We fought the law, and we won (with the help of some other laws and good lawyers)

Twelve years ago I was arrested on New Zealand Parliament Grounds during a protest, along with 74 others. It was my first year of uni. A bunch of us later sued the government for arbitrary arrest and false imprisonment. This year Beggs v Attorney General finally reached a conclusion with a settlement offer. (It’s in my name by accident of alphabetical order.) I banked the cheque today. A formal apology is apparently on the way. Cheers to Tony Ellis who saw it all through, after defending us for free, for this and for generally inspiring fear and loathing in the hearts of cops and Crown prosecutors over the years. Also to Tony Shaw and everyone else who worked on the case.

It was in the news back in July. This post at Public Address gives the history of the case, and its headline is a hilarious pun.

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Published in: on 10 November, 2009 at 7:51 pm  Comments (4)  

Independent monetary policy

What is interesting about the banks raising their mortgage rates independently of the Reserve Bank moving the cash rate? It’s a symptom of a shift that could ultimately be more important than the immediate cause, the global credit crunch.

It’s the first time such a rise has happened in ten years. But movements the other way have been more common, narrowing the gap between the cash rate baseline and the banks’ lending rates. The reason was the entry of all the new mortgage broking firms. These firms started the securitisation trend we now hear so much about. They lent to home-buyers, but offloaded the loans as soon as possible onto third parties. They did this by issuing securities (i.e. bonds) tied to the payments from the mortgages. This meant that their own money was tied up for only the short period between signing the mortgage and selling the mortgage-backed security. So smaller companies could muscle in on the banks’ business. Of course the banks got in on the action and issued their own asset-backed securities. This competition lowered the margin between the cash rate and the rate mortgage borrowers pay.

Another effect was to change the nature of mortgages. Previously, a mortgage tied up a single organisation’s funds for decades. The availability of mortgages was thus limited by the amount of funds that could be tied up like that. But with a market for mortgage-backed securities, no individual organisation’s funds were committed for so long. If they needed cash, they could sell the securities. Now mortgages could be funded out of a broader pool of funds – they could sit alongside bonds and shares in portfolios of instruments that can be sold at will. They were more liquid than old-school mortgages, in other words. I imagine this development was partly responsible for the housing binge and bubble of the 2000s.

But there’s another thing. These markets were quite international. Mortgages in Sydney, Auckand, Perth, etc, could be funded by securities sold on markets in New York, London, Tokyo – at the interest rates prevailing on those markets, exchange rate risks hedged off with derivatives. The fact that interest rates were lower there than in this part of world for the whole decade so far made it profitable for firms to do this. But of course the Reserve Banks of Australia and New Zealand had no influence on those interest rates. In fact a couple of years ago in New Zealand the central bank was extremely frustrated that its hikes of the base rate did not flow through into mortgage rates. It wanted to cool the housing market, but the gears of the monetary policy machine were slipping.

Now things have gone into reverse in the credit markets. Pressure is going the other way. But the point is the same – that bank interest rates are less closely tied to the national central bank. Although central banks have been forced to bail out the markets, they are less in control than they seemed to be – in fact the forced pumping of liquidity into the market is itself a loss of control.

Australia did not have the same issue as New Zealand in the housing boom, probably because it is that much larger. But New Zealand could be a sign of things to come. The point is not obvious now, because it just so happens that the private banks’ de facto policy tightening is moving in the same direction the central bank wants to go. The private tightening may in fact take the place of a public tightening. But there is no particular reason why the effect will always go the way the central bank wants.

Most of the story above about securitisation is in the past tense, because the crunch has stopped it almost dead for now. But chances are, once this all blows over – even if that’s on the other side of a major recession – securitisation will be back to stay, and continue to grow. Plenty of once-novel instruments – like commercial paper – have been implicated in financial crises and then come back as part of the wallpaper. Central banks being forced to intervene to stop a meltdown in fact reassures the markets in the long run that such instruments, and the institutions that issue or hold them, will not be allowed to fail. New markets make themselves indispensable.

Who benefits from the doubt?

Sydneysiders: there will be a rally this Thursday, 25 October, 5.30pm at the New Zealand consulate, 55 Hunter St, against the continued detention of those arrested in terrorism raids last week. 

The first ray of light today: Rongomai Bailey is out on bail.

Everyone else could be in for quite a while before anything comes to trial. This is why I find it so hard to just wait until the evidence plays out in court.

If you read nothing else about the case right now, read this excellent piece by Wellington journalist Alistair Thompson. It’s long, but straightforward. It summarises the facts as are allowed to be revealed to the public.

Best of all it expresses so well something that makes this case so surreal, quoting Matt McCarten: “The only problem is that New Zealand is such a small country, everybody knows everybody else.”

The evidence is entirely suppressed, so few facts can be reported in the media except the existing charges (“collective possession of an illegal weapon”) and that the police are considering applying to the government to lay terrorism charges.

Then there are the rumours, anonymous interviews, unnamed sources.

Then there are the people connected to the case at one remove – to police or to the accused – each assuring the public that if they could see the evidence which was being suppressed, they would have no doubt as to guilt or innocence.

Then you have long-time lefties saying they trust the police on this, and old-school police hardmen saying the cops have fucked up big time.

It is understandable that a lot of people’s judgement is to wait and see. Even people who are not naive about the police and are very sceptical about ‘terrorism’.

But on the other hand, there are not many degrees of separation in New Zealand. So it’s not surprising either that this incident has immediately launched a movement. For activists it is personal, knowing the accused and knowing that talk of terrorism is bullshit. It is scary that the police still hold a sword of Damocles over so many heads, brandishing phone-tap transcripts, searching homes and offices and threatening more arrests. There is no sense that those who did nothing wrong have nothing to fear. There is a sense of arbitrariness, that anyone could be next. In Tuhoe country a whole community is under threat (again), and has generated the strongest show of resistance.

So the question that Thompson answers so well is, who benefits from the doubt?

An alternative to simply breathing through the nose and waiting would be to survey the evidence that is in the public domain already, talk to family members and lawyers of the accused (and those caught up in the police raids) and then attempt to come to a position on the wisdom of allowing this case to continue.

There is a brief window of opportunity in the next few weeks – before charges under the TSA are decided upon – during which political influence over the course of this case will be possible.

After charges are laid under the Terrorist Suppression Act the course of events will likely be dictated by the courts alone, and as everybody has learned through the case of Ahmed Zaoui, that can be a very frustrating process…

If evidence remains suppressed – as it most probably will – then in the absence of an organised effort to put the other side of the story – to tell people who the accused really are – public ignorance about the real nature of the evidence and the accused is likely to compound…

There is a window of opportunity in the next two or three weeks which needs to be taken advantage of.

Before the Attorney General decides whether to grant leave for charges under the Terrorist Suppression Act the public need to be assisted to understand as best they can what actually happened in the Ureweras over the past year.

At this point it is hard to imagine how the truth could be any more damaging that what has to date made it into the newspapers.

If you are sitting on the fence, go read Thompson’s piece.

Update 24/10

There will be a solidarity demo in Mebourne also this Saturday, 27/10, at noon in Federation Square. I’m assuming any Kiwis reading this are already well aware of the actions over there.

I should also admit I was wrong to say you can get away with reading nothing else about this affair than the Thompson piece. Check out the reportage and history from our friend and correspondent Reading the Maps, who spent last week in Tuhoe Country and around the East Coast.

Published in: on 23 October, 2007 at 9:44 pm  Leave a Comment  

Free NZ!

So there’s going to be a Sydney solidarity demo with those activists arrested under NZ anti-terror laws tomorrow morning, Wednesday, 8.45am, New Zealand Consulate-General, 55 Hunter Street.

The lawyer for the Tuhoe activists, Annette Sykes, did well in interviews last night and on morning TV this morning – check these out if you want to get a better sense for what is going on. The second interview also includes John Minto, veteran of the Springbok protests of the 1980s, who talks about the situation of the city activists. Warning: second presenter may induce teeth-grinding.

Published in: on 16 October, 2007 at 3:13 pm  Comments (2)  

WTF?

Today a bunch of people around New Zealand, some of whom I know, were arrested under the Terrorism Suppression Act. This is insane. Things seemed to be centred around an armed raid on a Maori community south of Whakatane. Also raids on anarchist and environmentalist groups’ offices and activists’ houses in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, Hamilton and Palmerston North. Lots of them are being denied bail.

It’s hard to work out what is happening, but it is pretty bloody shocking. The NZ Herald has some facts but not much else. Also see Aotearoa Indymedia and Reading the Maps.

Looks like there is a demo in Melbourne outside the New Zealand Consulate-General’s office, 11am, Suite 2, North, Level 3, 350 Collins Street. Haven’t heard about anything happening in Sydney.

Update:

This footage of a Wellington raid is pretty chilling. I’ve been in that house plenty of times!

And Scoop looks like a good place for updates.

Update: 16 October

Alright. The more I hear the angrier I get. There’s the urge to tell people whose only source is the newspapers and TV. But at the same time gossip helps no-one. And everything I have heard is basically gossip. So I won’t comment on this anymore for the moment. I’m sure anyone reading this blog knows to suspend judgement on this kind of thing. Just wait until it all comes out. Until then, I would direct people’s attention to this: Please remember security culture

Published in: on 15 October, 2007 at 3:56 pm  Comments (6)  

Today, tomorrow, Timaru

plains.jpg

There are some great wilderness areas in New Zealand, but the Canterbury Plains are not among them. This is a totally man-made landscape, geology aside – and even the geology has had some fiddling with: land reclamation et cetera. Beginning as a Wakefield colony, centred on Christchurch, farmland stretched from the foothills of the Southern Alps to the coast.

Driving through last week I was struck by a subtle change in the landscape. This was once quintessential NZ sheep country, but now it’s all cows. Dairy, traditionally, is a North Island industry, but no longer. This is a further-reaching transformation than it sounds because cattle are much more resource intensive than sheep, and because dairy is a higher-value output on the world market. Lakes and rivers have been drained for irrigation, and effluent and fertiliser-enhanced run-off given in exchange.

port.jpg

An enormous Fonterra milk powder factory opened a few years ago in Clandeboye, near Timaru, and rejuvenated Timaru’s port, which has long played second fiddle to Lyttleton (which is really part of Christchurch).

I doubt any of this is exciting to you, but it is to me. Timaru, you see, is my birthplace. Grandparents and cousins live on the clifftop above the port and every time I’ve visited since I was a kid I’ve loved to sit there and watch the port tick over. Thanks to growing Chinese and Japanese appetites for dairy, nowadays it’s busier than I remember it, and all futuristic with electromagnetic cranes and robot dockworkers.

robot-dockworkers.jpg

I only lived in Timaru for the first five weeks of my life, before Mum and Dad took me to California. When we went there on holidays as a little American kid I remember thinking it was just like Coronation Street. Of course, Timaru looks nothing like Coronation Street, and I guess to the impartial observer it looks just like any other provincial New Zealand town.

To me, though, there’s always something a bit magic about Timaru. This is a little embarrassing because Timaru is often something of a joke among New Zealanders, much like New Zealand itself is among Australians. Timaru even achieved international joke status in 1993 when Guardian travel writer Mark Lawson included a chapter on it in his book on the world’s most boring places, The Battle for Room Service. (Note, though, that Richard Gott wrote in the New Statesman that Lawson himself exemplifies the “prevalence of the bland and obsequious” in the Guardian. Also the average Amazon rating for the book is two stars. Ha.)

Whatever may happen to its port traffic and tourism, Timaru’s immortality is truly assured, though, by this single and video by New Zealand’s own Spinal Tap, Deja Voodoo. (“They’re my favourite band, they’re your favourite band. Who do? You do… they’re Deja Voodoo!”)

Today Tomorrow Timaru

Published in: on 2 July, 2007 at 9:38 pm  Comments (2)