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Friday, August 08, 2003
DEATH WITHOUT DIGNITY: So John Howard has decided not to oppose the death sentence for the Bali bomber Amrozi.

Now, in most western nations (with the exception of the United States) the death sentence is something viewed with horror. Certainly this has been the consistent stance taken by Australia since it abolished cpaital punishment in 1985.

But apparently things are different when that punishment is to be visited upon someone with slanty eyes. In that case it is suddenly alright. In that case, it would be unjustified interference in the justice system of another country to lobby against execution. This is blatant hypocrisy. There's simply no other word for it. You can't even wiggle out by claiming that terrorism is somehow different. After all, Australia lobbied against the imposition of the death penalty on Australian al Qaeda suspect David Hicks. If you think Amrozi should die, then you should accept the same result for white people.
A TALE OF TWO CITIZENSHIPS III: Following the passage yesterday, under urgency, of retrospective legislation to confirm Harry Duynhoven's seat, Speaker Jonathan Hunt has come under fire from opposition MPs claiming that he has been colluding with the government, and jeopardising the independence of the speaker's position. Anybody who has listened to the Parliamentary debates should realise that this supposed 'independence' is something of a fiction. But it is not a complete fiction; and if Jonathan Hunt really were acting simply to protect the seat of his fellow Labour Party MP, then this would be a matter for serious concern.

But the opposition parties' complaint - that Mr. Hunt should promptly have declared Mr. Duynhoven's seat empty, follwing the findings of the privileges committee - is actually rather spurious. Nothing Mr. Hunt could do would have changed the outcome of this issue either way. Labour would still have passed the retrospective legislation suspending the relevant clause of the Electoral Act, and the privileges committee finding would have become moot. So all Mr. Hunt did was avoid confirming a ruling that was about to become irrelevant anyway. His decision was undoubtedly partisan. But claiming that this was an unacceptable display of partisanship seems a bit rich.
Wednesday, August 06, 2003
A TALE OF TWO CITIZENSHIPS II: So the Privileges committee has ruled that Harry hasn't been an MP since June 11. This will undoubtedly be overruled by retrospective legislation in any event. But assuming it wouldn't, what would be the effect on his vote in favour of the Prostitution reform bill?
Monday, August 04, 2003
A TALE OF TWO CITIZENSHIPS: Today's Dominion Post and Herald editorials have taken decidedly different stances on the issue of what to do about Harry Duynhoven's wee citizenship problem. The Herald reckons that National and ACT should support the amendment of a silly law, rather than playing partisan politics, while the Dom-Post argues that Harry should wear the consequences of his lawbreaking, however innocent it may have been.

NZPols doesn't agree with either of them. The Dom-Post's claims that people should wear the consequences of their actions is superficially attractive, but it only really works if you think the consequences are justified in the first place. In fact, they go much further than this: their point is that stupid laws still deserve respect. Well, no. Stupid laws deserve to be changed. (Imagine we were talking about something a bit more serious: say a law that condemned to death a slave who runs away from his or her owner. Would anyone seriously argue that a law like this shouldn't be altered retrospectively to save a runaway slave? If not, why is the case here different?)

Yet, on the other hand, I think ACT and National are perfectly justified in questioning whether the law needs to be changed as dramatically as Labour appears to be proposing. Those, like the Herald, who think the law should be amended, make much of the fact that it seems to assume that applying for foreign citizenship somehow automatically amounts to a form of treachery. This, of course, is patently stupid, as Mr. Duynhoven's case clearly illustrates: it's obvious that his allegiance to NZ hasn't changed in the slightest. But the law doesn't actually depend on this assumption at all. All it depends on is the (rather more reasonable) idea that applying for foreign citizenship could indicate a change in allegiance, and that in such situations, voters should be entitled to decide whether they still trust the MP in question enough to retain him or her in Parliament.

I'm not saying that I agree with the law. In fact I don't feel particularly strongly either for or against it. But I do think it's ill-advised to change what was previously seen as a perfectly acceptable rule, simply to a fit situation that is unlikely ever to recur. As the well-worn legal maxim goes, "bad cases make bad law" and as much as I have sympathy for Mr. Duynhoven, I think National and ACT are right to question what is going on here. Especially when a very slight wording change could accommodate his predicament, without abandoning the principle altogether. Just change the law to read something like the following:

"If a sitting MP applies for citizenship of a country of which he or she was not a citizen at the time he or she was elected, his or her seat shall become vacant."

Harry keeps his seat, the principle behind the original law remains intact, and we don't go rushing through potentially damaging and ill-thought-out changes. It's the best of both worlds.
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