Hard News by Russell Brown


Fighting On

The first public report of the Organised and Financial Crime Agency of New Zealand doesn't say much you wouldn't expect it to say -- which hasn't stopped the press making headlines out of fairly old news.

Although the report makes clear that "organised crime" covers a range of illegal activities, from financial and identity crime to violence, wildlife smuggling and DVD piracy, the media focus has largely been on drugs. Hence, we're told -- again -- that Oceania has amongst the highest worldwide rates of use of amphetamine-type drugs.

This isn't news. What's actually more interesting is the report's frank admission that, as policing has made it harder to import and distribute MDMA, its place is being taken by a range of sometimes more dangerous substances masquerading as "ecstasy":

It is likely MDMA tablets will continue to contain other synthetic substances, which presents a greater risk for users who believe that they are taking MDMA.

This is a fairly well-established pattern in drug enforcement, but it's not exactly a win for harm reduction.

A number of significant police operations against organised crime are cited. Not among them: the three-year Operation Lime, which was born out of the mistaken belief that the Switched On Gardener chain of stores was the conduit to a huge organised crime operation.

Deputy police commissioner Rob Pope said back in April that the Operation Lime mass arrests would "break the cornerstone of the illicit cannabis cultivation industry". It hasn't even dented it, in large part because even when they veered close to entrapment, and even though they spent a lot of your money, the police didn't find what they thought they would find.

Now, apparently, "Vietnamese organised crime groups" have a major stake in commercial cannabis growing. To be honest, I'll believe that when I see some evidence. Which isn't to say it's not happening at all, but I would think the police could arrest every Vietnamese immigrant in the country and still not dent the cannabis trade.

What's more interesting is this:

Locations selling cannabis are colloquially referred to as ‘tinnie houses’, due to cannabis often being sold in small quantities wrapped in tinfoil. However, a range of illicit drugs are increasingly being sold at these locations, prompting a change of name by the New Zealand Police from ‘tinnie houses’ to ‘drug dealing houses’.

Which reads a lot like an argument for removing cannabis from the criminal sphere, so that a pervasive, popular and relatively low-risk recreational drug isn't sold under the same roof as P.

It is not, of course, OFCANZ's role to say such things, although successive governments have received policy advice to such an effect.

Organised crime, as defined by the report, ranges from New Zealand "adult gangs" like the Headhunters to a couple of guys bootlegging DVDs in an an inner-city apartment. It is, generally, contemptuous of both public and individual good. But it's hard not to look at this report and wonder whether some of our present practices are making things worse, not better.


Last night's Media7 is online now.

And so is my extended interview with Reserve Bank governor Alan Bollard which we excerpted for the show.


Chairing the debate at last night's Webstock Mini at the Paramount in Wellington -- moot: "Open is Good" --was a right old laugh, even if David Slack managed to open the affirmative team's arguments by citing not only Goatse but Cameron Slater, and Keith Ng triggered Godwin's law (he also made flagrant use of ickle fluffy kittens).

The 2011 Webstock lineup was announced, and should be on the Webstock website any moment now.

There were also two presentations: one from Mark Billinghurst of the University of Canterbury's Human Interface Technology Lab, which took a little too long to get to the cool, new stuff, but gave me a useful grounding in Augmented Reality and what it's going to mean.

The other was by Denis Dutton, about the thesis of his book, The Art Instinct. I'm not convinced it sweeps all else away as Dutton asserts. I have no problem with the idea that certain ideas of beauty are innate, evolved and common across cultures; but they're also plainly socially mediated too. It felt a bit like being dragged into Dutton's argument with all those post-modernists he has to work with.

But we also got a sneak preview of the animated film about his ideas commissioned by TED. The animation, voiced by Dutton, was created at the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, and it's a dazzling work. Look out for it when it's officially released.

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