INDEPENDENT NEWS

Gordon Campbell on NZ First and the ban on prisoner voting

Published: Mon 12 Aug 2019 11:07 AM
Gordon Campbell on NZF’s ability to maintain the ban on prisoner votingFirst published on Werewolf

In an alternative political universe, National could choose to underline Labour’s abject dependence on New Zealand First, by voting with Labour to help overturn the ban on prisoners being able to vote. After all, Chris Finlayson, National’s then Attorney General evaluated the ban at the time it was being proposed and had informed Parliament that the ban would be (a) illogical in practice and (b) a violation of Article 12 of the Bill of Rights. Fat lot of difference that advice made. National passed this petty, vengeful piece of legislation back in 2010, anyway. So, it won’t be doing anything to help end the injustice any time soon.
After all, most of those potential voters in prison – they are disproportionately Maori – would vote centre-left if given the chance. That was one of the main reasons why a National government cynically chosen to disenfranchise prisoners in the first place. In this article, Werewolf examined how thoroughly out of step this piece of legislation was with international trends in Canada and the UK. Besides the blatantly anti-democratic aspects of the ban, this gem of illogic had also been included within the select committee majority report on the Bill:
“The Electoral Enrolment Centre has proposed working with the Department of Corrections to develop a national procedure to encourage prisoners to re-enrol upon release from prison.” Got that? The centre-right faction on the select committee wants officialdom to devise a new bureaucratic programme to re-register prisoners all over again, once they’re out of jail. First, they want to treat prisoners as non-persons and deny them the vote – and then want to set up a nationwide programme to re-ignite the same motivation that they’ve just gratuitously chosen to dampen. If there was a prize for political stupidity and bureaucratic proliferation in the first term of the [Key] government, this Bill would have to be a prime contender.
Last year, the Supreme Court also found the ban to be “inconsistent” with the Bill of Rights. Now, the Waitangi Tribunal is calling on the coalition government to repeal the ban for being inconsistent with the Crown’s Treaty obligations.
Justice Minister Andrew Little has indicated that he will be taking a paper to Cabinet with the aim of repealing the ban. Good luck with that. The road block at Cabinet is likely to be New Zealand First, which also derailed Little’s attempt to repeal the “three strikes” law, and which has recently raised the prospect of a referendum as an obstacle to Little’s plans to reform our abortion law. It is hard to imagine NZF agreeing to sign off on overturning the prisoner voting ban.
Again it is a reminder of how severely constrained this government is on making progress on social issues. Since the mid 1980s, Labour has shown precious little interest in changing the basic economic settings, and the Labour Greens bloc underlined that reluctance by signing up to the Budget Responsibility Rules. The centre-left’s entire electoral pitch is based on promising to re-distribute the market gains more fairly, and to promote justice in social welfare and law and order issues. NZF though, has the power and inclination to veto and/or delay much of the Labour/Greens social programme, and since it was NZF that put the centre-left in power, there isn’t very much that its disgruntled partners can do about it.
It highlights just how narrow the centre-left’s electoral platform really is. While it claims to be committed to tackling social inequality, it has pledged not to change the economic settings that keep on generating it. Similarly, it claims to be committed to righting the injustices evident in our social welfare regime, and within our policing, sentencing and prison systems – provided those changes are OK with New Zealand First. It claims to be all for peace and harmony in international relations – but is delivering NZF Defence Minister Ron Mark billions of dollars' worth of new Defence gear to beef up our contributions to our traditional military alliances. In the Pacific, the coalition government is also playing the good cop within Foreign Minister Winston Peters’ pet “Pacific Reset” project, whereby our Pacific neighbours are intended to be drafted into the Australia/US plan to resist China’s advances in the region.
So yes, of course prisoners should be given the right to vote. They did a crime, and got sentenced for it. Being denied the right to vote is a spiteful and gratuitous add-on by a community that prisoners will, at some point, re-join. At which point they can join the rest of us in asking for some major left wing initiatives to vote for.
Ihumatao… on Marae
This column and others have been urging central government to take a more active role in resolving the Ihumatao dispute. That commentary now seems misguided. In case you missed these two Marae interviews last week with Auckland mayoral aspirant John Tamihere and with Auckland mayor Phil Goff, they’re well worth your time.
Both Tamihere and Goff are advocating for the need to hold back, and to respect the time and process required in mana whenua arriving at a compromise solution themselves, under the guidance of the kingitanga that both sides respect. Presumably, if more resources will ultimately be required to make any compromise deal work, the approach can then be made to central and local government by mana whenua, with a settlement proposal in hand. Rushing in to impose a solution, or out of some extraneous political need for PM Jacinda Ardern to show ‘leadership’… would not be a good idea. As Goff says, it has been interesting to see how this dispute has been peacefully handled here, in contrast to the way the authorities have been dealing with protest movements in Hong Kong, and in Russia.
Yemen update
Talking of serious conflicts… the world’s worst humanitarian crisis has just entered a new phase. Until now, Yemen has been (lazily) described as a proxy war between Saudi/UAE forces on one side, and Iran on the other. It isn’t. Iran’s mullahs belong to a different sect of Shia Islam to the northern Houthi rebels who have secessionist grievances that date right back to the 1960s, and who are now attacking Saudi oil trade in the Gulf in revenge for the hideous human rights abuses (random bombing of schools and hospitals, plus a cholera epidemic) perpetrated by a Saudi regime that’s intent on creating a weak and compliant Yemeni government on its borders. Iran has been a virtual bystander to this conflict.
So what’s new? Last week, the fighting between the Saudi and UAE proxy forces came to a head. Abu Dhabi has its own ambitions to be a regional power in the Middle East, and the separatist militia that the UAE supports – who are south Yemeni secessionists linked to al Qaeda – has been actively fighting the Al-Aslah militia (which has ties to the Muslim Brotherhood) that the Saudis have been supporting. Of late, these militia have been spending more time fighting each other in the cities of Taiz and Aden than they have in fighting the Houthis.
Now, it seems that the UAE -backed forces have succeeded in conquering Aden which is the supposed centre of power of the Hadi government-in-exile that the Saudis and the rest of the international community doggedly continue to support. (Abd-Rabbu Mansuor Hadi himself lives in Riyadh, where he is a willing captive of his Saudi sponsors.) As usual, Yemeni civilians suffered during the recent conflict:
The last few days of clashes [in Aden] have taken place in predominantly civilian neighbourhoods, leaving many trapped without access to hospitals, clinics, or markets.
At a time when the Australian and New Zealand government are pondering whether to join an international fleet in order to keep the Straits of Hormuz open for the benefit of the Saudi regime and the global oil trade, maybe putting an end to the human rights outrages that the Saudis have been inflicting on Yemen should be a more urgent priority. After all, it was the Saudi intervention in 2014 that has eventually generated the Houthi threat to the world’s tanker traffic.
Nothin’ But The Blues
Given how many stones are being cast in his passway by New Zealand First, ain’t no wonder Andrew Little has been singing the blues. Maybe these blues:
Talking of sad/beautiful songs… Last week, Werewolf featured two new Angel Olsen tracks that she’s released in 2019. In the process, this great live version of an out-take from 2014’s Burn Your Fire album also came to light:

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