Police Commissioner Andrew Coster speaks during the All of Government briefing at Parliament on April 8, 2020. (Photo by Mark Mitchell/Getty Images)
Police Commissioner Andrew Coster speaks during the All of Government briefing at Parliament on April 8, 2020. (Photo by Mark Mitchell/Getty Images)

The BulletinMay 14, 2020

The Bulletin: A day of concern about police overreach

Police Commissioner Andrew Coster speaks during the All of Government briefing at Parliament on April 8, 2020. (Photo by Mark Mitchell/Getty Images)
Police Commissioner Andrew Coster speaks during the All of Government briefing at Parliament on April 8, 2020. (Photo by Mark Mitchell/Getty Images)

Good morning and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: A day of concern about police overreach, budget to be announced today, and rules on tangi changed after pressure.

Plenty of concerns have been raised about the powers that police will hold under enabling legislation for alert level two. The bill to make level two possible passed last night, including provisions for enforcing the continued rules around gatherings and social distancing. A must-read summary of the changes has been put together by our new political editor Justin Giovannetti, in particular the concerns that police will be able to enter homes without a warrant, if they suspect that gatherings of more than ten people are taking place. They already had this power in certain situations of course, but some are seeing this latest extension as an overreach.

Attorney-general David Parker defended the laws as necessary in the fight against Covid-19, telling Newstalk ZB that the law had been narrowed so that “the only time police can go in with a warrantless entry is to essentially break up a party.” He said in normal circumstances it wouldn’t be justified, “but if the virus takes hold, we’ll lose all the gains we’ve made.” He also said the law had to be rushed through under urgency in order for the move to level two to take place, which was important for ensuring “voluntary compliance”.

However, Amnesty International and the Human Rights Commission have both come out with concerns that the level of scrutiny of this bill hasn’t been sufficient. Māori political leaders have also registered their opposition – for example, Te Ao News reports former MP Hone Harawira called on Labour’s Māori MPs to vote against the bill – that story also included discussions on tangihanga and funerals, which we’ll cover more below. Te Ao News also spoke to Tūhoe activist Tame Iti, a target of police overreach in the past, who said that such laws raised the spectre of raids like those that took place in 2007. And Newshub reports concerns have also been raised by the youth wing of the Green Party, who say that Māori could end up being disproportionately targeted by this sort of policing. Green MPs voted for the legislation, along with Labour and NZ First, with National and Act voting against.

Meanwhile, a strange and troubling story came out yesterday about police officers testing the use of controversial facial recognition software. Radio NZ’s Mackenzie Smith reported that a trial of the Clearview AI system began at the start of this this year. The story had a weird twist to it though, in that it doesn’t appear to have been signed off by anyone at the top. Privacy commissioner John Edwards said that he discussed the matter with police commissioner Andrew Coster, and had been told the top cop was unaware the trial was taking place. The story notes that police have not corroborated that version of events. Justice minister Andrew Little later went on Radio NZ and made it clear that there had been no ministerial awareness that the trial was taking place.

The police say they have no plans to use the software or resume any trials at the moment. I would like to know if police will make a cast iron guarantee that they won’t ever use it, and if everyone involved in making this trial happen in the first place will be reprimanded. If you want to know why such a suggestion is warranted, read this piece from the New York Times. It is an intensely dangerous piece of technology, with terrifying implications for privacy rights. There’s potential for abuse of privacy rights to become standard police policy if such software was available, but let alone that, we know for a fact that not every single officer is trustworthy, regardless of what protection systems are in place. One of the mantras given by police and ministers throughout this period is that policing in New Zealand takes place with the consent of the public – well, the deployment of this sort of invasive technology is only inevitable if we allow it to be.

* Correction: An earlier version of this Bulletin referred to the cost attached to a trial of facial recognition software, obtained under the OIA by the Taxpayers Union. That cost actually referred to a different trial of facial recognition software. 

From the Friday files: Today’s story is about international students from China, and the decision to block them from coming into the country. Politik has read through the documents behind this decision, and come to the conclusion that it wasn’t based on health reasons – rather, it was a decision based on resourcing concerns and systems not being able to process the students. “In other words, the Chinese students would have meant extra work”, concludes the piece.

One of the things to really watch out for in the budget today is measures around keeping people in jobs. As Stuff reports, there is a strong possibility of a large new wave of unemployment next month when the wage subsidy comes to an end. As well as that, some businesses still aren’t going to be able to operate at level two, which starts today.

Speaking of the Budget, we’ve published a few worthwhile but different views on what is needed today. Stacey Shortall writes about economic justice and the need to ensure the economic recovery includes those at the bottom. Laura O’Connell Rapira writes about justice for Māori being necessary if the budget is to be fair. And from the economic right, Eric Crampton says with debt levels being about to balloon out, the government will need to carefully prioritise spending in the interests of economic growth.

First it was clarifications to rules on tangi and funerals, and now the rules are simply changing. The NZ Herald reports that attendance rules will allow up to 50 people, provided a range of other conditions are met, such as physical distancing, hand washing, and not gathering afterwards to eat. Health minister David Clark said that as funerals are exceptional circumstances, the government has agreed to make an exception. It comes after heavily political pressure from a range of voices – but also comes with a warning that overseas, funerals have been a vector for the spread of Covid-19.

There’ll be no easing off on the Reserve Bank’s quantitative easing programme, with the news that it will be almost doubled in size. Interest has reported on the latest announcement from governor Adrian Orr, who says the bank will purchase another $27 billion in government bonds over the next 12 months. There was also guidance that the OCR will stay at 0.25 until at least next year – though the option of it going lower or even negative is still on the table.

This is one of those stories that is worth absolutely hammering away at, so here’s another update. Radio NZ’s Glen Scanlon has collected several more personal anecdotes of the newly redundant who say they were denied what they were entitled to by Work and Income. What they have to say about how they were treated is brutal, and the weight of cases coming out would suggest that similar treatment is all too common.

A bit of bad news for those who want to travel at level two but don’t fly – Intercity Bus services will remain cancelled over this period. In a statement posted to the company’s website, Intercity said it wasn’t financially viable to operate at 50% capacity, which will be required under social distancing rules. They say “talks with government and the Ministry of Transport have been encouraging and are ongoing”, and that refunds will be offered for any affected ticket holders. However, it will put an end to travel plans for many on low incomes, who rely on the more affordable option of the bus to get around.

So this is cool, and an illustration of how you can’t keep great writers down for long. Former Metro editor Henry Oliver has put together a fantastic new zine called Essential Services, with a range of people writing about the lockdown, and what comes next. Many of the people in the publication were former Bauer staffers, and it’s awesome to see their bylines again. To read it, download a pdf from the landing page that has been linked to.

Got some feedback about The Bulletin, or anything in the news? Drop us a line at thebulletin@thespinoff.co.nz

Right now on The Spinoff: George Driver has looked at the prospects facing his home town of Clyde, which has gentrified rapidly on the back of a tourist boom. David Hall writes about the wellbeing approach to politics, and how important it is in dealing with a pandemic. Jihee Junn looks at the purchasing habits of online shoppers at level three. Michael Andrew reports on a new poll looking at how people feel about going back to the office. Dion Tuuta writes about Te Tiriti relationships, and whether they will be strengthen or weakened by the pandemic.

We’ve also got a few pieces celebrating the Ockhams win of Westport writer Becky Manawatu. Manawatu herself writes about waking up the morning after winning. Publisher Mary McCallum writes about Mākaro Press, a tiny publishing house starting to build a major portfolio of success.

And finally, with the return to level two today, Siouxsie Wiles and Toby Morris have some tips and rules for how to keep safe, based on what we know about how the virus spreads. One interesting one – it’s probably not a good idea to go anywhere that people need to shout to be heard right now.

For a feature today, a piece about the Queenstown economy, and who it was working for. Fair warning, this opinion piece by economist Ralph Hanan on Crux is quite dense in parts, but the hook is very simple – that the tourist town’s economy resembled a Ponzi scheme for the benefit of the wealthy, and has now collapsed to the detriment of everyone else. Here’s an excerpt:

The re-zoning of more rural land for more new housing developments has become indispensable for QLDC to fund its long-term liabilities from prior developments.  This gravy train of privatising the investors’ profits and socialising the costs rolls relentlessly on. It too has Ponzi features, and like all Ponzi schemes it will eventually stop. The piper will have to be paid, and meanwhile our current councilors will have long vacated their Council seats.

Worse, residential investment gives the illusion of prosperity but often is a non-productive use of scarce capital. If not contributing to the rental stock, it provides no streams of benefits into the future beyond the provision of shelter. In as much as the capital could be invested in new businesses that generate streams of revenues and profits into the future, the investment in new housing incurs an opportunity cost. Excessive growth of housing also generates environmental and social costs, e.g. the congestion on our limited roading infrastructure.

That’s it for The Bulletin. If you want to support the work we do at The Spinoff, please check out our membership programme.

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