Tuesday, 11 November 2014

12 November 2014

“Curiouser and curiouser,” said Alice in Wonderland in 1865. “I don’t much care where – just so as I get somewhere.”

A couple of recent events remind me that nearly 150 years later, Alice’s plea still has a great deal of relevance.

Last year, as amendments were being made to legislation governing the GCSB there was a great deal of comment about the changes being made introducing a new era of transparency and accountability for the hitherto shadowy intelligence agencies. A process of regular five yearly independent reviews was established and assurances given that henceforth no New Zealanders would be spied on improperly.

Any surveillance warrants issued would have to be promptly reported to the Inspector-General of Security and so on and so forth. In short, the clear message was that the days of warrantless surveillance were over.

Or so it seemed – until last week and the proposed introduction of the 48 hour warrant free fishing expedition to allow the authorities to snoop around a person of interest for up to 48 hours without a warrant to see if more detailed surveillance was necessary. All this is not only at total variance with last year’s decisions, but is coming even before the first of the independent reviews due to get underway in the middle of next year. ISIS is the presumed pretext, but the scope of the proposal is breathtaking. It should be deferred, at least until the independent reviews of the GCSB and SIS have taken place.

In the same vein was the announcement a couple of days ago by a group of South Island Mayors that they wanted the right to control where and how any psychoactive substances approved in the future could be handled in their areas. They realised that it was difficult to ban these substances outright because their composition changed regularly, but they wanted the right to determine things locally.

That all seems realistic and reasonable. It mirrors what I have been saying for over three years about the difficulty of dealing with this issue. More importantly, it mirrors provisions written into the psychoactive substances legislation when it was going through Parliament last year – and at the specific request of local government – to allow local authorities to develop policy plans for the sale and distribution of these substances in their areas.

Yet for at least the last twelve months, Mayors have been railing against these provisions, saying they shift the burden of responsibility from central to local government and are a cop-out which will not work. And what is even more bizarre, they now say that the solution lies in their implementing the very provisions they have been so staunchly opposing, despite having called for them in the first place. Well, yes, that was why Parliament gave them the power they requested.

It all smacks of Alice’s wishful journey to somewhere – just anywhere. The destination has become secondary to the perception that someone is doing something, somewhere.

Curiouser and curiouser indeed.    







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