Max Johns - office dweller, Blenheim

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Supreme Beings

Helen and Margaret's new toy doesn't seem to like playing with them much. It's not long now since the PM and Attorney-General decided to give the Privy Council the flick and build the country a Supreme Court (which is actually more of an average meeting room). As its prime champions, they couldn't have been happier to be rid of those damn part-time foreigners poking all around our laws and telling us what to do. What they possibly failed to realise in all the excitement of creating their own lasting monument to Labour 5 is that a bunch of full-time locals poking around the laws and telling us what to do could get to be a little more difficult to stomach, and could even get personal.

The name-calling and bitching that occured even before any cases had been heard by Sian Elias's gang of learned elders was embarrassing. Two of our nation's leading ladies struggled to share the spotlight, and it showed painfully. But one of the downsides of allowing your latest monument to yourself to speak its mind in an independent capicity is that it might just say what it thinks. And it might just think that you didn't understand what you were doing when you started all of this. And you might think that it should shut up, and just quietly go about its business. And then things might get a little nasty.

Luckily for us cringing observers, the pair of top cats stopped the fighting and got on with their normal lives. Sian Elias judged a court case, and Helen Clark fucked off overseas. The case that Elias and co. chose to take on - Richard Prebble v. Donna Awatere-Huata - allowed the Supreme Court's first run to take place all over one of Clark's most shameless lap dogs, Jonathan Hunt. One of the few men who have successfully sat, rolled over, and begged enough to finally earn a treat has spent a good long while pretending that eight equals nine, somehow convincing himself that a party's number of seats in the house isn't affected by trifling matters like one of those seats' members being declared independent. Difficult to do with a straight face, but easy enough when the loser is an enemy of your boss.

A pity for both Hunt and Clark, then, that the newest, highest court in all the land wasted no time in delivering a maths lesson to all involved and removing Awatere-Huata from parliament for good. That the speaker spent so long blinding himself to the fact that ACT was not as widely represented as it had been, while at the same time accepting that the number of ACT MPs had changed, had all been pretty convenient for Helen. That her shiny new court put everything back to how it ought to have been would have hurt. (And that the new guy in the House, Kenneth Wang, immediately earned glowing headlines for his direct hit on prized Government pooch Michael Cullen would only have made things worse).

Supreme Court 1, Labour 0.

Still, what were the odds of the very first Supreme Court case being so squarely focussed on the Government? Maybe it was just bad luck, and the next case would give Sian something less political to chew on. Or maybe round 2 would be even more likely to take skin off the PM's nose, depending where Chief Justice went fishing for it. Maybe round 2 wouldn't just end a bit of mainly harmless parliamentary game-playing, but would instead wade straight into a mess that Clark, by virtue of her position, is ultimately responsible for (no matter how much she hides behind her outward faith in due process). And maybe that mess would be one of the bigger messes around these days, one that might be described either as "NZ's Guantanamo Bay", or simply as a terrible fuck up.

Terrorism, national security, espionage, international relations, "human rights", Goldenhorse. This case had it all.Two years ago, the Keep New Zealand Safe Brigade announced that Zaoui had admitted to being a terrorist. They were absolutely mistaken, but that's now a trifling matter. Since he might be Osama's mate, they locked him up. The Belgians don't trust him, you see, and so neither should we.

They had two years to come up with a better reason for imprisoning a man. The difficult bit, as far as things like "justice delayed" and "human rights" go, is that he's been in prison all that time. Have they found anything? We don't know. There are at this stage two possible outcomes of the mysterious work that's been done to keep us all safe. It's possible that they haven't come up with anything yet, and it's all proving to be a bit embarrassing that we're actually nice and safe no matter what we do with Zaoui. So they're just waiting around for something to come up. Until then, they're not saying anything. Also, it's possible that some sort of super-secret, incredibly incredible information has been gathered on Zaoui. Something so amazing that the moment anyone's told about it, they'll heartily agree that, yes, he should be left to rot behind bars. Problem is that the work the SIS does in support of global security is so mega-secret that they can't tell anyone what they know, not even a court wanting to grant the man bail. So they're not saying anything.

Funnily enough, winking and nudging wasn't enough to convince the judges. Also, the SIS probably didn't help themselves by admitting that the threat they've investigated can't actually be linked to New Zealand.

Supreme Court 2, Labour 0.

This one was a direct hit on the government. The acidic press release from Margaret Wilson (which I can no longer find a link for, sorry) was scathing in its brevity. Something like "The Court has had its say. Good on it. ENDS." But don't be fooled by all that blank page: this will be far from a white flag.

Steve's Bill

Meanwhile, it's now illegal to smoke in bars. Or to be accurate, it's illegal for bars to allow you to smoke in them. This is all thanks to the the Smoke-free Environments Amendment Act 2003, which was sponsored through Parliament by Rotorua MP Steve Chadwick. By far the most interesting thing I've learnt about this recently is that Steve's a girl.