4 new Covid cases, review cites ‘extreme stress’ of isolation system

Four new cases of Covid have been announced today, all people who have recently arrived back in new Zealand (from India and Nepal) and were being managed in isolation. One man in his 30s was taken by ambulance to Auckland Hospital yesterday and is said to be in a stale condition. That is the first case in hospital for quite a while.

Of the 2,159 people who left managed isolation facilities between June 9 and June 16, after mandatory day three and day 12 testing was brought in and before compassionate leave was withdrawn:

  • test results are still pending for 342 people
  • there are still 427 people the ministry hasn’t been able to get hold of, despite repeated attempts
  • 137 people who will not be tested because of reasons such as being a child, being part of repositioning crew, currently being overseas or refusing a test
  • 79 people have refused testing.
As at 9.00 am, 28 June 2020
Total Change in last 24 hours
Number of confirmed cases in New Zealand 1,176 4
Number of probable cases 350 0
Number of confirmed and probable cases 1,526 4
Number of recovered cases 1,484 0
Number of deaths 22 0
Number of active cases 20 4
Number of cases currently in hospital 1 1

 

Meanwhile the Managed isolation and quarantine review has just been released.

RNZ: NZ’s managed isolation system not broken, but under ‘extreme stress’ – review

A review of the country’s managed isolation and quarantine system has found it to be under “extreme stress” and unable to respond to the increasing demands being placed on it as more New Zealanders return home.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern ordered the review on June 17 on the same day she announced she was appointing Air Commodore Darryn Webb to conduct the review and oversee border management.

Air Commodore Webb, along with Housing Minister Megan Woods – who has been appointed the minister-in-charge of quarantine and isolation facilities – announced the outcome of the review at Parliament today.

While the review found the system wasn’t “broken” it revealed the increased number of people returning to New Zealand and going into managed isolation was putting pressure on accommodation facilities and staff were only able to respond to daily challenges.

The review also identified there was an absence of standardised information for those returning to New Zealand and often the first they knew of MIQ was when they had a health check on arrival at the airport.

In many cases returning passengers weren’t even aware MIQ was required.

Other issues identified in the review were flight manifestos not being received until the inbound aircraft departs its overseas origin, which makes planning ahead of flights almost impossible and leaves little time for changes, particularly for flights from Australia.

There is also limited understanding of future demand making it difficult to do any long-range planning of the system.


Managed isolation and quarantine review

The government has today released the review of the Managed Isolation and Quarantine and outlined the actions that are being taken to respond to issues highlighted by the review.

Head of Managed Isolation and Quarantine Air Commodore Darryn Webb says significant changes have already been introduced and work is urgently underway to address other issues raised in the review report.

Last week Air Commodore Webb announced a doubling of the on-the-ground Defence Force staff of 32, across 18 facilities. As of today, we have 168 NZDF personnel across 21 facilities providing 24/7 coverage. There are also more government and defence staff across the end-to-end system.

“This increased resourcing has had an immediate impact on the ground in terms of making sure our people are well supported to carry out their roles and ensure the safe transfer of returnees into managed isolation.

“The increase in resourcing will form the backbone of further changes that are being made to ensure the system is robust and fit-for-purpose.

“We have also increased oversight of the transfer of returnees from aircraft through to Managed Isolation and Quarantine facilities so they are escorted by government staff.”

Other improvements rolling out now include:

  • Increased security for transferring returnees to managed isolation facilities
  • The standardisation of procedures across all facilities
  • The introduction of better information for returnees – from flight boarding through to entry into New Zealand and their exit from Managed Isolation.
  • Better information to communities where those facilities are located.
  • Strengthening of demand forecasting, reporting functions and coordination between agencies.

Health responses include:

  • More staff in facilities
  • Improved model of care – including taking into account issues like mental health and addiction issues
  • More clinical oversight to ensure a consistent quality of service in facilities
  • Monitoring to ensure there is consistency across facilities

“All staff supporting this process are performing to a very high standard, and have been doing so over a long period of sustained and increasing pressure. I would like to acknowledge and thank them for their ongoing work and dedication to the job. I am committed to ensuring they have the support and structures that they need to deliver well- functioning Managed Isolation and Quarantine for all New Zealanders,” Air Commodore Webb says.

WHO promise review of handling of Covid-19 pandemic

The World Health Organisation says they will begin and independent review of the global coronavirus response “as soon as possible”.

This is being backed by China and most countries are suporting WHO, but the US are still sticking their boot in, continuing to blame WHO and China for the severity of the pandemic.

RNZ:  World Health Organisation promises Covid-19 response review

The World Health Organisation says an independent review of the global coronavirus response will begin as soon as possible, and it received backing and a hefty pledge of funds from China.

But the US administration of President Donald Trump decried an “apparent attempt to conceal this outbreak by at least one member state”.

Trump has already suspended US funding for the WHO after accusing it of being too China-centric.

Without mentioning China by name, US Health Secretary Alex Azar made clear Washington considered the WHO jointly responsible for the pandemic.

“We must be frank about one of the primary reasons this outbreak spun out of control,” he said on Monday.

“There was a failure by this organisation to obtain the information that the world needed, and that failure cost many lives.”

Chinese President Xi Jinping said China had acted with “openness and transparency and responsibility”.

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus defended the organisation’s response.

“WHO sounded the alarm early, and we sounded it often,” he said.

Tedros, who has always promised a coronavirus review, told the forum it would come “at the earliest appropriate moment” and make recommendations for the future.

He received robust backing from the WHO’s independent oversight panel.

“Every country and every organisation must examine its response and learn from its experience,” Tedros said, adding that the review must cover “all actors in good faith”.

In its first report on the handling of the pandemic, the seven-member oversight committee said the WHO had “demonstrated leadership and made important progress in its Covid-19 response”.

It also said “an imperfect and evolving understanding” was not unusual when a new disease emerged.

In an apparent rejoinder to Trump, the panel said a “rising politicisation of pandemic response” was hindering the effort to defeat the virus.

Meanwhile  disagreement in the US over handling of the pandemic and related scapegoating has flared up in public, with Azar defending US efforts.

Fox News – HHS Secretary Azar hits back at Navarro’s criticism of CDC: ‘Inaccurate and inappropriate’

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar hit back Monday at White House trade adviser Peter Navarro for his coronavirus-related criticism of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in a striking public spat between two wings of the Trump administration.

“The comments regarding the CDC are inaccurate and inappropriate,” Azar said on Fox News’  “America’s Newsroom” Monday.

Azar’s comments come after Navarro slammed the CDC over the weekend, saying the agency “let the country down” in its early stages of testing for COVID-19.

“Early on in this crisis, the CDC, which really had the most trusted brand around the world in this space — really let the country down with the testing,” Navarro said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “Not only did they keep the testing within the bureaucracy, they had a bad test and that set us back.”

But Azar defended the agency Monday, saying they “had one error, which was in scaling up the manufacturing of the tests they had developed.”

Azar also defended the administration’s coronavirus testing methods, saying that President Trump “is delivering 300,000 tests per day” and that the U.S. has conducted over 10 million tests.

Trump claims US testing is the best in the world (it has now identified over one and a half million cases, but that’s the 39th best testing rate according to Worldometer).

No organisation or country could have handled the rapidly unfolding Covid crisis perfectly. It was impossible to know the best way to respond (that’s still debatable), and most countries were under prepared for any sort of pandemic.

Blaming others is just a way of trying to divert from one’s own inadequacies. The focus should be on learning from mistakes and doing better now and in future health emergencies.

Public Health Response Act belatedly referred to select committee for review

The Government has belatedly decided to allow a select committee in Parliament to scrutinise the controversial Public Health Response Act

One of the controversial things about the Bill/Actt  that was rushed through Parliament under urgency this week was that it affected civil liberties, giving police greater powers to enter homes, and that it hadn’t been subject to the full scrutiny of Parliament.

NZ Herald: Human Rights Commission ‘deeply concerned’ about Public Health Response Bill

The Human Rights Commission says it’s “deeply concerned” about the lack of scrutiny and rushed process for the Covid-19 Public Health Response Bill.

The bill, which set up the legal framework for future alert levels, was rushed through most of its legislative stages under urgency, with the support of Labour, NZ First, the Greens and Act.

But the Human Rights Commission says that despite the Government knowing for weeks that New Zealand will be moving to alert level 2, it has not allowed enough time for careful public democratic consideration of the alert level 2 legislation.

“There has been no input from ordinary New Zealanders, which is deeply regrettable,” said chief human rights commissioner Paul Hunt.

“This is a great failure of our democratic process. The new legislation, if passed in its current state, will result in sweeping police powers unseen in this country for many years.”

The Human Rights Commission is “strongly of the view” that the legislation must include a provision to ensure those making decisions, and exercising powers, under the new law, will do so in accordance with national and international human rights commitments and Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

“Given our concerns expressed to the Attorney General yesterday about the two-year sunset clause in the bill, we are pleased to see that Parliament will be changing this to 90 days,” Hunt said.

“However, given that the legislation encroaches on the civil liberties of New Zealanders we have serious concerns about whether the powers are proportionate.”

The Government has reacted to criticism and pressure and decided to allow a select committee to review the Act (albeit after it has been in force).

Legal framework for COVID-19 Alert Level referred to select committee

The COVID-19 Public Health Response Act 2020, which set a sound legal framework ahead of the move to Alert level 2, has been referred to a parliamentary select committee for review.

Attorney-General David Parker said the review of the operation of the COVID-19 specific law would be reported back to the House by July 27, in time for the House to consider whether to renew the Act in line with the 90-day review specified in the law.

“That will allow the House to take into account the advice of the committee before it makes the decision whether to continue with the law for another 90 days – or longer if the House decides,” David Parker said.

The Police can only use their enforcement powers under the Act if the Government has authorised a COVID-19 Alert Level notice.

The post-enactment review, which has been recommended by legal experts and academics, will be conducted by the Finance and Expenditure Committee, which will have MPs from all parties in Parliament on it.

David Parker reiterated that the COVID-19 Public Health Response Act ensures controls on gatherings of people and physical distancing are still enforceable. The new Act narrows the Police powers compared with those which applied under Level 3 and Level 4.

This is better than no review, but the Government should have made time for proper process before dumping the bill on Parliament under urgency last week.

MoH quarantine exemption reviews – 5 decisions reversed but still “it’s breaking my heart”

After the High Court overruled a Ministry of Health refusal to give an exemption to a man in Covid managed isolation (quarantine) to see his dying father the Ministry reviewed other applications that had been made, and upheld about half of them but reversed their decision for five people.

The review found that in all cases when applying the same process they had used the first time the new team came to the same conclusions as the original decisions – but the Court found that this process was flawed so I don’t know why they wasted time reviewing cases based on a flawed process.

Results of 32 case reviews when applying ‘the updated criteria’ (as determined by the Court):

  • 5 people had the original decision to decline their application was changed (they were able to leave managed isolation and have an agreed self-isolation plan)
  • 2 people had already finished managed isolation when reviews began (no indication if the original decisions were wrong)
  • 1 person had withdrawn their application (no indication why, perhaps their relative had died)
  • 14 people had their original decision upheld and will be required to complete their 14-day managed isolation
  • 10 people have been asked to provide further information (5 are still overseas and yet to travel to New Zealand).

Six people having their decisions reversed (1 via the Court and 5 after review) is a big deal for those people, and the delays wil have been stressful.

The Ministry says they continue to receive a large number of new applications for an exemption from managed isolation from people arriving in New Zealand, and these are being processed according to the new criteria. As they should be.

Ministry of Health: Statement on exemption reviews

The Ministry of Health has completed the review of 32 applications made for an exemption from managed isolation on compassionate grounds that had previously been declined.

We undertook this review following the High Court case last week that overturned one such decision to ensure that the appropriate process had been followed for other similar applications for exemption.

In parallel, the Ministry of Health updated the exemptions application process and criteria to ensure these are explicit and take into account the findings of the High Court judgement.

The applications were all reviewed by a separate team based in the National Crisis Management Centre. When applying the same process used by the Ministry of Health, this team reached the same conclusions as the original decisions.

The review, using the updated criteria, has yielded (results as detailed above).

We acknowledge that this will be a difficult time for people who are required to stay in managed isolation and we continue to provide support to them.

Protecting the border from COVID-19 remains a top priority as part of New Zealand’s overall elimination strategy and we will continue to look very carefully at any request for an exemption from managed isolation.

It’s a shame it took court action to get the exemption criteria changed but at least it is being dealt with better now.

The court determined that the original criteria was not properly allowing for exceptional circumstances. Counsel for the man who won the court case, Oliver Christiansen, stated:

There is a strong case that had the respondent applied the Health Act Order correctly, Mr Christiansen’s circumstances would be recognised as coming within one or both of the exemption categories: either compassionate grounds with a low risk of transmission, or exceptional circumstances.

It is difficult to comprehend what other situations would suffice to meet these categories if the present applicant’s circumstances do not.

The judge agreed:

A rigid policy that does not include exceptional circumstances, especially where the empowering law provides for those exceptions, is the antithesis of what was intended under the Order, objectively read.

In my judgment, this exceptional case demands an effective and swift response by the Court to achieve overall justice.

Requiring the respondent to permit Mr Christiansen to leave Managed Isolation prior to the end of his 14-day isolation period at the Central City facility for the purposes of visiting his terminally ill father.

The original criteria used by the Ministry must have ignored or insufficiently taken into account compassionate grounds or exception circumstances.

But it looks like the problems aren’t over for everyone – Kiwi in quarantine pleads with government to see his dying wife one last time:

A Christchurch man is pleading for government officials to exempt him from quarantine so that he can see his dying wife one last time.

Mining contractor Bernie Ryan returned from Australia on Sunday after his wife Christine Taylor’s condition worsened.

He is currently under managed isolation at a hotel in Auckland, and said despite showing no illness symptoms and a letter of support from his GP, the Ministry of Health has repeatedly refused his request for exemption.

Taylor has terminal lung cancer and has been given hours to live.

“When I departed [for Australia] to go to work, my wife was unwell but she was making progress,” Ryan said.

Taylor was diagnosed with cancer 18 months ago.

“But anyway, things turned for the worst and I was luckily able to get a flight from Brisbane to Auckland, knowing that I would have the two-week stand down before I could get back to Christchurch,” Ryan said.

Ryan first applied for an exemption on the day he arrived in Auckland.

He said he was willing to travel with Personal Protective Equipment and maintain physical distancing.

“I applied for an exemption because of my circumstances and it took two days to get a reply back, which I think is standard, [and] they refused me,” he said.

“And then I tried again straight away via the health department [Ministry of Health] representative in the hotel, he sent it off to his co-ordinator who had said if there were special circumstances to send it through to him, and it was obviously agreed I had special circumstances.”

Ryan said he waited another couple of days and received a phone call from the Ministry of Health informing him that it would be impossible for him to go to Christchurch.

He said the refusal was devastating.

“Well … I cried, and basically a friend suggested that maybe we can get in contact with the media and if not for me, for other people that may have to go through this scenario,” Ryan said.

He asked the government to show sympathy towards New Zealanders in similar situations.

“Well, I’m a proud Kiwi, we’re the best country in the world, just [show] some compassion … instead of these generic emails I’ve been getting, what about just some compassion? And not every case is the same is basically is what I’m saying,” Ryan said.

“It’s breaking my heart really.”

The Ministry of Health said Ryan would have received a letter explaining why his application has been declined, and its exemptions team will contact him to explain further.

It looks like he has gone to media as a last resort, going to court would take more time and cost money.

It sounds really tough for Mr Ryan. And it sounds like compassion does not figure much in the Ministry criteria, still.

Reforming public finance beyond the ‘wellbeing budget’

The Government has been consulting with ‘a group of experts’ – including Michael Cullen – on a new approach to managing the government’s finances, which could have a massive impact on future budgets.

Newsroom:  Cullen consults on massive Budget shake up

Treasury has brought in former Finance Minister Michael Cullen to consult on government budgeting as it tries to shift the focus away from surpluses

Dubbed a “stewardship” approach, it aims to take a more long-term view of public finance. A paper released to Newsroom under the Official Information Act shows Treasury has already begun work on reforming the public finance beyond the ‘Wellbeing Budget’ which will be delivered on Thursday.

The briefing notes that the current public finance system is 30 years old and may not adequately serve the needs of today’s governments. It said that the current work on the Wellbeing Budget and the Living Standards Framework will “only take us so far”, and further work was needed to fix “underlying issues with our public finance settings”.

Treasury says the approach is about moving from a “management” to a “system stewardship” approach to the public finance system. This could involve further changes to the Public Finance Act, a piece of legislation drawn up in 1989 that forms the cornerstone of public finance in New Zealand.

Finance Minister Grant Robertson told Newsroom the Government was “certainly moving forward” with the ideas in the paper.

Treasury believes the public sector is “not working well for everyone”. It singles out struggles in responding to “complex needs and issues” as well as “longer-term opportunities and risks”. It lays the blame, in part, on “a range of underlying issues with our public finance settings”.

It says the current settings encourage “silos” and a short-term focus. These settings mean it can be difficult to move funding across several years when it makes sense.

The reporting requirements placed on the Government focus on “outputs not outcomes,” and it incentivises “compliance and risk aversion,” rather than “innovation”.

Treasury said the new approach would “support better collaboration”, and place “more emphasis on the long-term to support innovation, asset management and capacity-building”.

One change being discussed would substantially alter how baseline funding is appropriated. Currently, bids for cost pressure funding is bid for on an annual basis, which Treasury says is “resource intensive”. This could change to a multi-year “defined period” bid, which would be more flexible.

Government budgets should have medium and long term considerations. I don’t think this is particularly new – the Cullen Fund was designed as a long term  means of financing superannuation as the population grew older. And many budget items are for multiple years (four years is common).

Last September, Treasury officials met informally with a panel which included former Finance Minister Michael Cullen, former ACT candidate and ex-Treasury Secretary Graham Scott, Victoria University Professor Jonathan Boston, and former State Services Commissioner Iain Rennie.

The group urged caution before changing “what is internationally a very good public finance system”.

Speaking to Newsroom, Cullen said there was merit in looking at long-term risks so long as a balanced approach was taken.

“So long as focus on the long-term doesn’t become an excuse for doing stupid things in the short-term then there’s a great deal of sense in getting that long-term focus,” Cullen said.

He said long-term risks like the costs of super and health care, combined with unexpected risks like earthquakes meant a prudent approach should still be taken.

“We are a country which faces quite significant risks that will suddenly descend upon us. We don’t have the slightest clue they’re going to happen,” he said.

Jonathan Boston told Newsroom that moving away from a narrow focus on GDP as a measure of the economy was wise.

“GDP is a flow measure; it measures the value of goods and services but it doesn’t tell you what’s happening to income distribution and to other financial measures, more particularly it doesn’t tell you what’s happening to the stocks of capital in a society or your human capital stock,” Boston said.

Reassessing how budgeting is done is a good thing. We will have to wait and see whether changes that happen as a result of this consultation turn out to be a good thing – and that could take many years to determine.

 

Damning review of Southland access to colonoscopy service

ODT: Limited colonoscopy access slammed

A claim of “inter-service warfare” has emerged in a damning review of Southland access to Southern District Health Board’s colonoscopy service.

This is kind of close to home for me. Southland is a wee from here, but on Tuesday night as I awaited diagnosis and treatment for lower abdominal pains I contemplated the possible need for a colonoscopy – I was relieved it ‘only’ turned out to be kidney stones.

A leaked draft of the review calls for an urgent overhaul of the way the board manages colorectal cancer.

It says limiting access to colonoscopy has gone too far and there is evidence this has had “adverse consequences for patient care”.

Undue delay in diagnosis or treatment was found in 10 of 20 Southland cases reviewed.

In a confidential survey in 2017, 15 senior doctors using the board endoscopy services indicated they were aware of patients they thought had come to harm as a result of having an endoscopy referral declined.

Most of the seven Southland Hospital staff interviewed in the review showed signs of distress and some were on the verge of tears, the auditors said.

The report recommended clinical and management staff should be offered trauma counselling immediately.

Although the Southern DHB population has the third-highest rate of colorectal cancer in the country, the report says the board’s poor performance against standards for the management of such cancer indicates serious problems with the control of the disease .

It has one of the highest rates of cancer diagnosed only after it has spread beyond the bowel, one of the highest rates of emergency surgery for bowel cancer, but one of the lowest colonoscopy rates.

It’s hard to imagine how things could get this bad when the health and lives of people are at stake.

Also: Colonoscopy concerns: Review restricted

Auditors reviewing Southland cases where concerns had been raised about colonoscopy access through the Southern District Health Board decided to limit their review because it was taking too long to get complete clinical records.

Although they had been informed of a list of 101 cases involving declined or delayed colonoscopies, and heard of more cases during interviews, they confined the audit to 20 cancer cases to avoid “further frustrating delays”.

They found 10 of the cases had an undue delay in reaching a diagnosis or treatment, ranging from three months to three and a-half years.

Six cases met the guidelines but were refused colonoscopies.

They expressed “serious concern” about the number of cases with local advanced disease at the time of initial treatment.

If an illness like rectal or colon cancer is treated soon enough it can prevent the need for much more extensive treatment – and of course it can prevent death.

ODT (March 2019):  Southland surgeons’ frustration evident

As early as 2016, Southland Hospital general surgeons considered “alarming” information about access to diagnostic colonoscopies was being ignored.

In a May 23 2016 letter Mr Pfeifer told Dr Millar “our concerns are well known and are of long standing”.

“Attempts have been made in the past to call attention to our problems and to voice our concerns, but we feel that we have been simply ignored.”

The concerns related to the application of the national guidelines for direct access colonoscopy across the whole of the Southern District Health Board.

In October last year the matter became public when a September letter to DHB chief executive Chris Fleming, written by five general surgeons – Mr Pfeifer, Paul Samson, Konrad Richter, Julian Speight and Jerry Glenn – was covered by the ODT.

The letter showed the surgeons were fed up with the delays to the review and had lost confidence in the endoscopy service.

Dr Millar, speaking then about the review, said the surgeons’ “significant concerns” were being taken seriously. In his emailed response to the September letter, Mr Fleming noted the surgeons’ request for “unfettered access”.

“This indeed may or may not be a recommendation from the review.”

It would be essential, if there were changes recommended, that there was no return to the previous situation which he understood to be a three-year waiting list.

This “frankly, is a significantly unacceptable risk in its own right”, he wrote.

A three year waiting list seems more than unacceptable, it is outrageous.

Minister of Justice fast tracking ‘hate speech’ legislation review

Minister of Justice Andrew Little says he is fast-tracking a review of legislation to look at ‘hate crime’ and ‘hate speech’. This could possibly lead to more specific laws to cover them.

However ‘fast-tracking’ does not necessarily mean a sudden knee-jerk lurch to draconian laws as some are saying is already happening. Little hopes to have aa proposal by the end of the year, and that would then have to go through Cabinet for approval and then through Parliament, so any changes look like being at least a year away – in election year,

1 News: Andrew Little plans fast-track review of hate speech laws

Justice Minister Andew Little says he’s fast-tracking a law review which could see hate crimes made a new legal offence.

He said the current law on hate speech was not thorough and strong enough and needed to change.

Mr Little said the Christchurch shootings highlighted the need for a better mechanism to deal with incidents of hate speech and other hateful deeds.

It isn’t unusual for an unprecedented crime to prompt a rethink of things that could be contributory factors (it happened after the Aramoana massacre). Firearm regulation and law changes are actually being fast-tracked, not just a review of them – and order in Council has already reclassified many types of semi-automatic weapons, and it is expected the legislation will go before Parliament next week.

He has asked justice officials to look at the laws and he was also fast-tracking a scheduled Human Rights Act review. “The conclusion I’ve drawn as the minister is that the laws are inadequate and I think we need to do better,” Mr Little said.

Mr Little said the current laws dealing with hate speech and complaints about hate speech and discriminatory action that relate to hateful expression were lacking.

The law in the Human Rights Act related to racial disharmony, but it didn’t deal with various other grounds of discrimination, he said.

The Harmful Digital Communications Act was put in place to deal with online bullying and other unpleasantness, but it didn’t tackle the “evil and hateful things that we’re seeing online”, Mr Little said.

He said the government and the Human Rights Commission will work together, and a document or proposal will be produced for the public to debate.

Note “a document or proposal will be produced for the public to debate”. It will be important to have a decent public debate about whatever is proposed.

“There will be important issues to debate. There will be issues about what limit should be put on freedom of expression and freedom of speech.

“We should reflect on where the lines need to be drawn and therefore, whether the laws should be struck so that they’re effective and provide some protection to people who’re otherwise vulnerable.”

I think it is going to be quite difficult trying to define hate speech and hate crime in legislation. And also to get a reasonable balance between protection from hate speech and free speech.

Stuff: Hate crime law review fast-tracked following Christchurch mosque shootings

Currently, hate-motivated hostility can be considered an “aggravating factor” in sentencing, and staff can note when a crime was motivated by a “common characteristic” such as race, gender identity, sexual orientation, or religion.

Overall, there is no way of knowing how many offences are hate crimes and police do not even routinely record the ethnicity of victims.

Little said he had asked the Justice Ministry to look at relevant aspects of the Human Rights Act, the Harmful Digital Communications Act, and sections of the Crimes Act to see what laws needed to be changed or added.

“I certainly think that the laws dealing with what we call ‘hate speech’, and human rights law, are woefully inadequate,” Little said.

The tolerance for what had been considered acceptable had been too high, he said. Ethnic minorities needed to not only be accepted, but embraced and welcomed.

“It’s timely to make sure that for those who would want to hurt others – even through words – that we can curtail that.”

Somehow a legal line has to be drawn between fair reporting and debate, and speech aimed at hurting, intimidating, alienating.

The Human Rights Commission collects “race-related complaints” but says it has an incomplete picture of the problem. It has been calling for a national recording system to be set up.

The commission’s chief legal advisor Janet Anderson Bidois said there were “grave anomalies” in the current law.

“For example, the Human Rights Act prohibits the ‘incitement of disharmony’ on the basis of race, ethnicity, colour or national origins, but it does not cover incitement for reasons of religion, gender, disability or sexual orientation,” she said.

“We maintain that a discussion about our current hate speech laws is overdue, and that urgent action is required in relation to the recording of hate crimes.”

This will be a challenge for all of us.

Especially as the review has been prompted by the Christchurch mosque attacks, a lot of discussion will focus on Islam and Muslims, who have been ostracised and targeted in generalised attacks that go further than criticism.

Some attacks on Muslims have become quite sophisticated, trying to couch attacks in reasonable terms. One common tactic is to cherry pick pieces out of old religious texts and imply this is representative of  all Muslims, including by implication Muslims in New Zealand.

Claims of justification because ‘it is just facts’ don’t wash – it is easy to group selected ‘facts’ (often actually quotes from historic texts, which aren’t facts) in a derogatory or fear-mongering manner.

The same tactic can be used by cherry picking bits out of the Old Testament to smear modern Christians, but it is done far more to blanket smear modern Muslims who have a wide variety of practices and cultures.

It will be hard to stop hate and fear and intolerance of other cultures, races and religions – this can be ingrained in some people.

It will also be hard to prevent this hate and fear and intolerance being used to attack groups of people, while still allowing for relatively free speech and open discussion about things that are pertinent to life in New Zealand.

This is also a challenge for social media and blog moderators.

I will do what I can to encourage debate proposals to change hate speech and hate crime laws, but preventing these discussions from becoming hateful or from mass targeting where it is not warranted by circumstances.

An irreverent review of the 2018 political year

The year of 2018 welcomed a Prime Ministerial baby, the collapse of two Ministerial careers and a kamikaze takedown of the Opposition. Political reporter Craig McCulloch takes an irreverent (by RNZ standards) look back on the biggest stories of 2018.

Audio (RNZ) – Focus on Politics: 2018 in Review

Massey University review clears chancellor over Brash ‘ban’

I’m suspicious of inquiry and review reports being made public just before Christmas – a time thought to be good to bury news as people are distracted by Christmas and holidays.

Putting something to a review in the first place sometimes seems to have a purpose of defusing and even burying contentious issues.

Another review has just been released:  Review clears Massey University vice-chancellor Jan Thomas over Don Brash ban

A review has cleared Massey University vice-chancellor Jan Thomas of wrongdoing in cancelling a Don Brash speaking event.

Brash and Thomas have been at the centre of a freedom-of-speech debate since former National Party leader Brash was prevented from speaking at the university’s Manawatū campus in August.

Thomas cancelled the venue booking for Brash’s planned visit, citing security and other concerns, but it was later revealed Thomas didn’t want the university to be seen endorsing racist behaviours, and she was uncomfortable with Brash’s leadership of lobby group Hobson’s Pledge.

Consulting firm Martin Jenkins reviewed the decision to cancel the event and the following fallout.

The review found Thomas did not intend to stop the event before a security threat was made and that she didn’t lie about the reasons for cancelling the booking.

But it said she did not fully explore alternative options, which opened the university up to criticism about the potential security threat not being genuine.

It didn’t just ‘open up the university’ to speculation and criticism, they were blasted.

The review recommended if the university were to face similar circumstances it should thoroughly assess the threat before deciding whether to cancel the use of a venue.

“This process, the criteria for the assessment, and who should provide such an assessment should be part of a formal university policy,” the report read.

Perhaps they could set up a review to assess any urgent threats, and release the report on the review several months later.

Brash is still critical.

Brash found the report’s findings “profoundly disappointing”.

“It’s a document that seems to whitewash what the vice-chancellor did and to my mind the behaviour at the time was disgraceful by the vice-chancellor.

“Does the vice-chancellor believe in free speech or not? That’s the profound and fundamental question.

“The report seems to say ‘not necessarily’ – if free speech conflicts with the vice-chancellor’s interpretation of the Treaty of Waitangi.”

Brash, who wasn’t contacted for the review, thought the report would have expressed concern about the way things were handled.

I guess Thomas was contacted for the review, so at least she had an opportunity to defend her actions.

Thomas has said it wasn’t a ban, but an event cancellation.

Use whatever semantics you like, but Thomas made it clear she thought that it wasn’t appropriate for Brash, an ex party leader, to speak to a political group at Massey about politics. And her cancellation of the event ensured Brash couldn’t speak on campus ()he has since been to Massey to speak).

 

 

 

 

Rankin, Ardern, Peters respond to Parliament’s bullying and harassment review

The behaviour of MP versus MP is not included in the Review into bullying and harassment at Parliament, it is dealing with staff only, but it has raised the issue of poor behaviour from MPs.

The Speaker Trevor Mallard’s past behaviour in Parliament has been pointed out, including a conviction for fighting with another MP and attacks on a consultant. In 2007 Mallard pleads guilty to fighting, says sorry to consultant

Mallard pleaded not guilty to an assault charge, but today pleaded guilty to the lesser fighting charge and agreed to pay $500 to the Salvation Army’s Bridge drug and alcohol programme.

Shortly after the conclusion of the hearing, Mallard apologised in Parliament to Ms Leigh, who he had been accused of unfairly attacking under parliamentary privilege.

And yesterday, in response to Mallard launching the review – ‘He was a bully’: Christine Rankin accuses ‘crude’ Trevor Mallard of bullying

Former Work and Income NZ chief executive Christine Rankin says she was subjected to a campaign of bullying from senior ministers who wanted her out – and that Speaker Trevor Mallard was among them.

“I think anyone can look back on my situation 18 years ago and accept that it was the biggest bullying situation that has ever happened in this country that we know of,” she told Newshub.

She says she was taunted and comments were made about the way she looked. She claims she was even told that her earrings were a “sexual come-on”.

“Incidents have occurred over many years in these buildings which are unacceptable,” said Mr Mallard when announcing the inquiry earlier this week.

Ms Rankin says she was relentlessly bullied by senior Labour Party ministers after they took power in 1999, and that group included now-Speaker Mr Mallard.

“He was a bully,” she told Newshub. “They were all bullies and they revelled in it.”

She says ministers would whisper and laugh about her during meetings – with Mr Mallard using language that still makes her too uncomfortable to repeat.

“He was crude and rude and it was directed at me.”

Mallard has probably changed a lot since then, especially since he took on the responsibility of Speaker. His past behaviour shouldn’t stop him from addressing that sort of behaviour now. Tolerance of harassment has significantly diminished.

Parliament should set an example (a good example) to the population, and the review is a good to do this.

Hopefully MPs will learn something from it. Robust debate is an essential part of a healthy democracy, but in the past MP behaviour has gone far further than that with attacks on opponents capable of being seen as bullying and harassment.

Quite contrasting reactions from Jacinda Ardern and Winston Peters.

NZ Herald: Winston Peters has ‘no idea’ why bullying review into Parliament is taking place

Most MPs welcomed the review, including Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who said Parliament was not immune to such issues.

“It is high pressure. There’s long hours. There’s no excuse, though, for that to result in poor behaviour, so it’s worthwhile to undertake this exercise,” Ardern said.

But someone’s nose seems to be out of joint – or perhaps there are feelings of guilt.

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters has poured cold water on Parliament’s review of workplace bullying and harassment, saying he has “no idea” why it is taking place.

Peters said he had not been consulted, adding that being told in advance did not amount to consultation.

“I’ve got no idea why this is being requested by the Speaker at all. I have not been consulted on that matter, so I’m not prepared to make any comment at all.”

Asked if he supported the review, Peters said: “We’ll find out when the review happens.”

He joked that the media had subjected him to bullying.

“I’m going to tell the interviewer that the only person being seriously bullied around this place for a long time is one Winston Peters – by people like you.”

Given Peters’ use of the media to attack people that’s ironic.

And given Peters’ manner towards journalists trying to interview him the question of bullying could easily be put to him – but Peters has long used attack as a form of defence.

At least Mallard has recognised moves to address and reduce poor MP behaviour, seemingly having learned from his own mistakes and unsatisfactory behaviour in the past.

If anything Peters is getting worse now he is in one of the most powerful positions he has attained in Parliament. A sense that his longevity in Parliament gives him some sort of right to act as he pleases highlights how out of step his combative and cantankerous approach is in the modern world of politics and in society in general).