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Paul Little is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Paul Little: He fought for his country

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Selwyn Clarke dserves better than to have his pension cut. Photo / Peter Jackson
Selwyn Clarke dserves better than to have his pension cut. Photo / Peter Jackson

We all know old people can be very difficult. Stubborn doesn't begin to describe it. And it does seem that those among their number who fought overseas, especially in some of the less-controversial conflicts, such as World War II, feel they are owed something for going to that trouble on our behalf.

Within that demographic there exists a dwindling subset of people whose irascibility is compounded by their descent from a race who were disinherited by colonisers and are feeling the effects of that to this day.

Given the war ended 70 years ago, there aren't too many veterans left. Selwyn Clarke is one, partly because he enlisted when he was very young - he can't have been more than 18 when the war ended.

Clarke is the 88-year-old Northland man whose veteran's pension and disability allowance have been suspended because he failed to clear an arrest warrant over an "occupation" of Kaitaia Airport in September.

Clearly, the sort of person who would protest over an old land issue and ignore an arrest warrant is just the sort of impetuous hothead who would get off his arse and fight for his country before he was old enough to vote or drink in a pub. It's worth noting, however, that recent history has shown that when Maori take such action over land grievances, they usually turn out to be right.

Right or wrong, there was Clarke, who should have been resting on his laurels, sitting outside a Kaitaia market last weekend with a hand-written sign explaining his plight. Many were happy to give him a few dollars.

Meanwhile, his iwi is getting together to make up the financial difference for Clarke for as long as it takes, which could be a while.

Winz policy is clear on this - if you don't clear a warrant your benefit will be suspended.

But how seriously should his warrant be taken? There was the fugitive from justice in a public place in broad daylight making no attempt to disguise his appearance.

The use of the social welfare system as a de facto arm of the justice system is reprehensible at the best of times, all too often dragging innocent family members into the mire of wretchedness. To use it to punish one of the few remaining members of the 28th Maori Battalion is beneath contempt.

We should be grateful at least that alongside the number-crunching bureaucrats who see humans as no more than economic ciphers there are still the sort of people who have gone on to the Restore Selwyn's Veteran's Pension Facebook page and pledged to direct credit $5 a week to his bank account.

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President Barack Obama has announced a ban on the use of solitary confinement for juveniles and as a punishment for non-violent offences for prisoners of any age in US federal prisons. The announcement puts him out of step with this country, where the use of solitary confinement at an unacceptable level is continuing, despite a damning UN report on the practice, released last year.

The grounds for putting prisoners in solitary under the Corrections Act 2004 include "for the security or good order of the prison" and "for the purpose of directed protective custody".

As often as not, someone is in solitary for their own safety. And as often as not that is because that person is a gang member at risk of assault from a member of another gang because of some long-running vendetta.

Solitary confinement is being used as a management strategy. People are not in solitary because of anything they have done, but because the people in charge of our prisons have lost control of what goes on inside them.

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- Herald on Sunday

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