Labour MPs block China expert from speaking at select committee

An odd vote by Labour MPs in the Justice select committee (NZH): Labour MPs vote against allowing China expert Anne-Marie Brady to speak at justice select committee

Labour MPs on the justice select committee have voted against allowing China politics expert Anne-Marie Brady to make a submission on foreign interference in elections.

National MPs supported Brady, a professor at Canterbury University, giving her view on the issue which is a focus of the committee’s inquiry into the 2017 general election and 2016 local elections.

The eight-strong committee is evenly split between National and Labour MPs and today’s vote against means Brady cannot appear.

That’s a strange and concerning exclusion of an expert opinion by the Labour MPs.

National MP Nick Smith, who is a member of the committee, said it was concerning that Labour blocked Brady from making a submission on the critical issue of protecting New Zealand from foreign interference in its democracy.

“This has become a huge issue in other liberal democracies, whether it’s the United States, Australia, UK, Canada or Western Europe.

“If the committee is going to do its job for Parliament, we need access to both government officials but also New Zealand’s most published author on the subject,” Smith told the Herald.

He said the Labour MPs’ reasons for blocking Brady’s appearance were “disingenuous”.

“They said ‘we should only hear from government officials’ when Parliament needs to be able to hear from a wide range of expert views to be able to complete its inquiry successfully”.

They only want to hear what they want to hear?

Justice committee chairman Labour MP Raymond Huo said the decision to decline Brady’s late request was purely procedural.

Exluding an expert opinion seems hardly ‘purely procedural’.

Brady said in a statement that the coalition Government had made it clear in two public strategy documents, as well as classified briefing papers made public, that it was very concerned about foreign interference activities in New Zealand and wanted address them.

“New Zealand needs to pull together as a country to face this problem, and we need a bipartisan approach to solving it.

“The Government must pass new legislation which will address foreign interference in our political system, and it needs to talk directly about the problem to the public, so they can make informed choices and understand what the concerns are”.

Labour’s openness and transparency and fairness seem to have been forgotten here.

Word of the year: Justice

Merriam-Webster have named ‘justice’ as their word of the year based on how often it was looked up. They have also listed another ten top lookup works. It is interesting to see what prompted interest in the words.


Our Word of the Year for 2018 is justice. It was a top lookup throughout the year at, with the entry being consulted 74% more than in 2017.

The concept of justice was at the center of many of our national debates in the past year: racial justice, social justice, criminal justice, economic justice. In any conversation about these topics, the question of just what exactly we mean when we use the term justice is relevant, and part of the discussion.

This year’s news had many stories involving the division within the executive branch of government responsible for the enforcement of laws: the Department of Justice, sometimes referred to simply as “Justice.”

Justice has varied meanings that do a lot of work in the language—meanings that range from the technical and legal to the lofty and philosophical.

1. Nationalism

Lookups for nationalism spiked 8,000% on October 22nd and 23rd after President Trump announced at a rally in Texas:

“You know, they have a word — it’s sort of became old-fashioned — it’s called a ‘nationalist.’ And I say, really, we’re not supposed to use that word. You know what I am? I’m a nationalist, okay? I’m a nationalist. Nationalist. Nothing wrong. Use that word. Use that word.”

Nationalism is defined as “loyalty and devotion to a nation,” especially “exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests as opposed to those of other nations or supranational groups.”

We seem to have little overt nationalism in New Zealand.

2. Pansexual

Pansexual saw a spike in lookups in April, when singer Janelle Monáe was quoted in Rolling Stone magazine self-identifying with the term. Today the word most often is used to mean “of, relating to, or characterized by sexual desire or attraction that is not limited to people of a particular gender identity or sexual orientation,” but the word entered the English language in the early 20th century with a different use: “tending to suffuse all experience and conduct with erotic feeling.”

The semantic breadth of the prefix pan-, which means “all” or “completely,” has made pansexual a useful alternative to bisexual for those who see gender as a spectrum rather than a binary.

I haven’t seen pansexual used much if at all here, but gender labels have certainly become big topics.

3. Lodestar

The anonymous op-ed in The New York Times said to have been written by a senior official in the Trump administration caused lookups to spike for lodestar (and its less common variant loadstar) in early September. The term was used in this passage:

We may no longer have Senator McCain. But we will always have his example — a lodestar for restoring honor to public life and our national dialogue. Mr. Trump may fear such honorable men, but we should revere them.
— The New York Times, 6 Sept. 2018

Lodestar originally meant “a star that leads or guides (especially the North Star).” It now is used to mean “one that serves as an inspiration, model, or guide.”

This also didn’t feature in New Zealand.

4. Epiphany

There’s nothing remarkable about the word epiphany experiencing a spike in lookups in early January: the earliest use of the word is to refer to a Christian festival held on January 6th in honor of the coming of the three kings to the infant Jesus Christ.

But lookups of epiphany spiked in August when the word featured in the trailer for a song in a forthcoming album from the K-Pop group BTS. In the song, the word functions in its metaphorical senses having to do with the sudden perception of the essential nature or meaning of something, or an illuminating realization. The word’s Greek ancestor, epiphainein, means “to manifest.”

Pop culture can have a big influence on language. I haven’t heard of K-Pop, but maybe they are popular here with younger people.

5. Feckless

Samantha Bee’s segment about the Trump administration’s immigration policy of separating children from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border included her plea, directed at Ivanka Trump, to “do something about your dad’s immigration policies,” then using a disparaging and obscene word modified by feckless, meaning “ineffective” or “worthless.”

The feck in feckless is a Scottish word meaning “value” or “worth.” And, interestingly enough, feckless does indeed have an antonym, although it is quite rare: feckful, meaning “efficient” or “effective.”

Another term confined to US use.

6. Laurel

It was the middle of May when one of the dictionary’s wallflowers shot into the lookups ether: laurel was up more than 3300%, all because of an audio clip that had divided netizens into two distinct group, those who heard laurel and those who heard yanny. (The clip came from the audio pronunciation file at’s entry for laurel.)

Linguists bounded in to explain the phenomenon—it has to do with whether lower or higher frequencies are more prominent, for an individual or because of audio quality—and the New York Times built a fun little tool that makes it possible for listeners to hear both.

News to me. Will I check to see if I’m laurel or yanny? Too busy for now.

7. Pissant

The sometimes vulgar and generally obscure word pissant enjoyed a brief but intense period of lexicographical popularity early in the year, when it rose 115,000% in lookups. New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady called a radio station out during an interview after a DJ on the station had several days earlier described Brady’s young daughter with the word.

Pissant, which originally was a dialectal term for “ant,” has been used as a generalized term of abuse for a person or thing deemed insignificant since the early 20th century. Its origin is exactly what one might expect, a blending of the urinary sense of piss and the formicine sense of ant.

Another very US context.

8. Respect

When Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul, died on August 16th, the title of one of her most enduring hits was ubiquitous in tributes to her, and respect became a top lookup.

The world had known Franklin’s song for 50 years—in which time it has become an anthem for both the civil rights and feminist movements—but the word respect has been part of the English language since the 14th century. It comes from the Latin respectus, which literally means “the act of looking back.” It’s an apt etymology for a word that served as a focal point of a global appreciation for the decades of music Aretha Franklin had given the world.

Aretha Franklin was well respected here, and her death got some attention and coverage.

9. Maverick

Maverick spiked following the death of Arizona Senator John McCain in August. Interest in the word came as no surprise, since McCain had often been described with this word, meaning “an independent individual who does not go along with a group or party.”

Before maverick described independent people, it meant “an unbranded range animal; especially a motherless calf.” The word comes from the name of Samuel A. Maverick, a 19th century lawyer and politician who, although not a cattle rancher, ended up with some cattle taken as payment for a debt. Since he neglected to brand any identifying marks on the cattle, many of the “independent” animals were taken by other ranchers who branded them as their own.

McCain is well known here, but we tend to not have political mavericks in New Zealand. John A. Lee? Marilyn Waring? ( I saw her in the news a few days ago). Winston Peters when it suits him perhaps, but he is really a political opportunist who is happy to be anti-maverick when he gets what he wants, limelight and power.

10. Excelsior

Stan Lee’s motto and salutation excelsior spiked following his death in November. He used the word to conclude each of the monthly columns he wrote for Marvel Comics, and was so closely associated with it that he was even sometimes asked to say the word in public.

Excelsior is the Latin word for “higher” and is etymologically related to the words excel and excellent.

Lee’s death got a bit of a mention here but it wasn’t a big deal.

This is an interesting bunch of words, obviously quite US-centric.

Note that these are words that were popular to look up, but that may mean people weren’t sure what they meant. There are likely to be many words in popular use that people didn’t need to look up in a dictionary.

Cartoons provoke sexual assault debate

Cartoon by Bruce McKinnon

The Star: Halifax cartoonist’s response to Kavanaugh hearing goes viral

MacKinnon said he was compelled to draw the cartoon, which was published in the weekend edition of The Chronicle Herald, to illustrate what he believes to be a crucial example of how allegations of sexual abuse are treated in North America.

“In a year that was so dominated by the #MeToo movement and the changes that I think we all hope will come from that, this seems to be an almost watershed moment and a very pivotal one for America”.

“I think it’s important that people face up to it. It is disturbing. But it’s exactly the scenario (Ford) described.

“So if we don’t talk about it, if we turn away from it and pretend it isn’t there, we’re not going to solve the problem.”

“I was surprised by the response and really encouraged by the fact that there was so much discourse that came from it, so much open debate,” he said.

“There was a lot of nasty stuff out there too, no question. It does underscore the deep divide and the real polarization of opinion here and in the U.S., but that’s what an editorial cartoon is for: to provoke debate, and hopefully, in the larger picture, some things get worked out.”

A similar cartoon:

But this issue has other important considerations that can’t be ignored either.

Little ducking for cover over changes to bail, parole and sentencing laws

Being ‘tough on crime’, prison numbers, and law and order have long been a political football, with successive governments pandering to populist demands for fear of being seen as responsible for awful crimes.

The Labour-led government has an ambitious goal of reversing the prison population by 30%, and have already had some success in reducing them slightly (following on from initiatives started under the previous government), but some difficult decisions will have to be made to come close to meeting their target.

If bail or parole laws and sentencing directives are relaxed it will only take one high profile crime to be committed by someone who otherwise could have been contained in prison for the political football to become a head high tackle on the Minister of Justice and the government responsible.

It is a lot less dramatic and more difficult to quantify to promote that recidivism may be reduced and crimes may have been prevented by better treatment and rehabilitation of offenders.

David Fisher (NZH): Andrew Little ducks for cover as National forecasts tragedy from justice reform

The battle lines are drawn on crime and justice reform and Minister of Justice Andrew Little is in a bunker.

It’s not a great place for a first-term minister but the National Party has driven him there by virtue of how it has stolen a march on precious territory over contested ground.

The struggle Little faces is over possible changes to bail, parole and sentencing laws.

Labour had pledged to cut the prison population by 30 per cent in 15 years and Little has talked of possible changes to those laws.

To meet that target, experts in the field agree those laws will need to be changed.

But Fisher says that Little has been avoiding talking about how this might be done, giving Opposition MPs free shots.

Interviews with leader Simon Bridges and Corrections spokesman David Bennett have seen the National Party politicians repeatedly refer to the Government considering changes to bail, parole and sentencing laws.

It was a possibility Little raised early in the debate around criminal justice reform.

While he might not wish to talk about it now, the National Party will do so – and its message is in lock-step across MPs.

Bridges: “He has to reduce the prison population by a third because he’s not building the prison beds and that really leads inevitably to a softening up of the bail, sentencing, parole laws.”

Bennett: “If they are going to relax those bail and sentencing laws and parole laws they should front up to the NZ public now.”

In forecasting those changes, those politicians have forecast what they say is the human cost if those changes are made. There has been no evidence presented to support these statements.

Bridges: “If the bail-sentencing-parole laws are softened up, there will be many more victims of crime that (Little) and Jacinda Ardern will be responsible for.”

Bennett: “They’re talking about relaxing the laws which would be to early release offenders. They are going to release criminals into the community and put victims and other potential victims at risk”.

Bridges: “If Andrew Little gets his head on bail, sentencing and parole changes, the consequences will be dire. I have no doubt if Andrew Little gets his head there will be an uproar in New Zealand over time as the victims of crime become more and more apparent.”

Bennett: “What they are looking at doing is reducing those rules and they’ve said many a time that is their intention, and if they do it then that increases the risk because there are more people out.”

Over the past 20 years, both Labour and National have responded to a public “tough on crime” appetite by ramping up bail, parole and sentencing laws.

It’s going to be very difficult for Little to get the balance right if he makes changes to the law. He will be hit with any failures, whether justified or not.

And he also faces a challenge getting coalition support, with NZ First already pulling the 3 strikes repeal rug from under him.

With Bridges’ past experience as a lawyer and  also prosecutor it would have been good to see him working positively with Little to find better ways of dealing with crime and punishment without increasing risks, but he seems to have chosen a partisan path instead. That’s a real shame.

There’s a lot at stake, but as usual on law and order issues it looks like politics and populism will as difficult to beat as crime and prison numbers.

Amy Adams on free speeech and the Harmful Digital Communications

After the Harmful Digital Communications  passed in June the Minister of Justice, Courts, Broadcasting and Communications answered questions in a Live Chat at Stuff.

This gives some insight into what Adams hopes the Bill will achieve.

Is cyberbullying a real problem? Can’t the current law stop this now?

Yes it is. The Law Commission looked at this area in 2012 and found that 1 in 5 NZ’ers up to age 30 had experienced cyber bullying and this is likely to get more common. The current law doesn’t provide victims with a quick and simple means to get harmful content taken down.

I do wonder whether you can ensure that this bill will in no way impede on the right to free speech we have now, as I see this is a worry strongly expressed by some.

The right to free speech has never been absolute but it is impt that we carefully balance the significant harm that can be done by cyber bullying with the protection of free speech. The Bill contains safeguards to ensure this balance has landed in the right place and the select committee looked carefully at that issue and we have worked with stakeholders to make sure the threshold for intervention is appropriately high.

How will digital communications be monitored? What capability does the government/police currently have to monitor social media and online comms?

The Govt will not be monitoring social media around this. The Bill provides options for those who feel their rights have been breached to go to the Approved Agency to look at appropriate remedies and if the matter can’t be resolved directly then the victim can go to the court to seek necessary orders The court will then decide if that is appropriate in that case. It’s up to the victim to initiate action.

How will the act ensure that claims of cyber bullying are legitimate?

The Bill requires that in the first instance the victim goes to the approved agency who can reject any claims that don’t meet the threshold for intervention and only if the claims are legitimate will that agency, or the court, be prepared to take any further steps.

Why does the law only cover electronic communications? Don’t victims of off-line bullying deserve the same protections?

The Bill is designed as a specific response to the particular insidious forms of harm that are possible through the internet given the ability for digital communications to be anonymous and spread to potentially millions within short periods of time. Off-line situations are different in harm caused and are covered in different ways.

A friend and I were discussing this Bill the other day. She has a disgruntled ex-partner that she is afraid might post private photos of her online. Would this cover that circumstance? Also, does it only apply to communications after the date of assent or is there a retrospective application for current victims of cyberbullying?

Yes the prospect of what is called “revenge porn” is one of the key issues the Bill seeks to address and the circumstance you describe would indeed be covered however the Bill will only apply to behaviour after the law takes effect. The criminal offence part of the Bill will start immediately for the worst sorts of activity however the approved agency will take a little longer to establish.

Re the school sector, how will this complement the services of organisations such as Netsafe?

The work Netsafe are currently doing with schools and others to educate around the harm that can be caused online and how to be safe is critical and this work will be a core part of the Approved Agency’s mandate.

How does this law prevent cyber-bullying from offshore? If I run a server in NYC and use it to twitter-abuse max key will i get in trouble? How does this bill protect little max?

If the Court determines that the post is unacceptable in terms of the Bill then orders to remove the content can be made against the person who has written the post and/or the website host. If either of those is onshore the issue is straightforward, if they are offshore then the issue is harder but most website hosts are responsible and seek to comply with court orders from jurisdictions like ours.

This is a fundamental right of free speech that is being stolen from from New Zealanders with no mandate from the people who elected this government, despite the vaque assurances. Why is it we get binding referendums on non issues like a flag change and not this one?

Most issues that Governments have to provide for do not justify referenda. Constitutional changes such as the flag are often considered to be the exception. The mandate to pass this Bill arrives from the election of us as Government and we did campaign on this issue and our intention to pass this law if elected. Furthermore the Bill has to receive the support of a majority of parliament (we are a minority Government) and to date has received overwhelming cross party support.

Who or what will likely be the Approved Agency?

That is a process we will have to go through post the Bill’s passage. I will run a fair and transparent process to ensure that the best organisation for the role is selected. They will need to show they have strong skills, knowledge and experience in this area and high levels of public trust.

Will anonymity online still be protected? Does the government see the importance of having anonymous online communities and protecting privacy online?

The anonymous nature of any contributions is not an issue under the Bill, the issue is whether the contribution breaches the core communication principles and causes unreasonable harm. If that is the case then whether or not the post is anonymous, the ability to take action will exist.

When you have two diametrically opposed bloggers as Whale Oil and The Daily Blog condemning this legislation, doesn’t that send strong signals that the proposal as written has serious flaws that need addressing?

I am of the view that the allegations as to how the Bill will operate are in some cases overblown and baseless. The law has careful safeguards and I have great confidence in our courts to ensure that action is only taken where appropriate and that robust exchanges of opinion (including political comment) will continue to be a common occurrence in our society.

Why does the criminal offence not provide a defence for causing harm that may be justified? Some of the on-line criticism of the so-called roast-busters probably caused them serious emotional distress, but I’m uncomfortable with making that type of criticism of the roast-busters a crime.

The Bill specifically allows the court to consider the circumstances of the case, the truth of the stmt, any public interest in the stmt, the conduct of the person complaining etc in making any take down order. In terms of the criminal offence these matters are considered as part of any decision to prosecute and by the judge in their handling of the case.

I’m concerned that this casts a very wide net. Will media be subject to this?

The law applies to everyone however it is highly unlikely that media operating in accordance with existing journalistic standards would ever fall foul of this law. If they did however do so then it is right that they be subject to the same approach as everyone else.

While the courts might resolve things, just the mere threat of being taken to court is often going to be enough of a threat to shut down healthy debate. Or is that not the case?

The issue of balancing freedom of speech with the need to better protect NZ’ers from some of the appalling tragedies we have unfortunately already seen was the core issue throughout the Law Commission work and the development and passage of this Bill. It is a new approach for NZ so I can understand the debate, however I, and those who have worked closely on the Bill are of the view that we have that balance right and that healthy debate will not be inappropriately stifled.

Time will tell how this Bill works in practice.

Note: questions and answers are slightly edited to de-personalise.

Labour will not negotiate on Dotcom’s extradition

Labour’s Justice spokesperson Andrew Little has stated that Labour Kim Dotcom’s extradition “will not be part of any negotiations on Labour’s part”.

Questions about the political  motives of Dotcom have and been and will keep being raised – see Internet Party faces questions on extradition.

I asked Andrew Little whether Labour would negotiate on the extradition and he has responded:

The Labour Party doesn’t have any position or policy on the extradition proceedings concerning Kim Dotcom.

It would be premature and constitutionally improper for any political party to express a view on how a ministerial discretion might be exercised in this regard before the courts have determined eligibility as to do so may give the appearance of trying to influence the court contrary to the principle of independence of the judiciary.

If the court decides Mr Dotcom is eligible for extradition then the incumbent Minister of Justice must exercise a statutory discretion under the Extradition Act 1999 and the exercise of that discretion must conform to the longstanding requirements for ministerial discretion which include that it must take into account relevant considerations and discount irrelevant considerations and otherwise be rational.

I do not think that the political requirements of assembling a new government constitute a relevant consideration in determining whether a person should be extradited.

Mr Dotcom’s extradition, regardless of the status of the court proceedings at the time, will not be part of any negotiations on Labour’s part.

That’s a clear no to the extradition being a part of negotiations.

Generally in politics stated positions are up for negotiation and compromise, it’s an essential part of working with other parties.

But when legal processes are involved the current laws and sound practices must be paramount.