Whatever the conflicts and point scoring between them on other issues, National and Labour have always spoken virtually as one on free trade and the role of the security services. Therefore, the recent appointment of former Labour Finance Minister Sir Michael Cullen to head the government’s upcoming review of the GCSB and SIS is not very surprising. Unfortunately, it will do nothing to re-assure anyone concerned about the powers of those agencies. Quite the contrary.
To put it mildly, Cullen is something of a conservative on security matters. Both before and after being appointed in 2005 as Attorney-General in the Clark government, Cullen was a leading figure in the misguided persecution of the Algerian refugee Ahmed Zaoui, and he clung to that course long after the flaws in the SIS case against Zaoui had become blindingly obvious to everyone else. (In one particular interview with me at the time, Cullen was petulantly abusive about the tactics and alleged personal motivations of Zaoui’s legal team.) In 2006, Cullen promoted Terence Arnold, the then-Solicitor General who had led the prosecution case against Zaoui, as a judge to the High Court and Court of Appeal.
Given his track record, Cullen would seem to be temperamentally ill-suited to the task of finding a just balance between the privacy and security issues he is being asked to weigh. At yesterday’s post Cabinet press conference though, Prime Minister John Key indicated that the Cullen Review is where any tricky issues about the security services will be kicked over the coming months. According to Key, this will include clarifying whether New Zealanders returning from a stint on the front lines of the current conflict in Syria/Iraq should face any criminal sanction and/or further investigation and if so, by whom, and on what legal basis.
The Cullen Rcview is due to report back in February. Whatever it decides that the security services may require – either in the way of added powers or meaningful oversight – the fact that Cullen at the helm of the process will make it that much more difficult for the Labour Party at least, to dispute his conclusions – assuming they felt inclined to do so. In that sense the appointment is another example of National strategically wrong-footing the Labour opposition. More importantly though, Cullen’s behaviour during the Zaoui episode hardly bodes well for the likely outcome.
Now that the US Senate has voted to give President Obama the ‘fast track’ authority ne needs to exempt the Trans Pacific Partnership from any meaningful democratic scrutiny, the same battle will shifts to the House of Representatives, where the vote is likely to be closer.
Meanwhile the work to close the remaining gaps in thre TPP deal itself, continue. Yesterday, this report in the Japanese press identified intellectual property issues as being the main remaining battleground before a final text can be concluded. The IP area includes issues dear to Pharmac – in that the TPP will define the length of the protection period for clinical data on new drugs, before cheaper generic drugs can enter the market. Japan wants to keep that protection period at eight years, while the US wants to extend the protection period for cutting –edge bio-pharmaceuticals to 12 years. Reportedly, Australia and some emerging countries favour a two tier approach, with only a five year protection period for a class of drugs that have cost less to produce.
Copyright is still a problem :
Another thorny issue in the intellectual property field is the duration of copyright protection, which is set at 70 years after the deaths of rights holders in the United States and Australia, and at 50 years in Canada and Malaysia.
The U.S. call for 70 years is now on the table, and Japan, which has a 50-year protection period for musical and literary works, is poised to support it, depending on detailed terms.
Great. So as the TPP enters its final phase, there is every likelihood New Zealand will end up with works of art locked up by copyright for longer – and with our health system facing a higher drugs bill as our access to generic medicines is postponed. These losses will be immediate. Any gains from our gradual, phased-in greater access to Asian farm markets will lie glimmering some 10, 15 or 20 years in the future.
Kath Bloom, in Extremis
The six albums that Kath Bloom recorded with the guitarist Loren Connors between 1976 and 1984 make other “sensitive” singer/songwriters look like pikers. The music they made together is so tremulously naked and vulnerable that the initial response is to turn away…but if you do enter the cave, it is astonishing work. (The re-release with bonus tracks of 1984’s Restless Faithful Desperate and Moonlight albums in one package is pretty much all you need.)
Unfortunately, my favourite tracks from the Bloom/Connors sessions – “I Was Wondering” and “Breathe In My Ear” – aren’t available online. The tracks below though, are pretty typical. At the time, Bloom sounded as if she had shed any protective layers of skin, exposing an almost ecstatic level of pain be4neath. The easiest introduction is probably this great version by Bill Callahan of one of the best Bloom/Connors songs, “The Breeze” – which Callahan recorded for a 2009 tribute album to Bloom.
And then there’s this indirect love song to one of her musical heroes, Giacomo Puccini…The lines “ So much joy when times were bad/ So much joy when times were sad” pretty much sums up how things were at this point in her life. Those sentiments are taken to an almost unbearable extreme on “What If I Found Out ?” It is a quietly devastating song about the fear of being exposed, by love.