Libertywatch January 2016

Corruption Index

New Zealand falls again in Corruption Index

New Zealand has fallen to fourth place in the Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI). This is its second consecutive drop in a survey it has previously topped 7 times because of the corruption-free reputation of its public sector.

"Our government must act immediately to re-establish New Zealand's stand-out reputation for a trusted public sector…New Zealand trades on its corruption free reputation", said Transparency International New Zealand Chair, Suzanne Snively. 

PSA National Secretary Glenn Barclay remarked on the fall saying, "We’re not surprised, because we’ve noticed a growing lack of transparency.

"Journalists and members of the public are reporting increasing manipulation of the Official Information Act, with delays and demands for payment becoming commonplace.

"The secrecy around the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement, the murky process around the Auckland Convention Centre deal and Serco’s handling of Mount Eden Prison have made things worse".

The CPI is produced each year to highlight the global importance of transparency. Top performers share key characteristics including, high levels of press freedom; access to budget information so the public knows where money comes from and how it is spent; high levels of integrity among people in power; and judiciaries that don't differentiate between rich and poor, and that are truly independent from other parts of government. 

Denmark, Finland and Sweden are now perceived to have the least corrupt public sectors. New Zealand, which was ranked number one in both the 2012 and 2013 surveys, fell behind Denmark in the 2014 CPI and then Sweden and Finland as well in the just-released 2015 survey.

Further downgrades in New Zealand's scores are likely if areas such as access to information and governance of the environment fail to keep pace with the trends in northern European countries. 

Scoop.co.nz 27/1/16

 

Criminal Justice

'Clean slate' for convictions

The Clean Slate Act is designed to allow people with less serious convictions to put their pasts behind them if they have been conviction-free for at least seven years, were not sentenced to imprisonment, and meet other criteria.  It applies to employment and any other situations where an individual is asked about their criminal record.

Nationwide, 29,973 people were eligible to have 76,775 convictions concealed under the act between January and November last year. The most concealed convictions were dangerous and negligent acts, public order offences and traffic offences.

Ministry of Justice general manager, Tony Fisher said a person meeting the criteria to have their convictions concealed did not have to apply for a clean slate. The scheme was applied by the ministry when an application was made for a copy of their criminal record.
A person would lose eligibility to have their convictions concealed if convicted of a further offence.

New Zealand Herald 13/1/16

 

Gender

State Services Commission needs to step up efforts on equal pay

New figures show the government’s failing to lead by example in making sure female public servants are paid the same as their male colleagues. The State Services Commission has revealed men working at Crown Law and the Ministry of Defence are paid nearly 40 per cent more on average than women.

The gap is 28 per cent at the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority, 26 per cent at the Ministry of Education and 27 per cent at the State Services Commission itself.
PSA National Secretary Erin Polaczuk says the numbers are very disappointing but not surprising.

The government and the State Services Commission are failing to drive home the message that women working in the public sector are worth 100 per cent. These figures send a clear signal that our female members are not valued by their employers.

The government and the State Services Commission are part of the Joint Working Group on Pay Equity Principles, along with the PSA and other groups…They need to practice what they preach. We’re calling on the Commission in particular to take firm action on this, and require all departments to make progress on this by the time figures are released next year.

Scoop.co.nz 22/1/16

 

Immigration

More than 1300 overseas visitors denied entry to New Zealand

More than 1300 overseas visitors were denied entry to New Zealand last year, mostly because border officials did not believe their stated travel purpose was genuine, Immigration New Zealand (INZ) figures show. 

The country's border security protocol was highlighted after an Alexandra woman criticised INZ for refusing entry to her Portuguese friend without providing a specific reason. 
Mario Quintela, travelling to New Zealand on his first overseas trip, planned to stay in the Central Otago town with Pam Jones and her husband Nuno Vilela, and held a return ticket within the three-month timeframe allowed for a visa waiver visitor, Ms Jones said. 
However, he was denied entry at Auckland International Airport because officials were not convinced Mr Quintela's intentions were genuine. 

‘‘The only concrete thing they told us was ‘we have some concerns','' Ms Jones said. 
INZ told the Otago Daily Times it could not comment on specific cases but there were general reasons it refused people entry in to the country. 

They included a suspicion a visitor intended to disregard their visa obligations and become an overstayer, or did not meet the character requirements of their visa. 

‘‘The most common reason being that we are not satisfied that they have come to New Zealand for the purpose they have stated, such as saying that they are visiting but their intention is to work here in breach of their visa conditions,'' INZ assistant general manager Peter Devoy said. 

Mr Devoy would not be drawn on how much, if any, individual discretion could be used by immigration officers when deciding who was let into the country.  ‘‘Border staff are required to follow immigration New Zealand legislation, instructions and standard operating procedures. ‘The standard operating procedures require staff to weigh and balance the risks and overall circumstances of every individual they deal with when making a decision. 

Otago Daily Times 18/1/16

 

LBGT Rights

Trade Me users hit back at criticism over 'no heterosexuals' listing

The people behind a Trade Me advertisement for a room for rent that specified "no heterosexuals" have hit back at criticism from the Human Rights Commission over the listing.

The listing advertised a room in Newtown, Wellington, but the original text stated those behind the listing did not want to live with a heterosexual, a couple, or someone who does drugs and parties a lot. "You are not being discriminated against by us, we just don't want to live with you", the listing read on Tuesday morning.

The listing went on to say transgender people face high levels of housing discrimination in society. "An extremely high number of transgender people are homeless, in unstable or unsuitable housing, and regularly face housing discrimination. We are routinely turned away from flats for being trans."

It was legal under the Human Rights Act to turn potential flatmates away on the basis of sexual orientation, according to the Human Rights Commission. 

Flatmates ultimately have the right to decide who lives in the house, but New Zealanders should all be given a fair go, a Human Rights Commission spokeswoman said.

The people behind the listing said discrimination towards transgender people ranged from threats, assault and harassment, through to high levels of employment discrimination.

Heterosexuals are not discriminated against in housing, healthcare, education, employment, they said. "You [heterosexuals] are accurately represented in film, literature, media."

Heterosexuals did not need anti-discrimination legislation to protect their rights, because they're already respected, they said.  "Sorry your feelings are hurt, but we don't really care, we're busy surviving in a society which is hostile to our existence," the listing ended.

Stuff.co.nz 26/1/16

 

Official Information Act

Charging for OIA requests ‘an attack on democracy’

Concern was expressed over the  $651 estimate received by Fairfax business journalist Richard Meadows this week for an Official Information Act (OIA) request to the Reserve Bank.

Meadows was informed by the Reserve Bank that charging media for requests was now its "standard policy", rather than a one-off.

Previously, outgoing chief Ombudsman Beverley Wakem effectively recommended that agencies make wider use of charges, and especially, that they should charge media agencies and Members of Parliament.  

Under the law, government departments and other agencies covered by the OIA are allowed to charge for official information requests, but most departments have guidelines that make exceptions for the media, MPs, and the researchers who gather information for political parties.  However, this may be about to change, and the Ministry of Justice is reportedly holding a review of the current charging regime. 

Labour MP Jacinda Ardern says it would be "really worrying" if media were to be regularly charged for official information requests, given their role in letting the public know what politicians are doing and how it will affect them.

"We're reliant on their access to information as part of open and transparent government, and it would of course become a deterrent for a journalist to access that information if they are routinely being charged."

Joanna Norris, editor of The Press and chairwoman of the NZ Media Freedom Committee, says it's not about making special rules for media, but making it easier for everyone to make requests for official information.

"I don't necessarily believe that media should be treated any differently – this is information that is held on behalf of all New Zealanders and all New Zealanders should have access to that information."

Stuff.co.nz 13/1/16

 

Policing

Police take a year to disclose secret search of activists’ home

A Takaka couple, Rolf and Ute Kleine, had to wait a year to find out their home had been covertly searched by Police who took various items and copied their computer drives.

The search took place in January 2015, but the Kleine’s have only just received a letter from the Police disclosing it.

At the time, January 2015, the Police were trying to find the author of a letter threatening to contaminate infant formula if New Zealand did not stop using 1080 poison for pest eradication.

Under the Search and Surveillance Act the Police don’t have to provide much justification for covert searches. All they need to do is tell a judge that to disclose the search would “endanger the safety of any person” or “prejudice ongoing investigations”.

Even though technically the Police can wait 12 months to inform people their home has been secretly searched there appears no real excuse for the Police to wait 12 months in the Kleine’s case, and they could have been informed about the covert January search when they were raided a second time in March and taken to Police stations.

Former Green Party MP, Keith Locke, commented, “Not only is it spooky to think your home might be raided without you knowing. If the Kleine’s experience is anything to go by you might lose valuable items without even knowing they are gone. Some time after the March raid Rolf Kleine noticed a five-year-old newspaper clipping was missing from his home. He contacted the Police, and yes they had it, but hadn’t told him they had taken it.”

The Daily Blog 18/1/16

 

Police door knock 'known activists' ahead of TPP protests

Police checked on "known activists" around the country ahead of TPP protests planned for 4 February.

Scout Barbour-Evans, a Dunedin transgender activist said an officer knocked on their door about 10 this morning.  The officer wanted to know what the plans were for anti-Trans-Pacific Partnership action in Dunedin, Scout said, who is not a member of the Dunedin anti-TPPA action group.

Prominent anti-TPP protestor Professor Jane Kelsey said such monitoring of critics to the controversial agreement was "entirely predictable" behaviour from the Government, and shows the "disrespect the Government has had throughout to people's right to voice their dissent about this negotiation and this agreement".

"This is perfectly consistent with their attempts to shut down democratic engagement with, almost anything, but certainly with the TPPA."

The Government was attempting to make a law and order issue out of the opposition to the agreement, she said, by painting those in opposition to it as radicals who posed a national security risk.

Civil liberties lawyer Michael Bott said the police action would have a "chilling" effect on freedom of expression and the right to protest.

"These people haven't committed any crime and yet the police are going to conduct a search or an interview, and there are legal concerns with that."

Labour Party police spokesman Stuart Nash said he thinks the door-knocking is "not the way we do things in this country.

"My initial reaction is that it is a little heavy-handed. The protesters have a legal right to protest within the bounds of the law.

"During every single TPP rally, I can't recall any instances where protesters have been violent or aggressive.

"Unless the police know something we don't, the protesters have the absolute right to voice their concerns, as we live in a democracy."

Mr Nash said he didn't blame frontline police for the tactic.

"They're just following a directive from above, and it would be good to know why the police hierarchy feel this is a necessary step, and it would be good to know if they actually know if the protesters plan to engage in civil disobedience."

Police said the visits were part of a national directive to visit activists in the lead up to the protests.

New Zealand Herald 28/1/16

 

Security Intelligence Service

Activist says SIS will struggle to recruit Maori

A report into diversity in the NZ intelligence community found the SIS and Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) are largely staffed by white males in an "old boys' club" with a culture of "excessive" and "unnecessary" racist jokes made at the expense of Maori and Pacific staff.

The study relied on reviewing data from the agencies and informal conversations with staff. It was carried out as part of an internship by a Masters student from Massey University who was asked to study diversity issues at the agencies on the basis the intelligence community was "not an accurate reflection of New Zealand's population".
The report, provided through the Official Information Act, found a lack of awareness or recognition to culture or diversity. Concerns over "double-standards, stereotypes and harassment" saw Maori and Pacific staff report they had felt "harassment through humour". 

"Although it was not a pressing issue, staff did note that often at times this type of banter was excessive, unnecessary and that it would not be tolerated if the same was done to those of non-ethnic descent."

It found the recruitment strategies were not attractive to ethnic minorities or effective in reaching them. The study also stated Maori and Pacific people "can come from open, honest, trusting families and communities" which meant the type of work carried out by the agencies and the necessary secrecy could be "a potential barrier to recruitment".
Security clearances were also an issue with ethnic minorities having a higher showing in crime statistics, the study found. It meant those vetted had a greater chance of being "associated with someone who holds a criminal conviction", which created a "red flag" situation that deprived candidates of the chance to explain potentially risky connections.
Diversity in gender was also an issue, with female staff reporting promotion being a case of "not what you know, it's who you know".  Those interviewed also raised the military background of the agencies, with those managed by former service staff feeling as if they were "talked at, not too" which perpetuated an "old boys' club".

While women at both agencies were positive about their work environment and its purpose, those at the GCSB also reported "a low level of sexism" with those there more than a decade having experienced discrimination or harassment.

In a covering letter to the report, GCSB director Una Jugose said efforts were under way to increase diversity and there were signs of success, particularly in management. She said the study contained "useful observations" which led to the creation of a women's network aimed at helping women in the agencies "realise their potential" through informal coaching and hearing from inspirational female leaders.

There was also new training aimed at helping staff identify and correct "the impact of unconscious bias" identified in the report.

She said addressing diversity "will likely always be a challenging issue for us due to the nature of our work and the requirements for vetting".

New Zealand Herald 3/1/16

 

Student Loans

Student debt arrest: 'People will be scared to come home'

The first arrest of a New Zealand student loan debtor living overseas has sparked concerns for the tens of thousands of other Kiwis who also owe money for their studies.

The New Zealand University Students' Association acting president Laura Harris has spoken of her concerns after a man was arrested at the border on Monday while trying to leave the country after returning home for a visit. 

He has lived overseas since 2004 and has student debt of more than $20,000.

After an initial court appearance, he was bailed to his in-laws' house.  

Ms Harris said the arrest was "really concerning" and she had been contacted by a large number of students and their parents. 

"It's really concerning for the large number of these students that want to come home and visit their families and parents, and come to tangis and weddings and funerals. 

"People are going to be scared to come home." 

She said that the repayment system was flawed, and should be based on a debtor's income not the amount owed. 

"The way that you repay the scheme is based on your student loan and not your income. The system should encourage them to pay loans instead of really harsh penalties." 

A law change in March 2014 means student loan borrowers who are well behind on repayments and ignore requests from Inland Revenue may have an arrest warrant issued, stopping them from leaving New Zealand until they resolve their arrears. 

Inland Revenue has tracked a small number of overseas-based defaulters but, despite the controversial policy generating headlines, until now no arrest warrant has been issued. 

An IRD spokesman said its powers to arrest at the border were used as "a very last resort", and followed strenuous efforts to contact the borrower and make repayment arrangements. 

Serious defaulters are first contacted to discuss repayment options and are given time to repay some of their loan. Relief from repayments can be granted for hardship reasons, but the man arrested had not made any such application. 

An arrest warrant can be issued if a court is satisfied that the person has committed the offence of knowingly avoiding student loan repayment obligations, and is about to leave NZ.  A district court can then make subsequent orders that include paying the amount in default, making arrangements for payment, providing security for the payment, not leaving the country without permission, and surrendering travel documents or tickets. 

The option of arrest at the border was modelled on a law that is used to capture people who default on child-support payments. It was designed to target the worst offenders and act as a deterrent to others. 

An information-sharing agreement with the Department of Internal Affairs also alerts Inland Revenue when defaulters apply for a New Zealand passport. 

An information-sharing agreement with Australia, expected to start this year, will allow for the exchange of contact details of Kiwi borrowers living in Australia.

Otago Daily Times 22/1/16 

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