposition spokesperson, Mr Davis argued prisoner numbers could be reduced through rehabilitation programmes in a prison run on a kaupapa Māori based approach.

In February this year, he said he was not ruling anything in or out, when asked whether he’d be progressing any units or prisons based on a Māori-only model.

Last week, in a response to an official information request, Mr Davis said while he had been looking at strategies to reduce Māori offending, he had received no advice about a separate Māori prison.

He said he was committed to reducing the prison population by 30 percent over the next 15 years and “addressing the issue of Māori over representation” in prisons.

“I am working with staff, non-government and Māori organisations and communities to meet this challenge and make a meaningful change for all prisoners, including Māori,” Mr Davis said in a letter to RNZ.

It seems odd that Davis hasn’t been looking at Māori-only model, or a Māori-focussed model, while a decision is being made about the Waikeria prison expansion.

It could be something to do with this:

Mr Davis floated the idea of a separate Māori prison last year, as a way of reducing the prison population, a proposal shut down by the party’s leader at the time, Andrew Little.

Davis may have ditched his proposal, or it may have been ditched for him.

The Government can’t keep pushing out a new prison decision for ‘a few weeks’. They will probably have to commit funds in the budget in three weeks. We may find out then whether a Waikeria will be just more of the same, or something bold and different.

Fraught family issues and intimidating judges

Relationship breakups and family arrangements can be fraught with problems. Fathers in particular can be put in difficult positions, often feeling helpless in the legal system, with preference often given to mothers.

Some estranged fathers have been taking their frustrations too far.

NZH: Police protect judges at home from ‘intimidating’ Family Court protesters

Judges are being protected at their family homes by police as angry dads protest outside with placards and megaphones.

A group of fathers, many of whom are disgruntled at losing custody or visitation rights to their children, are gathering outside the homes of Family Court judges in Auckland, say multiple Herald sources.

It is understood the protests, which have largely taken place during weekends over the past few weeks, against about three judges have so far been peaceful with no reports of trespassing or property damage.

So they don’t seem to be breaking the law, but they are unlikely to sway judges with their protests.

Minister of Justice and Courts Andrew Little called the protests “very disturbing” and said there was no excuse for people taking their case to the front door of a judge.

“The reason for that sort of protest is to create some level of intimidation and that is entirely unacceptable.”

It does seem a bit disturbing, but fathers can get desperate in their attempts to maintain contact with their children. This is understandable – and far better than walking away from their parental responsibilities.

And they have succeeded in highlighting a problem faced by many fathers.

Perhaps having the law and the Courts stacked against them is also entirely unacceptable, and drawing attention to this is a valid if perhaps misguided reaction.

A third review into the Family Court had also been ordered by the Government, Little said.

A review panel and expert advisory group would talk to families who had been through the Family Court process, he said, while he had also asked specifically for a “human rights approach” to look at the views of both parents and the children.

More details of the review were expected to be announced in the coming weeks.

Changes to the Family Court were introduced by the former National Government in March 2014, aimed at empowering families to resolve their matters outside court and without lawyers.

The reforms were also intended to help the Family Court focus on those cases which required immediate legal attention, such as those involving family violence.

Little said the review would evaluate whether the reforms had achieved their objectives.

In last month’s Ministry of Justice newsletter, Little also wrote: “Public confidence in the criminal system and family law has been eroded and a managerial approach has failed. We can do better, and we will do better.”

Swadling said there were “significant problems” introduced in 2014 when legal aid was removed and lawyers became unable to represent parties for some court processes.

“If protestors wish to be heard they would be best served by ensuring that they make submissions to the review panel rather than targeting particular individuals, especially judges who are unable, by convention, to defend themselves,” she said.

It is never easy sorting out relationship and family disputes, and it is a real shame that children get caught in the middle of parental legal battles.

While the care of the children should be paramount, both parents should be given a fair go by the legal system. This seems to be one thing where the system is often stacked against men.

Controversial members of Intelligence and Security reference group

There’s been a bit of consternation expressed over the members who have been named as members of the Intelligence and Security reference group panel. I’m not sure there is real cause for concern.

The members:

  • Professor Rouben Azizian – Director, Centre for Defence and Security Studies, Massey University
  • Thomas Beagle – Chairperson, NZ Council for Civil Liberties
  • Dr Paul Buchanan – Director, 36th Parallel Assessments
  • Ben Creet – Issues Manager, Internet NZ
  • Treasa Dunworth – Associate Professor, Public International Law, University of Auckland
  • David Fisher – Journalist, New Zealand Herald
  • Nicky Hager – Journalist, Author
  • John Ip – Senior Lecturer, Assistant Dean (Academic), Faculty of Law, University of Auckland
  • Deborah Manning – Barrister
  • Dr Nicole Moreham – Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, Victoria University of Wellington
  • Suzanne Snively – Chair, Transparency International

The inclusion of Hager and Manning seem to have raised the most eyebrows – both are well known to strongly oppose secret information gathering and storage.

But shouldn’t a reference group have a wide range of people opinions contributing to represent a good cross section of public sentiment?

Andrew Little, the Minister responsible for Intelligence and Security, has expressed surprise that a journalist is included: Minister surprised journalist included in reference group

The Minister responsible for New Zealand’s spy agencies is surprised that a journalist has been included on a new reference group established by the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security.

Andrew Little said the 11 member group will act as a ‘sounding board’ for the Inspector-General Cheryl Gwyn, but won’t be privy to classified information, or operational details of the SIS or GCSB.

Mr Little said he thought there were some “interesting” choices when shown the list last week.

“I was shown the list, I thought some of the choices were interesting but then I think what is important is that we are bold enough and brave enough to know that it is alright to have critics of organisations and of the government involved in this sort of exercise.

“It is a healthy thing in our democracy.”

New Zealand Herald reporter David Fisher is also in the group.

Mr Little was surprised a New Zealand Herald journalist was on the refence panel.

“I would have thought there is a question about a journalist complying with their ethics in doing so, but that’s a judgement call in the end that they have to make.”

Journalist are an important part of holding power and spying to account, and Fisher is well qualified to be involved.

Gerry Brownlee has been vocal in criticising the line up.

National’s spy spokesperson Gerry Brownlee said the creation of the reference group raised a number of serious questions – particularly around the inclusion of the investigative journalist Nicky Hager.

“The Inspector-General has said this group has been brought together to help her stand ‘in the shoes of the public.”

“But several members of her group are far from objective in their view of our intelligence relationships, or in some cases the existence of intelligence services at all,” Mr Brownlee said.

He said Mr Hager had repeatedly questioned the legitimacy of the country’s spy agencies.

“Will this group have top secret clearance? If so, how can we be sure the information they will have access to will be secure?

“Will the Inspector-General be sharing intelligence with them? Where will the line be drawn?”

I would expect security of secret information will be handled competently.

Perhaps they are important questions to ask, but perhaps the best way to keep our spy agency honest is to have critics closely involved in monitoring them.

I’m not sure what sort of people critics expect to be on the reference group panel.

Little warns and assures Taranaki on oil and gas

After the Government announced they would not issue any more offshore oil and gas exploration permits the reaction was swift, as was the despatch of Andrew Little to Taranaki to try to placate the oil and gas industry dependent region.

Little grew up in New Plymouth, but twice failed to win an electorate seat there (in 2011 and 2014) before opting to go list only for last year’s election.

Little is still working on belated Government PR, through an opinion piece in the Taranaki Daily News – What do we do when we can no longer rely on the black stuff?

Last week’s announcement that no new block offers for offshore oil and gas exploration was long term notice that change is happening.

Because the reality is the world is changing.

Just about every government in the world signed up two years ago to the Paris Accord to reduce the planet’s carbon emissions and reliance on fossil fuels.

Donald Trump has since withdrawn the US.

The Accord isn’t just nice words. Countries are expected to do something about the commitment they have made.

The need for action is obvious. The world is facing ever more extreme weather events, including here in New Zealand. It is putting people and livelihoods at risk.

For a country whose main exports are climate-dependant, we have a big stake in how the world deals with climate change.

The car industry is starting to prepare for a different world. Volvo and other European car makers will abandon internal combustion engines in the next 20 years. The Japanese are well ahead in electric vehicle technology and the irrepressible Elon Musk says he is only a few years away from an electric heavy goods vehicle.

Oil companies like Shell are changing. They are moving away from fossil fuels to renewable energy technology as part of their commitment to reduce their emissions, and also because consumers are demanding it.

Shell’s departure from New Zealand is part of its plan to focus on its remaining oil and gas reserves that it knows it can viably produce at US$40 a barrel.

In New Zealand, it isn’t viable to explore at US$70 a barrel. In the last few days, there has been an understandable focus on the impact of the government’s announcement on jobs and industry in Taranaki.

Little warns that the world of energy is changing, but switches to assuring that it won’t change too much too soon for Taranaki.

That is why last Thursday’s announcement made it clear that only future permits would be affected. All existing 22 permits in Taranaki continue unchanged. Existing exploration and production rights are unaffected. Onshore permits will continue to be let in Taranaki for the next three years, and there will then be a review about what happens after that time.

Let’s be clear about what existing rights actually mean. The 100,000 square kilometres of area offshore that is permitted but not yet explored can still be explored.

Viable reserves that are discovered can still be put into production.

Existing fields under production, like Kupe, can still be further developed as additional reserves are discovered.

Long term supply contracts vital to businesses like Methanex will be unaffected, and there will continue to be new supply opportunities into the future.

This industry will be around for another 30 to 40 years at least. Job losses from the industry are a long way away. There is a decent amount of time for local leaders and the government to work on the transition.

That’s if the current policies remain. What if the Greens get into a more dominant position in Government? That’s quite possible quite soon – if Labour and Green maintain their current support levels, and NZ First fails to make the threshold, Labour may end up relying on the Greens alone in a coalition starting in 2020.

If so it is reasonable to expect Greens to push for faster transition from fossil fuel extraction.

There is no leadership in hoping we can hold on to the status quo forever.

Leadership means anticipating the threats to our national livelihood, looking through short term political cycles and doing the right thing.

Business leadership in Taranaki will no doubt be trying to anticipate threats to their livelihoods. So will employees of oil and gas related businesses.

I look forward to playing my role in this great region’s future.

Little is curiously linking himself to leadership here, while it looks like he is on a mission of appeasement for Ardern.

If he really wanted to represent Taranaki as New Zealand transitions from oil and gas he could have another crack at standing for an electorate there again. But maybe his mission is more short term than that.