Gordon Campbell on Key. Ethics and Banks

Article – Gordon Campbell

Disclosure rules exist in local body legislation for the public’s benefit, not the benefit of politicians. Yet the explicit message from yesterday’s press post-Cabinet conference was that Prime Minister John Key is willing to condone unethical behaviour, so long as it doesn’t reach the threshold of being provably illegal in a court of law. Key faced repeated questioning about the standards he expected from his Ministers, and especially over what he felt about the grey area where behaviour is unethical, but does not breach the black and white letter of the law. Well..it turns out that unethical behaviour is fine by Key, and only illegal behaviour is not. That was made very clear in this exchange :

Campbell: Disclosure rules exist so that people will know where donations come from and how much they were. In this case, the law is lax enough to allow that to be shielded under anonymity…that’s why I’m raising the spirit of the law. If you found that a Minister had colluded to thwart the spirit of the law, would you feel that was perhaps, a hanging offence?

Key : No.

The press conference video is here.

Surely, there is a point in the tawdry Banks saga where the weight of circumstantial evidence about the “ you scratch my back/I’ll scratch yours” nature of Banks’s relationship with Kim Dotcom is going to eliminate the wiggle room that has hitherto been available to Banks. TV3’s evidence last night of helicopter flights, birthday toasts, cozy emails etc etc and today’s NZ Herald revelations about Banks’ intercession for Dotcom on a mooted land purchase heve been damning in that respect. The perception of ‘money for influence’ is now as important as the evidence – or lack of it – of actual wrongdoing, and it will increasingly be seen as tainting the Cabinet to which he belongs. In the meantime, it doesn’t help that Banks is looking so remarkably shifty. His convenient lapses of memory are making him look like one of Tony Soprano’s crew under the FBI spotlight. Sure, his mayoral responsibilities did extend to waste management…but a somewhat better standard is expected of Cabinet. Or should be.

Immigration Scenarios

Yesterday, the government also unveiled its mooted legislation to deal with mass arrivals of refugees, if and when they ever do come here. Arrivals of 12 or more will qualify for being processed – and detained – en masse, even though the current facilities cited by Immigration Minister Nathan Guy ( ie, at Mangere and Devonport) could not remotely handle the figure of 500 cited at the post-Cabinet press conference, or even far smaller numbers for any extended period of time.

The announcement of the legislation was couched in terms of deterring both the “ queue jumpers” on our annual refugee intake, and the “people smugglers” who could have played a role in bringing them here. In reality, if the boat people concerned were fleeing from political persecution, they would not be jumping any queue, because there isn’t a queue for them. The government’s talk of “queue jumping” term is almost wilfully misleading in that respect. As a moment’s reflection would indicate, people fleeing persecution and seeking asylum under the UN Refugee Convention are in a quite different situation than UNHCR refugees, and governments are expected to treat them differently. The nightmare for the government would be if a boatload of Uyghur refugees turned up here seeking asylum – given that they are a minority group widely recognised as being systematically persecuted by the Chinese government that we are trying so very hard to impress.

The spectre of indefinite detention is one that has dogged Australia. Given that our processing centres are inadequate for refugees staying for extended periods of time – especially for children who may already have been traumatised both before, and during, the voyage – the select committee examination of this legislation will need to ensure that say, six months truly is the maximum period of time allowed for processing and detention, before people are released into community care, adequately funded. We can cope with that. New Zealand receives an infinitesimally tiny share of the world’s refugees, and have on occasions, recently undershot our annual UNHCR intake.

At the press conference yesterday, Guy conceded that none of those arriving en masse would be denied the right to apply for political asylum. He did say however, that those deemed to be a potential security risk would be held in prison, and not in secure facilities within the processing centre. In this respect, we fall short of our UN obligations in that – having committed no crime – such people should not be being held in a prison. But as in the Banks case, ethical shortcuts seem to be no problem for this government.


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