Christchurch Regeneration Minister refuses to release document from December Cathedral meeting

ChristChurch cathedral

The new Minister supporting Greater Christchurch Regeneration, Hon Nicky Wagner, has refused to release the contents of a document tabled at a 21 December 2016 meeting between Crown negotiators and Church Property Trustee representatives.

Entire pages of the document, embedded below, were redacted under the obligation of confidence and negotiation sections of the Official Information Act.

The Minister recently released various cabinet documents in relation to the Cathedral stalemate, including a 13 December 2016 cabinet paper presented by previous Minister Gerry Brownlee a week before the meeting. It recommended the approval of a $10 million payment toward the Cathedral reinstatement and a $15 million credit facility. In a Stuff article Minister Brownlee said that the offer was made in December, but diocesan chancellor Jeremy Johnson said no binding offer had been received.

 

Image credit: Robert Young (CC BY 2.0)

Excessive burden? USA not contributing to NZ’s $5.8m Dotcom case costs

Kim Dotcom outside New Zealand's Parliament

Crown Law has provided figures under the Official Information Act on the money and time spent in relation to legal work completed in respect of Kim Dotcom and his associates which amounts to more than $5.8 million.

Crown Law writes that the United States Department of Justice is not reimbursing New Zealand for any of these expenses, even though the cases largely relate to charges that they wish to bring against Mr Dotcom and his associates.

Crown Law hours spent

The figures:

  • are as at 8 February 2017;
  • include work on both domestic and mutual assistance (United States initiated extradition) legal proceedings;
  • exclude work completed to provide advice to other Government Departments, for example the Police or the GCSB who respectively picked up the bill for Crown Law’s advice to them; and
  • include most Crown Law legal staff time and some support staff time.

2011: 432.10
2012: 7,356.67
2013: 4,087.50
2014: 5,742.27
2015: 4,911.80
2016: 3,207.26
2017: 4.77
Total: 25,742.37

25,000 hours.

Using a conservative estimate of the value of the time spent ($140 per hour,1 which is the rate a Crown Law junior prosecutor would be billed out as – senior solicitors’ time is likely worth more, support staffs’ likely less), this comes to around NZD $3.6 million.

Disbursements

New Zealand has also covered the bill for work completed by external counsel on Crown Law’s behalf and expenses paid by Crown Law in relation to the Dotcom/Megaupload matters – another NZD $2.2 million.

This includes: $1.98 million on external barrister/solicitor fees, $171,800 on travel and accommodation, $23,151 on Court filing fees, $20,125 on photocopying, and $17,356 on professional fees including research material.

An excessive burden?

At least NZD $5.8 million has been spent on Kim Dotcom et al. by New Zealand so far, and it begs the question: was it worth it?

Should we have refused the United States’ mutual assistance request when it was made? Section 27(g)(i) of the Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Act 1992 allows New Zealand to refuse a request made by a foreign country if “in the opinion of the Attorney-General, the provision of assistance would impose an excessive burden on the resources of New Zealand”.

Kim Dotcom had hundreds of millions of dollars worth of assets before the raid on his home and it’s not a shock that he has aggressively defended the cases brought against him.

If spending $5.8 million+ has not been an excessive burden on New Zealand, what amount would be?

1 This is a lower rate to that used by David Fisher in his September 2015 article of $198/hour.

Image credit: Sarah-Rose


The full response from Crown Law, including the breakdown of expenses incurred is embedded below.

Submissions on petition to reverse convictions for consensual homosexual acts close tomorrow

Bert and Ernie

Submissions on a petition in front of the Justice and Electoral Select Committee to reverse past convictions for consensual homosexual acts and issue an official apology to those convicted close tomorrow (Thursday 6 October 2016).

You can submit online here.

My submission:

I support this petition to reverse the convictions of people who were convicted of consensual homosexual acts and for the Government to officially apologise to them.

I strongly disagree with Justice Minister Amy Adams who has said that the process would be a hugely complicated task. It would not be onerous for the Government to set up a process to proactively review conviction files to void convictions for consensual acts which would be legal today.

Implementing the above would work towards restoring the human rights of those whose mana and dignity has been tarnished.

Image credit: See-ming Lee

Submission on the Bill extending benefit sanctions to people serving community sentences

Stacks of coins

My submission on the Social Security (Stopping Benefit Payments for Offenders who Repeatedly Fail to Comply with Community Sentences) Amendment Bill:

This Bill would extend the sanction regime to people on benefits who have a community sentence and who fail to comply with that sentence.

I note that section 186 does not give those people already on community sentences a grace period before this sanction can be applied to them.

This Bill highlights failures in the New Zealand justice system and does not address the underlying causes of non-compliance with community sentences.

A very concerning part of this Bill is that it would negatively affect children. If the Ministry of Social Development knows a child is dependent on the person whose benefit they propose to cut, the benefit can still be cut, but “only” by half. On the levels that benefits currently are, cutting a benefit in half will still be devastating for a family, and for the welfare of a child.

A person’s benefit can be restarted if they start to comply with the community sentence, but it’s unclear how they will be able to comply with their sentence if they have no money for transport. They might also not have money for food, rent, power or health costs – things that we recognise as minimal entitlements of prisoners. This Bill might push vulnerable people to committing petty crime in order to survive.

Our social security legislation should be a safety net. This Bill will further erode that. It will not make a positive difference to people or to society. It will not “rescue” people from their situation. It will not rehabilitate them. It will not increase public safety.

The Department of Corrections should be given more resources to take practical steps to address non-compliance. This Bill is not one of them.

Image credit: Nathaniel_U

No money spent by airports on ‘lost luggage’ auctions

Airport passengers with luggage

Last month the member’s bill of Nuk Korako, a National Party list MP, was drawn from the ballot. The Airport Authorities (Publicising Lost Property Sales) Amendment Bill will replace, in relation to the advertisement of lost property auctions: “the insertion of suitable advertisements in a newspaper circulating in the district where the airport is situated” with “publicising the sale in what the authority considers to be a fair and reasonable manner”.

The Bill is unnecessary

The explanatory note to the Bill says that it “would allow authorities to use modern means of communication as well as future, unforeseen, means of communications as the airport authority may determine fit.” This isn’t true. The current Airport Authorities Act does not restrict airports from advertising any auction in new media. If airports wanted to advertise their auctions on their website, Facebook, or Snapchat, there would be nothing stopping them.

The Airport Authorities Act only provides a suggested template for what airports may wish to include in any bylaws they create. The Act states:

any local authority or airport authority may, in respect of the airport which it operates, make such bylaws as it thinks fit for all or any of the following purposes:

 

 

(ff) providing for the establishing and maintaining of facilities at the airport for the reception and storage of lost property, and, after the insertion of suitable advertisements in a newspaper circulating in the district where the airport is situated, providing for the sale by way of auction of any such property that is unclaimed after being held by the authority for not less than 3 months:

 

provided that in the case of lost property which is perishable or valueless the bylaws may provide for the disposal of the property in such manner as may be determined by the authority

This does not mean that airports must have this as a bylaw. Many airports do not have any bylaws at all. Hawke’s Bay Airport has a lost property bylaw, however it only requires that those finding lost property hand it in.

It follows that if an airport does have a clause requiring the advertising of a lost property auction in a local newspaper, for example, Auckland International Airport, amending the Airport Authorities Act will not change that bylaw. The airport would have to have the bylaw changed, which could happen even if Mr Korako’s Bill does not pass.

Airport lost property auctions are rare and advertising them is free

I asked eight airports how much money they spent on advertisements for lost property auctions within the last year. Of the six that replied, only one airport, Dunedin Airport, has held an auction and placed an advertisement for it in the last year. The cost to them? $0. The Otago Daily Times doesn’t charge them.

The responses from the airports are below this post.

Airports don’t care

Airports don’t have an issue with this part of the Airport Authorities Act. The Ministry of Transport did not receive any submissions on this part when they were reviewing airport legislation.

In any case, minor and technical changes to acts can be made through the annual Statutes Amendment Bill.

To be fair, Mr Korako isn’t solely to blame. Minister Simon Bridges had the opportunity to include this Bill as part of the Ministry of Transport’s review of the Airport Authorities Act, but chose not to. It’s more convenient for the government that Mr Korako’s bill reduces the chance an opposition member’s bill will be drawn.

A similar bill that should be included in the Statutes Amendment Bill instead of taking up Parliament resources is Matt Doocey’s Companies (Annual Report Notice Requirements) Amendment Bill which also was recently introduced to Parliament.

The government wants to block bills from opposition members that might make them confront difficult issues that aren’t on their agenda. This Bill is a waste of Parliament’s time and resources, and as Andrew Geddis said, we, as New Zealanders, deserve better.

Airports respond

Queenstown Airport

Queenstown Airport has a bylaw that covers lost property, however it has not held an auction within the last year, instead it has donated property to the Salvation Army. The property was not of significant value and included: second-hand clothing, sunglasses, reading glasses and books.

Christchurch International Airport

Christchurch International Airport has a bylaw that covers lost property, however the airport has not placed any lost property auction advertisements within the last year.

Dunedin Airport

Dunedin Airport is the only airport that replied that has placed an advertisement for a lost property auction within the last year. They are not charged for placing the advertisements, which run in the Otago Daily Times.

Their policy is to advertise lost property twice in the Otago Daily Times with all property being held for at least three months before being auctioned. Any remaining property is donated to charity. Any valuable item or identity documents are handed to the airport police

The Airport provided an example of an advertisement they have recently run.

Invercargill Airport

Invercargill Airport has not placed an advertisement for a lost property auction within the last year. They donate lost property to charity or give it to the police.

Invercargill Airport does not have a bylaw relating to lost property. They have a lost property policy from 2012, and a draft replacement policy written in 2015 that has not been approved.

Hokitika Airport

Hokitika Airport has not received any lost property since 2002. They have no written policy on lost property. In practice, any lost property is handed to Air New Zealand staff as it likely belongs to one of their passengers or someone accompanying one of their passengers and Hokitika Airport staff are not present at the airport on a regular basis.

Hawke’s Bay/Napier Airport

Hawke’s Bay Airport has a bylaw relating to lost property, however the bylaw does not cover the disposal or auction of that property.

They have not placed an advertisement for a lost property auction within the last year.

Auckland and Wellington International Airports

Auckland and Wellington airports are not subject to the Official Information Act. Auckland International Airport reportedly donates at least some lost property to charity. Wellington International Airport passes valuables to the police.

Nelson and Palmerston North Airports

Nelson and Palmerston North airports did not respond to an Official Information Act request within the statutory timeframe.

Image credit: Monika

How to get residents to avoid submitting on proposed zoning changes Christchuch City Council style

The Christchurch City Council is reviewing its district plan, and we live in/near an area that might be subject to rezoning. The Christchurch City Council, like they’re supposed to, is consulting with residents. They’ve sent out information about the proposed zoning changes to ratepayers who might be affected. All good so far.

Except it seems a bit more like an exercise in looking like they’ve consulted with the public. Let me explain.

1) Send 12 jargon-filled A4 pages which say a lot without saying much

I’d argue that a lot of people in Christchurch don’t want to voluntarily deal with more bureaucracy than they need to (think EQC and their insurance company). Because of that a balance needs to occur between sending sufficient information and that information being clear and concise (to avoid as many people as possible putting your mail in the ‘I don’t really care or have time for this’ pile). I’d tentatively argue that including the Draft Residential Chapter (pdf), Draft Commercial Chapter (pdf), and District Plan Review (pdf) information sheets in these mail outs resulted in information overload for many people who would have been better served by simply being sent the smaller (i.e. double-sided A4 sheet), easier to read and more relevant What’s Happening In Your Area sheet. When the actual draft chapters are hundred of pages clear and concise summary information sheets do need to be available, whether they’re mailed out or not.

Some of the information included seems like it’s been copy and pasted from internal material with a very different target audience. Three sentences into the main body of the information booklet Draft Residential Chapter the words “density” and “greenfield” are introduced, both without being defined. Other gems include “housing intensification”, “medium density housing” (defined on the very last page of the booklet), and “city-wide intensification mechanisms”. The “city-wide intensification mechanisms” enable “quick gains”. To the Council’s credit examples are given for what “quick gains” are. “Civic park”, “heritage park”, and “green corridor” are less egregious examples from another information sheet.

The Christchurch City Council weights room
The Christchurch City Council weights room

2) Schedule all of your public meetings for 5:30pm on a weekday

Include so little but so much information in step one that for anyone to properly understand it in order to make an informed submission they’d have to read a lot more information or attend a consultation meeting (or both). Schedule all but one of your public consultation meetings (pdf) for 5:30pm-7:30pm on weekdays. Ignore the fact that residents might still be struggling to navigate the road works on their way home from work at this time, or might be having dinner, or might be putting young children to bed. Get bonus points for sending letters out that are advertising some of these meetings eight days before those meetings are scheduled.

3) Make it hard to find things on your website

What’s your number? To have a look at the district plan review zone map you need to guess which section of a tiny map your house is in. It took me a few tries to find our house, but perhaps that’s my poor sense of direction. Or maybe the City Council could, you know, label areas with names, or let you search by street.

Tiny map? Check.
Tiny map? Check.

4) If huge, potentially controversial changes are being proposed, ensure the diagrams “explaining” them are really confusing

People like things being explained with pictures and diagrams. They might even skip reading altogether and just look at the diagrams. That makes the diagrams that are used pretty important.

In the area of Halswell (pdf) the City Council wants to introduce a commercial centre, quite possibly one of the most controversial things you can do in a suburban area.

“A draft option is to develop a commercial centre on Halswell Road. The area highlighted on the map indicates the area within which the commercial centre could be located. … It is anticipated that this centre would occupy up to 15 hectares of land when it is fully developed.”

15 hectares is about 15 rugby fields.

Let’s compare the map that’s on the back of Halswell’s What’s Happening In Your Area sheet with some other area maps: Barrington, Bishopdale, and Riccarton.

Christchurch City Council 2014 District Plan Review Barrington Map
Barrington. Landmarks are named. The commercial centre is named ‘commercial centre’. All is well.
Christchurch City Council 2014 District Plan Review Bishopdale Map
Bishopdale. Where are we? I can orientate myself because things with names are named. The commercial centre is keyed as a ‘commercial centre’. Awesome.
Christchurch City Council 2014 District Plan Review Riccarton Map
Riccarton. Where am I? Oh, I’m by Westfield Riccarton, which is named on the map. And it’s pink because it’s a commercial centre and that’s the colour for commercial centres. Cool.
Christchurch City Council 2014 District Plan Review Sparks Road Halswell Map
Sparks Road/Halswell

Halswell. Let’s play a game called ‘find my house’. Does that tiny road say Halswell Road along it? Isn’t there a subdivision in that blank gap in the top-left corner now? Why are proposed roads squiggly arrow lines? What is a blue and a green network? By ‘proposed key activity centre’ do they mean ‘commercial centre’? (Yes. Yes they do.) Who really knows? It sure looks like the City Council doesn’t want anyone to work out what’s going on.

It’s also interesting to note that Halswell’s public meeting was on February 27, but there’s no news coverage of it or the proposed changes in general. What’s confusing to the public is confusing to the media too.

Image credits: Health Gauge, Christchurch City Council