Scoop Election 08: edited by Gordon Campbell

Gordon Campbell on our apparent inability to stand up to Australia

October 13th, 2015

If you fight your bullies, the TV series Freaks and Geeks suggested, it can be painful at the time… but you earn respect and they will tend to leave you alone afterwards. Alas, and only days before the first meeting between our Prime Minister John Key and the new Australian leader Malcolm Turnbull, this country is showing no sign of standing up for itself. Quite the reverse. We seem to be rolling over, and making gestures of appeasement.

It’s been that way for quite some time. Since 2001, New Zealanders resident in Australia, who have been paying taxes and contributing to their economy, still do not qualify the same range welfare and/or healthcare assistance as we offer to Australians in need over here.

It has gotten worse. Late last year, Australia passed laws that enable New Zealanders convicted of offences carrying more than a year’s imprisonment to be deported back here – regardless of how long those individuals and their families have lived in Australia, and regardless of whether the families uprooted by this decision have any meaningful links with this country. Read the rest of this entry »

Gordon Campbell on John Key’s trip to Iraq

October 8th, 2015

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key has just returned from a quick visit to our troops in Iraq, where he reportedly discovered that (a) Iraq is hellishly hot and dusty (b) our troops are doing a great job and (c) that he personally, certainly made the right call in sending them there. The media who accompanied the PM on this mission totally agreed – and they reached the same conclusion almost instantaneously, it would seem:

John Key’s trip to Iraq asked and answered the question about whether our troops are making a difference. It only took a day watching the Kiwi troops and their students in action at Camp Taji in Iraq to know they are making a real difference and it is more than just a drop in the ocean.

As in most of these exercises in delusional self-aggrandisement, the trainees are depicted as being almost child-like:

Part of what the Kiwis do is demystify the enemy to Iraqi soldiers, demoralised by the slick mind games of an enemy that has mastered social media to spread chilling propaganda. Among the myths that have taken root are that IS has millions of soldiers and snipers who can shoot them from 6km away.

And of course, they SO admire the Kiwi way:

…..the Kiwis have been debunking the myths and boosting the confidence of their students that IS is an enemy that can be beaten. And they are doing it in a typically Kiwi fashion that has earned them the respect of the Iraqi soldiers. Read the rest of this entry »

Gordon Campbell on Serco’s emerging role as the government’s favourite corporate crony, and the TPP fallout

October 7th, 2015

There’s no success like failure, as Bob Dylan once said, and Serco’s failures mean nothing but trouble on the horizon for ordinary New Zealanders. Unfortunately, its abysmal track record isn’t stopping the relentless intrusion of this particular multinational into the provision of crucial services in this country. Despite their proven history of failure in running British prisons, Serco have been granted major contracts within our prisons and they have no incentive to do better. Because when they have failed spectacularly this year, the Key government waived the fines for which the firm were liable:

It has been revealed in Parliament that private prison operator Serco has been let off hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines for serious contract breaches.

Mt Eden Prison is currently under the management of the Department of Corrections, while an official investigation is carried out into allegations of mismanagement by Serco.

The firm’s problems have now spread to Serco’s management of the new privately run prison at Wiri.

Undaunted, Serco has also shown an interest in the co-ordination of youth protection services.

Ms Tolley has said she would still be open to Serco – which is looking at running child services in the UK – being contracted to provide more social services.

Tolley’s readiness to put out the welcome mat for Serco is significant, given that the Rebstock review of Child, Youth and Family is due in November – and the Rebstock terms of reference have shown that this government has a strong interest in the privatization of some CYF services.

The Serco invasion of New Zealand is now spreading to public transport in the capital city – again, despite its abysmal performance in running similar services in Britain. In a terrific piece of reporting that got overshadowed by the TPP finale, Lindsay Shelton revealed on Scoop that Serco is now on the shortlist for the contract to run Wellington’s commuter train service. Inexplicably, the Regional Council has decided that local experience is insufficient to run the local train service – and this requirement has forced Kiwirail into a joint contract with an overseas company in order to stay in the running. Failure overseas though, is obviously not a disqualifier. Lindsay’s report is a must-read, available here.

TPP, the day after

So you keep the public entirely in the dark for eight years, refuse to comment on drafts that contain horrendous proposals of what you intend to do, and then when the international public outcry forces the hand ofother governments – eg Australia – to stand firm on key points like the cost of medicines (long after we have abandoned ship). Them, when the worst is narrowly averted, you then blame the TPP critics for fear-mongering and ignorance ! Incredible stuff, even by the NZ Herald’s usual standards.

The blizzard of spin during the last 24 hours has been pretty astonishing. In reality, the government’s performance has been abysmal. Remember all the previous talk about how the government wouldn’t sign anything but a high quality, gold standard trade deal for the 21st century? Forget it, because they have. What we’ve got instead are a claim for a level of gains by the year 2030 that would be dwarfed – or wiped out altogether – by the gains/losses from currency fluctuations.

Time and again in the coverage yesterday, the prospect of not being in the TPP tent was presented as being utterly unthinkable. The opportunity costs of doing so are being ignored. No small thing, given the losses in innovation and extra costs imposed by the copyright extension to 70 years and other restrictive IP measures contained in the TPP – which will land us with the same bad US standards and copyright terms that Europe has rejected. So far, the net gain ( if any) from the TPP has yet to be calculated. Some commentators in Canada have tried to calculate the gains from being in the TPP and also what Canada would have lost by not joining:

The benefits of TPP membership may actually be smaller than what Canada would have lost by not joining. Dan Ciuriak, a former deputy chief economist at the federal trade department, has estimated that the TPP will boost Canada’s economy by 0.1 per cent, while staying out would have cost it 0.5 per cent of gross domestic product.

On the political front, the Key government has almost entirely escaped criticism for its ineptitude. Tactically, New Zealand failed. It placed all of its eggs in the dairy basket – leaving Australia to fight the good fight on the costs of medicines on its own – and then failed to deliver on dairy. ( Lets leave aside for the moment the immorality of trying to trade off the added cost of patented medicines needed by sick people with the hoped-for gains to dairy farmers.) Ultimately, an almost empty handed Trade Minister Tim Groser has been left to claim that history will absolve him.

Happily, the Canadian press has been scotching that forlorn hope. Macleans magazine for instance, headlined its story with the announcement that Canada had successfully seen off the New Zealand challenge.

Canadian officials have slammed the door on a suggestion by New Zealand that it might push for greater access for its dairy products as the Trans-Pacific Partnership moves forward.

But disappointed New Zealanders, who ran headlong into Canada’s sacrosanct adherence to supply management during the talks, maintained that the day will come when Canada’s dairy farmers will no longer enjoy having their “hands held” by protective policies.

Faint hope. Not in our lifetime, evidently.

We have come a long way from the threat of eliminating supply management,” said Wally Smith, a B.C. dairy farmer and chairman of the Dairy Farmers of Canada.

Similarly, the Dairy Farmers of Canada body doesn’t share Groser’s view that the end is nigh for Canada’s dairy protectionism. As the TPP deal was clinched, the organisation tweeted exultantly : “No negative impact and supply management preserved for a generation.” If anything, the huge $4.3 billion compensatory TPP package that the Harper government has provided for Canada’s dairy industry will enable the exit of small dairy farmers, and will speed up the consolidation of Canada’s dairy industry and its evolution into a more formidable rival for Fonterra. Good work, Mr Groser ! Give that man a knighthood. Again…nothing succeeds like failure.

Footnote : The nadir of yesterday’s TPP coverage would have to be the claim by Crawford Falconer, Kathyrn Ryan’s RNZ Nine to Noon star commentator on the TPP, that investor-state disputes “certainly aren’t targeted at countries like New Zealand.” Rubbish. Here’s the Toronto Globe and Mail on two examples of huge ISDS losses inflicted on Canada in this year alone.

As mentioned previously in this column, the Canadian government was deemed liable in the Bilcon case when it sought an environmental impact review of the effect of a quarry that it had agreed to in principle:

The Bilcon decision [which has laid Canada open to a $300 million damages claim] has raised a number of concerns about the investor-state dispute settlement provisions that are commonplace in international agreements, ranging from the North American free-trade agreement, to the Canada-China foreign investment agreement, to the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership currently under negotiations.
A dissenting member of the panel – University of Ottawa law professor Donald McRae – warned that the ruling represents a “significant intrusion” into domestic jurisdiction and will “create a chill” among environmental review panels that will be reluctant to rule against projects that would cause undue harm to the environment or human health.

There is a growing concern in legal circles that the arbitration panels are expanding their mandate – including substituting their decision-making role for domestic courts – and that they cannot be appealed, Toronto trade lawyer Larry Herman said Tuesday. The Bilcon decision “will feed ammunition to those who oppose international arbitration as a form of dispute settlement,” he added.

It’s the second high-profile NAFTA loss for Canada. Last month, Ottawa was ordered to pay Exxon Mobil Corp. and Murphy Oil Ltd. $17.3-million after a NAFTA panel ruled that Newfoundland and Labrador had violated the trade agreement by imposing retroactive research-spending requirements on its offshore oil producers.

It remains to be seen whether the final ISDS wording in the TPP will remove the expectation of profit as a grounds for liability. If it doesn’t, New Zealand would indeed be liable to exactly the same Bilcon-style cases, if it subsequently chose to seek an environmental review of a foreign investment that it had greenlit.

In sum… the whole TPP gains/losses equation will be moot if the US Congress nixes the deal. As mentioned in this column yesterday, the Washington Post is reporting that the House and Senate votes will not occur until April 2016, at the earliest. Meaning: our Parliament may end up passing a TPP that the US then votes down. Therefore, any rush to legislative change to make us TPP compliant will have to weighed against what is at least a 50/50 chance that the US Congress will torpedo the entire deal.

Finally, could a future government exit the TPP if we so choose? Well, we exited ANZUS, so anything is theoretically possible. Given the general consensus on international trade deals held by both Labour and National, such a route is unlikely. In reality, the TPP will effectively tie the hands of future governments.


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Gordon Campbell on the TPP deal reached in Atlanta

October 6th, 2015

If the TPP was the Rugby World Cup, the New Zealand team probably wouldn’t be making it out of pool play. While the final details will not emerge for a month, the TPP is offering disappointing returns for New Zealand… and over a very long phase-in period… of up to 25 years in major areas important to us, even though many of the concessions we have made would take immediate effect. Typically, Prime Minister John Key has already been spinning the “93% tariff free” outcome across the TPP region, as if that situation was entirely due to the TPP deal. To get that figure, Key is adding all pre-existing tariff reductions and adding them to the TPP. To take a relevant example… 80% of US trade with other TPP members is already duty free.

Yes, the TPP has helped to knock a few points off the tariffs facing our exporters. Yet some of those alleged dollar gains may well have been made regardless over time – and without the negative baggage of the concessions in the non-trade areas (intellectual property, copyright extensions, investor-state dispute mechanisms etc) that the TPP deal also brings in its wake. Read the rest of this entry »

Gordon Campbell on the TPP countdown, and Mary Margaret O’Hara

October 5th, 2015

While Australia and the US have reached agreement on the patent exclusivity term for biologics – the new drugs that have been one of the last sticking points on a TPP deal – this agreement has reportedly been rejected by both Chile and Peru, and it is this final impasse that has been holding up the unveiling of the final shape of the dairy deal reported in this column last Monday.

The Australian/US biologics deal is reportedly for an eight year term presumably sweetened for Australia by some movement on sugar access to the US, for which Australia has been pressing. The desperate rearguard attempts by the US dairy industry to prevent a US dairy market access carve-out for New Zealand have included this appeal.

Coming into the talks in Atlanta, the auto parts wrangle between the US and Japan one side and Canada and Mexico on the other was resolved in a fashion that perfectly illustrates how the final compromises in this kind of deal are reached: essentially by finding a face-saving recipe for the cave-ins that are actually occurring. Read the rest of this entry »

Gordon Campbell on the lack of accountability over the Philip Smith case

October 2nd, 2015

In New Zealand, accountability is an exotic creature rarely glimpsed at ministerial level, or among senior management. The flight to Rio by the paedophile /murderer Philip John Smith/Traynor is no exception. Oh, a couple of foot soldiers at the operational level in Corrections have been sacrificed. But higher up the chain of command? Not so much. The principle that those at the higher political/managerial level have a share of responsibility for the functioning of the system just does not seem to exist.

No one is advocating a lynch mob reaction – heads must roll! – but when no-one at all in power suffers any negative consequence for the series of lapses of the magnitude that was revealed in yesterday’s official report into the Smith/Traynor case….well, lets just say it does nothing to dispel public cynicism about the huge salaries that these people are paid. The burdens of high office must rest a little lighter when you know there’ll be no blowback if and when you totally screw up.

Within the official report are a raft of recommendations and measures to dealing with the adequacy of information disclosure, sharing and matching between State sector agencies (including border sector agencies) that should apply in future to those persons who would be expected to remain in New Zealand by virtue of their status in the criminal justice system.

Why does this sound a bit familiar? Well, there was a ministerial inquiry in 2011 into how convicted child sex offender Te Rito Henry Miki managed to get back onto the teacher rolls. Apparently, he did so simply by changing his name – reportedly, he had 53 aliases – and then used that new identity to get fresh documentation and a teaching job. Easy peasy.

Yet somehow that 2011 inquiry and its many, many recommendations did not stop Smith/Traynor – also a child sex offender – from getting away with much the same thing, largely because the recommendations made in 2011 to Education Minister Hekia Parata were evidently not acted upon. Incredible, really. The Miki inquiry included a number of proposals meant to cope with identity issues, name changes, documentation, and the notification of relevant agencies, such as:

Part 3, Recommendation 5: The Inquiry recommends that you [ie. Parata] refer the issue of notification of name change to the appropriate Ministers with the proposal that urgent consideration be given to require the Office of the Registrar-General to notify any registered change of name to the Passports Office, Customs Department and the Immigration Office of the Department of Labour and the appropriate protocols be put in place to govern the process.

Smith of course, wasn’t changing his name, but reverting to his real name. Still the principles of cross-referencing aliases and the sharing of information between agencies dealing with (a) offending and (b) document provision were the same. Now, another inquiry is trying to re-invent the same wheel. Lets hope they get it right this time.
Well, that Chris Brown case just won’t go away. On RNZ this morning, the support being shown to Brown by Dame Tariana Turia and several other prominent women who have long shown public support to the female victims of violence was queried.

Several questions were put to Turia, who needs no-one to speak on her behalf. However, since the questions were left unanswered – Turia said she didn’t know about the incidents being referred to by RNZ interviewer Kim Hill – perhaps it may be useful to add to the record.

Question : Are you not aware of his ongoing record of criminality ?

What ongoing record of criminality? Chris Brown has not been prosecuted for or convicted of a criminal offence since the original felony assault conviction in 2009, for which he served his five years probation and community service. The most serious incident since was a 2013 altercation when two women wanted their photo taken with Brown and when he refused, he and his entourage got involved in a fight with the boyfriends of the women. This was treated by Police as a misdemeanor ie, it was not criminally prosecuted.

Question He didn’t get into a nightclub brawl, he didn’t punch and threaten to kill Frank Ocean and call him a faggot ?

No one, including Ocean, knows who called him a faggot. This incident began when Ocean confronted Brown at the MTV awards, and claimed that Brown had stolen his parking space. Subsequently, Brown offered to shake hands. Ocean refused. Brown punched him. Brown’s crew then struggled with Ocean and someone in the melee – Ocean said later that he did not know who – used the ‘faggot’ word. The ‘threaten to kill’ element was the comment made by Brown during the course of the argument that “ We can bust on you too.” [Yeah? You and whose army?] Ocean did not press charges, either criminal or civil.

Question : He wasn’t charged with battery in Maine?

No. He wasn’t charged with battery in Maine. This refers to an incident earlier this year in which – the Police report says – a man playing on a basketball court claimed to have been punched by Brown during an argument, and by a member of his crew. Brown’s spokesperson claimed that Brown had not been involved in any altercation, but that “ an unruly man” had tried to enter a basketball court adjacent to Brown’s hotel room, and to which Brown had invited friends. The man had been evicted. He did not press charges, and the Police dropped their investigation.

All along, no one who supports Brown getting a visa to perform here has claimed that he is a saint, or even that he is a likeable person. True, there is a lot about the overt sexualisation of popular culture and the lyric content of popular music that is objectionable, and that many people do not like. Yet making Brown the scapegoat for such concerns is neither fair, nor particularly healthy. Not when as Turia said, other people who have committed domestic violence and/or who have far worse lyrics in their music have been allowed into New Zealand, no problem.

None of us know Chris Brown. But….who has had direct experience of violence from Chris Brown? Rihanna. What she said in 2013 after choosing to recommence her romantic relationship with Brown, several years after the 2009 assault seems relevant:

When you add up the pieces from the outside, it’s not the cutest puzzle in the world. You see us walking somewhere, driving somewhere, in the studio, in the club, and you think you know. But it’s different now. We don’t have those types of arguments anymore. We talk about shit. We value each other. We know exactly what we have now, and we don’t want to lose that….He’s not the monster everybody thinks. He’s a good person. He has a fantastic heart. He’s giving and loving. And he’s fun to be around. That’s what I love about him – he always makes me laugh. All I want to do is laugh, really – and I do that with him.”

Surely, she should be recognised as having some agency here. Especially given that Rihanna also declared she would walk away if Brown showed any hint of his previous violent behaviour towards her again.

“He doesn’t have the luxury of fucking up again,” she says. “That’s just not an option. I can’t say that nothing else will ever go wrong. But I’m pretty solid in the knowing that he’s disgusted by that. And I wouldn’t have gone this far if I ever thought that was a possibility. He made a mistake, and he’s paid his dues,” Rihanna adds. “He’s paid so much. And I know that’s not a place he would ever want to go back to. And sometimes people need support and encouragement, instead of ridicule and criticism and bashing.”

The Queen of 1989.

There’s been a lot of to and fro in the media about the merits – or lack of same – in the Ryan Adams cover version of the Taylor Swift album, 1989. To my mind, the real queen of 1989 was the lovely and almost unknown Syd Straw, whose “ Heart of Darkness” is still a pretty interesting song, addressed to a friend with depression. (I’m not sure though about the wisdom of the line that guilt trips the depressed person. ) Great backing here by Dave Alvin of the Blasters.

And why was this other fantastic Syd Straw song – with Michael Stipe on backing vocals – never a hit ? You have a lot to answer for, 1989.

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Gordon Campbell on Putin’s diplomatic coup over Syria

October 1st, 2015

There’s a simple historical precedent for what is occurring in Syria. During WWII, the Allies joined forces with a known butcher and tyrant – Joseph Stalin of the Soviet Union – in order to defeat a greater evil, Nazi Germany. Choosing the lesser evil is sometimes the only choice you have. Ironically, it took Russia’s current leader Vladimir Putin to remind the US of the WWII precedent, in the speech he gave a few days ago to the United Nations.

Russia may not be offering a very palatable plan on Syria, but at least it is a plan. Read the rest of this entry »

Gordon Campbell on the Chris Brown furore

September 30th, 2015

Thank goodness Dame Tariana Turia has been able to inject a bit of common sense into the Chris Brown visa issue – her argument being that forgiveness has a place in this decision, and there is an opportunity here that should be taken. Namely, that that Brown can and would communicate positive messages to those young people most at risk of violence and partner abuse. Before Turia made her contribution yesterday, the issue had been dominated by the likes of National MP Judith Collins and by Labour MP Sue Moroney, both of whom seemed intent on using the Brown visit as a megaphone to promote their political credentials on the issue of domestic violence.

Collins and Moroney have picked the wrong platform. No one – including Chris Brown – is an advocate of domestic violence. Collins verdict: “Just another wife beater… He should just bugger off” was particularly unfortunate. Clearly, if there is no room for forgiveness, and no potential for the perpetrators to change their behavior – which is what those advocating the eternal punishment of Brown seem to imply – then the anti-violence message will have lost an important dimension of repentance and rehabilitation. Read the rest of this entry »

Gordon Campbell on New Zealand’s TPP done deal on dairy, and on investor-state disputes

September 28th, 2015

For five years, the public has been denied any meaningful information about the content and progress of the TPP – on the bogus excuse that for the government to do so would jeopardise its ability to conduct the negotiations. Yet in other countries, far more information is publicly available than is the case here. As a result, the public is being made vulnerable to political manipulation – as information is drip fed by the government primarily for its own political ends. We are not North Korea, but a five year blackout amounts to a near- totalitarian abuse of information on matters of crucial public interest.

Currently a classic example of this process is under way. For the past week, the government has been actively downplaying the likely deal on dairy access to overseas markets that New Zealand may achieve via the TPP. Prime Minister John Key has warned that the dairy deal outcome will not be ‘gold-plated’ ; and on Friday Trade Minister Tim Groser told RNZ that if a better deal than the one hitherto on offer wasn’t available, it would hardly be worth his time attending the upcoming ministerial talks in Atlanta this week, which are expected to conclude the TPP deal. It was a peculiar remark. Surely if the dairy deal is on the ropes, shouldn’t Groser be rushing to help push it over the line. Surely five years of negotiations deserve no less than 110 per cent effort at the finale. What’s going on here?

The likely explanation is that the dairy deal, has in fact, been done. Read the rest of this entry »

Gordon Campbell on the Greens bad deal over the flags

September 24th, 2015

Click for big version.

So thanks to the Greens, the Red Peak design has now been added to the options for the flag referendum in November. Wow. In one fell swoop the Greens’ Gareth Hughes has (a) rescued Prime Minister John Key from his personal flag fiasco (b) got the government out of a tight corner of its own making (c) agreed to vote with National to block Labour’s attempt to get a yes/no question added to the November referendum and (d) handed the Key government a club with which to beat the only other party – Labour – with which the Greens can hope to form a government in 2017. Was Red Peak such a compelling cause that the Greens needed to expend so much political capital on it?

Read the rest of this entry »