The Earthquake Commission is using contracts containing broad confidentiality clauses in an attempt to avoid future legal proceedings, complaints, and critical public comment from disgruntled homeowners, a document publicly available on the Arbitrators’ and Mediators’ Institute of New Zealand’s EQC Mediation Service website shows.
The pro forma agreement is used when disputes heard by the EQC Mediation Service are settled, however similar clauses are included in settlement agreements presented for claimants to sign when they are not represented by a lawyer and have not elected to mediate their dispute.
The clauses include an agreement that the claimant will not “commence any proceedings in New Zealand or elsewhere which in any way arise out of or relate to the Dispute, against EQC or any of its related persons, servants, employees or agents or against any other person”.
Claimants agree to “not make any complaint in relation to the Dispute to any professional, governmental or other body about the conduct of EQC or any of its related persons, servants, employees or agents or against any other person and to withdraw any complaint already made”.
An additional clause prohibits claimants from making “any public comment critical of EQC or any of its related persons, servants, employees or agents or against any other person in respect of any matters which in any way arise out of or relate to the Dispute”. This clause would prevent disgruntled homeowners from talking about their experiences on TV, at a public meeting, or on Facebook.
“No further proceedings” clauses may be appropriate when parties have received legal advice, but clauses relating to complaints and public comment seem like bullying behaviour from a government agency trying to hide their mistakes.
Crown Law has provided figures under the Official Information Act on the money and time spent in relation to legal work completed in respect of Kim Dotcom and his associates which amounts to more than $5.8 million.
Crown Law writes that the United States Department of Justice is not reimbursing New Zealand for any of these expenses, even though the cases largely relate to charges that they wish to bring against Mr Dotcom and his associates.
Crown Law hours spent
are as at 8 February 2017;
include work on both domestic and mutual assistance (United States initiated extradition) legal proceedings;
exclude work completed to provide advice to other Government Departments, for example the Police or the GCSB who respectively picked up the bill for Crown Law’s advice to them; and
include most Crown Law legal staff time and some support staff time.
Using a conservative estimate of the value of the time spent ($140 per hour,1 which is the rate a Crown Law junior prosecutor would be billed out as – senior solicitors’ time is likely worth more, support staffs’ likely less), this comes to around NZD $3.6 million.
New Zealand has also covered the bill for work completed by external counsel on Crown Law’s behalf and expenses paid by Crown Law in relation to the Dotcom/Megaupload matters – another NZD $2.2 million.
This includes: $1.98 million on external barrister/solicitor fees, $171,800 on travel and accommodation, $23,151 on Court filing fees, $20,125 on photocopying, and $17,356 on professional fees including research material.
An excessive burden?
At least NZD $5.8 million has been spent on Kim Dotcom et al. by New Zealand so far, and it begs the question: was it worth it?
Should we have refused the United States’ mutual assistance request when it was made? Section 27(g)(i) of the Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Act 1992 allows New Zealand to refuse a request made by a foreign country if “in the opinion of the Attorney-General, the provision of assistance would impose an excessive burden on the resources of New Zealand”.
Kim Dotcom had hundreds of millions of dollars worth of assets before the raid on his home and it’s not a shock that he has aggressively defended the cases brought against him.
If spending $5.8 million+ has not been an excessive burden on New Zealand, what amount would be?
At around 5:15pm today the Department of Internal Affairs released some of the information they hold on Peter Thiel’s application for New Zealand citizenship, emailed on mass to those who had made requests under the Official Information Act.
Peter Thiel has never lived in New Zealand and doesn’t plan to live in New Zealand. He’s a controversial figure. We looked past that because of a few New Zealand business investments, public speaking engagements, and a donation to the Canterbury earthquake relief fund.
Neil Strauss wrote a book in 2009 called Emergency about disaster preparedness. In one part he investigates the trend of the super rich applying for secondary citizenship in another country. They wanted to be prepared when “the shit hits the fan” by having a Plan B country to retreat to if there was some sort of disaster. Strauss said New Zealand would be a great country to have citizenship in but that our requirements are so strict. He settled for Saint Kitts and Nevis.
When you’re Peter Thiel and are worth US$2.7 billion, I guess you don’t need to settle.
Thiel has his Plan B, New Zealand, but don’t expect to see him around unless the world is falling apart.
Highlights and the full documents are embedded below:
A staffer writes that the transactions to Kelley’s Luxury Car Service “were mislabelled [as Uber rides] on the expense form due to a case of mistaken identity of the company involved”.
The two trips between Newark Liberty International Airport and “accommodation in New York for Ministerial staff while on ministerial business” cost USD $92 and USD $102.
Uber estimates that an uberX fare between Newark Liberty International Airport and a Midtown hotel, The Westin New York Grand Central (where Minister Nicky Wagner stayed while in New York), would cost between USD $43 and USD $50. It is unclear which hotel Minister Dunne stayed at.
However, the University did not inform students of the sexual nature of the incident after it became public knowledge. The assault was alluded to in a 28 July UC blog post, which included 10 ’safety and security tips’ and a list of ’support for students’ links, including a link to the UC Health Centre. This content was also included in the next edition of the ‘Insider’s Guide Newsletter’, a weekly digest sent to all students, on 31 July.
Last night a student died suddenly at the Rochester and Rutherford Hall of Residence.
UC acting vice-chancellor, Dr Hamish Cochrane was quoted by the media as saying “all the university’s students and staff were advised [Sunday], and made aware of the support available”.
Communication to students consisted solely of a UC blog post listing four UC support services that are available to students, including the UC Health Centre. Links to blog posts appear for a few days in the sidebar of Learn, UC’s online learning management system which is regularly accessed by students and staff. However, no email was sent to students, and there was no acknowledgment that a student had died.
Late on Sunday night, a link to the blog post was included in the ‘Insider’s Guide Newsletter’ emailed to students.
UC Health Centre Counselling under pressure
Students are struggling to access support.
The UC Health Centre provides free counselling to UC students, however their website states that counselling appointments “are in high demand [and] you may have to wait a few weeks to be seen”. During office hours there is an on-call counsellor to deal with students facing an “emergency situation”.
During this year’s UCSA elections one group of candidates asked students on Facebook which one out of four campaign policies they thought was most important. “Increased mental health awareness and support” was voted second. In response to a question asking how the UCSA should help support those with mental health issues, students voted overwhelmingly for “increased health centre funding for more counsellors”.
Students wanting to skip the UC Health Centre counselling waiting list could choose to pay for sessions with a private counsellor or psychologist. Students may be eligible for the disability allowance, however there are restrictions, including a maximum payment of $61.69 a week (appointments with private psychologists can cost $150 or more).
Last month the member’s bill of Nuk Korako, a National Party list MP, was drawn from the ballot. The Airport Authorities (Publicising Lost Property Sales) Amendment Bill will replace, in relation to the advertisement of lost property auctions: “the insertion of suitable advertisements in a newspaper circulating in the district where the airport is situated” with “publicising the sale in what the authority considers to be a fair and reasonable manner”.
The Bill is unnecessary
The explanatory note to the Bill says that it “would allow authorities to use modern means of communication as well as future, unforeseen, means of communications as the airport authority may determine fit.” This isn’t true. The current Airport Authorities Act does not restrict airports from advertising any auction in new media. If airports wanted to advertise their auctions on their website, Facebook, or Snapchat, there would be nothing stopping them.
The Airport Authorities Act only provides a suggested template for what airports may wish to include in any bylaws they create. The Act states:
any local authority or airport authority may, in respect of the airport which it operates, make such bylaws as it thinks fit for all or any of the following purposes:
(ff) providing for the establishing and maintaining of facilities at the airport for the reception and storage of lost property, and, after the insertion of suitable advertisements in a newspaper circulating in the district where the airport is situated, providing for the sale by way of auction of any such property that is unclaimed after being held by the authority for not less than 3 months:
provided that in the case of lost property which is perishable or valueless the bylaws may provide for the disposal of the property in such manner as may be determined by the authority
It follows that if an airport does have a clause requiring the advertising of a lost property auction in a local newspaper, for example, Auckland International Airport, amending the Airport Authorities Act will not change that bylaw. The airport would have to have the bylaw changed, which could happen even if Mr Korako’s Bill does not pass.
Airport lost property auctions are rare and advertising them is free
I asked eight airports how much money they spent on advertisements for lost property auctions within the last year. Of the six that replied, only one airport, Dunedin Airport, has held an auction and placed an advertisement for it in the last year. The cost to them? $0. The Otago Daily Times doesn’t charge them.
The responses from the airports are below this post.
Queenstown Airport has a bylaw that covers lost property, however it has not held an auction within the last year, instead it has donated property to the Salvation Army. The property was not of significant value and included: second-hand clothing, sunglasses, reading glasses and books.
Dunedin Airport is the only airport that replied that has placed an advertisement for a lost property auction within the last year. They are not charged for placing the advertisements, which run in the Otago Daily Times.
Their policy is to advertise lost property twice in the Otago Daily Times with all property being held for at least three months before being auctioned. Any remaining property is donated to charity. Any valuable item or identity documents are handed to the airport police
Hokitika Airport has not received any lost property since 2002. They have no written policy on lost property. In practice, any lost property is handed to Air New Zealand staff as it likely belongs to one of their passengers or someone accompanying one of their passengers and Hokitika Airport staff are not present at the airport on a regular basis.
On 18 August the Department of Internal Affairs proactively released Ministerial credit card statements and reconciliations for the previous quarter.
Peter Dunne, Minister of Internal Affairs, made two payments on his Ministerial credit card in April while on official travel in New York through the payment processor Square. Square is a service designed for individuals or businesses to accept payments through an application on a phone or tablet. The payments were for the equivalent of NZD $137.56 and $152.69.
PHARMAC currently funds the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine for all girls under 20. The intention is that through ‘herd immunity’, males will be protected too. However, herd immunity does not help males who exclusively have sex with other males (and herd immunity doesn’t kick in for males at all until female vaccination rates are above a certain percentage).
The Ministry of Health’s Immunisation Handbook even recommends the HPV vaccine (and the Hepatitis A vaccine) for men who have sex with men (MSM). MSM are at higher risk for HPV infection, anal cancer and high-grade anal intraepithelial neoplasia. They are more likely to acquire HPV compared to other males. But they’d need to pay around $500 to buy the vaccine’s three doses themselves.
The application’s status is now ‘ranked’, which PHARMAC describes as “prioritised; PHARMAC has assessed the application and has ranked it against other funding options”. It has had this status since November 2013, well over two years.
It is preferable to vaccinate people at a younger age to reduce the chances of exposure to HPV strains prior to vaccination–the younger people are vaccinated, the stronger the immunogenicity. PHARMAC sitting on this means that for some people the vaccine will be less effective when it is eventually funded than if they received it today.
Below: PHARMAC’s response to an Official Information Act request on this topic. The funding of medicines is a numbers game so naturally all mentions of relevant dollar figures have been redacted by the agency.
In the interests of full disclosure, I filed a Human Rights Commission complaint about this issue last year.