International Politics

The Aboriginal Peoples’ Call for Global Action: #SOSBLAKAUSTRALIA

 

 

Whose land are you standing on?

 

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples of Australia have subsidised the lifestyle choices of white Australia since the colonisers arrived and stole their land, stole their resources, stole their children, forced communities into slavery, and denied their human, economic and cultural rights at every step. Benjamin Warlngundu Ellis Bayliss itemises out the costs of colonisation:

…frontier wars; loss of land; loss of culture; loss of wages; loss of languages; loss of songs; loss of identity; genocide; massacres; rape; destruction of sacred sites & land; stolen generations; Maralinga nuclear testing; stolen artefacts and the collection of ancestors remains; oppression; fear & intimidation; no treaties; influenza; poor health; life expectancy; no self-determination; no consultation; disease; exploitation; creating a culture of dependency; famine; introduction of foreign flora & fauna; culture of divide & conquer; discrimination; racism; meddling with the theory of eugenics; attempts to breed our mob out; so called dying softly in the pillow; deaths in custody; incarceration rates; denigration; invisibility & lack of positive representations; attempts of assimilation; policies of control & management, including driving people from their lands; intellectual property theft; meddling with the Racial Discrimination Act; NT Intervention; lateral violence; and trivialising our interests, concerns; upon many, many others I am sure I have missed.

The Abbott government’s recent announcement that around 150 Aboriginal communities would be forcibly closed in Western Australia, prompted a global call to action for our indigenous whanaunga. This decision was made without consultation and without the consent of Australia’s Aboriginal Peoples.

Pause.

We would not accept this in Aotearoa New Zealand. So why on earth are we so silent when it comes to the tyranny of the Australian government?

 

SOS Blak OZ

 

On Blackfulla Revolution’s Facebook is a call to those who have ignored and continue to ignore the oppression and injustice suffered by Australia’s First Nations Peoples.

 [7min 35s]

But this isn’t constrained to Australia. Abroad, descendant’s of settler generations ignore the impact colonisation has had on Indigenous Peoples within the lands they colonised. It is why Indigenous Peoples everywhere are reaching out to their whanaunga across borders  to achieve kotahitanga and bring our Peoples together in solidarity. This is not separatism. This is not an attempt to turn the tepu and oppress non-indigenous people. It is an effort to get the sleepy masses to recognise that: Indigenous Lives Matter.

This policy being pursued by Tony Abbot & his government is the continuance of that dark history of colonisation in Australia. This system imposed on Australia’s First Peoples is designed to disadvantage their communities at every social, cultural and economic opportunity. This policy is nothing less than forced urbanisation and assimilation. It is an explicit attempt to strip these communities of their connection to their traditional lands.

In Aotearoa New Zealand, many Māori have taken up the plight to stand with our First Nations whanaunga in Australia. MP Marama Fox, Māori Party, sought to table a motion that the House of Representatives condemn the the forced closure of these Aboriginal Communities and to call on the Australian government to honour its commitments to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Although tabling the motion was blocked by government Minister Gerry Brownlee, National Party, it has since been tabled and will be voted on in 3 weeks when Parliament resumes.

The kumara vine indicates that the Māori Party, Greens, Labour, United Future and ACT will all support the motion. However, NZ First and National have signaled that they are against it.

As most will know, recently the National Party lost a seat in Northland, to NZ First’s Winston Peters. The compositon of the house has changed slightly such that National now only have 59 seats. In order for the motion to pass, NZ First support is required.

Winston Peter’s spent much of his campaign talking about how successive governments have ignored the issues that matter to the Northland electorate – jobs, poverty, health and so on. In opposing Marama Fox’s motion, Peter’s words would  ring incredibly hollow given the broader context of his concerns – that governments ought not neglect small communities, and instead ought to manaaki their aspirations. If he stands by his commitment to Northland, then I see no reason why he and his party would not support the call to recognise the rights of Aboriginal Peoples in their communities that have been neglected by the Australian government,  who now deem it appropriate to forcibly close those communities without consultation or consent of the peoples. So I urge people to lobby NZ First to offer their support to add international weight to the plight of the Aboriginal Peoples.

So far three events in Aotearoa New Zealand have been organised around the country to coincide with the global action to support our Aboriginal whanaunga.

For further details see:

Tamaki-Makaurau (Auckland), 1 May 2015, 18:00, QE II Square (next to Britomart)

Hamilton, 1 May 2015, 13:00, The Pulse (27b Whatawhata Road, Dinsdale).

Wellington, 1 May 2015, 18:00, Location tbc.

So it’d be cool if everyone could, you know, be present and support the campaign to STOP! The Forced Closure of Aboriginal Communities. Our silence is complicity. Make their voices heard and show your solidarity with all First Nations Peoples of Australia.

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Chasing The Illusory Peace

 

Thirty Years War [Source: Google images]

Throughout history, the end of wars has required negotiations between the warring parties.  The most prominent negotiation being the Westphalian Peace Settlement that ended the Thirty Years War [1618-1648] that had desolated Europe. The settlement comprised three treaties which are considered by many jurists to have birthed the international legal system.[1] Confronting a state of perpetual war, the parties to Westphalia negotiated the conditions in which they could agree to cease their hostilities and enter peaceful relations.

The contemporary importance of Westphalia is that it established two fundamental principles that are now codified in the Charter of the United Nations: sovereign equality and territorial integrity.[2] As most can probably surmise, these principles were intended to have anti-hegemonic effect. However, in reality they enabled superpowers to emerge as a result of ‘radical inequalities among states in size, wealth, and power in international role’.[3] This is evidenced in the composition of the UN Security Council, exemplified by the five permanent States that hold veto power that they can and do use for their own political ends.

Admittedly, although negotiations have ended past wars, the Iraq (and similarly Syria) war is more complex. Firstly, IS is not a State in any formal sense despite their assertion to the contrary. Secondly, it is a civil war not a war where one sovereign State agresses against another equally sovereign State threatening their territorial integrity. It is in this context, that the do not negotiate with terrorists (DNNWT) rule arises.

Whether the DNNWT rule has acquired customary status, I am unsure, but a good case could probably be made given it’s widespread acceptance among States and the clear evidence of State practice. Additionally, it would be consistent with the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties principle that a treaty must be concluded between States in order to achieve international legal standing.[4] As terrorist designated organisations are not States, then no internationally binding treaty with IS could ever be legitimately concluded, unless they were to be recognised as a State (which would bring with it a very complex and contentious set of considerations). However, there is always the possibility of a domestic treaty negotiation situation.

However, the DNNWT rule serves both the anti-hegemonic and hegemonic agendas. For the reason that, it protects the sovereign equality of States, but it also allows superpowers to heavily influence the direction of international security policy and to dictate who are legitimate resistance groups according to their own political and economic interests. This might seem reasonable when limiting the scope of discussion to IS given the heinous atrocities that form the basis of their resistance strategy. But the implications extend further than those groups. It is not difficult to conceive of a circumstance when internal resistance might be necessary, such as, when a society is ruled under a violent dictatorship. For instance, many (contentiously) see the resistance of the Free Syrian Army as a justifiable belligerent act against their autocratic government and some States were prepared to support the FSA despite their lack of legal standing at international law.

The logic of the DNNWT rule seems perfectly reasonable.  In order to protect the political sovereignty of a nation, the obvious strategy is to refuse to allow a belligerent militia to influence the decision making of that State.  Of course, there are times where that logic is stretched beyond what is reasonable. Recalling Prime Minister John Key’s assertion that not going to war with IS was essentially allowing them to interfere with New Zealand’s political sovereignty. Absurdity abounding on the very fact that his decision to deploy troops to Iraq comes off the back of pressure from other nations that New Zealand cannot simply be a passive ally. Moreover, that doing nothing or doing what the government have decided to do are both decisions based on the influence of IS.

On the other hand, ruling out negotiations, as mentioned above, removes the very process by which conflict could ever hope to be resolved with enduring peace. I’m not so naive as to think that negotiating with IS would immediately resolve the long history of religious tension within Iraq and its surrounding regions. Nor am I suggesting that IS would even be willing participants  to negotiate a resolution. However,  eliminating the option arguably casts us back almost 400 years to once again face the reality of a perpetual war. Sheldon Richman also alludes to the perpetuity of war arguing that when governments invade and occupy other countries, or ‘underwrite other governments invasions or oppression, the people in the victimised societies become angry enough to want and even to exact revenge’.[5] I’m certainly not convinced that raining hell fire over Iraq and areas controlled by IS will bring about any solution at all.

Similarly, Dr Jeremy Moses (Senior Lecturer, UCNZ) tweeted:[6]

“…there are no good outcomes from [the] Iraq situation. [The] [r]ole of NZ can be nothing more than a favour to the US…NZ will have no material impact on what will be a long, brutal battle for Mosul. And even if IS falls, what then? No-one knows”

And before someone calls me an IS apologist, this is not about defending IS at all. To make that claim is both lazy and unintelligent. As humans in common, we all have an interest in avoiding the spread of hate and unnecessary death. We all have an interest in avoiding a world in which fear is normalised and the quality of our lives debilitated. We cannot pontificate under the pretence of ‘the others’ intolerance when our governments commit or support other governments that commit equally heinous crimes.

Richard Jackson makes the point much better:[7]

…what counts as cruelty and barbarism in war is shaped by our cultural values and historical context. Objectively, it is perverse to insist that burning a man to death with petrol is a greater moral evil than using munitions like phosphorous bombs in military operations which we know will burn a great many innocent people to death, including children. It is the nature of every society however, to point out the cruelty of the enemy while obscuring the cruelty of one’s own actions.

John Key has insisted that the New Zealand must join the club and choose the ‘right side’.He has made the executive decision that New Zealand will deploy troops to Iraq. That does not mean Aotearoa supports him in his crusade. Contrary to the PM’s suggestion that New Zealand’s contributions must exist on some kind of binary – sending troops versus doing nothin,  we can meaningfully contribute to improve the lives and outcomes of Iraqi’s through genuine humanitarian aid while finding a way to open dialogue between IS and the Iraqi government. For instance, New Zealand could consider relaxing our refugee quota, sending food and water, medical supplies and unarmed medical personnel rather than exporting guns, bombs, drones and people armed with what is ultimately a violent mission.

Expanding the war in Iraq will surely aggravate the incapacitating conditions that Iraqi peoples already endure. That is not help, that is hindrance. It is insane that our governments (NZ and abroad) support the export of violence to an area already riddled with instability and fear under the illusion that foreign arms will introduce peace amid the chaos. It’d be good if foreign policy wonks realised that peace is not something you can just bomb into existence.

 

 

 

[1] The Peace of Westphalia comprises three treaties, namely, the Peace of Münster, the Treaty of Münster and the Treaty of Osnabrück see Anuschka Tischer “Peace of Westphalia (1648)” in Oxford Bibliographies online < http://www.oxfordbibliographies.com/view/document/obo-9780199743292/obo-9780199743292-0073.xml>.

[2] Charter of the United Nations, arts 2(1) and 2(4).

[3] Richard Falk “Revisiting Westphalia, Discovering Post-Westphalia” (2002) 6(4) The Journal of Ethics 311 at 314-317

[4] Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, art 2(1).

[5] Sheldon Richman “Domestic Fear Is the Price of Empire” Free Association: Proudly Delegitimizing the State since 2005 (25 February 2015) < http://sheldonfreeassociation.blogspot.co.nz/2015/02/domestic-fear-is-price-of-empire.html&gt;.

[6] @jeremy_moses <https://twitter.com/jeremy_moses/status/570669388245962752&gt;.

[7] Richard Jackson “IS and the Barbarism of War” RICHARDJACKSONTERRORISMBLOG (12 February 2015). < https://richardjacksonterrorismblog.wordpress.com/2015/02/12/is-and-the-barbarism-of-war/&gt;.

Māori Party should have opposed the Countering Terrorist Fighters Bill outright

The Māori Party have said they are only supporting the first reading of the Countering Terrorist Fighters Bill, and note their strong reservations to the current text and processes for consultation on the Bill.  I’m not sure about other party members, but I personally would have preferred to see the Party opposing the Bill outright. Like the NZ Greens.

However, I am a little confused over the speech given by Marama Fox. On the one hand, it details some heavily weighted opposition to the Bill. For instance, Fox expresses deep concern about discrimination and making a person stateless by confiscating their passport, warrantless surveillance. In particular she refers to a:

…well-known and public linkage that has been made in our own jurisdiction about a supposed association between Māori activism and terrorist activity. We do not want a repeat of Operation Eight.

On the other hand, Fox concludes her speech stating:

We have strong and heartfelt concerns about the possible implications of this bill, but we also believe it is irresponsible to take a stand without hearing from those New Zealanders who take up the call on human rights on our behalf. We support the first reading to enable that kōrero to happen.

I don’t quite understand what this actually means.  It appears to suggest that the Party support the Bill so that it can be debated despite not supporting much – if any, of what is contained in the Bill.

The issue I have is not only with the Bill but also with the more strategic ramifications. The government did not require the Māori Party to support this Bill through first reading. It had the numbers through its other coalition partners and the Labour Party.

The party could have opposed it and stood with the Greens on this issue in calling for broader public consultation. Thing is, it would have gone to select committee stage anyway because Māori Party support was not needed to get it there.

On the manner in which the legislation was introduced (leaked) to the public, Dr Kennedy Graham (SIS spokesperson, NZ Greens) maintains:

It is not a positive sign of a government seeking broad public support

Graham goes on to say that:

John Key has not made a case for rushing through counter-terrorism laws…[and] there has been no compelling evidence put forward… for why these changes need to be rushed through without proper public consultation.

He also emphasised that:

the Bill proposes wide ranging changes that compromise the privacy and civil liberties of New Zealanders

And like Fox, alludes to Operation 8, noting:

…we have seen poor intelligence legislation result in illegal activities in the past, we don’t want a repeat of that

This was an opportunity for the Māori Party to show that they were prepared to stand against the ramming through of legislation that empowers what appears to be an evolving Police State. Interestingly and relevant here, Fox also draws a link between violence away and violence at home. In my view, a natural extension of this would be to contextualise current affairs, i.e. the events in Ferguson in the US which illustrate the reprehensible consequences of empowering a Police State with the racism and injustice that come with it. Especially when we consider how, as Fox addresses, Māori and other marginalised communities are profiled. We need to be particularly mindful of our Muslim communities with respect to this particular legislation who are likely to be unfairly targeted by it.

As it stands, the Party will probably have to deal with the fallout of having supported the Bill at first reading, even if they don’t go on to support it at subsequent stages. If the Bill does become law (and it will) and its provisions are abused then there will be public outcry, and every party that supported the Bill will be punished for their support. Of course, others may argue that the Bill might actually do what the government is saying it is intended to do, which I suppose could make a hero of the government. But past experience should warn us, of how easily and slyly those empowered use those powers. In my view, supporting the Bill even if only superficially at a first reading, sends the wrong message and may create perception issues that follow the Party into the next election.  The only party cleared here are the Greens who stood strongly against it.

Addendum:

(26/11/2014)

FYI: I was just advised that the Māori Party voted with the Labour Party to try to get the consultation period extended and to have the Bill taken out of urgency. Although this still doesn’t change my view as set out above.

Immigration and the tendency to favour exclusion

I read an interesting tweet this morning, which stated:

“Excessive” immigration creates debt people pay for in multiple ways. Right person, right job, right place, right time?

It’s not news that immigration has become the scourge of the election year. Surprisingly, it is many (but not all) of those who subscribe to ‘inclusive’ ideologies that argue against increases in immigration or alternatively stated, to cap or reduce immigration, which is achieved through tougher exclusive measures. This exclusionary attitude appears to derive from the idea that immigrants equate to a ‘financial or economic cost’ to the resident population, which still seems entirely inconsistent with inclusiveness. Conceiving of other human beings as a ‘financial or economic costs’ is language one might expect of corporations rather than those who might otherwise consider themselves humanitarians. If we think all human beings have an equal right to be free, whether or not that freedom has some justifiable limitations, then it is difficult to justify excluding immigrants because they bear a financial or economic costs to residents. After all, immigrants become ‘financial or economic’ contributors the moment they start purchasing goods and services, paying rent or paying taxes on their income. Additionally, many of the goods and services we purchase are produced outside NZ by the foreign nationals we purportedly want to ramp up excluding.

As Aaron Schiff points out in his post About That Migration Boom:

We should celebrate because on the incoming side, skilled immigrants provide New Zealand with a significant free gift. Some other country has paid the cost of their birth, childcare, childhood medical care, education, etc. They turn up in New Zealand effectively bringing all that investment with them and this benefits the country. 

Remembering also that immigrants must meet a criteria as set out in the Immigration Act 2009 before being granted entry to NZ.  I’m unclear whether those talking about our apparent ‘immigration problem’ are including refugees, of which we have an appalling record by the way because we take in far less than we ought to due to a very restrictive criteria denying some entry because the rules are not responsive to changing global circumstances.

I guess what I am trying to say, is that rather than pursuing the populist position that  ‘immigration is a problem’, perhaps politicians, could focus on how better to collaborate with those states whose citizens are migrating to NZ, and look at removing this segregative attitude that is unbecoming of a geography largely comprised of migrants.

But say we accept the claim that there are financial burdens with ‘excessive’ immigration [whatever that means], might this not suggest that we have ineffective policy makers?

Perhaps we might reduce these ‘costs’ of infrastructure, or the ‘debts that people pay for in multiple ways’ if we were more collaborative rather than restricting ourselves to antiquated notions of exclusion. For example, we could consider creating a framework whereby states pool resources and distribute them on a proportionate basis. There are obvious practical implications and potentially ethical considerations in implementing such a framework e.g. would states start restricting who could leave their territory to reduce what they put into such a pooling of resources, or would states coerce people to migrate as part of an expansionary process? (both of these issues could be managed in a properly thought out legal instrument). But the philosophising aside,  my point is, perhaps the idea isn’t to presume we must ‘borrow’ to pay for infrastructure to accommodate those coming to NZ (noting that we benefit from these infrastructure improvements as well), but look at working with those other states so that free movement has broader benefits for all.  Because frankly, I am not comfortable with the idea that ‘human beings attract costs and should therefore be excluded from a society’.

Just a brief thought.

FATCA – NZ’s Insidious Future

Earlier this week Mark Hubbard (Laissez Faire Capitalist) wrote about the monstrosity of the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA). In it, he queried why those on the Left who staunchly opposed the GCSB legislation were appallingly silent on FATCA – an equally (if not more) intrusive piece of legislation passed by the U.S. government that implicates NZ.

I think its a fair claim made by him, and I will attempt to give a position from my point of view as a Left identifying person, noting that this is my personal opinion and not intended as a reflection of general left wing thought in NZ.

My view is that FATCA is undeniably intrusive and a threat to the privacy of New Zealander’s and in fact all persons who are citizens of OECD countries because Officials in NZ have indicated a willingness for FATCA to be emulated internationally as part of an OECD/G20 initiative and that all OECD countries have entered into negotiations with the U.S. regarding FATCA.

I’ve spent a bit of time lately researching the territorial rights of States, and it occurred to me that FATCA is not only intuitively inconsistent with standard conceptions of territorial jurisdiction but is also technically inconsistent.

Territorial jurisdiction is usually understood as applying to bounded geographical areas and it applies to any persons who find themselves within a States territory. Although the boundaries need not be fixed, jurisdiction is not considered as capable of extending into the boundaries of another sovereign State. In fact, its considered a fundamental breach of international law to do so except in very extreme circumstances – usually on humanitarian grounds.

Putting FATCA in context of jurisdiction – the U.S. cannot exert jurisdiction over the territory of NZ, so the U.S. is arguably in breach of this very fundamental principle of international law through the specific provisions in FATCA that implicate foreign finance institutions (FFI’s). In my view, FATCA impacts jurisdictionally on NZ despite assertions from Officials who claim that FATCA does not breach NZ’s sovereignty because:

…entering into the [intergovernmental agreement] and enacting legislation that enables financial institutions to comply with its terms  is in the best interests of New Zealand

FATCA is clearly obnoxiously coercive and should be opposed.

What exactly is FATCA?

The US enacted FATCA in March 2010. Its purported aim is to reduce tax evasion by U.S. citizens and green card holders living within U.S. territory or abroad. Hence it being a citizenship based tax model and extra-territorial legislation.

FATCA requires third party reporting, i.e. FFI’s must identify U.S. account holders and share information with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

If these FFI’s  do not both register with the IRS and agree to report specific information to the IRS, they risk a 30% withholding tax on every $USD transaction that goes through their institutions. Noting, that some FFI’s are exempt, such as government institutions and certain NGO’s.

However, there are leniencies if the FFI home State enters into an Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) with the U.S as opposed to the FFI entering into a separate agreement. The purpose of the IGA’s  is to ensure that a partner government will legislate to require FFI’s to comply with FATCA.

In NZ, the IRD insist that the IGA is necessary because if NZ financial institutions (NZFI’s) enter into separate agreements with the IRS they are unlikely to be able to comply with FATCA because of NZ’s current legislative framework. That means NZFI’s would be subject to the penalties contained within FATCA. The IRD has recommended that NZFI’s instead refrain from registering with the IRS website as NZ is currently negotiating an IGA with the U.S.

The Policy & Strategy, Treasury and IRD published a report responding to submissions on the Taxation (Annual Rates, Employee  Allowances, and Remedial Matters) Bill that deals with FATCA.

The report states that it is in NZ’s best interests to proceed with negotiating an IGA because not doing so would involve ‘severe reputational risk’ since ‘all OECD countries have either signed or are negotiating, IGAs with the United States in respect of FATCA’.

This is a weak justification for allowing the U.S. to exercise a kind of quasi-jurisdiction over NZFI’s. It’s also insidious that the report portrays FATCA as consistent with the sovereign rights of NZ despite the legislative changes required to comply.

I do agree in principle, that it’s inappropriate for the NZ government to comment on the U.S. citizenship based tax model, since its part of the U.S. domestic legal system. However, I also think criticism is appropriate in the circumstances given the purpose of FATCA is to coerce domestic law changes in sovereign States so that the U.S. can access information it would otherwise not be privy to.

I do worry about the impact of the IGA’s, since international law is often created through custom, which can derive from treaties and agreements. Custom is established through widespread and consistent State practice and opinio juris (what the States believe).

These IGA’s are arguably evidence that the States who enter into them accept as a practice that intergovernmental information sharing through relaxation of domestic privacy laws is a developing norm. Additionally, that those States conceive of coercing private institutions to share private information about those who have accounts with them as acceptable State behaviour.

The only way for a State to avoid being bound by customary international law is to express a statement to the contrary of a particular practice prior to taking any action that might suggest otherwise. Arguably, signing an IGA is evidence in favour of the norm development. Other commentary of State belief may also bolster any claims of custom in future.

Speaking of future,  the report notes that :

…under the IGA and any OECD/G20 model that may be devised in the future, New Zealand will also be the recipient of information in respect of New Zealand  tax residents that have undeclared offshore bank accounts. This information will assist in ensuring that all New Zealanders also pay the correct amount of tax on their worldwide income

This statement clearly suggests that the Officials are anticipating a FATCA-like regime in NZ (and other OECD countries) in future. As the report points out, the only way for U.S citizens to avoid being captured by FATCA is to renounce their citizenship, and this is probably the only way for NZ citizens to avoid this kind of regime too.

The report also insists that intergovernmental information sharing and citizenship based tax models are pertinent to becoming a ‘good international citizen’ and has dual benefits to NZ i.e. both fiscal and reputational.

Hubbard writes that:

a faceless official who can read your financial transactions, can read your life, plus worse, this official owns your income

While his post rails against the Left in a mocking and often offensive way, the substance regarding FATCA is worth consideration irrespective of  political affiliations. If you value privacy, then you are unlikely to support FATCA.

The IGA being negotiated between NZ and the U.S will compel NZFI’s to collect and share information that is not currently collected and shared but the report considers this intrusion on privacy to be outweighed by other public interest considerations. Inferentially, NZ’s reputation and future fiscal advantages through the ability to coerce information from FFI’s in order to tax NZ citizens abroad.

For all the reasons above, I oppose FATCA and I encourage those who oppose the GCSB legislation to consider the implications of global information sharing based on an individuals citizenship and access to their financial accounts. You may buy into the ‘it targets the 1% who cares’ narrative, but FATCA is not about class. It is about privacy. It signifies the unacceptable encroachment of the State into the lives of every citizen. That is the dystopia we are heading for with FATCA.

Xenophobia is ugly and embarrassing

The concern over home ownership in New Zealand is valid, especially since statistics indicate that home ownership in New Zealand has fallen below 50% – the lowest since records began. House prices are simply too high and the necessary wages to finance a mortgage too low. Something has failed.

However, instead of turning to our failed tax and monetary system and looking for disincentives to land speculation, we resort to blaming foreigners. At which point accusations of xenophobia come into play.

I refer to this piece by Duncan Garner: LOOK AT THIS! THIS IS WHY HOME OWNERSHIP IS LOW

Garner claims that:

12% of all homes in Auckland are being bought by people living overseas

This is misleading. It does not necessarily mean that homes are being bought up by ‘foreigners’. How much of the 12% are NZ citizens living abroad? Without defining ‘peple living overseas’ its difficult to attribute the 12% simply to foreigners. Additionally, it means that around 88% of homes are owned by New Zealanders. Thats a significant majority.

Garner goes on to insist that:

we desperately need decent and reliable statistics to show just how many houses in NZ are sold to overseas speculators.

Again, ‘overseas’ is not indicative of ‘foreigner’. The conflation astounds me.

Agreed, speculation is undesirable and particularly harmful in widening economic inequality. However, speculation should be the target, not ‘foreigners’. Even if the 12 % of homes owned by people living overseas are owned by foreign speculators, it does not mean domestic speculators have an insignificant effect on housing prices. We need statistics on speculators in the market, irrespective of their nationality.

Jamie Whyte criticises Labour’s economic policy as failing to discourage ‘rentseeking’ (speculation) and ‘crony capitalism’. The argument in short: if a government causes losses to accrue to the wealthy, it has to compensate for those losses with taxpayer money. Labour are not alone here. National also have the system set up so that tax revenue is redistributed upwards just using different kinds of subsidies.

Of note, Labour (and the Greens) advocate for a capital gains tax (CGT), yet appear to wilfully ignore that this device was in place in other countries and did not prevent the GFC in 2008 that was largely the result of a property boom.  To extend on Whyte’s point – taxing capital gains creates obligations between the government and the parties subject to that particular tax – in order to ensure gains aren’t moved offshore or that investors don’t stop investing here, those subject to the particular tax will need incentives, usually in monetary or ‘regulatory’ forms.

My point is that if any political party is serious about tackling speculative behaviours that affect housing affordability then land value tax (as a single not an additional tax) must at least be up for consideration. We need innovative solutions. David Cunliffe (Labour Party) stipulated that in his economic upgrade speech yet offers only a CGT.

But moving on, Garner’s boldest claim is to:

ban foreigners from buying old stock, build new houses if you want to invest here – that’s what happens in Australia. It’s time to stop the madness

Garner’s effectively suggests that we signal to foreigners that we in New Zealand don’t think they should buy homes where we want to live, they should instead build homes where we don’t want to live.

All those accusations of Māori separatism, come home to roost in the suburbs of the middle class.

A further problem is that xenophobic policy is dangerous for diplomacy. New Zealand has adopted declarations that create obligations to avoid discrimination and to uphold human rights. These declarations may only amount to soft law (not legally binding), but our actions do indicate our commitment to shared principles across the globe. They speak to our moral character. Xenophobic policies damage our international character.

There are strong arguments [from cosmopolitanists] for principles of distributive justice to apply at a global level. In context of this post, if we consider how we did not create the land, our claims on {absolute) ownership are questionable. Arguably, our only legitimate entitlement to it, is to share in its wealth. It might follow then, that those not born in NZ or who don’t fit the legal requirements for the arbitrary notion of ‘citizenship’ should still have every right to purchase land in New Zealand. Afterall, our birth place is contingent.

In my view, any governance model, must ensure that the communities affected by land ownership are properly compensated for that resource being taken out of the commons.

I  appreciate that some Māori might be uncomfortable with supporting policies that give foreigners access to land, particularly, if there are no safeguards around land that might be in dispute or customary land. Disputed and or customary land is a different case, they are about just possessory claims and ought to be dealt with separately from the general residential housing market.

Garner concludes that banning foreigners from buying homes in New Zealand is:

…not racist. It’s common sense. Let’s put New Zealanders at the front of the queue and help them, before it’s all too late.

If we want to make it easier for New Zealanders to buy homes in the areas they want to live, then tax the land and untax productive incomes.  The mere suggestion of banning foreigners is both ugly and embarrassing,  does not resolve the pricing issue and is most certainly not common sense.

National signs NZ up to Ethiopia land grab

A media release from the National Party states that NZ have signed a Food Security Cooperation Arrangement with the Ethiopian government.

Foreign Minister Murray McCully states that NZ’s involvement is:

…to assist in the development of commercial scale agriculture in Ethiopia, and build food security partnerships in the region.

Indicatively, the food security arrangement is less about feeding one of the poorest countries in the world, and more about commercial agri-business gaining access to millions of hectares of land in Ethiopia.

Fred Pearce explains in his book The Landgrabbers that:

The [Ethiopian] governments five year plan promises to lease 3 million hectares for large scale mechanized agriculture by 2015, much of it in the rebellious tribal border lands of Gambella (chapter 1, p.12)

Pearce also points out, the development of commercial-scale agriculture has devastating effects on those regions where the land is most sought by commercial interests. In order to get land ready for commercial agriculture, the government collects the dispersed local inhabitants (predominantly tribal groups) into state-designated villages while foreigners get exclusive use rights of their land, forests, fields and hunting grounds through arrangements like the Food Security and Cooperation Arrangement.

The effect on the inhabitants, the ecosystems, the wildlife and biodiversity in general is disastrous. In addition to being forced from their lands and into a lifestyle they are not accustomed to, they have their livelihoods snatched from them as their fields and forests are cleared, waterways diverted and lands enclosed.

Many end up working on the farms for low pay because they are now required to pay rent in the village they did not freely choose to live in to a landlord who took what had been freely available to them. Moreover, because they work on the commercial farms, they are unable to tend to their own food crops which makes food security even more difficult than their previous subsistence living.

The governments and commercial enterprises that participate in these land grabs often proclaim their businesses will lead to prosperity and jobs for locals. This is rarely the case. In Ethiopia, the companies bring in foreign nationals and the highland Ethiopians to do the technical work, while limiting the local lowland Ethiopians  opportunities  to unskilled  very low paid work. Despite that its the lowland Ethiopians whose land is most often subject to these land grabs.

To make matters worse these companies export most the food grown on these commercial farms. The locals lose their own ability to feed themselves through loss of land and an inability to buy expensive imported food, so that commercial agri-business can use their lands to feed foreigners for profit.

McCully’s media release highlights the commercial advantages for NZ in signing the agreement, pointing to Ethiopia’s proximity to key markets in the Gulf, but it is vague on the issue of food security.

Food security is defined by the WHO ‘as existing when all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life.’ However, given the signals in the media release focusing on commercial scale agriculture I am doubtful that the arrangement concerns food security for the most vulnerable Ethiopians.

The National governments acceptance and support of commercial agri-busness in Africa is evidence that the colonial past lingers on.

This is exploitative, destructive, neo-colonialism. We should be ashamed that our Government would make us complicit in a practice that intentionally destroys the lives of already marginalised people for profit.

Get out of the beehive and back in the waka

Before proceeding with this post, I want you the reader to consider a few assumptions you may have already made about this post. If your initial reaction was ‘wtf is this racist piece of rubbish?’ then you need to ask yourself why you perceived it as a negative headline and what makes the idea of the beehive more respectable to you than the waka or perhaps alternatively, why did you perceive the waka to represent something primitive?

With the title of this post, I wanted to highlight the assumptions we have about politics, and in particular, Maori politics. What we call Maori politics, is really just candidates or representatives with Maori ancestry. Maori politics is surely something more than that. My view is that the use of the term Maori politics is meaningless when construed in terms that reflect the majoritarian view of politics. And this is not helped by what appears to be an establishment of Maori political elite.

Obviously a blog post is not the best medium for a full and thorough investigation of Maori politics, my point is to raise awareness and consider your options.

My basic argument is this: Maori representative voting and enrolment on the Maori Electoral Roll (MER) is not about recognising Te Tiriti o Waitangi or co-governorship, it is about assimilating the Maori population into the Westminster system.

This year we have seen a large push for persons of Maori descent to enrol on the MER. The more persons enrolled on the Maori roll helps determine how many Maori seats are reserved in Parliament. Maori seats in Parliament are directly related to number of Maori electorates, which have the potential to increase proportionately to reflect the Maori population. Many will argue that this is one of the finer points of our democracy since it provides an avenue to give effect to the rights and guarantees provided in Te Tiriti o Waitangi, in particular, co-governorship.

It was recently suggested to me that my views on direct democracy were utopic, impliedly meaning completely unrealistic. My response is that anyone who thinks that the ruling class of the Westminster system will bestow all the rights and guarantees as provided in Te Tiriti on Maori are at least as utopic in vision as me. We are less likely to see established hierarchies divest power to a Maori minority, than we are to see a complete revolution.

To the surprise or probably contempt of many, I decided against enrolling on the MER.  In my view, the MER is a silencer on the decolonisation process. It does not attempt to do anything except provide limited opportunities for Maori to engage in Westminster style politics.

Like general electorate MP’s, Maori electorate MP’s represent ‘party’ policy. They do not represent the specific concerns of Maori in the regions within which they stand for election.[1] Additionally, the electorates are defined through the majoritarian process to reflect proportionality and not common or shared values. The presumption made is that Maori are an homogenous culture and do not have diverse needs, values or aspirations.

We only have to look at the parties to know that diversity or dissent is not a feature that is tolerated within a party. Parties with dissenting members are painted as unstable while those whose party members are forced to comply are considered stable. So lets look at the first breakdown in the Maori Party – the Hone Situation. The leadership decided it was better to assimilate (by using the ‘being at the table’ narrative) than to consider the fact that a group member was so distressed by a particular decision that he would rather leave the group than accept the outcome. One would have expected if solidarity were the key within the party or that Maori values were important, that legitimate consensus would have been reached. This only reinforces my view that certain Maori political elites lack the necessary levels of critique and respect for consensus and direct democracy to represent the diverse range of views of Maori.

But what ensues is equally as interesting and further reinforcement that Maori politics is simply Westminster politics by those with Maori ancestry. Hone Harawira starts his own party. He is then accused of diluting the Maori vote not just by his former party colleagues, but by some Maori voters, non-Maori voters, other parties, in particular, National and the media.

The rhetoric around ‘diluting’ the vote is farcical. Its an attempt to tarnish dissent in favour of majority preference despite the legitimate arguments made in favour of his dissent. Lets be clear, Hone didn’t dilute the vote by starting the Mana Party, the Maori Party diluted the vote by choosing assimilation for (perceived) power, rather than fighting the power structures that continue to oppress Maori. Interestingly, Hone is opening up dialogue with the Maori Party to invigorate Maori solidarity in Parliament. He appears to have reversed the narrative but if the differences were so important, that he left the party, how does he conceive of both parties representing a single independent voice for Maori in Parliament?

My view is that Mana and the Maori party are actually stronger as separate entities. Mana represent a growing underclass of both Maori (predominantly) and non-Maori. The Maori Party appear to represent the conservative iwi class.

By collectivising the views of Maori in the Westminster system, collectivism takes on the eurocentric meaning – where the individual is subordinate to the will of the majority, as well as reinforcing the myth of Maori as an homogeneous culture.

Maori are not collectivist in the eurocentric sense. Individuals are equally important to the collectivist whole because of the connections individuals have to their past, present and future. For instance, where an individuals mana is affected so is the mana of those connected to the individual such as their ancestors, their living whanau and  future generations. This why participatory processes are important for Maori.

I can conceive of one major issue on which solidarity is justifiable: where there has been an abuse of state power.

Consider Te Ururoa Flavell’s request for an inquiry into the effects of Operation 8 on the families affected.  Maori MP’s (in general or Maori electorate seats) should have shown solidarity because it is clear that the particular group affected required a particular process to take place to restore the mana of that community – they were seeking Maori redress for a breach of a right that no person should be subjected to – abuse of state power. The redress sought is the heart of Maori politics – the very process for restoring justice. This Maori process was  effectively blocked by the major parties (who had their own interests to protect in the issue) with the support of their Maori MP’s. It showed how dependent Maori MP’s are on their positions in their respective parties. [2] Te Ururoa Flavell even accepted defeat claiming that petitioning was just not worth it because it would take to long. A process at the heart of Tikanga Maori was not worth it. Says a lot about how Maori politicians view their roles in power.

To summarise –  I did not enrol on the MER because it does nothing to further the decolonisation process necessary for Maori and non-Maori to begin to prioritise their relationships to build democracy from the ground up. I see the MER as an assimilation tool to placate Maori and maintain the superior status of the ruling class by treating ‘Maori Politics’ as if it represents something more meaningful than it actually does.

In reference to the title of this post, I think its time Maori rejected the politics and the allure of the beehive and return to the waka (metaphorically speaking). The lessons of our ancestors provide the answers to improving outcomes for Maori – we just need to be innovative about how we apply those lessons to our modern conditions. Indigenous cultures  around the world are finding new ways based on old ideas to improve the outcomes of their people. [3] We need not rely on pervasive ideologies that favour authoritarianism and hierarchy, I mean where are we at now with that? In a manner of speaking, we’re up sh*t creek without a paddle or our waka.


[1] I appreciate that the parties for which the many Maori MP’s stand have particular concerns that are sensitive to Maori issues and that as MP’s they are accountable to the communities that elect them, since the punishment is potentially non-election next time round.

[2] Its important that I acknowledge that the Greens and Mana supported the inquiry.

[3] see: New Monetary Systems for a Sustainable Democracy and “The Great Turning” by Margaret Flowers and Kevin Zeese on Truthout available online at:  http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/17878-new-monetary-systems-for-a-sustainable-democracy-and-the-great-turning ; and also Capitalism in Crisis: Our opportunity for a new system  by Margaret Flowers and Kevin Zeese on Truthout available online at:  http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/17083-capitalism-in-crisis-our-opportunity-for-a-new-system

In defence of Anonymous

I find the tweet by Kim Dotcom urging Anonymous to stop their hacking quite contrived:

Dear Anonymous NZ, hacking National Party websites is just giving John Key a new excuse to pass the #GCSB Bill (cybercrime). Please stop it.

Afterall, doesn’t Dotcom stand for internet freedom? What a hypocrite, how can he be an advocate of internet freedom yet oppose the exercise of a legitimate form of online protest. Even Bill English accepts that its legitimate (see NZH article).

Additionally, John Key does not need a ‘new’ excuse to pass the GCSB bill. He has the numbers in Parliament and he wants to pass it. It will pass whether or not Anonymous protest. Sure, the DoS tactic is unlikely to succeed in convincing the National government otherwise, since we have a ‘rogue government’ (see Scoop article) , but it doesn’t make the effort pointless. Its a show of resistance in a new form – one reflective of the digital society that we live in.

For further commentary on the ‘hacking’ accusations see this excellent post by Ben Gracewood.

There was also an insinuation somewhere  that perhaps Anonymous have become a commercialised brand that any person can imitate. Well, the statement is half right – Anonymous encourage all people to take up the resistance to limitations on internet freedom – it is indiscriminate. But its wrong to suggest Anonymous is a ‘commercialised brand’. For starters, no-one buys the brand name. Sure, they buy the V for Vendetta masks that have come to represent the movement but its not a franchise.

I personally think the movement represents something unique in our struggle for liberty and I encourage those who are sceptical to watch the following documentaries:

Anonymous: We are Legion – The story of the hacktivists

TPB: AFK (The Pirate Bay: Away From Keyboard)

I know TPB are not an Anonymous group, but this documentary is interesting as it highlights the power corporate elites have over content on the internet and TPB struggle against this seemingly unbridled power.

Generation os13: the new culture of resistance

All these groups are resisting authority interfering with internet freedom. They should be applauded for their initiative – not vilified as counter to the struggle.

UPDATED: 

You can also visit many pages on Facebook regarding different anonymous movements, the one I have linked below is just one of many.

https://www.facebook.com/Anonymous.Legion.World/info

Are we apathists?

Plato proposed that ‘the price of apathy towards public affairs is to be ruled by evil men’.[1] Put in the context of today at a time when global dissent is growing, we here in New Zealand sit apathetically on the periphery of this global movement lending truth to what Plato proposed. But why is that? Why do we accept that because our government is perceivably less authoritarian than other governments that we can sit idly by while they usurp our civil liberties and democratic rights? I do accept that authoritarianism permeates our political structures and that its not attributable to a particular side of the political spectrum; however, since the election of the National led government we have seen some clear trampling of rights and severe abuses of process. This post discusses why (in my opinion) we are a nation of apathists who criticise those who actively oppose the destruction of our rights.

In understanding the source of our apathy, we must understand from where it derives. We need to acknowledge that what we have is a two party state. National or Labour are at the forefront of any legislation implemented via our parliamentary processes. Note that Labour have an equally terrible history of overriding our civil liberties and democratic rights, most notably for me, the Foreshore and Seabed legislation passed under Helen Clark that actively denied Maori the right to be heard with regard to claims on the Foreshore and Seabed.[2]

But despite the fact that Labour have a poor record, National in particular appear to have no proclivity for the rights of individuals. It considers itself above the law and invincible. It has passed and intends to pass multiple pieces of legislation that limit our rights as individuals and within our communities.[3]

We receive our daily dose of the extremism of the Left in the myths perpetuated by right wing media streams whether that be in mainstream media or the blogs. We are told that the Left want to take your taxpaying money and give it to the lazy, bludging, griever, minority imbeciles (welfare state). We are told that the Left want the government in, on and under your bed (statist). We are told that the Left despise prosperity (communism) and lack the necessary skills to create a prosperous economy (anti-neoliberals/anti-freemarket). And most people believe it. Because most people are too busy trying to survive in their current economic situations to take the time to learn, think and critically evaluate that rhetoric.

The other myth perpetuated is that our government is far less authoritarian than other regimes and the crony policies it implements are for the growth of our economy. For the record, exponential economies are not sustainable; the myth that economic growth is the only means for prosperity is false. Exponential economic growth will destroy prosperity and humanity in the process.

When the public are saturated with the fear of a collapsing economy, they rely on their government to remedy the issue. Depending on the narrative, people consent to handing over their rights to the government. This is where we are. We are so afraid that we are going to wake up with empty bank accounts through no fault of our own, that we allow the government to implement whatever laws they deem necessary to avoid this happening. In fact, it is precisely such laws that will create these situations that we fear. Economies don’t collapse because of small businesses and hardworking individuals. Nor do they collapse because of the poor and unemployed being a supposed burden on the government books. Economies collapse because banks and multinationals call in their debts when the market becomes unstable. Moreover, the banks and multinationals create unstable markets so that they can call in their debts in order to increase their profits. This is what has often been referred to as the freemarket. The system of private lending that allows individuals to create wealth. Its bogus. But nonetheless, our government supports this supposedly freemarket that is in fact engineered to benefit the banks and while its possible that some individuals will benefit from this structure, many others will indubitably suffer. This supposed freemarket works best when smaller governments that have been forced to rely on borrowing to fund state infrastructure become so indebted to these banks that they have no choice but to comply or face the wrath of the quite visible hand of the IMF. The IMF impose strict conditions on lending and force compliance with those conditions through authoritarian governance – forced legislation to the benefit of the banks and multinational companies. South Korea is a prime example, such that the IMF claimed they were helping the nation out of insolvency. Instead, they vindictively devalued the currency and bankrupted major economic players in the Korean economy opening the market up to foreign economic domination. In my view, this is the likely plan for NZ. There can be no other reason for signing up to the TPPA and for selling legislation to multinationals that limits the rights of the people in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Sergei Karaganov writes on Aljazeera that:

“Western capitalism’s model of a society based on near-universal affluence and liberal democracy looks increasingly ineffective compared to the competition. Authoritarian countries’ middle classes may push their leaders towards greater democracy, as in Russia, but Western democracies will also likely become more authoritarian”

In my view, the New Zealand government are preparing us for this shift. In fact, I would go as far as saying that we are already part of that current. As Roger Douglas once pointed out, if we create a crisis and act swiftly so that people do not have a chance to think then we can move closer to implementing this freemarket. The National led government have passed many laws under urgency and this is a hallmark of Douglas’s literature. In addition, the government have used the perceived success of authoritarian China as a means to impose these standards in NZ with this narrative further reinforced by the US creating a moral panic that the Chinese will inflict authoritarian structures on the vulnerable nations in the South Pacific so we must act authoritatively to counter that influence. Both narratives support the implementation of authoritarian forms of governance.

So are we apathists? Hell, yes. While we have a small activist contingent, who remain committed and informed on matters of public affairs, the wider public tend to think that they are powerless and they disengage. Is feeling powerless the same as apathy? No. Irrespective of whether or not we think our voices will be heard or listened to, sitting by idly waiting for change or accepting defeat only feeds authoritarianism. I am guilty of being a slacktivist. I sit at my computer and purge criticism at the government and a few people will read what I have to say, but this is not the same as walking side by side with those who physically enter public spaces to voice their dissent. It doesn’t matter if you voted for National or a National led government, or if you fall within the other half of the population that voted against a National led government. If you disagree with the undemocratic actions of this government, the only way to make that clear and to co-opt change is a public show of solidarity.

We currently have an example of solidarity in Turkey. The elected government secured over 50% of the vote. Similar to here in NZ. Yet the people have said no to authoritarianism and in a show of solidarity have taken to the streets, despite the brutal backlash from the government and the dictatorial speeches of Tayyip Erdogan to quell the dissent. We are unlikely to experience the same violence in NZ because the government knows NZ will not accept blatant state aggression against the people.

But its time we start seriously considering who the extremists are: those actively opposing and publicly condemning the usurping of our rights or the government and their cronies who have taken active steps to abuse our parliamentary processes to deprive us of our rights and civil liberties?


[1] I am unable to find the original source of the quote, so I cannot guarantee that it is stated verbatim nor that it has not been misattributed. Nonetheless, it is still aptly fitting for this particular post.

[2] Note, it doesn’t matter if you think Maori have an actual claim on the Foreshore and Seabed, what matters is that there is a process that allowed the claim to be assessed and Labour removed the ability for Maori to go through the process. Its similar to the Health and Disability Amendment that has removed a process for parents as carers of adult disabled children are denied a process of judicial review of this particular amendment, despite the express discrimination inherent in the amendment.