Thursday, 18 June 2015


The great New Zealand flag debate rages on

Kiwis are getting steamed up over their flag, and the debate is taking the old rag through the dirty washing, through the wringer, and out to dry where the winds of change will no doubt blow hot and cold.

New Zealanders never were a great flag-waving nation in the same tradition as the British, Canadians and Americans. Few houses, business premises, or government offices are ever seen to fly the New Zealand flag. For more than a century Kiwis preferred to display a national symbol like the native kiwi bird or the silver fern.

To many people this raises a question regarding the level of patriotism in the land Downunder. But that is not the problem. Kiwis are proud of their country and sing its praises whenever and wherever they travel and regularly take with them symbols and emblems and Kiwi souvenirs to hand out. They just don’t fill their luggage with flags.

To understand the reason for this ‘flagapathy’ we need to look back to the roots of New Zealand as a nation.

The first New Zealanders were Polynesians (Maori) who settled the coastal areas in the thirteenth century and struggled to survive and increase their numbers until the fifteenth century when they came to terms with their new cooler environment. They had no time or inclination toward flag waving. Surviving was a full-time business.
The flag of the United Tribes of New Zealand

The first flags seen Downunder were flown from visiting ships from 1642 onward and they were mostly Dutch, British, French and American. Small European settlements based on whaling, sealing and timber began to appear around the New Zealand coast from the early 1800s. The Maori who had evolved as a race without any contact with the outside world, began to understand many things European, including the significance of flags.

Then in 1833 along came James Busby, sent by the authorities in New South Wales, to be a peace-keeper without guns and given the title of British Resident. Busby achieved very little, but he did give the Maori New Zealand’s first flag, the flag of the United Tribes of New Zealand. Never mind that the United Tribes never met to pass any laws and faded quickly from the scene, New Zealand had its very own flag.
The British Union Jack from 1840-1902

Busby’s term in office was a failure from the start and between Sydney and London the colonial authorities wanted something more effective to protect the interests of both Maori and settlers in New Zealand. It was decided to send a deputy-governor from Sydney in the form of Captain William Hobson. Hobson was more business-like, but only just. He drafted the Treaty of Waitangi, (without any legal training), called some Maori chiefs to a meeting at Waitangi in the Bay of Islands, they all appended their marks to the document, and the Royal Navy hauled the British Union Jack up a flagpole. New Zealand had another flag.
Hobson did the best that he could, under the circumstances, to govern New Zealand in the best interests of all. But the treaty failed to live up to its expectations and pretty soon the new colony was at war. By the 1870s the dust had settled, for the time being, and New Zealand was granted limited self-government. Meanwhile the British flag was the New Zealand flag.
The New Zealand flag from 1902 - 2015

At the start of the twentieth century the British government started feeding out more slack to the colonials Downunder. Australia became fully self-governing in 1901, but New Zealand declined to join the new Australian nation as one of its states. The British government suggested that it was no longer appropriate for New Zealand to use the British flag and a compromise was reached in 1902 whereby the New Zealand Parliament passed the Ensign and Code Signals Act (approving a new flag with a smaller Union Jack with four stars added) and this was given the Royal Assent by King Edward VII on 24 March 1902. New Zealand had its third flag, a flag that was never voted on by the electors in a referendum.

In 1907 the British government pushed New Zealand a little further aside with the passage of the Statute of Westminster, an act to grant New Zealand independence. But New Zealand resisted independence, principally to preserve the New Zealand-United Kingdom trade links for farm products, and also because a majority of white New Zealanders were British-born. Later, during World War II, the British government had a monopoly on food supplies and food rationing was implemented in New Zealand so that farm produce could be diverted to the war effort.
One of more than 2,000 designs for New Zealand's
future flag

The New Zealand Parliament finally ratified the Statute of Westminster in 1947 and New Zealand became fully independent, but the flag didn’t change, and the food rationing continued for several years more. Then push came to shove and the British government announced that it would abandon its traditional trade partners and join the European Economic Community (now the European Union), and it was only due to the tenacity of people like Trade Minister Jack Marshall, that New Zealand was able to gain some concessions for a time.
The constitutional change in 1947 was by far the most significant constitutional change in the nation’s history, but it went virtually unnoticed and has never been celebrated as an Independence Day. That is something that this writer finds really bizarre, because as a consequence many Kiwis don’t even understand that their country is independent. Part of that misunderstanding must be due to our reluctance to adopt a New Zealand flag instead of clinging to a watered-down British flag that was thrust on us in the first place.

There have been many organised attempts to change the flag since that pivotal day in 1947 (26 September), but New Zealand governments, until now, have resisted. Now the Key Government has promised two referendums on the question. For the first time New Zealanders, party politics aside, have a chance to vote for their very own uniquely New Zealand flag, and even more important to reaffirm and re-state New Zealand’s sovereign independence as a nation.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015


Prison law reform campaigner loses last battle

Sir Peter Williams KNZM QC, a strident campaigner for prisoner rights and law reform has died in Auckland aged 80. He had been suffering from prostate cancer for several years.

Peter Aldridge Williams was born in Feilding, New Zealand, in 1934, the son of a local school teacher. He excelled in rugby, boxing and tennis, and started his law degree at Wellington’s Victoria University, while working at a meat processing plant. When his father became a headmaster near Christchurch he continued his studies at Canterbury University. He completed his Compulsory Military Training at Auckland’s Hobsonville Air Base and later became a legal clerk at the Justice Department in Auckland.

He was admitted to the bar in 1960, entered a legal practice in Auckland with the firm of Russell McVeagh, and quickly established himself as a tough advocate with a sharp brain. With his first wife Zelda as his typist, he established his own law firm in Auckland. He defended more than 100 people facing murder charges and became a staunch advocate for prison reform, prisoner rights, rehabilitation, and addressing the causes of crime.

Automatism, a phenomenon where people behave in an involuntary manner and are unaware of their actions, was pioneered by Peter Williams as a defence to be taken into account by juries. He once said, “Stress is a catalyst. It can happen to anyone. There’s a breaking point in all of us.”

He also said, “I am concerned about how some prisoners live in a 23 hour lock-up. It’s bizarre. I want to bring about change for long-term prisoners. If they don’t have a mental illness before they go to prison they get one while they are in there. It does not encourage rehabilitation. I would love them to be treated like human beings.”

Williams was often criticized as a ‘do-gooder’ who wanted prison to be like a hotel. But he believed that that stance, while well-meaning, was counter-productive in the battle to reduce crime and establish the causes of crime.
The Scapegoat

For 30 years he was the president of the New Zealand branch of the Howard League for Penal Reform until 2011 when he resigned to form the Prison Reform Society.

Peter Williams had been in court with many high profile defendants over his long career including Terry Clark (Mr Asia), Arthur Allan Thomas, Winston Peters and Ronald Jorgensen. Some former clients also became life-long friends.  More recently, Williams defended a 74 year-old grandmother charged with attempting to overthrow the government of Fiji, a government that had seized power. He also acted successfully for a Fijian businessman charged with conspiracy to murder the Fijian Prime Minister.

In 1987 Peter Williams was made a Queens Counsel and in the 2015 New Year Honours list he was created a Knight Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in recognition of his service to the law. He was the author of five books: Judicial Misconduct (1990), A Passion for Justice (1997), Petals of Memory – sailor, poet, protestor (2009), Nemesis to Prejudice (2012) and The Dwarf Who Moved (2014).

Friday, 5 June 2015


Running from the hangman
A free sample read from the crime thriller, A Twist of Fate, by Peter Blakeborough and available as an eBook from Smashwords:

Reluctantly, as the workload increased, Bob Asker had to give up hauling the semi-trailers at the weekends and Fransham agreed to another salary increase to compensate for the loss of the driving income. Meanwhile his share portfolio continued to grow and prosper. Already he was a moderately wealthy man and he was able to pay cash for the difference between the trade-in price for the Vauxhall and the purchase price of a brand new Holden.
On New Year’s Eve he packed a small bag and headed for Sydney in his new car. All the way he worried that Janet would not be there to meet him as planned a year earlier. He could not expect her to reserve the rest of her life for him, an alias without a future. He could not reasonably expect her to make a thirteen hundred-mile journey every New Year. She had her own life to live and no doubt her circumstances and commitments would change with time. If she didn’t show he would understand.
He drove slowly passed the post office in Martin Place. It was eleven forty-five and Janet was there already, looking nervously along the street. He continued to the end of the short street and did a U-turn. He had to be sure that she had not been followed. It looked safe so he double-parked and wound down the passenger side window.
‘Welcome to Sydney, Janet,’ he called.
She ran towards him, her face beaming.
‘Bob! I’m so pleased to see you. You’ve changed your car. I was sure something had happened to you,’ she said with nervous excitement as she bounded into the front seat. ‘I really thought you wouldn’t be here.’
‘It’s only eleven forty-five. You look lovely, Janet.’
They embraced, kissed, drew apart and looked at each other and hugged and kissed again.
‘It’s really wonderful to see you again.’
‘You too.’
‘Tell me about my mother and sisters and brother. Have you seen them again?’
‘Yes, they’re all fine and I’ve got another letter and more photos for you.’
‘You’re amazing, Janet. I’m so grateful.’ He put the Holden into gear. ‘Let’s get away from here.’
‘I’ve got a room in King’s Cross this time. I thought you would like to stay somewhere different.’
‘Good idea, Janet. Show me the way. Are you still working for the travel agent?’
‘I finished at Christmas… There’s something I want to tell you…’
He looked at her quickly as he drove.
‘Are you sure everything is alright?’
‘Oh yes. It’s just that this time I want to stay in Australia. I like it here. Don’t be alarmed. I can still keep in touch with them.’
Bob’s worried expression was replaced by a shrewd smile.
‘I know where there’s a vacancy in a travel agency.’
‘How do you know about that?’
‘Because I work there.’
‘Really? You’re a travel consultant?’
‘I’m a travel club manager and tour guide too and we have a vacancy for someone with exactly your qualifications. With my recommendation the job will be yours.’
‘You never cease to amaze me, Bob Asker…’
He drew in a sharp breath.
‘Don’t ever use that name again. Not even when we’re alone,’ he said harshly.
‘Oh, my God! I’m sorry. It just slipped out. It won’t happen again.’
‘I understand, Janet,’ he said sympathetically as he reached for her hand. ‘There’s just one problem with the job, if you want to take it.’
‘What’s that, Mr. Doyle?’
‘It’s a long way from the bright lights of Sydney.’

Connect with Peter on Facebook or Twitter
‘I don’t need to live right in town.’
‘It’s worse than that. The job is in Griffith, six hundred miles from Sydney on the edge of the outback. Still interested?’
‘It couldn’t be further from nowhere than Thames.’
He laughed.
‘Thames is almost a suburb of Auckland. You can’t compare them. The nearest city to Griffith is two hundred miles east. West it’s two hundred and fifty miles to Mildura. If you go north you won’t find anything for at least a thousand miles. Are you sure it’s the kind of place you want to live?’
‘I’ll give it my best shot.’

They drove passed the guesthouse and stopped at Rushcutters Bay to have lunch overlooking an assortment of yachts riding peacefully at anchor. Further out on the harbour a multitude of white sails drifted by on the breeze.
‘It’s beautiful here, isn’t it?’
‘It’s lovely. By the way,’ Janet started to explain. ‘I’ve told the people at the guesthouse that we are brother and sister so there won’t be any raised eyebrows when we share the room.’
For a moment he was at a loss for words. Was she serious? He was in no doubt that the innocent girl in the school uniform of two years earlier was now a mature and attractive young woman. Did she want to sleep with him in spite of his pledge to himself and assurance to her that there would be no romantic commitment to anyone while he was a fugitive from the hangman?
‘Are you sure that’s what you want to do? Or are we really going to be like brother and sister until I’m cleared?’
‘It has two beds, brother.’
‘Suits me, sister.’
They drove to Bondi Beach for a swim and chatted some more as they sat in the Holden looking out over the Tasman Sea. He felt homesick.
‘You know, I could easily go aboard one of those yachts at Rushcutters Bay and sail right home to New Zealand.’
Janet looked at him seriously.
‘Don’t say that. You’d never get away with it.’
‘You mean I’d get caught stealing it and go to prison? I can afford to buy a yacht now.’
‘No. I mean you’d be caught and sent to the hangman. Don’t ever think about going back. You’d be letting down all the good people who have helped you.’
‘I know, Janet. But I can’t help wanting to do it.’
‘Promise me you won’t try to go back until you’re exonerated.’
‘I promise.’