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Penny Bright Goes To Parliament

2 February 2013 14 comments

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Goldfish Banks

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Wellington, NZ, 31 January 2012 – Activist and Mayoral candidate, Penny Bright went to Parliament, to attend to unfinished business.

MP for Epsom, John Banks may have escaped prosecution for not properly declaring campaign donations in the 2010 Auckland mayoral campaign (see previous related blogpost: John Banks – escaping justice (Part Toru), et al), by a legal technicality –  but self-declared anti-corruption campaigner, Penny Bright has other ideas.

Ms Bright is one of several people engaged in citizens’ actions to bring John Banks to justice. Another person, Graham McCready, a retired accountant, has launched a private prosecution against Banks (see:  Judge calls Banks to court over donations).

On 31 January, Ms Bright arrived on the grounds of Parliament.  She was scheduled to appear before Parliament’s  Justice and Electoral Committee at 11.15am. (See copy of submission here:  Justice and Electoral Committee Local Electoral Amendment Bill (No 2) – Submission by Penny Bright)

Ms Bright had spare time and wanted to make her cause more widely known to the public. She set about preparing to raise banners, in front of the statue of the former, late, Premier Richard John Seddon.

Her activities came to the almost immediate attention of a Parliamentary security guard,

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Frank Macskasy  Frankly Speaking  blog fmacskasy.wordpress.com Penny Bright - 31 March 2013 - Parliament - Select Committee - John Banks - Donations scandal

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There was discussion between the guard and Ms Bright,

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Frank Macskasy  Frankly Speaking  blog fmacskasy.wordpress.com Penny Bright - 31 March 2013 - Parliament - Select Committee - John Banks - Donations scandal

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Ms Bright  explained her intentions to  the Guard. Ms Bright then related her conversation with the Guard to this blogger that if she went ahead with her “mini-protest”, she could (would?)  be trespassed from Parliament’s grounds for 24 hours – thereby threatening her scheduled appearance before the Justice and Electoral Select Committee.

I found this to be utterly extraordinary. Ms Bright had done nothing illegal. It was inconceivable that a single woman by herself could pose a “clear and present”  danger to the Western hegemonic military-industrial complex.

I attempted to elicit an answer from the Guard on this issue, but he became reluctant to state the position clearly, on record, regarding Ms Bright’s rights to hold a peaceful protest on Parliament’s grounds.  The Guard moved away and Ms Bright packed up her gear,

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Frank Macskasy  Frankly Speaking  blog fmacskasy.wordpress.com Penny Bright - 31 March 2013 - Parliament - Select Committee - John Banks - Donations scandal

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Ms Bright quietly said to me,

We can come back later.

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At the Select Committee hearing, the Committee chairperson, Tim Macindoe, welcomed Ms Bright and reminded her of New Zealand’s defamation laws.

Supported by local body Wellington  activist Maria Van Der Meel, from  Wellington loves Manners Mall , Ms Bright stated her case,

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Frank Macskasy  Frankly Speaking  blog fmacskasy.wordpress.com Penny Bright - 31 March 2013 - Parliament - Select Committee - John Banks - Donations scandal

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Ms Bright advised the Select Committee that under current rules, copies of  financial electorate returns (donations, expenditure, etc) were not available to the public except by viewing the documents at the local  Electoral office where they are stored (in this case, Auckland). The rules dictate that citizens may take notes from the returns – but are not allowed to photocopy, photographe, scan, or take any other form of facsimile copy.

Some members of Parliament sitting around the table seemed unaware of this fact. [Blogger’s Note: When I tried to obtain a copy of  John Banks’ 2010 mayoral-campaign electoral returns, my request was turned down. I would have to travel to Auckland; physically visit the Office during opening hours; and view the hard-copy. I could take notes, but otherwise not record them electronically. This seems an untenable situation in a suppodsedly otherwise open democracy. – Frank]  Committee member Jackie Blue questioned if returns could not be requested under the Official Information Act.

Ms Bright explained that Graham McCready has taken a private prosecution out against John Banks and that his case requires Banks’  electoral returns as evidence for his case. The Police were able to able to obtain a copy for their investigation into John Banks’ returns – and questioned why this was denied to members of the public?

Ms Bright stated that the finding of the Police that John Banks could effectively delegate the compiling of his candidate’s election expenses and donations, and sign this ‘declaration’ without first personally double-checking this information for accuracy – defied belief.

Ms Bright produced a copy of her signed declaration as a fellow 2010 Auckland Council Mayoral candidate, and asked if any members of the Justice and Electoral Select Committee, (who would have had to sign similar candidate’s declaration), had delegated the responsibility for the accuracy of this information to someone else?

Ms Bright stated that, in her considered opinion, all electoral returns should be scanned and made publicly available online.

On a related issue, Ms Bright was critical of the fact that some candidates [Blogger’s note: this has been amended and names removed] claimed to be independents – yet were members of political parties. She questioned how candidates could be deemed “independent” whilst openly members of political parties.

To which  Tim Macindoe responded that whilst he might stand as a candidate in a local body election, he would not necessarily be representing the National Party, and nor would he  require or request an endosement.

Ms Bright responded that not everyone in the community might be aware of a candidate’s Party affiliations and using the “independent” label could be mis-leading. She said her personal philosophy was “presume nothing”.

Ms Bright raised the issue that New Zealand is internationally well-regarded and  first-equal with Denmark and Finland for a lack of corruption in New Zealand (see:  Corruption Perceptions Index 2012). She said that recent events in this country suggested that we no longer merited our standing in the international community for top ranking in lack of corruption.

However, Ms Bright pointed out a number of areas where New Zealand lacked a domestic legislative framework for genuine transparency,

  • lobbying – there currently being no ‘Register of Lobbyists’, or ‘Code of Conduct for Lobbyists’,
  • and  ‘State Capture’ – where vested interests gained influence at  ‘policy’ level,  prior to  legislation being passed.

On the issue of  civil servants and political figures leaving the public service and entering the private sector (eg;  consultancy-work)  – Ms Bright denounced the practice of the  “revolving door”, and  recommended a “quarantine period”.

A policy of  ‘post-separation employment’ could deny  sensitive information from being used for personal gain.

It was also pointed out that, at Local Government level,  there was no mandatory requirement for a ‘Register of Interests’ for elected representatives (unlike central government MPs).

Ms Bright also criticised  some local bodies for not  revealing  details of consultants and contactors they used. Ms Bright said this constituted a lack of transparency and said she had a right to know who was being paid from the public purse, ie;   the names of consultants and private contractors; scope; terms, and value of these contracts (see:  Call for end to council secrecy, Super-city plan for mortgagee sales).

The committee had been discussing, with previous submitters,  the nature of donations to candidates standing for local bodies. The committee asked Ms Bright where she stood on the issue.

Ms Bright took a minute or so to consider the question.

She replied,

I don’t believe in anonymous donations. Anonymous means we don’t know what’s going on and if anyone is in someone’s pocket.”

Committee member, NZ First MP, Denis O’Rourke, asked,

Do you believe all donations should be recorded?”

Ms Bright replied that $10 or $20 donations need not have their donors publicly recorded, but that a threshold should be established,

Maybe set at $500?”

She pointed out that both John Banks and Len Brown had recorded some donations as “anonymous”.

Committee member, Katrina Shanks asked whether this would affect people donating to causes and shouldn’t they be allowed to do so as of right?

Ms Bright replied that this issue could be difficult.  It might be seen that there  was a difference between privacy and private donations to a cause and transparency for funding candidates in public elections.

After fifteen minutes, the Chair thanked Ms Bright for her submission and presentation to the Committee. Ms Bright thanked the committee, and she and Ms Van Der Meel left the Committee Room.

The two women returned to Parliament’s forecourt and proceed to unfurl  the banners that  Ms Bright had wanted to use  earlier in the day.

A passing member of the public (woman in white dress) voiced her support for their cause and consented to being photographed with the pair,

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Frank Macskasy  Frankly Speaking  blog fmacskasy.wordpress.com Penny Bright - 31 March 2013 - Parliament - Select Committee - John Banks - Donations scandal

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Frank Macskasy  Frankly Speaking  blog fmacskasy.wordpress.com Penny Bright - 31 March 2013 - Parliament - Select Committee - John Banks - Donations scandal

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Frank Macskasy  Frankly Speaking  blog fmacskasy.wordpress.com Penny Bright - 31 March 2013 - Parliament - Select Committee - John Banks - Donations scandal

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Frank Macskasy Frankly Speaking  blogfmacskasy.wordpress.comPenny Bright - 31 March 2013 - Parliament - Select Committee - John Banks - Donations scandal

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Frank Macskasy  Frankly Speaking  blog fmacskasy.wordpress.com Penny Bright - 31 March 2013 - Parliament - Select Committee - John Banks - Donations scandal

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Frank Macskasy  Frankly Speaking  blog fmacskasy.wordpress.com Penny Bright - 31 March 2013 - Parliament - Select Committee - John Banks - Donations scandal

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Frank Macskasy  Frankly Speaking  blog fmacskasy.wordpress.com Penny Bright - 31 March 2013 - Parliament - Select Committee - John Banks - Donations scandal

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And then to the Supreme Court in Lambton Quay, where Ms Bright “flew the flag” against the theft/sale of the people’s assets,

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Frank Macskasy  Frankly Speaking  blog fmacskasy.wordpress.com Penny Bright - 31 March 2013 - Parliament - Select Committee - John Banks - Donations scandal

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The banners caught the attention of the tail-end of the  “Super Sevens” parade that was moving through Lambton Quay at the same time. One of the security guards took Ms Bright’s banners in good humour,

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Frank Macskasy  Frankly Speaking  blog fmacskasy.wordpress.com Penny Bright - 31 March 2013 - Parliament - Select Committee - John Banks - Donations scandal

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Whether or not one agrees with Ms Bright’s beliefs and philosophy –  no one can deny her dedication to causes she feels strongly about. By anyone’s definition, two protest actions and an appearance at a Select Committee is undeniably dedication.

[Amended: 3 February 2013]

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References

Penny Bright’s Submission

Parliament: Justice and Electoral Select Committee members

Additional contributed material

Penny Bright

Copyright (c)  Notice

All images are freely available to be used, with following provisos,

* Use must be for non-commercial purposes.
* Where purpose of  use is  commercial, a donation to Child Poverty Action Group is requested.
* At all times, images must be used only in context, and not to denigrate individuals.
*  Acknowledgement of source is requested.

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Welcome to 1984

30 September 2011 4 comments

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…In 2006, then Houston police Chief Harold Hurtt strongly advocated citywide cameras (Hurtt is now in command of DHS’s immigration enforcement program). A controversial figure, Hurtt adamantly enforced don’t-ask-don’t-tell immigration measures that prevented officers from inquiring about a suspects’ immigration status. Houston is a staunch “sanctuary city” with a huge illegal alien population.

Hurtt suggested putting surveillance cameras in apartment complexes, downtown streets and even private property. He said, “it’s another way of combating crime amid a shortage of officers.” Reportedly, Hurtt also advocated a change in building code to require cameras in private apartment complexes, and in private single-family homes if he decided there were “too many” calls for police assistance…Full story

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The Video Camera Surveillance (Temporary Measures) Bill is currently before Parliament’s  Justice and Electoral Committee. The Bill was introduced on Tuesday (27 September). It went to Select Committee Hearings on Wednesday (28 September).  The closing date for submissions is Friday (30 September). The Select Committee must report back to Parliament next Monday (3 October).

This Bill, if passed into law will allow police to secretly film people.   We, the people, have one week to read the contents of the Bill and put together a submission for the Select Committee. One week.

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As Criminal Bar Association representatives Noel Sainsbury and Robert Lithgow said,  “the legal patch, introduced under urgency yesterday, was ‘legal magic dust’ and a bad way to go about things.”

Despite Police attempting to spook the public with claims that “40 trials and 50 police operations are under threat” – one has to doubt the veracity of such a claim. It seems bizarre that all of a sudden, so many vital police operations are under threat.

Indeed, a New Plymouth criminal lawyer, Paul Keegan, said precisely as much today at the Select Committee hearing,

I would be sceptical that any of those prosecutions exist. The Supreme Court had made it clear that the current law did not allow covert video surveil-lance – and the police knew this.

“I have never encountered it and a number of my colleagues have never encountered it. I think it’s rare because it’s illegal.

“That is why [the Urewera appeal] was thrown out: because the police acted in bad faith. It was thrown out because it was illegally obtained. Yet Crown Law and police were saying that 40 to 50 of their investigations and/or prosecutions could be affected if the law was not changed to allow covert footage – and make it retrospective.

“The questions need to be asked: what are those 40 cases? Are they active prosecutions or are they investigations? And if they are investigations then why are they doing something that is illegal?Source

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With regards to Government’s intention to pass this law and make it retrospective, the  Chief Human Rights Commissioner David Rutherford said,  “it was unnecessary to legislate retrospectively because Section 30 of the Evidence Act would give courts discretion to allow covert video evidence in cases of serious criminal offending. ‘Retrospective law offends a basic principle of justice. A series of such cases could damage New Zealand’s reputation as a leader in human rights.

He added that, “under the Evidence Act, the courts already have the discretion to allow illegal evidence to be used in cases of serious offending”. Evidence that is “illegally” obtained is not automatically discounted as inadmissable by Courts. In situations of grave seriousness, such evidence may still be admitted by the Courts. Source.

Why is this Bill a bad piece of legislation?

  1. It is not necessary. The Bill is more about Police (and the government) covering their backsides after the Supreme Court recent threw out illegally obtained evidence in the case of the so-called Ureweras “Terrorist” trials.
  2. The Courts can already accept illegally obtained evidence in certain circumstances.
  3. This Bill is being rushed through in one week. It is frightening that legislation that permits police to put cameras in peoples homes is pushed through Parliament at such incredible speed – thereby greatly restricting public in-put.
  4. Isn’t this kind of legislation precisely the sort of thing that National accused the previous Labour government for – and constantly labelled them as “Nanny State”? Isn’t this much worse – Big Brother State?

The Bill itself is very short and simple. Read here. In fact, it contains no safeguards or controls whatesoever. It is simply a piece of patchwork that has been hastily cobbled together.

Such law is invariably bad law.

Today, it may be used against P-manufacturing criminals. Tomorrow, it could be used against political dissidents – as has already happened in this country,

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Source

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In the meantime, let’s hope that Houston police Chief Harold Hurtt’s vision of surveillance cameras in peoples’ homes never, ever comes to pass. But that’s up to us, folks. No one can stop 1984 from becoming reality, except us.

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