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Gordon Campbell on the Wongs, and more on Police pursuits

Gordon Campbell on the Wongs, and more on Police pursuits

wongSurprise surprise. Sammy Wong may not have told Lockwood Smith’s appointed Parliamentary Services investigator all of the relevant truth relating to one of Wong’s taxpayer subsidized trips to China in 2005. Wong told the investigation that the purpose of the trip in question was to research his family tree – the inference being that no business interests of his own were served by the trip.

Labour MP Pete Hodgson has now released this information:

Mr Hodgson yesterday produced hard copies of a translated Chinese blog which reported on a foundation stone laying ceremony for a new biotechnology campus development in Fujian in June 2005. The blog reports that Mr Wong was in attendance as was his business partner and former Prime Minister Jenny Shipley, whose company Alpha Group had invested in the $40 million project.

The Jesuits in the Prime Minister’s office will make the distinction that Wong himself has no investment in this particular biotechnology plant in Fujian. Shipley, his business partner, has. ‘Friendship’ is the reason being put forward by the Wongs to explain his presence. Obviously though, expressing ‘friendship’ in a business context is not unknown to have general business benefits, downstream. It is a grey area, at best.

In the interests of completeness – not to mention the credibility of a Parliamentary Services ‘inquiry’ that seems to have consisted of asking the Wongs and taking them at their word – Sammy Wong should have put all his (business) cards on the table. The revelation will only put further pressure on Prime Minister John Key to send this issue off to the Auditor-General – and if Pansy Wong resigns as an MP in a huff, so be it. There may be a point reached quite soon, where some greater political distance from the Wongs might be advisable.

For now, Labour appears quite happy to keep drip-feeding information into the public arena. Yes, it could – and probably will, in the end – be asking the Auditor-General to intervene, and investigate. The initial response however, should be coming from Key – who, you will recall, called in the A-G to inquire into Cabinet Minister Phil Heatley’s unwise purchase of a couple of bottles of wine on the taxpayer tab. Far more is at stake with the Wongs, yet Key is declining to take similarly forthright action.

The public may well conclude a cover-up is going on. If history tells us anything, it is that the attempts at a cover-up are far more damaging than the actual offence. For now, Parliamentary Services and the public have little option but to rely on the Wongs, and to assume they are telling the truth, and telling all of the relevant truth. John Key though, has other options. It is a bit puzzling why he is so willing to bet the moral authority of his government on the credibility of Sammy Wong.


Police Pursuits II

At Monday’s post Cabinet press conference, John Key responded to questions about police pursuits that have killed 18 people this year.

Among the questions was one from Scoop about how many of those fleeing people were driving their own, or the family car. Key didn’t have the figures, but said that he had been told that morning by Police Minister Judith Collins that some were driving stolen cars. Well, a spokesman in Collins’ office has confirmed to Scoop the actual figure: ‘about 30%’ of those killed, he said, were believed to be driving stolen cars.

This low ratio should be – but clearly isn’t – guiding Police behaviour. On this evidence, the clear balance of probability is that the Police are NOT dealing with someone fleeing in a stolen car. Rather than chase the speeding car, Police should be radio-ing ahead to ensure that someone videos the car to establish who is driving – and in most cases, the Police can then confidently wait in the driveway and pick up the offender when he or she returns home.

As for the related question of whether those killed in Police pursuits this year have been engaged in criminal activity – and are fleeing because they have something seriously criminal to hide – Collins’ spokesman had no figures on that point. He did however, repeat the already released information that in one case, the crashed car contained a loaded sawn off shotgun. Some of the people concerned were also driving without a licence, the spokesman added.

There was no firm evidence whether the shotgun was being carried for offensive, or defensive purposes – though mere possession of such a weapon would probably be an offence, regardless of intent. Again though, the balance of probability is that the vast bulk of the people killed this year were not fleeing from, or engaged in, serious criminal behaviour. Driving without a licence – or speeding – seems a very flimsy reason for a chase that puts the community at risk, and that kills and seriously injures people on a regular basis. As mentioned in Tuesday’s Scoop column :

It seems that the drivers are running from Police simply because they’re scared or pumped up with bravado – and the subsequent chases are putting the public, the Police and drivers at serious risk of death and injury, and for little more reason than a fear of getting in trouble with their parents, or of losing face in front of their mates.

If Collins is unwilling, Key has to intervene to ensure that the Police emphasis shifts from chases, towards a safer interdiction policy. The Police have radios, and could arrange for offenders to be intercepted – perhaps by investing in and using Star Chase technology.

There is always a problem in proving who is the driver. Yet where that remains debatable, perhaps the point could be met by legislating to enable everyone in the car to be prosecuted as an accessory to the offence of failing to stop. This would help create peer pressure within the car, for the driver to stop. (As things stand, any passengers are already suffering the serious consequences of the chase, in death and injury.)

What the deaths of 18 people should be telling Collins is that the status quo is intolerable. Yes, offenders do bear most of the blame, but the Police are also contributing – unnecessarily – to the carnage. The public are not being protected by Police engaged in hot pursuits. Instead, they are being put in jeopardy by them.


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