PM won’t commit to inquiry yet

Bill English says he fully backs the NZ Defence Force (he pretty much has to say that) and won’t yet commit to whether an inquiry will be held into allegations made in the book Hit & Run.

RNZ: PM 100 percent behind defence services

In their new book Hit and Run, investigative journalists Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson said six civilians died and 15 were wounded in raids led by SAS soldiers in 2010.

They said there needs to be an inquiry – something three New Zealand human rights lawyers, acting for the Afghan villages involved – agree with.

Labour, Green, New Zealand First and Māori parties have also called for an inquiry, and United Future leader Peter Dunne said that one was inevitable.

Mr English is to meet with the Minister of Defence Gerry Brownlee and the chief of defence Tim Keating tomorrow.

He said he could not say how long it would take to make a decision about whether to initiate an inquiry.

I think some sort of inquiry is inevitable but this current lack of commitment to one is no surprise, it was always going to take time to evaluate the claims and decide whether an inquiry or investigation was justified.

Brownlee and Keating have just returned from a trip to Iraq and English had to wait for them before he could discuss things with them.

Governments don’t and shouldn’t operate on the same time frames demanded by media rapid news cycles.

 

Hager and Stephenson want full Afghan inquiry

 

Not surprisingly Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson want something out of their newly released book – and it’s a full inquiry into what they claim was a botched military operation in Afghanistan.

RNZ: Hit & Run authors plead for full inquiry on Afghan raid claims

Hit & Run, co-authored by investigative journalists Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson, claims six civilians were killed and another 15 injured in raids on two villages in 2010, in what the book said was a botched operation led by New Zealand troops.

The authors alleged the soldiers, alongside US and Afghan troops, burned and blew up about a dozen houses and then did not help the wounded.

The book claimed the attacks were retaliation for the death of New Zealand soldier Lieutenant Tim O’Donnell.

The Defence Force said an investigation into claims of civilian casulaties at the time concluded the allegations were unfounded, and it stood by those findings.

But Jon Stephenson said he wanted Prime Minister Bill English to launch a full inquiry.

“He’s a decent man and I think we would appeal to him as a son, as a father, as someone who understands what it might be like to lose kids, that he will reach out and do the right thing here, because this is a wrong that’s [laid] festering for years.”

Nicky Hager said the book was based on information from unnamed sources – including SAS troops involved in the raid.

“We can safely say that there are grounds to suspect that there have been war crimes, but that obviously is a very serious allegation and it has to be determined by experts – which is why we’re calling for an inquiry,” Mr Hager said at the book’s launch in Wellington last night.

It is unclear how much then-Prime Minister John Key was told after the raid, and if he was misled by the military, Mr Hager said.

Both Stephenson and Hager seem to be taken a non-confrontational and relatively non-accusatory approach to  Prime Minister English and ex Prime Minister Key, which probably gives a better chance of encouraging an inquiry.

If there was to be an inquiry it is unlikely to be any outcome before the election, for both political and practical reasons.

Water charges possible post election

Bill English seems to have reacted to public pressure over water exports.

NZ Herald: Government asks for advice on charging for freshwater following public campaign

The Government is asking for advice on whether it should be charging companies to export bottled freshwater in response to rising public pressure on the issue.

Prime Minister Bill English said today that ministers were writing to a technical advisory group today to investigate a price on water allocation, but only in relation to the relatively small bottled water industry.

That is despite Environment Minister Nick Smith emphatically saying last week that it was not worth looking at because bottled water made up a fraction of the freshwater used in New Zealand.

Speaking at his weekly press conference this afternoon, English said he sought more advice because of “growing public concerns” about the issue.

He reiterated that the issue was complicated and that any charge would mark a fundamental shift in policy in New Zealand.

Until now it has not been possible to charge for water, only for it’s distribution and supply (usually through rates or water charges), or the cost of installing and maintaining irrigation systems, or the cost of extracting, bottling and distributing commerically sold water.

“We’re not saying it’s too hard, we’re just saying it’s hard.

“Because it’s a big shift for New Zealand, to say we’re actually going to put a price on water.

“Water has been free, it hasn’t been owned by anybody.”

RNZ: Labour acccuses PM of putting off water tax question

The government is being accused of passing the buck by asking a specialist group to look into the idea of taxing water.

Opposition parties say a similar government group has already looked at the matter and come up empty – and it won’t be any different this time.

But the Labour Party said Mr English was deliberately delaying the question until after the election.

The party’s water spokesperson, David Parker, said the advisory group would make no difference and the plan was “another flip flop from the Prime Minister”.

“Three days ago he was saying nothing could be done, and then he was saying something’s to be done and now he’s saying something’s to be done on the never-never. Flip-flopping like a fish out of water.”

English has left himself open to attacks like this.

However it would be ludicrous to respond to public pressure, which has only been applied in the last week or so, with a hurried law change, even if it was practical to fit it in to the legislative schedule.

Water is a victim of electioneering here.

Just slapping sudden charges on something that has never been charged for before would be nuts – especially given the likelihood there would be Waitangi Tribunal complications.

Failure to have state care abuse inquiry: “sticks like a knife in my guts”

The Prime Minister and Government ministers keep refusing to have an inquiry into historical cases of abuse of children while in State care (there are claims that abuses are still occurring).

Paora Crawford Moyle (at E-Tangata) describes what state care was like for her, and how “it sticks like a knife in my guts” whenever she hears a refusal to have an inquiry.

Every time Anne Tolley and Bill English talk about the new Ministry for Vulnerable Children, or oppose an inquiry into the historical abuse of children in state care, it sticks like a knife in my guts.

I am Ngāti Porou through my mother, and I’m Weira — Welsh — through my father. After spending 14 years in state care, and 25 years in social work, I consider myself an expert on what it is truly like for a child with Māori whakapapa to grow up separated from all that intrinsically belongs to them.

I was five when I was taken into state care, and 18 when I was finally able to escape it. My mother, miserable and unwell, had left us, for her own survival as well as ours, to escape my father’s violence. She was deemed to have “abandoned her children”, and so my father was awarded legal custody of us.

He then applied to Social Welfare to have us temporarily placed in its care. On my fifth birthday, he took me and my two brothers (my older sister was placed with other caregivers) to a children’s home, and left, promising to be back for us soon. I waited every day for weeks and months after that, but it would be many years before I saw him again.

Over the years, other children came and went, but my siblings and I stayed in those homes. To everyone who came to visit and view the “underprivileged” children, we looked well adjusted and cared for.

But our experience contradicted appearances and we suffered things children are not supposed to: psychological, sexual, and other physical abuse over many years. It still makes me sick to say that.

She goes on to describe how Maori children were subjected to institutionalised racism.

We are survivors, although none of us came through that experience unscathed. Even after I left state care, the trauma followed me. For many years, I tried to fill the emptiness with drugs and alcohol, and toxic relationships.

But, as my brother Tipene said to me: “Our stories have to be told. How would people know what it’s like for a child to go through state-imposed trauma unless we all tell our story?”

There are still thousands of kids in state care who don’t have a voice. And too many of them are Māori. According to the Children’s Commissioner, Māori make up 61 percent of all kids in state care and 71 percent of the total in youth justice residences.

If that isn’t institutional racism, what is?

There may be institutional racism, but there also seems to be a disproportional problem in Maori families – probably a minority of families but far too prevalent.

Problems continue:

Anne Tolley has ignored multiple recommendations to establish strategic partnerships with iwi and Māori organisations. Instead her ministry consults and engages with and privileges organisations like Barnardos and Open Home Foundation.

The refusal of Government to have an inquiry obviously hurts.

Bill English, interviewed on The Hui, denied again the need for an inquiry into the state’s epic abuse of children in care. What this says to survivors is: “It didn’t happen.” Or “You weren’t beaten or raped that badly”.

It sticks like a knife in our collective guts. And while it’s fantastic that Susan Devoy and others are calling for the inquiry, it shouldn’t be forgotten that Māori have been calling out state abuse of our mokopuna for decades. For example, in the landmark Puao-te-Ata-tu report in 1988.

Bill English and Anne Tolley keep referring to April 1 when the new Ministry for Vulnerable Children, Oranga Tamariki will kick in and miraculously make children safe. That’s like saying cigarettes are safe because Big Tobacco says it is.

Āe, we absolutely need an inquiry to know the scale of the state’s historical abuse on children. Without it, the cogs in the machine keep churning, trucking and trafficking.

English has changed his mind on a number of issues – like Super, like charging for water. Perhaps he will think again about how to deal with this.

 

Literacy leap for prisoners – non-partisan leap for MPs

Mike Williams is Labour ex-president and a staunch party supporter. He is now CEO of the Howard League and is a staunch promoter of penal reform.

In an unlikely alliance he has joined with ACT MP David Seymour in suggesting a policy that should improve dire prisoner literacy rates and potentially improve the prospects of ex prisoners and reduce recidivism.

And Seymour’s suggestions have also got some support from Prime Minister Bill English and from Labour’s Justice spokesperson Kelvin Davis. Whether Seymour retains his Epsom electorate or not this year, and whoever forms the next government, it would be good to see his policy make some progress.

Williams writes: Literacy leap for prisoners. Some background:

 Howard League president Tony Gibbs and I have been running a long-term programme of raising awareness about the inability of a majority of prisoners to read and write sufficiently well enough to function as a normal human in modern society.

To this end we have been inviting politicians and other influential public figures to attend our Howard League prisoner literacy graduation ceremonies.

Many of our political leaders have never visited a jail or talked to a prisoner and most have no concept of the malign results of illiteracy.

Last year we had a graduation at Rimutaka jail and were very fortunate to attract Bill English, then deputy prime minister, as guest speaker.

Tony Gibbs has known former Act party president John Thompson for many years and through this connection, we also invited David Seymour, the sole Act party MP.

The Seymour experience:

At the Rimutaka graduation he chatted with a number of prisoner graduates and talked to the tutors who were there to see their students get their certificates.

Rimutaka jail is one of New Zealand’s largest prisons and can accommodate more that 1000 inmates, and David Seymour asked me why, if two-thirds of the men there were statistically likely to be illiterate, were we graduating only eight prisoners.

One answer to this question is that many prisoners have such negative self-images that they do not seek to improve themselves when there appears to be no reward for doing so.

The Seymour response:

David Seymour suggested that if prisoners were offered a discount on their sentences this might be the circuit breaker that not only inspired prisoners to get the basic skills needed to get work and “go straight” on release, it might eventually reduce prisoner numbers and start addressing the serious overcrowding problem that bedevils our jails.

These thoughts plus a lot of research turned into a new Act party policy which Seymour announced at the conference I attended.

He said: “It’s called Rewarding Self-Improvement in Prisons. This proposal would provide incentives, in the form of reduced sentences, for prisoners to complete basic programmes in literacy, numeracy, and driver licensing.

“Those prisoners who are already functionally literate, numerate, and licensed to drive, can still benefit from Act’s policy. They would earn credits for training as a mentor, and then teaching other prisoners.”

Seymour didn’t just learn from his prison visit, he researched solutions and looked for success with similar approaches overseas:

In the US, states that have Earned Credit Programs in prisons report a lower recidivism rate than states that do not have one. New York saw a 20 per cent lower recidivism rate among prisoners who earned early-release.”

Such a strategy is also likely to be financially attractive as David Seymour went on to point out.

“They save money. A model student serving a two-year sentence could, under Act’s proposal, shave 12 weeks off their sentence and save the taxpayer $14,000. And if their learning prevents future imprisonment, the saving could enter the $100,000s, which could be reinvested in educational programmes.

“And that’s just for one prisoner.

“The New York Corrections Department saved $369 million in a decade thanks to their earned credit policy. A proportionate saving for New Zealand’s population would be $113m for Corrections.

“The savings would be far higher if you include individuals, families, and businesses that would no longer have to face the costs of crime.”

Non-partisan support:

The Prime Minister said that it was worth considering and Kelvin Davis MP endorsed the idea on behalf of the Labour Party. Even the “tough on crime” Sensible Sentencing Trust supported the policy.

This amounts to a great leap ahead and a triumph for common sense.

It’s also a good example of how politics can work positively in a non-partisan way.

But why has it taken so long? Peter Dunne issued this media statement in 2006: Literacy another failure for Corrections

United Future leader Peter Dunne has called on the Government to address the issue of illiteracy amongst New Zealand’s prison population.

“One of the most effective ways of preventing inmates from re-offending is to teach them the necessary skills to get a job and make a contribution to society when they get out. That is a hard thing to do if they lack the most basic literacy requirements.”

Literacy education is provided within prisons; however only if a prisoner is motivated enough to address their own illiteracy issue can that prisoner be referred for literacy tuition.

The larger parties are unlikely to make addressing prisoner illiteracy a priority, so it may take an election win for Seymour and some vigorous lobbying to get some progress on his proposal.

ACT could make it a bottom line for supporting a National led government again – and National should be receptive to accommodating the policy.

If Labour lead the next Government it may take some pushing from Seymour and some help from Davis.

Data modelling to estimate crime

Data collating and modelling is being used to try to predict “how many New Zealanders are at risk of committing or being victim to crime – and estimate the total future burden of crime on society”.

NZ Herald: Crime ‘crystal ball’ maps NZers’ risk of committing and falling victim to crime

A crime “crystal ball” is using big data to estimate the probability of New Zealanders committing or being victims to crime.

Cutting-edge computer data modelling is tapping into a powerful IDI database of Government information, which provides data from the tax, education, benefit and justice systems.

It maps the probability of New Zealanders committing or experiencing crime over their lifetime.

They are then assigned to a group – “vulnerable adults”, “career criminals”, “petty criminals”, “at-risk young people”, “vulnerable children” and “not at risk”.

The data is anonymised – officials are not working out how likely certain individuals are to commit crime in their lifetime.

Rather, the work is useful because it can give some idea of how many New Zealanders are at risk of committing or being victim to crime – and estimate the total future burden of crime on society.

The actuarial-type model – developed by PricewaterhouseCoopers – can then be used to estimate how that burden would change if more money is put into certain initiatives or policy.

Is this why police numbers are set to increase by about a thousand over the next few years? If so that suggests the crystal ball foresees an increase in crime.

Early work has resulted in judges being told that in certain cases a fine could be a better option than community work, after analysts found criminals getting the latter were more likely to reoffend and rely on the dole.

Offenders given community work were found to be 4 to 7 percentage points more likely to be reconvicted within two years, compared with offenders who were fined.

It does make sense to analyse what works and what doesn’t.

Justice Minister Amy Adams said the investment approach aimed to prevent people from being victimised in the first place.

Prime Minister Bill English has championed that work and has appointed Adams to the new role of Minister Responsible for Social Investment.

Labour’s justice spokeswoman Jacinda Ardern said evidence-based policy-making was something to aspire to.

The Government is not just aspiring, they are doing.

How it works

  • A model has been built that taps into a powerful database of data from the tax, education, benefit and justice systems.
  • The model estimates the probability of New Zealanders committing or experiencing crime in their lifetime.
  • It separates the population into groups with different levels of risk, such as “vulnerable adults”, “career criminals”, “petty criminals” and “vulnerable children”, and estimates the “total future burden of crime” on society.
  • The model can simulate how the burden of crime might change if investment is made in certain initiatives or policies.

If it ends up reducing crime and reduces the costs associated with crime – and they are many – then it is worth doing.

Government appointed committee criticises abortion law

The Government appointed The Abortion Supervisory Committee reported to Parliament on Thursday and slammed the current laws covering abortion, saying they are an indictment and “some parts of the language is actually quite offensive, referring to people as subnormal”.

NZ Herald: Not updating abortion law ‘an indictment’, supervising committee tells MPs

The Abortion Supervisory Committee (ASC) made its annual appearance at Parliament’s justice and electoral committee today, reporting on how abortion law has been managed.

While calling for the Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion Act, passed in 1977, to be updated, the ASC made clear the larger issue of more significant changes was a question for the public and Parliament.

Dame Linda Holloway, ASC chairwoman, told the committee that the legislation’s wording was causing “enormous administrative problems” for the ASC and health practitioners.

The law was not written in inclusive language, Dame Linda said.

“In fact, some parts of the language is actually quite offensive, referring to people as subnormal, for example. Really it is an indictment that we have statute like that on the books that is not being corrected.”

The abortion law referred to the “operating doctor”. Now many women who received abortions were medically induced.

“There is no operating doctor. Again, that can cause lots of challenges and hassle,” Dame Linda said.

What’s the chances of this being addressed by Parliament?

Asked by Labour’s Jacinda Ardern if the committee had a view on whether abortion remaining under the Crimes Act should be reviewed as part of the redraft, she said it held no opinion on that question.

“We believe that major reform of the Act is something for society and for Parliament.”

The strong criticism of aspects of abortion law comes amidst increasing political debate about the issue, with Labour, the Green Party and Act Party all calling for change.

Labour leader Andrew Little has called Prime Minister Bill English “deeply conservative” on abortion law, and says he believes the legislation needs to be reviewed and upgraded, and abortion should not be on the Crimes Act.

However, he will not commit to introducing legislation if in Government; Labour policy is for the law to first be reviewed by the Law Commission.

English said recently that while he opposes abortion he thinks the current law is working adequately. Under his leadership National are not going to initiate any changes.

But, while Labour are making noises about needing change, they also seem reluctant to do anything about it themselves.

The Green Party has already made abortion reform a party issue, rather than a conscience issue.

The Greens’ policy would decriminalise abortion. Terminations after 20 weeks would be allowed only when the woman would otherwise face serious permanent injury to her health or in the case of severe fetal abnormalities.

Its women’s spokeswoman, Jan Logie, said today that the ASC was clearly telling the government that the legislation had not stood the test of time.

Asked if she would introduce a private member’s bill, Logie said none would pass before the election and the national conversation would probably happen after September’s election.

So nothing will happen before the election. Any attempt to address the inadequate law that is being effectively ignored is likely to depend on who forms the next Government, and what sort of priority parties like Labour are prepared to put on reform.

It is likely to depend on the lottery of the Members’ Bill ballot should Greens submit a bill.

 

Social pragmatism and more Spinoff English

The Spinoff has along interview: The incremental radical: Bill English meets the Spinoff

After eight years watching John Key from the deputy’s seat, Bill English was thrust into leadership late last year. In the first in a series of election-year interviews with our political leaders, Duncan Greive goes to the ballet with the prime minister, and chews over his new job and how he plans to keep it.

A snippet:

As that great storm was gathering and preparing to drench the North last week, I asked him what had happened to the National Party, once the champion of social conservatism, now apparently so indifferent to it.

“It depends what you mean by social conservatism,” he says. “New Zealanders are, I would say, socially pragmatic. There’s quite a culture here – easier than in other countries – of live and let live. Ironically I learned that in a small, rural community. Because whoever’s there is there, and you get on with them. Across the country the collective’s made various decisions about its social mores which, I think even socially conservative New Zealanders have seen and thought, ‘ah well. Seems to work OK.’

“So I think it’s a social pragmatism in the same way that New Zealanders have an economic pragmatism. If it looks like it’s working they don’t get too worked up about the labels. Even across the Tasman in Australia it’s a much more vigorous debate about what things are called.”

That pragmatism, embodied by no one better than English’s predecessor, may be part of why New Zealand has so far forestalled the ugliest moods of Brexit or Trump, avoided nurturing a homegrown Pauline Hanson or Marine Le Pen.

Another:

And he invoked a phrase which struck me at the time and has framed my understanding of him ever since: he described himself as being in his “post-party political era”.

It seemed to imply that, after a quarter century in parliament, the bluster and posturing left him cold. That tribalism was of less interest than the work of government. It seemed to me a brilliant piece of political framing, disguised as a throwaway remark.

Yet “post party political” is also backed up – in theory, certainly not in outcome – in his signature policy of social investment. It is the idea that we can use big government data to predict, early in their lives, children who are likely to have “poor outcomes”, to use the official language. Poor outcomes in this context means imprisonment and drawing benefits, which cost us money and also don’t tend to be well correlated with happiness. The idea is that we use that knowledge, Minority Report-style, to prevent future bad life choices by providing wraparound social services to change that path.

As well as being English’s big idea, social investment is probably the single current National policy which opposition parties have most struggled to combat.

A lot of interesting things in the interview, I may do several posts on different aspects.

English is in to long detailed explanations. He is yet to master the sound bite techniques looked for by modern media.

How big should tax cuts be?

Bill English made this point several times today: “We’re not putting forward tax cuts as some kind of sugar shock.”

So he is signalling tweaks rather than slashes, to be announced in May’s budget, and indicated to probably take effect in April 2018 (at least it’s not April 2038 like proposed  Super changes).

Is a little bit less tax going to be enough?

From RNZ Tax cuts ‘on the table’ – PM

Guyon Espiner: So you said that their probably will be a point of differentiation, that means there will be tax cuts offered by National.

Bill English: Ah yeah we’ve got tax cuts are on the table, ah we will look at that in the context of these other demands such as the growth in population, the need for infrastructure to support a growing economy,.

Guyon Espiner: So there will be cuts.

Bill English: Well they’re on the table. We go through the process now in the lead up to the budget and the campaign.

Guyon Espiner: Will any tax cuts that you introduce take effect in 2017, or will they only take effect should you win the election?

Bill English: Look most measures that you bring in to do with household incomes would follow the usual cycle which is if they’re announced this year they’d start first of April next year.

But this election year, and it would be odd to commit to tax cuts that may not take effect if National loses power in September.

However it is much tidier implementing income tax changes at the start of the tax year and the May budget will be too late for that.

Guyon Espiner: Ok so no tax cuts taking effect this year, only if you win.

Bill English: Well we would follow the normal cycle.

Guyon Espiner: Ok, John Key had talked about three billion dollars of expenditure needed to make a meaningful tax cut. Is that the sort of ball park that you’re operating in?

Bill English: Look that’s yet to be seen, there’s economic forecasting going on now about how the economy is going to grow, ah there’s these issues around what growth pressures there are right across our public services, the needs for long term infrastructure, the need to get our debt down, so the process we go through is to make sure we’ve got a clear understanding of all those.

I think partly for the reasons that have been discussed and that is people won’t want to see ah surpluses used just on one thing when we’ve got this range of needs to meet.

Guyon Espiner: And you’re looking at lower and middle income earners as your priority?

Bill English: Ah yes, we’ve stated that for quite some time.

Guyon Espiner: lower income, or lower and middle?

Bill English: Well lower and middle income, you know everyone thinks they’re middle income, but I think you’ve got people there who don’t always get support that’s available for lower income households, ah and they want to be able to share in the growth in the economy the same as everyone else.

Guyon Espiner: And you’re talking about those sorts of families getting, you know, north of twenty thirty dollars a week?

Bill English: Well look that’s…

Guyon Espiner: It’s not worth it otherwise is it?

Ten or twenty dollars extra a week would probably be gratefully accepted by many people who are not earning incomes like Espiner.

Bill English: Well you know we’re not putting forward tax cuts as some kind of sugar shot, ah that’s going to…

Guyon Espiner: Why are you doing them then? What’s the rational?

Compensating for the effectively increased tax rates through bracket creep for one thing.

Bill English: Well it’s just over time you’ve got these, if you’ve got a growing economy and surpluses then you can, through a variety of mechanisms support households and lift…

Guyon Espiner: Yeah but they have to be meaningful to lift incomes don’t they, I mean ten bucks a week isn’t going to cut it is it.

Bill English: Well it depends on what sort of household you are, and ah what other changes go on.

Guyon Espiner:  So you can promise that it’s going to be more than that or…

Bill English: No I’m not going to be making any promises today, but there’s, look, people get support from Government through a whole range of mechanisms, last, two or three years ago we did the free doctors visits for under thirteens. That was you know a help to households who had twelve year old children.

Guyon Espiner: So it wraps into this family package that we heard about last year. You’re looking at Working for Families increases potentially as well.

Bill English: Well there’s you know we’ve got these choices…

Guyon Espiner: Thats on the mix?

Bill English: We’ve got a lot of choices here, ah, but it is important that um the ah anything that’s done around household incomes fits alongside meeting these other requirements of a growing economy such as the pressure on public services.

That was mostly a wasted interview.

Espiner tried to push English into committing to a universal lotto win for exeryone as he has no idea what a few dollars difference might mean to people at the bottom of the income pile, but English had no inclination to give away any specifics  about what might be in the budget in two months time.

English didn’t have much to say about it apart from repeat hints of tax cuts so waffled around the issue. The only thing he did was repeat “growing economy” a few times, which seems to be the crux of National’s campaign strategy at this still early stage.

English, Little, Ardern on abortion laws

1 News chose to make Bill English’s views on abortion it’s headline story from the Q+A interviews with English and Andrew little on Sunday.

English, Little at loggerheads over abortion law reform

‘Loggerheads’ is nonsense – English and Little have different views on abortion but neither sound interested in putting much priority on doing anything about our sham abortion laws.

English even indicated he had no inclination to change the current law – “I mean, it’s a law that’s stood the test of time.” He then diverted to other social issues he was more interested in dealing with.

Political editor for 1 NEWS Corin Dann asked Mr English about the issue on TVNZ’s current affairs show Q+A this morning.

Mr Dann mentioned that prime ministers tended to set the tone for conscience vote issues, and said Mr English’s vote would be quite significant in an issue like abortion.

“The Abortion Supervisory Committee has recommended an update of our abortion laws, they’re outdated and clumsy,” said Mr Dann.

“Would you stand in the way of that, given that you’re not in favour of liberalising abortions?

Mr English replied: “That’s right, I’m not, and I wouldn’t vote for legislation that did”.

The Prime Minister went on to say that it would be an issue dealt with in a parliamentary vote, and his would be one vote in 121. He hoped that others would vote with him.

Despite the headline there was no mention of Little, his views or his differences with English.

Here is the whole section of the interview:

CORIN But it’s a different story when you’re Prime Minister because we saw with John Key when he voted for gay marriage, that was a big impetus to that legislation. We’ve seen it with the smacking legislation in previous years gone by. Prime ministers set the tone, and if you’re socially conservative, what I’m curious about is how you behave around a social conscience vote is quite significant. For example, the Abortion Advisory Committee has recommended an update of our abortion laws; they’re outdated and clumsy. Would you stand in the way of that, given that, I’m presuming, you’re not in favour of liberalising abortions?

BILL That’s right, I’m not, and I wouldn’t vote for legislation that did.

CORIN What about a law that just updated it, modernised it, which is what they’re calling for?

BILL Well, I think what they mean is liberalise it, and we wouldn’t do that. I mean, it’s a law that’s standed the test of time. But, look, the Parliament has ways of working with this. They know how I would vote, but also they can— You know, I’m focusing on a whole wider set of issues, and many views that I think have traditionally been regarded as socially conservative turning out to be pretty useful. For instance, cracking some of our worst social problems is about trying to rebuild families that have been shattered by dependency, offending, abuse, and as a government we’re focusing on achieving that.

CORIN I think you’ll find the Abortion Advisory Committee does not think it’s standing the test of time and that it’s an outdated, clumsy, sexist piece of legislation.

BILL Well, look, they’re free to have their opinion. They know what my opinion is. The Parliament would deal with the issue, I’m sure, one way or another if it came up.

CORIN But would you stand in the way of it? You’re Prime Minister; you’re signalling that’s something you’re not interested in reforming.

BILL Well, I’m signalling that as a parliamentarian with one vote out of 121, and I hope others would vote with me.

CORIN Yeah, but the most important vote, isn’t it?

BILL Well, no, on conscience issues you are just one vote. I’ve seen this process work in the past, and I’d vote my way.

CORIN But it sets the tone, doesn’t it?

BILL Well, look, if it does, in that case, I’m quite happy that it sets the tone of not rushing into big changes in abortion law.

English remains opposed to abortion but seems unenthusiastic about changing how things work at this stage.

Little was asked about abortion in his interview:

CORIN Andrew Little, likewise, if you are Prime Minister, it will be you who sets the tone often with these issues. You’re not so keen on euthanasia, is that right? Where do you sit on the issues, these social issues that come forth if you are Prime Minister?

ANDREW I personally support euthanasia. I personally support Maryan Street’s bill. I just did not regard it as a priority for Labour when we just had an election where we got 25% of the vote. There were bigger priorities to deal with. On abortion, I support the recommendation to have an inquiry to update and upgrade that legislation. I support women’s choice.

CORIN What do you make of Bill English’s comments? He thought this was an attempt by the advisory committee at liberalisation. I mean, are you surprised that he would feel that way, that the law isn’t outdated in his mind?

ANDREW I mean, he is a social conservative. He’s deeply conservative on an issue like abortion. I happen to differ from him on that. I think that the advisory committee is right. The legislation has been around for the best part of 40 years. It does need to be reviewed and upgraded, and I agree with Jacinda. We should not have it in the Crimes Act. It is not a crime.

But as with his reluctance to put forward attempts to change the law on euthanasia (he canned a Labour private Member’s Bill on it)  Little is unlikely to make abortion law reform ‘a priority’.

Abortion was one issue that Jacinda Ardern showed some depth of knowledge and opinion on:

CORIN Jacinda, if we could turn to some of the social issues in that interview with Bill English. Where do you sit on this issue of abortion law? Does it need to be reformed?

JACINDA Yeah. And these are, as he rightly pointed out, all conscience issues. I think a lot of New Zealanders would be surprised to know that currently those laws are contained in the Crimes Act 1961. And so, for obvious reasons, that has been raised by the Abortion Supervisory Committee. So they’ve called for a review, and when you’ve still got abortion in the Crimes Act, that’s understandable, and it would be timely. But my position on issues like this has always been regardless of what my view is, why should I impose that view on others and remove their choice? I had the same view when it came to things like civil unions or marriage equality – that people should have that choice available to them. And is it our position as lawmakers to stand in the way of people accessing choice that should be there?

CORIN So if, for example, you were in a position where you were a minister in government, you wouldn’t pick up those recommendations; you’d leave it to a member’s bill? Is that what you’re saying?

JACINDA Look, I think those recommendations do need to be pursued. That’s my view, but it is a conscience vote.

As both Ardern and English pointed out it’s a conscience issue, so it won’t be a major party versus party election issue.

Corin Dan was trying to make a contentious story out bugger all.

Currently abortion is legal in New Zealand if two certifying doctors determine there is a risk of serious danger to the life or mental health of the mother (those signatures are easy to get in practice) , and in cases of severe mental or physical handicap of the fetus, incest, or severe mental subnormality of the mother.

Interview transcripts:

http://business.scoop.co.nz/2017/03/12/tvnz-1-qa-prime-minister-bill-english/

http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/PO1703/S00151/tvnz-1-qa-andrew-little-and-jacinda-ardern.htm