It's been a funny old year, and rarely of the funny ha ha variety. It's a year that many people will wish to forget, one that saw all sorts of supposedly immutable markers of civilised behaviour discarded.

World events, from the descent of the US Government into farce, the increasing belligerence of a probably insane North Korean leader, the continuation of wars without end and the unprecedented tsunami of asylum seekers who invaded Europe, are all the evidence needed to believe that the world did not become a happier or safer place in 2017.

But that doesn't really affect us, right? We down here at the bottom of the world are more likely to become exercised over how our children are taught at primary school and whether tradesmen have the right to get stoned before they strap on their tool belts than the issues that make life a misery for countless millions of the less fortunate.

But do not despair. Even we can make our contribution to the lunacy that seems to be taking hold of our planet.


Until last week then Minister for Primary Industries Nathan Guy might have been confident of leading a crowded field with his approval of a plan to import cow manure, in a country awash with the stuff, to grow mushrooms, but last week he was pipped at the post by the Supreme Court ruling that a New Zealand resident should not be extradited to Australia for trial over his alleged part in a people-smuggling enterprise that went horrifically wrong.

Maythem Kamil Radhi was allegedly involved in the 2001 smuggling of a boat-load of people from Indonesia. More than 350 of those people, who allegedly paid him to get them to Australia, drowned before they got there, and the Australian Government, not unreasonably, is very keen to prosecute him. Our Supreme Court, however, is not at all keen to hand him over.

Sanity might yet prevail. The court has left it to Justice Minister Andrew Little to have the final say. It did so, having reached the conclusion that "because of the compelling or extraordinary circumstances of Mr Radhi it would be unjust or oppressive to surrender him to Australia before the minister has had the opportunity to consider the immigration limbo issue discussed in this judgment".

The court had heard that the boat known as Siev X (Suspected Illegal Entry Vessel X) was sailing for Christmas Island but sank off Indonesia after taking on water. About 353 men, women and children drowned.

The Australian federal police allege that Mr Radhi helped the asylum seekers sail to Australia in a leaky boat. The native-born Iraqi, who now lives in Auckland with his family, denies those allegations. We don't know, obviously, if he is innocent or guilty, but it would be severely remiss of the Australian authorities not to test those allegations in their court system.

Two other people have already been tried and convicted, in Egypt and Australia, over the same tragic operation, but Mr Radhi has long been fighting a legal battle over attempts to extradite him to Australia. And he has taken another step towards succeeding, with just one more hurdle yet to clear.

In their judgment released last week, Justices William Young, Ellen France and Mark O'Regan agreed that no explicit consideration had been given by the Court of Appeal, which rejected Mr Radhi's application, to Mr Radhi's position should he be extradited, then unable to obtain a visa to return to New Zealand. They agreed that there was a "substantial risk" that, if he was convicted, he would be unable to return to New Zealand.

It considered that if he could not return to New Zealand, there was a real risk that he would be subjected to mandatory detention and immigration "limbo".


One would have thought, surely, that if Mr Radhi were to be convicted over any part he played in the loss of 353 lives, quite apart from the fundamental illegality of people-smuggling, he would have been at no risk at all of finding himself in immigration limbo. Mandatory detention would be another matter, but not in the current Australia unwanted immigrant sense.

Surely, if convicted, he would be jailed, and in no position to apply for a visa to return to New Zealand, or go anywhere else. If he were to be tried in Australia and acquitted, one might have hoped that the law in this country would display sufficient flexibility to allow him to return.

Worryingly, the Minister of Justice has wider discretionary power under legislation, not available to the courts, to refuse an Australian extradition request. Mr Little has yet to make a decision, but you can see where the Supreme Court's going with this.

Mr Radhi's application to the district court almost three years ago for an order referring his case to the minister was rejected, as were appeals to the High Court and the Court of Appeal.

His lawyer argues that if he was extradited to Australia, and remained there for more than two years, he would lose his New Zealand residency and would be unable to return to his family and occupation. He had been living in Indonesia at the time of the sinking, having arrived there in March 2000, and was subsequently recognised by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees as a refugee under religious persecution grounds, and submitted for inclusion in New Zealand's annual intake.

He was granted refugee status, and he, his wife and two children, arrived here in March 2009. Upon arrival, he was granted a residence permit.

Australian authorities requested his extradition in October 2010, and he was arrested in 2011. He has been fighting extradition ever since.

One message that can be taken from all this is that some 353 would-be illegal immigrants' lives don't count for much. The right of one of those believed to have played a part in their deaths to live in peace and possible prosperity with his family in New Zealand trumps his alleged victims' right simply to live. Foreign lives, it seems, are cheap.

We might also ponder how the Supreme Court might have reacted had Mr Radhi been a Hollywood movie mogul, rather than an immigrant New Zealand panelbeater (as has been reported), who stood accused of sexually molesting multitudes of women. One suspects that in that case an extradition request would have been granted long ago.

The goings on of powerful men in the film industry might be tawdry, but bear no comparison with the actions of those who smuggle people, at huge personal profit, and whose customers not infrequently lose their lives.

We must have faith that Mr Little will reach the only just conclusion, and that this man will have his day in an Australian court. If that does not happen, those who claim that the court process has nothing to do with justice will be vindicated.

In the meantime, all the very best for a happy, safe, prosperous New Year. Please drive carefully, care for those who depend upon you, be a good friend and neighbour, and count your blessings. If you can't think of any, take a look at the troubled, violent world that's out there beyond our borders.

We really are the world's lucky ones.