Friday, December 17, 2004

Judgment on detention

The House of Lords has ruled on the case of nine suspected "terrorists" detained in the UK. They found (by a majority) that their detention is contrary to the Human Rights Act, on the grounds that only those without right of abode in the UK could be detained. The UK government now has to review the legislation, and is reported to be continuing to hold the nine while it considers what do do. Unfortunately, as in New Zealand, where a law gainsays Human Rights provisions, the courts cannot disapply that law.

There were two grounds for appeal: that the law enacting the legislation discriminated unlawfully against foreigners; that the derogation from the ECHR, permitting indefinite detention, was unjustified because no threat existed "to the life of the nation". The court as a whole agreed with the first premise but not the second. Lord Hoffman, however, dissented on the second ground. His contribution to the judgement is well worth reading, particularly this paragraph:

95. But the question is whether such a threat is a threat to the life of the nation. The Attorney General’s submissions and the judgment of the Special Immigration Appeals Commission treated a threat of serious physical damage and loss of life as necessarily involving a threat to the life of the nation. But in my opinion this shows a misunderstanding of what is meant by "threatening the life of the nation". Of course the government has a duty to protect the lives and property of its citizens. But that is a duty which it owes all the time and which it must discharge without destroying our constitutional freedoms. There may be some nations too fragile or fissiparous to withstand a serious act of violence. But that is not the case in the United Kingdom. When Milton urged the government of his day not to censor the press even in time of civil war, he said:
"Lords and Commons of England, consider what nation it is whereof ye are, and whereof ye are the governours".

To my mind this is absolutely right. If "terrorists" succeeded in mounting a major atrocity in the UK (or indeed here in New Zealand) it would undoubtedly be a tragedy. It would not however, terminate the continued existence of the nation, its institutions and values. Elsewhere, Hoffman contrasts the present situation with the threat posed by Spain in the 16th Century - had Spain succeeded in overwhelming England, this would have placed the nation under reactionary Catholic rule, very different from the prevailing Anglo-Norman values of England at that time.

The majority did not concur with this view - to do so would rather pull the rug from under the "war" on "terror" and judges tend to prefer the scalpel to the bludgeon. The finding (by 8-1) that the law was discriminatory on grounds of nationality is less controversial. I fear the UK governmment will now proceed to enact arbritary detention for UK nationals as well as foreigners.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Even odder

The Herald reports that "Dame Ann Hercus, the TVNZ board member accused by National of informing the Government of the new $800,000 pay deal for newsreader Judy Bailey, is understood to have offered her resignation from the board".

Very strange. Normally, a controlling (or even major minority) shareholder will have access to board minutes. This was standard practice in the various private firms that I've been a director of. Also, we had an investor appointed director whose job, in addition to normal fiducary duties, was to report formally and informally to the investor firm. TVNZ is a 100% government owned company, so there are no minority shareholders. As far as I can see the government, as major shareholder can do anything it likes (subject to not breaking the law and not running up debts that cannot be met).

Blunkett gone

UK Home Secretary David Blunkett has resigned.

His then partner, a right-wing magazine publisher, wanted to take her nanny on various foreign trips and needed UK residence expediting. Faced with the Kafkaesque security apparatus he had created, Blunkett took a shortcut and had his office email various immigration functionaries to speed things along.

Unfortunately, there is a limitless pile of hard-right "New Labour" clones to take his place. The similarly bearded Charles Clarke has been appointed Home Secretary.

It interests me how people like Blunkett wind up in a nominally left of centre party. You would have thought that an extreme social conservative would, like his erstwhile partner, have been more at home in the Tories. I suppose it must be a tribal thing - being from a working class north of England background, joining Labour would be non-voluntary, like supporting the local football team.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Soaring population

Auckland's population is expected to reach two million by 2031, according to this article.

A lot of people might see this as a bad thing for the environment of the Auckland region - I don't. At the moment the city suffers from road congestion and inadequate public transport. The latter is largely due to a lack of people wanting to use any given public transport corridor, making our current commuter rail marginally economic at best.

If (and I agree this is a big if) the expansion of the city was properly planned, we could wind up with a more livable city of two million than we have today with one million.

Some things I'd like to see:
  • A "green belt" at the current limit of the city - that is, an area with a total ban on new subdivision and development.
  • Most growth happening on the current footprint - we have to accept that many of the next million to live in Auckland will reside in apartments, not houses on quarter-acre sections.
  • New residential development to be within walking distance of adequate public transport to major commercial centres.
  • Commercial and retail developments to incorporate suitable public transport links.
  • Road traffic to the docks steadily phased out.

We should look to Amsterdam as a model for growth, not Los Angeles.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Star quality?

When I worked for a venture capital funded company, one of the features of our shareholders agreement was a cap on management salaries and bonuses. My advice was that such clauses were pretty standard where a major shareholder is providing substantial funding to a company.

I can't quite see why the NZ government doesn't put such an obligation on TVNZ. Obviously the TVNZ argument for paying Holmes, and now Judy Bailey, such large salaries is that they bring in sufficient viewers, and hence advertising revenue, to pay for them. Another argument is that without the budget for much news gathering, especially overseas, the news consists largely of talking heads and we need to pay a big salary to get attractive (?) and charismatic figures to front the programmes.

Maybe NZ on Air should fund the news - they seem to have a lot of success getting music videos made for $5000 a throw - I'd watch a 30 minute, advert-free news programme with presenters at the start, rather than the peak, of their careers.

Friday, December 10, 2004

A society governed by laws

Great news on Ahmed Zaoui's bail and the Civil Union Bill being passed.

I'm amazed by the level of ignorance shown by many commentators on the former (less so on the latter - you don't get much logic on Planet Religo-Nut).

A lot of people seem to think that the government had the option to deport Zaoui to Malaysia or wherever. They don't. The reason for this is as follows:
- The Convention on the Status of Refugees, to which NZ is a signatory, requires that NZ admit anyone who appears on our shores meeting the definition of a refugee.
- The Refugee Status Appeal Authority determined, in this decision, which I would recommend reading, that Zaoui met the requirements of the convention.
- The government may not deport a refugee - it may, as it has done in the Zaoui case, detain a refugee it believes to be a threat to national security.

The Supreme Court has the right to form a decision based on the entire body of NZ statute, common and established constitutional law. For those who don't like this, it would be interesting to hear an alternative - rule by decree? bills of attainder?

In a society governed by laws it is clearly necessary and proper to have a body that can interpret those laws, and yes, that body is in many cases going to be able to overule parliament and government - to me that is how it should be.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Conscience voting

I've been reading various discussion on Left & Lefter and elsewhere regarding the right of electorate (as opposed to list) MPs to take a stance on "conscience" issues that differs from generally accepted party policy.

Some have argued that an electorate MP gets elected (to some extent) as a result of their own personal policy stance, rather than that of their party, and that gives them a right to vote independently.

I thought it might be useful to look up (on how the election panned out last time for each of the 6 MPs who opposed the Civil Union Bill:

All votes in thousands

MPMajorityVotes castPersonal vote - party vote
Cosgrove11 (31%)34+3.2
Duynhoven15 (49%)30+8.3
Field15 (61%)25+0.4
O'Connor8 (25%)30+6.0
Robertson11 (39%)27+1.3
Tamihere9 (58%)16+1.4

All these MPs have substantial majorities, and it can be assumed that they will be re-elected (except for John Tamihere, who faces opposition from the Maori Party next election). They all get more votes than their party (I assume this is the case for every electorate MP?).

However, it is fairly certain that any Labour candidate would hold the seats above in most circumstances (again excepting Tamihere).

Thus, I don't see the argument that these MPs are in the house because of a personal following as holding much water.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Age, youth and idealism

No Right Turn posts, apropos of the Civil Union Bill:

All of these issues are simply stalking horses for generational change - for a struggle of the young, with their vision of a pluralistic, independent and progressive New Zealand, and the old, too many of whom look back nostalgiacly to the "good old days" of the fifties, when Pakeha were unquestionably dominant and secure in their identity as British, and women and Maori knew their place. The problem for the old is that they are dying; History (or rather demographics) is on our side, and we will bury them - literally, in most cases.

I agree - most New Zealanders under about 35 (I fall into neither category, BTW) will have been brought up with a multi-cultural viewpoint on society. It is interesting in this context that "Choosing a Maori name for your baby" is a sufficiently mainstream book to be sold at the Auckland Airport bookshop (I suppose it could be being bought by outgoing tourists - so we'll get a whole bunch of little Tane Schmidts and Hinemoa Yashimotos).

I think Don Brash is part of the last gasp of the grumpy 50+ generation - in ten years or so they probably won't come near having the numbers to try and push NZ back into an anglocentric nuclear family mould.

Ethnic cleansing

The Australian Government has unveiled plans to "improve" the inner-city Redfern neighbourhood. They propose to acquire a housing project from the Aboriginal organisation that currently owns it, to evict those tenants considered to be misbehaving and to demolish the site to create apartments for more "up-market" tenants. This reminds me of the history of "District 6" , a multi-racial area in Cape Town which was forcibly cleared by the apartheid regime in 1965.

With Don Brash's clear desire to make NZ more like Oz, I could see this happening here if the Nats ever get in - a good thing recent opinion polls suggest this is unlikely.