Sunday, 26 October 2014

Musings on New Zealand's Rape Culture, Domestic Violence and Apologies.

One in five women over the age of 15 have experienced some form of sexual violence according the New Zealand National Survey of Crime Victims.  Australia has a similar level of sexual violence towards women.  Apparently the rates in New Zealand and Australia are double the global average - and that is based on the reported incidents only.  Yet we continue to debate the existence of a rape culture in New Zealand.

Before the election a several stories blew up regarding domestic violence, rape and sexual assault in our media.  The way two of the stories were handled was appalling.  The other was blown all out of proportion and sensationalised and ridiculed by our so called journalists.

So the first appallingly handled incident was the Malaysian diplomat's attempted rape/sexual assault on Tania Billingsley on 9th May.  She did the right thing and contacted the police asap.  Apparently the diplomat even waited for the police to turn up.  Muhammad Rizalman was arrested and charged by the police with the view to prosecute.  Tania says that the police have been very supportive and helpful throughout the ordeal.

Who wasn't, however, was the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA)s, when during discussions with the Malaysian embassy about the Rizalman's charges and going to court, cocked the whole thing up by suggesting that diplomatic immunity be invoked and a quick trip home could sort it out.

What made it worse was that the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Murray McCully, knew fairly early on that this attack happened and who was involved.  He informed the Prime Minister.  And then Murray McCully never followed up on what happened with the case, and seven weeks later it came back to bite him and the Prime Minister on the rear end.  Then it emerged that an email detailing events sat unopened in Mr McCully's inbox due to "communication difficulties" as he visited New York.  Gee, I didn't know New York had such poor internet connections.

In the meantime, diplomatic immunity was invoked (Malaysian authorities say it was at the suggestion of our officials from MFA) and the Rizalman was sent home on 22nd May with the promise of him facing a military court/discipline as he was an envoy of the armed forces.  When the story broke here a big uproar happened.  Malaysia agree to send the man back, and the next thing you know he is in a mental health facility.  He has since been released, yet we waited several months for his return to New Zealand.  He has arrived in New Zealand in late October, five months after the incident occurred!

Meanwhile Tania Billingsley went to court to get the name suppression covering her lifted so she could speak out.  She was interviewed by TV3's 3rd Degree, who were very careful to make sure nothing was aired that would endanger the court case.  I think getting the name suppression lifted and speaking on national television was a bold move by Tania.  I see it as a strong move to reclaim power that was taken from her during the attack.

However media and commentators slammed her move and claimed it was politically motivated because she is active politically and due to her comments regarding Murray McCully and John Key's actions, or lack there of, as this case has unfolded.  Claims were made that Jan Logie, an MP from the Green Party, had politicised Tania's case to attack the government.  I consider Tania's condemnation of McCully and Key to be well founded.  Murray McCully completely dropped the ball and John Key was his usual dismissive self.

And then there are the outrageous claims made on Whale Oil's blog about her intentions and attacking the integrity of Tania Billingsley and the details of the incident itself  -  I believe he even claimed that she had set up the attack as a trap!!

Over five months since the original incident, Rizalman has returned and had his first court date and been remanded in Rimutaka Prison.  (NZ Herald Red faces over Malaysian diplomat October 26th).

Which brings us to the overblown story....

In the midst of this, David Cunliffe attended the Women's Refuge conference.  Most of the parties were represented, and I know that Paula Bennett attended for National and Metiria Turei for the Greens.  After Paula Bennett had finished her speech she then proceeded to use her phone during the remainder of the other speeches, ignoring the other speakers completely, according to a source through Twitter who was also attending.

David Cunliffe led his speech with an apology.  He apologised for being a man because most domestic violence on children and partners is perpetrated by men.  The head of Women's Refuge said his speech was inspirational.  The media and commentators and John Key slammed him for apologising.

Most people have only seen that short clip when David Cunliffe apologises for being a man.  The media did not show the rest of the speech, or even the following couple of sentences, to give that apology context.  But personally I support him for apologising.  I respect the fact that Cunliffe was man enough to say that physical and emotional family violence is not ok and that men are the abuser in a majority (not all) of cases.  The Dim Post's blog post On Cunliffe's apology for being a man says it so well.

I wish that more men were man enough to say that abusing women and children is not the manly thing to do.  It would go a long way towards addressing the abuse suffered in this country in far too many homes across the socio-economic and ethnic spectrums.

John Key made much of ridiculing David Cunliffe's apology for being a man, but at the same time his government denied extra funding to the Christchurch Rape Crisis Centre which was forced to close as a result.  It does not make for a woman friendly government or one that cares about the wellbeing of its citizens when they are most in need of support.

But waiting to emerge was another story of a victim of sexual assault whose case had been handle appallingly as  well.

The victim lived in Queenstown.  She was indecently assaulted in her own home, with her daughter nearby, by an extremely well known individual.  This happened quite a while ago now, and the case has been through the courts.  The judge did not put a conviction on record for this well known man due to the hardship he had supposedly suffered due to the court case.  He was also granted permanent name suppression.  What the......?  Consequently the victim is very upset about the lack of a conviction and the victim wants the name suppression to end

In the aftermath of the Rolf Harris case, when due to his conviction and sentencing, a raft of accusations have flooded out, including from National MP Maggie Barry, Rodney Hide, the former ACT leader, made a call in his Herald on Sunday column for Maggie Barry to name this well known man under parliamentary privilege.  Hide claims that more victims may then come forward if they knew he was the perpetrator in the Queenstown assault.

You can read more in Forget Rolf, Maggie.  We have our own sexual predator to name and shame and Rape culture protects predators.

This was a hot topic on Twitter.  And it was through a direct message (not seen publicly because DMs are private) on Twitter that I found out who this very well known man is.  I won't be publishing his name.  It is a man with a very wide known profile, possibly not to the younger set, but definitely to my generation and up.  He has been a public figure in at least three different arenas that I know of, and I can understand why the woman at the centre of the case initially felt comfortable to invite him into her home.  Like Rolf Harris, this man earned trust because of his public persona.  And like Rolf Harris he has used the cover of his public persona  to abuse - and we would probably find out about more abuses of trust if his name was released publicly.

Alas, no one told David Cunliffe who this man was, and when he was on his busman's holiday in Queenstown with his family during the July school holidays, Cunliffe met with this man.  Oh the public outcry!  Oh the media beat up!!  Personally I was amazed that considering New Zealand pretty much has two degrees of separation between any two people that he didn't know who the man was.

David Cunliffe was very apologetic afterwards, saying he would not have met with that individual if he had known the charges the man had faced and the outcome.  (NZ Herald Anonymous attack over holiday upsets 'recharged' Cunliffe 21 July 2014).  But here again, we have something blown up to an extent that it clouded over the real issue: a woman was sexually assaulted in her own home and the courts denied her justice.

This woman has also fought in the courts for the right to have her name suppression lifted in order to expose this high profile New Zealander.  Louise Hemsley has now been able to tell her story, but her offender still has name suppression.  She is horrified that he has essentially gotten away with the assault with no repercussions, that justice is not served.  On the Sunday programme, in a piece called Justice denied? Mrs Hemsley has been able to tell her story and how the offender was allowed to plead guilty to a lesser charge that sanitised what actually took place and left her victim impact statement effectively useless during sentencing.

He has also spoken to the Herald on Sunday this week, telling them that it was 20 seconds of madness that have almost cost him his marriage, prevented him from securing employment, resulted in a depletion of his saving from legal fees and that his children no longer speak to him.  He regrets that he took the legal advice to plead guilty as he considered the incident to be consensual.

But Louise Hemsley needs to be celebrated because her main goal in telling her story is to prevent her attacker going on to further victims.  She want him to know what he did was not ok, that it does have consequences, not only for her and her family, but him and his family.

All of this comes after the revelation late last year of the Roast Busters, an on-going scandal involving a group of young men based in Auckland who allegedly sought to intoxicate underage girls to gang rape them, and the police response (or perceived lack of response) to the complaints of alleged victims.  Police spokesmen claimed they had been aware of the group and had been monitoring their Facebook page for two years, but had not begun prosecution because no alleged victims had made formal statements or complaints. However, it was later reported that a number of young girls had made complaints in 2011 and 2012, but they were told there was not enough evidence to proceed.  And this still remains unresolved.

Many women are now trying to expose their abusers to the public.  Karen Beaumont and Anne-Marie Forsyth are trying to expose their abuser 20 years after he was convicted.  Despite getting their own name suppression lifted, the judge would not lift the suppression of their abuser's name.  Their abuser argued that it would be unfair to lift the suppression order on his name. 

In the September 2014 issue of The Australian Women's Weekly, journalist Jessica Leahy detailed her own experience of sexual assault and how the culture of women and girls being polite and not making a fuss results in sexual assaults being tolerated and under reported.  Leahy writes: 
"And our culture seems hell-bent on conditioning us to be easy prey.  We are raised not to be rude or bossy or difficult and, above all else, not to be a bitch. 'Be nice' is a well-versed mantra often recited to the fairer sex, but it's becoming clear that it is this courteous behaviour that can get good girls into bad trouble...
"So many women, myself included, don't report the kind of incidental sexual harassment they encounter because it happens almost daily.  Numbed by repeated exposure to it, it's become normalised.  And that is terrifying."

And Ms Leahy is so right.

New Zealand has an appalling rate of sexual abuse, domestic violence and sexual assault.  Some children, some wives and partners live it on a daily basis.  Some have suffered it on a lesser scale less often.  Some have a sudden and traumatic attack.  None of these scenarios are acceptable.

And while I have generalised here that men are the usual perpetrators, I am aware that domestic violence, and even sexual violence, can be perpetrated by women as well.  Sadly, this is often overlooked and not given enough attention either.

Earlier this year I was at a beach town pub playing pool with a couple of girlfriends, one a married woman.  My best friend's husband, brother in law and an old school friend of ours turned up with some other blokes.  They were on a boy's weekend away.  My old school friend has his brother in law in tow.  I hadn't met him before, and I'm sure my friends and I don't want to meet him again.  (In fact my friend's husband has decided never to take him on a boy's weekend again due to his poor behaviour while intoxicated).

Why?  Because this guys was "handsy".  He groped, he touched, he rubbed, he was over amorous.  Now it seems pretty low level, but because we didn't want to make a scene, because we were being polite, we've allowed this man to think that his behaviour is acceptable and that he can do the same thing in the future.

So many hide the fact that they have been sexually assaulted or domestically abused.  They don't want to bring shame on themselves or to break up the family.  Many are scared of being labelled as liars or of the legal process that is vicious towards the victim. 

I know a family where a member has molested one of the girls from early adolescence through most of her teenage school years.  Then he also had the gall to try it on with four other of his younger relatives in either their own homes or the home of his grandmother.  Some of the girls told an adult in the family and things were swept tidily away and the decision was made to send this person off to another part of the country.  Some of the girls kept silent, only talking to one or two others on the off chance they had been affected.  That person has gone on to offend against other girls in other families.  He now has convictions and a jail sentence for those acts - but who else has he offended against and that has been kept secret?  If his own family had not kept things so hush hush, but had dealt with his offending properly and got help for him and his victims, would these other offences have happened?

But it is not only families that keep it hush hush.  Did you read Nicky Hager's book Dirty Politics yet?  Well page 115 is a revelation:

As an example, without using people's names, when David Farrar organised a 'Princess party' for National Party friends, a conversation between some of the planned guests was approvingly reported.  One man said to another, 'I have cleared the field for you, given you the most likely targets and will get them drunk for you.'  Another said, 'I'd try [a young woman] she is filthy.'  The Young Nationals women were described as 'retards' and 'just dirty girls who flip it up'.

This is what happens in National Party circles?  Shit, I'm glad I'm not a female Young Nat!!

It also makes a mockery of John Key with his condemnation of the Roastbusters situation in November 2013.  The Hand Mirror blog's post National party alleged rape culture sums it up succinctly: 

A grown man wants kids to “grow up” and presumably grow out of the toxic rape culture they seem to be embracing.
And what are some of the fully grown adult male supporters of the national party doing?
Deliberately getting young women drunk and pointing out “easy targets” for other National party supporters.
National party; these are your men, your party, your culture. This is your problem.
The fact that someone allegedly sent this email means that they feel so comfortable with the idea of what they are planning to do they were happy to write it down. Comfortable with seeing women as a faceless commodity. Comfortable with the idea that they have the right to compromise the sobriety of women, and deliberately pass “references” on to a group of men.
This comfort means that the rape culture is pervasive, it is normalised, and it is persistent.

The Hand Mirror blog has a number of posts that address the rape culture we have in our society:
The Hand Mirror blog has many more gems like this.  If you click on the tag Rape Is Not OK in the label section you can see a full list of blogs pertaining to this subject.

The last blog post listed above brings to mind a recent incident from Otago University with a Facebook page that caused outrage called Rack Appreciation Society.  On this page members shared explicit photos of women without their consent.  Several women stood up and alerted authorities and the media.  The student behind the page, Sean McDonald, claimed the page had gotten out of control and was not meant for sharing photos of local women.  Rather, members were supposed to share pictures of professional models.  (Read more on the NZ Herald article Man behind 'rack' Facebook page says sorry).

Marianne Elliott grew up in Tokoroa.  She has been part of a team documenting rapes and sexual assaults in Afganistan.  In November 2013 she wrote a post about her experiences of rape culture in New Zealand and around the world in response to the Roast Busters revelations, There is a reason I was afraid to get drunk at rugby parties.

I remember being at parties as a teenager and looking around at my friends – my male friends – and asking myself ‘Can I trust him? Would he do anything to prevent someone else taking advantage of me? Would he do it himself?’

I remember looking at the boys I liked and wondering, ‘Would he take advantage of me if I was drunk? Would he even know that was what he was doing was wrong? Would he tell other people that it had happened?’

That is rape culture.

Because that’s how I thought of it – not as ‘rape’ but as someone ‘taking advantage’. Someone seizing the opportunity I had given them, by being drunk. So I didn’t get drunk. I never drank from the keg. I took my own drinks to parties, wine or wine cooler, shared it only with my best friend and kept it out of sight so no-one could tamper with it.

There’s more to say about men and sex and my teen years. But this is what matters for now – I was always afraid. I was afraid that if I took any risks, something bad could happen to me and it would be my fault.

That’s rape culture. It’s what I grew up with....

But as my book tour continued, stories kept appearing across the US and Canada. Stories of girls who had been raped, blamed, shamed and shunned. Stories of boys who believed they had done nothing wrong. Stories of entire towns that stood in support of their ‘decent boys’ who had just made a stupid mistake. Stories that were as painful, to me, as anything I’d seen in Afghanistan.

That is rape culture. And it is everywhere. But it’s not inevitable.

So why do we protect these 'decent boys'?  Do 'decent boys' actually behave like this?  Is it acceptable?

I do want to acknowledge that men can also be subjected to sexual violence.  The revelation in September of a backpacker's own, Michael Harris, stupefying, raping and photographing his male victims who were staying at his establishment demonstrates that men can easily be victims too.  (Radio NZ Fresh charges for backpackers' owner 24 September 2014).

While most of this post has been about rape culture, one can not ignore the fact that New Zealand has a very damning culture of domestic violence.  These statistics from the Women's Refuge website are sobering to read:

One in three women experience psychological or physical abuse from their partners in their lifetime1.

On average 14 women, six men and 10 children are killed by a member of their family every year.

Police are called to around 200 domestic violence situations a day – that’s one every seven minutes on average.

Police estimate only 18% of domestic violence incidents are reported.

At least 74,785 children and young people aged under 17 were present at domestic violence situations attended by police.

84% of those arrested for domestic violence are men; 16% are women.

The economic cost of domestic violence was estimated at $1.2 to $5.8 billion per year by economist Suzanne Snively in 19962. In today’s figures, that would be up to $8 billion.

In the 2009/10 year there were 3,867 domestic violence cases in the Family Court which each involved at least one child.

New Zealand is failing the standard on keeping women, children and vulnerable men safe from abusers.  As a society we have allowed a rape culture to permeate beneath the surface of our every day lives and minimise the incidents that some men do, allowing them to think their behaviour is ok, so then they escalate.  We need to teach our young boys as they grow that the rape culture is not ok, it is not normal.  Our grown men need to take a good hard look at how they behave, because for some of them they have lived the rape culture, and it is not ok.

Footnote:  A few days after publishing this blog post the New Zealand Police announced that no charges would be placed despite formal complaints from seven young girls.  The Police said 25 other girls refused to be formally interviewed and that even one of the accused refused to participate in an interview.  A few days later, on Q&A on TV1, Paula Bennett, a government minister, said she supported the Police decision.  Naturally, there are some upset people about the lack of charges and the attitude of the government.  And New Zealand does not have a rape culture?

Saturday, 25 October 2014

So when is John Key not the Prime Minister of New Zealand?

Parliament opened this last week.  It is the beginning of three more years of a National led government under John Key for the third time.  Please note I'm not enthusiastic about the next three years. 

John Key and his cronies have clearly indicated that education reform remains in their sights, selling off state housing is a priority, sending soldiers to fight ISIS is on the agenda, that despite child poverty supposedly being a priority they still don't believe food in schools is an option, our environment will be a casualty to the economy, raw products will continue to be exported despite many needing jobs that could be created to enhance those products, and the TPPA will continued to be pursued despite the impacts on our sovereignty.  Oh, yeah, the flag too....

So after the traditional ceremonies of opening parliament were completed (I never knew about Black Rod and his banging stick before!), parliament opened for business with question time on Wednesday, and boy were there some questions arising from Dirty Politics that needed addressing.  Russel Norman, co-leader of the Green Party, opened the questioning to Mr Key in regards to his communications with Cameron Slater, aka, Whale Oil.  You can watch this section of question time on Wednesday 22 October here.

This was Mr Norman's opening question and the response from Mr Key (which was anything but honourable):

3. Dr RUSSEL NORMAN (Co-Leader – Green) to the Prime Minister : How many times since November 2008 has he spoken with blogger Cameron Slater on the phone and how many times, if any, has he texted him?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): None in my capacity as Prime Minister.

So this begs the question, when is the Prime Minister not the Prime Minister?

And the House wanted to know.  The media wanted to know.  New Zealand wanted to know. 

According to the 7, 8 and 9 year olds I teach, when I put the question to them the following day, if you are elected Prime Minister, you ARE the Prime Minister until someone else takes over that role.  Even when you are putting Moonbeam the cat out for the night.

But this continued with the following:

Dr Russel Norman : Given the Prime Minister’s previous statements to say that he regularly talked with Mr Slater on the phone, is the Prime Minister now claiming that when he talked with Mr Slater he was talking with Mr Slater as the leader of the National Party, not as the Prime Minister; and does he wear a different hat when he takes those phone calls?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY : I am not now claiming that. That has always been the claim.
Dr Russel Norman : Did he call Cameron Slater to discuss the backlash Slater received after describing a young car crash victim as a feral who deserved to die; if so, what did he tell Slater about the dead man’s mother?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY : I have never rung Cameron Slater in my capacity as Prime Minister.
Chris Hipkins : Has he ever phoned or texted Cameron Slater on a phone funded or provided by Ministerial Services?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY : I am not 100 percent sure of that, but what I can say is that—as Prime Minister Helen Clark would have told him—that is not the test of whether it is in my capacity as Prime Minister.
Dr Russel Norman : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. [Interruption] Mr Speaker—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER : Order! I do not need the Leader of the House’s assistance at this stage.
Dr Russel Norman : The Prime Minister gave an answer to the primary question on notice, on the basis that he never called Mr Slater as the Prime Minister. We have now established that there are occasions where he used the prime ministerial phone to call Mr Slater. I would ask you to rule as to whether the Prime Minister’s original answer was within the Standing Orders of the House, given that he himself has now acknowledged he used a prime ministerial phone to call Mr Slater.
Mr SPEAKER : Order! In regard to the answer given by the Prime Minister to the first question, that answer was definitely in order.
Rt Hon Winston Peters : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. There is something particularly disturbing about the Prime Minister’s answer, because it would appear that any Minister can make this claim and say: “Not in my capacity as a Minister.” Around about now, we have got no accountability at all in this Parliament if you allow that to stand.
Mr SPEAKER : In regard to the very first question that was asked, the Prime Minister is perfectly entitled to answer it in the way he did. He is then responsible for that answer. Further supplementary questions have been asked that attempt to tease this issue out. They are equally in order.

It seems that Russel Norman, Chris Hipkins and Winston Peters were unimpressed with Mr Key's responses.  Chris Hipkins sought to clarify when he had done these things using a phone provided by Ministerial Services to show that if you are using government property that you are on government time.  Mr Peters raises valid points in regards to the "Not in my capacity as a Minister" because anyone could then use that claim and get away with actions not becoming of a Minister.  More on this later.

Russel Norman then goes on to challenge Mr Key on how his government, Ministers and staff communicate with bloggers, The Whale in particular:

Dr Russel Norman : Is it not the truth that until the Dirty Politics book came out, he chose to have regular dealings with Cameron Slater, a man who is a hired gun for the tobacco industry, whose blog subjected a public servant to death threats, and who celebrated the death of a car crash victim, calling him a feral?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY : Over the time I have been Prime Minister, the answer to that question is no.
Dr Russel Norman : Is it appropriate for the Prime Minister or his staff to use an attack blogger like Cameron Slater as a platform to “get their message out”, as the Prime Minister’s spokeswoman described it on 12 December last year?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY : The Government and Ministers do talk to bloggers, for a variety of reasons. The reason we talk to social media is that they are part of the overall media that communicates with New Zealanders. That would be no different from other political parties. I have seen that member quoted on numerous blog sites. One assumes that he and his office talk to them, and I am sure he and his office probably talk to Nicky Hager.
Dr Russel Norman : Did he instruct his staff to cease all links with Cameron Slater after the blogger accused an alleged sexual attack victim of bringing it on herself, or after Slater described a car crash victim as a feral who deserved to die? Did the Prime Minister direct his staff to cease all contact with Cameron Slater after Slater made those comments?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY : No.
Dr Russel Norman : Does he not think that he should set a standard for the Prime Minister’s office by directing his staff to cease all contact with the attack blogger Cameron Slater, after Cameron Slater accused an alleged sexual attack victim of bringing it on herself, and Slater described a car crash victim as a feral who deserved to die? Would it not set a standard for the Prime Minister’s office to direct his staff to no longer have contact with Cameron Slater?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY : I have made it clear that we do not endorse many of the stories or comments that are run by a range of different bloggers, but, no, I will not be instructing my staff to do that.
Dr Russel Norman : Is he saying it is business as usual for the Prime Minister of New Zealand and his staff to deal on a regular basis with the most vicious and notorious blogger in New Zealand and for his staff to leak information to that blogger in order to intimidate public servants and silence his political opponents?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY : I do not believe that to be an accurate statement.

Note in the highlighted passage above how Mr Key attempts to turn the attack back onto Mr Normal by insinuating that Mr Norman was a source for Nicky Hager when he wrote Dirty Politics.  This is a traditional method of Mr Key to deflect from himself, to get the heat of him and onto another, and during this process he was clearly rattled.  Some of his responses were as short as a simple "No" which demonstrates his unease when he resorts to short answers rather than trying to be his witty self.  Fran O'Sullivan in the Weekend Herald (Saturday 25 October 2014 - Key misses opportunity to clear air with more questions to come) made these cutting observations:

When it's the Prime Minister who is being asked to account for his own actions during Question Time, resorting to semantic gymnastics and logical contortions to avoid accountability just looks too cute by half.

After all it was just a few months ago that Key was confirming he regularly called Slater "to see what he's got on his site and mind".

He could just as easily have explained this week that one of the hallmarks of New Zealand is that we are a free society and while he wasn't going to go into all the detail of his private calls, he did often touch base with media - including Slater.

This may have inevitably led into a "dirty politics" cul de sac.

But surely there comes a point where Key should just simply stand up to Opposition attempts to cement Nicky Hager's book as the only political narrative of his Government?

He could also have quickly cleared the air by saying his Government was reassessing its communication strategies - it would be open with news media, not suppress material that should be released under the Official Information Act and was prepared to engage in debate on substantive issues.

Instead the Prime Minister's dismissive approach has simply resulted in him being the subject of criticism.

Hubris is a close companion to third term Governments and their leaders.

These comments are cutting, because O'Sullivan is normally one of Key's greatest cheer leaders.

Due to Mr Key not giving full and frank answers, Chris Hipkins from Labour then raised a point of order asking the Speaker to review the answers given and to come back to the house with a further substantive ruling on whether or not the Prime Minister was speaking in his capacity as the Prime Minister when talking to The Whale.

Chris Hipkins : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I ask that after question time you review the overall question here today, because I suspect this issue is going to arise again around the distinction between the Prime Minister’s other capacities and his capacity as Prime Minister. The issue that I would like you to consider—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER : Order! This is a point of order.
Chris Hipkins : —is that, in fact, it is the content of the communications and not the means by which they are transmitted, or the hat that the Prime Minister claims to be wearing at the time that he makes the communication, that is at issue here. So if the Prime Minister is communicating with someone about matters relating to his role as Prime Minister and about activities he has undertaken as Prime Minister, then they are, by nature, prime ministerial activities that he should be answerable for. So I ask you to give some further consideration to the interchange today, and, in fact, perhaps come back with a more substantive ruling on the matter, because it seems to me that the Prime Minister could stand up and give any answer to any question and say: “Well, I wasn’t doing that as Prime Minister.”, and therefore would not be held to account.
Rt Hon JOHN KEY : I think it has been well established in this House for a very long period of time that Prime Ministers wear a variety of different hats, and that includes as leader of the National Party, and can include as a citizen. I fondly remember sitting in this House for years hearing Helen Clark saying that she made statements, or had conversations, or undertook actions as the leader of the Labour Party. I happen, for the record, to use my Ministerial Services – funded cellphone to ring my wife. When I ring my darling wife and when I put the cat out at night, I do that in my capacity as a husband, not as Prime Minister. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER : Order! I am on my feet. In regard to the very first point Chris Hipkins raised, I certainly give an assurance I will review the interchange today. As to the appropriate course of action following that review, I will be bound. If it is necessary to come back with a further more substantive ruling, I will consider doing so.

Again you will see in the above highlighted passage where the Prime Minister has again attempted to be cute and deflect from his own actions.  The deflections were to take on Helen Clark's statements about having conversations or doing actions as the leader of the Labour Party rather than as Prime Minister.  But the cute part comes to Moonbeam the cat and his wife Bronagh.

NZ Herald commentator, John Armstrong, in his column early in the morning on Wednesday 22 October, Shadow lingers on National, called several warnings to John Key and his government: 

No doubt many in the party are instead quietly revelling in what comes close to state persecution of Hager for the trumped-up crime of exposing the ugly truth about the true level of National's adherence to New Zealand's fundamental democratic and constitutional principles. No doubt many think the party has got off relatively scot-free despite indulging in some pretty abominable behaviour.

They would be very unwise to make that assumption. The laws of politics are like the laws of physics. What goes up tends to come down. Things that might seem to be working in your favour can suddenly turn around and bite you in the face.

True, National has suffered casualties. Judith Collins was sacked. Jason Ede has exited. Or was exited.

There are men and women of honour at the higher levels of the Beehive - Bill English, Gerry Brownlee, Anne Tolley and Chris Finlayson come to mind - who must be appalled by what was being done in the name of the party for which they serve. But no one in National has yet to express any regrets.

It might be politically wise to do so, however. The new Parliament is up and running. Labour, the Greens and New Zealand First yesterday all flagged they would be using whatever mechanisms available to them to make those responsible for National's dirty tricks accountable for their actions.

National might think it is all over. It might be just the beginning.

This was a blunt warning to Key and National by Armstrong, who is another very vocal supporter of the National led government and Key.  Although I would like to point out that Tolley is not squeaky clean - on page 43 of Dirty Politics her office, when she was Minister of Education, through her press secretary Gillon Carruthers, leaked the names of principals and school BOTs who were actively opposing National Standards being implemented.  But Armstrong was very pointed in his column the following morning (Thursday 23 October - Hard work pinning down slick PM):

You do not need to be a mind-reader to spot when the Prime Minister is under real pressure in Parliament. His answers to Opposition questions suddenly get drastically shorter, often being pared-down to a one-word "yes" or "no" and his reply is followed by what is now almost a trademark sharp and very audible intake of breath.

There were plenty of those yesterday as the Greens' Russel Norman sought to skewer John Key on the question lingering after Nicky Hager's book, Dirty Politics. Did the Prime Minister know more about what was going on in National's dirty-tricks department than he has been letting on?
Norman asked Key how many times he had spoken to Whale Oil blogger Cameron Slater or sent a text.

"None in my capacity as Prime Minister," Key replied. That wording was very deliberate.
Key's argument is that any communications with Slater occurred in his capacity as leader of the National Party, not as Prime Minister. The distinction is important. It allows Key to wriggle free from his detractors, even if it is not very becoming.

As Prime Minister, Key is accountable to Parliament for his Government's actions. He is not accountable to Parliament for the actions and behaviour of the National Party. Any Opposition question straying into the latter's territory must be ruled out of order by Parliament's Speaker.

Labour's Chris Hipkins, however, sought to close off this escape route by asking whether Key had ever phoned or sent a text to Slater on his Government-supplied phone.

"I am not 100 per cent sure of that," Key replied to mocking laughter from the Opposition benches.

But Winston Peters suggested there was something "particularly disturbing" about the Prime Minister's first reply. If the Speaker, David Carter, allowed it to stand there would be no accountability to Parliament at all. Carter dismissed Peters' argument, but later agreed to have another look at transcripts of the question time exchange.

The question to be resolved is whether Key should get away with determining which particular hat he is or was wearing at which particular time, and more so when the hat-switching is designed to get him off a very uncomfortable political hook.

It looks that Armstrong is trying to give Key an out - but it also looks that Armstrong knows that the Opposition are not going to let this go lightly, and that the Speaker needs to be very definitive in his ruling.

Mr SPEAKER : The attempt to raise a point of order is not actually adding to the situation. I have given an assurance following the point of order raised by Chris Hipkins that I will have a look. I always review the transcripts of question time. As to what action may then be required, that will be determined by the conclusions I make in that review.

So we waited with baited breath as to the Speaker's rulings over the Prime Minister's answers during Wednesday's question time.  The answer came the following afternoon (Thursday 23 October) and the NZ Herald reported the Speaker's ruling and Mr Key's response in Key should have answered Whale Oil question - Speaker as follows:

Having reviewed Mr Key's responses overnight, Mr Carter today said that was likely correct for most of Dr Norman's questions. However, one where Dr Norman asked if Slater was correct when he said Mr Key had told him the mother of a car crash victim was "the same woman f-ing feral bitch that screams at him when he goes to Pike River meetings" should have been answered.

The question "made a connection to the actions of the Prime Minister in response to Pike River Mine Tragedy," Mr Carter said.

"A connection having been made to a matter of ministerial responsibility an informative answer should be given."

Earlier today Mr Key stood by his claim that his conversations with Slater were not in his capacity as Prime Minister.

"I wear a number of hats obviously, one as the leader of the National Party, one as Prime Minister of New Zealand and one as a citizen."

Which capacity he was acting in was determined by "the context around what I think I was doing".

On that basis Mr Key was "quite comfortable that in the correspondence and discussions I've had with Cameron Slater, which are not that great in number, are done so not in my capacity as Prime Minister".

Mr Key denied that stance was deceptive.

So one now wonders if Mr Key will actually answer the question that the Speaker has determined should have been answered at the next question time.  Mr Key might be "quite comfortable" about his discussions with The Whale, but I consider that many members of the New Zealand voting public are not comfortable, especially given his views of when he is and is not the Prime Minsiter.

One wonders which hat Mr Key does wear when he speaks with The Whale..... this was one response on Twitter to Mr Key's quip that he wears many hats:

To view the full transcript of the question time in question from Wednesday 22 October 2014, click here.

And this is where I want to come back to the question about when is the Prime Minister not the Prime Minister.  Because after John Key sacked/(demanded) received Maurice Williamson's resignation as a Minister after it emerged Mr Williamson had rung the police to enquire as to the status of Donghua Liu's assault case, Mr Key said that MPs can not be seen to interfere with police business.  Of course Mr Williamson wasn't just an MP, he was a Minister, and as such, it was an even bigger no-no to ring the police, despite the fact that he was ringing the police in his role as a friend of Mr Liu, a National party donor, and as Mr Liu's MP - not in his role as a Minister.

So how does Mr Key's actions in ringing The Whale to discuss the big blow out The Whale had when he called a young man who died in a car crash on the West Coast a feral differ from Mr Williamson's phone call to the police?

And Martyn Bradbury of The Daily Blog wondered a similar thing when he wrote in his post When I mean me, I mean my office & when I call whaleoil I mean not as me the PM on Thursday 23 October: 

So when Key rings Slater to gossip about dirty politics and plot and feed each other information, he doesn’t do that as the Prime Minister, even though he might be using his ministerial phone? It’s convenient who John Key wants to be when it suits him. When he made self reference to being briefed on giving Cam SIS information, he claimed he was speaking about his office, now he’s having out of body experiences with Cameron Slater as just John, not as the Prime Minister.

Did John talk to Cam as John while he was being asked as the PM to be briefed by his office over handing Cam Secret Intelligence Service info? Or did John’s office brief Cam as the PM? Do they even know who the other is when they are talking to each other? Does John reassure Cam he’s calling just as John Key, money trader and laid back chap you’d love to have a beer with over the barbie or does he call as the leader of the National Party?

This is only going to get a lot funnier.
- See more at:

And the following comes from Cliff Allen, Labour candidate for Hamilton East, who was so vexed by John Key's stance on when he is and isn't the Prime Minister, that he put a great deal of thought into how you and I can tell, and then posted it on Facebook:

Ok. So I have been worrying about when is the PM the PM because JohnKey says that when he is putting out the cat he is not the PM. Normally when the PM cedes responsibility it is to the deputy, or so I thought. So if the PM is not the PM when he is putting out the cat, and presumably whenever he is performing other domestic chores such as chatting to Cameron Slater, how are we as citizens to know whether we actually have a PM or not? When is he on the job and when isn't he? I... have an idea how we can overcome any uncertainty. It would be very unwieldy, difficult and expensive in both time and money but what price democracy?

I suggest that the PM is required to preface all his statements when he is acting as PM with the words "Speaking As the Prime Minister" so we all know that he is speaking in an official capacity. Obviously what capacity he is, or chooses to speak in, PM or not PM, is related to context so him stating his capacity every time would be very boring. A solution could be acronyms. So "Speaking As the PM" would be SPASPM. Relatively quick to utter and we would all know this was an official Prime Ministerial statement. So far so good. The alternative signifier is of course SPASKEY, which would signify the PM was Speaking As John Key.

It gets a bit trickier after hours of course when we are more likely to encounter domestic situations (putting the cat out) and many other chores and tasks when John Key is not the PM. Perhaps he could tweet in advance so we all know if we have an acting PM. For Putting the Cat Out a simple PCO tweet would let us all know that we were temporarily ungoverned. Similarly DTD would be Doing The Dishes, WTV watching TV etc. This simple expedient of tweeting his current status would enable foreign powers to monitor where we are at government wise. So if Barack is monitoring JK's tweets he would see DTD and know he shouldn't ring to discuss world affairs because there is nobody home, so to speak. When he sees the tweet FDTDPMA (Finished Doing The Dishes PM Again) he would know that JK was back on deck as PM. 
There could be difficulties in certain situations. It would, for example be quite a complex discussion if JK was to have a conversation with Cameron Slater and John Campbell at the same time. JK would need to make clear to each of them in what capacity he was speaking. So John Campbell would ask a question and JK would respond SPASPM and then not answer the question as he usually does.

If, however, JK spoke to Cameron Slater he would have to preface his remarks with SPASKEY because he doesn't talk to Slater as the PM which would also mean that John Campbell would pretty much ignore anything JK said because who is interested in what JK (as not PM) has to say? Some people are not very interested in anything JK has to say ever but, at the end of the day he is the PM, or is he?

Quite frankly, in my opinion, Mr Key has not met the standard of being a Prime Minister, leader of the National party or even a decent human being in his dealings with The Whale.  He certainly has not met the standard in his ability to answer questions as the Prime Minister of New Zealand in parliament.  John Key has simply failed the standard.

(All cartoons sourced through Twitter or the NZ Herald website - they were too brilliant not to use!!).

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

World Teachers Day 2014 - celebrating teachers who have inspired us

Last year marked the start of the year of the Teacher and I blogged about why I am a teacher in the post World Teachers' Day - why I am a teacher and as I sit here reflecting on the past year and that post, I am also reflecting upon the teachers who inspired me as a learner and as a teacher. 

Teachers are not teachers for the money.  Teachers are teachers because they love to learn and to see others catch the learning bug.

I've caught up with a few friends and family in the last week who are teachers.  For ten weeks we have been head down bum up in our own classrooms, our own schools.  This term break is when teachers have traditionally held their annual meetings of their unions.  NZEI (primary & intermediate & ECE teachers and support staff) held their meeting in Rotorua and PPTA (secondary teachers) held their meeting in Wellington.  Even though I was not an official attendee to the NZEI Annual Conference, I did gate crash one day to hear three fabulous speakers, Dr Richie Poulton on self-control, Deborah Morris-Travers (CEO of Unicef) on child poverty and Efeso Collins on talanoa.  See the end of this post for the Storifys of the tweets I've made for Deborah and Efeso's presentations.

But there is also the time for that collegial aspect of sharing a meal or a drink and discussing with your friends and whanau who are teachers about the funnier aspects of teaching, the trials, the successes, the frustrations.... that you can truly appreciate in the term break.

Then there is the catching up on housework, car maintenance, dentist/doctor/vet visits, marking, professional reading, class tidying... all those things you were too busy to do during the previous 10 weeks crammed into 2 weeks.

And while I do bemoan the fact that teachers are under attack from our own government and society (that's for another post), Sunday was all about celebrating the teachers that have inspired us as learners.  These are the teachers who inspired me as a learner at primary and secondary school:

This is my 6th Form Certificate Máori class at Melville High in Hamilton in 1990 with our teacher, Te Pirihi Whiu (known as Bill to the other teachers).  We had had Te Pirihi as our teacher since third form, where he put us all out of our comfort zone.  But we stuck with him.  The teacher that petrified us as turds, was beloved by our sixth form year.  "Jump" he said to us in 1987 and we did.  By 1990, it was like "Whatever, TP" but we learned so much.  Four of us became teachers, the fifth a lawyer.

I think that the above quote is true of the teachers I have worked with and I also want to celebrate the teachers I have worked with who have inspired me as a professional.

I am so lucky to count these people as friends as well as colleagues.

So today I challenge you to tell the teachers who have inspired you as a learner or as a professional (no matter what profession you are in) that they have had an impact on you.  Celebrate what teachers have helped you achieve, and celebrate that they were your teacher.  Celebrate our quality public education system and World Teachers' Day.  I want you to celebrate the teachers who met your standard of a great teacher.

And below, be inspired by Deborah Morris-Travers and Efeso Collins, who spent a small amount of time this last week inspiring teachers, principals and support staff at the NZEI Annual Conference.  I certainly got a lot out of their wise words and recorded what I could.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Dirty Politics by Nicky Hager - my review of this book

I'm not usually one to buy books about politics.  As avidly as I follow, read, comment and live politics, I would not normally purchase a book about politics.

But this book, Dirty Politics by Nicky Hager, was about something I had been suspecting for a while as a follower of politics, so I bought it.  Nicky has had a history of writing provocative books about politicians and their deeds, such as Helen Clark's alleged cover up of GM seeds being imported into New Zealand as covered in the Seeds of Distrust book in 2001, and the expose of Don Brash's dodgy as National Party 2005 election campaign in the book The Hollow Men.

The book is sub-titled How attack politics is poisoning New Zealand's political environment and this book pulls few punches and confirms my worst fears of modern New Zealand politics and commerce.

Alas, due to it being term time and also being actively involved in Election 2014 as a party activist (supporting a candidate), among many other busy reasons, I didn't get past chapter one for a long time.  Finally in the term break I began to read more.  By the end of chapter 5 I had to have a shower.  I felt dirty inside and out, sickened to my stomach.

And that sensation did not leave me at any chapter.

I was horrified at the depth and lengths in which Slater (Whale Oil), Farrer (Kiwiblog), Ede, Lusk, et al, went to discredit credible people, manipulate politics and commercial endeavours, change laws, direct candidate selections, and generally destroy people's lives.  Personally, I have been oiled, and the person I was oiled with is still fighting for her career.  I know others that have lost their careers due to Slater and his devious ways.  And always with lies, innuendo, slander and defamation.

However it did confirm many suspicions I had over the National led government and their tactics since 2008.  This comment by Hager in the Afterword confirmed what I had believed in recent years:

John Key's government was unusually aggressive at attacking and trying to silence scientists, journalists, academics, public interest groups and any other people who publicly criticised its actions.  It cut public funding for a wide array of organisations that represented and advocated for communities.  The essence of democratic government is that the widest possible range of people have their share of influence and an equal chance of being heard.  The politics revealed in this book is about small numbers of people trying to have much more than their fair share.

What astounds me is that even after Hager has exposed Slater and Farrer and their ilk, demonstrated the extent to which John Key, Judith Collins and their staff were involved, the general public of New Zealand still voted the National Party back into government and no action has been taken against Slater, Farrer, Ede or Lusk.  Yet Nicky Hager has his house raided with equipment and documents seized, despite him saying from the day the book was released that he no longer held any documents or electronic files linked to the data given to him by the hacker Rawshark.

Followers of this blog are under no illusions as to my views of the Whale.  In April 2013 I published a post called Beware the bullies who don't want you to exercise your democratic rights in which I exposed the Whale's blatant bullying, slander, defamation and lies in a few cases I was familiar with.  I find it interesting that some things I pointed out in that post are equal to the experiences described by Hager in Dirty Politics.

In conclusion, this is a book every New Zealander should have read before the election, and if they haven't, it should be compulsory reading now.  It exposes the dark arts of political manipulation and corruption and if there is no changes to the laws and procedures in New Zealand as outlined by Hager in the Afterword then we truly have a corrupt society.

Nicky Hager definitely meets the standard in my opinion, but will New Zealand politics ever meet any standard that is not subterranean?