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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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State-sponsored voyeurism? No thanks, Mr Key.

The Video Camera Surveillance (Temporary Measures) Bill is perhaps one of the shortest pieces of legislation ever brought before Parliament. The text is barely three paragraphs long.

Yet, the implications of this Bill is far-ranging in it’s impact on our society which supposedly values freedom, privacy, and civil rights.

With this Bill, the government is effectively over-riding a Supreme Court decision, and re-writing law to suit itself – and the Police force.

Many New Zealanders who understanding the ramifications of this Bill are not just unhappy – they are scornful of John Key’s government. That scorn was publicly expressed today (Saturday, 1 October), when a protest closed much of Victoria Street in down-town Wellington, opposite the Central Police Station.

The protest was peaceful and made it’s way to the nearby Wellington waterfront.

Mainstream media – except for the Radio NZ website – did not report any of todays’ protest event.

From Radio NZ,

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Source

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Meanwhile, the Dominion Post fed this to the Happy Folk of Wellington,

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Full Story

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Now don’t get me wrong – I have nothing against the military. (Even if they have mis-spent $20 million of our tax-dollars on advertising and PR campaigns.)  The NZDF generally do a damned good job.

Then, for the media to report on the pomp and ceremony of our Armed Forces – whilst ignoring protest activity  opposing a Bill that is both invasive of our privacy and contemptuous of the Courts – is frightening. And lazy. There is a tinge of subtle “stalinism” in this affair; public displays of our clean-cut, brave boys (and girls) in uniform – whilst in the back-rooms of government offices, politicians are doing sneaky things to undermine our civil rights.

Thankfully, there are those who are not prepared to take such an affront to our freedoms lying down, like sheep-in-a-paddock.

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Something of immediate importance that did make it into the Dominion Post,

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Never under-estimate the media’s priorities in presenting critical, news-worthy stories to the public.

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+++ Updates +++

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Source

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Whilst this is a slight improvement, it still doesn’t resolve serious concerns that are held about this piece of legislation.

New Zealand has become a much-surveilled society in the last 20 years, with cameras everywhere, including your local public library.

If people had seen this coming in 1984, I wonder how they would have reacted? With horror and anger I am guessing.

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+++ Updates +++

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As part of the campaign opposing this atrocious piece of  “1984ish” piece of legislation, this Blog lobbied several ACT and Labour MPs to encourage them to vote against it.  Charles Chauvel (Labour) was one of only two MPs to respond,

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from:    Charles Chauvel Charles.Chauvel@parliament.govt.nz
to:    [email]
date:   Mon, Oct 17, 2011 at 11:40 AM
subject:    RE: Video Camera Surveillance Bill!

Good morning

Thank you for your email regarding the Video Camera Surveillance (Temporary Measures) Bill.

Labour has strongly opposed National’s attempt to push through legislation on this issue under urgency and without giving the public a say. We were instrumental in forcing National to send their original legislation to a Select Committee. We made clear that we could not support the Bill that was introduced by National as it had unacceptable retrospective provisions and appeared to widen the powers available for surveillance.

After hearing evidence from experts and other interested parties the Select Committee has significantly altered the Bill.  This has addressed a number of significant issues:

1. In order to allow the Police to resume covert video surveillance from the date of the Bill’s assent, their powers to do so are affirmed, but only on the basis of the law as it was understood prior to the Supreme Court decision, no more broadly than that (as the draft government Bill did), and only on the basis of the most serious offending. Labour would have liked the Bill to go further, and provide a warranting procedure, but the Government left the drafting exercise needed too late to make this happen;

2. The legislation will apply for a maximum of 6 months only, meaning that legislation that can deal with a proper warranting procedure for surveillance will be passed;

3. Cases currently under investigation, whether or not yet before the courts, will not be interfered with by Parliament. The Courts must be left free to determine under existing law whether evidence gathered in support of any such prosecutions is admissible. The overwhelming evidence before the committee was that s30 Evidence Act and s21 NZ Bill of Rights Act give the courts this power, and that there is no justification for Parliament to try to intervene.

With these significant changes, Labour is able to support the Bill.  We believe we have struck a balance between allowing the Police and other investigating agencies to use video surveillance where it is needed, but not giving them wider power or interfering with cases that are currently before the courts.

Persons convicted in cases where covert video surveillance was used in the past cannot now seek to overturn their convictions, or seek compensation from the Crown for wrongful conviction or imprisonment, only by reason of the use of covert video surveillance.  In other words, the law that applied at the time of conviction must clearly continue to apply, rather than the conviction being measured against a later standard.  

I appreciate that this position might not be all that you want. While it would be good to live in a world where video surveillance by the Police was not necessary, sadly we do not live in that world at the moment. Equally, if we are to give powers, we need to ensure they are used only for the most serious cases, and with the appropriate safeguards and procedures.

Labour believes that we have greatly improved this Bill, and a number of the legal academic experts who appeared before the Select Committee have acknowledged that the changes we insisted on have resolved the main issues (though not quite all) they had with the Bill.  I am attaching links to two of those blogs for your information.

http://pundit.co.nz/content/some-praise-for-parliament-rare-though-that-may-be

http://www.laws179.co.nz/2011/10/covert-surveillance-labours-bottom-line.html

Many thanks for taking the time to write. I appreciate you voicing your views.

Yours sincerely

Charles Chauvel

Labour List MP based in Ohariu
Spokesperson for Justice and the Environment

Lets hope that when the “sunset” clause takes effect, that no government of any hue will attempt to resurrect it. New Zealand is a thoroughly surveilled society without adding more to Big Brother.

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Additional Reading

Welcome to 1984

1 October:  Citizens Marched against the new Police Surveillance Bill

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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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