Bryce Edwards ' Opinion

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards: Political round-up: May 28

The imprisonment of Tame Iti (pictured) and Te Rangikaiwhiria Kemara on arms charges has outraged supporters. Photo / NZ Herald
The imprisonment of Tame Iti (pictured) and Te Rangikaiwhiria Kemara on arms charges has outraged supporters. Photo / NZ Herald

Does New Zealand now hold political prisoners in its jails? The imprisonment of Tame Iti and Te Rangikaiwhiria Kemara on arms charges has outraged supporters who claim their sentences are more about justifying a massive police blunder than a punishment befitting their convicted crimes. TVNZ's Q+A had excellent coverage of the issue on Saturday including an interview with Police Commissioner Peter Marshall (read the transcript; and watch the interview here).

The Commissioner's explanations are not convincing according to Tim Watkin (See no evil, hear no evil, insist there is evil) who says that while Marshall claims 'that police are "very clearly vindicated" by the sentences this week... at the same time he can't say who was at risk, which buildings were being targeted or what the plot was'. He says Marshall almost appears to be 'willfully ignorant' of the inconsistencies, particularly the allegation that then-Opposition Leader John Key was a named target and yet went into a remote marae in the Ureweras just two months before the raid.

Morgan Godfery says the sentence was clearly a face saving move (see: The Urewera sentence and the reaction from Maori), and he notes that Maori MPs have broken from the usual convention of MPs not criticising judicial sentencing to slam the decision. As continuing protests outside Mt Eden show, the imprisonments certainly haven't brought closure or reduced tension about the case, patricularly for Tuhoe (see: RNZ's Protesters say sentences for Iti and Kemara are racist; and Tuhoe reconsidering renewed talks with police). Godfery agrees with Mana President Annette Skyes (who was the lawyer for a number of those originally charged) that the decision is history repeating itself. In 1916 a jury found Tuhoe prophet Rua Kenana not guilty of treason but the verdict was ignored by the judge who sentenced him to 2 and a half years imprisonment.

Criticism has focused on Justice Rodney Hansen's comment that, in effect, a private militia was being established. Rightwing libertarian blogger Peter Cresswell argues that 'Iti and Kemara were not being sentenced primarily on the six firearm charges on which the jury found them guilty, but also on the terrorism charges on which the jury found the case unproven. That, right there is the reason Iti and Kemara were locked up in Mt Eden last night. Not because of their facial furniture or the colour of their skin, but because the judge believed what the jury didn't' - see: From Urewera to Mt Eden, via complete farce.

The imprisonments were no surprise according to Matt McCarten who says that the full facial moko worn by Iti and Kemara 'made it easy for the Crown and media to frame them as scary villains'. He argues that the two imprisoned activists now have their martyrdom, the legal fraternity will get their huge invoices paid, and the cops can claim they have saved us from terrorism - see: Iti's 2 year jail sentence outscores bland Budget.

Interestingly, none other than Michael Laws agrees that Iti and Kemara are political prisoners and that future generations may even regard their efforts as principled, even naming streets after them. Laws, however, is definitely not advocating for their cause and is very clear that the police reacted exactly as they should have to 'nip some nutters in the bud'. He says it is Iti, Kemara and their associates who should be grateful to the police as they themselves were most in danger from the weapons and the whole saga shows that our political system works because the country is 'incapable of growing terrorists' - see: Why there won't be a hikoi or a sizzle for Tame Iti.

Most New Zealanders would rightly applaud the sentencing according to the Southland Times Editorial which says that despite the 'clownish element' the 'long, expensive' case was a necessary price to pay in order to prevent 'this outfit' building up numbers and weaponry - see: Judge was right.

Stephen Franks argues that the case has blown the credibility of a number of peace activists and the training camps had the potential to train killers for their cause. He says the armed police raids on Kim Dotcom's mansion should prove that the Urewera raids were not motivated by race - see: Sensible sentencing of Urewera four.

If the sentences are political, David Farrar wondered last week if the responses are political too, asking what leftwing critics would say if those jailed were, for instance, Kyle Chapman and his neo-nazi mates - see: More thoughts on the Iti verdict.

Such critics on the left who see those convicted in the Urewera case as freedom fighters against tyranny are delusional according to Chris Trotter. He argues that such fantasies are dangerous because the removal from reality allows the individuals concerned to be capable of anything - see: No Comparison: Why Tame Iti Has No Role In "Smith's Dream". And if you wonder what a Louis Crimp type might think of the sentences, Scott Yorke has an entertaining piece which may give you an idea - see: Uncle Ernie: Our Brave Boys In Blue.

The Government would normally applaud public servants going above and beyond the call of duty in pursuit of their jobs, but that's probably not how they feel about a Human Rights Commissioner's extraordinary undercover stint investigating the pay and conditions of private sector aged care workers - see: David Kemeys' Undercover boss slams workers' conditions. The Commissioner's report is available here: Caring counts: Report of the Inquiry into the Aged Care Workforce. The key issue is that private sector carers doing the same work as public sector workers are paid on average $3 less an hour. The cost of closing the gap is about $140 million, which the Government has indicated is unlikely to be found. Unions are pointing to Ryman Healthcare's recent $84 million profit as one potential source of funds, although its Managing Director Simon Challies says that the profit comes mostly from retirement villages rather than rest homes - see Michelle Robsinon's Ryman profit fuels row on aged care pay. The problem is longstanding and can't be blamed on National alone and although Darien Fenton tries to talk up Labour's efforts to close the gap (Carers wages - enlightened or archaic?), additional funding is the real issue and it is unclear how, or even whether, Labour would actually find the money to close the gap.

While some describe the aged care workers as modern day slaves there are other workers in New Zealand who can lay claim to the title as TVNZ investigates Employers exploiting migrant workers. While fear and intimidation is a problem in enforcing the law, employment lawyers accuse the Department of Labour of dragging its feet even when evidence is presented to them, citing the case of an Auckland liquor store which was paying it's workers as little as $2 an hour - see: Adam Hollingworth's Dept of Labour mulling immigrant worker case.

Other important or interesting political items today include:

* The Government has already been forced to back down on bigger class sizes 'effectively an admission it blundered on that aspect of the policy' reports Audrey Young - see: Govt doing a rethink of move to bigger class sizes. The Minister is pointing the finger at her officials for not identifying the major impact the policy would have on intermediate schools. National managed to reduce public servant numbers by over 3000 last term by reassuring voters that front-line positions would not suffer. The political finesse they showed then is in stark contrast to this botch up.

* The Government is continuing to back private prison contractor Serco, even as they are under investigation in the UK for unsafe practices - see TVNZ's Minister backs prison management despite reports.

* While the heat is on National to raise the retirement age, Labour's continued advocacy of this policy shows they have given up on any real left agenda according to No Right Turn (Labour gives up) and Brian Easton puts our economic woes in international context in two lengthy but informative articles: The Issues NZ Faces: The International Context and What are our public priorities?.

* Finally, the William Yan case continues to cause Labour headaches as an immigration official claims he was told to stop asking questions before Jones' decision to grant citizenship (see: Jared Savage's Yan case official: I was told 'don't ask'). Martyn Bradbury hints that there is worse to be revealed for Jones and David Shearer needs to act decisively to protect his party - see: When does Labour move against Shane Jones?.

- NZ Herald

Bryce Edwards

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago. He teaches and researches on New Zealand politics, public policy, political parties, elections, and political communication. His PhD, completed in 2003, was on 'Political Parties in New Zealand: A Study of Ideological and Organisational Transformation'. He is currently working on a book entitled 'Who Runs New Zealand? An Anatomy of Power'. He is also on the board of directors for Transparency International New Zealand.

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