Thursday, 31 March 2011


NEWSTALK ZB 1 April 2011 "A counter view this morning that Greg Meads should have to pay more reparation for the murder of his wife.
The Waikato horse breeder has been sentenced to at least 11 years behind bars.
He shot his wife Helen at close range at their Matamata home in 2009, just days after she told him she was leaving.
He has also been ordered to pay $65,000 to Helen Meads' parents, and her two children.
Mrs Meads' father, David White, says the Meads family fortune is worth $40,000, and Greg Meads should be forced to pay more.
But Auckland University Law Professor Warren Brookbanks says compared with other cases where reparations have been awarded, the amount is relatively high.
"You don't often find reparation awards in the tens of thousands of dollars but that's what the court decided was appropriate," he says.
Mr Brookbanks says the family is entitled to appeal the decision and seek more money.
The Sensible Sentencing Trust says the prison term handed down to Meads takes the cake when it comes to appalling sentences.
Sensible Sentencing spokesman Garth McVicar says it indicates a bullet is cheaper than divorce.
"Any woman who's thinking of leaving her husband will be dead scared their husbands are looking at this and weighing up the odds," he says.
Mr McVicar says he has been contacted by several barristers also appalled at the sentence, who want to work will the family to lodge an appeal.

More thoughtless crap from Garth McVicar of the SS Trust. This murderer received a life sentence with a non-parole period of 11 years. I know of no murderer who has ever obtained parole at their first appearance. The way a life sentence works means that even on parole he will be liable to recall to prison until the day he dies. In reality he will not be released for at least 15-20 years.

McVicar has no moral authority to talk about justice in these matters. On behalf of SS he defended tagger-killer Bruce Emery who chased 15 year old boy Pihema Cameron for 300m down a street and then in a confrontation stabbed him to death with the knife he was carrying. Emery received a sentence of 4 years and was paroled in 2. McVicar thought he should never have been sent to prison in the first place with his case being discharged altogether.

SS are the organisation supposedly committed to the rights of victims of crime. But McVicar proved that SS is only concerned with those victims who fit their own stereotypes. McVicar has suggested to Radio NZ that convicted criminals – those who kill – should walk free provided the crime is stabbing taggers. McVicar commented on Radio NZ after Emery had been found guilty of the manslaughter of Pihema Cameron:

"... the trust would have liked to have seen Emery discharged altogether. Mr McVicar says this would have sent a message that minor crimes like graffiti need to be dealt with seriously."

So SS not only condones vigilantism, but execution too?

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

The Case for Public Spending

Contrary to what the Government believes public spending can actually be a driver to economic growth. In the developed nations in the world currently Governments are spending on average 40-60 percent of GDP on public spending. Some rabid free market devotees argue that public spending should be reduced to around 20 percent of GDP, where we were in the 1920’s. Some African nations are at that level of public spending now.

Perhaps it should be at 30 percent of GDP, that’s where we were in the 1960’s and that’s where some South American nations are now. But modern economies are in bands of between 40 to 60 percent.

Public expenditure is a driver of economic growth. Take infrastructure for example. Private companies historically do not invest in infrastructure. The road and transport system, the electricity system, the telecom system, the postage system, the water and sewerage system, all historically in most countries over the past 140 years have come about through public spending.

Second there is the “soft infrastructure” that is public services such as the health system, the libraries, the universities and poly techs. The stuff that supports the growth and development of people; the stuff that supports and generates a highly educated and skilled work force. As economies grow the demands become more complex and the demands grow the demands become more complex and you need an increase in education and more higher education. That is why services continue to grow as economies grow.

The reason this has been done historically through the public sector is because it is more efficient. The clearest way you can see this is through health care. Look at the USA, which has conducted a unique experiment of trying to run privately funded health care. The USA spends twice as much of its GDP on health care as do most other developed countries on average and its get worse results in terms of health outcomes per head of population than most other countries. It has the 33rd place in terms of life expectancy among developed countries and in terms of child mortality rates the USA has rates twice that of the Czech Republic. So private health care is both expensive and inefficient.

If we look more broadly across various sectors we see empirical studies comparing delivery of services across a range of sectors from health, water, electricity, education and prisons that in terms of comparing efficiency between private and public agencies the results come back that there is no superior efficiency in private performance.

National has said our public service is “bloated and inefficient.” Yet there is no evidence that it is. Total public sector employment in New Zealand includes health and education workers and is about 13% of the total workforce. Core public sector workers are just over 2% of the workforce. Massive problems were caused when the New Zealand public sector workforce dropped to well below 2% of the workforce in the 1990s. Instead of strengthening public services the Government is planning to sell public services off. It has announced plans to “partially privatise” three electricity SOEs and Solid Energy and increase the private ownership of Air New Zealand and has entered into “Private-Public Partnerships” (PPPs) in schools and prisons and is considering them in hospitals, courts and elsewhere. The argument used is the same argument that was used in the 1980s and 1990s: that PPPs and privatisation are necessary and efficient ways of reducing government expenditure.

Using this claim supported by no evidence the Government has cut expenditure and reduced the size of the public sector workforce job saying that New Zealand’s level of Government expenditure is too high when this is not the case. New Zealand’s level of government expenditure is lower on average than other OECD countries and lower than the average of other small OECD countries. We spend much less than France, Germany, Denmark, Sweden and Norway who spend near to or above 50% of GDP on government expenditure.

Public spending provides health and education services; it builds roads, provides electricity and water and delivers these more efficiently and effectively than the market could provide. Public services provide a “social wage” by producing for everyone services that people otherwise could not afford. Public health education, housing and other services protect people from illness and allow greater development of individual and social capability through a healthier and better-educated population.

The economic crisis was not caused by government deficits but worldwide public spending was one of the measures used to manage and recover from the recession. Public spending is important in achieving greater equality: through redistributing money to those on low incomes, it increases spending power.

We depend on the public sector to be responsive in times of our crisis. Consider how quickly public services have responded to the natural disasters in New Zealand – most especially the Christchurch earthquake and the Pike River Mine tragedy. Citizens have high expectations of public services to respond in times of emergency. This response cannot be created instantly: it requires us to maintain a public service with the experience, knowledge and capacity to take action with little notice.

There is a strong link between public spending and economic and social development. Good government has critical roles in regulating the economy providing services, redistributing income and stabilising the economy in difficult times. Our strong social security system was able to absorb the worst effects of the economic crisis and provided protection to New Zealanders who lost their jobs because of the recession. If National had been in power when Labour was the recession would have been deeper and longer. We could even have been staring down the barrel of economic meltdown like many European countries are now.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Finance Minister Admits He Has No Master Plan

From Radio New Zealand's Morning Report 30 March 2011:

Finance Minister Bill English is defending the timing of further cuts to the public service amid warnings it may ultimately be bad for the economy.
Mr English announced on Tuesday there will be more consolidation of departments and agencies over the next two or three years, with fewer positions in core government administration.
He said he has no master plan but with 38 departments and more than 150 Crown entities there is too much duplication in the public service, and details will be released as decisions are made.
The chief economist at research firm BERL, Ganesh Nana, says the cuts should be made when the economy is strong and public servants have somewhere else to go to get another job.
But Mr English told Morning Report the Government has borrowed money as the need has arisen - but when it reaches one of the highest deficits ever, it has to turn the situation around.
The minister said the Government is not heading for a major restructure; changes have been moderate and it will continue to focus on long-term gains and trimming back-room costs.
Mr English says though many services will continue to be delivered through government agencies, increasingly, they will also be provided by private groups and the Government is looking carefully at areas where providers compete for contracts.
Ganesh Nana says the cuts risk hurting the Government's accounts, rather than helping them and now is not the time for aggressive action.
Mr Nana says any rebalancing of Government accounts should happen when there is strong economic growth and competition for resources.
Cutting spending risks tipping the economy into a very long period of depressed activity and hurting the books even more, he says."

This is nuts! In a recession the last thing you want to do is make masses of people unemployed. There is a fundamental contradiction at the heart of the government's economic policy. They are explicit in their desire to "rebalance"the books. But at some point customers need to purchase things to get the economy moving again. What scares me as well is that Bill English says he has no master plan! I will write more on this shortly.

Is Our Current Approach To Sentencing Sensible?

David Cohen's latest book "Little Criminals" is a must read. It chronicles the history of the Epuni Boys Home. You will read how kids were sent there from the Court and went on to become big criminals. It is a useful insight into the New Zealand psyche that favours retribution and incarceration and why our prison muster per capita is the second highest in the world behind the United States - a stunning example of how "going hard” on young offenders can actually make the risk of offending worse.

Currently New Zealand is still in the macho grip of a punitive punishment psyche when it comes to dealing with offending. We face a cry to go even harder on the punishment of offending. Judicial discretion in sentencing is seen as a bad thing and sentences for offending reported in the media are often derided for being “light” by pro punishment groups such as “Sensible Sentencing.” Often the offenders who are denounced by this group are young Maori males. Interestingly this same group has spoken in the defence of middle-aged pakeha males who offend violently, such as the Aucklander who stabbed a young boy to death for spraying graffiti onto a fence.

Politicians such as Simon Power former conveyancing lawyer and current Minister of Justice, Judith “Crusher” Collins and pro-punishment groups such as “Sensible Sentencing” believe that denunciation and the deterrence of others should be the dominant sentencing principle. The rationale behind deterrence is if people go to prison, that would be offenders would be deterred from like behaviour by virtue of the sentence imposed. Against this the New South Wales Sentencing Bench Book (Judicial Commission of New South Wales 2008) under the heading Criticism of Deterrence, records:

"A study by the Bureau of Crime Statistics & Research found that increased severity of sentences for driving offences made no difference on the recidivism rates: S Briscoe, “The impact of increased drink-driving penalties on recidivism rates in NSW” (2004) 5 Alcohol Studies Bulletin 1."

"Overseas studies have analysed the effectiveness of deterrence theory: Von Hirsh, Bottoms, Buvney and Wikstrom, Criminal Deterrence and Sentence Severity, 1999, Hart Publishing, Oxford. A recent Canadian study reviewed empirical research in several countries on deterrence and urged its readers to conditionally accept the hypothesis that crime levels are not affected by the severity of sentences: A Doob and C Webster, “Sentencing Severity and Crime” in M Tonry (ed) Crime and Justice. A Review of Research, 2004, University of Chicago Press, Chicago."

Further recognition of the tenuous link between sentencing and actual deterrence is gained from John M. Darley in “On the Unlikely Prospect of Reducing Crime Rates By Increasing The Severity of Prison Sentences (Journal of Law and Policy) July 2005, where after reviewing recent studies he observes:
"Two recent reviews analyze the findings of these aggregated effect studies. The chronologically earlier one is a commissioned report that is quite circumspect in its conclusions, asserting only that “none of the associations [between severity and rate] is of sufficient magnitude to achieve statistical significance,” a sort of Scottish “not proven” verdict. The later report is blunter. It reviews a number of sentence severity and crime rate studies, including ones made possible by “three strikes” laws, and subjects them to careful methodological scrutiny. The report asserts that we should accept the fact that there are no general demonstrations of crime rate reductions achieved by alterations in sentence that are “within the [severity] limits that are plausible in [w]estern [s]ocieties.” Given the remarkable increases in sentence found “plausible” in the United States in the past decade, it is unlikely that the changes in severity have been too anemic to produce rate reduction effects. Pending new studies that overturn this conclusion, it seems that increasing the severity of sentences is not reducing the rate of crimes."

The decision of the English Court of Appeal in McInerney, Keating v R (CA 19 December 2002) 2002/3547/W5 is of relevance in relation to sentencing principles and goals:
"We also refer to two of the paragraphs dealing with the causes.

"12. Many prisoners’ basic skills are very poor. 80 per cent have the writing skills, 65 per cent the numeracy skills and 50 per cent the reading skills at or below the level of an 11-year-old child. 60 to 70 per cent of prisoners were using drugs before imprisonment. Over 70 per cent suffer from at least two mental disorders. And 20 per cent of male and 37 per cent of female sentenced prisoners have attempted suicide in the past. The position is often even worse for 18/20-year-olds, whose basic skills, unemployment rate and school exclusion background are all over a third worse than those of older prisoners.

14. There is a considerable risk that a prison sentence might actually make the factors associated with re-offending worse. For example, a third lose their house while in prison, two-thirds lose their job, over a fifth face increased financial problems and over two-fifths lose contact with their family. There are also real dangers of mental and physical health deteriorating further, of life and thinking skills being eroded, and of prisoners being introduced to drugs. By aggravating the factors associated with re-offending, prison sentences can prove counter-productive as a contribution to crime reduction and public safety."

2 To maintain a situation, which makes no contribution to changing this picture, will not increase but reduce the confidence of the public in the criminal justice system."

The same logic was reflected in our own Court of Appeal, in a different age to the conservative punitive one that currently dominates, noted in the case of R v Aston [1989] 2 NZLR 166, 171 (per Cooke P):
"As well as the moral guilt of the criminal, the deterrence of crime and the need to protect the public, factors that have usually been seen as legitimate in sentencing include retribution and denunciation … In our view there is some room for the idea of retribution, provided that it is not allowed to dominate. Populist urgings of longer sentences have to be seen in perspective and are less than helpful. At the same time current responsible opinion within the community, so far as it can be gauged and allowing sometimes for limited knowledge of the facts, cannot be ignored and is entitled to weight. And of course the consequences of the crime for the victim and the victim’s family can be major factors."

The UK Parliament Justice Committee released a report in January 2010 called “Cutting Crime – the Case for Justice Reinvestment'. This document in over two hundred pages is clear that imprisonment as a tool of deterrence does not work:
"The impact of sentencing on crime rates
105. There is significant controversy over what measures are effective in reducing offending, and a contributory factor is the lack of available evidence. The extent to which criminal justice activity has an impact on crime rates has been the subject of extensive academic debate. The Magistrates’ Association argued that without better data on re-offending rates, and on the effects of sentences, the reliability of current policy was questionable.174

106. The problems of interpretation and establishing causal links can be seen when the US and European situations are compared. The marked fall in the crime rate in the US, which has been attributed by some to the increased used of imprisonment, has been mirrored in Europe, where the opposite policy has tended to be pursued. The graphs below show the relationships between crime rates and use of imprisonment in Finland and England and Wales. Despite the higher rates of imprisonment in England and Wales relative to other EU countries, crime rates have not dropped as steeply here as they have in the rest of Europe.175

138. We are concerned that an assumption has been created that punishment is the paramount purpose of sentencing. There is an understandable public concern that offenders should suffer serious consequences for the crimes they have committed, but if other purposes, including reform and rehabilitation and reparation to victims, were given higher priority, then we believe sentencing could make a much more significant contribution to reducing re-offending and to improving the safety of communities. This depends not just on setting out purpose and aspiration, or on statements of intent, but on transforming the culture and ethos of the criminal justice system from a reactive approach to a genuinely scientific and analytic approach. Chasing crime, reacting to crime figures and, responding to public debate, has brought about a remorseless growth in prison numbers, which devours more and more scarce resource. The starting point—not just for sentencing, but for the work of the police, prison, probation service and the contribution of third sector organisations—must be to analyse how and why criminal activity takes place, the factors that influence the seriousness of offending and “what works” in reducing both the frequency and the seriousness of offending."

The true enormity of the problem can be seen from the remarks of our Chief Justice Dame Sian Elias' 2009 "Blameless Babes" Speech for which she was roundly criticised by Simon Power:

.... The latest indications from the Department of Corrections suggest that the prison numbers are continuing to rise. I want to talk about the drivers of these projections later. But the really bad news is that, if they prove accurate, in eight years time the prison population will reach 10,795, a 37 per cent increase. It means that our population will then be imprisoned at the rate of 200 per 100,000 population. We have been shocked to be told that we are second only to the United States in the proportion of prisoners to the total population. The comparison is in fact quite misleading because the rate of incarceration in the United States is four times ours. What is troubling however is the comparison of our rate of imprisonment with Australia, the United Kingdom and Canada. We have the sad distinction of imprisoning our population at a higher rate than any of them. And in respect of Māori prisoners as a proportion of the Māori population, the rate is very close to that in the United States.

The average cost of keeping an offender in prisoner for a year is nearly $100,000. That may be contrasted with an average cost per day of an offender on a community based sentence of $10.04. There is a looming crisis because we do not have enough prison beds...

If New Zealand is to empty its prisons we have to look at our culture and take populism out of dealing with crime. It makes no difference to the level of violence in our society whether we choose to reform our criminals or lock them away forever. This is so because new criminals are being born, new families are being broken up and new families are forced into poverty as a result of the breaking up of families through parents being sent to prison. The only way we are going to lower the levels of crime in New Zealand is by tackling its causes head-on. Causes that are already well-recognised. Child-abuse, fatherless families, drug abuse and addiction and poor education. These are the root causes of crime in this country. These are the things we must tackle if we want to stop building prisons. Currently all we have had is political posturing.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

The Right to Silence - Why we have it

I have commented previously upon the fundamental assault on our civil liberties currently contained in the innocuous sounding but unprincipled Criminal Procedure (Reform and Modernisation) Bill. The bill is being driven through the House by former conveyancing lawyer Simon Power, a politician who knows practically nothing about the historical reasons behind our fair trial rights or what we are going to lose by removing them. Anyway in this bill there is provision for a judge to draw an adverse inference if an accused elects to use his or her right to silence. This begs the questions as to why we have that right in the first place.

Fundamental to our system of justice is the principle that an accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt. For once before we take another populist leap to the right, let’s pause and look at what we are sacrificing. The right to silence forces the prosecution to find evidence linking the accused to the crime and to make a case against the accused.

The right to silence in court forms a guarantor of the presumption of innocence in that it forces the burden of proof fully onto the prosecution to base its case on solid evidence rather than to either trick, intimidate or confuse the accused into incriminating themselves or making contradictory statements that undermine their credibility.

The right to silence also forms a guarantor of the presumption of innocence by forcing the police to find solid evidence linking the accused to the crime rather than try and trick or intimidate the accused into incriminating themselves. Often Police crime investigation means forming a theory of the case from the start, and rather than looking at all the evidence dispassionately, focusing instead on only the evidence that fits the initial Police theory. This is why in terms of the rules of disclosure, the Crown has a duty to disclose all the evidence, including statements not just from the witnesses they intend to be call, but also from all witnesses. The right to silence is a huge practical benefit. It gives the police an incentive to investigate a case thoroughly, looking for objective evidence of who committed a crime, because they cannot rest solely on the accused answering their questions.

The right to silence therefore not only protects the accused but also helps ensure that cases are investigated thoroughly and prosecuted on the basis of presenting all the evidence rather than mere spin and Crown cherry picking. Removing it or weakening it risks lowering the standards of evidence in prosecutions and will increase the risk of the innocent being convicted. The only sure way to reduce this risk is to perform a thorough investigation looking for solid evidence of their guilt. The right to silence provides a strong incentive to do just that, and thus suspects should not be deterred from exercising it.

It appears our justice system is striving to go fall circle. Fundamental bulwarks bequeathed to us by history to protect the individual against the might of the state are being slowly whittled away for the sake of getting the desired result. The right to silence is such a bulwark, in days past when the state believed it had "its man" all that was needed was to torture or trick a confession out of him. Is it any wonder that a number of third world countries, dictatorships have no such protection?

The Chinese newspaper the Peoples Daily observed in November 2000 on the eve of the introduction of the right to silence to China: "In spite of its subjectivity, a confession has been taken as the major source of proof in trying criminal cases in China. The right to silence application is believed to help eliminate inquisition by torture or extorting a confession. The regulation practically admits the presumption of innocence and therefore has brought a radical change to the traditional judicial concept in the country, said Yang. The presumption of innocence means that a suspect is supposed innocent when the interrogation begins and will not be convicted unless there is proof to prove his guilt."

Let us not forget the wisdom in the old adage that "Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it."

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Excise wine tax creates hangover (Wairarapa News, 23 Mar 2011, Page 11)

Excise wine tax creates hangover

Wairarapa News
23 Mar 2011

Sunday March 20 saw me at Martinborough’s annual Walk Around The Vines. It was fun being part of an event to help raise funds for Martinborough School. Labour’s South Wairarapa branch was putting together a team and asked me to come along. I more...

Monday, 21 March 2011

The Social Security Act 1938

Last night I attended the opening of the 3 Wise Men of Kurow, an exhibition of a series of paintings by artist Bob Kerr which celebrate how Girvan McMillan, Andrew Davidson & Arnold Nordmeyer changed NZ for the better with the Social Security Act. To my mind the 3 men have a transitory quality about them (in the paintings) but what they stood for had a lasting positive impact on our social landscape. This painting is "A Walk Beside the Waitaki River." The opening was preceded with an amusing and thoughtful speech by historian Tony Simpson. Reference was made during the course of the evening to Mary Logan and her biography of Arnold Nordmeyer. Mary was at the opening and it added something to speak to her and listen to Tony who actually met Nordy. During the Great Depression many New Zealanders had no choice but to work on so-called schemes such as the Waitaki hydro dam. As former Prime Minister Helen Clark noted when commenting on my Facebook site about the exhibition, "The dam was built in the Great Depression by men with picks and shovels with little heavy equipment. The workforce lived in rough conditions through harsh winters. The existence of such conditions there & elsewhere was among the factors which propelled Labour into office to build a better life for working people & their families. The "3 wise men" of Kurow played an important role in that." What those men stood for and achieved is something that we must never forget. Back then and today there are people who would have us return to the inequalities of "the sugar-bag years."

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Out Taking Part In Martinborough's Walk Around The Vines!

Had fun out with the Labour South Wairarapa race team doing the 10km walking leg of Martinborough's Walk Around The Vines - to help raise funds for Martinborough School. This is a pre-race picture with the "Walk-Away Brides" & some Hash-House Harriers. Live music, wine and fresh fruit at various stops around the course. I still came a credible 4th! Hopefully we can put some more teams in next year! It is great how the community can get out and pitch together to help the local school and have a fantastic event.

Friday, 18 March 2011

Signing Up a New Voter For The Electoral Roll

It doesn't matter how much money you have or how little - we are all equal on polling day. Voting is the greatest weapon we have to bring down a government!

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Even the Judiciary Are Concerned At National's Rush to Abolish Fair Trial Rights

Even the the judicairy don't like what National is doing.The proposed changes in the Criminal Procedure (Reform and Modernisation) Bill before the committee requires the defence to disclose their defences - including any issues in dispute - to the prosecution in advance of a trial. Not doing so means the judge or jury could take an adverse view of the defendant & could also lead to sanctions against the accused & their lawyer. As it stands, this bill revokes some of our fundamental rights within the justice system and is inconsistent with the Bill of Rights on a number of counts. National's changes include the removal of your right to be present at your own trial and allow for the re-trial of those already acquitted. The bill also does away with your right to remain silent and your right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty by shifting the onus of proof from prosecution to defence. The bill erodes the right to elect trial before a jury of your peers. Therefore reduces community involvement in criminal justice deliberations, hence removes some of the ‘common sense’ from our decisions about crime and punishment.

The constitutional importance of the protective function of the right to trial by jury, as opposed to trial by judge alone received recent ventilation by the Chief Justice in her judgement in Siemer v Solicitor General [2010] NZSC 54:

"The Importance of Trial by Jury
[19] At this point it is necessary to consider the importance of the right to trial by jury in the criminal process. The primary and most important function of the jury in a criminal trial is to determine the relevant facts of a case and to apply the law to reach a verdict of guilty or not guilty. In exercising that function jurors bring a diverse range of perspectives, personal experiences and knowledge to bear in individual cases which judges may lack. As fact finders, jurors determine which of the admissible evidence presented at a trial is to be believed and acted upon. Juries ultimately decide whether the facts fit within a particular legal definition, according to community standards.In this way they reflect the attitude of the community in their determination of guilt or innocence.

[20] The right to trial by jury is also generally seen as providing a safeguard against the arbitrary or oppressive enforcement of the law by the government. It is a common perception that when jurors perceive that a prosecution has these characteristics they are likely to acquit. The same point is made about trials where a law sought to be applied itself may be thought to be arbitrary or oppressive by a jury. For these reasons the jury is seen as standing between the accused and the state in a way that judges, who are sworn to apply the law, are not always able to do."

The right to trial by jury is an ancient constitutional right that should not be lightly pushed aside in the name of administrative convenience. It has a protective function and enables the community to participate in the administration of justice. In the truest sense the jury stands between an accused and the State. This historically has been for good reason - a jury stands as a protection between an accused and the State. If the community finds a law or the prosecution unjust they can say so. This is an ancient and fundamental protection.

Even those on the right who you would think have signed portraits of Garth McVicar in their living rooms have expressed concerns over such changes. Stephen Franks commended Simon Power for having “the courage to try slaughtering so many sacred cows at once” but groans about the “the loss of the right to elect trial by jury for small but important charges on matters of principle, where judges cannot be trusted to reflect the common conscience.”

The Law Society have expressed outrage over what they see as an attack on the rule of law and fundamental principles of justice. Its vice-president Anne Stevens calls the outworking of the bill in practice "repugnant" and in her written submission observed:

"All of a defendant’s rights are to ensure a fair process, for example the right to the presumption of innocence and the right to silence. These rights are largely to address the imbalance of power between the state and the individual. To ensure fairness. Efficiency and fairness are two entirely different concepts. A Bill promoted to achieve efficiency should not be used as a vehicle to remove individual’s rights."

This drive to efficiency over real fairness is the kind of thing that totalitarians dream about.

I have grave concerns about this bill, it is the spawn of populist leadership conceived in ignorance during a rights revoking climate. Like the Search and Surveillance Bill we again have foisted on us in haste another huge piece of complex legislation, pushed through with speed before people have the chance to come to grips with the implications for their rights.

National is basically bringing in legislation at lightening speed that overturns the fundamental protections that we have as individuals in a constitutional democracy. These protections have been fought for and hard won – people have shed blood for us to have these rights. Now here we are in the 21st century and we are going back on the very principles that gave us progress. Those that value their liberty should be concerned about this bill.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

"Justice Subverted" - a powerful statement about justice in NZ today, by artist Bruce Haniel

Out campaigning in Masterton

Press Release from Michael Bott - National's Bail Changes Mindless.

Justice Minister Simon Power’s latest announcements regarding the toughening up of bail laws (Radio New Zealand, 15 March 2011) and reversing the onus from Police to the person charged are an example of mindless electioneering by a Party devoid of principle who wish to divert attention from their mismanagement of the economy by trying to drum beat on “law n order”, Labour’s Wairarapa candidate Michael Bott says.

A 2006 Cabinet paper showed that 15% of all people refused bail and sent to prison until their charges were resolved – and who were often in prison for months – were never convicted. Further, only about half of those remanded in custody end up being sentenced to prison when they are convicted.

Put bluntly the fact you are charged with an offence is not proof that you are guilty of the offence. The real question, if we take the presumption of innocence seriously, is whether a person accused of crime poses a real or significant risk of offending, absconding or interfering with evidence.

The real issue is the economy, currently unemployment is growing, we are borrowing $300 million per month, of which $120 million goes to fund tax cuts we cannot afford. So far the only solutions from National are cycle ways, flogging off state assets that actually earn the Government money, and raising GST which has pushed up the price of food, petrol and education. We know that unemployment is a driver of crime, if National were serious about crime they should be looking at economic growth and creating jobs.

In the Wairarapa there are now nearly five times as many on the unemployment benefit as in 2007. Since National has been in government unemployment has nearly doubled in our area by 83%. National has done nothing to help our area – we didn’t even get a kilometre of cycle-way Michael Bott said.

New Zealanders should not be duped into thinking this latest announcement is anything other than a cynical attempt by a clueless government who wishes to distract the public from its poor economic performance. It is shameful that Power seeks to attack the presumption of innocence in a way that would see more New Zealanders being deprived of liberty for charges they will never be convicted of as a ruse to push hopeless economic performance under the carpet Michael Bott says.

Our Parliament Is Going To Allow The Unfettered Use of Human Surveillance Devices

Worryingly by degree fundamental protections are slowly being cut away from citizens slice by slice. As a matter of principle they should not. The recent Search and Surveillance Bill has been the subject of much debate, but one issue that received no press coverage was over CLAUSE 43 NO WARRANT REQUIRED FOR HUMAN SURVEILLANCE DEVICES. It was not raised in Parliament and most people have no idea what is at stake.

As a matter of principle I am opposed to the position that no surveillance warrant is required for the deployment of human interception devices. It is artificial and disingenuous to draw a
distinction between Police surveillance with a stationary snooping device, which requires a warrant and a State agent sneaking into a group by flying false colours armed with a tape recorder or even a notebook.

New Zealand Police and some State Owned Enterprises have used paid informants for years to infiltrate peace, environmental and political groups. This type of surveillance is just as intrusive and real as a device secreted by the State in a committee room. I am aware of several reports such as the following which was published 21 December 2008 in the Sunday Star Times “Activist Considers Court Action Against Police Informer”:

"PROTESTER SIMON OOSTERMAN might bring charges against police informer Rob Gilchrist for harming his case at a trial over the police use of pepper spray. The Sunday Star-Times last week revealed Gilchrist was a police informer who had spied for nearly a decade on protest organisations such as Greenpeace and animal welfare groups.

Oosterman said Gilchrist had agreed to appear as a witness for him in a case in July this year, but had turned up at court wearing a T-shirt with a gun on it. The shirt had the words “This is my Glock, her name is Susan, there are many like her, but she is mine,” Oosterman told the Star-Times. “It was a totally inappropriate and I do think it would have had an effect [on the court],” he said.

Oosterman, pepper-sprayed by police during a 2005 anti-GE protest at the Forest Research Institute in Rotorua, was awarded $5000 damages after the judge decided the police had made unreasonable use of the pepper spray. Oosterman said Gilchrist had also given exaggerated evidence and had provoked the security guards and police during the protest.

Gilchrist, who was the protest group’s liaison officer with the police even though he was working as a police informer at the time, had been “totally confrontational” during the protest. He was “pushing security guards around . . . he created a situation of tension” which in
turn led to the pepper spraying.

Oosterman’s lawyer, Graeme Minchin, said Gilchrist’s provocative appearance at the court case could have meant his client won less money in damages than he might otherwise have done. It also appeared likely that Gilchrist had broken legal privilege by forwarding to police the evidence he would be giving at the trial. “Police agents rarking up demonstrators and then going into court giving evidence that is totally counterproductive, or trying to do such – that’s another level above just merely snooping,” Minchin said. Minchin said he might lay a complaint with the Independent Police Conduct Authority or bring a private prosecution for conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.

The Star-Times investigation revealed that Gilchrist had been spying on a range of groups and had also forwarded emails from unions and the Green Party to police. The Greens and the unions have asked the government to set up an independent inquiry into police spying on political groups. Gilchrist’s role was uncovered when he asked his girlfriend, protester Rochelle Rees, to fix his computer. She found emails in it from the Special Investigation Unit, a police unit set up in 2004 to deal with terrorism and threats to national security.

Meanwhile, a former undercover police officer is concerned at police use of informers inside protest groups, saying it is a “dangerous attack on democracy”. Andrew Harland says the precise reasons that make undercover work so effective in the criminal world make it extremely dangerous when used against political groups. He said the “perception of undercover cops being everywhere” helps keep a lid on crime, but “Apply the same thinking to protest groups and what is the probable consequence?” he said. “The fear of informers is now on their minds so that legitimate protest groups are suspicious of new members and supporters are nervous about taking part in politics. Suddenly it’s harder to accept new members, fewer people have a say on political issues and our democracy suffers.”

Any small advantages in detecting possible crime were far outweighed by harming legitimate political activity. Another former police officer told the Star- Times about working as a “radical agent” – the police name for undercover officers who infiltrate political groups – in an earlier era of police spying on protest groups and universities. Two radical agents, including this officer, were instructed to infiltrate Auckland anti-nuclear groups in July and August 1983 to gather information about planned protests against the US nuclear cruiser USS Texas. One agent attended Peace Squadron meetings, monitoring plans for on-water protests and recording who was going on each boat. Another attended meetings at the “Epicentre” peace offices where anti-nuclear campaigners, including Green MP Keith Locke’s sister Maire Leadbeater, were organising protests and publicity. The officer, who personally supported the anti-nuclear cause, “felt uncomfortable” about the assignment but “didn’t have the confidence to say ‘no”‘. The police radical agents were aware that the Security Intelligence Service had “deeper” and longer-term agents in the same groups but didn’t know who they were. Radical agents were also used
during the 1981 Springbok Tour."

On 27 May 2007 the same paper revealed that Solid Energy had employed private investigation firm Thompson and Clark Investigations to snoop on environental groups camapigning to save a native snail on West Coast land. A then 25 year old student was paid money to infiltrate the group and provide reports via Thompson and Clark to Solid Energy.

With the Oosterman case above Rob Gilchrest was paid around $600 a week for infiltrating peace, environment, and animal rights groups and monitoring others. Mr. Gilchrest without a search
warrant still conducted searches from Police. He collected hundreds of emails from internal exchanges within the groups he spied on, and forwarded them to the special investigation group.

There is a real risk as in the Oosterman case above that the Police informant acted as an agent provocateur and actually created the situation that led to Police intervention. Aside from real entrapment issues, it is undeniable that these informants were State agents and were participating in state-funded spying activities that were just as intrusive as any other surveillance device.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Labour Values Rural New Zealand

Growing up in the 1970’s I spent many holidays on my mate Andrew’s family farm. I learnt to ride a motorbike, fix a fence, feed out and shoot a rifle. I also learnt how to milk the house cow and that meat didn’t come from a supermarket in a plastic packet. Even then most Kiwis didn’t live in the country.

While most Kiwis live in cities and towns, urban growth is dependent upon a thriving agricultural sector. Simply put, without primary producers townies would starve and many would not have jobs. Agriculture remains our largest export earner and as a sector remains one of our largest employers.

Labour values the rural sector as being especially important to New Zealand’s economic future. In the 1930’s Labour introduced a guaranteed minimum price for milk to try to stop the squeezing of dairy farmers by milk buyers. In the 1950’s Labour moved to form the Dairy Board to bring focus to the purchase and marketing of dairy products internationally. These changes and innovations have continued through the ensuing Labour administrations. In the early 2000s for example, the last Labour Government deregulated the dairy industry and pip fruit sector at their request. The underlying theory being that open competition would drive innovation, industry growth and higher grower returns.

There has been much talk recently about improving water quality, product branding and improvements in broadband and other infrastructure such as roading. All these areas are vitally important and will be addressed by Labour. However more is required.

One priority is to improve ways we can push our products into high value markets. We need to utilise the reputation and quality of our products to obtain higher returns in overseas markets and deliver them back to the farm gate. That means further development of 100% Pure NZ brand and stronger Country of Origin labelling.

In November last year Damien O’Connor, Labour’s Agriculture Spokesperson, speaking to Federated Farmers, repeated Labour’s acknowledgement that there needs to be a rebalancing of economic policy.

The Reserve Bank Act will be changed compelling the governor not just to focus on inflation as a target. As Damien said “Rather than just focusing on how it can steer inflation between a narrow target band using the very blunt and limited instrument of official cash rate setting, the Reserve Bank Governor will have to consider the welfare and sustainability of the export sectors with any changes made.”

The goal behind this sea change is to encourage our exporters by reducing the endless interest and exchange rates hikes and dives that cripple the confidence and viability of many in the export sectors.

This makes sense. Long-term investment requires certainty of income. This cannot happen while traders exploit currency fluctuations and we are all left being charged exorbitant interest rates.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Technology, Function Creep and the Erosion of Privacy

With the rapid growth of technology and the designing of software to record information for marketing purposes, citizens are gradually giving away and lowering their expectations of privacy. As this happens the rules accepted by societies regarding the "ring-fencing" of our private space is changing and is gradually eroding. What we are witnessing, is a phenomenon known as “function creep”: identification systems incorporating biometric scanning would gradually spread to additional purposes not announced or not even intended when the identification systems were originally implemented.

The classic example of function creep is the use of the photographic drivers licence. Originated in the 1980’s the sole purpose was to facilitate efficient management of the driver licencing regime and its policing. “Not for Identification.” Was the mantra trumpeted by politicians of the day.

You can’t get on a plane for internal travel or open a bank account now without one from “Not for Identification,” has morphed to become virtual mandatory identification.

By Using Biometrics, Government Reduces the Individual’s Reasonable Expectation of Privacy

Just as function creep implies that biometrics will gradually (and innocently) grow to be used by zealous, well-meaning bureaucrats in numerous, creative ways in multiple forum, function creep will also enable the Government to use the new technology of biometrics to reduce further over time the citizenry’s reasonable expectations of their privacy.

Keeping up with the Singhs’ one day in the life of one family

It is Auckland in 2011. The Singh family are returning from their holiday in the States. In the US they were photographed, their iris’ are scanned and they are fingerprinted on arrival. At Auckland they have their hand luggage X-rayed and hand-searched, and they are all questioned. Passports - one member of the family has dual nationality with Malaysia are checked. Details of the flight and all other travel information is recorded.

The family are seen by airport security cameras and on the courtesy bus which drops them as the family drives out of the airport they switch on a sat-nav system, which guides them home but also alerts them to speed and traffic-light cameras on the way which record their progress. The son uses his mobile to call a friend this is logged by the telephone company and could be used by police to locate where the phone was at the time.

On the way back they stop at an out-of-town mall. CCTV records them in the car park and entering the supermarket. All details of their shopping is recorded where they pay using a loyalty card. This will be used to build up a customer “profile” and can be sold on to others. |

Patterns which could indicate the card has been stolen. The amounts spent and whether the family keep within agreed credit levels is also monitored and will be used by the bank or building society.

Later they go through the congestion-charging zone which they pay for via the mobile and all details including photographs of them entering Auckland Central are recorded.

At home in Mount Eden they unload under the watch of a neighbour’s private CCTV system. Waiting at home is a pile of junk mail. The names and addresses of the family have been obtained from a variety of databanks.

The son goes to his room to read a letter telling him his criminal records check is clear and that he has a place on a voluntary scheme.

He orders a takeaway his address, card details and previous orders are already held by the pizza chain.

A Simplistic Approach to Law and Order is Failing

Something is incredibly rotten with the National government’s simplistic approach to law and order.

New Zealand has one of the highest rates of incarceration in the OECD. Three years ago our imprisonment rate was 182 per 100,000, now the rate is getting close to 190 prisoners per 100,000.

The only Western country with a greater fondness for locking up its citizens is America, the land of the free, which bangs away 700 of its population per 100,000

That Parliament is now in the rabid thrall of a lock-em-up rhetoric is worrying.

Three strikes and you’re out campaign will lead to further shameful growth in our prison population.

The United States invented this crazy three strikes policy. Now wouldn’t we feel safer than in Norway, which is really soft on criminals. The Norwegians only bag 66 of their citizens per 100,000, so their crime rate must surely be spiralling out of control? Wrong. The homicide rate per 100,000 people is 0.8 for Norway, 1.3 for New Zealand and 5.6 for the USA.

Prison, while sounding a good option for offenders, can actually make society less safe. The English Court of Appeal – in the case of McInerney, Keating v. R – said of imprisonment: “There is a considerable risk that a prison sentence might actually make the factors associated with re-offending worse.”

“For example, a third lose their house while in prison, two thirds lose their job, over a fifth face increase financial problems and over two-thirds lose contact with their family. There are also real dangers of mental and physical health deteriorating further, of life and thinking skills being eroded and of prisoners being introduced to drugs.”

“By aggravating the factors associated with re-offending, prison sentence can prove counter-productive as a contribution to crime reduction and public safety”

These words apply equally to New Zealand. Locking people up often makes them worse, and can aggravate the vary things such as violence, poverty, social dislocation, mental illness and addiction and so on that cause people to offend in the first place.

In 2006 a Cabinet paper showed that 15% of all people refused bail and sent to prison until their charges were resolved – and who were often in prison for months – were never convicted. Further, only about half of those remanded in custody end up being sentenced to prison when they are convicted.

Previously, to be denied bail a person had to pose a real and substantial risk of re-offending, absconding or interfering with evidence. The Bail Act has just been amended so that now all a person has to do to be denied bail is to pose a risk.

This is stupid: any person poses as statistical risk. The question, if we take the presumption of innocence seriously, is whether a person accused of crime poses a real risk.

So while we are in a global recession, New Zealanders may not be able to afford to build new houses, but at least the building industry need not panic – we are going to be building a lot more prisons.

Now bail laws are tougher, the presumption of innocence will counting for even less and more New Zealanders will be deprived of liberty for charges they will never be convicted of.

It is time to ditch National and throw away the Key.


Until the BORA is entrenched in New Zealand law the human rights protections contained therein are largely hollow protections. One has only to look at the rapid erosion of our fair trial rights mooted by the Minister of Justice for example the denial of the right to elect trial by jury, the introduction of the adverse inference for maintaining the right to silence et, etc. Sadly we are in a chilling environment at the moment in terms of New Zealand's regard for human rights law. This will not get any better with a Government that prefers law change guided by opinion poll rather than having any guiding principle such as respect for the Rule of Law and principles of International Law.

It is lamentable that despite New Zealand signing the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (“ICCPR”) on 12 November 1968 and since ratifying it on 28 December 1978 that we have failed in our principle obligation to properly incorporate our human rights
obligations in domestic law.

NZ acceded to the First Optional Protocol to the ICCPR on 26 May 1989; and signed and ratified the Second Optional Protocol on 22 February 1990. The ICCPR was partially incorporated into domestic legislation by the BORA.

The Covenant is not fully implemented in New Zealand because the constitutional arrangements arising from the notion of parliamentary supremacy mean that there is no way to prevent Parliament from passing legislation that is discriminatory, or that breaches any of the
other Covenant rights, nor to overturn such legislation when it is enacted - even though the ICCPR requires effective protection and remedies for those whose rights have been violated.

Repeatedly the Human Rights Committee have reminded our Governments of our failure to provide an effective remedy for legislation that breaches our BORA and ICCPR rights. For example
The Committee's Concluding Observations on the 4th periodic report (CCPR/CO/75/NZL):
C. Principal subjects of concern and recommendations 8. Article 2, paragraph 2, of the Covenant requires States parties to take such legislative or other measures which may be necessary to
give effect to the rights recognized in the Covenant. In this regard the Committee regrets that certain rights guaranteed under the Covenant are not reflected in the Bill of Rights, and
that it has no higher status than ordinary legislation. The Committee notes with concern that it is possible, under the terms of the Bill of Rights, to enact legislation that is incompatible with the provisions of the Covenant and regrets that this appears to have been done in a few cases, thereby depriving victims of any remedy under domestic law.

"3 The State party should take appropriate measures to implement all the Covenant rights in domestic law and to ensure that every victim of a violation of Covenant rights has a remedy in
accordance with article 2 of the Covenant."

Currently there is a disdain among our elected representatives to entrench the BORA because of a concern regarding a shift of power from elected politicians to judges. Yet historically democracy since its inception has relied on judges (‘unelected’ precisely so they can be independent of party politics) to protect the rights of citizens against governments that abuse power. It is ironic that many of our MPs who scoff at a bill of rights, or call it undemocratic, fail to recognise that they owe their parliamentary privilege of free speech precisely to the Bill of Rights of 1689.

In essence the current trend with modern legislation to occasionally contain a purposive clause acknowledging a relationship between the BORA and a bill is no more than Claytons recognition offering lip-service to the BORA only. Just as Parliament gained its independence via the 1689 Bill of Rights from absolutist monarchy – it is time that we as citizens gained a real Bill of Rights that protects us from the tyranny of a Parliament that has no or little regard for human rights and fundamental freedoms.


The reported remarks of Corrections Minister Judith Collins to the New
Zealand Herald: “Police Minister Judith Collins said the actions of looters was akin
to "people who rob the dead". She expected to see the judiciary throw the book at looters.
"I hope they go to jail for a long time - with a cellmate."”(Herald 27 February 2011)
are gravely alarming and show the Minister endorsing prison violence and vigilante justice.

Collins introduced widespread double-bunking in prisons and promoted it in the media. This was despite expert research suggesting that it would lead to more prison rape and violence. Collins is clearly signaling that she thinks looters should be subjected to violence
from their cell-mates, indeed that such violence is a real possibility of her policy of double-bunking. Collins has duty to promote the welfare and rehabilitation of inmates, to engage in this sort of red-neck rhetoric just panders to the basest elements in our society. While Collins clearly has the qualities to be a talk show host and would give Michael Laws a run for his money she lacks the necessary objectivity to be a Minister of Corrections.

The Truth Behind National's Asset Sales

The government’s grand fire sale.

The Prime Minister is returning to the failed policies of the 1980’s and 90’s in terms of asset sales and privatisation with his recent announcement that the Government will sell down its stakes in the three state-owned electricity generators, Air New Zealand and Solid Energy.

There is an embarrassing lack of rigour behind the reasons advanced to justify the flogging off of our assets. The chief argument appears to be that we need to privatise a sizeable chunk of our assets to avoid a Standard and Poor’s credit downgrade because our debt is so high. However, what we haven’t been told is that it is not government debt that is high, it is in fact private debt. Currently government or public debt is around 16.6% of GDP, however corporate debt is almost $221 billion, or 116% of GDP, as at the end of September.

Mr. Key projects that New Zealand borrows a billion dollars a month and we could make a return of around 10 billion dollars on a partial sale. Using the valuations put on the five corporations in the December accounts, selling down to 50 per cent would raise $7.8 billion. That would cover exactly half of this year's cash deficit! This does not make sense – it is foolish to privatise these revenue-making assets to save 6 months worth of borrowing!

We are being fed a sop that “Mum n Dad” investors will have a chance at owning shares in these State Owned Enterprises (SOEs). In reality most mums and dads in our economy are trying to pay the power bill rather than buy the power company. Further, once “Mum n Dad” investors are sold shares on the SOEs they are free to on-sell, and as Treasury papers point out it will only be a matter of time before more of these wind up in the hands of overseas investors.

If we sold off parts of our SOEs, in the short term we would save some money but if we sold the SOEs to foreigners then we’d just end up paying dividends to foreign investors instead. Its the same as it is with a mortgage: you can sell your house to reduce your debt, but you wont have a house. This may actually be worse than paying interest on debt. Financial commentator Bernard Hickey looked at the SOEs being singled out and found they had an average dividend yield of 7.6% – considerably more than the 5.5% interest the government is paying on new debt.

John Key promised to not raise GST in the first term, so why should we trust him about leaving the 51% in government hands? If we need money now, what will happen in say six or ten-months time when we need more money?

Mr. Key’s claim that foreign investors won’t rush in to snap up shares in our power companies when he hocks them off is ludicrous given the example of Contact Energy in the past. Since the sale of Contact in 1999, shareholder numbers have fallen from 225,000 to about 81,000. 75% of those shares are held by just 20 companies. The majority shareholder is Australian-owned Origin Energy with 51%.
Asset sales are great for foreign investors but they’re a disaster for Kiwis. Power prices will go through the roof because of the pressure from corporate and foreign owners to push up profits.

These asset sales are about funding tax cuts and will not reduce our total debt in any significant way. Of the $300 million NZ borrows weekly, $120 million goes to fund the loss of revenue caused by the tax cuts.

SOEs are currently owned by all New Zealanders who over the generations paid for them through taxes. It is foolish to sell off businesses that actually generate money for the government to fund tax cuts for the few. This is short-term thinking at its worst and indicates that National has no idea about a long-term vision for our economy. Labour will fight this move.

The Government Is Using the Chch Quake To Push Its Agenda

The Earthquake Aftermath
Amid a busy weekend with the Golden Shears, the Martinborough Fair, and the Wai Art portrait exhibition, a number of us gathered for an hour at St Mark’s in Carterton at 2-00pm last Saturday for a service to reflect upon those who have suffered through the Christchurch Earthquake. As I drove to the service I passed people going about their lives, drinking coffees, shopping or picking kids up from sports and I was reminded that regardless of suffering life goes on and the human spirit continues. Yet despite that we all in our own way share and in some way will contribute to the rebuilding of Christchurch. We all want in some way to do something, we all want to help.
The government’s emergency response to the Christchurch earthquake was fast and effective. No doubt mistakes may be made but in times of crisis we appreciate strong leadership.
However, we must safeguard against our national desire “to do something” to allowing the government by default to push through policies which would otherwise be rejected outright by the public. Policies such as privatization, benefit cuts and welfare “reform” now marketed under the guise of “earthquake relief.”
Despite Bill English assuring the country that rebuilding Christchurch can be covered by the Earthquake Commission and by re-insurance policies, National has begun speculating on cutting Working for Families, Kiwisaver incentives, and interest-free student loans. People will find it even harder to save, and higher education will be even more out of reach. The impact of the Earthquake will be spread around New Zealand workers and families.
The central point of the Kiwi-Spirit is that we gain strength and are at our best when we help our neighbours not clobber them! The reconstruction of Christchurch requires a combined effort and should not be advanced on the basis of targeting and harassing the unemployed and sole parents into looking for jobs that aren’t there.

It appears that middle New Zealand and those less fortunate are being softened up to bear more of the burden. Currently of the $300 million New Zealand borrows monthly $120 million of that goes to fund tax cuts. In the wake of the Christchurch Earthquake why isn’t there any thought about reducing GST and revisiting those tax cuts rather than hitting families that can least afford it? It is my feeling that most people in the higher income bracket would be more than happy to have their tax cut reduced to help in this time of national disaster.

There’s no doubt that some of the economic problems which arise from the earthquake can’t be fixed by earthquake insurance. The economic effects of business destruction, job loss, redundancy, and retail collapse will of course have serious effects on the government’s coffers. But the cost to the country of losing assets, and losing control of those assets, is enormous, as is the cost of having to buy them back (e.g. Kiwi Rail). So selling assets compounds the crisis rather than alleviating it. And cutting Working for Families when it is families that are bearing the brunt of the earthquake is ludicrous.
Michael Cullen, as Labour Minister of Finance had a sound approach to government finances. – one which will ring true to anyone who has struggled with a family budget. “We save in the good times, and we spend in the bad times”. It’s a policy that is hard to argue against. Labour left office, after a long period of good times, with the coffers full. The tax-cuts are unaffordable and demonstrably have not promoted economic growth. To sell assets which generate a return and bluntly attack social spending in a time or recession is questionable.
The ideal model for handling a national emergency is to step back from politics as happened with the Napier Earthquake in 1931: assessing the costs that need to be met, then formulating a method to pay for it through a consensus with other parties and local government, and then appointing non-political rebuilding commissioners.
The rest of the model is Michael Cullen’s – the government’s role in a recession, and certainly in a recession which is compounded by a national emergency, is to boost care, education, health, job creation, and production. It’s just a pity that mice got at the reserves before they were needed.