Monday, September 25, 2006

Not the sort of politics I like to see

The Dominion-Post reports that the government is seeking to revenge itself on the Exclusive Brethren by removing their religious exemption from union access. Currently, sections 23 and 24 of the Employment Relations Act allow employers who are "practising member[s] of a religious society or order whose doctrines or beliefs preclude membership of any organisation or body other than the religious society or order of which the employer is a member" to deny unions access to their workplaces unless they have members there. Normally, unions are allowed reasonable access to workplaces even where they have no members there to both recruit and impart information. The exemption was introduced at the specific request of the Exclusive Brethren, who felt that allowing unions to talk to their employees would violate their deeply held belief in separation from "all groups, unions or associations of a business, shareholding, property, political, pleasure, social, medical, or superannuational nature".

The exemption is a bad law which explicitly discriminates on the basis of religion, and which violates the freedoms of association, expression, and thought, conscience and belief of employees. An employer may have a religious belief that his workers cannot belong to a union - but that doesn't give them the right to impose that belief on others. New Zealanders have a right to belong to, seek out and receive information from unions, and that is something the Brethren will just have to get used to. Just like homosexuals, civil unions, and women in Parliament.

And that said, I am extremely uncomfortable with the way this is being done. It is brutal and Muldoonist, and a clear example of a government using the power of the state as a weapon against its enemies. That's not the sort of politics I like to see, and while I want to see these clauses repealed, I'd rather the government restrained its urge to lash out at this stage.


What I find even more farcial is that (if my memory serves) a review of the ERA isn't due for at least a year. What I'd like the media to ask Ruth Dyson - and not let her fudge the answer - is why such an exemption was included in the bill in the first place, let alone allowed to pass. I'm a Tory, and a religiously observant one at that, and faith-based exemptions to any labour law just creep me out.

Having said that, you're right, I/S. This is ugly politics; but even worse, it's dumb ugly politics that virtually demands to be seen as Muldoonoid payback in Labour drag.

Posted by Craig Ranapia : 9/25/2006 02:20:00 PM

Craig: the exemption was inserted by the Select Committee, in response to a submission from the Exclusive Brethren. Labour voted against it, but were overruled by National and the Greens. It was discussed at the Committee Stage of the bill on August 9th, 2000 by Lockwood Smith and Sue Bradford. As for why Labour allowed it to pass, they didn't have the numbers to can it, and weren't willing to push the Greens over the issue.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 9/25/2006 02:47:00 PM

I agree. Labour really needs to lay off the angry pills and chill out for a bit.

That's bloody interesting about the exemption though. I vaguely recall it but I'd forgotten the details.

Oh, and speaking of the Brethren, this should be interesting telly in Australia tonight:,20867,20471266-2702,00.html



Posted by Russell Brown : 9/25/2006 03:10:00 PM

On the one hand, it's entirely reasonable - the Brethren blew their case for an exemption out of the water the moment they decided to get into politics.

On the other hand, it's astoundingly stupid for Labour to go for such blatant, heavy-handed payback. Have they lost it completely?

Posted by Psycho Milt : 9/25/2006 03:51:00 PM

Thanks I/S. I helped write the Young Nats submission to the ERA - and was on the team who made out oral submission. Going over my notes, it was beyond me how we missed that one. :) I am very surprised, and more than a little disappointed, that Lockwood and Sue (let alone their parties) would have supported such an exemption. It might just have been weakly debatable back in the days of compulsory unionism, and I've my problems with the current definition of 'reasonable' access, but still... I don't want the Government regulating what people believe in good conscience and how they organise their private lives, but you've got to just say 'hell no' at giving an employee the power to impose their religious beliefs, directly or indirectly, on their employees' lawful activities in the workplace.

Posted by Craig Ranapia : 9/25/2006 03:59:00 PM

I'll be watching Four Corners on the EBs tonight and may blog a summary if I get a chance (Media Watch and Denton follow immediately so I may not). Four Corners pretty regularly post transcripts of their shows - the link is here

Posted by backin15 : 9/25/2006 04:04:00 PM

So it seems that Labour are not allowed to defend themselves from attacks and a covert campaign run by a "sinister and abusive", to requote Nick Smith, sect. I would have thought that pointing out the employment law status of the EBs is pretty legitimate in the current context.

What could be dumber and uglier than what they are doing and Don Brash's constent state of denial. For me, he is forgetting the details of several meetings too many.

It is all very well saying Labour need to not be angry, but until they got angry the media were refusing to recognise that things like the campaign funding had more than one side to it and the EBs involvement in the election was something to be concerned about. This is as disturbing as the state of politics has been in the last two weeks.

Posted by Anonymous : 9/25/2006 05:27:00 PM

Noddy: this isn't "defence"; in the context it is nothing less than political thuggery.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 9/25/2006 05:38:00 PM

Labour have every right to be angry, and most especially the treatment and perogative language being used by the media.

1. The language in the headline says it all...every mention of Labour gets a negative word like "attack". The headline would read quite differently as "Exclusive Brethren Employment Employment Exmptions under Review".

And a topic no doubt of considerable interest to the many non-EB business's wondering why they find it so hard to compete with them.

2. I've just listened to a Checkpoint interview which fed Brash question after soft-cock question letting him waffle on as long as he wanted...then immediately followed up by the same interviewer treating Hodgson with noxious disdain. The deference to Brash and the insult to Hodgson was blatant. You would have to wonder quite what the hell is going on here, but there is no question that the media have turned on Labour and will run a non-stop propaganda campaign to de-stabilise and smear the govt.

It's going to be a long two years, but along the way the media will utterly discredit their they have done in the US.

Posted by Anonymous : 9/25/2006 05:57:00 PM

Philip Wilkie:

I heard the same set of interviews, and with all due respect, if Pete Hodgson is going to try and shout down people and treat them like fuckwits he's lucky to get away with "noxious disdain".

Of course, if Mr. Hodgson thinks he's been treated in a manner that breeches the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice, he has the same rights as anyone else under the Boradcasting Act, (1989).

In the first instance, he may lay a formal complaint with Radio New Zealand within 20 working days, in the first instance. If he is not satisfied with the outcome, it can be referred to the Broadcasting Standards Authority, again within 20 working days.

More information can be found at

Good luck.

Posted by Craig Ranapia : 9/25/2006 07:06:00 PM

So National supported that coming in... why has no one made an issue of that yet?

However, I completely disagree about the law being there in the first place, but Labour should wait for the full review next year.

Posted by Anonymous : 9/25/2006 07:40:00 PM


Thank you for your suggestion, but I am certain you can write the resulting headlines even better than I.

You know as well as I do that NZ govts are actually not actually corrupt, but the tribe demands you stay on message, so I will not run you down for that. Yet so far of the five major parties, four of them have significantly disagreed with the AG on his new interpretation of the rules. Can you not accept for one second that maybe, just maybe they have a point and a reasonable defence that is entitled to be heard? That was all that Hodgson was trying to reiterate over the interviewer's rapid fire questions. (Which is another nasty media trick forcing the interviewee to sound loud and desperate just to be heard.) It is then so easy to label it as "shouting down"...

Unfortunately this genie that Mr Brash has let out of the bottle will not be readily persuaded back in, and the tactics being cycnically used by National at present, will become a commonplace. What is ok for National to do, will be quite ok for anyone else...regretably.

A few years ago this acrimonious mess would have been unthinkable. Another few years on the same path will result in more of what we currently regard as unthinkable.

What we have yet to see is how this will affect the Select Committee process...if that breaks down into mutually polarised camps then our govt will become unmanageable. A fresh election with a National Party in absolute power does not magically address the question, nor ensure wise stable governance...any more than an absolute Republican stranglehold on US power has improved matters there.

Posted by Anonymous : 9/25/2006 07:57:00 PM

the government is right - it is a stupid rule - I am extremely uncomfortable with religions getting special rights rather like races getting special rights.

they shouldn't just do this though they should wholesale get stuck into these sorts of exceptions.

Posted by Genius : 9/25/2006 09:07:00 PM

I agree that Labour is probably over-reacting on this one ... but the expression "live by the sword, die by the sword" does spring to mind. The EB have clearly not got the message about meddling in politics - witness the Swedish excursion - so it's hard to see what will dissuade them from pulling the same stunt at the next election. Perhaps a short, sharp shock in the form of unwinding their exemption is the only way of getting their attention.

Call it tough love.

Posted by Anonymous : 9/25/2006 09:07:00 PM

Philip, I agree with your point about the pejorative language increasingly being used by the media in relation to Clark/Labour. The Herald's bias against Labour has long been evident in their headlines and in the way they repeatedly use one of the most unflattering photos of Clark, while showing Brash at his smiling best. But I was taken aback to see these words highlighted in a box in the editorial of the Weekend Herald (print edition):

"The Prime Minister's shrewish persona is doing her no favours."

In the text, the word "sour" was used, rather than "shrewish", so there was obviously a difference of opinion in the course of production. It looks as if the page-setter succeeded in ratcheting up the negativity with an old-fashioned sexist slur.

This kind of appeal to bigotry is dumb, ugly journalism which, if left unchallenged, will corrode political discourse every bit as much as the ill-judged rhetoric of politicians.

As will comparing Clark with Muldoon. IMO, it's intellectually lazy, hyperbolic, propagandistic and patently unfair.

Posted by Anonymous : 9/25/2006 09:40:00 PM

philip wilkie the police found a prima facie case. The AG will probably find the spending unlawful. The actions of Mike Williams before the election in telling the CEO they would include the spending in their limit then reneging on that deal suggest they overspent knowingly. That meets the electoral act definition for corrupt practice.

Most of the nz public, including the owner of this blog who is no National supporter believe the money should be paid back. If you take a non partisan view of the actual evidence this was corrupt practice

Posted by sagenz : 9/25/2006 09:50:00 PM

Most of the public who answered a simple poll question wouldn't have had all the evidence in front of them. And since the A-G hasn't yet finished his report, neither do you, Sage.

Posted by Anonymous : 9/25/2006 10:00:00 PM

> As will comparing Clark with Muldoon. IMO, it's intellectually lazy, hyperbolic, propagandistic and patently unfair.

Muldoon is the new Hitler. Maybe we should have a new rule that says "first person to envoke Muldoon automatically looses the debate".

Posted by Genius : 9/25/2006 10:45:00 PM

of course no decent person would apply it retrospectively to win previous argument....

Posted by Genius : 9/25/2006 10:46:00 PM

SageNZ: Most of the nz public, including the owner of this blog who is no National supporter believe the money should be paid back.

Actually, I don't. Or rather, while I think that would be a perfectly acceptable and moral solution (and I think you would be very hard pressed to find someone who doesn't), I also think that there is a decent case for retrospective validating legislation. I also think (like Vernon Small) that the Auditor-General's changing his mind on certain expenditure is showing the problems with the position the Solicitor-General has taken (that pretty much anything is electioneering if done within 3 months of an election), and if it doesn't undermine that position entirely, certainly points out that that is not what we should do when it comes time to settle the law for the future.

Where I do agree with you is that Labour's overspending its election limit was an electoral corrupt practice, and that they should have been prosecuted for it. Unfortunately, the time limit for that has expired, and they can't be. Again, this shows that we need to reform the electoral act to ensure that future offences can be, and move prosecutorial power to the Electoral Office so that such crimes will be taken seriously in future.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 9/26/2006 01:04:00 AM

JTF: As will comparing Clark with Muldoon. IMO, it's intellectually lazy, hyperbolic, propagandistic and patently unfair.

In this case, it seems apt. This decision isn't being made because of the patent flaws in the law, but as an act of vindictive bullying. Which really does call Muldoon to mind.

Genius: well, we could always go for Massey instead, but fewer people would know who he was.

(And you might want to pay attention to this post from Crooked Timber. Sometimes, things like Godwin's Law stop you from pointing out real and dangerous similarities...)

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 9/26/2006 01:09:00 AM

Re: "prima facie cases" - what are we up to now, about 3 or 4 against the Labour Party and its office holders? And of course all in sundry are constantly reminded of these prima facie cases by national party spin merchants.

Has it occurred to anyone else that these "findings" of prima facie cases, and subsequent decisions not to prosecute, are doing Labour no favours? If prosecutions went ahead, Labour could defend itself, and be found either not guilty (and thus cleared - at least in most people's minds) or guilty (and take the rap, and pay the fine - a la Nick Smith). Either way it tends to make the issue go away.

I suspect for Joe & Jane Sixpack, "prima facie" means "guilty until proven otherwise", or, worse, "guilty but the police are afraid to prosecute." Of course it is in national's interests to encourage these perceptions.

Posted by dc_red : 9/26/2006 07:53:00 AM

I/S, I think you’ve departed from your usual approach, which I and others respect, of carefully considering all aspects of an issue before you speak your mind. Clark and other Labour social liberals cut their political teeth standing up against vindictive right-wing bullies like Norman Kirk and Rob Muldoon, and they have survived decades of dirty tactics by Christian conservatives, both within and outside Labour. That they have finally snapped and are willing to fight back against the Brethren, who epitomise that underhandedness, is understandable, though obviously not politically wise since so few of the public know the background. But it is a bit rich for you to accuse them of “vindictive bullying”. Surely you have the ability to say what you don’t like about it without resorting to negative associations.

Posted by Anonymous : 9/26/2006 09:27:00 AM

JTF, surely you mean Keith Holyoak & Rob Muldoon?

Not that I'm of an age to remember Holyoak or criticise his leadership style.

Posted by Anonymous : 9/26/2006 02:27:00 PM

Psycho Milt
"On the other hand, it's astoundingly stupid for Labour to go for such blatant, heavy-handed payback. Have they lost it completely?"

Labour's been (deliberately) losing it ever since they let Mallard loose, ever since they started to cop electoral liability over the pledge card money.

Posted by Anonymous : 9/26/2006 07:31:00 PM

JTF: I think I'm clear enough both in the posts and comments about what I don't like about it. That's not to disagree that Labour have cause to be angry, but I would rather they did not descend to this level.

As for "negative associations", if Labour don't want to be compared to Muldoon, they have a clear solution: don't behave like him. Simple, really.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 9/27/2006 02:36:00 AM

If it's wrong to violate workers' right to freedom of association by preventing them from joining a union, is it wrong to violate students' right to freedom of association by forcing them to join a student association?

Interested in your view.

Posted by Anonymous : 9/27/2006 10:53:00 AM

Anonymous, how on earth is VSM related to the topic of this thread?

Posted by backin15 : 9/27/2006 11:44:00 AM

I want to see if people arguing for freedom of association principles in regard to EB employers are willing to apply those same principles in regard to tertiary institutions.

Posted by Anonymous : 9/28/2006 09:32:00 AM

Anon, I'd understood that the discussion was about union access to workplaces which, while related to membership, is a separate issue.

Posted by backin15 : 9/28/2006 10:54:00 AM