State was paying unwarranted attention to author Nicky Hager when its low-wage citizens needed it more.

This week the big news has been an inescapable revelation that a hands-off approach to foreign investment in our residential property market has had the predictable result of amplifying inequality.

In this case, the wealthy of Auckland are able to sell their properties to the wealthy of other countries - a cycle that has inevitably locked people in the largely low-wage New Zealand economy right out of the picture.

For those of us who believe one of the Government's primary roles is to ensure its citizens are able to access reasonably priced, warm and safe housing, this has been a monumental fail. But the evidence has been there all along, although rather less visible. State housing is now the focal point of a brand new experimental process that may or may not manage to house the most needy in the city. Meanwhile, some live in garages and mobile lockers with little to no heating.

Eventually an approach that sees Government try to exit core services is bound to start to affect the "middle class" as well; in doing so, it might finally prompt this Government to change tack.


But as the housing furore has continued to unfold, an example of problematic state intervention of the opposite sort is taking place in Wellington, where journalist Nicky Hager is seeking to have an unprecedented, 10-hour police raid on his home in Wellington made the subject of a judicial review.

He's committed no offence, and yet, because police determined he knew the identity of someone who had, his home was extensively searched and his highly sensitive work tools removed - something that should require precise justification, but didn't. To quote Hager's legal counsel, "this is as clear and unambiguous a case of an illegal search as is ever likely to come before the courts".

It absolutely stretches the bounds of credulity to imagine that this case has nothing to do with bad blood created by the publication of Dirty Politics, which used information detailing a toxic dependency on smear campaigns by people of power in this country (which continue).

It's the backdrop to this case that many choose to deny. Ironically, it's also the backdrop ignored by the police, apparently, when they just so happened to apply for an enormously broad warrant with which to spend the day at the Hager house with only his teenage daughter in attendance (they didn't have a contact phone number for him, apparently).

There are many cases internationally with which the Hager case can be compared: in short, anywhere the police conduct illegal raids on people who just happen to, coincidentally and in a completely unrelated manner, peer more deeply than most into murky government dealings.

One that springs to mind is that of Audrey Hudson of the Washington Times, who was given a rude awakening at 4:30 one morning two years ago by armed government agents on the pretext of a search warrant for her husband's firearms. (Probably a little less "polite and friendly" than the Hager raid then, as described by the Crown counsel).

While inside the American journalist's house, the agents took all sorts of notes, articles, materials and other information, including the identities of people who had supplied Hudson information on the Department of Homeland Security, which she just happened to be investigating and reporting on.

Hudson took Homeland Security to court for invading her privacy and was paid US$50,000, legal fees, a return of her property, and an assurance that no copies were made or notes taken on them, in recognition of the fact she was a journalist, and her information was protected by law, except under the most extreme circumstances. To boot, the agency had to have its staff receive extra training on the US Privacy Protection Act.


It seems unlikely the police here will have such an about face on the Hager raid - so far, they've refused to call it a "raid" (they've also refused to call Hager a journalist). The fact remains there's been no actual legal wrong-doing on the part of Hager, and yet he was subjected to an incredibly invasive search that looks, on the face of it, intended to silence his journalistic activities.

It's an issue for journalists, for sure, but should really worry anyone concerned about how the state can choose to intrude on people's freedoms for reasons spurious, at best. It's also an issue when the state's intervention, resourcing and planning is sorely needed - and it decides instead to sit it out.

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