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New Zealand man Mark Taylor, in a screenshot from an ISIS propaganda video.
New Zealand man Mark Taylor, in a screenshot from an ISIS propaganda video.

The BulletinMarch 5, 2019

The Bulletin: Govt can’t and won’t help captured Kiwi jihadist

New Zealand man Mark Taylor, in a screenshot from an ISIS propaganda video.
New Zealand man Mark Taylor, in a screenshot from an ISIS propaganda video.

Good morning, and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Govt offers no help for captured Kiwi jihadist, aid programmes under review after allegations, and calls to make dental care available to all.

A New Zealand jihadist captured in the Middle East will not get any assistance from the government to get home. Mark Taylor, who went to Syria in support of Islamic State, surrendered to Kurdish-led forces besieging the last scraps of territory possessed by ISIS. Radio NZ reports that the Prime Minister has said that as New Zealand has no diplomatic presence in Syria, and as extremely clear warnings had been issued to New Zealand not to go there, there is nothing the government can or will do to help him.

To get the documents needed to travel home, Mr Taylor would have to make it to Turkey. He would also potentially face charges if he did get back to New Zealand, as it is illegal to fight for a designated terrorist organisation. Having said all that though, reports in Radio NZ’s news bulletins this morning indicated the Kurdish forces didn’t want him on their hands, and the may make a request that he’s somehow sent back.

Mr Taylor said he surrendered because he had no other choice – life with ISIS had become too terrible. This report from the Guardian outlines why – the group is down to a few blocks of a town in terms of physical territory held. ISIS of course once attracted thousands of foreign fighters, particularly when their territorial holdings grew to encompass parts of two countries and 10 million people.

And in some ways as well, it’s kind of astonishing that Mr Taylor survived as long as he did. He famously revealed his precise location in Syria through sending tweets with locations data turned on, for starters. And the life expectancy for foreigners with ISIS was often very short. The former NZDF soldier told the ABC that he worked as an English teacher and border guard, rather than being an active fighter. The interview reveals he wasn’t exactly considered to be a star recruit. He also said he regretted that he wasn’t able to afford to buy a woman to be his slave.

It throws into relief the terror laws in New Zealand generally. As of 2018, only eight New Zealanders had their passports cancelled under the law, which allows the government to block people from leaving the country to fight. That doesn’t necessarily mean they were going to fight for ISIS either – there were many sides of the conflict. In terms of extremist Islam in New Zealand as well, it probably pays to remember that the death toll from French terrorism in New Zealand is higher than that of Islamic terrorism, given one person was killed when the Rainbow Warrior was blown up.

But in contrast to a case currently roiling Britain – that of so-called ‘ISIS bride’ Shamima Begum who was stripped of her British citizenship – the same will not happen to Mr Taylor. Ms Begum was also erroneously understood by Britain to hold Bangladeshi citizenship, but Mr Taylor only holds NZ citizenship, and the PM said the government had a responsibility to not render him stateless. Given how little help the government is going to give him, that citizenship still might not be much of a lifeline.

(Update: This article has been updated to clarify the citizenship status of Shamima Begum.)

Aid projects involving NGOs and the NZ government are being reviewed, after sexual offending allegations in Vanuatu, reports Newsroom. An unnamed organisation informed MFAT about an alleged incident involving a staff member, on an MFAT funded project. The man is now facing charges, and worked on other aid projects with other other NGOs. It raises disturbing echoes of the scandal that involved Oxfam aid workers preying on women in areas they were involved in, though as yet there doesn’t appear to be any suggestion of a cover up.

Calls are being made for free dental care as an important new frontier for the public health system, reports the NZ Herald. It comes amid reports of people turning up at emergency departments because of tooth pain, and frankly terrifying home-dentistry people are performing on themselves. The cost of dentistry is hugely significant in stopping an estimated one in three New Zealanders from getting tooth decay treated. However, health minister David Clark says any reforms are unlikely this term.

The government is being accused of ‘screwing the scrum’ when it comes to lowering the MMP threshold, reports Politik. A Green members bill proposes lowering it to 4%, potentially even before the next election. The threshold is a really interesting example of how our democracy is managed to ensure more stability in the parliament that is then elected, and there have been a wide range of views expressed on it.

Writing on The Spinoff, Danyl Mclauchlan argued that the immense power wielded by Winston Peters with just 7% of the vote is evidence that it shouldn’t be lowered further. I’m personally on the other side completely – I don’t believe there should be any threshold at all, and that parliament should simply reflect the party vote. But enough about my views, I want yours – should the threshold go down, stay the same, or even go up? Email me –

The genetic modification debate seems likely to happen whether politicians want it to or not. Radio NZ has done a survey of various party positions, and found that it largely splits along government/opposition lines. Interestingly, Labour and NZ First’s opposition to rushing ahead with a law change was based as much on economics and the environment. And strangely, the Greens didn’t put any MP up to do an interview on it.

Having said that, co-leader James Shaw was on Q+A last night. And while he fudged on the question of whether he was for, against, or even open to GE, he declared “I want to see what the science says about that and what the Science Ethics Committee would say about that. I would be led by the science on it.”

A sea of plastic was left behind after the Eminem concert. That’s totally normal for massive event of course, but what is surprising and notable is how it ended up hitting the news – for example in this NZ Herald article. It resulted in questions being raised about how venues could better reduce their waste. Speaking of plastic, we’ve got a fantastic feature from food editor Alice Neville on The Spinoff, about why there’s so much plastic still in supermarkets, and which bits can and should be changed.

Port Hills MP Ruth Dyson has announced she’s stepping down, after 27 years of representing the electorate. To mark that, here’s local Labourite James Dann’s take on how she was able to last so long. In some ways, his description of her tireless work around the electorate reminds me a bit of how people used to talk about Peter Dunne in Ōhāriu, where it wasn’t so much that the seat was a safe one for the party, it was that the MP made it a safe seat through their efforts.

From our partners: Climate change has already affected how electricity gets delivered to customers, and it’s only going to get more challenging. Vector’s Chief Networks Officer Andre Botha outlines what the lines company is doing to respond.

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Right now on The Spinoff: 20 years on from the birth of 100% Pure NZ, we’re still slipping behind in terms of green tech and actually living up to that branding, writes James Araci. We’ve got a Group Think with some excellent tips for first home buyers, from people who have been there. Preach it Anna Connell – she says it’s time for the cops to stop messing around with cutesy social media posts. And Sam Brooks looks back at the mega-hits of a decade ago, re-reviewing Now That’s What I Call Music 31.

You probably caught some vague news over the last week about ‘Momo’ – a brand new moral panic for parents to be terrified about. Well, don’t be, it was little more than a convincing online hoax. But it does raise an interesting issue around moral panics more generally, and why our society can be so susceptible to them. That’s unpacked in a really interesting way – particularly in terms of concerns around technology – by Danielle Moreau for Overland. Here’s an excerpt from near the start:

I’m not setting myself up as a smugly superior, disinterested observer: I, too, worry about my children and ‘screen time’; I, too, place some limits on things and declare that they must go play outside for a certain amount of time; I, too, use parental controls for their devices and stare with some concern at the shouting YouTubers making slime and playing Minecraft. But it has helped me, in the throes of my middle-class guilt, to know that moral panics about children and technology, or children and popular culture, are a particularly common feature of mass media as it relates to modernity.

For at least one hundred and fifty years we have projected our concerns about incorporating technological and social change into our communities by worrying intensely about how these things will affect our children. ‘What about the children?’ and ‘think of the children!’ are mocking tropes for a reason. The youth will be corrupted in some way by these innovations. They will become addicted to something, or overly sexual, or criminals, or harm others, or (as in the case of Momo) harm themselves. Our social order will become disordered. We will cede control. Dystopian futures lie ahead.

The NZ Golf Open has been embroiled in an embarrassing question about the cloak they drape the winners in. I say cloak quite deliberately, because the tournament called it a korowai, but top weaver Veranoa Hetet said it was nothing of the sort, reports Radio NZ. She said it was clearly more like faux fur from somewhere like Spotlight. The tournament organisers protested that it had been blessed by local iwi Ngāi Tahu, but Ms Hetet said that was beside the point.

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