Hard News by Russell Brown


The Police Ten 7 State

There is a popular genre of "observational documentary" programmes on TV that depict agents of the state, most notably police, as they go about their work. On the face of it, these shows – Motorway Patrol, Dog Squad, Drug Squad and the others – provide an insight into what the police do on a daily basis.

In reality, they don't, because as a condition of their participation, police have control over the content of the shows. So in practice they're public relations vehicles for the police which never show or say anything the police don't want shown or said. You might think they're harmless enough programmes – but what if the same rules applied to research and reporting outside family-hour TV? What if the police could control what anyone said about them and who was allowed to say it?

You don't have to imagine it. It's what's been happening to sociologist, author and Canon Media Awards blogger of the year Dr Jarrod Gilbert.

As Jarrod explains in his New Zealand Herald column today:

I've been banned from accessing basic and uncontroversial police data. As an academic who studies crime, this is rather crippling. It's also a staggering abuse of power.

The police have deemed me unfit because of my "association with gangs". This association won't surprise many people: I did New Zealand's largest ever study of gangs. It was long, exhausting and sometimes dangerous work, but it was worth it. The research culminated in an award-winning book, and academic publications all around the world.

To get my results I used - in part - an ethnographic method; in other words I hung out with the gangs.

 I have been deemed unfit to undertake crime research because I know criminals through studying crime. Bloody hell.

I know Jarrod and he told me this week that this bizarre situation has been going on most of this year. As he explains in the column, he requested a copy of his police file to try and determine what reasons the police might have for preventing him from conducting his work:

In reply I got pages of black ink. Everything has been redacted: censored.

I know a lot of what's underneath the black ink, because I was photographed, my licence plates were noted down, and I was asked to provide my details to the police on numerous occasions during my fieldwork. This may sound unusual, but this is how police keep tabs on gang members. When I was with gangs, they quite naturally did the same to me. If you think there might be something more sinister under that black ink, I certainly don't know what it is. What I do know is that with it blacked out I can't defend myself. 

It actually gets worse. This isn't solely about Jarrod and any other academic the police might see fit to blackball. It turns out it is not so new but very much news that the police have been imposing research contracts on anyone who seeks information that ought legally to be available to any of us under the Official Information Act.

The degree of control the police sought over research findings and publications was more than trifling. The research contracts demand that a draft report be provided to police. If the results are deemed to be "negative" then the police will seek to "improve its outcomes". Both the intent and the language would have impressed George Orwell.

Researchers unprepared to yield and make changes face a clause stating the police "retain the sole right to veto any findings from release". In other words, if an academic study said something the police didn't like - or heaven forbid was in any way critical of the police - then the police could stop it being published.

These demands were supported by threats. The contracts state that police will "blacklist" the researchers and "any organisations connected to the project ... from access to any further police resources" if they don't abide by police wishes.

This is scary and unacceptable and must be resisted as forcefully as possible. I might be wrong, but I don't anticipate Jarrod's employers at the University of Canterbury will die in a ditch over this. So it therefore falls to the rest of us to declare that what the police are doing to Jarrod and the control they seek to impose on others like him is incompatible with democracy.

I invite my fellow journalists, academics and other members of the public to join me in saying so in the discussion for this blog post. This cannot stand.


The Message

The announcement of Phil Goff's intention to seek the Auckland mayoralty yesterday was able and organised. Various important constituencies were represented in the room, the messaging was precise and the first person to be greeted by name in the candidate's speech was the present deputy mayor, Penny Hulse. So she's on board.

I wasn't able to take an extensive look around, but those present also included Green Party Waitemata local board member Vernon Tava and Ranginui Walker and his wife Deirdre.

The banners flanking the stage read:

For A Better Auckland: A city where talent and enterprise can thrive.

Both the speech and the acccompanying video repeatedly hit this theme. Goff opened:

I’m standing for Mayor because I believe that together we can create a better Auckland. A city where talent and enterprise can thrive - whether you’re a hip-hop artist, a scientist, a tradie or a businessperson. A city where we care about each other, our environment and our way of life. That’s the city I want to lead.

And then:

The late scientist and entrepreneur Sir Paul Callaghan talked of making New Zealand a place where talent wanted to live. He got it absolutely right.

My vision is of Auckland unleashing itself as a creative, innovative and entrepreneurial city. It should be a centre of learning and a centre of culture. A city rich in diversity and proud of its Maori, Pasifika, European, Asian and other heritage.  A place that attracts and nurtures talent and enterprise. As we grow, we must be a city where trade and investment can thrive. Where business is easy to do.

And finally, hitting it again:

I’m working for a better Auckland. 

A city where talent and enterprise will thrive.

The benefit of the "creativity and innovation" line is that it is so broadly aspirational: "a hip-hop artist, a scientist, a tradie or a businessperson," can all hear themselves being flattered and valued in it. Most of us would like to think of the city as attractive to the kind of talent we value. It's a fuzzy but clever message.

Goff alighted on diversity more than once, averring that:

We must be an inclusive city.  Where diversity brings richness not division.  A place where people don’t have to live in gated communities with poverty and homelessness on their doorstep. Where people can earn an income they can actually live on. A place where every Aucklander can reach their full potential.

You can't be part of local government in Auckland without talking about transport and housing. On the former:

We need to do more than just finish the motorway network. We need to get on with the city rail link to double passenger capacity and deal withcongestion at Britomart.  We need light rail on the isthmus, in the East and out to the airport. 

My friends at TransportBlog coughed politely over the idea of light rail to the airport and Christine Caughey wondered exactly what he meant by "finish the motorway network" (was he raising the Eastern Motorway from the dead?). But there seemed no doubt that Goff supports the bus-trains-bikes strategy already unfolding in the city.

"It’s the same for housing," he continued:

There are ways to bring supply and demand in housing back into balance and Auckland should be strongly advocating for those solutions.  Policies that give the building industry confidence and certainty to gear up for construction. Policies that put home buyers ahead of speculators. More intensive housing in the city and along arterial routes is needed.  But that must be balanced by good urban design, plenty of public open space and protection for areas of high heritage value.

It got more interesting when he talked about paying for these components of the Better Auckland. There was a re-run of what he had already said in interviews about learning to do more with less:

... operate effectively and efficiently ... eliminate bureaucratic duplication and waste ... fiscally prudent ... Rate increases have to be brought under control and offset by cutting waste and finding savings.

He also repeated his criticism of the two reports on Auckland Council assets released last week as a "waste" of half million dollars: privatising Watercare or any other asset was off the agenda. Being a politician, he was then this morning all over the massive effective ratepayer subsidy to Remuera Golf Club members outlined yesterday by Bernard Hickey. The irony being, of course, that this story came directly from one of the reports Goff dismissed as wasteful and pointless.

But the other side of the financial message was more interesting.

Funding for this infrastructure can’t just come out of rates.  Auckland pays its fair share and will continue to do so. But the Government must also provide funding to meet the needs of growth. After all, a large portion of the Government’s revenue comes from taxes paid by Aucklanders.  It must bring the funding forward to anticipate future needs rather than waiting until gridlock paralyses this city ...

We need to put our own house in order and make Auckland New Zealand’s best performing city. When we do that, we are in a stronger position to leverage Government resources to meet the needs created by rapid growth ...

I know how central government works and what it takes to make it responsive to our needs.

There's a similar line in the video:

 I know what makes central government respond positively. My role is to get the best deal for Auckland.

It seems likely that we're being primed for an administration where Hulse continues in her role of wrangling the various interests on Council and Mayor Goff talks to government, probably with a degree of Auckland Exceptionalism that will piss off the rest of the country.

And going by his quotes to the Herald after Goff's announcement, the Prime Minister is okay with that. I don't think the Right will try to put up a sensible candidate against Goff. For all that the capable Victoria Crone is musing about standing as an independent, she'd be mad to do so. Goff is standing as an independent, but he has an able and experienced centre-left machine on board. Crone, with no political experience and no machine of her own, would be obliged to go swimming in the crazy soup of the Auckland centre-right.

Perhaps Key reasons that giving the Auckland centre-right a leg-up would complicate the internal balance of the National Party. Morely likely, he realises that Goff already has a considerable head start and it would be better to work with him than to have to deal with a political neophyte, or worse, a flaming nutbar.

What this all means to contests within individual wards next year remains to be seen. I suspect the centre-left is hoping that backing a strong, experienced and well-known candidate will provide momentum and motivation. It could also turn out the other way, with centre-right candidates promising to keep Goff honest.

Goff was at pains to emphasise that yesterday was not a campaign launch, merely the announcement of his candidacy. Policy will come with the launch proper, next year. He has already drawn some clear lines: finance the CRL more quickly, prevent Port expansion into the harbour, don't privatise Watercare. But he will need to take good advice on what he chooses to say around the complexities of the Unitary Plan, the Auckland Plan and the Long Term Plan before having to actually state policy on them. Populism gets very perilous in that area, especially when you're promising "protection for areas of high heritage value."

But yesterday's launch was competent and confident. After he spoke, Goff circulated easily for photographs while the press waited at the door of the room. His meeting and greeting completed, he turned, strode to the door and delivered his lines. He clearly does know how this is done. 


Phil is down with the kids.

Phil is down with Auckland's ethnic communities.

The media awaits.

The stand-up.


Friday Music: All Being Well

Morena! All being well I will have crawled out of bed and hit "publish" on this post after a late one at the VNZMAs and I am now preparing for the very important job of having a couple of wines later with a friend and colleague. As a further excuse, my hard drive died and I still don't have my proper work computer back. What other possible option is open to me? Exactly.

But tomorrow, I will be at Real Groovy Records to join in celebrating 45 years of 95bFM. There's a live broadcast and stuff going on all day, including the release of Darcy Clay's 'Jesus I was Evil' EP for the first time on vinyl. The six tracks will be performed by Darcy's original band with guest vocalists, from about 2pm.

And I'm here to tell you that Buzz Moller will be vocalising 'Joelene' in the style of Darcy, Matthais Jordan will be sing 'What About It' and Emily Littler will also do a tune. And the singer lined to pay tribute to 'Jesus I Was Evil'? Only Mr Mikey Havoc.

It's really great that this release is part of 95bFM's current Bombathon pledge drive, because he's part of that story. As this great 2008 Sunday Star Times story notes, it was Bill Kerton at bFM who put his demo tape to air, and years later, when b spent a weekend counting down its 95 greatest tracks, number one, as voted by the listeners, was 'Jesus I Was Evil'. They called his dad on air and he was so pleased and proud.

I remember him, Daniel Bolton, as a sweet little guy with a lot going on in his head. Too much going on, in the end. I think the last time I saw him was on a bFM bus Breakfast, smiling, with a beer. But I still love that handful of songs he made. I heard this one on the b the other day and thought, man, that's mint ...


This has been doing the rounds on my Facebook network. Matthew Barnes spent too long on hold with IRD and snapped. (Note that I'm mates with both Dave and the Exponents and I'm pretty sure they'd find this as funny as everyone else.)


Aly Cook's Alan Jansson-produced album Horseshoe Rodeo Hotel came and went a bit earlier this year. But the single, 'Midnight Cowboys' this week shot to the top of the Australian country chart. It's a very Janssonesque pop-country hybrid: drums, a strum and a catchy-as-hell chorus. But the co-writer is actually Brent Hayward, aka Fats White. I recall him telling me at a party more than a year ago about this special song he had. And here it is:


The Unofficial Flying Nun Vault has come up with something a bit special. The Enemy, live at Beneficiaries Hall, Dunedin, 1978. It's fierce. And as Simon Grigg said to me, you can see why they terrified all the local punkers when they hit Auckland:


Andrew Moore's great New Zealand skateboarding history No More Heroes has been recut with a new Flying Nun soundtrack and is finally cleared and available for purchase on DVD at the Flying Out store. Here's the trailer:



Sleepers Union (featuring Simon McLaren of Love's Ugly Children and Mark Anderson of the Onedin Line) are back with a new album. They launch it tonight at Golden Dawn, along with Soccer Practise, and I presume they'll be playing this catchy little number:

Also on tonight: Grayson Gilmour and French for Rabbits at The Tuning Fork. And The Great North take their (yet unrecorded and untitled) album preview tour to The Wine Cellar.

Thomston has his first new track since signing with Sony Music. It's in the alt-pop-R&B vein of previous releases, but a bit bigger and shinier. I'm impressed:

A new remix from Boycrush's Girls on Top EP: this is by Introverted Dancefloor (aka Bevan Smith) and it's some haunted house. And a free download!

And finally, it's not actually new but it's certainly seasonal. If you click "buy" on this sampler stream, you go through to same on Bandcamp where you can buy that and get Copycat's retakes of a swag of summer soul classics. He might be in New York now, but he's apparently still on southern time ...


The Hard News Friday Music Post is kindly sponsored by:

The Audio Consultant


Something we ignore at our peril

Six months ago, I published a post based on information I had been given by ESR that began:

Synthetic cannabinoids are being prepared and sold on the New Zealand black market, more than a year after they were banned from public sale by an amendment to the Psychoactive Substances Act. And a report provided to me by ESR shows they are not leftovers from the old regime, but largely new chemicals.

The sole regret I have about that post is that it brought down some grief on people who spoke to me in good faith. What was true then is true now: removing synthetic cannabinoids from regulated sale did not prevent their import, manufacture, sale or consumption, it merely drove them underground.

So I was pleased to see this excellent report by Michael Morrah on the same issue, for TV3's 3D. My post was just something that didn't fit in with another story I was researching. This is a well-handled, accurate and wide-ranging report into exactly what's going on. And what's going on is a textbook case of what happens when a formerly legal product is handed to the black market.

Morrah presents evidence that not only are synthetic cannabinoids (yes, I know, they're more properly referred to as cannabinomimetics but thats a long word) being imported and prepared for sale, they are being manufactured here through dubious processes. And where they can't be easily manufactured, dealers are soaking mixed herbs in fly spray and selling that. It is, according to a couple of his sources, bigger than P.

The two black-market samples taken for testing by ESR contained, respectively, 5f-PB-22 and AB-FUBINACA. What Morrah's story doesn't say is that both have been legally sold in New Zealand. Products containing the former were revoked both before the amendent to the Psychoactive Substances Act, and when that amendment took all synthetic cannabinoids off the market in May 2014. I noted in a post leading up to the amendment that AB-FUBINACA products had been identified as a problem by users. 

Would it have been better if the synthetic cannabinoids had never been available? Well, yeah. I think they were poor candidates for regulation and that the Psychoactive Substances Act would have fared better had they not been the test case. But we didn't have that choice.

Synthetic cannabis products had been available for years in shops and New Zealanders were buying them in significant quantities. The progressive banning of earlier products had the paradoxical effect of ushering in more harmful and less well-understood substitutes. AB-FUBINACA was a very late entry to the market.

But even then, for all the failures in execution of the Psychoactive Substances Act, we had some control over dosage and purity. Now, it's in the hands of criminals. Morrah's story suggests that dosage has increased. That's bad. His two former dealers talked about the whites of their eyes turning yellow from use – which indicates liver damage. The story hinted that medical presentations have shifted from psychological distress to acute emergency.

So why aren't we seeing the same headline-grabbing problems as we did during the PSA's interim regime? Probably because it's off the high street and therefore out of mind. Some of the people who were buying because it was legal have stopped. The balance of usage has shifted to kids in suburbs and towns we never hear about in the news.

In that sense, it's probably similar to methamphetamine, which became much less of a story when advertising executives and property investors stopped using it, even as it took off in poor, brown communities. And perhaps the push back against these drugs will, similarly, come at a community level.

It's important to remember that these drugs entered the market as legal substitutes for natural cannabis. That's a textbook prohibition story: the thing you ban or chase out will give way to something worse. Whether simply legalising cannabis now would entirely drive out these drugs is less certain. The hard stuff is probably here for good. The drug environment is a hell of a lot more complicated, and dangerous, than it was when I was 20.

But what we can't do is pretend there isn't a problem. I have, as ever, some sympathy for Peter Dunne – he is now being pilloried for both introducing the Psychoactive Substances Act and for the National Party amendment that has for the time being rendered it almost inoperable. I presume he hadn't actually seen the 3D report when he sent back the comment that cannabis was a much greater health problem for New Zealanders than the synthetics. Because I think the evidence is now that something pretty bad is going on. Something we ignore at our peril.

PS: That was a very important report from a programme about to be shitcanned by TV3's management. We might want to think about that too.


Stories: Home

Because sometimes we had to move, we never moved when we didn't have to. My Dad worked in a bank and although he left school without qualifications, he was bright enough to regularly gain promotion. By the time I was five, we'd lived in Wellington, Hamilton, Invercargill and Christchurch.

Things setted down in Christchurch because he could be promoted between branches, so, apart from three formative years in Greymouth, where Dad worked his first managerial position, that's where I grew up. And then, the year I started work, the family had to move away.

One of my schoolfriends moved frequently – his parents liked buying and selling houses – and I could never get my head around it. Even later, when I was not greatly burdened with either responsibilities or worldly goods, I rarely moved for the sake of it.

And when we finally bought a house, we stayed put. We've been here in Point Chevalier 17 years; long enough to see the karaka Fiona planted rise over the roofline and the neighbourhood change around us. We could have sold up and taken our winnings in the Auckland property lottery any number of times, but that always seemed an awful prospect. For all that I embrace risk in other areas of my life, I like a nest.

Why am I telling you this? Because this post is intended to recall one of the more pleasant elements of the Public Address culture: the telling of stories.

Two weeks ago, I made myself a little wobbly by giving a keynote speech to an audience at an international arts seminar in Christchurch about how Public Address provided a community for people after the earthquakes and the things that flowed from that. (I'll rework it as a blog post as soon as I get the time.) And then the next day, while I was still travelling home, there was a blow-up on one of our discussion threads that made me feel weary and unhappy as I tried to moderate it. I thought, this isn't the community I was talking to that audience about.

There were a number of factors to the blow-up, not the least of them being the somewhat traditional end-of-of year Public Address meltdown. But also, new people, old people, people giving offence and just ploughing on, people raising the stakes. No malice, just people.

If you value the community here, you can do a few things to help. When you have a moment, click on your own name and have a look at your recent commenting history. If someone signals that you're giving offence, pay attention and think about whether you need to keep saying what you're saying. If you take offence, try and say so clearly, rather than snarking back.

But also, it's been a while since we simply told stories rather than debating and discussing. Telling stories is good because it means we speak from experience, not opinion. It humanises us and helps us get to know each other. It's a thing people do to be together.

So, here's your place to tell stories. Stories about Home.