Bryce Edwards’ Political Roundup: Suffrage reality check – prisoners still can’t vote

Political Roundup: Suffrage reality check – prisoners still can’t vote

by Dr Bryce Edwards.

Dr Bryce Edwards.

Yesterday marked 125 years to the day since women first voted in a New Zealand General Election. However, celebrations received a reality check when an inconvenient truth resurfaced in a new campaign – the fact that not all New Zealand women have suffrage, because prisoners are still denied the right to participate in elections. 

The campaign to give the vote to prisoners has been launched by the justice reform campaign group, JustSpeak, which has started a new petition: Right to Vote for All. The petition, which includes an open letter to Minister of Justice, Andrew Little, currently has around 200 signatories.

Here’s the key message: “We believe that in a fair and democratic society all members should have the right to vote, and people living in prisons are part of our society. They are valued members of communities and families. To take away their right to vote is an unfair disenfranchisement.”

In conjunction with this new campaign, two very compelling videos have been released that deal with suffrage issues and voting. Yesterday, the first video about women in prison not being able to vote was launched: Can’t: the NZ women still unable to vote, 125 years after suffrage.

And today, the second in the series “examines some of the many and complex reasons why, after 125 years of women’s suffrage, so many women don’t vote” – see: Don’t: the NZ women still not voting, 125 years after suffrage.

To accompany these videos, the Spinoff website is also running a series of articles on prisoners’ suffrage. The most important one for explaining the arguments in favour of prisoners being able to enrol and vote is by JustSpeak’s Tania Sawicki Mead and Ashelsha Sawant – see: To call ourselves a truly representative democracy, this voting law must change.

Looking at the current law that bans prisoners from voting, they say: “It’s the worst kind of anti-democratic law – harsh, disproportionate and fundamentally at odds with the idea that human rights belong to all of us.” And they also point out that New Zealand is an outlier in this regard: “Most democracies around the world either allow prisoners to vote or have recently reinstated their right to do so. New Zealand lags behind in comparison as one of the handful of countries who still have a blanket ban.”

For a poignant argument in favour of prisoner voting, it’s worth reading a very personal account from Awatea Mita, who has spent time in prison – see: A society that denies the incarcerated a vote is a society stamping on human rights. She argues: “Rehabilitation as a safe, responsible, and productive member of an egalitarian society must include the most basic right of the democratic process — the right to participate in choosing who governs, the right to vote. There is research that shows an association between civic engagement, such as being able to vote, and the reduction of offending.”

The role of the Supreme court in suffrage rights

The campaign for reform has been given a massive boost by the landmark New Zealand Supreme Court declaration earlier this month that the ban on prisoners voting – passed in 2010 as the Electoral (Disqualification of Sentenced Prisoners) Amendment Act – is inconsistent with the Bill of Rights Act. This is best covered by Sam Hurley in his news report, Supreme Court upholds decision saying ban on prisoner voting inconsistent with Bill of Rights.

This report quotes Justice Paul Heath, who made the decision in order to “draw to the attention of the New Zealand public that Parliament has enacted legislation inconsistent with a fundamental right”.

The article provides some history of the ban on prisoner voting in New Zealand. It also, interestingly, cites Jacinda Ardern’s strong opposition to the current voting ban, quoting her statements from when she was Labour’s spokesperson on Justice. For example, Ardern said, “This was an arbitrary law and one that is full of contradictions and inconsistencies” and “Parliament has a responsibility to respect fundamental rights for all. The Government now has a responsibility to assure all New Zealanders it understands that”.

For more on the process of the case being brought to the Supreme Court by current prisoner Arthur Taylor, see Alex Baird’s Kiwi prisoners’ right to vote upheld Supreme Court rules. Taylor appeared in the Supreme Court case via audio-video link from prison, and when he won the case, he says there was celebration from his fellow inmates. Taylor says: “Some of them have made me a cake out of biscuits and things they can buy on their purchases, so that was quite nice, the thought’s there anyway”.

Will the Government extend suffrage to prisoners?

The above article also quotes Justice Minister Andrew Little explaining that although the courts had ruled against the ban, he didn’t see it as a priority to correct the error. Instead, he explained that his priority was to fix the judicial-legislative constitution problems caused by the landmark ruling: “The priority is to get in place a process that requires parliament to respond to any declaration made by the courts on inconsistency with the Bill of Rights.”

Elsewhere, Andrew Little has said that, although he personally opposed the ban on prisoner voting rights, he didn’t see it as a “priority” for the current government, and he’s been reported as believing that “Ministers were unlikely to consider the issue for at least a year” – see RNZ’s Youth advocacy group disappointed in govt’s stance on prisoner votes.

This article also reports JustSpeak’s Tania Sawicki Mead’s response that Little’s stance “was hypocritical because in opposition Labour MPs opposed the law change banning voting”. Mead is quoted: “I think it’s a question of how much this basic issue of access to democracy and your fundamental right to participate is a priority to this government or not… I hope that they seriously consider making it a part of their legislative agenda next year.”

Leftwing blogger Martyn Bradbury has reacted with incredulity that the Labour-led Government would essentially oppose returning votes to prisoners, and argues that this decision is based on political pragmatism trumping principles: “Little’s kicked for touch so as to not infuriate NZs easily angered sensible sentencing lynch mob” – see: In just 7 words did Andrew Little demolish real prison reform?

Bradbury explains how the complete ban on prisoner voting came out of the National Party opportunistically playing to a conservative audience, but Labour is now doing the same: “So smart politics to play to the angriest and most easily upset elements off society, but to also shrug off the crucial point that prisoners do have human rights regardless of imprisonment actually cuts to the very heart of the issues Little is attempting to force change on.”

Another blogger, No Right Turn, is also outraged that Labour have decided not to advance a remedy for the problem with urgency: “This is simply not acceptable. When the Supreme Court makes a ruling like this, it should automatically become a priority for Parliament, and should be formally drawn to its attention for a response. The government has already signalled that that is what it wants to do in future, so why won’t it do it in this case? And there’s a pressing need: we’re having an election in 2020, and it would simply be unacceptable given the ruling for prisoners to be unable to vote in it” – see: “Not a priority”.

Furthermore, see his update from yesterday: “in Parliament today the government said that they hadn’t even considered the issue and that it wasn’t a priority for them. Which tells us everything we need to know. This government is not committed to fundamental human rights, and is quite willing to violate them for political profit” – see: Still not their priority.

For the best analysis on the Government’s reluctance to enact universal suffrage, see Gordon Campbell’s On prisoner voting. He points to New Zealand First as the primary barrier to reform.

Here’s Campbell’s main explanation: “Not for the first time, prisoners are being treated as political footballs. Just as the Key government played to the redneck vote back in 2010, Little seems OK about Labour becoming captive to the hardline ‘lock ’em up’ faction that exists within New Zealand First. Earlier this year, Little had been blindsided by NZF leader Winston Peters when Labour tried to scrap the “Three Strikes” legislation. Rather than risk losing a similar fight, Little now seems gun-shy about fighting at all on this issue.”

On the question of whether fixing the problem should be a priority, Campbell says this should be obvious: “Centre-left governments used to think that the rights of prisoners shouldn’t be sacrificed to indulge the desire for societal revenge. I’d also have thought that – when you’re the Justice Minister – defending section 12 of our Bill of Rights should be a priority.”

There is now a chance that the Government might be pressured to give the vote back to prisoners, with the Green Party launching their own campaign yesterday – see Henry Cooke’s Green Party makes call for law change to allow prisoners the right to vote.

According to this, the Green Party’s Justice spokeswoman Golriz Ghahraman “is asking Justice Minister Andrew Little to prioritise the change, but legislation would be needed, so NZ First would need to get onboard. The party has not ruled out attempting the change as a members’ bill.”

Finally, when we think about extending the electoral franchise, perhaps we need to think about lowering the qualifying age as well. Today, Azaria Howell has made the case for it being two years lower – see: Make it 16: a teenager on why we should lower the voting age.

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Opposition leader calls on Fiji to end ‘betrayal’ of West Papuans

Fiji Opposition Leader Ro Teimumu Kepa (centre) pictured with Papuan Morning Star flags on World Indigenous Day earlier this month … Fiji has “stabbed West Papua in the back”, she says. Image: Opposition FB

Pacific Media Centre Newsdesk

Fiji’s Opposition Leader Ro Teimumu Kepa has called on the government of Fiji to “stop its betrayal” of the people of West Papua.

She said the government should strongly support the inclusion of the territory in the United Nation’s Decolonisation List at next year’s UN General Assembly.

“Vanuatu has taken a courageous decision to seek freedom for the West Papuans through the UN,” Ro Teimumu added in a media statement.

Vanuatu is pushing for support from the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) which is meeting in Nauru next week.

Fiji’s official stance over the region has been to regard the future of the twin Melanesian provinces of Papua and West Papua as an internal matter for the Indonesian government.

Indonesia invaded the former Dutch colony in 1962 and established rule by a controversial UN-sanctioned “Act of Free Choice” in 1969 that has been widely criticised as a flawed process and achieved by coercion.


West Papuans have continued to struggle for self-determination since then.

“I call on Fiji and other regional governments to demonstrate solidarity with this cause. It is time to stand up and be counted, ” Ro Teimumu said.

‘True Melanesian brother’
“I thank and salute Prime Minister Charlot Salwai of Vanuatu for showing real leadership, and for being a true Melanesian brother to the West Papuan people. The SODELPA opposition in Fiji is behind him in his mission.

“A SODELPA-led government will put its weight behind West Papua.”

Fiji is due to have an election this year but the date has not yet been called.

Ro Teimumu said Fiji’s government and its Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama were outspoken advocates for Melanesian unity.

“Despite this they have stabbed the indigenous Melanesian people of West Papua in the back by refusing to support their quest to be released from the colonial control of their homeland by Indonesia,” she said.

“Their behaviour towards the oppressed West Papuans is shameful.

“How dare the Prime Minister speak so glowingly of Melanesian brotherhood when he and his government have completely sold out their West Papuan kin to Indonesia?

‘Afraid to challenge’
“The truth is that they are afraid to challenge Indonesia’s sham claim to sovereignty over West Papua. They should have the courage to follow Vanuatu’s example.

“The West Papuan struggle is known here at home, throughout the region and around the globe – our silence and that of our neighbours is deafening.

“For more than 50 years, the indigenous people of West Papua have struggled for self-determination.

“It is immoral for the region and international community to look the other way and deny the people of West Papua the liberty to decide for themselves how they wish to be governed.

“There is little that we can do to reverse our past failure to support the people of West Papua; however we can do something now and in the future to make amends for our past failures.”

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Former New Zealand Deputy Prime Minister Jim Anderton Dies

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Headline: Former New Zealand Deputy Prime Minister Jim Anderton Dies

Former New Zealand Prime Minister Jim Anderton Dies

Former Prime Minister, Jim Anderton, NZOM.

Former New Zealand deputy Prime Minister and leader of the Alliance, New Labour, and the Progressive Party, Jim Anderton Died at around 8am on January 7 at Nazareth House, a rest home and hospice in Sydenham Christchurch.

Jim Anderton had been ill for much of 2017 and was receiving palliative care. He was born on 21 January 1938 in Auckland.

He began work as a teacher, then as a child welfare officer, a secretary for the Catholic diocese in Auckland, then moved into business as an export manager, and established his company Anderton Holdings Ltd.

He was elected as a Manukau City councillor in 1965, was beaten by 7000 votes when he challenged Dove Meyer Robinson for the Auckland mayoralty in 1974.

In 1977, Jim Anderton began his move to significance within the Labour Party. He became Labour Party president in 1979. In 1984, he campaigned, won, and became an Member of Parliament for Sydenham in Christchurch. He became Labour’s most outspoken critic of the economic agenda of former Labour finance minister Roger Douglas and those ardent engineers of New Zealand’s radical neoliberal economic dogma.

In 1989 he was suspended from the Labour Party caucus after refusing to vote in favour of selling off the Bank of New Zealand. He soon resigned from the party and formed New Labour, campaigned in the 1990 General Election and was reelected as the MP for Sydenham under the New Labour party’s policies of full employment, no state asset sales, and an interventionist economic platform.

In 1991, the Alliance was formed around the New Labour party pulling together a cluster of small political parties that had no real show of parliamentary representation under the First Passed the Post electoral system.

He became leader of the Alliance in 1993, stood down briefly in 1994, returned as its leader in 1995, and won 13 seats in the new Mixed Member Proportional Representation (MMP) elected Parliament in 1996.

In 1999, Labour and the Alliance agreed to form a coalition government led by the new Prime Minister Helen Clark. Jim Anderton became deputy Prime Minister.

The coalition became unstable near the end of the three year term, largely due to New Zealand’s involvement in the US-led war on terrorism and the bombing of Afghanistan. The instability was driven by the Alliance’s party administrative element.

Anderton, Matt Robson (the Alliance’s deputy leader, and Minister of Corrections and Associate Minister for Foreign Affairs in the 1999-2002 Clark Government) formed the Progressive Party, campaigned in the 2002 General Election and were reelected to Parliament.

Anderton became Minister for Regional Development in the 2002-05 term. In 2005, Anderton was reelected as the sole Progressive MP and was sworn in as minister for a host of portfolios, including: Agriculture, Biosecurity, Fisheries, Forestry, Public Trust, Associate Minister of Health, and Associate Minister for Tertiary Education.

He was reelected in 2008 and remained in coalition with Labour in opposition.

In 2010 Jim Anderton campaigned for the Christchurch mayoralty but was unsuccessful in his bid. He retired from Parliament in 2011.

In the 2017 Queens Birthday Honours, Jim Anderton was awarded the New Zealand Order of Merit for his services to Parliament.

On his passing, Labour Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern wrote on Twitter: “So sad to hear of the passing of Jim Anderton today. He was a man of huge integrity, strong values and had a genuine passion for people. He dedicated so much of his life to public service and leaves a huge legacy. My thoughts are with his family and friends. RIP, Jim.”

Bryce Edwards Political Roundup: Winston Peters Vs Dirty Politics

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Headline: Bryce Edwards Political Roundup: Winston Peters Vs Dirty Politics

Bryce Edwards’ Political Roundup: Winston Peters Vs Dirty Politics

Dr Bryce Edwards.

You don’t have to support Winston Peters or his party to be outraged about the treatment he appears to have received at the hands of government agencies, and possibly the Beehive. It increasingly appears that he is the victim of a dirty politics scandal – someone has leaked Peters’ superannuation overpayment details to the media, and many are now pointing the finger at government departments and National ministers. And there are now some important constitutional and democratic issues at stake. 

Dirty politics?

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters.

Peters predicament might well lead to an elevation in the polls, possibly at the expense of the National Party, who currently look rather tawdry, given the suspicion that ministers, staffers, or party activists might have played a part in trying to bring Peters down with scandalmongering.

As Audrey Young wrote this afternoon: “it is almost certain that either a public servant or a political operative leaked the bare bones of his story to some media in a bid to discredit him. It has backfired badly, especially if it was a National black ops move. It has given Peters an elevated platform to attack National and dominate the political agenda for the next few weeks in the role he champions best, victim” – see: Only one winner possible in privacy row between Peters and National … and it won’t be National.

Indeed, part of the problem for National is that this whole scandal looks like a revival of the 2014 dirty politics allegations. As Young says, “National’s past form has come back to haunt them.”

Even the main protagonist in Nicky Hager’s Dirty Politics investigation – Cameron Slater – makes an appearance, but this time serving up allegations of dirty tactics by the party he used to support: “The rot is set in and it has started at the top. National is rotten from the top down and now there needs to be some serious investigations into how a government can use private tax matters to attempt to silence political opponents” – see: Someone is getting axed today for sure.

Slater says he doesn’t believe the Prime Minister’s statements on the issue, and suggests the leak has come from a ministerial office, meaning there will need to be a resignation: “In an exercise of spin that defies belief he claims to know nothing and believes none of his ministers have leaked. Bill English is lining someone up for an axing and trying to put distance between himself and the minister/s and/or staff who did his bidding. Some poor schmuck will be gone. The sacrificial lamb to protect Wayne Eagleson and Bill English from this shabby and ill-conceived hit job. The State Services Commissioner and the CEO of MSD both need to go in any case”.

If National is responsible for the leak, what were they thinking?

According to Newsroom co-editor Tim Murphy, the scandal is bad news for National, and may amount to an own-goal for the party: “It is unclear what benefit National might think it would get, at this critical stage of the campaign, by damaging and humiliating perhaps its only likely partner to get across the line to govern from September 23” – see: Peters too hot to handle.

So what might have been National’s motive? According to Tracy Watkins, National may benefit from pushing down support for New Zealand First – see: Beehive knowledge of Peters’ pension problem is explosive.

Here’s her main point: “National certainly has good reason for wanting to knock Peters down. If his vote suffers by an even a couple of points it will likely be National that picks them up. Risky business given that National may need Peters to govern? Actually, there is a scenario which the Nats have worked out where they could return to Government without needing any coalition allies. It relies on the Greens and TOPS party falling just short of the 5 per cent threshold and their wasted vote being divvied up between Labour and National. And it relies on Peters being a few points less popular than he is now. But National also wants to take Peters down a peg because he has cast fear into the hearts of many MPs in provincial New Zealand, where he has been making real strides.”

Similarly, Barry Soper writes tonight on why National might target Peters: “National’s less than confident he’d give them a leg up into the Beehive after next month’s vote, hardly surprising given English’s recent disparaging remarks about Peters and how difficult he is to work with and not forgetting it was he who seconded the motion to kick Peters out of the National Party in the early 90s” – see: Bill English knew nothing of Winston Peters paying back money.

However, Soper says “The leak of the Peters file came from National but it’s a strategy as ill conceived as Metiria Turei’s cry-me-a-river poverty plan. So politically it has the real potential of calling time for National”.

Rachel Smalley also thinks that National had the motive to try and bring down Peters: “You’ve got to ask yourself, who benefits from this? If Peters takes a hit in the polls, if this blows up, who wins? National does” – see: Winston Peters super saga: I smell a rat. She also argues: “if Peters takes a hit in the polls and some of his conservative voter base desert him, where would they go? They’d go to the Nats. National would likely pick up their votes.”

Peters hits back

Winston Peters has now hit back forcefully at National, making strong accusations. He says: “‘You’ve got a political party that’s been deeply exposed now all the way to the Prime Minister” – see Corin Dann’s Winston slams Nats as English says Ministers knew super details. Peters adds, “This is humbug – it’s tawdry, its dirty, it’s filthy and they should not succeed on it.”

He’s now threatening legal action, saying “legal subpoenas would force the truth over the leak” – see the Herald’s Winston Peters says National MPs knew of his super overpayment before he did.

And even though three official inquiries have been launched about the leaks – from within IRD, MSD, and Ministerial Services – Peters has declared a lack of confidence in them all. In one report, he says “We’re not going to have an in house inquiry to political rumour and dirt… that’s not the way democracy and accountability work” – see Jo Moir, Stacey Kirk and Tracy Watkins’ It would have been better not to tell ministers of Peters’ pension info – Prime Minister. Additionally, he says, “The last thing I’m going to have is the State Services Commission investigating their own untoward behaviour.”

Peters also has little time for the denials coming out of National: “He says he has no doubt National campaign chair Steven Joyce and leader Bill English were passed on his personal pension information” – see Jo Moir, Stacey Kirk and Tracy Watkins’ Winston Peters warned he was being ‘taken down’ by National.

“No surprises” and the politicisation of the public service

The main revelation today that has shifted the scandal in Winston Peters’ favour was that the Beehive had been supplied with the information about his super overpayment by the Ministry of Social Development. This is best explained in Jo Moir, Stacey Kirk and Tracy Watkins’ story, It would have been better not to tell ministers of Peters’ pension info – Prime Minister.

They explain how the Ministry of Social Development sought the advice of the State Services Commission, who agreed that the information about Peters should be given to the Minister of Social Development, Anne Tolley, under the “no surprises” rule: “The ‘No Surprises Convention’ is set out in the Cabinet Manual and requires departments to inform Ministers promptly of matters of significance within their portfolio responsibilities, particularly where the matters may be controversial or could become the subject of public debate.” A decision was also made to inform the Minister of State Services, Paula Bennett.

There appears to be a consensus today that these decisions were wrong. And even Prime Minister Bill English has spoken out against this, saying “given the personal and confidential nature of the information, it would have been better for the ministers not to have been advised” – see Claire Trevett and Audrey Young’s Peters’ super information too personal for ministers to know, says Bill English.

Herald political editor Audrey Young says that Anne Tolley now needs to front up and back English’s view: “The fact that Tolley is unwilling to discuss the issue any further because it is a private matter is evidence enough that she should not have been told in the first place. It is an abuse of the no-surprises policy. No minister should have been privy to that sort of information any more than the Health Minister should receive reports on any hip replacement operation Peters might have. If Tolley had no expectation of receiving such information, she should say so publicly and conclude that the ministry’s decision was a misjudgment. If she doesn’t, it is safe to assume that she and ministers have created an expectation they should get information like that” – see: Peters’ case highlights an abuse of the ‘no surprises’ policy.

Stuff political editor Tracy Watkins says that the use of the no surprises mechanism is “disturbing”, and “That was not a problem the Government needed to be aware of under the no surprises rule” – see: Beehive knowledge of Peters’ pension problem is explosive.

Newstalk ZB’s Barry Soper adds that the State Services Commission’s explanation for informing ministers is “bunkum”, and use of the “no surprises” rule is “patently ridiculous” – see: Bill English knew nothing of Winston Peters paying back money.

Soper also says that he doesn’t believe the ministers would have kept the gossip on Peters secret: “Knowing how the Beehive operates and knowing what a cesspit of gossip it is, particularly when Winston Peters has a bullseye on his back, that’s beyond comprehension.”

Writers of both left and right are united in condemning what has happened. The NBR’s Rob Hosking says the story is alarming, and he likens it all to 2014’s dirty politics revelations: “In fact, it cuts to the heart of New Zealand’s constitution: that is, the way New Zealand conducts its political business. It does look as though there has been, at best, an abuse of rules in this case and it is not pretty. Bad habits and toadying public servants. We’ve been here before when it was revealed security intelligence staff were supplying politically damaging information to political operatives in the then prime minister John Key’s office – information which was then leaked to an attack blogger. This appears to be in the same category” – see: Winston’s warpath, and why the rest of us should be beating drums, too (paywalled).

Hosking says that although there is now a public interest in Peters’ overpayments, “the corruption (as in the warping and debasement of purpose) of the public service is a far, far greater concern.”

On the left, Gordon Campbell also condemns this use of the “no surprises” rule and adds: “This politicisation of state-gathered and state-managed information should be a concern to everyone. As the government’s web of surveillance expands, and the inter-departmental sharing of electronic information increases, the temptation to use private information for political purposes will increase” – see: On Winston Peters and MSD.

And blogger No Right Turn says “its also a gross abuse of power by the government to use the information in this way, reminiscent of Muldoon at his worst. It shows an utter lack of ethics on the part of the National party to do this, or to permit a political atmosphere among their hacks that this was seen as an acceptable tactic” – see: Muldoonism at its worst.

Finally, for the ultimate discussion of the “no surprises” rule, how it has developed and “just how rotten the policy has become” – see Ben Thomas’ No alarm? How the ‘no surprises’ policy blights everyone it touches.