Tuesday, 26 March 2019

Free Press, 26 March 2019

The response to Christchurch

Last week, the Free Press paid tribute to the victims of the Christchurch terrorist attacks. David Seymour’s speech to the House last Tuesday is here. It contained a warning about knee-jerk reactions that are starting to become real already. We try not to quote Canadian socialists, but Naomi Klein got it right when she said: "...in moments of crisis, people are willing to hand over a great deal of power to anyone who claims to have a magic cure." New Zealand’s own history bears this out.

A victory

In that speech, ACT called for a Royal Commission of Inquiry: "Given that it involves the performance of government agencies, I cannot see how the issue arising could be visited by anything less than a Royal Commission reporting to the Governor-General, at arm's length from the Government of the day." Five days later, National agreed. Yesterday, the Prime Minister said there will be a Royal Commission into the tragedy.

What about the Police response?

The Police response is out of scope for the Inquiry. Why is this? Free Press is a strong supporter of frontline Police and the widely-held view is that Police responded admirably. However, we have heard several unconfirmed reports that police arrived at Al Noor mosque before the terrorist left. If this is true, why couldn’t they stop him, or at least follow him to the Linwood mosque? It may well be untrue, but the timeline of events is unclear and that makes the point that the Police response should be in scope for the Royal Commission.

He had one job

Winston Peters fell asleep on his mission to Turkey and failed to deliver a simple message to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. These reports confirm everything Free Press has long said about him. All he had to say is "President Erdoğan, our two countries have a long history. Legend has it your predecessor said to ANZAC mothers: 'You, the mothers, Who sent their sons from far away countries, Wipe away your tears, Your sons are now lying in our bosom, And are in peace, After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.' We appeal to you to be as magnanimous as Atatürk and stop playing the massacre video at your rallies." He didn’t do it. At base, he simply does not care about the people he represents.

War and peace

Our greatest losses of freedom occurred during the world wars. No enemy ever set sight on New Zealand, but they didn’t have to because our own government took our freedoms. The War Regulations Act 1914 effectively abolished parliamentary oversight of the law, allowing to Government to make almost any rule it liked by regulation. Taxes were raised in both wars, and never returned to pre-war levels. The notorious Economic Stabilisation Act that Muldoon used and abused into the 1980s was a consolidation of lingering wartime powers. Then there was the censorship and conscription.

Illogical timing

There is some logic in the Prime Minister’s will to change gun laws. It is not sustainable for such a deranged individual to easily get hold of such lethal weapons. However, there is no logic in the timing. If there was genuine urgency, Parliament could have acted last week instead of adjourning early on Wednesday afternoon. If there is still urgency now, the Prime Minister could ask the Speaker to recall the House from recess this week. Instead, limited changes will be rushed through when the House resumes next week, completed in only nine days in time for the Easter Break.

The normal run of events

Normally legislation is drafted and introduced to the House, voted on once and referred to a Select Committee. The Select Committee seeks public input on the legislation, deliberates, and recommends changes before reporting back to the House. MPs vote on the revised version and, if it passes, a second Committee stage gives them a chance to make further amendments. The law is only passed after one more vote on the final amended version. This usually takes at least six to eight months. It is a process that’s evolved over centuries and serves us well.

Intentions and outcomes

It’s not enough that lots of people agree with the general intent. We need to make sure the law as drafted actually does what is advertised. The fact that the Prime Minister has asked for submissions on a law that hasn’t actually been drafted shows contempt for the law-making process.

What could go wrong?

The Prime Minister proposes to ‘ban every gun used in the terror attack.’ That’s a fine intention but putting it into law is harder than it sounds. Usually, public input and parliamentary scrutiny fill in the gaps, but there will be no time for this. We risk ending up with bad law.

The wrong message

If there was ever a time to stand up for our freedoms and traditions it is now. The terrorist wanted to change New Zealand. By abandoning our usual law-making process with unhealthy haste, we are giving him a small victory. That some have pilloried (but many have supported) David Seymour for saying ‘I can’t say if I’d vote for this legislation without having seen it,’ shows what extraordinary times we are living in.

A compromise

Free Press acknowledges that the Prime Minister now cannot not pass a law. She is far too politically invested in doing something. We also acknowledge that there will be further legislation later on. In fact, we predict it will be necessary to fix up inadequacies in the legislation about to be passed. ACT is offering to support any immediate legislation on the basis that it has a sunset clause. That is, the law would have a clause saying it expires after twelve months. This way, the Prime Minister would be able to take immediate action, but it would be clear that lawmakers are still committed to parliamentary scrutiny and public input.

Other matters

There are similar arguments to be made around censorship, surveillance of the internet, and the performance of the intelligence services. We won’t go into them here, but ACT will continue to stand up for our liberties.

You don’t beat identity politics with more identity politics

There has been a disturbing amount of identity politics in response to the terrorist attacks. Those who rightly point out it is wrong to say all Muslims are somehow complicit in Islamic terrorism seem comfortable blaming all white people for one psychopath. This is not the way to show defiance of the terrorism. If there is one change Free Press would like to see in New Zealand as a result of the terrorist attacks, it is an end to identity politics.