Speaker by Various Artists

1

Rocking in the Public Good: Hager and Shihad

by Jackson James Wood

Seldom has New Zealand seen such super-harmonies in the traditionally separate spheres of music  and investigative journalism. The release of New Zealand prog-rocker Nicky Hager’s latest album Dirty Politics coincided with the well known citizen journalist group Shihad’s book FVEY, a polemical exposition of the surveillance state Aotearoa has become.

The two works paint a picture of a changing New Zealand. The once pristine 100% pure image has been displaced and these implications of scum and villainy mean a great deal of cognitive dissonance for the small state in the South Pacific that has traditionally topped international lists of transparency and rocked out to the likes of Tim and Neil Finn and, of late, the dulcet tones of Lorde.

The first chapter of FVEY, ‘Think You’re So Free’, gets straight to the point exposing how New Zealand has changed. The direct challenge in the chapter title is reinforced by its message where the authors have searched for courage, proof, and for a leader who’ll speak the truth, but come up lacking. Themes of the right to privacy, the need for steady economic conditions, and a clean environment are channeled through a lens where the author assumes citizens are sleeping, and asks “When do you think we’ll wake up?”

Following on themes from their first album, Secret Power, Shihad take up the idea this sleep walking has allowed our Government to engage in spying on a massive scale. The author reveals that through the ECHELON base at Waihopai the Five Eyes Network (from where the book gets its name) can hear everything you say, that privacy is dead and ends on the revelation that by engaging in this behaviour the government has sold our freedom.

In ‘The Great Divide’ Shihad explain why they wrote FVEY, dedicating it to the weak, those who are hungry and need compassion and protection. An exposition of New Zealand’s growing inequality gap is entered into which flows into the next chapter, ‘Model Citizen’ which outlines a government plan to mass medicate the country. 

FVEY investigates themes of privacy and  the grey areas where democracy has fallen down. A nod to a Huxley-inspired, soma-wrapped future where nothing you do is safe from prying eyes (of which there are five) is given. It makes some heavy allegations to back this up.

  • at one point a lion was let out of its cage and that it was the Prime Minister who did it (chapter 4)
  • The government employs executioners (chapter 3)
  • There was a zombie outbreak that was covered up (chapter 5)
  • The government has been engaging in alchemy and successfully turned lead into gold (chapter 6)
  • The government’s procurement strategy has been “cheap as fuck” in order to cut costs. (chapter 11)

While the referencing is sparse, the Government has been utterly silent on the allegations made in FVEY and seem to be playing a game of ‘ignore-it-and-it-will-go-away’.

The segue into Dirty Politics is clear: among the murky allegations of our devolution into a surveillance state, Shihad say there are a group of blood thirsty élites who are “borderline psychopaths who’ll do it for the thrill”. Dirty Politics clearly picks up on this theme, being a concept album based on the Hager’s impression of the well known right-wing attack blogger Cameron Slater, who could bee seen as that aforementioned thrill-seeker (Simon Lusk’s Plan, track 5).

The first track on the album ‘The Rise of the Bloggers’ starts softly, with tones of Hager’s previous album The Hollow Men, (another experimental album whose music was completely composed of brash melodies and leaky whistle overtones). It slowly builds and crescendos with attacking riffs which paint a picture of an apocalyptic future where bloggers have replaced the media.

‘The PM’s Black Ops Man’, shifts down a gear with  Metallica-like power chords which jar the listener awake with the haunting chorus hook line of “death by a 1000 leaks / it will shut down their donors / shut down their IT systems / they are going to die hard this week”.

Track 4, ‘The Crusher and the Attack Dog’ is a duet with acclaimed New Zealand singer, Hayley Westenra who sings from the perspective of the eternally tortured Justice Minister Judith Collins. This rock-rap track is derivative of the Dr Dre Eminem collaboration Forgot About Dre. Hager and Westenra trade insults in the bombastic fashion of their subjects.

Collins: you know the rule. always reward with Double

Slater: I learned the rule from you! Double it is.

At track nine, Hager trades in his bass-heavy guitar-laden modus for novelty accordion and polka tones. It’s a fast paced number which traces the trials and tribulations of the protagonist, David Farrar, a blogger come pollster come hat-wearer who has to juggle his blogging, polling, and millinery fascinations. It’s a novelty track, not quite as well practised as the other songs on the album, but bears a chilling element of contrast from the rest of the album.

The final track, ’The Smiling Assassin’ takes aim right at the Prime Minister. With themes of trust, transparency, and tricks Hager ties up the album with a lyrical masterpiece perfectly pitched to its proletarian prog rock tones. The track itself has a whimsical military feel to it, reminiscent of FVEY’s final chapter and ends with the haunting lines:

“The remarks exposed both Key and Slater

The friendly and unfriendly faces of National

Who secretly collaborated

throughout a period of dirty politics”

Many music critics have written off Dirty Politics as left-wing smear, and in an extraordinary turn of events the Prime Minister reviewed the album, despite claiming to have never read it. 

With both FVEY and Dirty Politics, you need to listen/read the whole album/book to pick up the nuance of this watershed moment of New Zealand’s musical/political history. Each track/chapter is full of references to pop culture and current events which which point toward a darkening of the long white cloud. 

Dirty Politics: how attack politics is poising New Zealand’s Political Environment

by Nicky Hager

Craig Potton Publishing

★★★★☆

FVEY

by Shihad

Roadrunner

★★★★☆

13

Election 2014: Mental Health Policies

by Kyle MacDonald

Health funding is tricky.  Politically, it's often about robbing Peter to pay Paul, and my experience of working in the public mental health system for many years is that mental health is often the "black sheep" of the health system.  In the past, for this reason, spending on mental health treatment has been "ring-fenced" and specific targets (like via the mental health "blueprint") have set up to ensure adequate funding and service provision.

It's also a tricky thing to know at what level health is actually being funded.  It's one thing to say that funding for the health budget has been increased (as the National government claimed in this year's Budget) in dollar terms, it's a different question as to whether it has actually increased relative to population growth and demographic factors.

Much cleverer people than me are clear that his year's health budget was actually a relative cut in health spending of $232 million dollars.  Analysis from the Green Party, conducted independently by economic consultants BERL, also concluded that the proposed budget outlined for the next three years by the National Government will continue to underfund our public health services, and therefore by default our public mental health services.

So if mental health is your interest, your profession, your life or your experience here's what the main parties have to say about what they will do with our health dollars. Where possible I've given the whole mental health policy (if there was one) from the party's website, and have also approached all the relevant health spokespeople (if there was one) for comment.  At the time of publication, only Kevin Hague of the Green Party had replied.

 National Party

The only policy I've been able to find on the National Party website relating to, or mentioning, mental health is as follows:

"Support young people with mental health issues to get the help they need, and improve services via the PM's Youth Mental Health Project."  (Click here for more on this policy)

I also approached the Minister of Health, Hon. Tony Ryall, for comment and further details.  He did not respond to my enquiries.

Let's not forget that it is this National led Government that has overseen the dismantling of the Family Court-funded access to couples counselling, attempted repeatedly (albeit unsuccessfully, but only due to massive protest) to severely limit access to the ACC sensitive claims counselling funding for victims of sexual violence and continued to tighten eligibility for what used to be called the Invalids Benefit and counselling funding provided by WINZ.  Increased funding for young people with mental illness will do little to counterbalance these losses, in my view.

Labour Party

The Labour Health policy, on the other hand, is quite detailed and health spokesperson the Hon. Annette King, who I heard speak recently, is clear that mental health is a priority for the Labour Party.

From the Labour Health Policy 2014:

(Click here for the whole policy document)

"Mental health will be one of Labour's top eight health priorities when in Government.  Labour will:

  • Acknowledge the importance of mental health by restoring it as a health priority for District Health Boards.
  • Require District Health Boards to set appropriate targets for the restoration and enhancement of mental health services.
  • Re-instate the ring-fence for mental health funding.
  • Enhance the provision of acute services to those most in need.
  • Work to ensure equity of access services to those most in need.
  • Work to ensure equity of access to health care for those experiencing mental illness.
  • Support early intervention programmes for those with mild to moderate mental health issues as a method of providing low cost access to services and reducing costs in the provision of secondary services.
  • Include good mental wellbeing as an objective of putting children at the centre of polcy making.
  • Support those experiencing lower acuity mental illness through to recovery and/ or self-management and encourage where desirable the transfer of ring fenced funding from hospital to community-based support arrangements.
  • Review the contracting arrangements for mental health providers with a view to creating more consistent and efficient approach to contracting.
  • Ensure that when community mental health contracts are tendered that priority is accorded to organisations transitioning to a living wage.
  • Provide increased resources to the office of the Health and Disability Commissioner to recognise the associated increased workload that has accompanied the trend towards growing interaction with mental health services.
  • Work with mental health consumers, mental health organisations, service providers, District Health Boards and the Department of Corrections to eliminate the avoidable use of seclusion and minimize the use of restraints in mental health facilities including psychiatric wards and "at risk units."
  • Acknowledge sexual violence as a major cause of mental health issues and work to address the consequences for this."

Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand

The Green Party has a fairly comprehensive and detailed set of mental health policies:

(Click here for the full policy document)

"The Green Party will:

  • Ensure mental healthcare training and practice is grounded in holistic, humanistic perspectives that recognise each individual as whole.
  • Encourage mental health providers working within multi-disciplinary teams that hold the well-being of the client at the heart of their practice. Wherever possible, clients have a ‘primary’ provider who remains with them through their recovery process.
  • Ensure skilled facilitation of multi-disciplinary teams that enables collaborative ways of working and provides collegial and professional support.
  • Utilise client-assessed outcome measurement tools to compare service effectiveness.
  • Fund innovative initiatives based on overseas experiences or new initiatives, particularly those that indicate high recovery rates with low/minimal drug use."

I also spoke briefly with Kevin Hague, Health spokesperson for the Green Party, and he outlined the following for me, in response to questions.

Firstly about Labour's policy of re-introducing the ringfence approach to funding for mental health:

"I do favour resuming the ringfence, but it has to go hand in hand with forcing DHBs to actually meet blueprint volumes.  Broadly our policy and Labour's are congruent."

And with regards to the Green Party's priorities for mental health spending he had this to say...

"My top priorities (within mental health services - of course our wider social and economic policies will make a significant difference) would be:

"1. restoring a funding path to services (including NGOs) that matches the need services are trying to meet (in contrast to current real terms cuts over past 6 years)
2. Ensuring good access to counseling, brief interventions and other treatment as part of the primary care level, but either directly or through PHOs
3. Ensure full range of community-based support services for people with ongoing mental illness, including residential services, so they don't get stuck in inpatient units (or left unsupported)
4. develop some indicators for service quality in mental health that align with best practice and will require systemic improvement to achieve
5. AOD services ramped up, especially (and in conjunction with other mental health treatment services) for Corrections clients"

United Future

When I heard the Hon. Peter Dunne speak to this policy, he was clear to differentiate that it represented United Future policy, and that as such he was not speaking as Associate Health Minister:

(Click here for the full policy document)

"United Future will:

  • Encourage government agencies to work together on early intervention, prevention, treatment and rehabilitation in mental health
  • Ensure that the right balance is struck between inpatient and community care to prevent people becoming a danger to themselves and society, but with recovery within the community remaining the goal
  • Increase resources for mental health professionals to ensure that those patients who may pose a risk to others or themselves are adequately assessed and treated
  • Increase the number of community-based mental health workers to ease high caseloads
  • Fund child and youth mental health inpatient beds at a level sufficient to achieve the objectives set out in Rising to the Challenge – the Mental Health and Addiction Service Development Plan 2012-2017 and the Prime Minister’s Youth Mental Health Project;
  • Tackle the issue of the lack of accommodation and employment support options for people recovering from mental health problems in the community;
    Increase drug, alcohol and mental health treatment programmes for prison inmates
  • Improve workforce development and funding available for youth-focused counselling services as the first line of defence, rather than over-prescribing pharmaceuticals for mental health problems
  • Ensure DHBs plan for secure facilities for treatment of young people with mental health problems
  • Promote more research to address youth related health problems such as suicide, alcoholism, and bulimia"

New Zealand First

The New Zealand First Health policy outlines some broad goals, and I also approached the NZ First Health spokesperson Barbara Stewart with some questions about their specific policy.  She didn't respond to my inquiries.

(Click here for the full policy outline)

"New Zealand First will:

  • Increase the options of mental health services available, working towards a community view instead of a medical view of services.
  • Improve residential services for people who have severe illnesses or disabilities and/or substance abuse problems.
  • Provide additional resourcing for child and youth mental health services, and the necessary resources and funding to address the continuing appalling state of mental health services by completing the full implementation of the recommendations of the Mason report."

Maori Party

Specific mental health policy appears a little thin on the ground, other than ongoing support for Whānau Ora, and more specifically supporting the Prime Minister's Youth mental health intitiative via targeted Whānau Ora funding.

(click here for more on this funding)

More generally:

"The Māori Party is committed to... ... inclusion of the 6 week GP check in Well Child/ Tamariki Ora services to ensure signs of postnatal depression and congenital heart disease are identified... [and] ...continued research and evaluation into the effectiveness of suicide prevention, intervention and postvention for whānau Māori."

Mana Party

(Click here for the full health policy outline)

"The Mana party will:

  • Increase access to and funding for mental health services, including those for children and young people.
  • Support the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes when made available under prescription from a health professional.
  • Give communities a veto over whether and where liquor outlets, fast food outlets, and pokie venues are established."

Internet Party

The Internet party has a very detailed policy document on the use of "E-Health" solutions, but very little else that I could find on health policy.  The document doesn't refer directly to mental health.

ACT

ACT makes the following policy statement about health funding generally:

"ACT does not support free healthcare as this results in the provision of a service which is not valued."

Says it all really.

(Click here for more on their health policies)

Conservative Party

The Conservative Party makes the following statement about health:

"A belief that all New Zealanders should have reasonable access to quality health care and education regardless of their ability to pay."

(Click here for more on their "principles")

They make no specific statements about mental health, although I have previously expressed some concern about the party's lack of understanding in this area as indicated by the stigmatising use of language in their promotional material see: Off the Couch: Not mental.

So, what's the moral of the story? Well, it should hardly be a surprise that the minor parties on the right either explicitly don't support funding of mental health, or have very little to say about it.  The other minor parties, largely on the left or centre-left, seem to support ongoing and increased mental health funding.  Of the three major parties, the Labour Party and the Green Party have the most detailed and well-developed polices as to how to increase and make more effective the public mental health system.

And for those of you that think this is a minority issue, as I wrote about last week (see: Off the Couch: What is normal?) just under half of us will experience a mental illness or an addiction at some point in our life, and one in five Kiwis currently are.  Make your vote count.

Kyle MacDonald is a psychotherapist and is the New Zealand Association of Psychotherapists Council spokesperson on Public Issues.  He writes a regular blog “Off the Couch” at www.psychotherapy.org.nz and can be found on Twitter: @kylemacd

28

Why I'm standing in Ilam

by James Macbeth Dann

If you had told me the media were going to focus on a Canterbury Labour candidate invoking Shakespeare, I would have hoped it was me. The thing is, the James Macbeth Dann for Ilam campaign, superbly managed by Public Address alumnus Stephen Judd, is a by-the-book one. Door knocking. Phone canvassing. Thousands of deliveries. Emails from Stephen telling me not to say stupid things. It’s a hard slog, it’s not particularly glamourous, and it’s not very media-friendly.

I’m standing in Ilam because I think the rebuild has been handled disastrously, and the person overwhelmingly responsible is the local MP, Gerry Brownlee. While we are realistic about our chances, we think that what is happening in Christchurch should be a defining issue of the campaign. Every vote I get in Ilam sends a message to the Beehive - the recovery isn’t working. We should be debating convention centres and cost-sharing agreements, housing and transport. I’ve done my best to raise these issues - on the doorstep, in the media and through my blog.

But a serious conversation about Christchurch’s debt track, rising rents and EQC inspections isn’t as fun as a debate with Colin Craig and Jamie Whyte, or another expose on the critical issue of Epsom school zoning. With launch of Nicky Hager’s book, this election has launched itself into a surreal orbit. The last two weeks have been consumed by the Prime Minister being asked very specific questions about a book he deliberately hasn’t read.

It’s been a respite from the sideshows - Jamie Whyte, Kim Dotcom, Colin Craig, Winston Peters periodically saying something stupid or controversial and getting a whole lot of attention. One positive about Dirty Politics is that when National emerge from the filth, they may have to resort to “the issues that matter to New Zealanders” - you know, policy and shit.

There are big questions - massive questions - that could be asked of National about their plans for this city. In 2011, they ran on the slogan “Rebuilding Christchurch” (named after my blog, of course) and that was about as detailed as they got. In 2014, it seems to be the same.

There are a number of questions that I think the people of Christchurch deserve to have answered.

What are you going to do to fix EQC, and all the insurance claims that are still outstanding?

Are you going to renegotiate the cost-sharing agreement with the council, or are you going to stick with the plan of forcing the council to pay for things that they can’t afford, like a stadium, whilst compelling them to sell productive council assets?

And, probably most importantly, if re-elected, would a National-led government have Gerry Brownlee as earthquake recovery minister, or would you look to find someone who wants to work collaboratively with people, rather than unilaterally imposing a vision upon them?

Key likes us to believe that he and National are “safe economic managers”. The growth this country has had (outside of Auckland property) has largely been driven by Canterbury - both the dairy boom, and the rebuild.

With the bottom falling out of the milk powder market, there is little Key can do to restart it - he can’t nuke ECan twice. So that leaves the rebuild as the major driver of the country’s growth. You’d think with something that important, we’d be having a serious conversation about it. This is of national importance, yet gets next to no coverage. 

I’m trying my best to raise these issues, and the profile of the campaign. I’m still regularly blogging about it, both at my blog, and occasionally over at the Standard as well.

I’m part of the editorial team of a new book that is launching at the end of the month, explicitly about the rebuild and the Blueprint. I’ve done some slightly left-of-centre things, such as this video, or my twitter avatar, to draw attention in different ways.

But the reality is that the media would prefer a sensational, stupid, or salacious hook rather than a solid campaign. That might be better for attracting eyeballs or advertising, but it doesn’t help when you’ve got a complex, convoluted subject like the rebuild. If the coverage of the contest in Christchurch continues at this trivial level, then it will be the people of this city - left, right, unenrolled, everyone - who will be worse off.

Authorised by James Macbeth Dann, 2/250 St Asaph Street, Christchurch.

 

21

If political parties were beer ...

by Grant McDougall

The election is upon us and given recent events, it’s enough to drive you to drink. Come election night, we’ll all deserve to put away some booze.

For some, it’ll merely be to celebrate that the goddamn campaign is over. For others, it’ll be to celebrate good fortune; the fruits of success will be washed down with a refreshing drop of whatever it is you fancy. Still others will have to face up to the bitter taste of defeat and console themselves with some fortifying grog. Then there’ll be those cynical, worn-out, jaded, disillusioned characters that will simply need to get sloshed in an attempt to alleviate the impending misery of three more years of politicians of all stripes crowding out the media with their inane gobbledegook.

I suspect that regardless of your allegiances, you’ll be take a deep, long sip and give thanks that you’ll never, ever, ever hear the name Colin Craig, ever, ever again. Unless you’re an Aucklander wanting to treat yourself to a new car, possibly.

Between now and election day, we’ll be subjected to politicians, pundits, professors and the public comparing and contrasting parties, policies and personalities. Back in 2006 I wrote a post comparing political parties to bands. This year, in the words of the great Mark E Smith, it’s “time to drink the long draught…” and compare parties to beer. So here’s the 2014 PA election guide to whether a party is flat or fizzy, ale or ail:

National

If the Nats were a beer, they’d be Tui: tasteless, bland, dull, unimaginative and massively, massively, inexplicably popular. Like Tui, the Nats are very reliant on a single, dominating image and appeal factor. On television, it’s those ads with the gormless guys breaking into the brewery. Around the country, it’s those inescapable “Yeah, right” billboards.

As with the PM, plenty of people like them because it’s lowest common denominator, comedy-lite material that has nil intellectual appeal, but is loved by people because it doesn’t take itself too seriously, according to the marketing experts. But what’s going to happen when the public eventually get sick of it ?

Bars in the bigger cities wouldn’t be seen dead stocking Tui, but right now it remains vastly popular in provincial and suburban pubs and commands a major share of the market.

Labour

Her majesty’s loyal opposition are the Montieth’s range. Both originated on the West Coast and have been an established, often popular, product for ages. Both seem to be struggling a bit at the moment, that’s for sure.

As with the furore a few years’ back when the brewery tried to close down the West Coast operation and shift it to Auckland, there’s boisterous comment from some loyal supporters that it’s lost touch with its working class constituency and is having too many of the shots called from trendies in the big smoke. They reckon they’ve taken their eye off what the product is all about. Rather than sticking to the core brews it’s best-known for, it’s trying to be all things to all people, with an extensive range covering all tastes and inclinations, but failing to truly increase overall sales and appeal.

Has always had solid support in the big cities and a decent following in the larger provincial cities, but needs to start re-establishing itself in rural rugby clubs.

The Greens

Clearly they’re Emerson’s. An outstanding product with much depth and made by some very clever, genuine, talented people. They’ve been around for a while now and have steadily increased in popularity, especially in the past five or six years. Their image and marketing has became much, much more slicker, yet it still retains charm and credibility.

There were accusations of ‘selling out” when the brewery was bought-out by a major player a couple of years’ ago, but  it still retains its individuality and has lost none of its unique taste. Same for the Greens. Where once there were braces and dreadlocks, now Russel Norman wears a suit and Meteria Turei dresses flash, but they have a distinct image different to Labour.

But despite better marketing and increased popularity, they’re still a craft beer, only filling a niche market. It sells very steadily in the city bars, bottle stores and supermarkets, but really struggles in the outer suburbs and provinces, where it’s seen as far too pretentious.

United Future

Without question, United Future is Rheineck. Rheineck was vaguely popular ages ago and is still available these days, despite being the most gutless, insipid, weak, mediocre beer in the country, ever.

True story: about five years ago, a few weeks before Christmas, a pallet of Rheineck six-packs, going for $6.99 each, mysteriously appeared at my local supermarket. It sat there and it sat there. It sat there some more. I went away for a few weeks over Christmas and New Year and upon returning saw that a grand total of two six-packs out of an entire pallet had been sold. Like Rheineck, United Future is cheap ‘n’ nasty and you’d be a fool to even contemplate drinking it.

New Zealand First

Winston Peters is fairly partial to good quality whisky, but his party is more Lion Brown. It’s only ever bought by people over sixty and more out of habit, than anything else. It’s not flash, but it sure as hell isn’t as bad as some of the others, that’s for sure. It’s the sort of beer that appeals to people that don’t want to drink that trendy craft beer nonsense, but just don’t have the dosh to stump up for green bottle Euro lager.

It doesn’t appeal to me, but I get why it does to some – it’s solid and reliable, can get you a bit merry, but by and large it’s the beer of last resort. But if the PM or the Opposition leader need to buy some beers and nothing else is available, they’ll whip out the plastic quicker than you can say “supply and confidence,” even though they wouldn’t be seen dead drinking it in Remuera or Herne Bay.

ACT

This lot are Budweiser. What they offer is pretty popular in some sections of American, but has close to nil appeal in New Zealand. That’s because it’s imported, tasteless, has an icky flavour and very difficult to stomach. Like the boofheads in America that swear by this, the worst advertisement for it is its adherents. You just look at them and the alarm bells starting clanging like hell. Has a slowly decreasing  handful of hardy, dedicated fans, but freezing workers and plumbers in the provinces wouldn’t be seen dead drinking it.

Internet-Mana

Boundary Rd, all the way. Reasonably new to the market and has a small but solid niche. Likes to portray itself as down-to-earth, but also modern, hip and up to speed with what young people are into. But if you check out who’s actually behind it, you’ll find that it’s set up by a massively-successful business worth millions. Therein lies it’s problem – sure, it means well and tastes good, but at the same time there’s always that nagging feeling that your hard-earned dosh is going to the wealthy, not a genuine small brewery.

But so far it’s held its own in the market; whether it expands its share or fades within a few years remains to be seen. It’s got a foot-hold in the swankier urban bars, but, like the Greens, is seen as a bit weird and dodgy in the provinces.

Maori

Must be DB Draught. At heart a solid, workmanlike product, but nothing beyond that. Compared to newer and bigger brands is basically dull, uninspiring and bland, lacks imagination and should’ve gone through a massive, extensive re-branding campaign long ago. It completely lacks appeal to anyone under 60 who see it as the preserve of fuddy-duddies. Favoured by people that find Internet-Mana a bit too outré, yet don’t have the bottle to try anything else. Has some appeal in truly rural pubs and some of the more needy provinces, but not taken seriously elsewhere.

Conservatives

Steinlager Lite. It’s trying to be a serious player, but has one hell of an image problem. It relies on a successful name, but is taken seriously only by wowsers. Completely lacks any strength and at best only hits 2% potency.

Cheers !

55

Confidential information: the legal rights and wrongs

by Nicole Moreham

One of the questions raised by Nicky Hager’s new book Dirty Politics is when it’s okay to access or publish confidential information.  Has Hager has acted unlawfully by publishing the emails which he says were leaked to him after someone hacked into Cameron Slater’s Whale Oil site?  On the other side of the coin, have the PM’s advisor, Jason Ede, and Cameron Slater done anything wrong if, as Hager claims, they accessed Labour’s donor and supporter data via a loophole in the party’s website?  What about the hackers of Slater’s emails?  

Publishing Dirty Politics

Let’s start with Hager.  He claims that the book is based on thousands of pages of emails between Slater and others which were leaked to him out of the blue by an unnamed person or persons.  He says the emails were obtained during an attack on the Whale Oil site following Slater’s comment “Feral dies in Greymouth, did world a favour.”  There is no suggestion that Hager was himself involved in the hacking of the emails so the question is: was Hager entitled to publish the emails he published?  

The answer is yes, as long as the public interest in the emails outweighs the competing rights of those who wrote them.  So how do we work that out?  There is a pretty good argument that material in Dirty Politics is in the public interest.  The public interest is particularly strong where information relates to the behaviour of elected politicians.  Dirty Politics is making some serious allegations about that behaviour and it’s arguable that the public should hear them.

People also have no right to keep secret communications which reveal wrongdoing.  This “iniquity” defence could justify many of Hager’s disclosures including, for example, the alleged exchange in which Slater and political commentator, Matthew Hooton, provide details of Hager’s address to lawyer, Cathy Ogders, who wants it made available to “vicious” individuals whom she appears to believe will have it in for him.

On the other side, though, are the emailers’ rights to privacy and confidentiality.  There can be little question that the emails were confidential and that anyone reading them would have known that.  Slater, Collins etc would probably also have a “reasonable expectation of privacy” in respect of the emails’ contents.

But how heavily does that weigh in the balance?  The breach of privacy/confidentiality here is significant – the need to protect correspondence is widely recognised – but it is not at the worst end of the scale.  Hager has not published information about the emailers’ health, sex lives, family lives, or financial position.  And the emails disclosed were written by the parties in their professional capacity.  This is not as serious as disclosing emails between, say, John Key and his wife or between David Cunliffe and his kids.  In light of that, my money would be on the public interest prevailing. 

Accessing Labour Party donor lists and supporters

So what about Hager’s allegation that, following a tip-off, Slater, Ede and others accessed sensitive information about Labour donors and supporters via a loophole in their website?  Does that account, if accurate, reveal wrongdoing?

Accessing a computer without authorisation is a crime under section 252 of the Crimes Act 1961.  It says:

(1) Every one is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 2 years who intentionally accesses, directly or indirectly, any computer system without authorisation, knowing that he or she is not authorised to access that computer system, or being reckless as to whether or not he or she is authorised to access that computer system.

“Access” and “computer system” are defined pretty broadly and so the provision would seem to catch the activity allegedly undertaken by Ede and Slater.  The question is whether Ede and Slater knew or were reckless about whether their access was unauthorised.  Slater and Ede might be able to claim that they assumed that their access was “authorised” because they got the information via a publicly available website.

But there are lots of ways such an argument could be refuted.  Its success might depend, for example, on how easily Slater and Ede got hold of the information – if a person needed a tip off and/or sophisticated computer skills to get at the donor and supporter lists, it would be hard to argue they thought they were for general consumption.

And what about other indications that the information was not intended for Ede and Slater’s eyes?  Might the structure of the website have made this clear?  Or the nature of the information itself – a court might say it is obvious, for example, that members of the public weren’t meant to be seeing donors’ credit card details.

Ede and Slater’s subsequent comments are relevant here too.  According to Hager, Ede writes an email expressing relief that Labour didn’t realise he’d accessed their material.  And Slater wrote a blog post talking about “Labour’s Leaks”.  These comments could undermine any argument that they thought they were allowed the material all along. 

Labour might also have a claim for damages against the hackers.  The strongest claim here is in breach of confidence.  Recent English case law (Tchenguiz v Imerman) says that it is a breach of confidence simply to access confidential information which is stored on a computer, even if you don’t publish it.  It is not clear yet whether New Zealand will follow that decision but if they do, the two key questions would be: was the donor and supporter information confidential, and if it was, should Ede and Slater have known that?

The answer to the second question is probably yes – for the reasons set out above.  The first question is trickier.  Information can’t be confidential if it is widely available.  So Ede and Slater could argue that, given it could be obtained via a public website, the donor and supporter information is not confidential.  This argument could run into trouble though if the information was not easy to get.  Again, if individuals needed inside knowledge and/or sophisticated computer skills to obtain donor and supporter lists then they probably remained confidential.  

The Whale Oil hackers

That leaves the question of the conduct of the hackers who obtained Slater’s emails.  It seems pretty likely that their behaviour was both criminal and a breach of Slater, Collins, Ede etc’s confidence and privacy.  However, since we don’t know exactly what they did or how they did it, it is difficult to comment further.

Dr Nicole Moreham is Associate Professor of Law at Victoria University of Wellington