Thursday, 7 May 2009

NOT PJ: Freedom Becomes Patchy

Last night, observes Bernard Darnton, MPs hung round after dark to gang up on freedom.

The fashion police have been given sweeping new powers in Wanganui. Police now have the power to remove the clothes of anyone who’s wearing something Chester Borrows doesn’t approve of.

The Wanganui District Council (Prohibition of Gang Insignia) Act, which passed last night, prohibits gang insignia (in Wanganui District). The stated intent of the Act is “to prohibit the display of gang insignia in specified places in the district.” At least that’s clear.

Clarity is this law’s only virtue. The reason that this law even came before central government is that when Wanganui District Council tried to pass exactly the same thing as a bylaw they discovered that they weren’t allowed to because it breached the Bill of Rights Act.

Freedom of expression and freedom of association mean nothing to politicians, who simply want to be seen to “do something.” The law passed with partial support from Act. Putative defender of freedom, Rodney Hide, voted for this law. If anyone’s aware of the injustice of being investigated by the Police for wearing a coloured jacket with a logo on it, it should be Rodney Hi-de-hi.

We expect this sort of thing from drunk gay-basher David “We’ve got too hung up on people’s rights” Garrett but John Boscawen, who should know better, added Act’s third vote – a shame when during the Electoral Finance Act campaign he pretended to believe in freedom of expression. Would all those who voted for Act, claiming that getting into government would fix everything, please finally realise that you’re trying to pick up a turd by the clean end.

Backers of the law claim that it’s necessary to crack down on gang members and that they need to be cracked down on because they’re always breaking stuff and hurting people. If that was true you wouldn’t need a law against leather jackets, you could just arrest all these gangsters under the Prohibition of Breaking Stuff (and Hurting People) Act.

If the law is a success, i.e. if people’s rights to dress themselves are successfully trampled, Christchurch looks set to follow suit. When the Bill was introduced in 2007, then-mayor Garry Moore said, “I would do everything in my power to rip every gang patch off in the city. If the civil libertarians want to stand around selling drugs and killing our kids, then I’m in a different camp.”

Council of Civil Liberties chairman Tony Ellis said, “People have freedom of expression and freedom of movement, and those are quite fundamental human rights.” He didn’t mention whether or not he wanted to stand around selling drugs and killing our kids.

Garry Moore’s solution to his perceived gang problem was to treat everyone like criminals. Literally. The Department of Corrections bans the wearing of gang colours in prison. Prisoners aren’t allowed to wear anything that’s predominantly red (Mongrel Mob) or black (Black Power). Moore is no longer mayor so we’ll never know if he could have succeeded in banning Cantabrians from wearing red and black.

The supposed crime committed by gang insignia wearers is “looking scary.” How can looking scary be made illegal in any sensible way? Skinheads look scary. Do we ban them from shaving, as the Taliban might, or do we look to the French Revolution and ban them from having heads?

Legalise drugs and you’d destroy most gangs’ revenue bases. Combine that with the cost of re-stitching all those Mongrel Mob jackets when W(h)anganui gets its ‘H’ back and you’d cripple the gangs in no time. Prosecute and lock up anyone who commits violent or property crime, regardless of what they’re wearing.

Is there anyone prepared to support One Law for All?

* * Bernard Darnton’s NOT PJ column appears every Thursday here at NOT PC * *


  1. Hmm...I wear a small crusader shield (red cross, white background) on my down parka...could that be interpreted as a 'gang patch'?
    What's needed isn't yet another law, but rather good old-fashioned policing of the laws already on the books. And yes, remove their revenue base by canning the idiot anti-drug laws.

  2. Would all those who voted for Act, claiming that getting into government would fix everything, please finally realise that you're trying to pick up a turd by the clean end.I was one of those, despite PC's impassioned posting on the subject, I thought it might do more good than voting for a party who was never going to get enough votes to be useful given the status quo.

    Somehow, someway, we need a better option. Libertarianz - I love your work, but give me a practical method to get the government out of my business. Not an idealistic one.

    I know, "a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step" and all that, but in my (perhaps defeatist) view, there's little point taking that first step when you know in your heart nobody is going to let you complete the journey.

    Maybe I'm just having a pessimistic day.

  3. Sean Fitzpatrick7 May 2009, 08:29:00


    Practical methods take time to develop - rest assured Libz are on the case. The more brains on the job the better, mate. Why not join in and help make things happen?

  4. Perhaps one way of realisitically achieving that would be for Libz people to suppress their natural urges to want perfection straight away, and join Act and attempt to drag them in the correct direction from the inside.

  5. twr: If ACT at least was always facing in the right direction it would be a more credible strategy. Now it has facilitated a step backward.

  6. That's the cunning part - if enough people with lib tendencies were within Act, they could ensure that thr party followed coherent libertarian principles.

    If you can't convince Act types that your way is the right way, then you'll have no chance with the population at large.

  7. Well said Bernard. Niemoller's often cited poem seems appropriate at this point.

    "In Germany, they came first for the Communists, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist;

    And then they came for the trade unionists, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist;

    And then they came for the Jews, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew;

    And then . . . they came for me . . . And by that time there was no one left to speak up."

  8. Hmmmm I reckon my own wee logo would make a great 'patch'. I have never been to Wanganui, but I reckon it would be a great way to make money selling 'patches' whilst also drawing attention to the party. In fact, why not classify ourselves as a 'gang'...

    Tongue only slightly in cheek..

  9. Another beaut piece, Bernard.

  10. Sean: I think it's about time I did. I'm feeling less pessimistic now. ;)

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  12. TWR - ACT have been around for several years now, Rodney Hide knows all about libertarian ideas and once used to promote them. Now that he's in government, his values seem to have flown out the window.
    ACT would have been better staying out of cabinet and voting against rubbish laws such as this one. Libertarianz will not compromise on matters of principle and that's why we could not work with ACT at the moment, as they say one thing today and do a U-turn tomorrow. We could not trust them.

    Greig - how's this for a practical way of getting out of your business: abolish GST, and income tax on the first $50,000 earned, which was Libz policy at the last election. The Maori Party copied us and wanted the first $25k tax-free. repeal the RMA immediately. Those measures alone would make an enormous difference to the running of your business. How are they "idealistic"?

  13. Hi Greg .. I get what you say. But my automatic response is to ask *why* you would support ACT when it sometimes blows it by compromising its principles and will therefore disappoint (its supporters)?

    Take Rodney Hide. He talks small govt and all those good things -- and then wants to create the super-city bureaucracy. So disappointing.

    And as for those "practical" methods of getting the govt out of your life, etc?

    They are a natural occurrence of solid *ideals* ... ;)

  14. One way of realisitically achieving that would be for Libz people to ... join Act and attempt to drag them in the correct direction from the inside.Is that what NZ First has done?

  15. Shane: I like it! :)

  16. Sean Fitzpatrick7 May 2009, 10:44:00

    You know you have a good discussion going when a pile of former and current Libz leaders and deputies pile in :o)

    twr - historically remember that Libz and ACT formed about the same time - many early Libz helped to set ACT up but split away when it became apparent ACT was more inclined to be a conservative, right wing party content to use govt compulsion where it suited them.

    So in a sense this whole 'Libz should join ACT and help steer them in the right direction' schtick so many ACT supporters trot out has been tried and failed. Simply because many in the top positions of ACT are only supporters of freedom when it suits themselves - not overall as a matter of principle.

    Dealing with people like that is like bashing your head against the proverbial. They are so convinced about how liberal they are they are blind to their own illiberallity.

  17. Well, that brings me back to my earlier point. If you can't convince people who purport to be in favour of freedom that libertarian values are worth supporting, how can you convince the vast majority of the population who think it's perfectly alright to ban everything they don't personally like?

    It's well past time for the Libz to come up with a practical way of getting people to vote for them, rather than raging away in the background.

    And as a side comment, how dumb must the collected officials and police in Wanganui be for them to come up with *this* as the only solution to their gang problem??? Don't bother answering - it was a rhetorical question.

  18. "It's well past time for the Libz to come up with a practical way of getting people to vote for them, rather than raging away in the background."

    So in the absence of joining ACT for reasons already presented, what would you suggest, twr?

    I'm not being facetious. I'm genuinely interested in your thoughts.

  19. @twr: I suspect that the problem isn't convincing the rank and file Act members that freedom is a good thing.

    I doubt that 60% of Act members would have supported this. The problem is the bloody MPs, who get a sniff of power and lose sight of everything else - too busy doing deals to do what they were elected to do.

    And please explain why I would expend one iota of my energy on a party that puts a fuckwit like David Garrett high on the list.

  20. A couple of things:

    From a policy point of view, come up with a way of progressively moving towards the ideal situation rather than insisting that it all gets done in one fell swoop, which voters won't see as practical. An official first term policy position somewhere between the current one and Act's would appear more realistic. And yes, I know there has been a certain amount of that with the "remove GST and no income tax on the first $50k" business, but it needs to be presented to the voting public along with specifics (and not too painful ones) about how it will be afforded. For example: "We could remove GST and drop everyone's costs by 12.5% by getting rid of x,y, and z stupid ministries, interest free student loans, etc". This is a policy position that unselfish people, and those without student loans could vote for.

    Second, find a popular, high profile person to be a spokesman. A popular sportsperson (or more than one) would be good, because the voting idiots will take advice from someone like Colin Meads more readily than an unknown wonk (eg deer velvet, shitty investments, etc). At least then you might get a bit of air time. There must be at least one person like this in the country who shares Libz philosophies, or could do once they had had them explained properly.

    Just a start maybe.

  21. If Act had more Libz type members then people like Garrett wouldn't get a place on the list cos they wouldn't get the backing of the members / committees. Think of it like a backdoor sharemarket listing.

  22. Sean Fitzpatrick7 May 2009, 11:35:00

    twr - I do get your point. Lets face it most Green supporters would consider themselves pro-freedom. As Bernard says the problem lies at the top - the rank and file just happily follow along oblivious to what is being done in their name a large proportion of the time.

    At Libz we can just keep on plugging away to develop those practical ideas you mention. I think the vast majority of the population do not necesarily want to ban everything they don't like once they start to get a hold on the concept of liberty and the rights and wrongs surrounding the whole idea of coercion. It harder to convince those who have joined a group like ACT because they already have the illusion that they 'get it'.

    BTW, where in NZ are you? If you are near Wellington you are more than welcome to join some Libz for a coffee to better discuss your thoughts.

  23. Returning to the original post - I live in a district not bothered or affected by patch-wearing gangs so I really can't say that I have a strong opinion on the topic. However, I am trying to remember if we have a law banning the wearing of a swastika. If we do what would your comments be about that?
    ps. I haven't had any family members directly involved in the Second World War so I don't have any agenda on that point either.

  24. I'm in Wellington, where Finsec are currenly goosestepping up and down across the road from my office building, presumably because they feel they deserve more fruit from the magic money tree.

  25. In all these arguments about ACT selling their ‘liberal’ souls, not one alternative I’ve spotted, to counter the Michael Laws legislation.

    So how would the Libz make gangs a less attractive proposition?

    How would the Libz stop their intimidation?

    What is the Libz policy to assist the Police battling organised crime?

    Personally I applaud Michael Laws and his initiative, and I dare say 90% of N.Zers would agree with this new law, and hope it will be mirrored in other areas.

    So guys, perhaps take a few minutes off philosophising & politicking, and give us all your solution to the growing gang issue.

    Tell us about the utopia you hope to create 'down-under' and specifically how you would handle gangs & organised crime?



  26. Sean Fitzpatrick7 May 2009, 13:16:00


    Libz don't offer utopia - only con men offer that and usually demand control over people's lives and money to achieve it. We are simply advocating for a society based on the principles of self-ownership, self-responsibility and the non initiation of force.

    If you re-read Bernard's post he points out we already have plenty of laws to crack down on the things gangs get up to. Policing priorities are the issue here as well as real sentences for the worst offenses to protect the rest of us from these people.

    Removing the gangs easy access to income by drug law reform is another one.

    Also an end to government welfare that pays these idle hands to do the devils work.

    Go to the libz website for a more thorough dissertation on all these policies. Happy reading.

  27. Sean Fitzpatrick7 May 2009, 13:22:00


    Get in touch if you would like to share your views - I would love to hear them.


  28. @Canterbury Atheists: The government should do nothing to make gangs a less attractive proposition. It's called freedom of association.

    Threatening people is already illegal. Stealing and acts of violence are already illegal. Try policing the laws we've got first. We don't need the government telling us what to wear.

    If you want to disband the gangs, try legalising the drugs that provide their supply of money and tackling the underclass-creating welfare state that provides their members.

  29. For once I agree with critisism of ACT. However The Great Sir Roger, and Heather Roy both voted against. I'm disgusted with the other three though.

  30. Sean Fitzpatrick7 May 2009, 13:43:00

    To add to Bernard (I almost forgot this one) re-establish the common law right to self defense and the right to own the means to self defense so these bullies are denied their easy target rich environment they currently conduct their savagery in.

  31. The fact that ACT were split on this bill demonstrates what observers have been saying for years: there is the classical liberal wing and the conservative wing of ACT. Hence we get these schizophrenic outcomes.

    Question is, how would adding a proper libertarian wing help, other than fracturing their party even further?

  32. This has a been a really informative thread - both the original post and the replies. Thanks to all concerned.

    Sorry for the length of my comment here, but I have a bit to say about this.

    The whole idea of banning gang insignia is pointless...

    Who defines what is and isn't gang insignia (or what a gang is for that matter). What would happen if all the Mongrel Mob turned up wearing leather jackets with a red rose on the back? What would happen if the Ulysses MC turned up with their patches on?

    What happens if a whole heap of gang members go to downtown Wanganui all wearing the same coloured shirt, but it's not their normal gang colour?

    And since the ban doesn't/can't extend towards tattoos, what happens if they just all go downtown with no shirts on?

    Even if you ignore the trampling of individual rights, it really is knee-jerk reactionary bollocks of the highest order.

    We had a similar topic locally here in Whangarei last year, when there was a call to have gang insignia and colours banned from the CBD. I happened to be right in the central mall when the incident that sparked the outrage occurred. 4 young Black Power associates were hanging around, they were joking and having fun and were a bit loud I suppose. Some elderly people felt intimidated by them and a couple of shop owners felt that they were scaring off customers. I don't blame them in the slightest for feeling threatened because these were BIG lads, but at the end of the day, it was just four kids having a laugh. If it wasn't for one of them wearing a Black Power T-shirt, nobody would have even entertained the notion of gang members, yet the debate that followed made them sound like vicious criminals ready to stampede the women and rape the cattle.

    I actually know three of the four teens involved, having worked at their primary school; I went up and talked to them on that same day they were 'acting in a threatening manner'... one of them tried to hide his cigarette, embarrassed that I'd 'caught him' smoking, and all three still act in a respectful manner to me and my family. Probably because I do the same.

  33. @Luke H: The split vote from Act may mean that they still have liberal and conservative wings.

    It may also mean, given the narrow vote, that a deal was done whereby Act supported the government in attacking freedom while still maintaining a liberal-branded fig leaf.

    If that's the case you can forget about Act as a force for good. They will sell your freedom cheaply as and when required.

  34. Question is, how would adding a proper libertarian wing help, other than fracturing their party even further?

    It can't hurt.I mooted fortming a Liberal/libertarian caucus within ACT a few mouths back to other party members but I never followed up on the idea.As ACT is in Parliament..indeed in would be well worth "colonising 'it and steering it in the right direction rather than try to reinvent the wheel with Libz...

  35. Bernard - certainly the govt should keep their nose out of groups of people minding their own business, but criminal gangs are another matter. The welfare state that pushes youths toward the gang culture, the lenient sentencing of the courts and the huge profits available from trading in drugs all need addressing through deregulation and privatisation.

  36. Richard, I do kind of agree with

    The welfare state that pushes youths toward the gang culture, the lenient sentencing of the courts and the huge profits available from trading in drugs all need addressing through deregulation and privatisation.but it will do sweet fa to eradicate gangs or criminals. Gangs and criminals have existed throughout history under countless different forms of government, and they will continue to do so. There always has been, and always will be, people who prefer to take something rather than earn it, people who like to hurt others for whatever reason. If we have laws, there will always be people who choose to live a life that disobeys those laws, it's just human nature. I'd hate for anyone here to think that government (even less government) can change that, because they'd be dreaming.

    One thing I do disagree with is your comment that the welfare state pushes youths towards gangs. The welfare state is a dangerous pig of a thing, there's no doubt about that, but it doesn't push anyone into becoming a criminal - poor parenting does that to an extent, but it is ultimately the choice of the individual. That's where freedom of choice isn't always going to provide the answers we necessarily want - some people choose to be bad.

  37. eradicate gangs or criminalsLibertarians have never suggested eradicating gangs or criminals.

    We are just pointing out that giving people more freedom - AND having them take more responsibility for their actions - will improve the gang situation. Less crime, less drive-by shootings, less people in prison, better drug treatment, etc, etc.

    Stupid crap like banning patches does nothing but take away more of our few remaining freedoms.

  38. Hi Diane:

    You mention what would Libz attitude be twd the wearing of a swastika. Coincidentally, Leighton Smith posed exactly the same question to me this morning on Newstalk ZB after reading my (first) email critical of this insane law.

    FYI, my unread response is best summarised as follows:

    That people have the right to wear a swastika on their t-shirt. They can (and do) wear images of Che Guevara on t-shirts, so what's the difference. Both represent philosophies of totalitarianism and brute force. But my respect for freedom automatically allows for people doing (and wearing) things I may not like or agree with.

    However, not on *my* property, they don't! Anybody sporting a swastika or Che Guevara in my house would have their ass figuratively kicked well & truly into the middle of next week, preceded by one hell of a bollocking! :)

    In other words, when property is privately owned, it is the owners who decide what goes. So many issues are only issues as a result of land being in public ownership. (Think "boobs on bikes", for example).

    Does that help?

  39. Hi Paul

    If it was true that "90% of NZers agree with this new law" -- and you may well be right re their being the majority, if not quite that percentage -- then all that clearly shows is that most New Zealanders have no understanding of what freedom is or means.

    Makes Anzac Day commemoration pretty hollow, don't you think?

  40. Stuff poll says 9.1% say the ban is a breach of fundamental freedoms, while the rest have voted in favour of it or something stronger.

    Sounds like an uphill battle for those in favour of basic freedoms.

  41. From a policy point of view, come up with a way of progressively moving towards the ideal situation rather than insisting that it all gets done in one fell swoopIf you'd lived in the US in the 1800s, I wonder if you would have suggested "progressively moving towards the ideal situation" of ending slavery, rather than ending it immediately? (Assuming you weren't supporting it)

    "Gradualism in theory is perpetuity in practice."

  42. Sounds like an uphill battle for those in favour of basic freedoms.People elected Hitler, too. It's always been an uphill battle for those in favour of basic freedoms. What do you suggest, give up and strap on the jackboots?

  43. Are you suggesting the voting public of NZ would support a civil war to obtain greater freedoms and smaller government?

  44. "What do you suggest, give up and strap on the jackboots?". What contortions did you have to twist your mind into to come up with that ridiculous comment?

  45. Excellent post, especially: "the Prohibition of Breaking Stuff (and Hurting People) Act". So true.

    I don't know whether "liberal" and "conservative" would be good labels for the two wings of ACT if this issue is anything to go by however. I'd consider myself a conservative, but I'm with Douglas and Roy on this one. The conservative position is often very close to the classical liberal one.

    Better labels may be "liberal" and "authoritarian" in my mind. I don't see how any true conservative would support this nonsense, but an authoritarian would.

  46. Look guys, a law about gang badges isn't the end of freedom in NZ.

    And claiming that legalising drugs would mean that criminals suddenly become taxpayers goes a long way towards explaining why the Libz are not gaining any traction.

    Yes, it is a stupid law, yes it won't do nothing, but it's not the end of the world, and it gives freedom to a single city in NZ to prove that point.

  47. @Berend: Am I to assume that you only oppose the end of freedom in NZ but that all the steps along the way are OK?

  48. Berend: Correction, it takes freedom away from the people of a city in New Zealand to prove a point.

    Nice. Instead of aiming for high standards, ACT's "acceptable" because despite it being stupid and pointless, the leader helped pass the law anyway.

    How hard was it to get this right? How hard was it to argue that way?

    If Rodney can't defend this, what hope that he can do anything to shrink local government when he just helped give new powers to one council.

  49. Yes, it is a stupid law, yes it won't do nothing, but it's not the end of the world
    Berend, I've said it before and I'll say it again. Freedom isn't destroyed in one fell swoop. We will never be able to look back on history and say that one act of Parliament or one person started us on the path to totalitarianism.

    What we can do is hold up every single little thing that chips away at our freedoms and say: This Is Wrong. This Is Not OK.

    We have a voice, for now, and we will protest.

    What will you do?

  50. "Freedom isn't destroyed in one fell swoop. We will never be able to look back on history and say that one act of Parliament or one person started us on the path to totalitarianism."

  51. I think most New Zealanders are sick of the intimidation and major role gangs play in crime.

    They are blight on Maoridom in particular, so what struck me as being more ironic than the split in the ACT vote, was The Maori Party was against the legislation?

    From my experience ACT has a fair split of Liberals and Conservatives in its ranks, and this vote merely reflects its membership. It’s no big deal.

    Gangs plague the Maori community more than any other, and anything to curb their growth and glamour, should surely have been supported?

    The Police see this as a positive piece of law, so we must all take this at face value and wait to see how it works.

    The sky is not falling.

    I can still wear my 60’s psychedelic shirts and not be arrested.

    One read of my blog-site, you’ll see I generally agree with the libertarian philosophy – but on this one I’m with Laws and I’m prepared to wait and see.

    Nice chatting.


  52. Sean Fitzpatrick8 May 2009, 11:25:00


    Nice to have you in the discussion and thanks for your well put and polite input.

    Re, the Maori Party, it is hard to say. One would like to think they objected based on the freedom of expression issues discussed here but most likely it was the whole 'you are just picking on us brown fullahs' attitude once again. Yes, the gangs are a blight on Maoridom - you know that as do I - but when people have an attitude of 'raced based - us vs them' they tend to filter everything through that lens.

  53. Elijah Lineberry9 May 2009, 11:05:00

    I lived in Wanganui for a year or so and anyone who has not experienced the delights of living in that wonderful city may be under a grave misapprehension about the place.

    Allow me to clarify things; I never once saw a gang member, gang patch, felt intimidated (although I am not really the sort of chap to be intimidated by anyone! ha ha!), or witnessed any of these other problems which Laws and Borrows claim afflict the delightful River City.

    Furthermore I never once heard anyone mention gangs, gang patches, intimidation or other problems to me; and it is curious these 'problems' seem to have emerged when Wanganui elected Laws as Mayor and Borrows as MP

    In short - this is an imaginary problem which the conservative Tories seek to convince their gullible supporters exists and require[s] solving.

    The only 'gangsters' in Wanganui I ever saw or met were Ken Mair and that Turia female who both lived close by my house and our paths would occasionally cross at the local dairy when I was buying a newspaper or cigarettes.


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