GCSB – what does it actually mean?

by Corry

Did you commute to work in a New Zealand city today?  Did you stop at a traffic light?  At work, did you sign onto a computer?  Take a work phone call?  Did you perhaps make a personal call on a cellular phone call, log into facebook, twitter, google?  Did you log onto the internet?

If you’ve done any of the above, plus almost any other action in modern society, you’ve probably submitted yourself to some kind of surveillance, either state or private.  If you’re really concerned about what the government is doing with the new legislation, think about the comparative power that Vodafone would have in analysing and using your data.  We are more than happy to sign away any rights we might have whenever we log into a computer, go to work, click ‘accept’ without ever really reading the terms and conditions of use on any number of services because we get something out of it.  We give up our liberties every time we do anything today, it seems.

New Zealand authorities, both civic and state, have been analysing metadata since the Whanganui Police computer in the 70’s.  And since that time they’ve been subsequently adding other government departments to information sharing.  A fair argument can be made that this data analysis and sharing has made our societies safer and more secure, that CC cameras in our city is a deterrent to crime, that collection of metadata makes our lives easier.

So what does the GCSB actually change?  The Government has been using the GCSB to essentially spy on citizens of concerns for years, all it means is that it’s being more honest and open about its powers, and that has to be a good thing… right?  Kim Dot Com, despite the folk hero status he seems to have his PR people work so hard to cultivate, was performing illegal actions.  Arguments have been made from “we’re entering into a Nazi-style fascist state” to “If you haven’t done anything wrong, you have nothing to fear”.  The truth, I think, isn’t in either of these extremes, but lies somewhere in the middle

I believe that, honestly, there has the be an ability for security forces to collect certain data on citizens that may be breaking the law.  What I think IS concerning is the way that the power is yielded.

There is, and rightfully so, some some comparisons made with the current United States Snowden/NSA story.  And, despite the fact that it seems to have failed, the advantage of the US system is the checks and balances.  Congress keeps an eye on what the Executive is doing and the FISA court has to sign off any decisions the NZSA makes.  There doesn’t seem to be any oversight of the GCSB except by… well the Office of the Prime Minister.  And Key doesn’t appear to be overseen by anyone.  Almost all security forces are overseen by the executive branch, without any checks and balances made by the courts or the congressional (parliamentary) wings.

And this is what I find concerning.  Key states that he will resign if the GCSB starts mass surveillance of the citizens, but who is to say what future executive branches might consider to be the line that can’t be crossed?


Boat People are more than the vehicle the rode in on

by Shannon Gillies

He would not drink from a glass at first. He has to be told to drink water, eat or to take a break. He had to be coached out of a habit of drinking water out of a plastic container in case he caused offence if he drank out of one of the restaurant’s glasses. Spencer, not his real name, is a kitchen hand in Melbourne, Australia, and he is a ‘boat person’ from Pakistan.

Spencer came to Australia in search of a better life than what he could expect to have at home. He made the journey with others before they were caught and processed. Spencer had nine months in an Australian detention centre. According to his boss, Spencer works hard, he is polite and punctual.

I never thought I would meet a ‘boat person’. ‘Boat people’ are just an issue you see on the news. Occasionally there is a fight in or outside one of Australia’s many detention centres but generally ‘boat people’ are just an outside group who play no role in my day-to -day life. I have now met Spencer and my understanding on one of Australia’s hottest election issues is a lot more informed.

Australia has a major task on its hands and its detention centres at best seem to be a short term solution to an ever-increasing problem of displaced peoples. Australia’s policy makers need to think faster than they are and any positive action they come up with will need cross-party support to succeed.

A Parliament of Australia paper titled ‘Boat Arrivals in Australia since 1976,’ states that the first set of ‘boat people’ to arrive in Australia were survivors from the Vietnam War. The first recorded boat came into Darwin in 1976. Immediately boat numbers skyrocketed as people fled their war torn or destroyed lands for the unknown. The reports explain Australia was hit with three separate ‘waves’ of boat people; between 1976 and 1981 Australia had 2059 Vietnamese boats,  from 1989 to 1998 ‘300 people per annum’, and in 1999 the make-up of ‘boat people changed from Asian asylum seekers to Middle Eastern.

Australians as a whole feel they are under siege from ‘boat people’ and this impacts successive government policy and Australia’s international image for better or worse.  Both the government and the opposition are in almost complete agreement on policy to deal with ‘boat people’ and that means including “mandatory detention for unauthorised boat arrivals”. A key difference being that opposition leader Tony Abbott would order the Navy to block boats and make them return the illegal boats to international seas.

In the 2012 Canberra Times opinion piece, ‘Boat people merely pawns,’ author Kim Huynh writes that Australia’s Mr Abbott does not want to stop ‘boat people’ because he knows neither he nor Julia Gillard’s Labor Government can, not immediately anyway.

“It serves Abbott’s political interests for as many boat people as possible to come to Australia now, as that makes the government look weak on border security. Then any reduction that follows a Coalition victory next year would allow him to present himself as a man of action who saved Australia from peaceful invasion (the noun surely negates the adjective).”

The idea that any Australian Government could stop ‘boat people’ would mean that institution would have to make conditions here for ‘boat people’ so horrific that they would opt to look elsewhere or stay in their damaged homelands, she says.

An Amnesty International report, ‘What we found behind the fences’, talks about what the organisation’s refugee right’s team come across during their detention centre facility inspections.

The inspections included Christmas Island and Wickham Point and discovered that the short term solution was destroying people. “Our findings confirm what we’ve known along: long-term, indefinite detention is crushing people.”

The lengths of stays for some detainees were too long. Amnesty found one man had spent 831 days at Curtin Immigration Detention Centre. People who had spent too long at a centre were now exhibiting serious mental conditions. “Self-harm, sleeping pills and talk of suicide had become a way of life.”

No matter which side people take in the debate, two things are certain. Nine months is too long to wait for anyone to know if they can build a safe and secure life for their families in the Pacific’s ‘lucky country’, and with on-going global conflicts, Australia can expect to be confronted by an increase in more ‘boat people’.

New Zealand race relations… again… Sigh.

by Corry Joseph

Once again, New Zealand has made race relations news for all the wrong reasons.  A New Zealand First MP, Richard Prosser, has made the rather controversial statement that “If you are a young male, aged between, say, 19 and about 35, and you’re a Muslim, or you look like a Muslim, or you come from a Muslim country, then you’re not welcome to travel on any of the West’s airlines”.

Before we get into the legitimacy of this claim (spoiler alert, there isn’t any), we have to look at the validity of this individual within the Party system.  Mr Prosser is a New Zealand First MP.  And their party hasn’t had it particularly easy as of late.  Affter their voter-enforced political hiatus from the last election cycle, they first had to deal with the alleged shady dealings of Brendan Horan, still not a matter entirely resolved, and now Mr Prosser’s “Wogistan” comments aren’t likely to make their Leader’s job any easier.

And then we have to ask what Winston Peter’s reaction tells you about the Party in general.  While admitting the statement was “unbalanced”, he hasn’t apologised on his behalf, or asked for an apology from Mr Prosser (Of course Mr Prosser did apologise this morning, which raises questions of how well Peters is managing to keep his party in line).  Peters could have quite quickly distanced himself between himself and the Party by simply stating that the opinion piece in Investigate Magazine was not a representation of Party Policy.  Once again, this statement fell upon Mr Prosser to make.

Of course there are going to be calls for Mr Prosser’s resignation by the rest of Parliament.  Everytime someone so much as steps on a snail in Parliament there are going to be calls for resignation.  Puffery is part of the Political Process.  The problem is that Mr Prosser is a representative of New Zealand First, and nothing else.  He has no mandate from the electorate as he is a list MP, the only reason he’s in Parliament is New Zealand first had the power to put him there.

There are those who would argue that this is no surprise from a party which has made its name in creating divisive issues over race.  But for a party that is trying to portray itself as a truly centrist party, its inability to distance itself over this issue raises serious questions.  According to the Dom Post, New Zealand First has been trying to reach out to minority ethnic and religious groups in an effort to broaden its voter base (which considering its ageing voter base at the moment is only logical), so this sort of bigotry isn’t going to help.

What gets me is that this is not just an off-the-cuff remark, said in passing.  At any point during the creative or editorial process before the magazine went to print, Mr Prosser would have had the opportunity to review this article and taken out the inflamatory comments.  He’s been in Parliament for two years now and would surely have had some idea how a statement like this, regardless of context, would have been taken.  Surely he should have known that he would have had little to no support within Parliament (whether or not within NZ First’s caucus could be a subject for debate).  This would suggest to me that he was making these statements purely to get people’s backs up, to create an uproar.  It’s almost on level with the worst of the American political right (think Glen Beck or Rush Limbaugh), making him essentially a troll.

Apart from the fact that a Muslim is simply someone who follows the Islamic faith and don’t have a specific way of looking or acting, there are an estimated 41,000 Muslim individuals in New Zealand, quite a substantial part of the electorate to piss off.  The idea of banning people from travelling based on their religion or way of life is abhorent to most of us.  New Zealand First came into power on a wave of disillusionment over the other parties in power.  If New Zealand first MPs continue making this kind of remark, they may find themselves exactly where they were three years ago again after the next set of elections.

Kia Ora, Good afternoon, Talofa, G’Day, howdy…

Etc etc…

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Corry & Shannon