Drug Reform Bill: Glimmer of positivity or ‘get tough’?

The Misuse of Drugs Amendment Bill has passed its final reading and will come into law in the near future. More than anything, I want to join in the chorus of positive sentiment around this bill, particularly because people and organisations I admire and am inspired by have encouraged it through its at times rocky ride in parliament. But I just can’t be wholly positive about the changes the bill will engender.

Let’s also be crystal clear that the bill does not decriminalise all drugs, as some online enthusiasts have suggested; it legalises police discretion in deciding whether to prosecute and directs police to use a health-based rather than a criminal approach.

This is not the same as decriminalising all drug use. And herein lies one of the problems – embedding discretion further into our justice system will deepen existing inequalities. The use of discretion will continue to over-police already stressed and marginalised communities often subject to the harshest policing practices.

Most of the proposals in the bill add to the failed, outdated Misuse of Drugs Act 1975 and the ineffective “war on drugs”: the reclassifying of AMB-FUBINACA and 5F-ADB as class A drugs; the creation of temporary class orders, all enacted as “get tough” measures to address the harms from synthetic cannabinoids.

Unfortunately, these kinds of measures do not work in effectively addressing or reducing the harms from drug use, nor do they effectively reduce or address the demand for drugs like synthetic cannabinoids. “Getting tough” on drugs and those who supply them has not helped us in over four decades of the “war on drugs” – it has filled prisons with low-level users and dealers, often suffering from addictions themselves. Continue reading Drug Reform Bill: Glimmer of positivity or ‘get tough’?

Whale Oil

Review: Margie Thompson (2019) Whale Oil Nelson: Potton and Burton ($39.99)

The line ‘Whale Oil Beef Hooked’ brought a snigger among sixteen-year-old schoolboys when I was one, and perhaps it still raises a laugh among a certain diminishing demographic where Irish jokes seem clever. Certainly Cameron Slater, whose once highly subscribed right-wing blog is thus named, has been known to deal in racism and would cast himself as a fearless opponent of political correctness. Self-promotion and marketing are part of the product that he purveyed. The rest is lies, quarter-truths, voyeurism, scandal, scuttlebutt, and subcontracted political spin, as this book amply shows, though Slater has few customers for that any more.

Margie Thompson’s book, Whale Oil, a surprisingly riveting read, assiduously researched, is only partly about Slater (those interested in the ‘principles’, ways and means of this character should read Nicky Hager’s (2014) Dirty Politics, also published by Potton and Burton, a work that inspired Thompson in her remarkable endeavour). The cover of Thompson’s book, by Darryl Sean Parsons, has a marvellous caricature, showing not a whale, but another sea creature, a many-tentacled bottom-dweller that squirts ink, an ugly octopus-like monster of uncanny resemblance (‘Here be monsters’ warns Thompson on p.119). Whale Oil, however, is more about the long-term determination and courageous standing up to this bully and his paymasters, at enormous personal cost, of the book’s main protagonist, businessman Matt Blomfield.

Once an investor in, and driving business-plan force behind, the then highly successful Hell Pizza chain, Blomfield fell out with his former business associates when he would no longer do dirty work for them. Someone then set out concertedly to destroy his personal and professional reputation, and ruin his life as well as his business, feeding Whale Oil the hacked and stolen means, and motivation. Slater’s hireling defamation blog lied that Blomfield was a paedophile, pornographer, thief from a charity organisation, fraudster, illegal drug-user and more. That this was lies in its entirety was eventually, insistently and painstakingly, proven in courts by Blomfield, as Thompson’s book sets out in gripping narrative. Yet ink, like mud, sticks. The book is a tale of redemption, but Blomfield’s painful (and expensive!) recuperation of his honour is a work in progress. Continue reading Whale Oil

Reducing Climate Harms

By David Tong – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org

Submission on the Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Bill

This submission is from Professor Elizabeth Stanley and Dr Sarah Monod de Froideville. We are criminologists from the Institute of Criminology, School of Social and Cultural Studies, Victoria University of Wellington.

We support the intent of this Bill to mitigate the impacts of climate change by reducing New Zealand’s level of greenhouse gas emissions. We acknowledge the progressive elements in the Bill, including the establishment of an independent commission and the commitment, outside of this Bill, to achieving economy-wide reductions at a maximum level possible.

However, there are many elements in the Bill that are of concern. Specifically, the Bill does not appear to have considered the risks of climate change associated harm. Continue reading Reducing Climate Harms

Nothing less than a Crisis

NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio, Key and Title by Eric Fisk [Public domain]
This submission on the Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Bill urges the Government to get real about climate change and call it what it is – a crisis. Written by Roger Brooking from the Honours Programme at VUW. (Submissions close July 16)

Submission on the

Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Bill

The Problem with the Bill

In June 2018 the Ministry for the environment published a 61-page discussion document titled: Our Climate Your Say: Consultation on Zero Carbon Bill.  There is no mention of crisis or emergency in any of the 61 pages.   The nearest it gets is to state that The Zero Carbon Bill proposes a plan to: “better understand the risks and to plan for how we adapt to climate change.”

The Zero Carbon Bill in its present form does not acknowledge that New Zealand, let alone the world, is facing a crisis. The Bill does not mention the word crisis or emergency even once.

(Instead, it talks about establishing “a framework by which New Zealand can develop and implement clear and stable climate change policies that contribute to the global effort under the Paris agreement to limit global average temperature increase to 1.5°C above preindustrial levels.”

It contains different sections on providing independent expert advice to the government through the establishment of a Climate Change Commission, setting emissions reduction targets, stepping stones towards those targets and processes of adaptation. Continue reading Nothing less than a Crisis

Rape victims deserve radical justice changes

By surdumihail, commons.wikimedia.org

Incrementalism will only take us so far, as the ‘system of injustice’ for sexual violence victims requires a transformational approach.

Back in the mid-1990s a New Zealand judge, the Hon Justice E. W. Thomas, wrote an article slamming the lack of justice accorded rape victims by the very system in which he held office. Rape, he said, is “the most vicious and reprehensible crime in the criminal calendar”. Our courts failed such victims, he asserted, a reprehensible occurrence since “the violated woman should not be victimised a second time”. The law changes announced this week by under-secretary to the minister of justice Jan Logie are, he would be pleased to see, oriented towards “ensuring fairness and safety for victims of sexual violence in the justice system”.

The changes proposed include giving sexual violence victims the right to choose by which means they give their evidence in court, training and supporting judges to intervene to protect complainants from inappropriate or aggressive questioning, and ensuring the availability of specialist assistance for witnesses who need it in order to maximise their ability to understand and respond to questions. Changes will also be made to ensure rape complainants can trust that they will not have to share the same waiting spaces and bathrooms as defendants and their family/whānau while attending trials.

These moves deserve to be roundly applauded. They are evidence-based initiatives that should help to prevent some of the most brutalising aspects of the existing system. However, much of what is being mooted could be viewed as basic rights that should have been recognised years ago. When it comes to rape, our justice system still languishes in the dark ages. It is also difficult to comprehend that many of the changes articulated were not introduced by the previous government, given the extent of the information they were provided with from the Law Commission and other sources urging the dire need for reform. Continue reading Rape victims deserve radical justice changes

Let’s be Pragmatic about Drugs

Fiona Hutton

I had the good fortune recently to attend a symposium to hear international experts João Goulão and Eric Costen from Portugal and Canada talking about the transformative reforms to drug laws in their respective countries. It was excellent to see how successful these have been, although Canada is admittedly only six months into its reform agenda. It was equally interesting to hear the concerns some people raised around drug law reform – concerns many New Zealanders and politicians have thought about.

Firstly, that legalising cannabis will make cannabis more available, particularly to vulnerable groups like young people. In reality, a liberalised regime where cannabis is easy to get hold of by all kinds of people, including vulnerable groups, is the position we are in now with prohibition and our current drug laws. The biggest myth of prohibition is that drugs are not available in our society – about 275 million people worldwide, roughly 5.6 per cent of the global population aged 15–64 years, used drugs at least once during 2016, according to the 2018 World Drug Report. A regulated cannabis regime, which is what is being proposed by reformers for New Zealand, would protect young people and other vulnerable groups by making cannabis harder for them to get hold of. The ‘product’ would also be quality controlled, standardised and have strength/dose information – something unavailable in the current illegal market. Drug law reformers are also concerned about the unregulated use of some drugs by vulnerable people and seek reform to protect those groups (as Canada has done). Cannabis law reform will not be a chaotic ‘free for all’. Continue reading Let’s be Pragmatic about Drugs

Still Silent Objects

On Tuesday 16 April 2019, Professor Jan Jordan and colleagues launched the results from a three year Marsden study at a symposium in Wellington. The work – encompassing significant police file analysis, media analysis and interviews – examined women’s representations, contemporary pornography, and criminal justice responses to rape.

The symposium was live-recorded. You can watch all the main talks here – just click on the title of each talk below.

Please be advised that much of the material is challenging and deals directly with issues of sexual assault and objectification. Continue reading Still Silent Objects

Journey Towards Justice

Sir Kim Workman

…Rethinking Social Exclusion

In 2016, Bridget Williams, suggested that I write a memoir.  I started to explore how to do that, and came upon a book by  literary critic Sven Birkets, ‘The Art of Time in Memoir’, who advised that  “there is no faster way to smother the core meaning of life, its elusive threads and connections, than with the heavy blanket of narrated event”.  I took his advice, avoided writing a chronology, and instead explored a number of themes; race relations, law and order, neo-liberalism, social equality, Māori development, and crime and punishment.

As the work had progressed, I visualised my life as independent strands of thought, activity and experience which during the course of a lifetime travel a life of their own, finally entwining one with the other, to form in later years a uniquely patterned cable; flawed and fractured though it may be, represents my ‘true self’.

There were two overarching themes which permeated my thinking.   First, the whakatauki (or proverb), ‘Kia Whakatōmuri te Haere Whakamua’,

Walk backwards into the future with your eyes fixed on the past.’ It speaks to Māori perspectives of time, where the past, the present and the future are viewed as intertwined, and life is a continuous cosmic process.   Life does not begin at birth, or even conception.  It is an outcropping of more solid ancestral formations.

To understand one’s true self, one needs to understand the lives not only of our whānau and their influence on our social formation, but the lives of our tipuna.

Second, if life is a continuous cosmic process, there must be some overarching connector through which we share our humanity with others; something that tells us that although we are free to express our individuality, free to be unique, underneath all of that, we remain inextricably connected – we belong to each other.

Continue reading Journey Towards Justice

Seeping Supremacy

 

Wikimedia, thanks to A T Carroll

On 20 March, it emerged that 10 years of public documents from NZ spy agencies contained zero mentions of rightwing extremism. Yet narratives invoking racialised fears and myths of Pakeha superiority run deep.

We have officially experienced two acts of terrorism in New Zealand. The first was the bombing of the Greenpeace Rainbow Warrior ship by French government agents in July 1985. The second is almost too painful to write: our sadness, anger and confusion for the white supremacist massacre and maiming of Muslim New Zealanders at prayer is profound.

For now, we have to attend to our personal, community and institutional needs – recognise those we have lost, mourn, support those victimised in all ways possible, reassert our community relationships, change gun laws, investigate whether security agencies ‘dropped the ball’, and provide accountability. All of these things, and others are vital today and in the years ahead.

Yet, we might also reflect on the structural and societal underpinnings of this terror. Because despite their significant differences in nature and impact, these forms of violence are bound together through their ultimate expressions of supremacy. Continue reading Seeping Supremacy

‘Terrorism has No Religion’

Flowers at the Kilburnie mosque, Wellington

 

‘… and death shall have no dominion’ — Dylan Thomas

The only way to begin, is by joining in sorrow with those bereaved in Christchurch on 15 March, and remembering and respecting the fellow humanity of those who, so painfully recently, were also living. Of course, we must find a way to comfort those made fearful by this terror: especially since such fear-making was its major purpose.

There are some crimes of such moment that we always remember where we were and what we were doing when we heard. The assassination of John F. Kennedy is one such that is often named; September 11th is another. The latter was a terrorist attack that was made for showing on television; I heard it on the radio and obstinately refused to watch TV for two days. The Christchurch massacres were made for propagating the terror and ideology via the internet. I am not yet clear about what this means, but it is obvious that it is significant, and that the jumbled ravings of the killer were put together with gleanings from the Web. He says so, in his pre-murder ‘manifesto’. Police and politicians cautioned us not to watch the video footage. Indeed I had no stomach to do so. Yet I spent the night reading the weird manifesto, which was easy enough to get hold of early on. Continue reading ‘Terrorism has No Religion’

Drug Law Reforms

Fiona Hutton

Well, what a year 2018 was in terms of drug policy and drug law reform, both in New Zealand and farther afield.

New Zealand saw the debates surrounding the cannabis referendum intensify. A bill to allow terminally ill people to access medical cannabis recently passed. The Mental Health and Addiction Inquiry, He Ara Oranga, called for the decriminalisation of illegal drugs to address problems relating to addiction and mental health. The government made new announcements around synthetics.

Elsewhere, more US states have legalised the sale and recreational use of cannabis, and in October Canada legalised it too. In places that have enacted wide-reaching, much-needed drug law reform, there have been no dramatic increases in the use of cannabis or other drugs, especially among young people. All very encouraging for New Zealand as we look towards possibly wide-reaching, much-needed reforms of our own approach to illegal drugs. Continue reading Drug Law Reforms

Substituting Controls

Wikimedia Commons, Jérémy-Günther-Heinz Jähnick

Since April, prison numbers have been slashed 8 per cent and 800 people released. The fall is especially surprising as forecasts predicted large increases.

Critics warned of crisis if the Government did not build a billion-dollar mega prison. Yet at this rate, Labour would achieve their ambitious goal of cutting prison numbers 30 per cent in less than four years.

The Department of Corrections are leading the reforms. Their approach involves clearing internal barriers to prisoners’ release: having staff help illiterate prisoners fill forms and make phone calls to arrange bail, for example, and delivering programs earlier in sentences to get them ready for parole. “It’s all common sense,” says Leigh Marsh, head of the departmental changes. “Really, really simple stuff.”

The innovation is in the politics. Labour are stuck with a conservative coalition partner and struggling to get the necessary votes for legislative change, so are sidestepping Parliament all together. By working inside the state machinery they inherited, they are avoiding the public relations hit of trying to change bail or parole laws.

Yet they are also making trade-offs: locating reform inside corrections limits the scope and transformative potential.

Much of what is happening seems like a shift in styles of control, as people are moved from prison cells to various forms of electronic monitoring, intensive supervision and home detention. Three quarters of the 40,000 people managed by the department are already in the community. Continue reading Substituting Controls

Manus Prison and the Kyriarchal System

Behrouz Boochani, appearing at the ANZ Criminology Conference, 6 December 2018

The journalist and poet, Behrouz Boochani, fled Iran after the storming of his magazine’s offices by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Accused of promoting Kurdish culture and language, his colleagues were arrested.

Boochani made two attempts for political asylum in Australia, nearly drowning on the way. On the second try, the fully-laden boat was rescued by a British tanker. All those onboard were taken to Christmas Island and, from there, authorities transferred him to Manus Island.

Manus Island, in Papua New Guinea (PNG), looms large in writings on asylum. The neutrally-titled ‘Regional Processing Centre’ (or what Boochani calls ‘Manus Prison’) was part of the Australian government’s ‘Pacific Solution’. It represented a control fix for the Australian government who had been struggling with ever-growing resistance and solidarity with those held in ‘onshore’ centres, like Woomera. Any plight was to be out of sight, out of mind. Besides, politicians might record that no-one had arrived onto Australian soil, so they bore no legal obligations to provide internationally-established protections.

Over the years, thousands have been incarcerated on Manus (in 2014, over 1,300 were held). It formed a node in the bigger carceral archipelago for those who had the temerity to flee terror and seek refuge. Most travelled from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Myanmar… places that have often been made unstable and dangerous from Western interventions.

Manus (like all Australian immigration sites, including Christmas Island, Nauru, Villawood in Sydney, Yonga Hill near Perth) faced heavy criticism from detainees, human rights organisations, doctors, lawyers, academics, advocates, and others. Sexual violence, physical assaults and threats dominated. Two workers were sentenced for the murder of a young Iranian asylum seeker during a detainee protest.

Ramping up the controls, here and elsewhere, the Australian government established the 2015 Border Force Act that now enables the two-year imprisonment of ‘entrusted persons’ who speak out about gross human rights violations in immigration detention centres.

In 2016, following a PNG Supreme Court decision that the ‘Centre’ was illegal for its breaches of constitutional rights to personal liberty, local politicians retracted their support for the prison. It closed in late 2017. Three new ‘transit centres’ have established to hold the men.

Boochani remains on the island. He has spent over five years there. Continue reading Manus Prison and the Kyriarchal System

Criminological Thinking

    In recent weeks, a grainy video has been circulating on YouTube. It shows one of NZ’s Professors, a well-known Criminologist, in action. I watched it a few days ago. It’s just over twenty minutes long and contains clips from a series of lectures given over the entirety of a course.

    I sat down to watch with some trepidation. We have all messed up in lectures. I thought of my worst scenarios, and began to imagine them beamed around the world. All teachers go off on tangents, we are not textbooks. I’m sure some of my students would attest that I sometimes get distracted, waylaid, and I probably make a few too many bad jokes.

    I don’t always get ideas across in the best ways possible. I’m northern English, and while I’ve lived in NZ for over 15 years, my ability to properly engage with Māori and Pasifika communities is admittedly a work in progress. Still, I want everyone to come to lectures or seminars and to see them as nourishing, safe, interesting and research-loaded experiences.

    I thought about the student who had uploaded the clip. I worried for them – it’s one thing to record something for personal study, but another to distribute it so widely. I wondered about the ethics of doing this.

    I have struggled too with the politics of writing this short piece. I am mindful that the video excerpts are just that….short snips amid the hours of lecturing. We are missing the context. But, I am also aware of the responsibility that comes with our position, to challenge injustice where we see it, to be a ‘critic and conscience’.

    I have also bothered about my discipline – that viewers might watch this video and get the wrong impression. NZ Criminology is generally very well-regarded for its rigorous nature. The Institute of Criminology, where I work, is continually praised by international and national peers for its high quality teaching, excellent research, professionalism and educational standards. These Youtube portrayals are not the norm for my discipline. Continue reading Criminological Thinking

    Understanding Moral Panics

    From Wikimedia, by cogdogblog, id=57005780

    Do gang members really have more access to guns these days, and were we truly surrounded by child-faced killers in the recent past? Dr Sarah Monod de Froideville’s research looks at moral panics and how we can better understand them.  

    These days it’s P cooks poisoning our houses to fuel the epidemic, or the trigger-happy gang members down the street with an arsenal of weapons at their fingertips that we should all fear. While in the past it was the dangers of speeding boy racers, and even further back the threat of comic books that caused society to panic.

    Moral panics are phenomena that regularly sweep through societies, and yet they are not fully understood, says Sarah Monod de Froideville, a lecturer in Victoria University of Wellington’s Institute of Criminology whose book, Making Sense of Moral Panics, explores the concept of moral panics and how they should be studied.

    “A moral panic describes a period when we jump up and down about something we believe threatens us—usually a new behaviour or event (or object) that we don’t understand that well—and our reaction is out of proportion to a threat, if there is one at all,” says Monod de Froideville.

    “Usually something will trigger the reaction. Something will happen, somebody will jump on it and then the media seizes on it and talk about the behaviour or event in a highly emotive way, and then an interest group will take it up to try and direct the discourse because it serves their interests to do so. Politicians tend to get nervous at this point, and call for an inquiry or a law to be passed.”

    These behaviours and events then become an issue for society that “very often has nothing to do with any kind of real problem” and leads to some “very awful legislation that can be quite punitive and unjust in its effects”. Continue reading Understanding Moral Panics