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Posts Tagged ‘government’

There are certain seats you never expect to sit in

Tuesday, August 10th, 2010

youthplogoAll is not lost! We might not always admit it, but we know that there is more in the cabinet than interestingly shaped bottles of liqueur. We know that parties are more than just the things banned on ball night. We, the youth of New Zealand, know that the speaker is not always the one talking. Politics is not something generally associated with youth, but you would be surprised how many young people have an opinion. I can say with absolute certainty at least 112.

On the July 6-7 the average age of a Member of Parliament (MP) dropped by roughly half a century, when112 youth representatives converged on the Beehive. Every one of these young people was chosen by a MP to represent them in the 2010 New Zealand Youth Parliament. The event was a full two days where we participated in a range of parliamentary procedures, including select committee meetings, party caucus, question time, and legislative and general debates.

mdgsWe quickly realised that the select committees are where it all happens. This is the opportunity for MPs to debate, consider and hear evidence regarding any recommendations they might make to the government as a whole. I was part of the select committee for Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade. Our inquiry was into whether New Zealand should be supporting the 2015 deadline for the Millennium Development Goals. The answer from all members was a resounding ‘yes’. It was great to see such support for the concept of global citizenship and an acknowledgement from the younger generation that we have responsibilities that extend beyond our shores.

From our select committee rooms it was a confusing dash through the warren that is Parliament to the incredibly well hidden National Party caucus room. Here we discussed our views on the centrepiece of the event- The Age of Majority Bill. The bill looked at changing the general age at which a person becomes an adult from 20 to 18. This would affect legislation where currently no specific age is given, e.g. the Adoption Act 1955 and the District Courts Act 1947. It would also stop employers being able to pay those under 16 lower than the youth rate. After the legislative debate and a conscience vote the bill was passed.

Our second day of youth parliament started with an early for breakfast with Acting Prime Minister Bill English, the Hon Gerry Brownlee, Hon Nick Smith and Wayne Eagleson the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff. We spent the rest of the day in the debating chamber. The general debate was a chance for individuals to bring forward issues important to them and their communities.  Topics ranged from public transport to the monarchy to the mining of national parks. I have to say, being able to stand up and speak from the Prime Minister’s seat to a full debating chamber was something unforgettable. The issue I raised was how we can provide more opportunities for young people to examine national and international issues and their effects, allowing their view of the world to be defined, broadened and challenged. I have to say, Youth Parliament was a prime example of something which achieved all of this!


All of the Youth MPs hold their title for the next 6months, but what now? This experience made me realise that politics is something I definitely want to be involved with in the future.  It’s not all ministerial credit cards and backbiting. Sometimes the media makes it easy for us to forget that MPs do have a huge responsibility and that they work harder than we give them credit for running the country.

There are certain seats where you never expect to sit, certain microphones you never expect to speak into, certain people you never expect to meet; especially when you’re 18 and still trying to work out what direction you want to take in life. Being selected to represent the Prime Minister of New Zealand at an event like Youth Parliament is one of the most amazing things I have had the opportunity to do. Troublesome teens? We, the 2010 Youth MPs, are definitely evidence to the contrary.

Don’t Corrupt Aid

Friday, March 27th, 2009



Don’t Corrupt Aid is a campaign to keep New Zealand’s international aid focused on addressing poverty.

A number of International Development NGOs have concerns about the New Zealand Government’s intention to re-focus New Zealand’s International Aid and Development agency, NZAID,  and the possiblility that NZAID may lose its sem-autonomous status.

This campaign results from comments made by New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully stating that New Zealand’s aid should change from ‘poverty elimination’ to a broader focus on economic development. Additionally, Mr McCully wants New Zealand’s aid agency NZAID to lose its status as a semi-autonomous body.

The Minister has instigated two reviews into NZAID which may result in the responsibility for aid being absorbed into the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

How can I get involved?

The Don’t Corrupt Aid website has a Take Action page, which helps you formulate letters (differing in length depending on how much time you have) to send to Government ministers. Check it out!

50 facts that should change the world

Thursday, February 5th, 2009

By Jessica Williams

learningAt the risk of sounding sensationalist…did you know that a third of the world is at war, 30 million people in Africa are HIV positive and more than 150 countries use torture.

The facts and information provided in this book is often missed, glossed over or hidden by government and the media. So to continue: cars kill 2 people every minute, landmines kill or maim a person every hour…

You can join our library and get books and DVDs out for Free!

Children and youth rights: Where does NZ stand?

Tuesday, August 29th, 2006

Lena Stahlschmidt
kidsWalking into the building where the conference on children and youth rights was being held I realized I knew little about the rights of children and youth…. actually I knew little about what we were going to be doing for an entire day around these rights. I quickly learned that this conference was put on by the Ministry of Youth Development surrounding the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCROC). UNCROC is a document created and recoacggnized by the United Nations outlining children’s and young people’s rights. In 1997 The UN submitted a detailed report recommending changes within New Zealand to be made in order to be in compliance with UNCROC. However many of the recommendations made by the UN have not been changed by NZ. The forum was set up as a way to discuss the government’s role and progress in children and youth rights and to allow the opportunity for youth, government and NGO representatives to collaborate around these issues. This meeting was the first forum where youth, governmental and non-governmental agencies came together to discuss the rights of children outlined by UNCROC. There were over 60 different agencies represented as well as about 10 young people. Entering the building I could feel the dedication and passion many people had surrounding the issues.

The day began with two governmental official speakers explaining the state NZ is at with children and youth development in the context of children’s rights. The picture they painted made it seem as though New Zealand is doing quite well. This was met by some critiques from an NGO representative putting forth some questions to ponder throughout the day. With that we were off…

Education and UNCROC
I headed downstairs to begin the educational disparities workshop.’ The Ministry of Education was presenting information about issues of disparities within education. Their presentation covered an array of areas:

  • the low performance in writing skills
  • low performance levels by boys
  • tall Poppies (high achievers)

The Ministry also stated that research shows that the disparities are occurring within the classrooms, unlike in other countries where the disparities are between schools and districts. Their approach to address the inequality is to put the focus on individual students. Ideally the teacher would have the time and resources to focus on every student individually, however in reality due to school structure, class size, resources, and funding teachers don’t end up having the time to focus on every individual within the class. The result is the current situation; some kids are left behind, others aren’t pushed to their full potential. The Ministry’s new approach is targeted at years 1-4, as according to research, those years are predictive of a student’s future academic performance. Yet they did not set specific steps in how this is going to be achieved. Unfortunately at the end of their presentation we had little time for comments, questions, and feedback to address the unanswered questions.

We all left the room, myself a little unconvinced about the way in which the Ministry portrayed the current situation and the approach it planned on taking. What about issues of racism, poverty, unequal opportunity, discrimination, economic status, and how they affect children’s access to and performance in education? To me it seems that these issues are critical in understanding and addressing disparities within the educational system. How do they plan on dealing with students who are falling behind in the first 4 years? As I pondered these thoughts I eased my mind with an array of delicious food. While we were munching down food there was an expo set up with members from 11 different government agencies and organisations. I walked around the room picking up brochures and having brief discussions about how the organisations were related to children’s rights.

Mental Health and UNCROC

As I was contemplating on whether to go for 3rds of the desserts we were called back downstairs for the 2nd workshop of the day. I was assigned to the Youth and Mental Health discussion put on by the Ministry of Health. They began with looking at their current strategy followed by an overview of their strategic plan for the coming years. The new plan focused on:

  • looked at the entire picture rather than just an illness
  • not defining a person by their illness
  • educating District Health Boards (DHB’s) more about the child population and best practices to use with children.
  • making services more accessible.

They left the rest of the time for input and ideas about what should be added or addressed in the report. The group proposed ideas about family support, mentors in school, resources, access, focus on preventative methods (rather than waiting till there is an extreme problem), changing the image of metal health, and taking a holistic approach (so looking at the whole picture: family, friends, physical health etc). The Ministry seemed responsive to the feedback and willing to look at their shortcomings. It was interesting to see the different perspectives that everybody had to contribute depending on their background. It reminded the importance of have a wide array of input in order to create an approach that is effective across all spectrums.

So let’s hear from the young people!
We reconvened upstairs for a closing recap of the day and a presentation from the young people’s group. The youth members got up and presented the issues that they had been discussing throughout the day. This for me was the most important aspect of the entire day. Having adults sit around and discuss how to better address children’s and young people’s rights is a step in the right direction, however it is crucial to include children’s and young people’s opinions in this process.

The young people brought up issue of:

  • voting age and lack of political youth representation and input into issues that affect them.
  • the need for a change in how youth are portrayed and the stereotypes surrounding youth
  • The need for more information and access for youth on their rights.

It was quite short…I mean considering that the entire day was about issues affecting children and youth I would have thought more emphasis would be placed on the youth group outcomes!

At the end of the day I left with more questions than I entered with. What actual steps is the government taking to address the issues? What will really make a difference in these areas? Are they going to listen and take action on the NGOs and youth suggestions? What steps are going to be taken to make sure that the government makes steps towards being in total compliance with UNCROC? How can we make sure that children’s and young people’s rights are being upheld and honoured? Where do we go from here? That’s the thing about information…. Sometimes knowing’ brings about more questions.

The images were first published in Tearaway magazine and is reprinted here with their permission.

Illustrator: Toby Morris

The gossipy side of world politics

Monday, August 14th, 2006

One Big Soap Opera: An Appreciation for the Gossipy Side of World Politics
Jayran Mansouri world map with people

World politics. For my friends, the mere mention of the word conjures up images of old people sitting around an official-looking table with pieces of paper, discussing completely random things in what seems to be a foreign language.

As a 13-year-old politics enthusiast, I feel the need to explain what draws my interest to what at first glance seems like the reserve of important-looking geriatrics.

Whenever people ask me what I find so interesting about politics, I have to say, “It’s like one big soap opera”

Politics is, indeed, “The science of government; that part of ethics which has to do with the regulation and government of a nation or state, the preservation of its safety, peace, and prosperity, the defense of its existence and rights against foreign control or conquest, the augmentation of its strength and resources, and the protection of its citizens in their rights, with the preservation and improvement of their morals”, (Online Dictionary) but it is also rife with scandals, rumors, rivalry and the whole “who said what to who about whom” element that lends it to the drama reminiscent of a soap opera.

Take, for instance, US President George W Bush’s recent use of the S-Word’ at a private luncheon. “See the irony is that what they [the United Nations need to do is get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this (s-word) and it’s over,” Bush said to Tony Blair. What he didn’t know was that the microphone was on, and everything he said could be picked up. I might also add he was chewing in a most unbecoming manner.

Or what about Foreign Minister Winston Peters, who is currently in hospital after contracting a tropical disease in Malaysia while at the ASEAN Regional Forum?

news pressOr the infamous “Dick Cheney Hunting Incident”? US Vice President Dick Cheney was out hunting for quails with Harry Whittington, a 78-year-old lawyer, when he accidentally shot Whittington! Since then, people have speculated on whether or not it was really an accident.

Was George Bush really democratically elected? Why did Winston Peters re-ignite the controversy of his trip to Washington, ignoring Helen Clark’s call for him to end his media feud? And who will be the next nuclear state? These questions constitute political folklore.

My point is, once you get past the whole boring-old-people-discussing-boring-old-things idea, politics has a gossipy, soap opera element that endears it to so many young people like myself.

Is this really progress?

Monday, July 31st, 2006

Oliver Bruce

sao paolo skylineEver seen the news when the government releases its figures for the economic activity over the last year or quarter? Ever wondered what it all meant? Or why, even though we seem to be making “progress”, often it has little impact on our lives in our community?

The Origins of our Success
At present, we measure how we are doing economically as a country with something called the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). It was first created during the Second World War as a way of measuring productivity, and has been in place ever since as a way of measuring the size and growth of economies. It is formulated as being the total amount of spending (both governmental and private as well as investment) and exports of a country minus the imports.

Why might we be heading in the wrong direction?
If a woman was to get breast cancer, does that sit with you as being a good or bad thing? If we use the GDP to measure our “progress”, you will find that the cost of the chemotherapy, drugs, surgery, hospital visits, fuel to get to the hospital etc. are all contributing to the GDP of a country, that would not have been spent if she hadn’t got sick. This illustration reveals the dilemma: not all economic growth is actually contributing to the wellbeing of those in society. In fact, most undesirable factors (oil spills, unsustainable native forestry etc) are considered to be beneficial to the economy. And where does that lead us?
man throwing money
Where might we go from here?
In the mid 1980’s it was identified that we needed to look at the way we were measuring progress. Thanks to the work of people like NZer Marilyn Waring and Professor Herman Daly in the field of uneconomic development (identifying that some economic activity creates a decline in human wellbeing) there have been several attempts at creating newer, more realistic looks at how to measure our economic gains and impact. One such measure called the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI) was formulated to take into account such things as crime and income distribution, and balance these measures with that of economic activity.

Why is GPI better?

This means that the picture that is presented of our ‘progress’ directly correlates to the issues that determine our standard of living (such as how safe we are). It’s a far more holistic representation of what is going on both economically, socially and environmentally - which is integral in shifting how we measure our progress, and our subsequent actions, towards causing positive change. Sustainable development is a concept based on the balance of these three pillars’: economic, social and environmental development.

Why is how we measure things so important?
Decisions made by policymakers (governments, councils and the like) are based upon wanting to progress and work towards a better quality of life. As the saying goes, “when you have a hammer in your hand, every problem starts looking like a nail”. When you have a measurement as narrowly focussed as that of the GDP, the decisions made will often not have the intended effects. It is not a simple matter to explain, and the answers are not black and white. What is important is that we recognise that what we have isn’t serving us, and that we need to work towards implementing better methods of analysis so that we can accurately aim towards a better world.


  • For a more in depth explanation on the Genuine Progress Indicator visit Converge website
  • Read the Wikipedia entry on GDP
  • For more information on the other methods of measuring progress, and environmental impact, look at the Redefining Progress website
  • Check out work by Marilyn Waring, including her book “Counting for Nothing” and her documentary “Who’s Counting?” For more information on the theories of uneconomic development (Remember this woman was in government at age 23!) Read about her on wikipedia
  • The magazine Adbusters explains the problem well
  • The documentary “The Corporation” explains the problem faced with the institution of the multinational corporation. A fantastic film that explains more about the problems of not valuing that which cannot be quantified. This can be borrowed FREE from the Global Education Centre library. Contact eva@globaled.org.nz for details.


  • Tell people.
  • If you are at university, ask the economic professors about the questions.
  • Read more.
  • Make a film for the Media that Matters festival ;)

To tell you the truth, one of the most difficult things about this is that there are few concrete actions that can directly impact this. The process of change requires first for us to realise what we are doing, then actively seek to help change the course of the field of economics towards that of a more holisitic discipline…in other words do the same thing to economics that has affected nearly every other academic discipline = Postmodernist thought.

But yeah, it’s not as simple as that. If you have any ideas let me know, I am happy to hear what any of you suggest — comment in the forum…

¡Ya basta! Enough is enough!

Thursday, April 27th, 2006

Grace Leung

Zapatista beginnings
On the 1 January 1994, two things happened that shook Mexican society and resounded around the world. zapatista wall muralThe North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) came into effect, devastating small producers and workers with policies that allow cheaper, heavily subsidised US and Canadian goods to flood into the Mexican market. On the same day, 3000 members of the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) seized six towns and hundreds of ranches in the Southern state of Chiapas, Mexico as an action of resistance against the imposition of neoliberal policies that favour already powerful multinational corporations. For two weeks, the state of Chiapas resounded with the chant “’¡Ya Basta! Enough is enough!” as the people called for an end to five centuries of indigenous repression and exploitation and of the encroaching globalisation of corporate hegemony and cultural homogenisation. The Mexican army responded with bombs and bullets, killing at least 145 indigenous people. Mexican civil society responded with massive demonstrations across the country calling for an end to the military repression, and a ceasefire was called on the 12th of January.

From the ceasefire to now
Peace talks began in February 1994 and continued until February 1996 when an agreement, called the San Andrés Accords, was signed by the Zapatistas and the Mexican government, outlining a program of indigenous autonomy, land reform and cultural rights. In December of that same year, newly elected president, Ernesto Zedillo, officially turned his back on the San Andres Accords. The Zapatistas, and sympathising communities, have since endured continual persecution from the Mexican military and paramilitaries and have been singled out as a threat from multinational corporations such as the Chase Manhattan Bank.
This has resulted in tragedies such as the Acteal massacre of December 1997, where 45 Zapatista sympathising civilians in the community of Acteal, mostly women and children, were gunned down in a church by paramilitaries with the aid of the Mexican military. Despite this, the Zapatistas refuse to tolerate any more oppression, be it physical, economic or cultural. The resistance continues and grows until this day.

What do the Zapatistas stand for?
The Zapatista movement is rooted in the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920), an uprising for land reform, communal land rights for the indigenous and freedom from imperialist repression. Named after one of Mexico’s great revolutionaries, Emiliano Zapata, the movement strives to break through the neoliberal mode of profit over people and a government seeped in corruption, to create a space for justice, equitable public participation and respect for Mother Earth. zapatista meetingIndeed, the leaders of the movement famously mask their faces with balaclavas or bandanas to symbolise their anonymity and equality with the suffering indigenous, peasants and workers. The movement has organised countless consultations and meetings at community, national and international levels, but always prioritising the voice of the people. As a result, they have established strong, autonomous communities with health clinics, schools and cooperatives producing various goods as deemed suitable for the communities by the communities. A dynamic form of government, (el Buen Gobierno, the good government) modelled on traditional indigenous frameworks, has been established, where leaders are seen as servants of the people and extensive community involvement occurs.

Do people support the Zapatista movement?
The rebellious dignity of the Zapatistas, coupled with their savvy use of the media, has inspired civil society worldwide and international solidarity has been proliferating over the years. In 2001, a Zapatista caravan, lead by the charismatic spokesperson Subcomandante Marcos, completed a three week long March from Chiapas to the capital, Mexico City to demand that the government honours the San Andrés Accords. As they marched into the city plaza, they were greeted with 250,000 supporters from a colourful cross-section of Mexican and international society.

Are they winning?

Despite the strength and successes of the Zapatista movement, many communities still suffer from extreme poverty, exacerbated by the fact that many of them are situated in remote mountainous regions. Access to potable water and medicine remains a leading cause of illness and fatalities in the communities, especially for children and women. To epitomise the gravity of the situation, Subcomandante Ramona, one of the EZLN’s most loved leaders and a beacon of equality for women in the movement, died of a curable kidney condition whilst en route to a health clinic from an isolated mountain community.

Problems facing the Zapatistas

While the movement is steeled by its uncompromising principles and integrity, it is hindered by a lack of resources and infrastructure. Currently there are only a handful of facilities in Chiapas that train young indigenous people vocational skills to bring valuable skills back to their communities. There has also been support from international solidarity groups. However, since the Zapatistas are autonomous, external aid is accepted only from non-governmental sources. In spite of the death of Ramona and the continuing poverty of communities, the movement has been growing stronger in spirit, especially in recent months.

candle lit shrine

“The Other Campaign”
As a response to the opaque processes and mudslinging of the looming Mexican presidential elections, the Zapatistas have launched “The Other Campaign”. The comandancia are currently touring Mexico to educate and empower civilians about the alternatives for the corrupt government that serves the insatiable capitalist machine that is currently in power. Although primarily an indigenous rights movement, the Zapatistas embrace all peoples fighting towards democracy, justice and liberty. They are part of a global wave of people standing up against a system that values profit over people and nature and striving for a global citizenry of dignity, democracy, freedom and justice.


  • Learn more about the Zapatistas from www.ezln.org.mx, indymedia or from a range of publications at the Freedom Shop on Cuba Mall (I recommend the book “Our Word is Our Weapon, by Subcomdante Marcos)
  • Support international solidarity programs
  • Visit Chiapas and work with some of the communities. Organisations like Chiapas Peace House (www.chiapaspeacehouse.org) act as centres to support and delegate overseas volunteers in Chiapas.
  • Learn more about the state of indigenous peoples and their rights in your area.
  • Learn more about the negative impacts of corporate globalisation and the effect of multilateral free trade agreements like NAFTA

Beyond fair trade - brewing hope

Friday, April 7th, 2006

Grace Leung
hand holding green coffee beans
The Fair Trade movement has been growing significantly over the years and many more cafes and shops now sell fair trade coffee. However, a campus group at The University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, called “Brewing Hope” works to take a step beyond fair trade by creating relationships between consumers and the communities which grow and harvest their coffee. Brewing Hope buys coffee directly from the autonomous, Zapatista-affiliated coffee cooperative Yachil in Chiapas, Mexico. Taking Fair Trade a step further, Brewing Hope organizes exchanges programs. It brings coffee farmers and cooperative members from Chiapas to Ann Arbor to teach communities about their struggles for autonomy and freedom. Conversely, Brewing Hope brings delegates from Ann Arbor to Chiapas to learn about the stories behind their daily cup of joe.

In July 2005, I was one of 12-person delegation to visit San Cristobal de las Casas and nearby communities in Chiapas.

Our visit included meeting with local and international social and economic justice groups ranging from Chiapas Peace House (an organization that supports overseas volunteers) to CEDICI (a research and advocacy group that investigates into the Mexican military’s oppression of autonomous communities). We visited a vocational training school for indigenous youth so we could see how the next generation acquires skills to bring back to their communities, so that they may be autonomous and independent of government agencies.
4 mexican coffee farmers
We were also fortunate enough to stay the night in Chixilon with a community affiliated with Las Abejas, a non-violent group with similar principles to the Zapatistas. In accordance with the community’s needs, we brought with us medical supplies and other provisions to improve their water storage system. We also visited Acteal, a community who lost 45 members to an attack by paramilitaries, with the aid of the Mexican military, in 1997. It is highly likely that the attack was a response to the community’s quest for autonomy and independence from a corrupt government. We were all deeply inspired by the determination for true justice, and rebellious dignity of the people that we met at Acteal.

One particular woman at Acteal, who had introduced us to the women’s handicraft cooperative, recounted the murder of her brother and father in the 1997 massacre. Speaking only her native tongue of Tzetzal at the time, the event provoked her to learn Spanish, make contacts in nearby cities and organize a women’s handicrafts cooperative to revive and bring economic independence to her community.

Despite the benefits of Fair Trade, many potentials remain to be fulfilled. Indeed, despite getting the certified fair trade price of US$1.26 per pound of unroasted coffee beans, the community that we visited must still walk up to 2 hours to the nearest source of marginally potable water in the dry season. Moreover, with the global price of coffee rising, Fair Trade prices are beginning to be less lucrative for farmers, many of whom are tempted to avoid the processes of fair trade and cooperative participation and selling to middlemen (locally called coyotes) instead. Although in the short term, this means less work for the farmers, it leads to the loss of their Fair Trade certification and leaves them vulnerable to the price fluctuations determined by the coyotes.

Because of the recovering prices of conventional coffee on the international market, the next few years will be testing for the Fair Trade communities to continue to comply with the Fair Trade regulations. Many communities also face labour shortages due to the migration of young people to urban areas in search of waged labour. These were some of the concerns that the community shared with us that consumers usually give limited thought

The delegation provided a valuable opportunity for a reciprocal interaction between consumers and coffee growers, the complexities of which go far beyond a cup of coffee. Visits like ours are a small but significant way of showing solidarity with people struggling for justice and freedom. Perhaps this is a future direction for the Fair Trade movement, one in which the consumer looks beyond the latte in their hands and indeed, all goods, creating a new global economy which brings consumers and producers together in the fight for justice and sustainability.


Read more about Brewing Hope

Find out which cafes near you use fair trade coffee

Learn more about Fair Trade from Trade Aid and the Fair Trade Assosciation of Australia and New Zealand

Save happy valley

Monday, March 27th, 2006

Hannah Newport

view of happy valley
Ok, so we all like a nice toasty fire in the winter - “put your feet up dear, there’s a good lass”. But that’s no reason to go around killing native animals, now… is it?

Almost a decade ago now, somebody thought so. Travel, if you will, your mind to the West Coast of the South Island. Picture a remote red tussock wetland, pristine and ecologically unique. Imagine this place: an almost predator-free home to thirteen threatened species. This lovely image of nature you hold is a reality; it is Happy Valley.

However, mining company, “Solid Energy”, are not tempted by the view. Nor by the excitement of kiwi-spotting opportunities. Beneath the surface is what draws their gaze. Since 1998 Solid Energy has had their eye upon the coal that lies underneath Happy Valley, and have been taking steps to plunder this resource. As those of you who know about mining ambitions will know, the resource consent process is a long and tiresome one. Yet Solid Energy, to their credit, dear souls, has persevered.

Fear not, people said to each other; most felt confident that the sheer stupidity of the corporation’s plans would result in rejection. It soon became clear, however, that the five million tons of coal — over $950 million in value — lying beneath Happy Valley was pretty persuasive.

Happy Valley is a state owned area, but Solid Energy’s promise of funding for future conservation projects has put a stop to any objection that the Department of Conservation may or may not have made. A long and lengthy court case did not result in a good outlook for the delicate ecosystem that is Happy Valley.

Solid Energy has cleared all the legal barriers and is going full steam ahead with its plans.

But how can this be? I hear you ask. The Valley is home to thirteen endangered species. Thirteen!

Included in the long list of native species living in the Valley is the endangered carnivorous land snail Powilliphanta patrickensis, a beautiful and ancient creature. It is said to date back to Gondwanaland, making it older than the very coal it now lives above.

The Great Spotted Kiwi, one of the rarest varieties of our shy friend, faces a similar risk. Forest & Bird warn that kiwi may be extinct on the mainland in 15 years, while Solid Energy continues to threaten its sanctuary in Happy Valley. The sad fact is that the delicate wildlife balance held in Happy Valley cannot be “restored” after mining, as Solid Energy intends.

To many across Aotearoa, it is absurd that such an important wildlife area could be forsaken. And, most infuriatingly, all for yet more climate-destroying fuel! Fuel which is not, in fact, intended for keeping us toasty in the winter. Rather, the coal under Happy Valley is destined for steel production in China and will ultimately pump into the atmosphere 12 million tons of carbon dioxide.
campaign banner
Something must be done, you may well cry! It is this very anger and outrage at Solid Energy’s plans that has led to an uprising of environmentally-minded folk across our country. The ingeniously named Save Happy Valley Coalition was established in April 2004; a combination of members of every major environmental organisation in New Zealand, including Forest & Bird, Greenpeace and even the Department of Conservation, as well as other individuals who care.

And care they do! The campaign effort has been present in almost every part of Aotearoa, including posters, postcards and demos. More recently, direct action has been taking place in Happy Valley itself, with an occupation planned to last indefinitely.
The theory behind this is that if Solid Energy really wants the coal, they’re going to have to face some very strong-minded people before they can get to it.

So despair not! And if you think it’s important to speak out against Solid Energy, join the voice that is doing just that.

More information can be found at www.savehappyvalley.org.nz

War on liberties

Thursday, March 23rd, 2006

Eva Lawrence, Just Focus Coordinator

hands behind barsThe world, since September 11 is a different place. The media permanently talks about the latest terrorist threat’ and we have a whole new vocabulary: war on terrorism’ and WMD. There is a lot of fear, and in this state of fear we are quietly allowing our freedoms to slip away.

We are being scared with potential terrorist threats and this is being used as justification to strip us of some of our most precious and hard won rights including our freedom of expression, movement and association. Historically tyrants have always stamped out free speech before anything else. These are part of our human rights that are sanctioned in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and our so integral to our way of life we often take them for granted.

However changes to laws worldwide are threatening our rights. The changes have tended to be gradual and quiet, presumably so we do not notice or become quickly alarmed. They are happening now.

Liberties under threat overseas
In December 2005 a 25 year old woman in the UK was convicted for reading out the names of the 97 British soldiers killed in Iraq, under the new Serious Organised Crime and Police Act. In another case in the UK last September, An 80 year old WWII veteran was arrested, under the Terrorism Act, for wearing a T-shirt that said that Bush and Blair should be tried for war crimes (Pilger). Both these examples impinge on our freedom of opinion and expression.

The US Patriot Act has allowed for the arrest and imprisonment of suspected terrorists’. They have been denied access to US legal process; most still held without charge or trial in Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere. A recent United Nations report has also found that prisoners have been tortured. Where is their right to be free of arbitrary arrest and exile?

What about here in Aotearoa?
According to human rights lawyer Rodney Harrison, despite the fact that the threat of terrorist’ attack is virtually non existent in Aotearoa New Zealand, a number of laws (eg. The Citizenship and Travel Documents Bill ) have been created and altered in the name of security and the war on terror’ that have reduced our freedoms. Also, with the exception of the Terrorism Suppression Act, they have no sunset clause’ which means the restrictions to our freedoms are not until the supposed threat’ has past, but permanently.

Ahmed Zaoui, an Algerian was imprisoned on the justification that he was a security threat but there was no expression of what he actually was accused of doing, as it was called classified security information’. Still now, he is under curfew in his home and awaiting the review of the security risk certificate issued against him.

What is a terrorist threat?
The word terrorist’ conjures up images of crazed fanatics killing indiscriminately. However there is no one terrorist’ group and the term is often used by those in power to describe those that they oppose. We need to understand what each of the separate groups is about and why they take the actions that they do. To understand the causes does not mean that you think the actions are acceptable or justified.

Also, think about how some of the actions of political leaders and media impacts on the risk of terror attacks. Creating a climate of intolerance and hyper-fear around religious difference or systems of government can exacerbate or create a threat where there was little or none to begin with.

It is understandable to have laws in place to be able to monitor and intercept possible threats to people. However, many of the definitions of threat are so vague that they could be used to justify interfering with people or groups, with no intent for violent acts, from expressing their opinion or taking part in groups.

For example, in February, British police cited the Prevention of Terrorism Act when they arrested and interrogated three actors from of a recent film based on the true story of three men imprisoned and finally released from Guantanamo Bay. The actors and the three men the story was based on were arresting when returning from the Berlin Film Festival where the film was screened. They were questioned about their travel, who they had met with and the political convictions of the film’s director. The actors had no specific political connections and seemed to only be singled out due to their Asian ethnicity.

Protect Your Rights
While it is important to feel safe from danger, what ever that may be, it is also equally important for people’s civil and political rights to be protected. We don’t need to give up our freedoms to do this. In the words of the United Nations Secretary General: “Our responses to terrorism as well as our efforts to thwart it and prevent it should uphold the human rights that terrorists aim to destroy. Human rights, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law are essential tools in the effort to combat terrorism — not privileges to be sacrificed at a time of tension.”

It is our responsibility to know our rights and continue to exercise them. As Madonna once said: Express Yourself!

Some of the Articles in the Declaration of Human Rights

Article 9: “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.”

Article 19: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

Article 20: “Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.”

Article 5: “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”

Article 12 “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence…”

Article 13 “Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country’

Article 14 “Everyone has the right to seek and enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution”


  • Read the media critically, don’t buy into the fear
  • Understand your rights and use them


The Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Amnesty International

UK police arrest stars of award-winning film “The Road to Guantanamo” under the Prevention of Terrorism Act

This article was originally published in Jet magazine in the Focus column.