Wednesday, 24 January 2007

When bureaucrats attack

When bureaucrats attack, unencumbered by watchdogs, safeguards and legal impediments, and with the full power and anonymity of the law and the bureaucracy behind them, then what's a person to do?

There's a reason we often talk about "faceless bureaucrats": it's because when bureaucrats attack, they do like being faceless. They don't like being exposed publicly. That way, perhaps, they can maintain the illusion to friends and family they're still human beings.

But many of them aren't. Power corrupts, and the near-absolute power delivered to many of them tends to corrupt absolutely. Many faceless bureaucrats have been corrupted by the scads of discretionary power allowed to them under NZ law, and they enjoy abusing that power and hiding behind the law. Many of these faceless bureaucrats are just Jobsworths ("it's more than my job's worth), but many have crossed a crucial line, going beyond any actions that can be called human -- going beyond arsehole into "some kind of urinary tract."

Exposing these pricks is like lifting a rock and watching the bugs scuttle and crawl around. When entrepreneur David Henderson was done over by the IRD, for example, he wrote about and photographed the pricks who had been doing him over. They hated it. And he won. When people tell their story to The Free Radical, outlining how they were done over by bureaucratic scum, they're always advised to name and photograph the pricks responsible. They hate it.

And now, as you would have heard yesterday, when people are allegedly being done over by faceless bureaucrats at CYFS -- removing children without cause; dividing families; placing children in foster care where "care" is the last of the things dispensed -- and a website is created exposing the faceless CYFS bureaucrats alleged to have perpetrated these monstrosities against good New Zealanders without any concern from the supposed watchdogs, instead of investigating the monstrosities the head of CYFS is concentrating his public energies on shutting the website down -- "working 24/7," says Ministry of Social Development CEO Peter Hughes, to have it shut down. (As Bernard Darnton observes, "Given the nature of the Internet, any information that is censored will no doubt just pop up somewhere else.")

They hate it, and they're so used to bullying they think they can bully the anonymous authors instead of confronting the claims. Remember that in libel cases, truth is an absolute defence.

When bureaucrats attack, they do like the anonymity of power; they do like being being faceless, and they really hate being exposed. As Clive Dunn used to say, "They don't like it up 'em." Clearly, the CYFSWatch website has touched a nerve. Has it touched a nerve because there is truth being exposed? Or does CYFS just dislike freedom of speech?

UPDATE 1: Remember that the law and the system offers little opportunity for recourse to people done over by departments such as CYFS. Argues the CYFSWatch website:
With the power to seize children without requiring evidence, the power to prevent parents access to their children without sufficient grounds, and the protection of the Childrens Commissioner, the Ombudsman, and the Ministry of Social Development to act negligently with impunity, it is time to turn the spotlight onto CYFS, a "corporate cult", and hold them accountable for the carnage they cause.
If you remove the possibility of bureaucrats being held accountable in law for their actions, then you leave the people they do over few other options.

UPDATE 2: A fellow libertarian suggests, "a series of webpages for people to post their horror stories of an increasingly authoritarian state run amok with misguided social schemes? It will highlight how state solutions are generally the wrong ones and the danger of putting state power in the weak hands. If nothing else it will be a useful historical record for referencing
the state's stuff-ups." For example:
  • WINZwatch
  • RMAwatch (exposing Regional/District Council abominations)
  • PRISONwatch
  • POLICEwatch
  • ACCwatch
  • IRDwatch

As my libertarian friend says, "the web is a great tool for free speech, use it or lose it."

UPDATE 3: No Right Turn's Idiot/Savant is on the case with this commentary:

It should come as no surprise that people hate CYFS. Any organisation which separates parents from their children, however justified, is going to attract a fair amount of strong feeling - even if they had a perfect record and their interventions were never based on vicious smears by ex-partners, and never resulted in tragedy. Being composed of fallible human beings, working in often very murky situations and against the backdrop of a society which will not tolerate children being left in reportedly abusive households (which in turn promotes a "better safe than sorry" attitude), CYFS' record is far from perfect - which hardly encourages those they deal with to like them. Apparently, though, people aren't allowed to express this hatred or criticise their actions on the internet. The Ministry of Social Development's response to the CYFSWatch blog, which provides an anonymous platform for people to recount their bad experiences with CYFS, and "names and shames" the social workers involved, is simple: lawyers have been instructed to

do whatever is necessary to get rid of this website

In a democratic society, this response is simply chilling. [It sure is.]

A comparison with the (now departed) RedWatch is appropriate here....
Read I/S's full post here.

UPDATE 4: Following on from yesterday's post, how about a website for PAROLE-BOARDwatch? Case stories of Graeme Burton, Bailey Kurariki and Stephen Anderson could be a good start: their stories, along with the stories of the people who let them out, or who are considering letting them out. Is there any reason the people who choose to put us at risk shouldn't be held accountable for their actions? Shouldn't justice be seen to be done, in full view instead of behind closed doors?

LINKS: CYFSWatch website
CYFS to gag name-and-shame site - Bernard Darnton, Section 14
Ministry will shut down critical website - Lindsay Mitchell

RELATED: Politics-NZ, Free Speech, Bureaucracy


  1. Peter,
    I hope that this will awake people to the fact that in NZ, the government - in its current form - is not your friend.

    Moral: Live your life independent of the government to the fullest extent of your abilities. Do not interact with them or provide them any information if possible.

    Do not trust the government or anyone working for the government.

    Julian D

  2. Yeah PC, I am in awe of the excellent social service this site is performing. A representative excerpt for your reading pleasure:

    "I would like to name Rachel Kerr at CYFS Dunedin. This woman is cruel, callous and calculating. She has no concern for anyone else but herself. Dressed likes a 14 year old, she looks disgusting. She wears clothes meant for a slim young girl but as she is fat and hitting 40 she just looks absolutely disgusting."


  3. OH no, Someone called someone fat! The horror! CYFS must immediately be given even more powers, like executing parents on sight.

  4. Sean - you zeroed on my point with alarming accuracy! What are you, some kind of Delta Force sniper?

    Any government department should allow scrutiny of it's operations at all levels. But has anyone championing this bullshit website actually read it? A vast tract of the 'contributions' aren't 'this staff member made this erroneous decision based on incorrect facts' or anything vaguely approaching reasonable criticism but are simply manifestations of blind rage at the decisions made by CYFS.

    This one cuts fairly close to the bone for me as my mother runs a small law practice specialising in family matters, and she is frequently the target of 'Men's Rights' protest groups. The type of people posting trash and personal details on this website (and aiming for photos and contact details) are no doubt the same retards who ring her at home with threats and picket outside her office.

    A pack of dole-bludging sad-acts without a neuron between them to rub together. Perhaps if the website focused a little more tightly on tangible 'wrongs' rather than personal abuse and vitriol, they could be taken more seriously. I note with interest that someone, inspired by the CYFSWatch blog, has started a 'Lawgate' blog to name and shame lawyers. Fantastic.


    (PS Note I don't agree the blog should be taken down, I am just awed and taken aback at the support it is receiving from various quarters.)

  5. Hi Den .. it's called free speech. It doesn't mean you (or I) have to like it.

    George Orwell said it best:

    "If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear".

    And to balance the equation, slander is there to be sued.

  6. Yep, you're absolutely right, Den.

    People done over by bureaucrats and with no other means of recourse should refrain from talking about how the bureaucrats look. I mean, how dare they. Just imagine. Whatever next.

    How dare they criticise people who are just doing their job, just following orders.

    Yep, I'm right with you there. But that doesn't mean, does it, that the bureaucrats and the bureaucrat-supporters shouldn't be allowed to let go, does it? It's clearly okay for them to dismiss the whole lot of them as "a pack of dole-bludging sad-acts without a neuron between them to rub together," and to treat them with all the 'respect' such an epithet implies.

    Bravo, Den.

  7. A key issue with these agencies and the family court is they have all the power in the world to act and act quickly, and for good reason, but there is no countervailing obligation on them to justify and rectify with equal speed so injustices can be created and compounded.

    It's easy to say we must remove a child at risk - I suspect that becomes a default setting as you won’t get blamed for being over cautious. But you have to wonder how much real risk assessment goes on up front.

    A friend was (as it turns out) falsely accused of being too disciplinarian with a child by the mother and had his shared custody arrangement stopped ex parte. Two years later it has been accepted there was no issue but now the court has refused to reinstate the earlier custody arrangement because the child has got used to existing arrangements which is about 70/30. So the false accusatory mother 'wins' and the person who has done nothing loses plus gets a large legal bill.

    How is that just? It seems that there is no recourse to this kind of delay or any requirement to speed the process, yet speed of resolution would be vital in family disputes it seems to me.

    THe ability to wield such power needs some kind of scrutiny outside of management and policy guidelines etc.


  8. I don't know why.. but this reminds me of some of the things hendo mentioned on the weekend (regarding the IRD).. thoughts PC?

  9. Insider: I think that's precisely the point being made yesterday over the Parole Board: that these people have tremendous power to do harm, yet they squirm and wriggle and disclaim all responsibility when their actions are exposed to scrutiny.

    Why should people with such power be able to wash their hands so easily of actions that destroy other people's lives. Why the hell should they?

    MikeE: Dave's case is precisely on point here, isn't it. And Dave's response shows just how effective standing up against the scum can be.

  10. Sus: Fully agree with the free speech argument - you'll note that I tried to make that explicit in the 'PS'.

    I think that if the internet could be used to expose systematic problems and underperformance by governmental departments (and indeed, private sector companies) then that is a very good thing. Common sense would suggest that the way that would be done is with concrete, rigorous examples, ideally backed up with the name of the complainant.

    What this site offers is essentially a string of character assassination and gibberish levelled by furious folks who obviously feel wronged by CYFS - not necessarily because the CYFS case workers haven't followed reasonable process, but because the foaming-at-the-mouth complainers caught the wrong end of the stick.

    PC, I don't know where you are extrapolating my opinion from on this but I'll say again, I don't disagree with the right of these pea-brain dumbfucks to (barely) express their anger, but when it is at the puerile level of insult, vague accusation and character assassination rather than actual substance (as you would have to agree, the site is in the main dominated by the former) then I am surprised that it draws such praise and support from yourself.

    What I find super-sinister given the afore-mentioned experience of my mother is that they are actively seeking photos, home addresses, home phone numbers and vehicle registration. How this aids in the legitimate examination of a government body I don't know.

    And your preciousness regarding the use of 'epithets' is a bit rich given your usual fever-pitch rhetoric, PC.


  11. I don't know - I really think this more of a 'shoot the messenger' system.

    I have a very good friend who works for the CYF's call centre in town. She is not a social worker (thankfully she is not on that end of the stick) but her role involves facilitating the investigation of abuse claims.

    She doesn't do it for fun - I don't think anyone who works for CYF's, social worker or otherwise, enjoys dealing with cases of abuse. She certainly doesn't do it for the pay.

    The point is, this blog is written by people who have reason to be angry and social workers, but the workers in question have no recourse to present evidence that they were in fact acting in the best interests of the child.

    While you can rile against whatever it is you think CYF's represents, the fact remains that these bloggers are targeting individuals for the perceived failings of the organisation they work for. Imagine how many discusting horrible people there are out there with a bone to pick with the organisation that took their damaged children from them who now have the personal details of someone to take revenge on?

    And for what? To 'stir things up'? I have no problem with people wanted to raise these types of issues in the public conciousness, but they're transferring their anger in a very malicious and dangerous way.

    And please, just because it's free speech doesn't make it admirable.

  12. "I have no problem with people wanted to raise these types of issues in the public conciousness, but they're transferring their anger in a very malicious and dangerous way."

    Given that there is no other legitimate recourse when people in government departments like this run amok, is it any wonder at the anger?

    "...but the workers in question have no recourse to present evidence that they were in fact acting in the best interests of the child."

    Isn't that what the comments section of the blog can be used for?

    "And your preciousness regarding the use of 'epithets' is a bit rich given your usual fever-pitch rhetoric, PC."

    Actually, Den, it was you complaining about bureaucrats being abused while calling those doing the abusing "pea-brain dumbfucks" that I found somewhat ironic.

  13. Robert Winefield24 Jan 2007, 14:27:00

    So the upshot is this then: That there are two sides to every story.

    Fine, let's hear them. It is said that for justice to be done, it must be seen to be done.

    And that's the problem isn't it.

    Q:In the event that CYFS does you over (and don't tell me that it doesn't happen, I haven't met the perfect government official yet) what options do you have to obtain some justice?

    A: None.

    It appears that like the NZ Family Court that CYFS is able to and sometimes does ride rough-shod over fundamental legal rights like the presumption of innocence, protection against arbitrary search and seizure, inadmisability of hearsay evidence etc. etc. ad nauseum.

    And what is the government's responce to these unconventional protestations? Do they investigate with an eye to fixing these constitutional irregularities? Do they investigate the complaints to see if there is any basis to them?
    Do they recognise that the lack of a independent mechanism to oversee CYFS and hear complaints from the public is one of the root causes of this issue?

    No. Their response is to waste money on lawyers in an attempt to suppress the website. And after a nice round number of billable overtime hours (24/7 remember)the legal eagles will come back and tell the minister what everyone on the net already knows.

    It's a waste of time to attempt to supress information on the internet.

    So the problem will still be there as will the website. The only thing that will have changed is that some lawyer will get a fat paycheck drawn from the NZ tax payer...

  14. "...just because it's free speech doesn't make it admirable."

    No, not all free speech is admirable, but conversely no attempt to ban or suppress free speech ever is.

  15. Isn't that what the comments section of the blog can be used for

    No. the social workers in question have a professional and legal responsibility not to disclose case information.

    No, not all free speech is admirable, but conversely no attempt to ban or suppress free speech ever is.

    Heh, well I know a few software developers and recording labels that might not agree.

    Point is: there are differing opinions on what 'free speech' means - for example, if the bloggers were to express their dislike of certain social workers and supplied only names and employee numbers, surely that would achieve the same outcome (identifying the social worker in question) without opening them up to harassment by every nutter who abuses their kids.

    Including home phone numbers and addresses can only be there for one purpose: to intimidate the social workers.

    I'm not going to advocate banning publishing personal information without permission, but again, I don't see why anyone would support the way they've gone about this. It's a particularly nasty way of getting your way.

    Given that there is no other legitimate recourse when people in government departments like this run amok, is it any wonder at the anger?

    I don't disagree.

  16. There is a website for exposing unsubstantiated claims in alternative medicine practice. For some years they had exposed individual names in alternative medicine industry who had taken advantage of desperate and gullible people by selling them medicines or services which supposed to cure incurable diseases.


    I see no difference in what "Quackwatch" is doing and that of "CYFSWatch".

  17. "..the fact remains that these bloggers are targeting individuals for the perceived failings of the organisation they work for."
    Well, Hamish, I've been reading the blog and it seems that the failings of the individuals who work for the organization are as much the problem as the organization itself.
    Whatever the faults of the cyfswatch blog, any problems it causes the Department and the employees are a direct result of the culture of secrecy, spin and unaccountability that's been allowed to develop.
    How about the government fixes the problem, instead of spending thousands of dollars shooting the messenger?

  18. It is interesting to note that despite the largely negative mainstream media publicity about the CYFSwatch website, TV1's public poll on the issue comes to [currently] 24% in favour of shutting the website down, compared to a whopping 76% against shutting it down.

  19. I think it is counter-productive to post complete rants, rather than making a compelling case over bad decisions some CYFS workers have made.

    However, I have a reasonable amount of tolerance for the rage some parents are showing given their children have been kidnapped by the State.

    We must remember that many parents have been struggling against the system for many years now. No amount of compensation or redress can give back days, months or years that they have had children taken away from them.

    The government response must be one of compassion, not authoritarianism. Watching the response unfold the way it is, only serves to illustrate exactly where the rage comes from.

  20. Hamish, you said, "The social workers in question have a professional and legal responsibility not to disclose case information."

    Yet full disclosure of case information is precisely what happened yesterday in the case of young Jayden Headley.

    So it's possible, isn't it. And even, as the Family Court judges decided yesterday, desirable.

    Justice must be seen to be done.


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