It’s already been a hell of a by-election, and it sounds like it might get even fiercer up there but I still think National will win. If you’re watching the TV news then the by-election looks like a train-wreck for National, but – just as in 2014 – the real election is happening off-screen
National will have a database profiling almost every voter in the electorate. In the next eight days every ‘Highly Likely’ National voter in Northland will get a call from a party volunteer or Curia staffer reminding them that the government’s majority is under threat, and advising them of where their closest advance-voting booth is. Scores of volunteers and young Nats will be mini-bused up from Auckland. They’ll door-knock possible soft-New Zealand First voters and repeat scripts that have been focus-grouped to induce anxiety and doubt about Winston Peters and New Zealand First among key demographics. They’ll be staffing booths in malls and canvasing pedestrians in town centers. They’ll mail out personalised leaflets to harder-to-reach rural voters. Peters is a good campaigner but he can’t compete with that. Short of any unforeseen catastrophe, National will win.
What’s interesting is that National has to work this hard to hold one of their safest seats. There’s a mixture of factors in play. The reason for Sabin’s resignation. Winston Peters’ political skills. The poor quality of the National candidate. But one of National’s main problems, I think, is that when they’re fighting against Peters and New Zealand First they’re fighting themselves. Winston Peters is, famously, a protege of Robert Muldoon, and his party is based on Muldoon’s legacy of populist, dirigiste conservatism. National is a big party and thus a ‘broad church’ but it was – for about twenty years – dominated by free market economic liberals, partly as a reaction against the economic disaster that Muldoonism inflicted on the country.
But in the last six years National has undergone a dramatic transformation. They’re no longer ‘economic liberals’ in any meaningful sense. (Although they probably still think they are, much as aging ex-hippies with property portfolios and luxury cars might still consider themselves anti-establishment rebels. People like to cling onto idealistic conceptions of themselves long after any attempt at living up to the ideal has gone.) National is no longer a party of economic or individual freedom – they’re a populist conservative party of economic intervention, mostly indifferent to or openly hostile towards individual freedoms. Their points of difference with New Zealand First are so trivial they’re reduced to running around Northland warning provincial voters that a Peters win might jeopardise a free trade deal with South Korea. That’s the big policy gap between Muldoon’s disciple and the modern National Party.
I don’t know what the long term political consequences of National’s shift means. Muldoonism was very popular even when it bought the country to the brink of economic collapse because it was a form of government exclusively devoted to maintaining its own grip on power. To paraphrase Citizen Kane: It’s no big thing to win elections – if all you want to do in government is win elections.
The full report is here:
Got that? The police logic goes: ‘The complainants claim that they didn’t consent, but we can’t charge these guys with sexual assault because we can’t prove that there wasn’t consent. And we can’t change them with sex with an underage person because we assume that the sex was consensual.’
Here’s what’s amazing. The officers making these decisions were detectives in the Child Protection Unit. They’re a special team trained to ‘exclusively focus’ on child abuse and they either did not understand the law around the age of consent or deliberately misinterpreted it.
The IPCA also notes, with a weary sigh:
The processes within the police for dealing with this category of crime referred to in the IPCA report sound pretty good. The problem, as they note, is that the police didn’t bother to follow any of them. Seven different complainants came forward and named same same three attackers, which is supposed to trigger something called a ‘Mass Allegation Investigation’ to address serial abuse by the same offenders or groups of offenders. Instead the police just looked at each case on an individual basis, decided it wasn’t worth prosecuting – because they didn’t understand the damn law – and then went around assuring each other that none of the victims wanted to lay a complaint – which was false – and that officers had talked to the boys and their parents, which none of them ever actually bothered to do.
At least two of the senior detectives overseeing these cases – Officer C and Officer E – appear to be incompetent. Both of them still have their jobs. And that’s really the key issue here. Police can blandly say they accept criticisms and recommendations and apologise to victims, etc, but if they don’t sack incompetent officers specifically identified as being the cause of this debacle then none of it means anything.
My friend James – last seen on this blog demagoguing it up at the Te Aro Meet the Candidates event – has entered the Green Party leadership contest. I’ll be helping him with his campaign so will possibly not be the most impartial commentator on the race.
The data-based argument for James’ leadership is basically the chart below. He wasn’t an MP when he ran in Wellington Central last year yet more people there voted Green than any other electorate in the country. The Greens need to grow their vote if they’re going to break out of their marginal position in Parliament, and James can do that. Some of the other candidates in the race have (many) more years of Parliamentary experience than him – but the Greens already have a very experienced co-leader in Metiria Turei. The strength of the co-leader model is that new co-leaders can be, well, new and invigorate the caucus (which is what happened when Russel Norman came in).
The way the leadership contest works is that there will be branch/electorate Green Party meetings before the AGM. Those meetings will direct their delegates on how to vote, which they do by ranking candidates in order of preference. So if you’re a member of the party and you want to be involved in the leadership process, go to the local meeting and make your case.
The justification for the expansion of the GCSB’s powers back in 2013 to give them the power to spy on New Zealanders was that there are ‘bad guys’ in our country. Terrorists. Radicals. Evil-doers who would harm innocent civilians or attack the economic infrastructure of the country to further their own deranged agenda.
What the GCSB is actually doing, we’ve learned from the Snowden leaks, is spying on New Zealanders – and everyone else – in Tuvalu, and Kiribati, and the Cook Islands, and the Antarctic research bases. And at the same time the police appear powerless to apprehend an individual or group threatening to murder babies and cripple the New Zealand economy by poisoning infant milk powder.
We’ve learned that the function of the GCSB is primarily diplomatic. It buys us good relations with the US. The value of that is obvious to Americaphiles in the New Zealand establishment and less obvious to me, but that’s what it does. What we’re seeing this week is that there’s an opportunity cost to that. Having security agencies that are devoted to carrying out US policy means they undertake tasks that are totally unrelated to our security interests while ignoring actual security threats to New Zealand like, say, radicals threatening to poison the infant milk supply unless their demands are carried out.
Labour Party supporter (?) Phil Quin has an op-ed in the Herald attacking Labour for strategic incoherence in the Northland by-election:
The goal of any Opposition is to inflict maximum damage on the Government and, in this case, that takes the shape of Peters defeating National in Northland. If Prime siphons enough votes from Peters to deliver victory to the Government, John Key won’t have dodged a bullet; Andrew Little will have stepped into the bullet’s path.
If Peters wins the by-election that will be bad for National and great for Winston Peters, but those don’t add up to a win for the Labour Party. Labour competes with Peters for votes. They lost about 100,000 to him in the last election and would, presumably like to get them back. So the optics of Peters single-handedly defeating National while Labour stands back, powerless aren’t very good for the Labour Party. The best outcome for them is that Peters wins but with Labour’s help, via Andrew Little’s sort-of endorsement. The risk is that Labour goes a bit too far in its overt support for him and all those National voters contemplating a vote for Peters switch back to National. The outcome here is really difficult to predict. National has chosen an unattractive candidate. But they have an amazing political machine. But Winston Peters is an incredible campaigner. But National are promising $70 million in pork. But Labour voters might vote strategically. But pro-National NZ First supporters might react to that. But they might not because of anger about Sabin. It’s very tricky stuff, but Labour’s approach so-far seems sensible to me.
Even though I kind-of hate the Labour Party and I genuinely hate New Zealand First, I just can’t get outraged about this alleged ‘deal’ that Andrew Little has made, in which he’s signalling for Labour voters to support Winston Peters. There’s nothing wrong with deals in politics. Politics is, basically, making compromises and deals. The reason the deal National makes in Epsom is so toxic is because it exploits a loophole in the electoral law. They give a safe seat to a fake party and get an extra MP and taxpayer funding for a gaggle of far-right nutters. That’s totally different to Labour reaching the conclusion that it can’t win Northland and signaling to voters that they should vote for someone who can.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the ring, National has made a pretty astounding deal with its Northland candidate. They’ve given him $70 million dollars of taxpayer money to spend on bridges in his electorate. Andrew Geddis has read the Northland Regional Council’s Land Transport Plan and discovered that the bridges are very low-priority projects.
I am being naive, or is this an unprecedented event in New Zealand politics. The government hands a candidate SEVENTY MILLION DOLLARS of the public’s cash to try and buy an election? This seems like a big deal to me.
If I lived in Northland I’d vote for Winston Peters then dip my hand in a bucket of bleach (I probably wouldn’t do that last bit). But the thing about by-elections is that not many people vote in them. So turnout is a big deal, and I just can’t see Peters beating the National Party machine.
Yesterday in preparation for the Hager/Snowden revelations the Prime Minister warned that whatever Hager said was all a lie. Today the talking point is that everyone always knew that the GCSB carried out surveillance in the Pacific, so who cares?
It’s true, we did know that. But we didn’t know it was mass surveillance, and we didn’t know that all of the data was simply forwarded to the US. The argument for the GCSB’s activities has always been that it safeguards our regional security interests. But now we know that its primary function is diplomatic. It collects data that the US can’t and forwards it on, and in exchange we get to be members of the Five-Eyes alliance.
Now, you could argue that Five-Eyes membership is a big win for safe-guarding our regional security. Maybe it is, I don’t really know. We’re not exactly beset by threats down here. But this is an area in which ‘national interest’ and the interests of politicians, diplomats and intelligence elites blur into each other. If you’re the Prime Minister or the head of the GCSB, or MFAT, then participation in this club is a huge win. Key gets to go to the White House and play golf with Obama. Our spies get access to global information networks. We get free stuff from the US. Totally awesome. No question that this is a great deal for them.
What’s unclear is whether any of this delivers any gains at all to the New Zealand public. Does spying on everyone in Kiribati and giving the information to the US keep us safe from terrorists, etc? Maybe in a super-indirect way it does! But it seems more likely – to me – that the benefits go to members of our political elite and the rhetoric about ‘keeping us safe’ is mostly nonsense.
The first Hager/Snowden story is up on the Herald. It shows that the GCSB is engaged in extensive surveillance in the Pacific, intercepting all network and telecommunications traffic in the area and routing it to NSA facilities in the US. (When GCSB analysts need to access the data they’ve intercepted they do so via NSA databases).
I don’t think its controversial for the GSCB to conduct operations in the Pacific. It’s our ‘sphere of influence’. There are coups in the Pacific. There’s corruption. Money-laundering, which is probably related to organised crime and could conceivably be funding terrorism. We have economic interests in the region, and despite all the rhetoric about ‘keeping us safe’, spying is frequently conducted for commercial purposes.
The problem is that almost all surveillance is now mass surveillance. Intelligence operations used to be targeted against individuals or companies or groups or governments. Now it’s just easier to spy on everyone and mine the data for targets of interest. So we’re violating the privacy of hundreds of thousands of people who live in nations that are friendly to us with no justification other than that it is technologically convenient.
The spies and politicians who enable them will bark, red-faced, that this is not mass-surveillance, because they don’t class gathering data as surveillance, only looking at it. The problem, as Snowden demonstrated, is that an awful lot of people can look at it. There are hundreds of thousands – possibly millions – of people across the five-eye countries that can access this data.
And the agencies themselves seem untrustworthy. The oversight is inadequate. Last year we found out that the head of the SIS was passing on misleading information to political staffers in the Prime Minister’s office to discredit the leader of the opposition.
These security agencies have incredible powers. They justify them on the basis that they’re ‘keeping us safe’. Nothing we know about them suggests that they do anything of the kind. Everything we do know about them involves them lying to us and abusing their powers. If we’re going to have a state that conducts mass-surveillance – and apparently we are, because we do – then it needs to be implemented and regulated properly.
As for Five-Eyes, I guess New Zealand’s attitude towards it is basically a realist/fatalist position. If there is going to be a terrifying global Orwellian mass surveillance network we might as well be members of it. That might change when the inevitable stories of its abuse surface.
I was wondering why there’s been so much media about the $168,000 rude cake on Facebook HRT finding, and then I read the Tribunal decision which you can find here. It is very long, and amazing in a way that can’t really be summed up in a newspaper article. It depicts a culture of senior managers in an organisation who behave like toxic sociopaths and pour huge amounts of energy into settling petty vindictive scores – at the cost of running their business properly – but communicate all their awful, moronic, mostly illegal actions via a stream of bland corporate drivel and HR jargon about process and culture and branding and leadership. A particular low point is when they contact their victim’s new employer, who is desperately ill from chemotherapy treatment and urge him to sack her under the ninety day fire-at-will provision, threatening to withdraw their custom from his business and bankrupt it if he refuses to do so (signed off with a cheery ‘Kind Regards’).
I suspect this depiction of a malevolent management culture resonates with a lot of journalists working in New Zealand newsrooms. But there’s also a political dimension. All of National’s pro-employer labour market reforms are justified on the basis that employers won’t abuse them because there’s no financial incentive for them to do so. Yet here we have a detailed account of a financial institution that seems way more interested in bullying their staff and destroying people’s lives than making money or ‘maximizing shareholder value’ and they use National’s reforms to do it.