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Richard Prebble's 'The Letter' 17 March 2003


The Letter

MONDAY 17 MARCH 2003

Post Saddam Hussein

It seems likely that the US will invade Iraq with or without a UN resolution. The US believes Iraq, with weapons of mass destruction, is a danger, and if the UN will not enforce its own resolutions, it is broken – as is NATO if it will not respond to a member’s security threat.

Events of 2003 are a watershed. The world will not return to how it was. Old alliances are gone. While they deny it, America is moving its European security guarantee – an army in Germany – to bases in the “new” Europe.

New Divisions

The old assumptions of the Cold War have gone. Leftwing Germany and rightwing France are opposing the US. Labour UK and conservative Australia are in favour.

This lack of ideology leads some to say the divisions are overstated. Not so. Post September 11, it is America’s view that the world is much more dangerous: Iraq hides weapons of mass destruction, North Korea admits developing a nuclear weapon and has missiles that can bomb Tokyo; Iran discloses that it has a major – it claims civilian – nuclear programme.

At the ACT NZ Conference, Australian Financial Review international editor Nick Hordern gave a very thoughtful speech and spelt out why Australia believes its security interests lie with the US. Australia has published a new defence white paper, for the first time identifying terrorism as a major threat.

Here in New Zealand, Phil Goff has dismissed the need to review our defence assumptions. The official view is still Helen Clark’s: that we live in a very benign environment.

ACT Annual Conference

Approximately 300 attended one or more sessions of ACT’s Ninth Conference. That’s up on last year’s election year conference in Auckland. The commentators who peddled ACT’s ‘demise’ fail to realise that attacks on a party are usually signs not of its collapse but effectiveness. Ninth Floor spin doctors were saying three weeks ago that Rodney Hide would be subjected to a personal attack in the media, and they had a tonne of dirt to drop on ACT prior to the conference. It bounced off.

Setting the Agenda

At its conference, ACT set the agenda: The need for tax relief for middle New Zealand; The necessity of higher education standards; more choice and private sector involvement in health; law and order. ACT sets to change the terms of the debate away from personality politics to the ideas.

ACT heard thoughtful speeches from Roger Kerr on the danger of politically correct language, “The We Word”; a superb interactive seminar from Nobel prize winner Dr Milton Friedman and his wife Dr Rose Friedman; a paper on the ‘civil society’ from Dr Judith Bassett.

ACT MPs made agenda-setting speeches on tax, health, education, justice and Iraq. Speeches have been posted on the web at http://www.act.org.nz/conference

Campus Tour

ACT MPs have just completed a campus tour. ACT has branches on every campus, and a record number of students have enrolled. The educated young see ACT as the only party with a viable alternative.

82% Vote Against Supreme Court

Attorney General Margaret Wilson is outraged that 82 percent of Auckland law practitioners voted against her new Supreme Court.

The legal profession is becoming very alarmed by the prospect of a politically appointed final court from which there is no appeal. The judges who had been in favour of abolishing the Privy Council are having second thoughts. Many issues have not been thought through. How do you maintain an independent judiciary in a small country when there is no written constitution?

Political Appointments

By appointing Susan Glazebrook, the youngest judge ever, to the Court of Appeal, Margaret Wilson will be influencing the court for decades.

The most senior judge automatically becomes the president of the Court of Appeal. Barring accidents, Glaze-brook will become president in 2011 and remain so until 2023 – the longest serving president ever.

Glazebrook is a competent lawyer but this is extraordinary power for one judge.

More controversial is the custom (started by National) of promoting judges. This is undesirable because it undermines the independence of the judiciary. Marion Frater - a Family Court judge - has been appointed to the High Court. Frater has no relevant experience in commercial litigation.

Margaret Wilson justifies appointing judges with no experience, saying it is impossible to get senior QCs to accept judicial appointments. If this is so, where is Margaret Wilson going to find five new judges for the new Supreme Court?

It Gets Worse

Christiansen, the Napier District Court judge who ran out of court in tears (he made an advance on a staffer), has been appointed a Master of the Christchurch High Court. We won’t even comment on Wilson’s semi-judicial appointments like good friend and triple-dipper Susan Bathgate.

Boasting Margaret Wilson boasted at the open-ing of the new Dunedin Court how much she is enjoying being lobbied by judges seeking appointments to the new Supreme Court. If Wilson’s claim is correct, it shows how she has already undermined the independence and the integrity of the judiciary.

Speed epidemic

The illegal trade in amphetamines is out of control. Last year the police raided 147 illegal labs. One lab can produce in a day $200,000 worth of speed and the more dangerous P. Police sources estimate the illegal amphetamine trade is worth more than $400m a year – twice the wine industry. Horrific, violent crimes are associated with criminals being on P. There are just 10 officers assigned to busting labs. There are, according to parliamentary answers, just 7,104 police and 21,882 gang affiliates. Despite being asked by police two years ago to classify amphetamines as Class A, Labour has yet to act.

Labour has passed tough laws to seize the assets of terrorist organisations, but won’t act against gangs. There will be new dog laws before we see any action against the real animals: the gangs that control the drug trade.

ENDS

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