Gordon Campbell on giving the Police unnecessary new powers, and Spain’s elections

Safety can be dangerous stuff. Paradoxically, when governments say they’re doing things to make us more safe, the effects often make us feel less safe. Police pursuits for example, have a track record (and a body count) that makes them more dangerous than the original risk. Armed police units belong in the same category.

The more insidious examples have to do with terrorism. Is there any good reason why the crimes related to “terrorism” cannot be treated as… crimes? How much safer are we when politicians drape the mystique of terrorism over high profile criminal acts – supposedly, in order to allay the fears of terrorism that the same politicians have done so much to arouse?

Every major terrorist crime – from conspiracy to harm or do damage, right on through to murder – is already defined as a crime under the Crimes Act. Unfortunately, a whole counter-terrorism industry has grown up since 9/11, and its latest manifestation is called the Terrorism Suppression (Control Orders) Bill. In mid-October, Justice Minister Andrew Little hailed this draft legislation via a press release that carried the Orwellian headline “Keeping New Zealanders safer with better counter-terrorism laws”…

If you say so. Mr Little. The Bill proposes to give the Police the power to issue and enforce control orders on New Zealanders who have allegedly been involved in terrorism activities overseas. It seems a classic example of overkill. Firstly, both the press release and the Ministry of Justice impact report on the Bill concede that only a very, very small number of New Zealanders would fit the Bill. More to the point, the Justice Ministry tries to justify this additional power because (a) the evidence for a normal prosecution may be difficult or impossible to gather (b) a crime may not have been committed under New Zealand law and (c) the individual may have already done their time in an overseas jail. Here’s how the MoJ impact report puts it:

For a range of reasons, prosecution for an individual’s terrorism activities when they return to New Zealand may not be practical or feasible. This may be due to the difficulty of collecting evidence or securing witness statements of terrorism activity from conflict zones, there may not be an appropriate offence (eg there is no explicit offence of travelling to join a terrorist organisation), or the person may have already completed a sentence for terrorism-related activity prior to being deported to New Zealand…In the absence of criminal prosecution resulting in a conviction, these returnees will enter the community, and there is limited ability under existing settings to effectively restrict or prevent attempts to engage in or support further terrorism-related or violent extremist activities.

So without the usual standard of evidence, or without a crime that New Zealand recognises being committed or after a custodial sentence has been served elsewhere, the Police will henceforth be able to seek a control order against a New Zealand citizen. All in the name of making us feel safe. Frankly, that list of criteria seems a totally unsafe basis for expanding Police powers, in order to counter what is conceded to be a minimal risk.

To issue a control order, the Police (“and other relevant agencies”) need to convince themselves that said individual poses a high risk to public safety, and must convince the Solicitor-General – and ultimately a High Court judge – that “on the balance of probabilities” that the fears are a “reasonably necessary” justification for imposing a management routine to counter the risks allegedly posed by the returnee. At which point:

Court-imposed control orders can impose a variety of restrictions/limitations that can minimise the risks posed by returnees (eg electronic monitoring,[including curbs on Internet use] restrictions on contact with particular people or places, etc)

Interestingly, there is an arbitrary sunset clause envisaged by the draft legislation. It is proposed that the risk will have abated – within six years at the maximum – after the returnee has come back here. Nice to know that these allegedly dangerous people have an expiry date on their radicalism – although, as the impact report says, “It cannot be guaranteed that control orders will prevent a person engaging in terrorism related activity.” You don’t say. Apparently, this “feeling safe” sensation has its own expiration date, too.

It is neither a reliable safeguard, or a necessary one. We saw in the Zaoui case how an echo chamber of mutual assurances allowed the SIS to lead everyone up the garden path over a non-existent risk. Tellingly, even after their errors of analysis and judgement had been exposed… the SIS response was to doggedly defend the indefensible in an attempt to save face. Neither the SIS nor the Police are renowned for saying “Sorry, we got it wrong.”

There are other, even more telling examples. After 9/11, the Clark government passed the 2002 anti-terrorism legislation, apparently in order to show our allies that we took this stuff seriously. How did the Police use those powers? They used them to mount the raids on those infamous “terrorist” and “ military style” training camps in the Ureweras in 2007. Ordinary families in the Ureweras were made to feel a whole lot less safe, for quite imaginary reasons. Because they were there, those Police powers got used.

Surely… our current laws fully enable the Police and SIS to obtain surveillance orders when a genuine risk to public safety can be shown to exist. As mentioned, there is a terrorism industry that’s been growing apace. Is anyone feeling any safer that the alleged Christchurch shooter for instance, is also being charged under our 2002 terrorism law… even though you’d think that being charged with 51 murder counts and numerous attempted murder counts would have more than sufficed. It is on the books, so it has to be invoked – if only to justify why it is on the books.

Footnote One. Terrorism has been a godsend to politicians, in that it enables them to sound very, very brave and resolute on law’n’order issues. National for instance wants the Terrorism Suppression (Control Orders) Bill to be toughened so that Police can issue control orders on people as young as fourteen. (Surely, there have to be less cumbersome ways of controlling the Internet use of teenagers.)

Footnote Two. Contrast the rush to make people feel safe from terrorist returnees, with the delays in implementing the Welfare Expert Advisory Panel report. If there’s a queue on government measures designed to Keep The Public Safe… then surely, protecting women from the actual daily risk they face from their violent male partners should be of more immediate concern to Parliament than shielding the general public from a theoretical threat posed by a handful of inward-bound Kiwi jihadis. Just sayin’.

Who Reigns in Spain, Again

pedro-sanchez-imageIn Spain of late, there never seems to be a Goldilocks moment when democracy manages to deliver a government that can actually govern. Deadlock is the new normal, and next Sunday’s general election doesn’t look like breaking it. The Franco dictatorship lasted for 36 years. Yet now Spain is heading back to the polls on Sunday for its fourth general election in four years, and the second election in this year alone. Judging by current polls, the big winner is likely to be voter fatigue, which might skew the results in unpredictable ways.

To recap: the current caretaker government is headed by PSOE, the traditional Socialist party of the left led by Pedro Sanchez. Sanchez has been propped up in power by a fractious, tenuous relationship with the further left United Podemos party, led by Pablo Yglesias. Meanwhile, the old conservative and corruption riddled PP party has been in decline for the past three years, and it hit rock bottom in the election held in April 2019. Since then, PP’s leader Pablo Casado has pulled PP back towards the centre, and PP seems set for something of a revival on Sunday. For starters, PP will pick up votes from the urban centre-right party Cuidadanos, which has been shedding support at an accelerating rate during 2019.

Supposedly, Spain’s experience of the Franco regime has immunised the country from falling prey to the kind of right wing populism evident elsewhere in Europe. That faith will be shaken on Sunday, since the extreme right wing Vox party is likely to make advances – but mainly by cannabilising the right wing vote, and without winning a position of power. Not yet anyway.

The latest polling available predicts that support for Sanchez and PP will hold steady around the 123 seats it currently holds in the 350 seat lower House. The steady decline of Podemos is likely to continue (31 seats is being projected) from the disappointing haul of 42 seats that it won in April. The split in Podemos that has resulted in Yglesias’ former deputy Inigo Errejon forming his own (more centrist) Mais Pas party has had minimal impact, and Mas Pais is expected to win only about 5 seats.

Over on the centre-right, the PP is, as mentioned, set for a revival of perhaps an extra 20-30 seats from the abysmal low of 66 seats that it won in April. Support for that far right, anti-immigrant Vox party is expected to surge to 46 seats from its current 24 – but this is not due to any nostalgia for Franco, whose body is to be exhumed and reburied in a less controversial site, next to his wife’s plot.

However, any of these gains for the right by PP and Vox seem likely to be balanced by the almost total collapse of Cuidadanos, which only two years ago was being hailed as being poised to replace the old and rotten PP as the main party of the right. It might win only 14 seats on Sunday – a far cry from even its disappointing tally of 57 seats in April. At best, the tally for the centre right bloc (PP, Vox and Cuidadanos) might reach about 150-160 seats, but still short of the magic governing majority of 176 – especially since most of the smattering of small Basque and separatist parties seem unlikely to collaborate with the PP and cast the kind of abstentions on crucial votes that have kept Sanchez precariously in power.

So… the current minority government deadlock under Sanchez is expected to continue. The fractious left bloc (PSOE, Podemos, Mas Pais) should win about 155–160 seats, compared to 100–155 for the right, with about 40 seats split among those small, regional and separatist parties, most of whom would normally be expected to support PSOE rather than PP. Yet the recent jailing of Catalan independence leaders might reduce the willingness of regional parties to keep the current government in power. Sanchez might struggle to find enough support for what is increasingly a losing hand.

As mentioned, voter fatigue will reduce the turnout. It could easily get worse. If no single party (or no bloc on the left or on the right) can win a solid mandate to govern, a large chunk of the Spanish population is going to feel more and more alienated from a democracy that seems incapable of delivering anything other than an eternal stalemate. Vox will feed on those feelings of disenchantment.

Rosalia, and La Mala

The Catalan singer Rosalia is Spain’s reigning pop superstar right now, both alone and in unison with Latin stars such as Ozuna, J Balvin and Bad Bunny. Last year, the double shot of “Malamente” and “Pienso En Tu Mira” put her on the map as an international pop star, but this cut from 2017 has Rosalia still doing the flamenco explorations (with guitarist Raul Refree) on which her early popularity was based. This live performance was recorded during the 80th anniversary celebration of Picasso’s great work “Guernica”…

Rosalia aside, there will still always be room for Mala Rodriguez, who has been working away at her bad girl rap persona for nearly 20 years now… Her “Tambalea” and “33” singles are also worth checking out – but from a few years ago, this take-no-prisoners video offers good music, tons of attitude and a great pair of shoes…