NZ Election: Repeal HSW, Revive ACC

Our country and people benefit from our fearless active and adventurous nature. As examples, we invented flying before the Wright brothers, we invented bungy jumping, a Kiwi scaled Mt Everest, the All Blacks are the greatest rugby team on Earth, and our country income and image thrives on adventure tourism. We cycle, hike, hunt, climb, play silly games, swim, explore, DIY, dance and consequently combat issues such as a greater risk of obesity and other such diseases, CO2 emissions, and institutionalised helplessness. Kiwis have always been, are, and should be brave, active, mobile, inventive, and adventurous by nature.

This is all at risk. There are two parts to this story: ACC and the Health and Safety in the Workplace Act.

ACC is (literally) a brilliant idea. Rather than having to find someone to blame and sue to cover expensive medical bills, Kiwis and visitors to NZ can live their lives and have adventures and know that the government will get them back onto their feet and into life again (as much as possible) if they get hurt in an accident. No-one wants to get injured – we don’t go out looking for it – but accidents can happen when you get off your couch, and even sometimes when you don’t, and facing your fears to accomplish something awesome is easier when it does not include both the fear of personal pain and injury and crippling financial debt that could drag down your community as well.

It all comes down to who is going to take responsibility for someone’s injury and rehab costs. If you can’t work because of an injury you can’t make the money you need to pay for it, so you have to look for someone else to foot the bill. If the government isn’t going to do it, people then have to think about who will? Insurance has exclusions for physical or perceived risky pursuits: it is not in their interest to pay out for a possible injury in an activity that has a certain level of risk. While they might pay out if someone drives into you, they most certainly would not be covering you for stock-car racing, unless you pay stupid amounts of premiums.

That leaves litigation. The consequence of America’s system is that people will not give someone CPR when they need it, because if they cause any injury (eg like a broken rib, which can happen) they fear they will be sued for the medical costs. This is a reasonable fear: given the costs of medicine in the US (because doctors have to pay so much in personal liability insurance, because they get sued too), there’s a good chance the injured party will need to find someone to blame to avoid financial disaster. Instead, you could be bankrupted just for trying to save someone’s life. If you have people who rely on your money (eg your family) you would be risking their future for a stranger. Not a good incentive to help, and even less incentive for supplying a product or service that can in any way damage someone (eg a hot coffee without a comprehensive series of warnings and legal waivers. Blame and fear tears America apart. I think you will agree with me that we don’t want this in NZ.

In my (educated) opinion, ACC has more impact on the Kiwi culture than any other government service (eg education, health and police), and this is why I am so surprised that ACC policy doesn’t even get a mention in most parties’ policies. I decide who to vote for based on their attitude to ACC. The government doesn’t really want the cost, but the alternative, allowing people to sue for personal injury like the Americans do, is far worse. How much is the brave community of NZ worth?

We don’t have the right to sue for our medical costs in NZ: we traded-off the right to have ACC. This means that ACC had better cover accidental injuries comprehensively because we commonly have no further recourse. But instead I see ACC being undermined and no rights to sue being re-introduced.

  • Businesses and sports are being levied according to their risk, which is a disincentive to start a business in anything adventurous. If ACC is a government department, created for the good of the country, paid for by taxes, and enjoyed by all equally, why are some ventures penalised by higher costs? Sure, they might have more injuries, but do we imagine they want these injuries, or get them from being more careless or stupid than people in low risk occupations? Do we imagine that we’d be better off without these occupations? Wouldn’t they already be paying more to attract employees? Wouldn’t the levy be better spent to minimise those injury risks?
  • People are now being denied ACC help when the injuries can be blamed on age and existing conditions. While it may be true that a broken limb or spinal injury might not have happened if the person was younger, or hadn’t had a similar injury in the past, or wear-and-tear, it doesn’t change the fact that the injury would not have happened except for the accident. People are living with injuries and costs from accidents because ACC is judging their claims like a commercial insurance provider, where it is in their interest to not pay out. It is not in the countries’ best interest, however. Do we really want to dis-incentivise older and previously injured people from getting off the couch and into life? Are they really that worthless to NZ?

And then the Pike River disaster happened. Somehow the people who ran the mine were not criminally negligent or otherwise legally responsible, and yet NZ (rightly or wrongly) thought they should be, for justice to be properly served. The Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 was passed to law, and WorkSafe Crown Agency created to interpret the requirements to everyday life. The gist of it is, the ‘person conducting a business or an undertaking’ (PCBU) can be held criminally liable if someone is killed or injured whilst participating in the undertaking.

The law and it’s (WorkSafe and layperson) interpretation is having a serious effect on NZ culture. Here is a list of things I have been told about, as someone who does adventure activities:

  1. A kite-boarding teacher shutting up shop because, while they taught safety and had a definite positive motivation for ensuring the safety of the students, they didn’t want to be responsible for the people who didn’t learn fast enough to avoid injury. I’m sure there will be many more such stories. As above, when choosing to help a stranger, why would you do it when there is a risk they could get damaged and destroy your life? There’s a good chance that they were doing enough to satisfy WorkSafe, in the event of an injury, but many people don’t have the time, financial or cognitive resources to study and understand how the new law applies to them specifically, even if they had the inclination. It’s one thing to be willing to patch someone up as a part of your small busy business, and quite another to commit to understanding such heavy legislation and all the implications, and get all the requisite bureaucratic documentation together whenever it’s required.
  2. Schools closing playgrounds and cancelling school camping trips, to protect teachers and supervisors from the legal consequences of a kid hurting themselves. Cotton-wool parenting (Google it – too many studies to list) doesn’t work. If kids don’t have the opportunity to hurt themselves in childhood, they get to their teen lives thinking they can’t be hurt. They also lack physical literacy and resilience, self-confidence and independence, risk assessment skills and good responsible decision making, and opportunities to learn, grow, and earn the trust and respect of their family and peers.
  3. PCBU’s being so freaked out by the Damocles’ Sword of criminal liability they refuse to let risk-based performers do their job… I’ve heard of circus performers being told they cannot do a number of their acts, because of the risk (the risk is what makes it an act!) and in one case a pair of stilt walkers forced to walk half a kilometre around a water feature because the organisers did not want the risk of them walking across a bridge (as if falling off stilts elsewhere is safer). The vast majority of professional circus performers know the risks, and do what they need to to mitigate the risks themselves. Having ignorant PCBU’s dictating or (worse) helping with the safety measures just adds complexity and unknowns to something that is already tricky.
  4. Home businesses having to write up risk assessments and mitigation plans for employees that come to their home – common sense is no longer enough. It is also apparently not enough that the people you are responsible for just sign a waiver – you have to be able to demonstrate that they have been informed of and understand the risks they face and the mitigation of which they need to be aware. We’re holding the bubble-wrap on with rolls of red tape.

We should also keep in mind that there is a theory that adults, when they have reason to believe they can’t be hurt, act with less care and personal responsibility to themselves and others. Legislation that allows people to believe that, in order to protect themselves from legal consequences, a PCBU will have made the activity safe for participants will almost certainly result in the participant taking less care themselves, putting themselves, others, and the PCBU at more risk.

The law was never meant to do this! It was written to ensure that the people behind an incident like Pike River can be made accountable. It was not made to add the fear of explicit legal responsibility for other people onto our shared adventures. It was not meant to undermine the value and liberty we get from ACC by finding someone to blame for our accidents, or cost so much, because while it might incidentally reduce the annual costs to ACC, it will cost businesses around NZ real money in legal and bureaucratic fees and time. It is not supposed to cause conflict between a risk expert voluntarily accepting risk and “reasonably practicable” mitigation and a layperson’s involuntary exposure and perception bias. It is, whether it was meant to or not, destroying undertakings that represent our way of life, heritage and culture.

I will be repealing this law, for the sake of NZ, to enable us all to take responsibility for ourselves on our adventures, and believe in our government safety nets, and bring back our culture of brave, adventurous, fun-loving and caring Kiwis. It would be great if you want to help.


A Humanist Perspective on Force and Violence

Here’s something from the past that adds to my views on self defence. I wrote this article back in the ’90s and it was published in the NZ Humanist magazine and got some good reviews. Reading it again now I would probably use less abrasive language, but there were some things going on in my life at the time that coloured my perspective somewhat. I have left it as I wrote it, partially because I’d like the ideas to be challenging, but also because I think my readers would like to see how I’ve changed over time. It’s good to see people can change for the better

I should explain the rude view of pacifists. At the time I ran a group at University called Pagan Revivalists. We would have regular meetings and invite people of related paths to come and tell us about their beliefs and values. Given the extremely diverse nature of the attendees (from Dianic witchcraft to the OTO), the discussion and questions at these meetings could be quite lively. We had a New Age guru of some kind come to address us. He looked like the Euro vision of Jesus and was acceptance, love and pacifism personified. I watched his followers: these women (all were women) threw themselves in the way of any potential challenge like they were all attacks. They wore the stress of their protective vigilance on their faces. They were afraid he would get hurt and loose his inner calm, and that made them aggressive and frantic to protect this precious soul. My thought was that this is the price of culpable innocence: other people have to pay dearly to protect his purity. Without them he has two choices in an unpleasant situation – lose the pacifism or suffer.

I do think peace is ideal. I’m sure most of my readers have heard the saying “fighting for peace is like f*cking for virginity”. If one thought that virginity was valuable, if one person sacrificed that valuable thing so that those who would fornicate in spite of the loss of value could do so without affecting all those who wanted to stay unsullied, then that person has acted to increase the overall amount of good. Utilitarian argument, but still worth thinking about, since a decrease in acts and victims of violence is usually what we try to achieve, when we promote peace.

A Humanist Perspective on Force and Violence

By Anna Cruse

What is the right stance for a Humanist to take on issues of force and violence? Is ANY such behaviour acceptable to our principles? If yes, in what circumstances? Are there times when a Humanist ought to take such a stance – when it is right and good, necessary and sufficient – or is the proper expression of Humanism to be the ultimate pacifist? Should we accept that “human nature” will never be civilized enough to make such resort unnecessary, or is our rejection of such means the only way to stop the use of force and violence in our society? Is the use of force and violence a) always evil b) a necessary evil c) sometimes right, sometimes wrong d) the last resort e) a tool Humanists have to learn to use appropriately?

I should perhaps start with some real life examples of times when people have to make the choice to use or not use force and violence. As you read these examples, think about what you would do.

  1. Two kids get into a fight in the schoolyard, and force is necessary to separate them

  2. A young adult snatches a purse and runs your way

  3. You catch a stranger in your house

  4. Two men get into a fight outside a pub, and if someone doesn’t drag the bigger off the smaller will be badly hurt, probably hospitalized, maybe killed (it only takes one punch to kill, if it lands just so, and this happens by accident too many times)

  5. Two policemen are beating a cowering student

  6. A 42 year old man with the mental capacity of an 8 year old throws a tanty and starts pummelling his 80 year old mother

  7. Your teenager starts pushing you and your partner around

  8. You are surrounded by a gang of youths. It could even include your teenager. You believe that they intend to hurt you

  9. A 14 year old pulls a gun at the highschool

  10. A neighbour wants to run into a burning building to rescue her beloved poodle

  11. The secret police are dragging off a neighbour in the middle of the night

  12. A man is kidnapping his own child. The mother is screaming for help.

  13. You have a friend trapped in one of those brainwash cults. She has not asked you for help

  14. Your 17 year old offspring is about to get into a car with his / her obviously inebriated girl / boyfriend driving

  15. A load of pipes has come loose and is about to roll over someone. You could tackle them out of the way

  16. Someone is about to take a suicide jump. You could stop them

  17. Someone is trapped in a burning car begging to be killed. You have a gun

  18. Your cancer riddled grandma asks you to help her die. You have a pillow

  19. A colleague is about to destroy the evidence of company complicity in an ecological poisoning issue

That’s probably enough. What would a Humanist do? What levels of force and/or violence are right (if any)?

There is an argument that if one wants to stop the use of force and violence in society, then one should never use it oneself. Indeed, if a Humanist believes that the use of force or violence is wrong it would be hypocrisy if they resorted to its use. But some of the examples above, whilst all suggesting levels of force and violence, have been upheld as human rights or responsibilities. That is what Humanism is about, after all.

John Stuart Mill, in On Liberty argues that the only time that a person can legitimately impose their will upon another is in self-defence, and this includes the defence of one’s society (aka the Liberty Principle). But is it self-defence if you throw the first punch? Would you clobber the purse-snatcher, tackle the home invader, or snatch the evidence from the eco-poisoner? I’ve known of people set upon by gangs. Letting them throw the first punch is stupidity bordering on suicide (or is it martyrdom, for pacifists?) The law allows you to defend yourself to the limit necessary to stop the attack, and to make sure it doesn’t restart. Your response is deemed appropriate or not according to your belief about what was necessary at the time. There is no reason why this should be different if the attackers are your children. A law against “reasonable” anything is an unreasonable law, by definition. If teachers can’t use reasonable force, school brawlers can’t be separated.

This doesn’t mean the Law is necessarily right, either. There are several examples above where doing the right thing could easily involve breaking the law.

We are comfortable with the idea of imposing our will on those not capable of making good decisions for themselves (children and the mentally impaired). But what about the 17 year old about to get into a car with a drunk driver. Does it make a difference if they’re not our offspring? What about brainwashed (psychologically dependent) friends? Should neighbours be allowed to throw themselves to their deaths, deliberately or for reasons we don’t accept or understand? And where does suicide become euthanasia? Euthanasia is a hot topic in Humanist discussion. Many argue that active euthanasia can sometimes be the only humane option. Would you be that humane?

There are three hurdles a person has to cross before they act in these circumstances.

  1. They have to know something is wrong. People won’t resist a police state if they believe it to be the way things are supposed to be. Ignorance and naivety can make people think they don’t have to do something. Humanists acting according to the way things “should” be with no regard to how things ARE are guilty of this.

  2. They have to know they can do something. The best way to keep a captive is to make them believe they can’t escape. The subset of people in history who haven’t had a right to defend themselves against another group were called slaves. Take away a person’s choices, and that’s where it leads. People without recourse are the victims to those with no conscience. Those of us who are suitably fit can use force and violence: we have no excuses, here.

  3. They have to choose to act. If we know something is wrong and we can do something about it and we don’t it could be “bystander apathy” (in the case of us watching other people) but I think better words are cowardice, irresponsibility, and laziness. These are not Humanist traits.

I never want to be the kind of Humanist who sits around whining about how bad things are, but never acting to fix it. I don’t want to be so concerned with my own security, social or self-image that I allow myself or others to suffer when I can do something about it, even if it involves force, violence, risk, or legal issues (even for pacifists, who require others to do the dirty work for them, if they’re not to become victims). When the world becomes a perfect place where force and violence are no longer necessary for right ends to come about, I won’t use it. Until then, as a Humanist, I am not going to relinquish that tool.

Martial Arts and Self Defence

I have done martial arts of one form or another since about 1981, with only short breaks for having children and moving between styles. My current love is Systema – Russian style close quarter combat – which I’ve done for about 4.5 years. I taught people to fight with broadswords and other Medieval weapons for years. I’ve trained and patrolled with the Guardian Angels (in NZ, which is pretty mild) and taught self defence classes to people of a wide range of ages and mixed abilities. I’ve only had to defend myself for real twice  (people in their right mind usually choose not to fight me), and I’ve got into a few tense situations, but I know I am a capable combatant.

Martial arts is a big part of who I am, and I’m really glad I fell into it. When people ask me why I started, I say that I can’t run for sh*t, so I knew if it came to fight or flight I was stuffed, unless I learnt to fight. I really am a terrible runner: people can run backwards faster than I run forwards. I have proved this on the battlefield, trying to chase down people with spears… Anyway, how it really happened is even less likely. I was the fat kid in school. I hated PE (Physical Education). I hated wearing shorts and t-shirts next to the slim and pretty girls, being picked last, being unable to catch a ball, and the competition. Being a clever negotiator I arranged to usually take that time doing clarinet lessons instead. At the end of the school year the junior classes would do a week of different elective interests while the seniors did exams. Being disorganised I failed to get my preferred electives and instead got Variety Sports. Me! To say I was disappointed would be the understatement of the year, but it actually wasn’t too bad, except for the squash, which I still recall with a shudder. Boating I was as bad as the rest, archery and shooting I quite liked, and then there was AiKiDo. I was good at that, and I wanted to do it more.

I learned to use my body – it really hurt the first few weeks. My muscles got so sore. I learnt personal discipline – I had to keep going, or else, when I got back to it, it would hurt again. I learned to deal with pain – I actually had a good pain tolerance. I gained endurance, strength, self respect, self confidence and friends. I remember at a school PE class, learning gymnastics, doing a breakfall instead of a forward roll and being scolded. A good example of bad teaching. I still can’t forward roll; I still can breakfall, on concrete, at high speed.

When I came to Auckland to go to University the AiKiDo dojo just wasn’t the same. In Levin our teacher was a large NZ Euro cop with a laid back attitude and an appreciation for fun. The Uni dojo was far more Japanese in the concept of discipline, and everyone took themselves far too seriously. Around that time a friend turned up at uni with a bandaged finger. I asked him what happened and he said it had been hit with a sword. I said “Fencing?”. He said “Nope, Medieval broadsword.” As a person into fantasy roleplaying, I said “Cool! I want to try!” And got my finger mashed the first time I went, too. After that I learnt to swordfight with my left hand, so I could still write lecture notes.

I prefer the Western martial arts style of teaching. The idea is to make you a competent combatant in as short as time as possible, using little to no standard forms (since people aren’t made to one size, shape and skill set), and then take the time to fine-tune your abilities, to make you kick-ass against anyone. Your teachers earn your respect, by being demonstrably competent at fighting and teaching. It’s not highly stratified – you know when you spar against someone if you’re better of not, though some teachers do some gradings. We make jokes, gently prank people and laugh during training. Proponents of Eastern traditions would say we have no discipline, but our discipline is personal: turning up, getting our hits, and  sticking to the task at hand. The Eastern style is to demand your respect, enforce behaviour, condition your responses, grade according to a schedule and withhold the kick-ass until you have invested large chunks of your life and money into the art – the time when they think you won’t want to believe you made a bad choice, after all. Most Eastern martial arts don’t introduce you to weapons until you’re quite experienced – brown or black belt – and even then they are presented as almost sacred objects. A knife is a king-maker! Whatever. Hit the b*stard with a chair.

A Systema seminar teacher I had put it quite well. He described how he was quite good at some other art (unspecified), at high competition level, and then discovered Systema, and trained in that as well. He said his original instructors rebuked him: “Remember your priorities!” He replied “As a martial artist, my first priority is to myself!”

Something to remember about all martial arts: training is a lie. Unless people are being regularly carted out on stretchers it is not real combat, and no civilised government would allow such a fight club to legally exist. There are rules or constraints in place which mean you can engage in simulated violence with another person and not commonly get injured. There are only so many real injuries you can take before you cannot safely fight or train any more – take punch-drunk boxers, for example. Also, if your martial art has rules about how or where you can hit, and/or will only put you up against someone of the same weight, then it is a sport. It may help you in your defence, but the first time you fight someone who outweighs you by 20+kg you had better be very good, and know how to break the rules.

I’m not interested in competitions: I don’t like how people will push the limits of the rules you have both accepted to ensure your safety in their efforts to win. I train to defend myself, my community, and complete strangers against people who would do them harm. This is more than just physical harm. People also need protection against things like frauds, emotional manipulation and abuse, cybercrimes, and exploitation. Being aware of these things is as much as I can do, commonly, but I try to be informed, and use that to inform others of risk and options. If you know someone is informed and they choose to put themselves at risk anyway you have to accept that that is their right, as an adult, and stand by with the emergency services on speed dial.

Most people will accept, as paraphrased from J.S.Mill’s Liberty Principle (On Liberty), that one can act in their own defence, and the defence of others, so long as that action does not do more damage than the original offence itself. For example, one could punch a would-be mugger in the nose, but not someone who shop-lifts an apple. But many don’t understand what it means if you can’t defend yourself. The first result of this is that where there are potential victims one finds predators. If people don’t know what a threat looks like, and how to avoid or neutralise that threat, they are perfect targets. This is why, for example, young Asian ladies get their purses snatched: they carry lots of cash, they’re too small and timid to put up a fight, and they yell for help in the wrong language. It’s the fastest growing crime on Auckland streets, and people have died as a result. Predators don’t do so well when people know how to deal with them.

Most people would hope that there would be someone out there who will help them, if things go bad. Isn’t that what the Police are for? Unfortunately, the Police are seldom there at the time of the attack – they are usually left with trying to catch the attacker after the fact. And, unless you have some contract with a person (like we do with the Police) you do not have the right to expect other people to save you, and this is why:

  1. When a person steps in to defend you they put themselves at risk: people die in combat, and not all would-be defenders have any reason to believe that they can handle the situation. They just thoughtlessly react. There have been several cases in Auckland where a defender has died or gotten seriously injured trying to save someone. These people had young families, who suffered as a result. The one they defended would probably feel worse about the incident for what happened to their would-be protector, and the one attacking progresses from, in one example, a purse-snatcher to nearly manslaughter with a single push.
  2. Defenders don’t have a cut-and-dried case of self-defence, especially when they step in for another. The attacker could be seriously hurt or killed (this happens, in combat), and the then the defender will have to prove to society that they are not a dangerous, out-of-control offender themselves. Defenders are often enough arrested, charged and have to go through an expensive legal process for their defence of another.
  3. Defenders, if they are successful, also have to live with what they have done. For most normal people, hurting others is not a nice thing.
  4. Defenders can’t always rely on the “victim” to stand in their legal defence. In fact, in the case of defending someone against a “domestic” attack, the “victim” will sometimes even attack the defender themselves, because of their attachment to the attacker. Even if they don’t attack, if it happens within their own community they usually have to continue to live with the attacker’s friends, family and maybe even the attacker themselves, and if they stand as a witness against the attacker this could be very problematic. Defenders are often enough incarcerated for their defence of another without the person they defended lifting a finger to stop it, or worse, having the “victim” testify against them.

This is why I argue that learning self defence is not just a right: it’s a duty, so people do not need to take these risks for another. One does not have to be kick-ass. One just has to be aware of potential threats, and know what to do or how to get the help they need to neutralise that threat. Some examples:

  • The threat might just be ignorance. Get informed about the risks you take
  • There is a dark alley on your way home, known to be a mugging hotspot. Don’t walk down it. If you have to walk down it, don’t wear your headphones, for a start…
  • Someone has their purse stolen in front of you, and the attacker looks tougher than you. Take a picture or video on your phone and call the cops. Purses are not worth anyone’s life! (Learn to take pictures on your phone without being obvious – they can be VERY useful)
  • Take photos of everyone who turns up for a party, “for the memory”. People behave better when they can be identified
  • Learn about your help options: Women’s Refuge, Citizen’s Advice Bureau, Neighbourhood Watch, immigrant help groups, friends and family…

I hope I will always have the courage to defend when I can, and the wisdom to know when I can’t, and I’ll take the risks I listed above to save a life (not a purse), but I hope this argument convinces you that you should also take some responsibility for yourself: you learn what your threats are, and how you can avoid becoming a “victim” to them, for my sake.