Minister says “very low probability of recovery” of Pike River bodies

Andrew Little, the Minister Responsible for Pike River Re-entry, has said what was obvious to many people, there “very low probability of recovery” of bodies from the Pike River mine. This is despite the cost of re-entry doubling, but Little also says he won’t seek any more funds.

NZ Herald – Pike River: Andrew Little says it is ‘just impractical’ to expect all bodies to be recovered

Andrew Little, says it is “just impractical” to expect the remains of all of the fallen miners to be recovered.

Instead, the re-entry efforts are now essentially solely focused on gathering evidence in the “homicide of 29 men”, Little told a select committee hearing this morning.

Speaking to MPs this morning, Little also revealed that there would be no further funding for re-entry.

“There is always a limit to these things – I have no plan or intention of returning to Cabinet for any further additional resources.”

He likened the recovery efforts to a police homicide investigation – “which is effectively what this is”.

He said the average homicide investigation is between $2m and $3m.

“We’re looking at the homicide of 29 men.”

This sounds like a new justification for the expense from Little.

Little said the cost to date can be justified, because this was a “tragedy that did not need to happen”.

He added… the re-entry efforts are focused on gathering evidence to help with the prosecution of those responsible for the death of the miners.

The goal, Little said, was to get to the pit bottom in stone where evidence – including instrumentation panels which will help determine the cause of the explosion – will likely be.

He said bringing the remains home was no longer an objective of the re-entry – he said it was “just impractical” given the complex technicalities of the mine’s geography.

But in terms of recovery of human remains, Little said he has always maintained there is a very low probability of recovery.

“I would put it as more than remote – but it is very low.”

I think that’s been obvious for a long time.

Stuff 2016: Winston Peters says Pike River re-entry is bottom line to election deals

Winston Peters says re-entering Pike River mine is a “bottom line” to any election deal made next year.

“I’m making no bones about it, we’ll give these people a fair-go, and yes this is a bottom line, and it shouldn’t have to be.”

“I didn’t want to be the first back in, I said when you have the first crew lining up to go back in, I’m offering to go,” Peters said.

Labour leader Andrew Little vowed he would do everything he could to open the site for re-entry should  Labour  be elected at the next election. Little had seen the report and spoken to experts personally, and he felt it was possible to enter the mine.

Winston Peters (Facebook) 2016:

My letter of support to the Pike River families.

We meet here today at New Zealand’s Parliament in saddened circumstances which should not be happening.

The tragedy of Pike River has been worsened by the aftermath of promises made to you that simply have not been kept.
You want to re-enter the mine tunnel, and to the extent that circumstances allow, find out as much as can be discovered and, more particularly, bring out any of your men where that is possible.

From the expert opinion which you have, and from generations of practical experience of the mining industry, you believe it is possible to re-enter.

So does New Zealand First.

You are not dissuaded by the bureaucratic, commercial and governmental roadblocks put in your way under the guise of protecting safety. Neither is New Zealand First.

As in the past we offer our complete support for the families to find out what they want to know. That is the only honest, decent, fair and correct thing to do.

As someone with some experience of working underground, in this case 11 miles underground as a “second-class miner” on the Snowy Mountains Scheme, and aware of some of the dangers, where on that project they lost a man a mile, I am that confident in the expert advice that you have that I am offering to be on the first party that goes back in.

Yours sincerely
Winston Peters

The Labour-NZ First Coalition Agreement included “Commit to re-entry to Pike River.

In November 2017 Little was appointed Minister Responsible for Pike River Re-entry. His first announcement: Pike River Recovery Agency established

“The purpose of the agency is to gather evidence to better understand what happened in 2010, with an eye to preventing future mining tragedies and to give the Pike River families and victims’ overdue closure and peace of mind.

“The public can be confident that we are committed to transparent and impartial decision-making, based on robust advice about feasibility, safety and cost,” Mr Little said.

30 November 2017: Pike River Recovery Agency advice released

Mr Little says the Government is committed to being open and accountable, and there will be continued transparency as work progresses on the manned re-entry of the Pike River Mine drift.

“We’ve been up front with the families and public on what we are doing and that remains important in terms of trust and confidence in this process and its robustness.  That’s the sort of openness that this Government is committed to in how we work.

19 April 2018: Andrew Little enters Pike River portal

“The Pike River disaster was a national tragedy where 29 men went to work and never came home.

“Again, I’d like to acknowledge all the families who are working in partnership with me and the Coalition Government. We owe it to those families to re-enter the drift and retrieve evidence and the remains of their loved ones,” says Andrew Little.

14 November 2018: SPEECH – Andrew Little confirms Pike River Mine Drift re-entry plan to proceed

This government – and the three parties that make it up – committed to fulfilling the original promise made to the families of the 29 miners and workers: to do everything practicably possible to re-enter the drift to recover any remains, and to better understand the cause or causes of the original explosion on 19 November 2010.

Recovering remains was suggested as the first priority,. but that was absent a few months later.

12 March 2019: Pike River Mine re-entry

“We’re hopeful that work in the drift will enable the Agency and Police to thoroughly investigate what can be found there and find clues to what caused this dreadful tragedy. This is about looking for clues to what caused the explosion that killed 29 men on 19 November 2010. The recovery operation is led by the Agency and supported by Police, who will be on site managing forensic work from the start of the re-entry,” says Andrew Little.

That linked to https://www.pikeriverrecovery.govt.nz/background/faq/

What are the chances you’ll recover bodies?
The last known location of the men placed them in the mine workings beyond the roof fall, so it is unlikely that we will recover human remains.  Approximately 1600m of the drift has been examined using robots and camera footage, and about 600m is unexplored. Given it was shift change at the time of the explosion, with men going in and out, there is a possibility that human remains could be found in the drift.  As part of the detailed forensic examination, any human remains that are found will be treated and recovered with care and respect.

21 May 2019: Pike River Re-entry

More than eight years after 29 men went to work at the Pike River Coal Mine and never came home, the promise to re-enter the mine drift has been honoured.

“New Zealand is not a country where 29 people can die at work without real accountability. That is not who we are. And that is why today we have fulfilled our promise. Today we have returned,” Minister Responsible for Pike River Re-entry Andrew Little said.

That wasn’t their only promise, but body recovery seems to have been dropped.

But not entirely. From the Pike River Recovery website: Work programme

Recovery

Following the 21 May 2019 re-entry, and stepping through the 170m barrier on 17 December 2019, the recovery phase has now begun. This involves gathering evidence along the 2.3km drift; and, if possible, recovering any human remains

4 December 2019: Next phase of Pike River recovery underway in time for Christmas

“This Coalition Government is delivering on its promise to the Pike River families and all New Zealanders. We need to find out as much as possible about what caused 29 men to go to work and not come home. The safe recovery of the mine drift, and its forensic examination, is part of an overdue act of justice.”

Again no mention of body recovery.

17 March 2020:  Final costs for Pike River recovery released

Andrew Little also confirmed that, as has been the scope since the start of the project, the recovery effort will not be going beyond the end of the drift and into the main mine workings.

“The Coalition government remains committed to the safe and successful recovery and forensic examination of the Pike River drift. It is important to promote accountability for what happened, to inform the ongoing criminal investigation into the tragedy, and to help prevent future tragedies,” Andrew Little said.

While this mentions “successful recovery” there is no mention of bodies or remains.

But it links to a Cabinet Paper which states:

Background

7. The Agency was established in January 2018 to conduct a safe manned reentry and recovery of the Pike River Mine drift to:
7.1. Gather evidence to better understand what happened in 2010 with an eye to preventing future mining tragedies and promoting accountability for this mining tragedy;

7.2. Give the Pike River families and victims overdue closure and peace of mind; and

7.3. Recover human remains where possible.

But Little has now explicitly said there is “very low probability of recovery” of Pike River bodies.

I presume this has already been made clear to the families of the men killed in the mine.

Covid-19 Public Health Response Bill ‘appears to be consistent’ with Bill of Rights Act – MoJ

The Covid-19 Public Health Response Bill is currently progressing through Parliament under urgency.

The Ministry of Health advice is that the Bill ‘appears to be consistent’ with the Bill of Rights Act.

We have considered whether the COVID-19 Public Health Response Bill (‘the Bill’) is consistent with the rights and freedoms affirmed in the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 (‘the Bill of Rights Act’).

We have not yet received a final version of the Bill. This advice has been prepared in relation to the latest version of the Bill (PCO 22923/4.2). We will provide you with further advice if the final version includes amendments that affect the conclusions in this advice.

We have concluded that the Bill appears to be consistent with the rights and freedoms affirmed in the Bill of Rights Act.

It seems that Andrew Little is Acting Attorney General because the Attorney General, David Parker, introduced the Bill and someone else had to advise him on it.

Click to access COVID-19-Public-Health-Response-Bill.pdf

Pike River re-entry costs jump again but no sign of body recovery

Pike River Recovery Minister Andrew Little has announced that Cabinet has approved of further funds “to complete the project”, but failed to mention a key figure – the total cost.It had already been raised substantially to $36 million “plus some capital expenditure” in 2018, but that has now been raised another $10.8 million as well as a $4.2 million contingency, bringing the total up to a possible $51 million.

And that is just to get as far as the rockfall in the mine, which is probably nowhere near most if not all of the bodies so recovery looks as unlikely as ever, despite the hope given to the families of some of the victims.

Beehive: Final costs for Pike River recovery released

Following the standard process of first communicating to the families, Pike River Recovery Minister Andrew Little has confirmed that Cabinet has approved final funding for the completion of the Coalition Government’s commitment to the Pike River recovery.

Andrew Little also confirmed that, as has been the scope since the start of the project, the recovery effort will not be going beyond the end of the drift and into the main mine workings.

“The Coalition government remains committed to the safe and successful recovery and forensic examination of the Pike River drift. It is important to promote accountability for what happened, to inform the ongoing criminal investigation into the tragedy, and to help prevent future tragedies,” Andrew Little said.

“The Pike River Recovery Agency now expects it will most likely be possible to complete recovery work underground by July/August of this year and hand the mine over to the Department of Conservation for ongoing management by the end of the year. Cabinet has approved a further $10.8 million to complete the project as well as a $4.2 million contingency,” Andrew Little said.

But there is no sign of there being any chance of body recovery. A cabinet paper details they original aimed to do…

…and what they now expect to achieve:

December 2016: Winston Peters pledges to be first to re-enter Pike River mine

To chants of “Winston for Prime Minister,” New Zealand First leader Winston Peters offered to be the first to go back into the condemned Pike River Mine.

Peters was speaking at a rally of some of the Pike River families and their spokesman Bernie Monk who came to Parliament to push their case for re-entry into the stricken mine.

He says he’s read some of the safety reports on Pike River and, like the families, believes it’s now safe to return.

January 2017: Peters meets with Pike River families

Yesterday, Mr Peters met with the families at the picket line near the site’s entrance, and he will meet with them again today at a public meeting in Greymouth.

Mr Peters said he wanted to show the families he would not ignore them, and supported them completely.

“The political system has shut them down, ignored them and has done its best to raise the suspicion that someone’s involved in a cover-up here. Otherwise, why did Solid Energy buy Pike River Mine and why do they want to seal it up for ever?

“Now these families want justice, they want peace of mind, closure, and it could be done if the government was acting in the way it should be doing, and in the way it promised.”

He said he supported the Pike River families who wanted to re-enter the mine, and reiterated his earlier vow not to agree to a coalition with any party that did not hold the same view.

Peters didn’t specifically mention body recovery, but that’s what ‘closure’ means to some people.

Prior to the 2017 election Cross-party agreement pledges a reentry of Pike River Mine

Jacinda Ardern says a Labour Government would reenter the Pike River Mine.

The leaders of Labour, United Future, the Maori Party and the Green Party signed a commitment in Wellington on Tuesday to reenter the West Coast mine.

“Re-entering the drift will mean we can recover some of the men, and evidence of the cause of the explosions. That will help deliver justice and answers, and bring the men home to their families.”

Families of the Pike River victims say they are “over the moon” with the cross-party agreement for an agency to take ownership of the mine and reclaim the drift to recover remains and evidence.

This obviously raised hopes and expectations of families.

The Labour-NZ First coalition agreement merely stated “Commit to re-entry to Pike River”.  They followed through on this, to an extent – Andrew Little enters Pike River portal

Minister Responsible for Pike River Re-entry Andrew Little, and Pike Family representatives Anna Osborne and Sonya Rockhouse have entered the Pike River Mine portal.

“Today we walked together into the mine portal to demonstrate a safe re-entry is possible. I made the emotional journey with representatives of families who have fought for years for re-entry.

“In our first 100 days the Coalition Government handed the keys to Pike River Mine to the families, and established Te Kāhui Whakamana Rua Tekau Ma Iwa Pike River Recovery Agency. In the 11 weeks since the Agency was created we’ve made real progress on safe re-entry. Today proves that.

“Again, I’d like to acknowledge all the families who are working in partnership with me and the Coalition Government. We owe it to those families to re-enter the drift and retrieve evidence and the remains of their loved ones,” says Andrew Little.

In May 2019 when re-entry began from Winston Peters: Long awaited re-entry to Pike River Mine

Today’s successful re-entry into the Pike River Coal Mine is a victory for the families who are fighting tirelessly for answers, says New Zealand First Leader Winston Peters.

“Re-entry into Pike River is about justice. It’s about finding out the truth, and it is about doing what’s right for the families of those 29 men,” Mr Peters said.

“On the 13th of December 2016 New Zealand First promised those families that we would re-enter Pike River Mine. It is with solemnity that we deliver on a that promise today,” he said.

Re-entry into Pike River Mine was a bottom-line commitment for New Zealand First, and was entrenched in the Labour-New Zealand First Coalition agreement.

“Today is a milestone for those families. The previous government showed so little courage and completely disregarded the need for accountability.

“We have shown today that going back in was possible and could be done safely,” said Mr Peters.

Yesterday Pike River mine: Entry tunnel recovery cost soars to $47 million

Pike River mother Sonya Rockhouse said the re-entry project, and the evidence it would unearth, was the best chance families had to see someone held to account for killing their men.

“People ask me why so much money is being spent, to me it’s quite simple: it’s being spent to try to solve the mass homicide of 29 men. We can’t be a country that refuses people justice because it costs too much,” she said.

There has been no indication of evidence unearthed so far.

Bernie Monk has battled for nearly a decade to get his son Michael back and to see somebody held accountable for his death.

For him, the news that no assessment will be made of whether the main workings of the mine can be entered means his battle is a long way from finished.

“How can they make this call when the whole idea was to go down 800m – it’s never been investigated – [to] make a call before we even get there,” Monk said.

So the $51m looks unlikely to get Bernie Monk what he wants.

Stuff: Government approves another $15m for Pike River recovery

Pike River widow Anna Osborne said the Government’s plan to close the door on reentry of the mine workings was “premature”.

“It seems a bit odd to say no to that before we have got to the end of the drift and assessed whether reentry of the mine workings is needed or even possible,” she said.

She called for other families to campaign for reentry of the mine workings.

Anna Osborne wants re-entry to the mine workings, not just to part of the access tunnel. There seems to be no scope to achieve this.

Rowdy Durbridge, whose son Dan died in the mine, said he was proud of what the families had achieved for their boys.

“I had family and mates die in that mine. I worked beside them down there and I’ve felt a responsibility to them ever since,” he said.

“That’s feeling’s never going to go away but having fought and won drift reentry and the investigation of their deaths, that’s something I think me and the families and a whole lot of Kiwis who believe in justice can hold our heads high about.”

There is no sign of what accountability and justice might achieve.

Abortion Legislation Bill passes Second Reading 81-39

The Abortion Legislation Bill had it’s Second Reading debate last night and passed on a personal (conscience) vote easily, 81-39. The bill is a much better approach to abortion than the current law that is not followed in practice, making abortion health issue rather than a legal issue.

From Abortion Legislation Bill — Second Reading

Hon ANDREW LITTLE (Minister of Justice):
(Edited)

This bill was introduced on 5 August last year and was referred to the Abortion Legislation Committee, a special committee set up specifically for consideration of this bill. The committee was established by the House precisely for that purpose. I want to thank members of the committee, in particular the chair, the Hon Ruth Dyson, and the deputy chair, the Hon Amy Adams, for the work they did. They received more than 25,000 submissions. They heard from more than 130 people during 30 hours of oral evidence.

This bill and this topic are a very sensitive topic. It’s a very difficult topic for many citizens and many, many members of this House to discuss and debate, but debate it we must, because this legislation that we’re now considering—the changes to which we are considering—are more than 40 years old and it is timely and appropriate to consider it.

I have previously spoken about the reasons why I believe the law governing abortion needs to be changed, not the least of which is that the legislation is so old, but also the fact that the framework for abortion in New Zealand right now is set out in both the Crimes Act 1961 and the Contraception, Sterilisation, and Abortion Act 1977, and a woman seeking an abortion should not have her actions stigmatised as if she were committing a criminal act—she is not; she is making a decision about herself and her body.

Following the select committee process, the Abortion Legislation Committee has recommended changes to improve access to abortion services which it considers are in the best interests of women.

There has been scaremongering about abortions up to birth, which is a distortion of what will be allowed for the good of the health of the mother and the unborn child. The vast majority of abortions are in the first 20 weeks.

In relation to abortion after 20 weeks, in response to submissions received, the revised bill changes the test that a qualified health practitioner must follow if providing abortion services to a woman who is more than 20 weeks pregnant.

The revised test expands some of the wording from the original bill. In fact, the requirements now include a requirement that the health practitioner regards the abortion as clinically appropriate, the health practitioner has to consult another health practitioner—so it’s not just one but two—and, of course, that reflects current practice anyway.

We have to remember that for women seeking an abortion at 20 weeks, generally speaking that is a wanted pregnancy but there is something seriously wrong either with the foetus or with the woman’s health. This is a very difficult point at which to make this decision, and I hope that people embarking on this debate will recognise that. That is now reflected in the changes that the committee has proposed.

Abortions for ‘sex selection’ was an issue raised.

They add in a requirement that the medical professional has to have regard to his or her relevant legal, professional and ethical standards to which they are subject, and also consider the woman’s physical health, mental health, and overall wellbeing, and, of course, the gestational age of the foetus.

The committee was concerned about submissions made that some might consider an abortion on the grounds of gender biased sex selection, and they point to evidence overseas. The committee concluded that there was no evidence of this happening in New Zealand but they wanted a statement in the bill that reflected the, generally, New Zealand view on this, which is that we don’t tolerate sex selection as a reason for an abortion.

On ‘safe areas’ (from opponents and protesters)  in the vicinity of places where abortions are done:

I turn briefly to safe areas because I know this is an area to test those who are vigilant about and are champions of freedom of speech in this country, and that’s very important and we need those voices—they’re absolutely vital. The truth is that there are women who are seeking abortions and going to facilities where they are prevailed upon in an unseemly and entirely inappropriate way, and they should not be subject to that sort of behaviour.

Now, the changes that the committee have recommended in this regard are to shift the offence from a reckless sort of standard to an objective test; it’s now expressed as an ordinary reasonable person test. That is it’s an offence to intimidate, interfere, or obstruct a person in a safe area in a manner that the ordinary reasonable person would know would cause emotional distress to a protected person. Protected person is defined as either a medical practitioner going to a facility from which an abortion might be carried out, or a person who is seeking an abortion.

The committee has also inserted a requirement that each safe area is reviewed within five years of the area’s establishment. There is a process to go through to establish a safe area, it’s done by the Minister of Health in consultation with the Minister of Justice, there has to be good reasons for it, it has to be done by Order in Council, and it is reviewed on a periodic basis.

Contentious objection:

This is another sensitive area too, particularly for health practitioners who do not support the idea of an abortion. For contraception and sterilisation services, the person with an objection to dispensing advice to a patient had to tell the patient how to access the contact details of another provider of the services; for abortion services, the person objecting would have to tell the patient how to access a list of service providers.

The committee has simplified this process for someone with a contentious objection to ensure timely access for the person seeking services. The revised process is that the contentious objector must tell the person seeking an abortion or sterilisation or contraception services how to access the contact details of another person who is a provider of the service requested.

The committee also picked up on an existing provision in the current Contraception, Sterilisation, and Abortion Act related to contentious objection that had not been amended in the bill as it was introduced. This section regards supply of contraception to victims of sexual violation. The committee has aligned the requirements for practitioners with conscientious objections in these instances to the process set out in the bill.

Closing:

We need a law where a pregnant woman can and should be trusted to make the decision for themselves about an abortion in consultation with their health practitioner. This bill does that, and on that basis I commend this bill to the House.

Other speakers:

AGNES LOHENI (National):

As a member of the Abortion Legislation Committee, I was not able to effect any meaningful change to this bill despite an overwhelming number of submissions against it. As a consequence, I wrote a minority view to ensure those views that opposed were heard.

I have outlined a lot to be alarmed about in this bill. I am deeply saddened at this bill’s blatant attack on the right to life and recognition for our unborn babies. If we can discard the life of an unborn baby—if we can diminish their value and their humanity to the point that we no longer call them babies, then we have lost our own humanity, because they are the smallest versions of us. Late-term surgical abortions are nothing short of barbaric; there is nothing kind in it. A truly progressive society protects the rights of all its members down to the smallest and most vulnerable—the unborn child. I take a stand for that unborn child. I oppose this bill.

Hon AMY ADAMS (National—Selwyn):

 I want to begin by stating very clearly in the debate on this bill—which is a conscience issue—where I start from, and my fundamental views in this regard. I have an absolute belief that women have the inalienable right to control their own reproductive systems and to determine, ultimately, whether or not they have a child.

I think there is no place for a Parliament to be specifying and legislating what the appropriate medical treatment is in any given case. We are not medical professionals; we are lawmakers, and we have to respect that. I trust women and doctors to make these decisions carefully, gravely, and appropriately.

GREG O’CONNOR (Labour—Ōhāriu):

I stand in opposition to this bill. I voted for it at the first reading because I felt that the bill needed to go through a select committee to see if it could be made palatable.

Taking the legislation out of the Crimes Act, as I said, I agree with. That is something that I think there are sufficient safeguards in there now to keep it outside the Crimes Act. It does belong as a health issue, as some of the other speakers mentioned. But post – 20 weeks, there is just simply not enough safeguard to ensure that those—

PAULO GARCIA (National):

 I stand with sadness, with a heart filled with tribulation and pain because, once again, I stand to argue against a bill that seeks to enable the ending—the taking—of a human life by another human being.

The bill opens the door for the abortion of babies with not just severe abnormalities but also moderate ones, making disabled unborn children very vulnerable under the proposed law. That the current law explicitly prevents abortions on the basis of foetal abnormality up to 20 weeks, but the proposed law does not do the same represents a major step backwards in terms of disability rights.

I finish with a quote from the New York Times, quoting a Harvard medical professor who said that we pass through different stages as we grow, and that a “baby of five weeks in the womb differs from the newborn, but so does the toddler differ from the teen. … but we don’t pass from person to non-person, or vice versa.”

Hon NIKKI KAYE (National—Auckland Central):

I have extraordinary respect for freedom of speech and freedom of religion. But I support this bill for a few very fundamental and simple reasons. The first is I believe that every woman in New Zealand has the right to control her body. It’s very simple. It’s very simple; in fact, it’s so simple that we are one of the most archaic countries in the world—even Catholic Ireland has more liberal abortion laws than New Zealand.

Fundamentally, there are a couple of other reasons why it is crucial, in my view, that we have this law change. Again, I want to quote Dame Margaret Sparrow, who really, effectively, said a number of years ago that it is an absolute farce in this country that 98 percent—I think it was at the time—of the abortions were on the grounds of mental health. That is a farce, that is wrong, that is archaic, and it is time that, as a country, we changed that and we faced up to the fact that it is archaic and outdated and wrong to have a law on the books that, effectively, says that.

I do believe, as well, that many women in New Zealand, basically, fundamentally, want equality. They want the ability to have control over their body. They don’t want to have to be in these situations, but, if they are, they, ultimately, want respect and equality. I believe that this bill is timely. It’s progressive. It’s important. It will lead to less suffering

ANAHILA KANONGATA’A-SUISUIKI (Labour):

I today stand along the over about 91 percent of submitters that are opposed to this bill. I am acknowledging that 17 percent of submitters are for the bill. My views in opposition to this bill are derived from Tongan culture and as a Christian Tongan. That’s where I formed my view. And I need to say it in this House that I am a Christian and I was raised a Tongan Christian. And I don’t stand here to say that I represent all Christians or all Pasifika. I am representing my views as a Tongan and all the people that have actually spoken to me about those views.

Number of submitters is a part of a process, it is not a measure of public support or opposition.

Like I said in my introduction of my speech, I don’t stand here to represent all Tongans. I don’t stand here to represent all Christians. I stand here to represent what I’ve heard through the select committee and my definition of what this bill does. I accept that it’s trying to reform the legislation, but we must also remember that abortion is legal in New Zealand, but there is an opportunity to differentiate between a child and an adult. And I disagree with the fact that it is an informed decision by a woman who is pregnant at 14 to have an abortion. I disagree with that—that it is informed. And I also disagree with the fact that it’s the woman’s choice, because, at the end of the day, it is the health practitioner that makes the decision for the woman to have an abortion. And in that tone, I oppose this bill to the House.

DAVID SEYMOUR (Leader—ACT):

I rise in support of the Abortion Legislation Bill, a piece of legislation whose time has come—decades ago—a piece of legislation that will take abortion out of the Crimes Act because it should never have been a crime. As earlier speakers have made a point of saying, there is no other medical procedure that is legislated the way abortion is.

I want to talk about the moral case behind this bill. I get messages saying, “Do you support abortion?” Of course I don’t. Nobody does. Nobody wakes up one day and thinks, “That’s what I’ll do today.” It is a difficult and harrowing experience to go through.

But that’s not the question. The question before this House tonight is: what should be the role of this Parliament and what should be the role of the State when it comes to abortion law reform? If any member thinks that it is somehow helpful for the State apparatus, for this Parliament, to ask the police and the corrections and the courts in this country to run around and try and compel women to take unwanted pregnancies to term against their will, then I don’t know how else to argue with those people, but I hope they’re in the minority tonight.

NICOLA WILLIS (National):

I support this reform of our abortion laws. Many people I deeply respect and admire do not share my views on this issue. I feel moved to express why I support it. I have carefully studied this bill. I have spoken with medical practitioners, those who perform abortions, those who have had abortions, those who’ve supported those who have had abortions, and my conclusion is that this bill advances the rights of women.

It will improve women’s access to health services. It will enhance our legal autonomy over our own bodies and our own fertility. It brings our law into line with good medical practice. It reduces unnecessary and potentially harmful delays in access to abortions, and it improves reporting on important issues such as equity and timeliness of access, availability of counselling services, and the spectre of gender selection.

This bill will reduce harm. Fundamentally, it improves choice for all of us and, crucially, requires that choice from none of us.

Let us trust women and let us trust medical professionals. I want my children to live in a world that genuinely cherishes the life of every woman, that respects her right to manage her own fertility, her own body, her own future. That is the world I want for my daughters. That is the world I want for my sons.

DARROCH BALL (NZ First):

I rise tonight not on behalf myself to speak on this bill, but on behalf of the party.

As we promised in the first reading of this bill, we will see this bill through to the committee of the whole House where we will table a Supplementary Order Paper requesting a referendum on this issue.

As we promised in the first reading of this bill, we will see this bill through to the committee of the whole House where we will table a Supplementary Order Paper requesting a referendum on this issue.

We believe that this conscience issue, affecting the fabric of human society, should be decided upon by the people of New Zealand, not decided upon by 120 temporarily empowered politicians. We don’t believe that individuals in this House—their life experiences, their beliefs, or their family histories—are any more or less important than anyone outside of this House.

The fact that this House has decided that this vote is a conscience vote and not a party vote is explicit acknowledgment that every single individual Kiwi in this country will have an individual perspective based on their own conscience, not based on anyone’s conscience in this House, and especially not based on temporarily empowered politicians in this House or anything that’s based on party politics.

Going by the second reading vote, if NZ First MPs vote against the final reading if they fail with their amendment to have a referendum it looks still likely to pass.

Personally I don’t support a referendum on this.

CHRIS PENK (National—Helensville):

I refer to the report of the majority of the Abortion Legislation Committee on this, the Abortion Legislation Bill. The majority report is linguistically elusive, ideologically incoherent, and scientifically unsound.

I wish to also make a note about the select committee majority report claiming that the current legislation contains deeply offensive language in relation to disabled people. The disabled people themselves and the advocacy groups who have contacted me in relation to the bill find much more deeply offensive the notion that their lives will inevitably be deemed to be worth less in many situations, whereby conditions such as, for example, Down’s syndrome can be effectively screened to an even greater extent than is already the case by the fact that this bill does have a liberalising effect—that is, it makes the regime more liberal both in relation to pre-20 weeks and post-20 weeks, until either such time as birth is given or abortion services performed.

JOANNE HAYES (National):

 I stand to take a call opposing the Abortion Legislation Bill tonight. I’ve sat here on purpose to listen to the contributions in the House tonight, and some of the contributions have left me a little bit flummoxed with some of their ideas. I do not support the idea of taking the Abortion Legislation Bill into a referendum. I think this is what our job is here, to make a decision, and I don’t think that it should be anything like inside any referendum like New Zealand First did with the End of Life Choice Bill.

I think one of the speakers tonight from the Government side of the House spoke about this bill being abortion on demand. That’s what this bill is actually working towards. It is about abortion on demand.

Effectively yes, up to 20 weeks only.

This abortion bill is a licence to kill the unborn; that’s what it is. It’s a dangerous piece of legislation. Whilst there will be people in here that are supporting this bill that will say, “No, no, no, that’s not what happens.”, in reality that is what will happen. That’s what concerns me most, is the reality of it hitting the ground, hitting the women out there in the community and the families, that this will be a licence to kill unborn children. It ignores absolutely everybody’s opposition. I’m really, really sad to be standing here on a day, on an evening like this evening, to be able to say to my colleagues who are supporting this bill, it is the wrong thing to do.

Hon RUTH DYSON (Labour—Port Hills):

The opposition to this bill came not from people who oppose this bill but from people who oppose abortion full stop. People who, if they were being given the contraception, sterilisation, and abortion legislation, would oppose it.

There is nothing more offensive than being told that a woman would wake up one morning, 30 weeks pregnant and say, “I’m over this. I’m going to have an abortion.” Then to layer on top of that the accusation that a doctor would then say, “That meets my professional and ethical standards.”, and would go ahead with that termination—I don’t know who the people who say that knows. Who do you know that would do that? Nobody. It’s just a lie. On any topic, I think it’s important to tell the truth, but on a topic as important as this, as sensitive and as contentious as this, we should just tell the truth.

We felt we were taking a needed step, but one which we wanted to take very carefully in in a very considered way, and I think the committee did a very good job of that. We want to see a country where there are very, very few abortions. Our numbers are heading in the right directions now; I want to commend Pharmac for introducing long-acting contraception. We need more education, we need better access to contraception, but we will still need abortion services—the fewer the better, but the earlier, more equitable, and safer the better. That’s what this legislation seeks to deliver and I commend it to the House.

JAN LOGIE (Green):

Thank you, Mr Speaker, and it’s a real honour to speak tonight, as a feminist who has been working towards abortion law reform for years and also as a member of the Green Party who committed to decriminalising abortion about six years ago—[Interjection from gallery]

SPEAKER: Order! Order! The member will resume her seat. That man will be removed from the gallery.

JAN LOGIE: This may point to the need for safe areas and the fact that, actually, there is opposition to those of us who support women’s reproductive health rights. And that has resulted, or at least been used as an argument, in the assault against my co-leader.

If you care about women’s health, if you want to see these women accessing abortion care, accessing it earlier if it has to happen, this is the legislation to do it. I do think we should get rid of the 20-week threshold altogether, and that was bounded for me, it came through clearly from those very small numbers of people who are actually involved in providing this care in the country.

When we heard, previously, from a speaker talking about a GP saying, well, how were they to interpret wellbeing, they wouldn’t know what that would mean—it wouldn’t matter if they didn’t understand that, because they wouldn’t be providing them, because there’s only a very small handful of people who are qualified to provide those services. The thing is that it is according to very strict guidelines of care and medical ethics, and it is my belief that the decisions should still remain with the pregnant person.

A personal vote was called for on the question, That the amendments be agreed to.

  • Ayes 80
  • Noes 28

A personal vote was called for on the question, That the Abortion Legislation Bill be now read a second time.

  • Ayes 81
  • Noes 39

So it looks like the Abortion Legislation Bill should pass comfortably, and without a referendum.  That would be good, in my opinion.

The split between the first 20 weeks (choice) and the second 20 weeks (medical decision) is  pragmatic compromise that largely fits with current practice despite the archaic law.

There is strong opposition to changing the law, but the Bill just makes what is currently practiced officially legal with the stigma of ‘breaking the law’ removed.

The Bill won’t change much, apart from the sensible change from a legal to a personal or health issue. The number of abortions has been dropping, that trend may or may not continue but should be largely unaffected by the Bill.

 

New court rules for rape cases

NZ Herald – Courtroom shake up: New rules in rape cases hailed as decades-overdue

A woman’s sexual history or how she dresses will be out of bounds in future court cases under a raft of reforms designed to protect victims from being unfairly treated and retraumatised.

Such information, called “rape myths” by survivor advocacy groups, will only be admissible in a court if the judge deems it should be, and if not doing so would impede the course of justice.

The new rules about rape cases in court are contained in the Sexual Violence Legislation bill, which will have its first reading in Parliament today and is expected to become law early next year.

The bill seeks to maintain fair trial rights while improving the court experience, which complainants have described as retraumatising, hostile, and a compelling factor in deterring victims from coming forward at all.

An estimated one in four women and one in seven people experience sexual violence in their lifetime, but most cases are unreported, and of those reported to police, only a third go to court and one in 10 end in convictions.

Justice Minister Andrew Little said he hoped the bill would eventually encourage more complainants to come forward, though it was difficult to say if it would have any effect on conviction rates.

The bill would:

  • See more alternative ways to give evidence – such as via video conference or in a cleared courtroom – to protect complainants appearing in front of the accused or the accused’s supporters.
  • Protect complainants from unduly invasive questioning, such as questions about sexual history or choice of clothing; relevant details would be established before a complainant is questioned. A judge would also be required to direct the jury to ignore rape myths.
  • Require a judge to intervene in inappropriate lines of questioning, such as ones that are improper, unfair, misleading, or needlessly repetitive.
  • Allow a survivor to give an victim impact statement to a courtroom cleared of the public.

Justice Under-Secretary and Green MP Jan Logie said the myths about rape – including sexual history and a complainant’s choice of clothing – unduly influenced court cases.

“You can consent to sexual activity with somebody at a particular time and not at another. Consenting the first time does not automatically [mean] you have consented the second time. Choice matters.”

What someone was wearing or doing in thee past, even the recent past, has no bearing on consent or lack thereof  at the time of an alleged rape. And as Logie says, prior consent does not mean ongoing current consent.

Rape cases that argue consent can be tricky when there are only two witnesses, the accused and the complainant. But I think that it is fair to assume no consent unless it is clear that consent has been given.

Chief Victims’ Adviser Kim McGregor said that cross-examination was the most destructive and distressing part of the court process, and better protections for complainants were long overdue.

“I have heard from those who feel broken, humiliated and worn down after hours and sometimes days of repeated questioning.”

She said complainants accepted that evidence needed to be tested, but will welcome the changes in the bill that would disarm the process of hostility.

Wellington Women Lawyers’ Association convener Steph Dyhrberg said it was important to require judges to direct juries about the misconceptions around rape.

“The general public is remarkably ill-informed about the realities of sexual violence and how survivors experience it and behave. Those assumptions and prejudices and misinformation, jurors take into the courtroom and jury room.”

Perhaps lawyers need to be educated on the realities of sexual violence. And if they stray in defence of an alleged rapist thee judge should be able to stop them from unfair questioning.

This was echoed by Wellington Rape Crisis agency manager Kyla Rayner.

“We don’t want to see the continuation of discrediting survivors’ experiences or colouring outcomes with rape myths.”

Questions to witnesses should be respectful, relevant and fair, and she said it was appropriate to require a judge to intervene when questions were improper, or even harmful.

Wellington Sexual Abuse Help foundation chief executive Conor Twyford said a person’s sexual disposition should never be considered as evidence against them.

“Survivors have a right not to have their sexual history used against them, full stop.

“A person’s prior sexual activity should have no bearing on the case at hand.”

For sure.

If someone is the innocent victim of a car accident their past driving record isn’t relevant either.

Logie said the bill was the first phase of change.

The second stage would look at the nature of consent, the role of juries, and alternative process including an inquisitorial system that, for example, focuses more on fact-finding than challenging evidence under cross-examination.

She said the current system was so poor at the moment that people working in the system have said they wouldn’t advise their own family members to lay complaints.

A sad reality of our current legal system.

This sounds like very good (and yes, long overdue) reform.

And I agree that Jan Logie has stepped up very well as a Minister – I admit I wasn’t a fan of hers when she was an Opposition MP, but she has switched to the responsibilities of being a Minister in Government and has generally done a very good job promoting the resolution of important issues effectively. This is one example of her effectiveness.

 

Andrew Little – New Zealanders want a better justice system

Minister of Justice Andrew Little in response to the Te Uepū report – Transforming our Criminal Justice System.


New Zealanders from across the country are calling for the criminal justice system to be overhauled, says Justice Minister Andrew Little.

The Minister today released the interim report He Waka Roimata from Te Uepū Hāpai i te Ora Safe and Effective Justice Advisory Group, which captures feedback from New Zealanders on the current state of the justice system and offers insights on how it can be improved.

“I welcome the first report from Te Uepū, which clearly demonstrates a public appetite for long-term sustainable and enduring transformation in the justice system,” says Andrew Little.

“This report follows comprehensive engagement with the community and shows New Zealanders want to see less offending, less re-offending, and fewer victims of crime, who are better supported.

“The report provides sober reading. There are many stories and examples shared by victims, families, offenders and organisations that are upsetting, especially those that demonstrate failings in the system that could be avoided through simple, early and appropriate interventions.

“The report also offers hope. The overwhelming sense is that we can make change for the better, and deliver safer and more effective justice for all New Zealanders.

“I’d like to thank everyone who has given their voice especially those who have been victimised.

“Te Uepū is now developing reform options for the Government that it believes will contribute to a safer and more effective justice system,” says Andrew Little.

The interim report can be found at: http://www.safeandeffectivejustice.govt.nz/about-this-work/te-uepu-report

‘Surprising’ New Zealand has no strategy to prevent terrorist attacks

Can terrorism prevention in New Zealand be effective without having a strategy. The risk of terrorism can’t be eliminated completely, but some sort of strategy must be a help.

RNZ – Christchurch Attacks: What security agencies are keeping us safe?

The minister responsible for New Zealand’s spy agencies says it’s “surprising” the country doesn’t have a strategy to prevent terrorist attacks.

But Andrew Little maintains the country’s intelligence systems are effective.

“We like to think we have a counter-terrorism means, the ability to respond to something. But we don’t have a strategy that anticipates and prevents or seeks prevention of a terrorist act happening,” he said.

According to research by former army officers Chris Rothery and Terry Johanson, both now academics at Massey University, New Zealand’s entire national security system is “reactionary”, and does not focus on anticipating and preventing terrorist activity.

“There are not many countries that do have a national security strategy, but they do have a more formulated policy [than New Zealand] in regards to a lot of the threats that they’ll face,” Mr Rothery said.

The pair said New Zealand has no national security strategy, no counter-terrorism national strategy and – unlike in Australia,Canada and the United Kingdom – no independent body to check threats are being prioritised properly.

Andrew Little, who is responsible for the Security Intelligence Service (SIS) and Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB), admitted the focus had been on reacting to events.

“We’ve focused a lot on building up the components you need to have a system that can act and respond, but what we haven’t done is lift it up to the next stage which is having got good foundations, to then think strategically and think ahead and think more robustly about preventative measures.”

This was the case despite a four-year rebuild of the SIS and GCSB, an extension of their legal powers and $200m extra ploughed in since 2016, once an extra $50m included in last week’s Budget is factored in.

The SIS and GCSB did not begin, in earnest, looking into far right activity until mid-2018. The agencies were yet to get to the point of focusing on individuals or organisations when the Christchurch terror attacks happened.

The DPMC stated its counterterrorism approach covered prevention and preparation, plus there was a terrorism risk profile and a framework for preventing violent extremism.

It added that there was a strategic framework drawn up just last year.  The department delayed Insight’s Official Information Act request to be supplied with the framework until later in June.

Governments can’t be fully proactive with everything.

A lot has changed regarding earthquake proofing requirements and guidelines of buildings since the Christchurch earthquakes. And insurance premiums have gone up a lot – it wasn’t just the Government who was unprepared.

There were immediate reactions to the Christchurch mosque massacres, with changes to firearms laws to make it harder to get high capacity rapid fire weapons.

There were also immediate reactions from the Police who arrested a number of people on firearms and hate speech related charges.

We can expect that our secret services are working secretly to substantially improve counter terrorism and deterrence of and prevention of terrorism.

Pike River mine re-entered, just

Pike River Re-Entry Minister Andrew Little:


More than eight years after 29 men went to work at the Pike River Coal Mine and never came home, the promise to re-enter the mine drift has been honoured.

In the presence of families, experts from Te Kāhui Whakamana Rua Tekau mā Iwa-Pike River Recovery Agency completed breaching the 30m seal and successfully re-entered the Pike River mine drift. Previously scheduled for 3 May, the milestone had been delayed following a false oxygen reading from a failed sampling tube.

“New Zealand is not a country where 29 people can die at work without real accountability. That is not who we are. And that is why today we have fulfilled our promise. Today we have returned,” Minister Responsible for Pike River Re-entry Andrew Little said.

“The tragedy that took these men’s lives was the consequence of corporate and regulatory failure.

“Fulfilling the promise to do everything possible to safely re-enter is an act of justice for families who have waited for far too long.

“It is because of the families’ tireless efforts that future mining tragedies might be prevented.

“There is still much to do. We must find out what happened at Pike River. However long that takes, the recovery project will be done professionally.

“Most importantly, it will be done safely. Safety is the families’ and the Government’s bottom line. This was demonstrated when we delayed re-entry earlier this month.

“Today’s milestone belongs to the families and to the memory of their men. It also belongs to all New Zealanders, who know that going home to your loved ones is the least you should expect after a day’s work,” Andrew Little said.

Video and photographs of the re-entry have been released by the Stand With Pike Families Reference Group at www.tinyurl.com/190521pike

Background here: https://www.beehive.govt.nz/release/pike-river-re-entry


They have only just re-entered the mine. There is a long way to go.

This is a big step towards getting into the mine to investigate causes of the explosions, and to try to recover bodies, but there is a lot to do still.

I have concerns about promises being made, and expectations. The re-entry is expensive, risky, and may or may not resolve what families of the dead miners want.

 

Cannabis referendum announcement

Yesterday Jacinda Ardern advised the Cabinet had made a decision on how they will do the cannabis referendum that has to be held before or alongside next year’s general election.

She said that Minister of Justice Andrew Little will make an announcement on it today.

There’s been a lot of conjecture, lobbying, shonky polling, leaking, misleading claims and noise over cannabis law reform.

No one in Government denies there are health issues with cannabis use, especially for young people. The whole aim of law reform is to switch from a law and punishment approach (which has been unsuccessful if not disastrous), to a health and treatment approach.


UPDATE: the announcement:

New Zealanders to make the decision in cannabis referendum

The Government has announced details of how New Zealanders will choose whether or not to legalise and regulate cannabis, said Justice Minister Andrew Little.

The Coalition Government is committed to a health-based approach to drugs, to minimise harm and take control away from criminals. The referendum is a commitment in the Labour-Green Confidence and Supply Agreement, as well as a longstanding commitment from New Zealand First to hold a referendum on the issue.

“There will be a clear choice for New Zealanders in a referendum at the 2020 General Election. Cabinet has agreed there will be a simple Yes/No question on the basis of a draft piece of legislation.

“That draft legislation will include:

  • A minimum age of 20 to use and purchase recreational cannabis,
  • Regulations and commercial supply controls,
  • Limited home-growing options,
  • A public education programme,
  • Stakeholder engagement.

“Officials are now empowered to draft the legislation with stakeholder input, and the Electoral Commission will draft the referendum question to appear on the ballot.

“The voters’ choice will be binding because all of the parties that make up the current Government have committed to abide by the outcome.

“We hope and expect the National Party will also commit to respecting the voters’ decision.

“I have today released the actual paper considered by Cabinet,” said Andrew Little.

The Justice Minister also confirmed there will be no other government initiated referendums at the next election.


Initial reaction – Green quick off the mark.

Andrew Little guarantees binding referendum on cannabis law reform

Cabinet may be announcing how they will deal with the promised referendum on cannabis law reform today.

RNZ: Little guarantees binding cannabis referendum – but yet to define ‘binding’

Justice Minister Andrew Little has guaranteed that next year’s cannabis referendum will be binding, but says he will explain “what binding actually means” when the next details are announced.

Mr Little told RNZ the government stood by its commitment to hold a binding referendum alongside the 2020 election, but he suggested the word “binding” could have several interpretations.

“We made the decision at the end of last year for a binding referendum. That decision remains,” he said.

“[But] once Cabinet has made its decisions, and we’re in a position to announce the next phase … we’ll be able to explain what ‘binding’ actually means.”

Mr Little said the best time to offer that “clarity” would be after the final decision and announcement which he expected would be in “fairly short order”.

National MP Paula Bennett said anything less than the “full legislative process” would let down the public.

“We would like to see legislation that has gone through the House … through the scrutiny of a select committee, so experts can really be involved.

“I hear though there’s a lot of dissension amongst the Greens, New Zealand First and Labour … and I’m worried they’ll go with a watered-down version because it’s too difficult for them to agree.”

This looks quite different to what National were promoting with the leaked Cabinet paper yesterday.