Pita Bread & Circuses?

datePosted on 06:23, January 10th, 2009 by Jafapete

“I want the flag up there,” Dr Sharples said. “I think it’s a symbol of the new direction this Government is taking by inviting the Maori Party to be part of it.”

Seems the big issue weighing on the mind of Minister of Maori Affairs and MP for Tamaki Makaurau Pita Sharples is the urgent need for the Tino Rangatiratanga/Maori flag to be flown above the Auckland Harbour Bridge on Waitangi Day. I’ve no problems with that. It would be a symbolic gesture of recognition of the special place the Tangata Whenua have in New Zealand/Aotearoa.

But, “New direction”? You’ve got to be kidding, Pita!

I guess we should expect this from the man who voted to abolish Labour’s legislated tax-cuts for the lower paid in favour of tax cuts for the rich, to reduce protections against arbitrary employer actions at work for (disproportionately Maori) highly mobile workers in small workplaces, etc. I just can’t see how flying the Maori flag on the Auckland Harbour Bridge captures this “new direction.” Or why he’d even want to talk about it.

Domestic Violence (Enhancing Safety) Bill

datePosted on 06:00, January 10th, 2009 by Anita

As part of fulfilling their election promises the government has put forward changes to the domestic violence legislation. The proposal will see Police able to issue an order banning the perpetrator of domestic violence from the home for five days to protect the victim and any children, those orders will not be subject to any kind of judicial review or oversight.

The first part is a reasonable approach to the issue, the second is clearly wrongheaded – why should these orders be without judicial review or oversight? Where are the checks and balances?

The problem the Police face is what to do in the middle of the night in the face of a case of the less serious end of the spectrum of domestic violence (in the more serious cases they simply arrest the abuser). At the moment in cases which don’t quite warrant that they have three options: leave the abuser at large and hope nothing worse happens, tell the victim to go to a refuge or a friend’s place, or lock the abuser up anyhow. The ability to issue an order banning the abuser from the house would be a sensible tool to add to this.

Idiot/Savant has called for the Bill to be rejected but that doesn’t improve the current situation which probably sees both unnecessary imprisonment and victims being driven out of their homes. Deborah suggests reducing the period to 72 hours, but I’m not sure it’s the period that’s the problem as long as there’s an opportunity to review inappropriate exclusions.

I think that the Police should have the ability to ban the abuser immediately from the house for five days. The first day that courts are open the Police should then go before the court and have the order reconfirmed with everyone involved able to be heard. The court can then either confirm the order, reject the order or, potentially, issue a normal protection order. The order itself should be subject to the normal review process.

That way victims of domestic violence are protected, abusers are not unnecessarily arrested, and the standard judicial processes and reviews are available to all involved.

What do you all think? We have until late February to get submissions in, so we have time to figure out a solution which would really work.

Catching the train to work

datePosted on 06:53, January 9th, 2009 by Anita

Yesterday I caught the train to work; I live in Wellington, I’m working in Palmerston North a couple of days a week.

On the trip I had breakfast, did an hour’s work, read and wrote some email, wrote a post, and did some good stretches. It cost less than the petrol would have done, it got me to PN in a comparable time, and in heaps of time for my first meeting.

That service exists solely because of public intervention, it runs on publicly owned rolling stock on publicly owned track.

As I whizzed through the countryside in the sunshine I wondered two things

  1. Why were there so many cars on the road? So many cars with only a single person in them. Why weren’t they on my train (or the one in the other direction), or the bus, or even car pooling?
  2. Why does it take government intervention to create a way for me, a private sector worker, to commute to my private sector job in a cost-effective environmentally friendly way?

One of the striking aspects of the last election was the virtual absence of discussion about National’s approach to defense and security. Now that it is in office, it might be time to ask some questions of National about what it proposes for the defense and security of NZ over the next three years.

The backdrop to any such inquiry must begin with the fact that National by and large accepted Labour’s strategic and policy perspective on the subject. But it is also worth noting, as I mentioned in an earlier post, that National’s foreign policy leadership team have expressed views at odds with their own Party’s stance. This was particularly true for their initial support for the invasion of Iraq and silence on the use of extra-judicial tactics in the prosecution of the war on terrorism. So the questions must begin with the following general inquiry: what will be different about National’s approach to national security and defense when compared with its predecessor?

More specific questions can centre on its approach to domestic security versus external defense policy. For example, National supported passage of the Terrorism Suppression Act, a truly horrendous piece of Labour-promoted legislation that even the Solicitor-General said was a legal dog’s breakfast that was virtually impossible to apply. Given that the TSA dramatically infringes on the right to dissent and allows for the expansion of the State’s powers of covert surveillance and detention of “terrorist” suspects, why did National feel the need to support it? Will it attempt to modify the TSA while in office, or will it let things stand? How, exactly, does National propose to deal with the subject of domestic “terrorist” threats, especially if the present thrust of the TSA is challenged in court or criticised by the Law Commission? Read the rest of this entry »

Symbolic action – blood on the Rabin memorial

datePosted on 09:14, January 8th, 2009 by Anita

There’s been quite a lot of talk in recent days over Father Gerard Burn’s protest action of smearing his own blood and red paint on the memorial to Yitzhak Rabin. I have very mixed feelings, but I will stand up for Father Burns.

On the one hand, a statement that Rabin’s legacy has been tainted by the blood of innocents seems so very true, and would not be a criticism or attack on the Rabin himself. One can imagine Rabin’s shade weeping at the actions of the last few weeks.

On the other, it is hard to not hear the echo of at least some criticism of Rabin; perhaps for not going far enough, perhaps for the fish hooks in the Oslo accords, perhaps a stronger criticism. Whether that echo was intentional or not, it is there and Burn must have known it would be heard.

I wasn’t there, if I had been I would not have smeared the paint or cut my finger to join his action. But I would have stood there in support of Father Burn’s decision to take that symbolic action. It’s a line call for me, but a couple of things tip the balance: his use of his own blood fits a particular form of faith based protest; the act was not constructed as a ritual desecration; it is not Rabin’s grave; the act was for peace, it was not filled or framed with hate or anger. Perhaps as someone with a Peace Church heritage I give particular latitude to actions for peace that come out of faith and personal sacrifice… perhaps.

Like so many things about the Israel-Palestine situation this is a hard hard decision, but that makes it so much more important for us to stand up for what we believe.

Finally, can I recommend you go read Poneke’s contribution to the debate – he doesn’t agree with me, but as usual his arguments and well thought through and he stands up for what he believes.

Representing Pacific communities

datePosted on 05:09, January 8th, 2009 by Anita

I recently read an article by Anae Arthur Anae, National’s first Pacific Island MP. While it was written about 8 years ago, many of his points strike a chord when thinking about political representation of ethnic communities now.

  • He talks about his surprise, as National’s candidate for Auckland Central in 1993, that Pacific people in the seat voted along class and historic lines, rather than for a Pacific Island candidate.
  • As a list MP from 1996-1999 he struggled with the challenges of representing the PI community – geographically spread the length of the county, linguistically and culturally diverse.
  • His attempts to build cross-party forums with other PI MPs
  • The challenge to get Pacific issues understood and prioritised within a party focussed on the “economic situation”
  • The PI communities’ disappointment when National dropped him from 19 to 25 of the list “to make sure that the new intake was representative”

Anae tried to represent every Pacific Islander, whether they voted National or not, whether they were Samoan or not, even if they only thing they shared with him was Pacific heritage. At the same time he represented every National voter, everyone who shared his moral views, not to mention everyone in his neighbourhood.

We ask so much of our MPs, we ask them to represent every single one of us, to empathise with us, to understand us, to know where we come from, to be like us. Read the rest of this entry »

Ceasefire politics

datePosted on 15:24, January 7th, 2009 by Pablo

The Minister of Foreign Affairs has finally come around and called for a ceasefire in Gaza. One wonders why he did not do so at the outbreak of hostilities three weeks ago. After all, a principled position against armed conflict would have advised for an early rather than late demand for a cessation of both the Hamas rocket attacks and the Israeli air campaign in response. Be that as it may, the belated call for a ceasefire puts NZ in line with the UN position as well as that of the Labour Party (which called for a ceasefire over a week ago), and was driven by the targeting by IDF armour of UN facilities where Hamas fighters sought shelter. Since the NZ is a vocal supporter of UN humanitarian missions, such attacks were bound to cause alarm within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, especially since the IDF has a track record of targeting UN sites when they are occupied by enemy combatants (remember the IDF bombing of the UN observer post in Southern Lebanon in 2006, which resulted in the deaths of foreign peacekeepers). In addition, local opposition to the incursion into Gaza made the issue politically problematic for National so long as it held to its neutral stance (and silence) on the conflict. Since most of the fire is directed by the IDF against Hamas, a call for a ceasefire on both sides is effectively a call for Israel to halt (at least) its ground operations. That brings National belatedly in line with Labour on the issue.

All of this indicates that there might have been a struggle between the career foreign affairs bureaucracy and their new political masters on how to respond, something only resolved when UN facilities came under fire (which made it diplomatically untenable for National to continue with its “neutral” stance). Sometimes fence-sitting on sharp matters of diplomatic policy can turn into a painful political lesson at home and abroad, so the call for a ceasefire by Minister McCully is as much about the National government saving face in both arenas as it is about its real view of the conflict. Looks like the learning curve is going to be steep…

At the movies in San Francisco

datePosted on 09:07, January 7th, 2009 by Jafapete

For a crusty old lefty, there’s no place better than San Francisco to spend some time. SF’s inclusive, emancipating social values, oddly out of place in hyper-capitalist, dog-eat-dog U.S.A., warm the heart. Where better to see Milk, the biopic about the martyred gay activist and SF city politician?

Inevitably, the taxi ride to the cinema merged into the experience. Driving through the Tenderloin in the half-light of early evening, we passed the soup kitchen on Ellis St. For more than a block, the poor and homeless queued silently, two or three deep, abject and despairing. In jarring contrast with this grim spectacle, we pulled up to the cinema in a former Cadillac dealership on Van Ness, resplendent with its restored opulence. Plus ca change?

Milk is deeply moving, not least because of its authenticity. Sean Penn’s almost too-perfect mimicry of Milk’s mannerisms is reinforced by a supporting cast that includes members of the original group of associates. It’s a really well-made movie, and Penn’s and Josh Brolin’s performances are the stuff of Oscars. I’ve never seen raw archival footage integrated into a non-doco so seamlessly. The ending, operatic and defiant, is a paean not just to Harvey Milk, but to the movement that he inspired. In the wake of Prop 8, the movie is eerily apposite, but provides a timely reminder that the forces of reaction can be overcome, though not without set-backs.

By chance, the walk down to the Van Ness MUNI Station afterwards took us right past City Hall. A group of Sherriff’s deputies came swaggering out, brimming with the confidence of authority and the lethal firepower attached to their belts. Plus ca change indeed.

Rights vs traditional values

datePosted on 06:01, January 7th, 2009 by Anita

Over at Still Truckin’, Ari’s posted about the effect of the same-sex marriage debate in the United States. While I’m not totally in agreement that a scaring the conservatives is a huge success (it’s not that hard for a start :) it has illuminated a huge divide within the United States, and perhaps within our own community.

Some of the academic analysis has looked at the tension between the “rights” frame and the “traditional values” frame which occurs in the debate. On the one hand we have GLBT communities arguing for equal rights, on the other some conservative Christian communities trying to protect the traditional values of their faith and the wider society. In much of the world the “rights” frame reigns supreme, but in the US they seem to have found the tipping point, and the rights arguments that win elsewhere fail in the face of moral and social conservatism and the defence of the family.

In New Zealand we see the same divide: Civil Unions, Prostitution Law Reform (rights of the sex workers to safety vs traditional values of sex-within-marriage), section 59 (rights of the child vs traditional values of child rearing and families). With section 59 are we coming toward the tipping point; where the traditional values of some will outweigh the arguments for the rights of children?

And if we are shifting the balance in those newer rights spaces, will we see it shift in existing issues?

In particular National’s plans for education raise that flag for me – increasing funding for independent schools but capping spending? It sounds like it’ll decrease equity of access to quality education for all students (so a step backwards for children’s rights) to afford an increase in funding for schools specialising in traditional morals teaching.

So, will we follow the US and let a conservative groups arguing for traditional values start to eat away the rights gains? Or will we stay true to NZ’s progressive history of advancing our citizen’s rights?

Making it beautiful (and usable)

datePosted on 06:00, January 7th, 2009 by Anita

There’ve been a couple of suggestions about how to fiddle the layout to make this blog easier to comment on and/or more beautiful.

Suggestions are very very welcome, so please stick them in the comments here and we’ll see what we can do.

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