No Right Turn: Police State

Written By: - Date published: 1:17 pm, December 14th, 2008 - 35 comments
Categories: activism, police - Tags: ,

No Right Turn has written in his cogent style on the police spy issue. With the kind permission of No Right Turn, I’ve quoted it in full below.

Because the police operate independently of the government at the operational level (as they should), the “mission” creep is always going to be a issue. Unfortunately the police themselves seem to have an apparent inability to look at and assess the need for their own operations in the political intelligence sphere. Instead they have been using peaceful activist groups as target practice and training exercises.

No Right Turn writes:-

When you ask people to name countries where the police infiltrate and spy on democratic protest groups, they will name places like China, Cuba, Iran and Burma. Now, we can add New Zealand to the list. In a piece in the Sunday Star-Times today, Nicky Hager and Anthony Hubbard expose a major police operation to spy on protestors under the guise of fighting “terrorism”. The groups targeted include Auckland Animal Action, GE-Free New Zealand, Peace Action Wellington, SAFE, and Greenpeace. These groups are the conscience of our society. While they engage in (occasionally disruptive) protest action, they are not in any sense of the word “terrorists”.

The problem here seems to be “mission creep”. In 2004, the government set up a police Special Investigation Group to investigate “national security-related crime including terrorism”. But the problem is that there isn’t any terrorism in New Zealand, and we are well off international terrorist networks. So the police did what bureaucracies do, and turned their attention to the closest thing they could find in order to justify their budget: protestors. And finding no evidence of crime, let alone terrorism, they then started collecting personal dirt instead – anything rather than admit that their task was basically pointless. It would be laughable, if it wasn’t so sinister. People’s lives and relationships have been ruined because of this, and it will impose a significant chilling effect which may prevent people from speaking out on issues that matter to them. But its quite clear that the police don’t care about freedom of expression or the right to protest; they don’t care about the Bill of Rights they supposedly exist to protect.

This has to stop, and it has to stop now. If the SIG can’t tell the difference between protestors and terrorists, and is engaging in this sort of anti-democratic activity, it needs to be shut down. I’m sure its members could be usefully employed collecting speeding tickets or something. But more, there needs to be a full investigation of the police’s activities to find out where else they’ve been spreading their anti-democratic tentacles. In the mid-70’s, the Ombudsman investigated the SIS over allegations that they had been spying on politicians and using the information for political gain; the same clearly needs to happen to the police. Until that happens, they will remain a clear and present danger to our democracy.

35 comments on “No Right Turn: Police State”

  1. ieuan 1

    Isn’t the fact that the minister of police is called a ‘complete idiot’ on this blog and the blog has not been shut down and no one has been put in jail proof that unlike Burma, Iran, China, Cuba etc New Zealand is not a police state?

  2. Lynn, while I agree with the general thrust of your post I do take issue with NRT’s claim that these groups are the conscience of our society.
    That is utter piffle.
    And again, why weren’t you jumping up and down about “mission creep” prior to the election. None of these articles have revealed anything new.

  3. i: Not really. You have to distinguish between the police and the state. There are a number of states where the police or paramilitary groups operate independently as a internal state largely independent from the political system. Because of the para-military genesis of our police, in broad terms they fit closer to that than anything else.

    Besides, it has only been a few hours 🙂 However there are a number of contingency plans in the event of people doing something stupid.

    Fortunately the judiciary are usually pretty independent here, especially since the definition of the defamation laws in  Lange vs Atkinson case about politicians. So it is unlikely to have any effective response from the political side.

    ieuan: Are you worried about getting the daily fix? Don’t be.

  4. bb: I was. Read the comments either as lprent, or earlier as AncientGeek related to the police. I’ve been aware of it for a long time.

    However there hasn’t any real ‘hook’ to hang a post on since I got vaguely competent at writing posts. The closest this year was JK’s recollections about the springbok tour. Not really suitable as it’d involve talking about police practices from 25 years ago.

    Besides the election was on most of this year. I regard this as a largely being a problem with the police force and only tangentially as a political issue.

    Umm I should pen a post about the NZ Police and its separation from the political system. It is pretty obvious that some people are unaware exactly how both the police and armed forces operate for operational purposes. I’ve always been aware since I was in the territorials and did some law afterwards.

    For instance, I remember hooten jumping up and down about the hollow men e-mails and trying to spin the police as political. It was pretty obvious that he had no idea what he was talking about.

  5. Where were the police spies when “terrorists” were using their trucks to wreak economic havoc and inflict traffic chaos around the country earlier this year?

    Compared to this major disruption, a few greenies ripping up GE plants in a paddock somewhere is barely worth mentioning. Yet the greenies got the spies.

  6. rave 6

    Well the whole point of a secret police is to infiltrate those groups who want to change society and who therefore pose a threat to those with private property and power.
    No truckdriver wants to change anything more than his gears.

    Idiot Savant has this humanitarian thing that makes a point of making obviously non-democratic states the biggest threats to democracy. But Burma, China, Cuba and Iran all have the distinction of having a history of Western domination and/or occupation. If they are anti-democratic you know who they learned it from.

    NZ’s secret police have a long history from at least the 1930s drawing on the Brits and US secret police and the holy war on the SU and reds under the bed at a time when Cuba, China, Iran and Burma were decolonising and running foul of Western coups and invasions. If we want to trace the history of NZ secret police that’s where we should start – MI5 and the CIA.

    Its no accident that our vicious “anti-terror” laws were inspired by 9/11 and the Anglo/US imperialist ‘war on terror’, and that our right to trial has been abandoned to protect the secret sources of foreign intelligence agencies in the ‘war on terror’. If you want to clean up the SIS/SIG you have to get rid of capitalist/imperialism.

  7. Ari 7

    So why exactly aren’t we trying to get this before the ombudsman as well, just out of curiosity?

  8. ari: Only got released today, although I’ve known for a while – but been under a vow to Rochelle.

    I don’t think that there is an ombudsman for this,
    just the independent complaints authority – which can’t look at police operational policy – just individual police,
    the privacy commissioner – doesn’t really fit in the brief,
    the police minister (who appears to have ruled herself out and could only ask general questions anyway – it is an operational matter),
    the police commissioner (who perforce will probably have to be in neither confirm or deny mode (and hopes it goes away))….
    who else?

    Probably suing the police in civil action, or doing a private criminal action against the whole organization may work in 10 years after the appeals and costs.

    In other words I don’t think that there is no real ‘court’ apart from making it as public as possible and stirring the police into actually making changes. We rely on the police to monitor themselves.

    An interesting problem is it not…

  9. Billy 9

    Lprent,

    Are you AncientGeek?

  10. lprent 10

    Yes. I was using that pseudonym early on here. That allowed me to separate my BOFH personality from my writing comments personality.

    Eventually it was too much hassle maintaining the separate logins. It was a polite fiction because people who knew me picked it straight away 🙂

    BTW: My partner prefers my AncientGeek side. Says that she’d never go out with lprent – but personally I think she is stirring.

  11. deemac 11

    there is no guarantee international terrorism won’t arrive in NZ sometime (Rainbow Warrior… ) but the fact is the present police tactics won’t help prevent it

  12. Rex Widerstrom 12

    I think NRT’s analysis lets the Police off far too lightly. It’s not about budget (as it might be in another government organisation) it’s about power.

    Politicians and the police have a nice self-perpetuating circle going:

    Politicians: The world is a dangerous place, you need more laws to keep you safe. It’s a pity these laws will impact on perfectly innocent activities, but the price of your safety is the erosion of your freedom.

    Public: Umm, we’re a little dubious, frankly.

    Police: Look! Terrorists!! Crime!! You’re not safe in the streets!! You need those laws, and we’re just the people to enforce them. Of course we might have to indulge in a bit of entrapment, perjury, intimidation and the like. But the price of… oh, we see you’ve heard that already.

    Public: Well… my mate’s sister’s boyfriend got punched at the pub last weekend… and Garth McVicar keeps scaring the beejazus out of us on the telly every night… okay then… but you will use these new powers judiciously, and only when necessary, right?

    Police: *snigger* Uh, yeah, sure. What was your name again, sunshine?

    A few months later…

    Police: Look! Terrorists!! Crime!! You’re not safe in the streets!! These politicians have our hands tied!! We need guns / tasers / covert surveillance powers / tanks / detention without trial / searches without warrants…

    Politicians: Soft on crime?! Us?! Look, here’s a shiny new Unbridled Police Powers Bill!! We’re tougher on lawnorder than that lot!! (pointing at opponents).

    Public: Well they did uncover all those eco-terrorists. And some of them were even planning on liberating bunny rabbits!! We like parties who are tough on lawnorder. But you will use these powers judiciously, right….?

    Politicians and the police have the same agenda… more power, for them, over us. And if you don’t agree with that, well… you’re probably one of them terrorists!!

  13. burt 13

    Because the police operate independently of the government at the operational level

    That was funny, really funny.

    [lprent: Ok – so you’ve now explained that you don’t understand the position of the police in the structure of the NZ state. Perhaps you should read up about it before making too much of a fool of yourself]

  14. burt 14

    lprent

    I’d accept “Because, according to constitutional convention, the police operate independently of the government at the operational level.

  15. Rex Widerstrom 15

    Whether he knows something or is just speculating, burt happens to be right.

    Anyone who believes the Police aren’t used as a blunt instrument against people whom politicians don’t like wants to have a chat to Damian Green – the UK MP detained by Police for asking perfectly proper questions of the government. Police used an informant to gather “evidence” against him.

    One day – perhaps when I’m someplace that doesn’t have a cosy extradition relationship with NZ – I’ll publish some of the things that I found out when I looked into my own situation.

    I truly hope no one blogging at The Standard – or anywhere else – is subject to the kind of police harrassment you linked to on another post to which “unco-operative” journalists are subjected (another UK story, this one closely mirroring some aspects of my own history) but as blogging grows in influence, it’s possible.

    I wonder whether your touching certainty about the unbridgeable divide between politicians and police will survive such an experience if it does happen?

  16. lprent 16

    burt: It goes a lot deeper than a mere convention.

    It is deeply embedded in the 1958 Police Act, and also in the consultation documents for the new act that went effective from Oct 1 2008 – Police Act 2008?

    Look at
    http://www.policeact.govt.nz/
    The material there is extremely interesting.

    That isn’t to say that there isn’t influence, but it tends to be at the level of individuals rather than the institution.

  17. Tim Ellis 17

    I don’t have a problem in principle with the police infiltrating organisations and gathering information through informants. I don’t have any knowledge about the individual organisations named, but if there was criminal activity or conspiracy to commit criminal acts or even terrorism, isn’t it appropriate for the police to have information on them in advance? Why should Organisation X be immune from police scrutiny just because their outward appearance may be a peaceful protest?

  18. Fisher 18

    “Politicians: The world is a dangerous place, you need more laws to keep you safe. It’s a pity these laws will impact on perfectly innocent activities, but the price of your safety is the erosion of your freedom.”

    Rex. I couldn’t agree more with your comments. 911 has been used by countries all over the world to frighten us all into letting go of the freedoms our forbears died for. Have you seen the BBC documentary The Power of Nightmares.
    This Documentary Chronicles the origins and development of both the Neocons and Al Qaeda.
    I encourage everyone to watch this ground-breaking documentary. It’s 3 parts each 1 hour long but is a must see.

    There’s also a short 10 min excerpt from this BBC documentary entitled “The Origin And Myth Of Al Qaeda” which you can watch here.
    http://notcorporatetv-terror.blogspot.com/2008/11/origin-and-myth-of-al-qaeda-excerpt.html

    You can watch the entire documentary at the following link.
    http://notcorporatetv-terror.blogspot.com/2008/11/politics-power-of-nightmares-part-13.html

  19. lprent 19

    Tim: What would think about the following for crimes requiring infiltration of protest groups.

    1. trespass to film illegal chicken coops and conditions. The SPCA is unable to force a visit unless they have evidence. (ie the current law is an ass)

    2. blocking a rail line in a case where safety wasn’t involved.

    3. doing an arthur dent

    4. protesting outside a store selling factory farmed fur, noisily, but without blocking access or footpaths.

    5. spreading hay at tegel offices during the day with a letter saying this is what tegels cages required (that one resulted in a charge of burglary for the letter delivery person, who didn’t even spread hay)

    6. filming animal cages while collecting chicken crap

    7. Using a megaphone during a daylight protest

    8. lifting a hand-written cardboard sigh saying that no factory farmed fur was being sold as a store when there was. That resulted in a charge of theft

    etc – others could probably do describe more. But those are on the ‘active’ end of the activist spectrum.

    In almost all of the cases what is done is civil disobedience. If charges are laid, then they should be appropriate rather than upscaled from summary offenses to obtain search warrants. For instance one case where protesters got too close to a storekeeper was upscaled to intimidation under the crimes act purely to obtain search warrants.

    About the only actual illegal thing (ie not civil disobedience) I’ve heard about has been covert ‘chicken liberations’, and graffitti / posters.

    Why do you think that most people who know anything about actual activist activities in NZ think that the police are massively over-reacting.

    I’d also say that the police over-reactions are having (un)intended side effects. Active activists in NZ are well on the way towards cell type structures, RF emission control, need to know basis, just in time organizing, routinely using encryption, external equipment dumps, etc. In other words, the police are in effect starting to create the type of organized resistance that they are hunting for because of their own tactics in hunting for it. As far as I can tell the police are within a target of forcing all activist groups underground within the next decade. It is hard to tell if that is what they’re after or not.

    The only thing that is probably holding activist groups up from being much more effective is that they are doggedly maintaining their overt and above ground basis. It means they spend more time in court, but it also means that they run generally public campaigns. Most activists I run across believe in a democratic system. Most of the police work I’m observing with activists seems to operate on a “ends justifying the means” basis.

    Remember I’m an outside observer for all of this. But I wouldn’t have the patience that the activists are showing. I think that the police are just being stupid in tactically in terms of what should be their objectives

  20. Rex Widerstrom 20

    lprent:

    3. doing an arthur dent

    Well if you were a Vogon, you’d be pretty angry if a bloke in a dressing gown attempted to destroy your Constructor 😀

    Actually, the Guide describes Vogons as “bureaucratic, officious and callous”… and of course their battle cry is “resistance is usless”… perhaps that’s why the Police identify so closely with them.

    Fisher:

    That is indeed a salient and clever documentary. Yes, I have seen it and would recommend it to anyone else with an interest in how governments manipulate fear to gain power, using the police as their willing accomplices.

  21. Ray 21

    What is the diference between your girlfriend snoopping through your computer’s files(I am just cleaning it up so it works faster!!) and the police keepng an eye on activists some of whom are not past taking the law into their own hands

    Not a lot in my eyes and no harm done if you are squeeky clean

  22. ieuan 22

    Iprent: The problem with most of these protest groups is they actually achieve exactly the opposite of what they are trying to achieve. Their actions alienate the public by breaking laws and disrupting the lives of ordinary people going about their everyday jobs.

    Jamie Oliver has done more for the plight of battery hens than any ‘Animal Action’ group.

    Likewise Al Gore has done a lot more for promoting Climate Change than Greenpeace ever has.

    What your Niece and No Right Turn fail to realise is that change only happens when it becomes main stream, when people who are respected actually stand up and say the things that need to be say. Change does not come about because a bunch of pimple faced ideologists spread hay in the foyer of Tegel.

  23. Anita 23

    ieuan,

    What your Niece and No Right Turn fail to realise is that change only happens when it becomes main stream, when people who are respected actually stand up and say the things that need to be say. Change does not come about because a bunch of pimple faced ideologists spread hay in the foyer of Tegel.

    Every social movement starts on the outside; change starts outside the “mainsteam”.

    It takes time, persistence, energy and courage to move an issue into the public arena, then into public discussion, then the mainstream. By picking on the edge players, the people starting that process, the state can prevent change ever coming to the mainstream.

  24. toad 24

    ieuan said: Jamie Oliver has done more for the plight of battery hens than any ‘Animal Action’ group. Likewise Al Gore has done a lot more for promoting Climate Change than Greenpeace ever has.

    True, ieuan, but the activist groups are necessary to raise public consiousness of the issues to the extent that the Jamie Olivers and the Al Gore’s will speak out.

    BTW there is nothing new in this, apart from the fact that there is a computer hard drive to prove it. I was aware first hand of police infiltration of HART in the 1980s and the Unemployed & Beneficiaries’ movement in the 1990s.

    One attempt at infiltrating HART was particularly short-lived. A young woman whom I had gone to school with turned up at a HART meeting. I happened to know that she had intended joining the Police when she left school, so asked her what she did. She mumbled something about being between jobs, and that was the last we saw of her – until a few months later when she turned up at Court to give evidence against a group of people charged with offences arising from protest activity during the Springbok Tour.

    One that survived a somewhat longer was a police officer or informant who infiltrated the Auckland Unemployed Workers’ Rights Centre. Suspicions were aroused by her living in an apartment by herself, having an extensive wardrobe of rather expensive clothes (neither of which seemed particularly compatable with being long-term unemployed) and the fact that from shortly after her arrival the Police always seemed to know in advance about protest activities that were planned. When confronted about whether she was a Police informant, she promptly disappeared.

  25. Tim Ellis 25

    LP, I don’t have a view on those examples, because I don’t know at what point a plan to commit civil disobedience has the potential to threaten security of person or property.

    This guy Gilchrist sounds like a prize A wanker. It makes you wonder if there are any others like him within these protest organisations. But you can hardly blame the Police for making use of him.

  26. lprent 26

    Ray: You get the impression that the police always suspect that there is more to see than there actually is. Rob was reporting at what was probably a pretty unreliable level on many groups including the groups Rochelle was involved in.

    In AAA which Rochelle was and is active in, this police suspicion took the form of search warrants after they ramped charges up into the crimes act. This involved the police not finding anything significant in the searches. However they proceeded to run the case against Rochelle for “intimidation by loitering” for close to two years until it was thrown out by the high court.

    Harm –  $30k in defense costs, excessive amounts of time for my family, disruption of a peaceful protest group, and I make bloody sure that I express my opinion of the police abusing their powers in that case at every available opportunity. I hate to think what the whole case cost the police in both money and mana.

    I’d say that there is some harm.

  27. lprent 27

    Tim: Sure. The question really is why exactly are the police bothering.

    Since the springbok tour when I first got active, I don’t think that I’ve heard of the police getting any real results. I think that the weapon charges they are currently proceeding with are the most severe. However from what I’ve heard from the deposition hearings, they’re going to lose a lot of these as well. So why are they wasting this level of resources when they have more severe issues to deal with.

    Sure they need to monitor protest groups – the question is what is the appropriate level. You get the distinct impression that they rather like doing this kind of work because it is easy.

    toad: it was kind of funny in 85 when the organizing was going on for the planned tour. My partner and I were immediately under suspicion because I was ex-terries, doing an MBA, and didn’t look ‘right’. Had to slow down on the way home so that the tail could figure out where I lived.

    ieuan: Anita explained that, so I don’t have to

  28. Tim Ellis 28

    LP, I think there is a fine line between the police pursuing legitimate lines of inquiry and harassment. I’m pretty uneasy with some of the stuff that’s come out over the last two days. On the one hand I’d hate to see the police mis-using their authority; on the other I don’t think protest groups should be immune from investigation. The outcome of that would be every potential terrorist or criminal organisation setting itself up as a political protest organisation.

    I do find it interesting that Rochelle and a couple of others appear to be slating most of the blame at the Police rather than Gilchrist himself. Gilchrist seems like a total weasel and while I appreciate the personal tensions involved I think his actions have been utterly loathsome.

    I think the comments you made, trying to politicise these issues, were unfortunate LP. All of these activities took place under a Labour government. John Key and Judith Collins’ response has been that they are concerned and will be asking questions of the police commissioner, with the possibility of a formal inquiry. It is legitimate to question what former police ministers knew about these activities–that seems to be an issue that you have overlooked in your analysis. You seem to be far more interested in hurling abuse at National ministers than asking what Labour Ministers knew, what questions they asked, and why action wasn’t taken earlier.

  29. One of the basic rules for spying is secrecy. Allowing his girlfriend to look at his computer indicates that his spying ability is dubious at best. If we taxpayers were paying him, we should be demanding a refund. I wonder whether his employment contract has a performance clause in it?

    [lprent: You have to understand that (IMO) Rochelle is rapidly heading to guru level as a programmer. The things she’d notice are not what most people would notice. ]

  30. lprent 30

    TE: I only slagged Judith Collins because in her role of Minister of Police, it was clear that she hadn’t understood the role. If she’d persisted in that stance then there would have been no legitimate channel to ask the police what in the hell they were doing.

    I couldn’t care less about Labour / National for this – IMO – it is a problem within the police. Any damage that Judith Collins took from this is purely collateral damage, and came directly from her own statement. She was acting as a blockage on the only normal channel that is able to ask the police questions.

    If you look through the posts and comments I’ve made, that has been my position.

    I don’t think that protest groups should be exempt to the police attention either. However I think that there has to be a reason to start using the extent of the state powers. To date I haven’t seen those reasons. What I’ve seen is offenses that could and should have been handled using normal processes.

    Unlike Judith Collins I’d expect the police to be able to justify their actions because I have little trust in some parts of the police to do it in a balanced and judicious fashion. What I see them doing is attempting to suppress open protest and activist actions. That is really dangerous because it will result in that kind of activity going underground and probably going septic. That is something that I don’t want to see happening. At present I see the ‘anti-terrorism’ police as being the problem because they sure as hell seem to be out of control on any reasonable basis.

  31. toad 31

    lprent said: Had to slow down on the way home so that the tail could figure out where I lived.

    Yep, some of the surveillance was pretty amateurish. Like during the planned 85 tour organising the chap who used to frequently sit in his car a bit up my street “reading” his newspaper – and on one occasion actually had it upside down. There were two other anti-tour activist households living within a few houses of mine, and we never managed to work our which of us he was watching, or whether our close proximity just made surveillance in our street value for money.

  32. lprent 32

    Interesting JK is taking the right approach.

    http://www.stuff.co.nz/4792819a11.html

  33. the sprout 33

    “appear to be slating most of the blame at the Police rather than Gilchrist himself”

    until that point I’d considered you quite a clever commentator TE.

    Nice to see Key has a few more brains, or at least better advisors, than his Minister for Police.

  34. Tim Ellis 34

    I agree LP that if the Police is attempting to suppress legitimate protest, then that is a serious issue. I don’t see what Judith Collins has said condones that. In fact her comments this morning suggest she will be asking questions.

    A couple of points I would make: if the allegations are true, then they have been taking place for some time. If the allegations are true then an inquiry should be held to determine who authorised this activity, at what level, and who knew about it. If it was just a couple of rogue detectives playing Maxwell Smart, then they should be disciplined. If the Commissioner and former Police Minister knew about it, then that goes beyond just simple police operational matters to a quite massive scandal in my view.

    A number of Labour Party people who were quite happy to blindly variously repeat Police statistics showing decreasing reported crime, repeat Police rationale for no change in crime statistics, and repeat police management rationale welcoming worsening crime statistics appear to be much more vocal now than they were when Labour was in Government.

    I personally have some quite grave concerns about the performance of police management. I do fear that they sail too close to the political wind, fail to exercise proper competency where issues have a political leaning (ranging from prosecution of politically sensitive electoral cases to intervention in protests) and are too subservient to the politicians in power. I just did not accept police excuses of “better reporting” for increased violent crime statistics rather than actual increasing violent crime. That was a cop-out in my opinion.

  35. NeillR 35

    So you’re quite happy with people infiltrating a National party conference and releasing details of private conversations, but you jump up and down when the same things done to your own groups? Sheesh, the hypocrisy is stunning.

    [lprent: it becomes quite different when the state (through its arm of the police) does it as a matter of policy to when an individual (Kees) does it. If you don’t understand that, then I suggest you do some reading on what the difference is and the implications for any group saying that the state policies are incorrect]

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