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27

Listening to Coldharbour Lane

by Stella Duffy

I don’t know.
 I hate that I can hear sirens on Coldharbour Lane at the end of my road – but then again, I can hear sirens on Coldharbour Lane any night of any week. I just have a more clear idea of what these ones might be doing tonight.

I hate that ‘my’ Brixton, which has been doing so well, and making such great strides with fantastic local businesses stepping up (especially in Brixton Village) is going to suffer harsh setbacks after all this has died down. There’s no money though, so the money to refit and refurb won’t be coming anytime soon that I can see, not with the global markets crashing around our ears.

I hate that the news is reporting “London on fire” – it’s not. Not all of it. Not even most of it. Small pockets. And yes, those pockets are ghastly, terrifying, nonsensical (Croydon? Really – Croydon?! why??), but it’s still not the whole city and it isn’t anarchy and no, we do NOT need troops on the streets, or water cannon, or any of those other extreme far-right tactics that have worked so well in Libya and Syria this year.

I hate that Twitter and Facebook seem to have a ghoulish excitement for the worst of the news and I suspect that rolling news only makes the stupids looting out there think that what they’re doing is newsworthy.
As I write this there have been no mentions of any fatalities from the rioting, but I’m scared that can’t last.

I hate that the rioters are mostly spoken of as young black youths, when the pictures clearly show other races and young women as well. I hate that we have so demonised young black men that they are the first image people seem to conjure when they hear of riots.

I hate that our Met Police were so effective at kettling and rounding up school children and university students demonstrating against education cuts some months ago and yet seem absurdly powerless to do anything about a bunch of kids with large sticks attacking Bodyshop in the high street.

I hate that they’re attacking their own back yards. Young people smashing in and stealing from and closing the shops where they themselves work, eat, shop.

I hate the consumerism of the rioters. I wish they were chanting slogans, I wish they were carrying placards, I wish there was a clear political point to what they’re doing. I wish they didn’t seem to be so clearly shopping.
I do think that any riot is political, even without a clear political point, but I wish the people taking part in this one were channelling that energy into something constructive.

I hate that Woolwich has had fires set. Woolwich, which is already such a poor relation to its neighbouring Greenwich, which is trying – and then it gets slapped down again. Anyone would think there was a vested interest in keeping the poor and disaffected in their place. (Hush now, conspiracy theorists.)

This certainly isn’t the first time London has had to deal with looters, and even that “Blitz spirit” wasn’t always all it was cracked up to be – my Mum had stories of her bombed-out home in Kennington being looted during WW2.
I think it’s laughable – and utterly typical – that our PM and London Mayor have both only just agreed to come back from holiday to deal with this mess, that they had to be shamed into coming home because neither of them could be bothered doing so sooner.

And I do find it scary, but I find the fear engendered by rolling news and over-eager reporting and ghoulish fascination even more frightening. That fear is easily turned against us.
I hate that really normal parts of London are being set on fire while all the big fancy places stay aloof and safe – and no, OF COURSE I don’t want them attacked too – but I do hate that it’s always the poor that suffer, always the poor that end up attacking the poor (either in the armies of the rich or, as now, at home).

Because, more than anything, this feels like it’s about class. It may have been sparked by the shooting of a black man, but it’s shops that are being targeted, ownership, property. And that feels like a class target, not a race target.
And finally, I hate, really really hate, that the EDL and the BNP and any other extreme right body (and sometimes not that extreme) will use this as a reason to decry immigration, non-white British, to attack anyone they see as not-English.

And here’s what I love: I love the woman who tweeted that a group of 9 youths escorted her home from Camberwell to East Dulwich because she’s a woman. I love that they did.
I love the number of people on twitter who are offering to get out tomorrow morning and clean up Brixton and Croydon and Hackney and Liverpool and Birmingham and anywhere that needs it.
I love that London has seen this all before and will no doubt see it again.

I love that woman that everyone’s been posting, telling off the kids for stealing and looting.

I love that this surely must signal the end of Dave as PM.

I love that the firefighters must now be safe from further proposed government cuts. (Oh shut up, conspiracy theorists).

I love that people still went to glorious Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park tonight (and said the roses smelled great too) and the South Bank was gorgeous yesterday afternoon, and Brockwell Lido was cool and welcoming this morning, and people went to work and did work and came home and maybe they were scared and maybe they didn’t find it easy but they did it.

I feel guilty that Christchurch and Japan had earthquakes and didn’t turn to looting (at least as far as I know) and people here have seemingly done so as their reason to be out on the street.

I feel very sorry that other uprisings in Syria and Egypt and Libya are being ignored by our press as they focus on this.

I know this will pass. And we’ll get on, but getting on in a recession is harder than getting on in boom time and places like Woolwich and Brixton, which have worked really hard to pick themselves up, to attract new investment, are going to have an even harder time. All over again.

I don’t think it’s playing Pollyanna to keep reminding myself and others that it’s NOT the whole of London, or Birmingham, or Liverpool; that it’s NOT every young person; that we’re not – quite – going to hell in a handcart. (And anyway, I’d always rather play Pollyanna than Cassandra, the latter is so damn smug when things go wrong.)

I’m especially keen that those making rolling news and sending out twitter hoaxes get a good night’s sleep. I do think the passion of the news reporting and the tweeting and all the rest of it does something to stoke the fires. I’d like the kids to get a good night’s sleep. Because the really sad thing is, even with suggestions (some seemingly very likely) that many of those disturbances are gang-related and well organised, some of them aren’t, and some of them involve 14 year olds out on the street.

I’ve just done a Skype interview for TV3 in NZ, for Campbell Live. I was trying to make sense of it for people who are so very far away. I’m not sure I can make sense of it from here.

I’m going to bed. Like most of us I’ve been watching the news all night, most of today. I don’t think it helps. See you in the morning. Tomorrow is another day. (er, today.)

London-based novelist Stella Duffy grew up in Tokoroa. This post originally appeared on her blog.

50

This is your National Library

by Gordon Paynter

Your National Library exists to collect, preserve, and protect documents, particularly those relating to New Zealand, and to make them accessible to you. It is also charged with assisting other libraries in New Zealand and overseas. That’s from the Act, more or less.

It’s a simple mission, but a complex organisation. In fact, it may help to think of it as three libraries: a legal deposit library, a research library and a school library service, responsible for the General Collections, the Alexander Turnbull Library Collections, and the Schools Collections respectively. Each has its own unique collections and character.

(It may sound like we’re overdoing it, but there are no rules about what a national library should and should not do, and other countries take things even further by merging their national library with their national archive or parliamentary library.)

The collections are made up (as the Act says) of documents. But what, you may ask, is a document, in this day and age? As it happens, the Act has a handy definition that includes traditional forms like books, magazines and newspapers, but also images, music, film, “any writing on any material”, information stored in a computer, and various other things. Digital information is clearly included, so the National Library is collecting more and more digital documents each year, but this doesn’t mean that there are fewer paper documents. In fact, paper publications are still increasing year on year (but “peak paper” can’t be far off, surely).

The National Library is a legal deposit library, which means publishers are required to provide two copies of every document they publish to the National Librarian. One of these enters the General Collections, and is available for you to view in the reading rooms, or to borrow by interloan through your local library. The General Collections also include works purchased from overseas, and access to databases and subscriptions. And other odd stuff that I have only learned of since writing this commentary, such as the Motor Manuals Collection.

The second legal deposit copy is added to the collections of the Alexander Turnbull Library. This ensures the research library comprehensively collects the nation’s published output, but the Turnbull also has vast unpublished collections, including manuscripts (by which we mean people’s personal papers), photographs, oral histories, drawings, paintings and prints. The unpublished collections are largely built through donations and purchases, and can be accessed by registered readers in the reading rooms.

Five years ago legal deposit was extended to include Internet documents, which includes websites. The rules are a little different for websites, in that the Library takes a copy rather than the publisher providing one, but the intent is the same: to “assist in preserving New Zealand’s documentary heritage” (that’s the Act again). The Library accomplishes this in two ways: an ongoing programme of selective web harvesting (i.e. copying websites one at a time) and less frequent domain harvests (i.e. copying the .NZ internet).

The Library therefore has large and growing digital holdings, which we think of as either born digital or digitised. Born digital means documents like web pages, digital photographs and word processor files that have never had an analogue form. Digitised, on the other hand, means digital reproductions of existing analogue documents. All these digital documents have unique collection, storage and access requirements, and we have developed the National Digital Heritage Archive to ensure they can be preserved in perpetuity. 

(But as an aside, our Collections Policy treats digital as just another format: the Photographic Archive includes images from both film and digital cameras, for example, while the Manuscripts Collection includes both handwritten letters and emails that were tapped out on keyboards. I can only think of one all-digital collection, and that’s the New Zealand Web Archive.)

For library users, digital material has an important characteristic that analogue material does not: it can be copied and distributed extremely easily. This has revolutionised the way that libraries provide access to collections. Over the last ten years the National Library has digitised more and more collection items in order to put them online. Here are a few examples from the last few months: 81 volumes of parliamentary papers, two major Auckland newspapers (in partnership with Auckland Libraries), a range of other newspapers (with more to come shortly), several thousand digitised photographs, a substantial research collection that our collaborators in Auckland will announce in due course, and a continuing stream of selected pictorial and audio content (such as these).

You can find and access this digital material through a variety of National Library websites, even if you are unable to visit and view the originals in Wellington. By far the most popular is Papers Past, which is a goldmine for genealogists and historians, and frequently offers a very different perspective from modern media. Topical example: did your paper report that the Emperor Penguin tastes like hare and will live after his skull has been “most hopelessly smashed”? Other large digitised collections include the papers of Donald McLean, the Appendix to the Journal of the House of Representatives, and the Timeframes image collection. To find online material on an arbitrary topic, you can search the Library’s combined catalogue then click on the “Online” button at the top of the search results.

Digital material has another intriguing characteristic: it amplifies rights issues. The National Library has an Access Policy to guide its decisions about providing access to documents, but it is based on a slightly dated definition of access: the ability to view a document for the purpose of private study. With some exceptions, access does not come with the features that many of our more vocal online users require: high-quality digital versions, plus the right to reproduce and re-use them in new works. These demands are only going to increase, so the Library is addressing the issue using best practice public service techniques.

The starting point for these discussions is that the National Library remains committed to collecting documents, and “making them accessible for all the people of New Zealand”, as this is our purpose under the Act. However, the Act also says we should do this “in a manner consistent with their status as documentary heritage and taonga”, and “subject to conditions” that control the way that the collections are accessed and used.

There are a number of factors that influence the Library to provide more or less access to digital items. On the side of increased access we have the institutional mandate to provide access, the increasing demands from customers for better access (including reproduction rights), and the NZGOAL Framework which encourages the use of open licences for all government data (which probably includes collection items and catalogues). On the side of increased control are the requirement to treat the documents as taonga, obligations to donors (including written and implied agreements), obligations under copyright law and negotiated agreements with publishers, and the fact that many documents in the collections don’t actually have usable rights information. Frankly, it’s a bit of a mess, a concentrated mixture of the intellectual property rights issues that our wider society struggles with.

Despite these complications, the National Library and the Turnbull are continuing to make our analogue and digital taonga available online. Providing access is the part of the Library’s work that is most immediately useful and appreciated, and that attracts the most attention, but it is only one of three core purposes. We therefore have to balance the provision of access against our two other responsibilities: to collect today’s documents for future generations, and to preserve what we have already collected.

By way of disclaimer, I work for the National Library of New Zealand on digitisation, web archiving, and various other projects. 

63

Sharks Dine Out on Christchurch’s Red Zoners

by Mike Coleman

Many of us in the Red Zone realise the government package is probably the fairest approach to finding a solution for the damaged land in the east of Christchurch. If we could take our money and access good land and property we would be happy to go. The reality is we can’t! We can’t afford properties in the west of Christchurch, and we can’t afford to build new homes with the money we will get for our properties.

Why? Simply, the Red Zone area in Christchurch has low rateable values in relation to much of the city. The average house price in the Red Zone is $270,000-$280,000. But much of the cosy eastern suburbs where people were able to find affordable housing are now gone. We have no option but to head towards good land where the insurance companies will insure us. This land is significantly higher in price than our current properties. It is much like asking someone in Panmure or Onehunga to take their Rateable Value and buy in Epsom or Remuera. You just could not do it! Basically 5,100 people (plus many people now in the orange zone) will have to go and buy in the rich areas.

The property developers know this and have begun to buy up land. Prices are increasing as I write. I talked to a real estate agent today and her client had an offer of $200,000 on a section. Yesterday, the seller put their price up by $35,000. I contacted a subdivision in the weekend and they were putting up their section prices for the second time in the space of a week.

My land is valued at $170,000. This is higher than many, but even so I would need an extra $80,000 to get land in the city of comparable size. Put this together with trying to build and I would have to take out a mortgage of more than $200,000. Fine if you are a professional in Auckland—but way too much for most working class and retired folk in the Red Zone. As a consequence, I know of no-one in our neighbourhood who is building a new home. The Christchurch rebuild will not be as large as people may think, especially now the insurance companies will not rebuild the many Red Zone homes that they have deemed ‘repairable’.

There is little doubt in my mind that the overseas reinsurers have said to our government, “If you force us to honour our full replacement policies and rebuild people’s homes, then you will threaten insurance throughout New Zealand”. Somehow, the Australian government forced insurance companies to rebuild homes on new land after the 1989 Newcastle Earthquake but ‘little’ New Zealand is being held to ransom by Corporate America and Europe. Basically, the Red Zoners will become the scapegoat in saving insurance in our country. Is this how New Zealanders really want to treat the mums, dads, kids and retired grandparents in our country? If this package stays as the government has set it up, it will cripple thousands of people with debt for decades.

Our options in the Red Zone are these:

  • Try to purchase land and get torn apart by the property developer sharks keen to make the big dollars on the back of our large mortgages.

  • Fight the insurance company sharks to rebuild our homes according to the ‘Total Replacement’ policies that we have.

  • Rent and be at the mercy of the landlord sharks .

Mr Brownlee, please create a second half to the land package—provide sections we can afford to buy using CERA’s powers to purchase land. And be tough with the insurance companies so they will rebuild Christchurch with the premiums that we have paid for decades.

Please do not leave us in shark infested water!

40

The great New Zealand phone hacking scandal

by Juha Saarinen

I’ve been following the News of the World “phone hacking” story and am disgusted that a publication would stoop that low in order to work fill its pages with scandals and tattle. There’s no justification for what has happened and those who did it are not journalists, pure and simple.

The current NotW mess is eerily familiar too, from a New Zealand perspective. In May 2005 Telecom’s voice mail system for the 027 mobile phone network was found to be vulnerable so that anyone with the smallest amount of technical nous could listen in on, delete and forward messages. I broke that story for Computerworld together with the paper’s then editor, Matt Cooney.

For those who missed the story it featured powerful people, government ministers and SIS spooks having their mobile phone voice mail messages intercepted. Not deliberately by journalists and private investigators as the NotW did, but accidentally by a confused teenager and his older friend who were playing around with Voice over IP gear.

There was no hacking or phreaking taking place in other words, just horsing around that got out of hand. It was big scoop for little ole Computerworld though, one that we all felt proud over.

Since the NotW scandal, the 027 episode has popped up again in New Zealand media filling in some details that weren’t available when the whole thing played out.

For starters, I wasn’t first with it. After the story ran the teenager in the eye of the storm told me he had contacted the Herald and Peter Griffin who was the technology editor about it.

I never asked Griffin why he didn’t write the story, but see that he has now reflected on what happened then in light of the NotW scandal in a column in the Listener.

Normally, I’d let sleeping dogs lie especially after so many years but the column makes some sweeping statements about journalists and our reporting of the story that I can’t ignore. After discussing the column with Griffin I feel I have to respond to some of the points raised, and explain how we worked on the story and provide an update on what happened after.

First, was the ability to listen in on important people and celebrities’ voice mail “the stuff of journalists’ dreams” as Griffin writes? This is really important: did we listen to messages or were we ever tempted to do so for stories?

The answer to that is a categorical “no”. I believe Matt said the story was about the messages being accessible and not what was in them. That was the boundary and while I can actually imagine there being a few situations where journalists would be justified to cross it, this wasn’t one of them.

Maybe it’s because both Matt and I are both geeks and used to certain protocols when dealing with security issues but honestly, we never once considered listening in on the voice mails. Instead, we took great care not to breach people’s privacy when working on the story which was a minefield full of legal and ethical considerations at almost each turn.

And, the people hit by the vulnerability were in our minds. The responsible way to deal with security issues is that you inform the party with the vulnerability before you publish anything. This gives the organisation a chance to verify the vulnerability, patch it, and assess the damage, if any and alert those affected by it.

So, we notified Telecom about the voice mail breach and provided details of how it works, well in advance so they could sort it out and ensure that there would be no more interception of messages.

Unfortunately, this was during the Gattung era and Telecom’s head PR person was at best unhelpful to deal with when he wasn’t just plain unpleasant. He refused to believe us until we gave some supplied details of a message left for him by his wife on his voice mail (no, we didn’t listen to the message).

Playing the game in an ethical fashion with Telecom backfired on us somewhat. We didn’t get even a thank you for bringing the glaring security hole to Telecom’s attention ahead of running the story so they could sort it out.

Instead, Telecom’s PR person refused to return our calls and attempted to spike the story by issuing a press release to other media. Luckily, the story was ready to go so we published shortly after.

And boy, there were some strong reactions to the story. Paul Brislen interviewed a hugely upset Auckland mayor Dick Hubbard for Computerworld for instance and there were others who were shocked and disgusted that their private messages might have been accessed.

Other publications, TV and radio followed up on the Computerworld stories. Clearly, it was in the public interest to know that voice mails left on 027 phones could be intercepted easily. Clearly, interception of officials’ messages had taken place and the public deserved to know this. This is not stuff you can ignore.

Why would a journalist sitting on a story of that magnitude back away from it?

Griffin explains in the Listener:

The kid had potentially hit the jackpot. He could be selling info to the women’s magazines, trading commercial secrets, even manipulating the political system. Instead he wanted his name in the Herald – his real name too. That’s because Phreaker didn’t care about the consequences of his actions. He didn’t care what happened to himself as a result. I’d been to his house and seen his middle-class family – mum trying in vain to wrangle a sullen teenager who spent his life in front of a computer, hacking.

 And that’s why I didn’t publish the scoop Phreaker had dropped in my lap. I knew what he was doing would get him in serious trouble with the law – which it subsequently did. Phreaker went to another technology journalist, who promptly ran the story.

 

The above implies that we didn’t care if “Phreaker” (which the teenager incidentally never called himself) got into trouble with the law. Nothing could be further from the truth. Both Matt and I have kept in touch with the boy to this day.

When the story broke the teenager was under eighteen and could not be named or identified. He was a not untypical combination of reckless obnoxiousness but was also shy and definitely not stupid and self-destructive.

Thanks to previous brushes with the law, the teenager had become something of bush lawyer. He knew that as a minor, he had automatic name suppression. He knew his name wouldn’t appear anywhere and that the slate would be wiped clean at the age of 18 and that was one reason he behaved as recklessly as he did. It wasn’t a desire to become a computer crimes celebrity or even to collect dirt by quietly listening in on others private messages in partnership with journalists.

I can also tell you that the consequences of his actions were fairly light. Roughly a week after the story broke in Computerworld, the teenager and his friend Sahil Gupta were charged with unauthorised access to a computer and were remanded on bail.

In January 2006, Gupta walked free and you can read about him, his history and the 027 case details in this Computerworld story. The teenager admitted to the charges in the 027 and another case, in the Youth Court, was fined $5,500 and put under supervision for six months.

The boy’s kept his nose clean after that. While he’s not working as an Internet security consultant roaming the globe, he seems to be doing just fine.

In hindsight I think we I handled that tricky story really well, balancing privacy, ethics and public interest with obscure technological points while battling a corporation that didn’t appear to care about the security of its paying customers.

We did a much better job than general media, which got hung up on the teenager being a “whizz kid” going on a “hacking” and “phreaking” spree when all he did was to stumble on gaping security hole left open because of… convenience.

Even so, we should’ve asked more questions around why it was so easy for a bored teenager to get into the voice mails of cabinet ministers and SIS spooks. Who was responsible for that pathetic lack of security? How many cases of intercepted messages had there been before the story broke?

As the NotW scandal has driven home, entrusting our private lives to piss-poor guardians of privacy such as telcos and faceless companies on the Internet can and will come back and bite you in a horrible fashion.

Things haven’t improved since 2005 though. Judging by for instance Lulzsec’s 50-day rampage, exposing all manners of personal, corporate and government information with consummate ease, there’s an enormous amount of sensitive stuff sloshing around due to poor security.

Due to this, I expect to write many more 027-style stories before I switch off my word processor for good while walking on that ethical tightrope. Fingers crossed, I won’t fall off.

91

John and Phil meet Bob

by George Darroch

Today, the organisation Family First convenes a national gathering at the Life mega-church in Mangere. This gathering will include a number of speakers from around New Zealand, and abroad. These include; Jim Wallace, head of the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL), Lindsay Mitchell, who will attack social welfare, Ian Grant, head of Parents Inc, a Christian organisation that seeks to shape parenting in New Zealand, and Albert Makabary, a doctor who will ‘declare war’ on ‘our binge drinking culture’.

This selection of people is mostly un-notable, and to be expected in such a context. However, headlining the organisation’s poster are pictures of the Prime Minister John Key, and Leader of the Opposition, Phil Goff, both smiling gently for the camera. They are captioned as follows:

Bob McCroskie will interview these men separately, and find out their views on a number of family policies, as well as their personal principles and values which drive their desire to lead the country

...where do they stand personally on the difficult issues of abortion, child abuse, euthanasia, marriage, the role of parents, media standards, the role of welfare, parental choice, and many others?

It is obvious that neither of these men would be attending if they did not think there was something to be gained in their presence; either an opportunity to explain themselves to a hostile audience and dull  criticism, or the opportunity to bolster support.

In the last several decades New Zealand has been considered a relatively secular nation. While politicians with strong faith and personal conviction have been elected, the role of churches in determining political positions has been relatively week, despite exhortations from the editors of the Christian broadsheet Challenge Weekly for their readers to lobby both openly and in private.

All of which has particular relevance in 2011 New Zealand. Opposition to a society that does not seek to impose religiously derived values on its citizens remains strong among a small section who fervently desire a different country.  Despite, or because of, a series of governments which have abolished and reformed laws based on these moral conceptions,

In Australia, this camp has had success. After the election of the Howard Government, morally conservative currents were taken for granted as de-facto within policy making. While major shifts that had become culturally embedded would not be rolled back (there was no question of making homosexuality illegal, for example), there was to be little or no social progress, and further reform was intended to be stymied. By the mid-2000s however, this position had become complicated. Society had continued to move, and assimilate gay, feminist, and other values (or “agendas”) and political pressure for reform had built.

In this context, the Australian Christian Lobby sought to buttress itself with political leaders, and make the cost of change greater than its benefits. During the 2007 election both John Howard and Kevin Rudd made a simultaneous visit to the Sydney mega-church Hillsong, where they explained their positions on a number of issues that were of concern to conservative Christians. The event was telecast live to over 100,000, and the results disseminated widely. It was considered the first such event of its type in Australian history and a major coup for the ACL. In their presentations both candidates presented a vision of support for the “traditional’ family, no further liberalisation of laws surrounding abortion, prevention of gay marriage, further funding for religious schools, and support for religious organisations who provide social services. Thus, although Labor won the 2007 election with a landslide, its leadership saw no impetus for change, despite an active membership who believed fervently in issues like marriage equality.

In 2010 prominent marches occurred in Australian cities, fighting for true equality. I had the privilege to participate in a number of these. The emotion was palpable, the sense that right would not be denied, and the knowledge that the Australian public was on our side, was immense.  Labor Party activists were in full presence, as were Greens and others. Yet it was acknowledged that there would be no change unless the current leadership took a break from their position – they were still in a dance with a conservative minority, for a small segment of votes. Labor felt like pro-equality voters were ‘safe’, or captured, with nowhere to go. This, in part, was responsible for a great swing to the Greens in the 2010 election, and the balance of power in the Senate is now held by this “anti-family” party.

Last month, safe sex advertisements featuring two men hugging affectionately while discreetly holding a condom were removed from Brisbane bus-shelters.  It was revealed that a director of the ACL,Wendy Francis, was responsible for organising the form letters which had caused the advertisements to be removed in the first place. Condemnation of the removal was swift, and the backlash against her interference came from across the spectrum. 

On ANZAC Day the head of the ACL Jim Wallace posted the tweet: "Just hope that as we remember Servicemen and women today we remember the Australia they fought for — wasn't gay marriage and Islamic!"

In either case, the Australian Christian Lobby was revealed to not only be on the side of intolerance and hate, but deeply out of step with the values of the Australian community. Their influence has waned, and their ability to shape politics continues to slide. It is only a matter of time before they are ignored entirely. Yet the threat they pose is real, because they purport to represent almost everybody through their claim to “families”. Politicians are by their nature conservative, and do not wish to alienate potential voters. If they misunderstand the role of organisations like the ACL, they will give them more power than they deserve.

 In New Zealand, Family First seeks to return the country to an imagined wholesome past. While a small segment of the population still considers this a worthwhile aim, most people have realised that civil unions did not see the end of marriage or civilisation. Like homosexual law reform two decades before, a small and noisy group were stymied and the rest of us got on with our lives. There is majority support for marriage equality, most people consider the current abortion situation untenable (in which a woman must declare a fetus a threat to her health before she can be granted either a surgical or medication abortion).

In this context, the presence of the head of the ACL at such an event, and the active attendance of both Key and Goff is extremely disturbing. While Family First is not considered a strong organisation, at least not one which can command the public agenda or shape the norms of the country, it does have an audience, people who will switch their votes in line with their moral convictions. They do not compose a great number, perhaps a few percentage at the most, and are unlikely to affect the outcome of most elections. However, if the percentage margin between a National coalition and a Labour coalition is small, or turnout is particularly low in the next election, their decisions might prove decisive. This is likely to play into the thoughts of both men while attending. The ACL will also be providing advice to Family First on how best to maximise their role and exact concessions against abortion reform, and other such issues.

So, we must ask: What are Goff and Key willing to trade to gain the votes of this audience? And in Goff’s case, is he willing to sell out his large activist base in Rainbow Labour and Labour Women to garner possible votes? In the case of either leader, after explaining themselves to Family First and the Australian Christian Lobby, they will have to explain themselves to us.