On Radio NZ’s Morning Report, on 20 May, John Banks admitted to Guyon Espiner that he had requested a donation from Kim Dotcom for his mayoral campaign in the 2010 local body elections;
@ 4:42 –
Espiner: “You got five donations of $25,000, all were
recorded as anonymous. How did Kim Dotcom know to
split his donation into two lots of twentyfive thousand
Banks fudged the question and repeated that he had been exonerated under the Electoral Act.
With constant probing and deft dismissal of Banks’ obfuscation, Espiner persisted until he got a truthful response from Banks;
Espiner: “Did you ask Kim Dotcom for money?”
Banks: “Yes. And that is the evidence. You should have
a look at the evidence.”
So three questions remain;
- Why did Kim Dotcom split his $50,000 donation into two lots of $25,000?
- Why was Kim Dotcom’s two donations recorded as “anonymous”, when the name “Megastuff” was clearly imprinted on his cheques?
- Who were the other three $25,000 anonymous cheques from? Were they all from one donor, splitting his/her $75,000 donation into three lots to avoid requirements to name benefactors?
Plus, there are other matters of Banks “forgetting” that he had met Kim Dotcom; forgetting that he had asked for a donation; forgetting taking a helicopter ride to his Coatesville mansion, etc.
Banks referred several times that the Court of Appeal had vindicated him and his wife;
“I have been completely exonerated.” (@ 2:05)
No such thing has occurred. His case was dismissed on a technicality. The evidence – including any new evidence – was never put before a jury to determine.
I submit to the reader that judicial “vindication” by technicality is no vindication at all.
Banks’ claim to innocence should be regarded as a mere “technicality”, at best.
Radio NZ: Morning Report – Banks calls for Solicitor-General to stand aside (alt. link) (audio)
NZ Herald: Dotcom’s secret donation to Banks
NZ Herald: Banks’ donations – ‘I know nothing’
NZ Herald: Banks scandal – Lost in the memory banks
No Right Turn: Acquitted
The Standard: John Banks; Conviction Quashed
Previous related blogposts
This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 21 May 2015.
= fs =
I won’t spend too much time on this – it’s not worthy of attention except from the Courts.
I’ll state the obvious that I am no fan of right wing politics; neo-liberalism; the ACT Party, or John Banks’ beliefs. We are diametrically opposed in our world-view.
I will say, though, that throwing a bucket of manure at another person is not a political statement. It is a lazy, inane, brainless way to make a point. Any buffoon with barely two inter-connecting neurons can do it.
A real, effective, political statement may be more time-consuming but is one that ultimately gets people thinking. The only thought that crossed my mind about Sam Bracanov’s behaviour is “silly old bugger”.
Trying to justify his assault by saying,
“I’m not guilty. I protect New Zealand people not to behave like sheep.”
– is a limp joke.
All that Sam Bracanov has achieved is garner sympathy for John Banks and make left-wing activists look like nutters.
That is not how New Zealanders – Left or Right or Up or Down – should be doing politics.
Grow up, Sam.
Above image acknowledgment: Francis Owen/Lurch Left Memes
= fs =
As at 5pm on Friday, 13 June, John Banks resigned from Parliament.
In retrospect… As per usual, those on the Right appear unable to accept that they too must uphold the laws of the land.
Michelle Boag (Fmr National Party president)
The verdict in the John Banks trial will send a “chill up the spine” of every political candidate, says former National Party president Michelle Boag.
Boag, who was an adviser to Banks during the failed 2010 Auckland mayoral campaign, said although Banks had been found guilty, he had done just the same as “every political candidate who has put in a donation form”.
“So the court has found John Banks guilty. Three observations. First, I have known John Banks for 30 years and have not found him to be anything other than an honest man. Second, it is a huge tragedy for a man who has overcome great personal difficulties; served with distinction as a Member of Parliament, as a Minister, and as the mayor of Auckland; and helped to raise three Russian orphans.
But third, when I contrast what John Banks was found by the court to have done with what Helen Clark’s Labour Party did in 2005 – without the slightest attempt by the Police to call her to account – the offence of which he has been found guilty is utterly trivial.
In 2005, the Labour Party spent Parliamentary funding to the extent of more than three-quarters of a million dollars on explicit electioneering, despite having been warned against doing so by both the Auditor General and the Chief Electoral Officer just weeks before the election. Yes, they eventually repaid that money, but only under strong protest. And of course by that the time the election was won.
And what they could not undo, and were never held to account for, was grossly overspending the legal limit on spending in that election. The Police, in a disgracefully biased decision, decided not to prosecute, despite the Labour Party’s own auditors finding that the Party had unambiguously breached the legal spending limit if spending on their infamous “pledge card” was election spending. And did anybody who saw that “pledge card” think it was NOT part of Labour’s election campaign?
Whatever John Banks did in trying to raise money to finance his mayoral campaign in 2010 did not affect the outcome of that election. By contrast, Labour’s illegal behaviour almost certainly did affect the result of the 2005 election.”
Gerry Brownlee (Leader of the House, National Minister)
Found guilty – but “not convicted”. Ethics 101, according to Gerry Brownlee.
Ironically, Kim Dotcom has not been found guilty of any crime in New Zealand and yet the Nats wants him extradited to the United States. As in, potentially goneburger to a US jail.
David Farrar (Blogger, National Party apparatchik)
“…Banks was wrong to break the law, but Labour’s law breaches in 2005 were much more significant and did have an impact on the election result.”
Based on Farrar’s bizarro-world “logic”, burglars should not be prosecuted because home invasion robberies “were much more significant and did have an impact” on home-owners?!
John Key (Fmr money trader, current Prime Minister)
“It’s not for me to critique the ruling by Justice Wylie it would be quite inappropriate of me to do that…but if you ask me at a personal level whether my experience of John Banks is an honest person then the answer is yes.”
John Key (again)
“In the end, Mr Banks may appeal, I don’t know the details of that but in my experience of dealing with him over the period of time that he’s been both the leader of the Act Party and in Parliament and in my previous dealings with him, I’ve always found him to be very honest.”
So honest that he (a) was tried in a Court of law, (b) was found guilty, and (c) has resigned.
Is this what Key meant when he said on 17 November 2008;
“I expect high standards from my ministers. If they don’t meet the standards I set, then obviously I will take action if necessary.”
John Key (and again)
First Key said he was not in a position to offer any advice to Banks;
“It’s not for me to offer a view on that. In the end he is the leader of another political party. I can’t offer him advice any more than I could offer David Cunliffe advice on whether he should resign.”
Then he decided to give advice – to David Cunliffe;
Asked about Cunliffe’s claims that the Government was being propped up by a “corrupt” politician, Key said Cunliffe should rule out working with the Internet Party.
“I’m not going to be lectured by David Cunliffe. If he was the man of principle he says he is, he’d be ruling out the Internet Party and Kim Dotcom who’s before the court and is a convicted fraudster, but he’s not going to do that. Most people will see it for what it is, which is politics.”
Point of interest; John Key appears to be out-of-the-loop and several months behind-the times. John Banks was not the “leader of another political party“. The current leader of ACT is Jamie Whyte.
“…Graham McCready, the convicted tax fraudster and the man who brought the private prosecution against Banks after the police declined to lay charges, is an odd creature.
The charms of Kim Dotcom have never been apparent to me and they didn’t become any more obvious in this case.”
Richard Prebble (Fmr Labour and ACT Party MP)
Act Party campaign director Richard Prebble, said the verdict was in conflict with the attitude towards campaign donations that he’d encountered during his years in parliament.
“I’ve looked at MPs’ declarations – which are only for $20,000 – and a third of MPs, under this ruling, should be out of parliament. I’ve seen declarations that are total fictions.”
Prebble said the loose approach to the rules revealed “the nonsense of the thing”. He said when he started his career in local body politics, he wasn’t required to fill in electoral donation forms, “and I’m not sure why you have to now.
“It’s just part of the political correctness of New Zealand, and all we do is catch people out with paperwork.”
Prebble said while the nominal reason for requiring electoral donation returns might be to prevent the impression of undue influence by political funders, “the real reason is to intimidate people to stop them giving money to your political opponents.
So Prebble has “seen declarations that are total fictions” – but done nothing about them?! Is this how a former ACT Leader and MP upholds the law? By turning a blind eye to it being broken? Very civic minded, I don’t think.
As for the electoral law on donation returns being “ just part of the political correctness of New Zealand, and all we do is catch people out with paperwork” – so some laws exist merely to inconvenience us? Perhaps quite a few others who are currently “guests of Her Majesty” thought along the same lines.
John Thompson (ACT Party president )
“We believe that he can carry on in doing his constituency work … It would be more pleasant if there was a different verdict, yes.”
Well… yes. I’m sure it would be more pleasant. So would world peace and an end to hunger, disease, pollution…
However, let’s work with what we’ve got, eh, John?
My thoughts (as a Left wing blogger)
Those on the Right of the political spectrum probably believe that Banks’ actions were minor. They point the finger at alleged wrongdoing by Labour or other parties on the Left. They may even believe that the trial and guilty verdict was unnecessary.
Meanwhile, on the Left, the belief (unsurprisingly) is diametrically opposite; the crime of electoral fraud is not minor; pointing to alleged wrongdoing by Left-wing parties is a vain attempt at deflection to distract public attention; and the guilty verdict was necessary.
Everyone has missed the point.
The trial was very much necessary. (The verdict was, I submit, secondary.)
Either the law on Electoral Returns is a law to be enforced, or it should be repealed and left up to individual parties and candidates to make voluntary disclosures. But it cannot be left to stand and be observed in a half-hearted, cavalier fashion.
Otherwise, every member of Parliament runs the risk of being prosecuted by the Police or a well-motivated member of the public, sometime in the future. In other words, this was a “wake up call” to every elected representative, whether in a local body or Parliament.
It will be a very, very foolish politician – whether from the Left or Right – who takes a punt at fudging their Electoral Return from now on.
Because, in the final analysis, no Right or Left wing party activist, supporter, voter, or blogger, wants one of their own to be dragged through the Courts, embarrassing themselves and their Party. Whether Left or Right, we want our own people to be ‘squeaky clean’.
The wake-up call has been sounded for both sides of the political spectrum.
Let’s hope it was heard..
Fairfax media: F*** off, says under-pressure Banks
Facebook: Don Brash
Kiwiblog: Brash on Banks
NZ Herald: Shame sticks to both sides of this episode
Fairfax media: PM ducks Banks questions
Above image acknowledgment: Francis Owen/Lurch Left Memes
This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 14 June 2014.
= fs =
Today’s (9 June 2014) editorial in the ‘Dominion Post‘ was an interesting take on the John Banks Affair and National’s cynical exploitation of MMP’s “coat tailing” provision;
Editorial: Discredited flaw still being exploited
Last updated 05:00 09/06/2014
Every electoral system has flaws which politicians exploit. The coat-tailing provision of MMP is now utterly discredited, but it survives because it serves powerful political interests – especially the National Party’s. The clause should be abolished, but no National-led government will do so.
Labour promises to quickly abolish the clause, which allows a party with just one electorate seat to avoid the 5 per cent parliamentary threshold, if it gains power. There is already a paradox here. Labour might have to rely on the votes of the Mana-Internet Party to do so. But Mana-Internet will get into Parliament only via the coat-tailing clause. Nobody believes it will get 5 per cent of the vote.
The case for abolishing coat-tailing is overwhelming, and was made by the Electoral Commission in 2012. That inquiry grew out of John Key’s promise to “kick the tyres” of MMP, but his government ignored the recommendations. The reason is quite simple: coat-tailing helps the National Party. The Government’s refusal to take any notice of the inquiry was naked realpolitik and a supremely cynical act.
National’s coat-tailing deals with ACT in Epsom have left an especially sour taste in voters’ mouths. Key’s “tea-party” with the-then ACT leader John Banks before the 2011 election was widely recognised as a stunt.
The politicians invited the media to their meeting and then shut them out of the coffee-house while they had their “secret” and entirely meaningless chat. It added insult to injury that Key complained to the police after a journalist taped their conversation.
National and ACT had done similar self-serving deals in Epsom before, and showed just how unfair coat-tailing can be. In the 2008 election ACT got 3.65 per cent of the vote but won five seats in the House thanks to coat-tailing. New Zealand First, by contrast, got slightly more than 4 per cent of the vote but no seats in the House, because it won no electorate. This was mad, but highly convenient to the two right-wing parties.
Coat-tailing, in fact, has kept the dying and discredited ACT party alive. It delivered John Banks a seat in the House, and this week Banks stood disgraced when found guilty in the High Court of knowingly filing a false electoral return. Key, whose self-serving deal with Banks has hurt his own credibility, has even persisted in defending Banks’ “honesty” since the verdict. Now, of course, the Left is doing its own tawdry coat-tailing deal in Te Tai Tokerau. Without Hone Harawira’s electorate seat, Internet-Mana would go nowhere.
Hard-nosed strategists such as Internet Party leader Laila Harre argue that this is “taking back MMP”, as though this kind of thing was a blow for people power instead of the cynical politicking that it really is.
Two wrongs don’t make a right, no matter what power-hungry politicians might think. The Government should abolish the coat-tailing clause, along with its associated overhang provision, and drop the 5 per cent threshold to 4 per cent. However, it won’t happen while National is in power.
– The Dominion Post
Note the highlighted sentence; ” Now, of course, the Left is doing its own tawdry coat-tailing deal in Te Tai Tokerau. Without Hone Harawira’s electorate seat, Internet-Mana would go nowhere“.
That statement demanded a response…
.FROM: "f.macskasy" SUBJECT: Letter to the Editor DATE: Mon, 09 Jun 2014 10:11:45 +1200 TO: "Dominion Post" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
.The editor Dominion Post . Your editorial on National's exploitation of MMP's 'coat-tailing' provision was insightful until this jarring statement ruined it; "Now, of course, the Left is doing its own tawdry coat-tailing deal in Te Tai Tokerau. Without Hone Harawira's electorate seat, Internet-Mana would go nowhere." (9 June) What "tawdry coat-tailing deal" might that be? Because every indication is that not only will Labour refuse to engage in any deal-making, but MPs Chris Hipkins, Kelvin Davis, Stuart Nash, et al, have been vociferously attacking the Internet-Mana Party on social media. If any such "deal" exists, someone forgot to tell those Labour MPs. However, if even Labour and Mana-Internet came to an Epsom-like arrangement - so what? Those are the rules that this government has decreed and must be played. Anyone playing by some other mythical "principled" rules will sit saint-like on the Opposition benches whilst National gerrymanders the system. Suggesting otherwise creates an unlevel playing field that benefits one, at the expense of others, and is untenable. If it's good enough for National to arrange deals in Epsom, Ohariu, and soon with the Conservative Party, then it should be good enough for everyone. No one takes a knife to a gunfight unless they are dead-set on losing. -Frank Macskasy [address and phone number supplied]
Dominion Post: Editorial – Discredited flaw still being exploited
Above image acknowledgment: Francis Owen/Lurch Left Memes
= fs =
This has to be the most compassionate thing I’ve read in a long, long time…
TO John Banks Copy the Rest of New Zealand
I can understand the situation you find yourself in having been in the same situation myself.
From this personal experience I can tell you that you are at serious risk of receiving a jail term of about 18-months.
His Honour has given you the opportunity to qualify for Home Detention.
The term is likely to be about six months.
He is NOT going to consider a discharge without conviction.
That is a delusional fantasy.
If David Jones QC continues to suggest the possibility my advice is to sack him and file a complaint with the Law Society on the basis of gross incompetence.
See my attached missive on the process.
If you get home detention your overseas travel will suffer minimal disruption.
Any jail term of one year or more and the Inter Islander Ferry may be about your limit.
How then do you ensure you stay out of jail?
Accept responsibility for your actions.
Immediately as part of acceptance resign from Parliament.
Do not dance on the head of a pin before the Probation Officer on the difference between “Found Guilty of an Indictable Criminal Offence” and “A Conviction being entered”.
On Monday YOU contact the Probation Service.
Do not let your clown of a lawyer do it or wait for a Probation Officer to phone you.
COOPERATE with them. BE VERY HUMBLE
Tell them you have royally screwed up and that you are unconditionally guilty.
Do a press conference and make an unreserved apology to the People of New Zealand for your conduct.
Back that up by a huge donation to low decile schools.
Do not say which ones or how much.
That will not get you off but it will be spiritually uplifting
Tell them you will not be appealing the verdict.
DO NOT ATTACK OTHER PERSONS INVOLVED IN THE CASE.
Assure the Probation Officer that you will comply with all instructions and conditions of Home Detention no matter how tedious. And they will be tedious.
Treat the Probation Officer with respect.
Do not make racial or serious remarks.
You may find your Probation Officer is a young female Criminology Grad less than half you age.
The Probation Service will need to approve your apartment for Home Detention.
From my experience it is probably not suitable.
The reason is that a Probation Officer or Security Guard cannot walk up to the front door 24-hours a day because of the building security.
Tomorrow rent a VERY MODEST house with walk up to the front door.
Talk to the Probation Service about this.
Finally welcome to the Human Race.
We are not bad people who will become good, just human beings who do good and bad things at various times of our lives.
This too will pass.
Wishing you all the health, happiness and success I enjoy for myself one day at a time.
Graham Mc Cready
[Acknowledgement: Penny Bright]
Well said, Graham.
= fs =
Back in 2008 and 2011, National was very, very BIG on the usual “law and order”, thrashing the issue in a way that only right-wing/conservative political parties can, when in high-gear, election-mode. One of their 2011 election billboards (see above) specifically pointed to National’s “strong on crime” stance.
On 27 May 2007, John Key said,
“I want to make one thing clear. I don’t make excuses for criminal behaviour because I believe every individual is responsible for their actions and must be held accountable for them.”
“Don’t just think, though, that the responsibility for rejecting criminal behaviour falls solely on the police. Ordinary New Zealanders, politicians and government agencies have an important role to play…
You are more likely to be on National’s ‘hit list’ for demonstrating “tough on crime” if you commit “crimes against a person“, rather than law-breaking by business; the financially successful; or coalition-partner politicians. An example is National’s pre-occupation with welfare fraud;
“Welfare fraud of any kind is unacceptable. It takes money away from the people who need it and undermines confidence in our welfare system.” – John Key
Dr Lisa Marriott, a Senior Lecturer in the School of Accounting and Commercial Law, is investigating the differences in prosecution outcomes for the two offences, both of which, she says, involve money, are premeditated and have the same victims—the Government and society.
“One is not giving what you should and the other is taking what you shouldn’t.”
Her analysis of court data on the most serious offending from 2008–2011 shows that 22 percent of people found guilty of tax offences received a custodial sentence while 60 percent of benefit fraudsters were imprisoned.
National’s rhetoric and track record appears to be less enthusiastic to up-hold the law when it come to the Well Off, rather than Working-class Offenders.
Recent examples further highlight National’s soft-on-crime approach to commercial and politically-motivated offences.
Strike 1. John Banks
Perhaps the most notorious and public of National’s selective approach to enforcing law and order – their refusal to prosecute then-ACT-leader, John Banks, for allegedly making false electoral returns after the 2010 mayoral election in Auckland.
The revelations that followed Grant Robertson’s accusations in Parliament led to a media-storm and police investigation where John Banks was formally questioned by Police in a three-hour long interview.
In July 2012, Police decided not to prosecute John Banks citing “lack of evidence”, and a strange reference to a “stature of limitations”, to lay charges.
John Key’s response?
- He refused to sack John Banks from his ministerial roles and eventually re-engaged him to various portfolios
- He refused to read the police report
In refusing to read the police report, Key said,
“I haven’t read that police report and I’m not going to because I don’t need to … It’s not my job to do a forensic analysis. What I can tell you is, the law doesn’t work.”
In a further feat of sophistry and mental gymnastics, Key added,
“The test is whether they enjoy my confidence, and if a minister tells me, ‘This is my position and this is what I’ve done’, I accept their word in good faith unless it’s proven otherwise.”
After prevarications and failings by the Police, the Prime Minister, Crown Law, and the “establishment” in general, it took one lone citizen to start the wheels of justice rolling.
Evidently allegations of corruption by a senior politician did not merit this government’s attention. Especially when the Prime Minister “accepts their word in good faith”.
Strike 2. Easter Trading
Despite the law being quite explicit, each year various retail outlets flout the law by trading on Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Gardening centres seem to be one of the worst recidivist offenders, despite the fact that out of four days in Easter they need only be closed on one: Good Friday.
With repeat, pre-planned, determined offending, the fine of $1,000 appears to be a “business cost” that retailers will wear, in their pursuit for profit.
Imagine if a burglar or car-converter not only planned repeat offending, but advertised it on nationwide media, and expected only a small fine if caught?!
This year, it appears that in some areas the risk of a fine was not even present;
Dear Leader’s response? Does John Key demand to know why labour inspectors were not doing their job? Does he demand to know who “tipped” off Wanaka traders? Does he reassert that the law will be upheld until such time as it is changed in Parliament?
No, he does not say any of those things.
Key demonstrates his “tough on crime” response by blaming the law itself;
“The problem you’ve got is it’s always been a conscience vote and it’s been a combination of the unions asserting its influence on probably the left of politics and joined by those who have strong religious beliefs. In my view, the law doesn’t work very well and it should be overhauled.”
On MSN News, Key stated;
“There’s only one way to resolve it and that’s not to encourage people to break the law but build a parliamentary majority for change.”
That is indeed correct. Turning a blind eye on illegal activity not only throws the law into disrepute – but makes Parliament itself irrelevant. It suggests that the governing Party can determine what the law is, without proper Parliamentary oversight. In some parts of the world, this is known as a One Party state.
A previous National Party Prime Minister – Robert Muldoon – did precisely this, after winning the 1975 General Election. He advised employers to cease making deductions for the compulsory superannuation fund before Parliament had had the chance to repeal the law.
If National wants to repeal or amend the Holidays Act, it should do so honestly and present it’s case to Parliament. Let there be open public debate so that the public can present it’s submissions to Parliament.
But it is too gutless to do so, and has taken the easier option; ignoring the law altogether.
Who was responsible for directing labour inspectors not to visit Wanaka?
Did it have ministerial approval?
And why isn’t the government investigating who issued the directive?
By ignoring this issue, National is law-making by law-breaking.
Strike 3. Worksafe
Without doubt, according to Worksafe NZ, the three deadliest occupations in this country are agriculture (112 fatalities, 2008-13) , construction (61), and forestry (35). Manufacturing and Transport/Postal/Warehousing came fourth-equal at 25 fatalities from 2008 to 2013. (If it hadn’t been for the Pike River disaster in 2010, which killed 29 men, mining would be one of the safest occupations.)
Added to the grim death toll are the hundreds of work-related injuries in the forestry sector.
Worksafe NZ has been tasked with improving our appalling safety record when it comes to deaths and injuries. As outlined on the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment website;
The Government has established WorkSafe New Zealand (WorkSafe NZ), a stand-alone Crown agent with its own governance board, as part of its reform of the New Zealand workplace health and safety system.
WorkSafe NZ began on 16 December 2013 when the health and safety functions of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment transferred to the new agency.
The creation of a stand-alone health and safety regulatory agency was a key recommendation of both the Royal Commission on the Pike River Coal Mine Tragedy and the Independent Taskforce on Workplace Health and Safety.
WorkSafe NZ signals a new era. With a single-minded focus on workplace health and safety issues, the agency provides a single point of accountability and seeks to play a leadership role in improving New Zealand’s health and safety performance.
Worksafe NZ’s role ranges from “providing guidance and information on workplace health and safety to duty holders and to the community” to “monitoring and enforcing compliance with the primary workplace health and safety legislation“. A full description of their functions is given on their website.
As Worksafe NZ’s own website chart clearly shows, the number of workplace deaths in the forestry industry has been steadily increasing since 2007;
So even as forestry deaths and injuries have been steadily rising, OSH/Worksafe NZ prosecutions have not kept pace, as the data shows;
Number of Initiated Prosecutions in Forestry
(2009 to 2013)
Source: WorkSafe NZ (emailed)
*Based on the prosecution initiated date. (No figures readily available for 2008).
A Radio NZ, Nine to Noon interview on 24 April, which included forestry-worker widow, Maryanne Butler-Finlay; CTU President, Helen Kelly; and Worksafe NZ General Manager of Health and Safety Operations, Ona de Rooy yielded some interesting insights.
Helen Kelly accused Minister of Labour, Simon Bridges of slowing progress of the passing of the Health and Safety Bill, and actively interfering and restricting the terms of a Worksafe NZ review of safety practices in the forestry industry. She said,
“We know the minister has restricted right down what they’re allowed to look at. They’re not looking at fatigue. They’re not looking at weather. They’re not looking at hours of work. Simon Bridges has said, ‘no, wait for the review’.”
Bridges response on Radio NZ’s Morning Report, on 28 April, did nothing to allay fears that he was taking the side of forestry operators and doing everything within his power to stymie reform of the industry, and resist implementation of a stricter safety regime.
“We can’t simply, ah, because Helen Kelly sez so, do something in two days.
... But I don’t think it’s a position where we can simply snap our fingers and change systemic, ah, ah, deep problems overnight. Indeed it would be entirely wrong for us to do that.”
Yet, National was quite capable of changing industrial laws in precisely two days when it came to the so-called “Hobbit Law”. That’s when Warner Bros snapped their corporate fingers.
The Employment Relations (Film Production Work) Amendment Bill/Act ( aka “The Hobbit Law”) was introduced, passed, and enacted by National on 29 October 2010. It was passed in just 48 hours.
There is no reason on Earth why this government could not re-regulate the forestry industry and pass the Health and Safety Reform Bill within a week, if it chose to do so. National simply chooses not to do so, and the lack of prosecutions – despite rising number of deaths – indicates that this government has other interests in mind than workplace safety and the lives of New Zealand workers.
There is big money to be made from forestry. On 13 January 2013, Statistics NZ reported;
In 2012 we exported $4.5 billion of forestry products, compared with $1.9 billion in 1992. They continue to be our third-largest goods export, after dairy and meat.
More specifically germane to the issue of safety in the forestry industry, as Statistics NZ reported;
The value of log exports more than tripled between 1992 and 2012 – from $443 million to $1.6 billion. Since 2008, the value has grown sharply – increasing 22 percent a year on average.
“This rise was due mainly to the volume of log exports tripling. Prices have increased by a smaller 16 percent,” Mr Pike said.
The increased export of logs to China has been a major contributor to the greater value of our log exports. In 1992 we sold only $59 million worth of logs to China. This was up to slightly more than $1 billion by 2012, making China our top market for logs – surpassing both Korea and Japan.
“New Zealand is now the third-largest exporter of logs in the world, after Russia and the United States. In 2012 we supplied 8 percent of the total value of the world’s export logs,” Mr Pike said.
It could be argued that this government is desperate for economic growth of any kind, at any cost. The growing export of a raw commodity such as unprocessed, non-value-added, logs is better than no growth at all.
By refusing to regulate the industry – or at least insist on prosecuting malfeasant employers – shows a willingness by this government to tolerate some casualties along the way. Thirtyfive deaths is “collateral damage” in National’s obsessive determination to beat the recession; create economic growth; and balance the books by 2014/15.
There is much at stake if National fails. The National Party’s (unearned) reputation for “sound economic management” would be seriously damaged if the economy failed to ‘fire’ at a time when the global economy appears to be emerging from the recent global financial crisis recession.
Which is why, it seems, that Simon Bridges is luke-warm at re-regulating the forestry industry or even passing a piece of safety legislation that would probably prevent many more deaths.
So why is Worksafe NZ not prosecuting employers whose staff are being killed in our forests?
As with the secret instructions issued to labour inspectors not to visit law-breaking Wanaka retailers over Easter – has someone from a Minister’s office quietly whispered into the ears of Worksafe NZ to adopt and maintain a “softly, softly” approach to forestry contractors?
On 22 April, General manager of health and safety operations at Worksafe NZ, Ona De Rooy, said,
“WorkSafe NZ is focused on trying to prevent harm occurring by working with the industry and workers to improve safety and reduce the rate of serious incidents,”
Which is fine. But Worksafe NZ is also tasked with prosecuting employers who break basic safety rules. Once prevention has failed, prosecution must follow – or else where is the sanction for those who willfully break the law?
Has the word been issued from On High, not to apply the law to employers in the timber industry?
The reason would be abundantly simple: prosecuting would be bad for business.
It has been said that in matters of business (subsidies, tax-breaks, or special “deals” for Rio Tinto, Warner Bros, China Southern Airlines, SkyCity, charter schools, etc), National adopts a “flexible” and pragmatic approach.
The same, it seems, can be said of their approach to law and order issues. When it comes to enforcing the law, this government can be… flexible.
“I want to make one thing clear. I don’t make excuses for criminal behaviour because I believe every individual is responsible for their actions and must be held accountable for them.” – John Key, 27 May 2007
John Key: National – Tough on Crime
NZ Herald: National, Act to get tough on violent crime
National Party: Law and Order – Building a safer New Zealand
Fairfax media: Another welfare shake-up likely, Bennett says
National Party: Making Welfare Work
Victoria University: Courts more lenient on white collar criminals
Fairfax media: PM refuses to sack John Banks
NZ Herald: PM reaffirms support for John Banks
Radio NZ: John Banks resigns as minister
MoBIE/Dept of Labour: Shop opening hours
Southland Times: Wanaka Easter traders escape prosecution
Newstalk ZB: Wanaka businesses escape Easter trading laws action
Radio NZ: PM favours Easter trading change
MSN News: Easter trading laws should go: Key
Worksafe NZ: Summary of fatalities 2007-2013
Worksafe NZ: Forestry statistics 2008-2013
Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment: Establishment of WorkSafe New Zealand
Radio NZ: High rate of deaths in the forestry industry (audio)
Radio NZ: Minister of Labour responds to criticism (audio)
Parliament: Health and Safety Reform Bill
Fairfax media: Controversial Hobbit law passes
Statistics NZ: Logs to China drive our forestry export growth
Previous related blogposts
Above image acknowledgment: Francis Owen/Lurch Left Memes
This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 29 April 2014.
= fs =