Hard News by Russell Brown


But seriously, drug policy

Whatever the context of Hone Harawira's salty email and however much it does or doesn't signal a critical split in the Internet Mana alliance, the media noise has drowned out the central fact: another political party has officially adopted an evidence-based policy on cannabis and, moreover, pledged to "work towards comprehensive drug law reform."

It's not insignificant that the policy itself is posted and branded as the work of the Internet Party itself, rather than the alliance -- officially, Internet Mana agrees only on the health dimension of cannabis reform and is still "working on" decriminalisation -- but it's concise and clear and worth a look. Its principal points are summed up thus:

  • Immediately legalise medical use of cannabis and set up a licensing system to regulate and administer the cultivation of natural cannabis for medical use.

  • Immediately decriminalise personal use of cannabis so that possession and cultivation of cannabis for personal use will no longer carry a criminal penalty.

  • Develop a model for regulating the legal production and distribution of cannabis for personal use to enable the taxation of cannabis and the monitoring of its supply.

The only serious analysis of the policy I've seen is this blog post by Nandor Tanczos, who approves, concluding:

I think this policy is a brave move. No doubt it will lead to some interesting conversations with Mana. It will be controversial. But it is also astute. The Greens still support law reform, and will be important in getting any legislative change through Parliament, but understandably it is a low priority for them. There is now no one in Parliament proactively speaking up for law reform. Thousands, maybe even tens of thousands of votes are looking for somewhere more promising than the ALCP.

The Green Party does still offer a more cautious, less concise, policy in this area. Apart from an odd section promising to lean on Pharmac to "take a lead role in seeking to reduce the inappropriate prescribing of drugs such as anti-depressants" (let's leave that up to doctors and health researchers), it does undertake to "eliminate penalties for personal cannabis use for people aged 18 years and over" and "define in law the limits on growing cannabis for personal use."

Basically, the Greens would bring regulation of cannabis into line with that of alcohol, in part by tightening the latter. It's big on harm reduction.

And, apart from the aforementioned Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party, that's about it for the manifestos. The bold, shining libertarian warriors of Act have nothing to say beyond law-and-order chest-beating. Jamie Whyte was at pains to emphasise on his election as party leader in February that the party would not be exploring that particular dimension of liberty at all. He acknowledged that Act's board, perhaps mindful of the reception of Don Brash's sincere and thoughtful speech on drug reform in 2011, would not tolerate that.

For Labour's part, David Cunliffe ventured support for a harm-reduction and health-based approach, saying he would be "personally comfortable with a summary offence for personal possession" before adding "but that's a matter of conscience."

In a story late last month by Derek Cheng, following up on a Herald-Digipoll poll that found a striking 80% support for either decriminalisation or legalisation of cannabis, Peter Dunne said he opposed reform but could envisage, "over time", the development of a regulatory system similar to that for new psychoactive substances. And John Key gave one of his "just because" answers:

"Even though I know lots of people use cannabis, in my view encouraging drug use is a step in the wrong direction for New Zealand."

As ever, the Prime Minister isn't inclined to listen to experts. His then-Justice Minister Simon Power could hardly wait to dismiss the Law Commission's 2010 review of the Misuse of Drugs Act, which recommended a mandatory cautioning scheme to keep cannabis users out of the criminal justice system and found "no reason why cannabis should not be able to be used for medicinal purposes in limited circumstances."

Power's response was that: "There is not a single solitary chance that as long as I'm the Minister of Justice that we'll be relaxing drug laws in New Zealand."

If the minister was not about to risk reading the Commission's report, it was notable that it found a much warmer reception in the editorial columns of both The Dominion Post and the New Zealand Herald.

The mainstream poitical consensus, especially in election year, is not only that there are other priorities (which there clearly are) but that drug reform is wholly separate from those priorities and that it's flat-out impossible to walk and chew gum at the same time. Such are the politics of drug reform.

 It's no accident that it was former, rather than current leaders (including the former presidents of Brazil, Portugal, Switzerland, Chile and Mexico, and establishment figures like George Schultz , Paul Volcker and Kofi Annan) who yesterday called for an end to the War on Drugs on behalf of The Global Commission on Drug Policy. The report to which they have all put their names, Taking Control: Pathways to Drug Policies That Work, says this:

Putting health and community safety first requires a fundamental reorientation of policy priorities and resources, from failed punitive enforcement to proven health and social interventions.

"The good news," says the report's Executive Summary, "is that change is in the air." It's a long-ish game: the Commission is targeting the Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly on the World Drug Problem in 2016. Between now and then there will be a stark alignment of nations, with the Latin American countries on one side and the likes of Russia on the other.

If we can't expect honesty on the issue from most of our political parties during an election campaign, working to ensure that New Zealand does not find itself on the side of the thug nations two years hence seems more than worthwhile.


Friday Music: The Cool Dancer

If you ever treasured Herbs' What's Be Happen, the Swingers' 'One Good Reason', Sneaky Feelings' Send You or Dave Dobbyn's 'Slice of Heaven'; if you were at that huge David Bowie concert at Western Springs in 1983, or the disastrous Aotea Square show of 1984 or any of dozens of other tours in the 1980s; if you value the renaissance of modern waiata and the phenomenon of 'Poi E'; then you have some connection with Hugh Lynn, who is the subject of a wonderful new Audioculture profile by Murray Cammick.

I used to see Hugh reasonably regularly when I worked for Murray in the mid-80s, usually at Mascot Studios, where the above records were made. He was not an unfriendly man, but always seemed a little mysterious maybe even a bit dangerous. I knew he had a history as a dancer, but not the half of what's in Murray's profile. And I didn't know about the way Hugh continued his commitment to the Māoritanga he discovered in the 80s. He'd make a great biopic, he really would.

Also new on Audiocuture and in a wholly different vein, Robyn Gallagher's pick of 11 Iconic Music Videos of the 1990s. I know a little about one of them -- the 3Ds 'Hey Seuss' -- because I was there in Dunedin when Andrew Moore directed it. It was originally set to look even more Seuss-like than it does, before an anxious call came through from Flying Nun's paul McKessar, who had been made aware of the brutal reputation of the Seuss's estate's lawyers.

Also: Michael Brown's story of the Wellington folk scene of the 1960s, which has some great photographs. Who knew?


Not on Audioculture, but a really good work of history: Peter Mclennan's tribute to Johnny Cooper, "The Maori Cowboy", who cut New Zealand's first rock 'n' roll record (a cover of 'Rock Around the Clock') in 1955 and died this week.

Update: Chris Bourke has now written a Johnny Cooper entry for Audioculture.

And the Christchurch 70s glam rockers Odyssey, who never actually broke up, recently played a show to launch their new single, 'Tell Me'. It's not a bad tune at all:


Turning now to the present and future ...

If you're reading this at work, you're persumably not at the Going Global Music Summit being staged by Independent Music NZ and the New Zeaand Music Commission, but you can still register to go to tonight's live showcase at Galatos. It's a remarkable opportunity to catch 14 contemporary local artists across three stages -- from Race Banyon and Little Bark to Arthur Ahbez, She's So Rad and Chelsea Jade (formerly Watercolours). And you won't have to stay up late -- the first band is on at 7pm.

Tickets are $20 plus booking fee here at NZTix. See you there.


On TheAudience, this haunting track from Wellington's Groeni:

And this one from from "Auckland-based witch-house artist", which is a free download:

More info here.

Courtney Barnett covering the Breeders' 'Cannonball' for the AV Club! There's an MP3 of the performance here. Her September 17 show at the King's Arms is already sold out.

I mentioned RocknRolla Soundsystem last week. Well, here's some good news. Having been asked about it a bajillion times, they're now going to put each new edit they do up for sale on Bandcamp, starting with their take on Marvin gaye's 'Inner City Blues':

And that mixtape I mentioned last week? It's now a download:

@Peace have had their issues in the news lately, but perceptions might be moderated by this great new track:

It's released as a free download in support of their tour for the vinyl version of their Plutonian Noise Symphony album and it falls somewhere between that record and their first album. You can pre-order the vinyl here. Tour tickets from Under the Radar.

Some dirty business with the awesome Betty Davis:

And, finally, The Golden Pony take on Outkast. It's a straight-up free download without their usual somewhat vexing Facebook/Hypem run-around. And it's the business:


The Hard News Music Post is sponsored by:



Privacy and the Public Interest

Cameron Slater is now, remarkably, engaged in two overlapping privacy actions, on opposite sides. In one, he is the subject of an action for breaching the privacy of businessman Matt Blomfield, after taking possession of a hard drive, emails and documents and pillaging them to write a string of vicious personal attacks on the Whaleoil website.

Slater, like Blomfield, has hitherto been representing himself in their dispute, apparently because neither man can afford a lawyer. His defence to this new suit by the Director of Human Rights Proceedings remains that he is a journalist and not subject to the Privacy Act.

This afternoon at the High Court in Auckland, Slater, having suddenly acquired the means to retain a Queen's Counsel, is the plaintiff and will be trying to stop three news organisations, the New Zealand Herald, Fairfax and TV3,  from publishing any further stories based on emails and Facebook messages obtained from the unknown person who is said to have hacked them, on the basis that use of the messages represents a breach of confiedence and a breach of privacy.

He is also seeking to stop that person -- Rawshark aka Whaledump -- from distributing any more of his correspondence.

He has a shot. The material dumped by the hacker in the course of an extraordinary day yesterday, including a string of Facebook exchanges between Slater and his associate Jordan Williams, did veer closer to the private and personal. However we might might feel about the fact that Slater and Williams make vile misogynist jokes in their private conversations, it's harder to argue that revealing those conversations meets a standard of public interest. He is due the protection he would deny to others.

The attempt to enjoin may also have been driven by the revelation that there's more. More, that is, than anything canvassed by Nicky Hager in Dirty Politics. While that book, and all subsequent reporting, has largely been based on a set of messages from 2011, the Herald reported yesterday that it had now "seen" correspondence between Slater and former Justice Minister Judith Collins stretching from 2009 to this year.

The Herald story indicates that the gaming of the OIA system on Slater's behalf was not limited to the Prime Minister's office. In one instance, a letter from David Bain's first lawyer containing damaging allegations against his former client was sent on to Whaleoil on the same day it was received by Collins' office.

Bain's legal team, which was outraged last year by Collins' decision to withold around 250 documents related to her dismissal of the Binnie report recommending compensation for Bain, will doubtless be very interested in evidence of the minister acting in bad faith.

On the other hand, Selwyn Manning, in a Daily Blog  report drawing from conversations with National Party sources, says: 

... what is feared the most by National’s political elite is the pending dump of email correspondence between Jason Ede and Cameron Slater.

That, and revelations potentially contained within the cache of documents, is what National insiders believe may eventually place the Prime Minister John Key under oath.

I don't think most National Party activists will be feeling quite the fear and anxiety confessed by Manning's sources -- at least not about the impending election. The polls don't give them much, if any, reason to do so.

But this thing isn't going to stop on September 20.

There are already two inquiries, one by Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security into the passing of SIS information to Slater, which will be conducted under oath and will have access to documents and phone records; and one exploring Collins' connection to an alleged attempt to undermine the country's financial regulators on behalf of Mark Hotchin. The latter is also the subject of a police complaint by the Labour Party.

Next month, when Slater's earlier privacy case comes back to court, it's likely that Simon Judd, the barrister acting for the Director of Human Rights Proceedings, will seek discovery of correspondence that rebutts his claim that he is a journalist, rather than someone who is paid to defame.

That, in turn, will attract the attention of large companies, including Progressive Enterprises, who may feel themselves to have been the victims of such campaigns. It would be no surprise to see them taking legal action. Katherine Rich, a former National minister, may be shifting uncomfortably in her seat about that. Fonterra's denial of any involvement may yet be tested.

At some point, the Law Society will respond to complaints about the conduct of Williams, Collins and Cathy Odgers. Yesterday's whaledump included messages indicating that the firm Williams worked for, Franks Ogilvie, offered Slater's dubious services to a client.

We're likely do discover more about this way of doing politics. Kelvin Smythe's blog post  about the way "unpleasant things happened, indeed, are still happening to certain principals, seeming to involve Whale Oil, editorial offices of newspapers, the ministry, and the education review office," indicates that the intimidation has occured across various portfolios and policy areas.

Manning's story includes some fascinating leads for any other journalists who want to explore not only the role of Jason Ede, but the way things have been run within the government, the Prime Minister's office and the National Party. Whether or not they've seen Ede's correspondence with Slater -- assuming it exists -- journalists already have the fodder for a thousand OIA requests. If they are enjoined from further reporting of the story today, they will make a crusade of it.

There will also be a public response to any injunction of the material concerned. We may go into the election with a significant number of people finding ways to publish it in protest. The idea of news organisations being forbidden to report on a story everyone knows is there is weird. Key may still have the confidence of half the population, but his brand has been damaged by his sometimes bizarre, obtuse responses to straightforward questions. He has probably said more than one thing that will come back to bite him.

National will probably win a third term this month, but there is a huge taint in all this. There is simply too much here for it all to just melt away -- and it won't, if for no other reason than that we need to find ways for what has already been revealed to not happen again.


Show some decency

I'm glad your father isn't alive to see this, my mother often says. I know what she means.

Dad was, sometimes to a fault, concerned with security. I think my own ability to take risks is founded in the safety I felt in my childhood and I have always been grateful for that. He died in his fifties, believing that he had provided for my mother's life after he was gone. He was as careful as you would expect of a bank manager who sometimes provided pro bono budgeting advice to people who'd got themselves in a mess.

Almost all of the money is long-gone, lost in the rubble of multiple finance companies. Mum's retirement was taken from her. "Never ask your mother for money," Dad said to me before he died. I don't. I send her a little money every month.

Hanover wasn't the one that took the most of Mum's money -- the worst of it for her was in the actions of  the principals of Money Managers -- but it's the one that's most often in my face. It's there again, in the story broken in the Sunday Star Times by Matt Nippert.

Fran O'Sullivan summed it up in her Herald column today:

A cache of emails appears to reveal that three people - Carrick Graham, who was former Hanover Finance director Mark Hotchin's PR man, tax lawyer and blogger Cathy Odgers (aka Cactus Kate) and blogger Cameron (Whale Oil) Slater - were running campaigns apparently on behalf of Hotchin to try to discredit the SFO and the Financial Markets Authority as they investigated the failed finance company.

The emails appear to show that these campaigns involved the intimidation of a witness and the targeting of journalists and advocates who Graham, Odgers and Slater felt might embarrass Hotchin, their paying client. As The Ruminator notes, it may add up to perverting the course of justice.

These apparent actions bear directly on the integrity of New Zealand's markets and I am, frankly, sick to death of hearing from professed business types who refuse to see beyond their own political prejudice. To see how serious this is.

The Prime Minister finally managed in last night's Press debate to offer some modest condemndation of the actions of Slater and his friends. He deserves no credit for it. None at all, for so long as he he stands by the cynically narrow inquiry he has constructed to consider the actions of his former Justice minister, Judith Collins.

As Matt Nippert pointed out in last night's Media Take, the Serious Fraud Office is a law enforcement agency. We should care about an apparent campaign to undermine the rule of law. We should know how far this conduct extended. Labour's complaint to the police may help more than Key's faux inquiry, but it will inevitably be limited to this one case.

I know there are people within the National Party who care about this. One told me yesterday he believed that the "defamation for hire" business being conducted wiped tens of millions of dollars off the value of corporate brands. We need to know what was done and how far it extended, and I don't give a flying shit who is politically embarrassed in the course of finding out. That's not the point.

We need our political leaders, of whatever stripe, to show some decency and find out. And we need, everyone, to shun these people and what they represent.

PS: Please do watch the online-only Media Take extended interview with Matt Nippert and Raymond Miller, especially if you're a journalist. Matt is blunt and honest. Others could follow his example.


Why we thought what we thought

Matt Nippert must hardly have been able to to believe his luck yesterday when the latest source in the dizzying Dirty Politics drama -- Prime Minister John Key -- produced the email that, according to Key, finally exhausted Justice minister Judith Collins' apparently inexhaustible stock of warnings and chances.

Nippert has been working with Rawshark -- aka Whaledump, aka the source of the messages that form the basis of Nick Hager's book Dirty Politics -- to piece together a story showing that Mark Hotchin, the former co-owner of Hanover Finance, paid Cameron Slater and Cathy Odgers, via Carrick Graham, to attack and undermine the Financial Markets Authority and the Serious Fraud Office, who were investigating Hanover's collapse.

What Nippert describes is wholly in line with the modus operandi of paid smears outlined in Hager's book (Hager actually alludes to a Hotchin connection on page 87, but he didn't pursue the story). But it evidently appeared to be a story without direct political resonance -- until yesterday, when Key released a screenshot of an email in which Slater implicates Collins in an attack on Adam Feeley, the then-director of the Serious Fraud Office, saying:

I also spoke at length with the minister responsible today (Judith Collins). She is gunning for Feeley. Any information we can provide her on his background is appreciated. I have outlined for her a coming blog post about the massive staff turnover and she has added that to the review of the State Services Commissioner. She is using his review of these events to go on a trawl looking for anything else. It is my opinion that Feeley's position is untenable.

Suddenly, Nippert had an even better front-page story: The real reason behind Judith Collins' demise.

But there was more than that. Nippert himself is mentioned in the email. Slater, affecting the tone of a PR professional, says he will "cover Matt Nippert", as part of a drive to foster the story of an embattled, compromised Feeley with mainstream media journalists.

Slater also says that his accomplice, lawyer Cathy Odgers, had been briefing New Zealand Herald columnist Fran O'Sullivan -- who wrote scornfully in this column and this one of Feeley's somewhat unprofessional act of celebrating the the SFO's prosecution of Bridgecorp by opening a bottle of champagne left behind by Bridgecorp directors when they vacated the company offices.

From Slater's email:

Cathy can outline her contact with Fran O'Sullivan separately. Basically though the Herald and other media are now picking up our lines that this situation is like "Caesar's Wife" where the SFO must be beyond reproach. If he nicked a bottle of wine what else has he nicked or hidden from receivers and liquidators? ...  

Our (Cathy's) nickname for Feeley (Five Fingers Feeley) has stuck. journalists ringing me actually use to describe Feeley now in phone conversations.

I also spoke at length with the Minister responsible today (Judith Collins). She is gunning for Feeley. Any information that we can provide her on his background is appreciated. I have outlined for her a coming blog post about the massive staff turnover and she has added that to the review of the State Services Commissioner. She is using the review of these events to go on a trawl looking for anything else. It is my opinion that Feeley's position is untenable.

From O'Sullivan's column:

Collins - who is not known as the Crusher for nothing - is understandably furious that the SFO director, whom she personally hawked around town as the sheriff who was going to drive the fraudsters out of Dodge City in the wake of the multibillion-dollar finance companies sector collapse, would trivialise such an important issue.

Collins is a tougher bird than Prime Minister John Key or Finance Minister Bill English, who have each trivialised the matter. If I read her correctly, she will see this as a matter of character.

The full facts are yet to be disclosed.

The commission has to make full inquiries into just how Feeley came by the bottle of Gosset champagne. But clearly those inquiries must also involve the Bridgecorp receivers PricewaterhouseCoopers, given that Feeley's email directly mentions insolvency specialist John Waller.

There may be simple explanations why "three or four" bottles of champagne were left behind after the directors' "sudden exit". But Bridgecorp's investors are entitled to seek assurances that all the company's assets - however minor - were cashed up in the usual fashion and not purloined by the next inhabitants of their former offices.

What should concern Collins is other material now in circulation questioning just what is going down within the SFO.

Feeley's hired gun approach upset many of the SFO staff he inherited when he took over the office.

Slater's line seems to be echoed almost exactly in a Herald column written at the same time by Deborah Hill Cone:

What does it say to his staff that it is OK to take a bottle of wine from one of the companies you are investigating? If that is OK - hey, it's only a bottle of wine - what next? 

O'Sullivan also scorns the "PR flannel" of the SFO's response in her column. And yet reading that column now, it could be seen to cohere to a countervailing PR strategy. One that nobody wrote any columns about.

The Slater email also says this:

I am maintaining daily communications with Jared Savage at the Herald and he is passing information directly to me that the Herald can't run and so are feeding me to run on the blog. in the meantime I also have additional information flowing in via my tipline. That information will be drip fed into the media or via my blog.

In a response posted on the Herald website yesterday, Savage confirms that he provided Slater with material that had come to him in the form of emails from inside the SFO:

Most of it was flotsam and jetsam, interesting tidbits of unverified information or gossip which I decided against pursuing as angles.

I cut and pasted the content of some of those emails, to remove any possible identifying features, and forwarded them on to Slater. So information was shared, there was a bit of "horse trading", we talked about developments as the story rolled along.

I think that largely this is the supping-with-the-devil that investigative journalists sometimes have to do. Savage was hardly the only journalist to be dealing with Slater behind the scenes. Savage's Herald colleague David Fisher, who later stepped "outside the tent", was among them.

In the same article, there's also a response from O'Sullivan, who insists that her opinions and sources were her own and says:

The inference in Cameron Slater's email that blogger and lawyer Cathy Odgers had any influence over that column is risible.

She had previously been rightly critical of Feeley's overreach in another case. And yet, it's difficult to avoid the view that O'Sullivan's column was written in the context of an atmosphere that Slater and his ghastly friends were working to create. We even have further confirmation that these people habitually gamed iPredict to create perceptions.

There are any number of stories in the past five years that we might now peel back and inspect in this light, and ask why we thought we what thought about those stories. Both columnists and reporters rely on their contacts and sources. It might well be asked when and where the source becomes the spin we're supposed to avoid.