Is New Zealand’s Lack of Transparency the Next ‘Me Too’ Movement?

Last week was one Robert Muldoon likely thought would never happen.  Secret government cover ups spilled out like sewage into the Hauraki Gulf after an Auckland rain.  This metaphor has long been true.  In each case it is the mainstream reporting that is new.

In the past week New Zealanders were informed the Courts hold secret hearings that are additionally not listed on official court lists, and that an assassination attempt on Queen Elizabeth II occurred in Dunedin in 1981.

Chief High Court Judge Geoffrey Venning (pictured) issued a statement on Friday saying the latest secret trial – a two day preliminary hearing held 28 February and 1 March 2018 in the Wellington High Court before Justice Robert Dobson – raised national security issues and, on this basis was required to be conducted in secret.  Venning J stated it was an oversight the case was not listed on the court docket as it should have been.  An oversight in the NZ courts which is all too common if not habitual.

Tellingly, Venning only made this statement/admission because Wellington Barrister Michael Bott railed against court secrecy in the press in a rare display of press conscientiousness that got past the editors.  Such criticism is also extremely rare from lawyers who practice in New Zealand.

Dr Frank Deliu told kiwisfirst Justice Venning’s explanation is suspect because the judgment relating to this secret case had been originally published and the presiding judge gave no valid reasons why this case should now become secret.  The judge simply agreed to a belated request from the Chief Justice and Attorney General after private consultation well into the proceedings.  Dr Deliu pointed out secrecy was not limited to secret hearings and keeping the case off the court docket; Dobson J anonymised the applicant’s name because she asked for it, hardly the legal test.  The judge even reissued an anonymised version of the original judgment.

The genesis of the latest case is a cancelled New Zealand passport.  Court security staff and NZ police were not trusted to keep people out this week.  Stern warnings to those who attempted to enter the court came instead from men in dark coats whose authority remains unidentified.

In a story appearing the same day in the (U.K.) Daily Mail, it was reported NZ Police will ‘re-examine’ a 36 year-old cover up of an assassination attempt on Queen Elizabeth II during her official visit to New Zealand in October 1981.  At the time NZ Police claimed the gunfire spectators heard was not gunfire but a sign falling over.  Police had already arrested the perpetrator: 17-year old Christopher John Lewis was caught with written details on how he planned to kill the Queen.  Secret justice being what it is in New Zealand, Lewis was ambiguously charged and convicted of possession of a firearm and discharging it in a public place.

In a country where murderers routinely serve less than 10 years it is telling that Lewis killed himself 16 years later in his Mt Eden prison cell while still serving his public discharge of a firearm conviction.

Queen Elizabeth’s security detail were not made aware of the close call on her life in New Zealand.  It came out years later in leaks from original investigator and Dunedin detective Tom Lewis (no relation) that the Queen’s life was likely saved because the teenager’s view of the Queen’s route from his fifth floor sniper’s nest was largely blocked by other buildings.

There are elements of the story which are pure Kiwiana on how far the State went to conceal the national fraud for decades.  On the Queen’s subsequent 1995 visit Lewis was given a holiday from prison to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, complete with spending money, just in case the snooping British press caught wind of the fraud and attempted to pay a prison visit to the firearm-discharging Lewis.

The retrospective explanation by the government after being caught out was Lewis was sent abroad at the time to ensure he would not make another attempt on the Queen’s life.  If true this does not speak well about New Zealand’s high security prisons.

Geographic isolation and lack of any independent press remains the formula to control the national narrative in New Zealand, but the ability to control the narrative may be changing.  The only two ‘mainstream’ press entities covering New Zealand (Fairfax and N.Z.M.E. (the ‘M’ stands for media and the ‘E’ stands for entertainment)) have been asking judges for the past year to overturn a ruling by the Commerce Committee and allow them to merge.  They claim their market is being eroded by the bloggers.

Last month one of NZME-owned New Zealand Herald’s front page stories was that Kim Dotcom’s new wife has sex with him.

Meanwhile NZ governmental actions and rulings which impact all New Zealander’s lives are largely unreported.  It is these often secret and rarely reported actions that have ripped many law-abiding citizens’ lives to shreds as collateral damage in the broad quest for a gentler public image.  Those who expose corruption in New Zealand are routinely run out of the country or have their lives ruined.  Many commit suicide.  No one is immune.  For years New Zealanders have accepted this as our fate, as sheep led quietly to the slaughter.   But many, albeit slowly and portentously, are waking up to the fact that speaking out against personal belongings being seized and families ruined by government-sanctioned secrecy is the antidote to such persecution and an essential element to restoring personal liberties.

As Venning’s public statement demonstrated last week, only exposing secret justice puts the perpetrators on the back foot.