Monday, November 30, 2015



A victory for academic freedom

Last week we learned that the police had "blacklisted" a leading crime researcher from accessing police data under a "research contract" which lets them rewrite findings or veto publication at will. Today the police backed down and apologised to Dr Gilbert for blacklisting him. More importantly, they'll be revising that oodious (and quite possibly illegal) research contract;

As a result, Police is amending guidelines around vetting of researchers, including high-level oversight and more detailed case-by-case consideration on vetting checks on researchers which are negative.

Police will also be updating the research agreement, including removing any language that may be interpreted as restricting the independence of academic research.


Good. And now maybe they can focus on fighting criminals rather than massaging their public image.

New Fisk

David Cameron, there aren't 70,000 moderate fighters in Syria - and whoever heard of a moderate with a Kalashnikov, anyway?

The same mistake, over and over again

Things seem to be coming to a crunch in the UK Labour Party. David Cameron wants to bomb Syria (and despite having a majority to do it himself, wants the opposition to be complicit in it so they can't criticise him later when it all goes to shit). And despite his case being the same sort of mendacious bullshit used by Blair to justify his war crime in Iraq, despite it being highly likely to make things worse rather than better, despite it being just another repetition of the same mistake, UK Labour MPs are falling all over themselves to support it - while being outraged at the thought that their party membership might hold them accountable for it come candidate selection time.

Which I guess exposes the fundamental problem with UK Labour: they think of themselves as part of the Establishment. And being part of the Establishment means supporting military adventures, no matter how stupid and unjustified and disastrous and wrong. While of course being insulated from any form of popular accountability.

Friday, November 27, 2015



Journalism is not "espionage"

Back in June, Turkish journalists revealed that the Turkish intelligence services were arming Islamist rebels in Syria. And now they're being prosecuted for "espionage":

Two prominent Turkish journalists have been charged with espionage after alleging that Turkey's secret services sent arms to Islamist rebels in Syria.

Can Dundar, the editor-in-chief of Cumhuriyet daily, and Erdem Gul, the paper's Ankara bureau chief, face life imprisonment if found guilty.

[...]

The journalists, who deny the allegations against them, reported that trucks belonging to the Turkish intelligence agency MIT were used to carry weapons to Islamist opposition groups in Syria.

Video footage published alongside their report purported to show Turkish police officers intercepting the trucks and discovering crates containing weapons and ammunition.


So, telling voters what "their" government is doing is officially a crime in Turkey. I guess they're not going to be joining the EU any time soon after all.

Monstrous

Saudi Arabia is reportedly planning a mass-execution of "terrorists":

Saudi authorities appear set in the next few days to carry out a series of beheadings across the country of more than 50 men convicted of terrorism offences. Among those facing execution are three young men who were juveniles when they were arrested.

The publication earlier this week of an article in the newspaper Okaz, which has close links to the Saudi Ministry of the Interior, has convinced families of the accused and concerned human-rights organisations that the executions are imminent.

Sources have said that the plan is to behead the men in several cities across the kingdom, most likely after Friday prayers.


Note that Saudi Arabia defines atheism, questioning islam, and peaceful protest as "terrorism". So they're not just planning to murder people, but to murder them for "crimes" which shouldn't be crimes at all. But apparently some Saudi prince needs to look "strong", and the way you look "strong" is by lining people up in a public square and having your minions hack their heads off. It is simply monstrous.

This is a country which our government is pursuing a free trade agreement with (and bribing people with sheep in order to get it). We shouldn't be. Instead, we should explicitly link trade and human rights, and refuse the former until Saudi Arabia meets basic human rights standards.

Against a common border with Australia

This morning in an editorial the Herald proposes that we resolve our problems with Australia by means of a "common border":

Its proposed solution to that problem was a common border, which appears to mean migrants would face the same criteria for entry to both countries. Those applying under the skills category would need to persuade the (joint) immigration agency they had skills that were in short supply in both countries. That would give New Zealanders priority for filling skill shortages in Australia, and vice versa.
This is an Australian obsession, born of their idea that the trans-Tasman travel arrangement makes New Zealand "a backdoor to Australia". Because obviously, the only reason anyone would want to come here is to gain access to our corrupt, militaristic, racist neighbour. But while the Herald phrases it in terms of rules for skilled migrants, its more far reaching than that. Firstly, it would mean effectively ending immigration from the Pacific, except under limited and exploitative "seasonal guest worker" schemes. Australia's concern is that we have always "let in" far too many brown people, not understanding our connections with the Pacific, the fact that many of them are New Zealand citizens as of right, or indeed that Maori were here first and that there was no genocide here (unlike Australia). A common border effectively means adopting Australia's de facto white Australia policy.

Secondly, of course, it means adopting their refugee policy, under which no-one is effectively allowed to claim (let alone receive) asylum. It means ignoring our obligations under the Refugee Convention, not to mention human rights and the rule of law, and sticking refugees in offshore gulags and torturing them until they "decide" to go "home". In other words, it means actively joining in on a crime against humanity.

I don't think either of these proposals is consistent with New Zealand values or acceptable to New Zealanders. As with the idea of Australian statehood, our answer to a common border should be "no thanks".

More government abuse of the OIA

The Herald has a story this morning about Callaghan Innovation's R&D grants scheme, and a recent report which found the grant rules "ambiguous" and "contradict[ed] the purpose". But buried in there is another case of government abuse of the OIA:

The report by Deloitte emerged out of a dispute between government agency Callaghan Innovation and media firm Trends Publishing that has resulted in High Court challenges and a Serious Fraud Office (SFO) investigation.

[...]

Trends director of special planning Andrew Johnson said Deloitte had been engaged by Callaghan to look into his company at the end of last year, but the funding agency had refused to release an unredacted version of the report.

Johnson provided the Herald with copies of emails where Callaghan staff said in February the section criticising the growth grants scheme was excluded from release under the Official Information Act as it was claimed it related only to "administrative matters between Deloitte and Callaghan Innovation".

However, in subsequent court action an unredacted version of the report was released independently by Deloitte.


This is far more serious than Nick Smith playing the "out of scope" game to cover up National abusing public money to pimp its own MPs - here, a department explicitly lied to a requester about what they were covering up and why. Its simply an outright, flagrant abuse, and we should not tolerate it. But as long as the Ombudsman is too underfunded to investigate, then agencies don't fear being caught, and so will keep pissing on the law.

Thursday, November 26, 2015



Fiddling the OIA

Even the Police Association's Greg O'Connor recognises that the police and wider public sector are fiddling the OIA:

Police and other government departments are reluctant to hand over public information because of potential embarrassment to politicians, says Police Association president Greg O'Connor.

"Anyone who is dealing with the public sector at the moment - there tends to be an attitude of making people work very hard for their Official Information Act information," he said.

[...]

Mr O'Connor said the public service - including police - had adopted a defensive posture when it came to releasing information.

"Commissioners are answerable to ministers as any other CEO in the public sector. The stuff that is going to embarrass government is going to be hidden in official documents or statistics."


This is a problem that everybody seems to recognise, yet nothing is ever done about it. The Ombudsman, who should be hacking into the perpetrators with a flaming sword, seems helpless. And the consequences for confidence in our political system and the rule of law are significant. If the government and public servants can flout the law like this, why shouldn't we?

Ngai Tahu supports dictatorship in Canterbury

The Local Government and Environment Committee is currently hearing submissions in Christchurch on National's latest bill to extend the Canterbury dictatorship. And surprisingly, local iwi Ngai Tahi wants to deny Cantabrians their democratic rights:

Restoring full democratic elections would be a "step backwards" for Canterbury, Ngai Tahu says.

[...]

Ngai Tahu emerged as one of the few groups at the hearing supporting the bill.

It was one of several groups, including Canterbury councils, that asked for government intervention in 2010. The changes resulted in the elected councillors losing their seats.

"The proposal to return to a fully democratically elected model does not provide sufficient recognition towards the Treaty partnership," its submission says.

"It is considered that the proposal would be a step backwards for Canterbury as a number of other regions have moved towards equitable representation for iwi at a governance level."

The iwi supported continuing the mixed model after the 2019 elections, proposing to incorporate three Ngai Tahu appointed commissioners alongside three appointed by the Government.


This is nonsense. If Ngai Tahu is concerned about ensuring iwi representation, it should argue for it. There's more than one way to address that problem, and councils are experimenting with various methods (some have Maori seats, Auckland has a statutory Maori Advisory Board, while Rotorua has an explicit partnership with Te Arawa giving them representation on council committees). There's scope for Ngai Tahu to find a model which works for them. But instead, they're arguing that the democratic rights of other Cantabrians continue to be suppressed and that they continue to be forbidden from controlling their own region. And that is fundamentally anti-democratic and a failure to uphold the Treaty Partnership.

National's RMA "reforms"

This morning the government announced that it had cut a deal with the Maori Party to introduce (and presumably pass) a bill for RMA "reform". The complete bill is here, and I've been going over it. The good news is that National's plans to gut environmental protection by removing environmental values 9and adding a development clause) to the Act's "matters of national importance" is dead. They're adding risks from natural hazards, which is uncontentious, but nothing else. The bad news? They're trying to get it in via the back door by requiring local authorities to ensure they have sufficient "development capacity" through land zoning and infrastructure. Meanwhile, much of their explicitly anti-democratic agenda to reduce public participation and allow the Minister to overrule local communities and dictate plans from Wellington remains unchanged.

They're also using the bill to completely rewrite the EEZ Act to allow the Minister to "call in" applications and appoint stacked boards to produce the desired outcome - exactly as warned by Greenpeace a fortnight ago. So, I guess we'll see those seabed miners back for another go at strip-mining the seafloor, this time with Paula Rebstock collecting a huge government salary to rubberstamp the applications. I'm extremely surprised the Maori Party accepted this, given their professed environmental values, and some pointy questions need to be asked there. Because given their recent complaints about being short of money, the natural suspicion is that another deal has been done...

Compare and contrast

School gets aid despite assets worth millions, Dominion-Post, 13 January 2014:

A high school under investigation by the Ministry of Education for illegal fee-charging has been criticised for being allowed to operate under its own set of rules.

Early last year former private school Wanganui Collegiate was integrated, after a falling roll and increasing debt meant it would fold without a government bail-out.

In 2012 the prestigious decile 10 school was running an expected loss of $800,000 and subject to government providing funding, a Crown Monitor was appointed to oversee its finances until integration went ahead in January last year.

When Wanganui Collegiate applied for integration it said it would likely close without financial support from the Crown, Ministry of Education acting head of sector enablement Marilyn Scott said. "The proprietor acknowledged capital assets were held but not liquid assets that could be used to pay the operational expenses of the school."

According to Wanganui Collegiate's annual report for the year ending March 31, 2013, the college had more than $3 million in freehold land and, in addition, the college grounds were valued at $1.7m.

The school's foundation owns three commercial properties in Wanganui, two of which have rateable values of just under $1m, while the third property, a car park on the corner of Victoria Ave and Glasgow St had a rateable value of $4.75m.


Maori girls school to close after 110 years, New Zealand Herald, 26 November 2015:
A secondary school for Maori girls will be closed after 110 years because of concerns about its debt and governance.

Education Minister Hekia Parata confirmed this morning that Turakina Maori Girls College in Marton, 40km north-west of Palmerston North, would close in January.

Ms Parata said there was "a great deal of goodwill" towards the Decile 3, state-integrated Presbyterian boarding school and she was saddened to have to close it down.

"However, the financial information provided ... doesn't give me confidence that the proprietor is able to clear its debt and become financially viable," she said.


The lesson is clear: if you are rich, white, and worth millions, the government ignores advice to shovel money at you. If you're poor and brown (and for girls), they let you fail. National's racism and pandering to the rich pervades every aspect of policy.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015



Climate Change: A look at our future

Climate change seems like a very abstract problem. Sure, emissions are out of control, our governments seem intent on doing nothing about it for fear of offending the fossil fuel industry, and the effects are all vague and general and very far away anyway. So the met service has decided to make the problem a little more concrete with a weather report from 2050:

A mock weather report looking 35 years into the future has painted a stark picture of a wintry New Zealand, ravaged by extreme conditions including both drought and flooding.

Just days before world leaders meet in Paris to discuss a global climate change deal, a futuristic fake MetService forecast for August 14, 2050 has appeared on social media.

TV meteorologist Chester Lampkin shows that winter temperatures that day ranging from 12C to 20C -- up to 3C warmer than normal for a winter's day.

It shows showers and thunderstorms across Northland, Auckland, and Hamilton, with 70-90mm daily rainfall causing flooding and closures to an "underwater" Northern Motorway, North-Western Motorway, and Tamaki Drive.

Coastal flood warnings are in effect for Auckland's coastline.

Most of Canterbury, meanwhile, is parched and under a fire risk.


If you're planning to be alive in 35 years, this is what you're looking at. John Key and Bill English don't care - they'll be dead, so why act? But the rest of us should care - and should force the government to do something about it.

Satire: $1 million to buy science headlines

Science and Innovation Minister Steven Joyce today announced nearly $1 million of new funding to produce news headlines suggesting that the government is positive about science.

"This government wants to appear positive about science and technology, and I am pleased to be able to announce this additional funding for a second tranche of projects designed to produce headlines saying that," Mr Joyce says.

"We’ve provided funding to the next highest ranked applications that were not able to be funded with the initial $1 million available in 2014/15. We want to support as many of these innovative headline-generating projects as possible.

"This means 25 new projects will be carried out in communities around New Zealand, gencouraging young people to care about science. Some of them will be inspired to go on and study science at university and become the scientists of tomorrow. Of course, they'll be laid off within three years and forced to go overseas or change careers, but the government's target of generating positive headlines about itself will have been achieved".

The Unlocking Curious Minds programme is part of the Government’s strategic plan to encourage all New Zealanders to get engaged with science and technology. It ties in with the innovation and skills stream of the Business Growth Agenda, and the National Statement of Science Investment, which commits to underfunding scientific research.

"The National Government believes that science funding should not be spent funding public good research by scientists," said Mr Joyce. "Instead it is focused on what matters: generating positive spin for itself while leaving the fundamental problem of an under-resourced science sector unaddressed".

Inspired by the Government spending yet more money encouraging young people to pursue careers in science while cutting jobs at the other end of the pipeline.

Vanuatu: Ending the farce

Last month 14 Vanuatu MPs were convicted of bribery and corruption and sentenced to imprisonment, robbing the government of its majority. But rather than accept this and resign, Prime Minister Sato Kilman initially tried to cling to power, refusing to call Parliament to allow a confidence vote. Now, vanuatu's President has ended the farce by dissolving Parliament and calling a snap election:

Vanuatu's president has dissolved the country's parliament in an attempt to resolve an impasse after the conviction of 14 government MPs for bribery.

The 14 MPs lost their appeals against both their convictions and jail sentences last week, forcing them to vacate their parliamentary seats.

The convictions meant the opposition, led by Ham Lini, controlled two-thirds of the remaining seats.

President Baldwin Lonsdale today called a snap election and dissolved the parliament, citing the inability of the prime minister and opposition to form a government of national unity.


And hopefully that's the end of it. A new Parliament can be elected, hopefully of people untainted by corruption, and Vanuatu can finally move on.

Police, censorship, and policy

This morning we learned that the New Zealand Police had "blacklisted" a leading crime researcher from accessing police data, supposedly because he talks to criminals in order to study crime. At face value, its merely Orwellian, or maybe Hellerian, but of course the "associating with criminals" is merely the excuse. The real problem is that the Police don't like what Jarrod Gilbert has been saying about them or crime policy - so they're trying to destroy his career as revenge.

So far, so normal: our police are chronic abusers of power and obsessed with maintaining their own public image. They've shown a willingness to manipulate and fabricate evidence in criminal cases (and continue to endorse those who do so); of course they'll do so to protect themselves from critics. But Dr Gilbert going public has exposed a very real problem with how the police view research and how they can shape our policy debate.

First, the context:

The data sought by Dr Gilbert was for a government research project into "alcohol-related crime and proximity to premises with liquor licences in Christchurch". He was working with a team of five researchers - four with doctorates and two who are full professors.

We would like such questions - and similar ones, such as "is the war on drugs working", or "what sort of policing works best" - to be determined by the evidence. But the police don't permit that. Their research contract is based on a commercial model, rather than a public service one, and so gives them not just a right of review, but also a right to "correct" findings if they are "negative", or to veto publication altogether. And to make it clear that the police only want results they approve of, they explicitly threaten to blacklist the researchers and "any organisations connected to the project ... from access to any further police resources" if they don't like the results.

All this is fine if you're talking about research into what colour of toilet paper people prefer, or which sort of widget sells better - but not so good when you're talking about public interest research like that performed by Dr Gilbert. And when you're talking about public interest research which will be used by or to convince other government agencies about the merits or otherwise of policy proposals, it becomes absolutely toxic. If a line of research does not accord with police preconceptions and whims, then they can censor your results, rewrite them, or even prevent you from doing the research altogether. Which allows them to shape the policy debate to ensure that the outcome matches those pre-conceptions rather than the data. Its policy-based evidence-making!

How much of the law enforcement policy landscape is shaped by this police censorship? We just don't know. But it suggests a rich line of questioning (both of police, and of other government departments) for any journalist who wants to ask.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015



An offer we should refuse

Andrew Little is off to Australia tomorrow, to stick up for kiwis where John Key won't. In response, the Australians are suggesting that we join them and become part of Australia:

Most Australians would support hardworking Kiwis becoming citizens - and if New Zealand wants closer ties it should become his country's seventh and eighth state, an Australian senator who helped review tough new deportation rules says.

Ian Macdonald, who chaired the parliamentary committee that recommended a new law that has led to the detention and deportation of New Zealanders, said Labour leader Andrew Little's calls for, among other improved rights, access to citizenship for Kiwi expats would be uncontroversial with most Australians.

"The issue of closer ties with New Zealand is one beyond any limited expertise I might have, but as an observer...I would love to have New Zealand join us perhaps as the seventh and eighth state - you can have two. And what a wonderful country it would then be, and I wouldn't need a passport to get across to Queenstown with the wineries, it would be great."


No thanks. Because the three words that spring to mind when I think of Australia are racism, militarism and corruption. Australia has an explicitly racist refugee and immigration policy, which uses arbitrary detention, torture and rendition to keep Australia white. Its always first to sign up to America's imperialist wars, which New Zealand wants no part of. And its political culture is utterly toxic and corrupt, with MPs routinely having to be jailed because they seem incapable of obeying laws against taking bribes or corruptly using their influence to pay off their donors. And that is something that we should want no part of. Joining Australia would be turning to the dark side - and its an offer we should refuse.

Fiji: More torture

Another story of torture in Fiji - and once again its the police who are responsible:

Rajneel Singh writhed in pain on his Lautoka Hospital bed last night

The wounds on his body told a gruesome story.

They were slowly healing but Mr Singh, 32, still felt unbearable pain.

It comes admist claims Mr Singh found details of plans to destabilise the Government on a computer in his internet cafe.

The Lautoka internet café owner claimed some Police officers then “tortured” him using “hot rods” and dumped him in a pine forest between Nadi and Sigatoka.

The criss-cross scars on his back (see photo), and burn marks on his hands and legs appear consistent with Mr Singh’s story.

Later, he alleged, officers wanted him to change his statement to say the scars were self-inflicted. He declined and called acting Police Commissioner Brigadier-General Sitiveni Qiliho. He is now being guarded by military officers and Police officers from Suva have been sent to investigate his claims.


Fiji really needs to clean up its police force and start jailing torturers. But with the military back in charge, that's looking unlikely.

This does not inspire confidence

John Key was on the radio this morning, trying to scare us all about terrorists again so we'll fall into line and let the spies do whatever they want. Today's scare: there are "one or two" New Zealanders so dangerous that they're being kept under 24/7 surveillance. Others are being watched specificly because they are raising money for ISIS (which is a serious crime). Which invites the obvious question: why haven't they been arrested?

Asked by Radio New Zealand why authorities did not take action against people who were sending money offshore, Mr Key said: "That's exactly the question I asked my officials: 'If you see someone that looks like they're planning some sort of activity, why can't you deal with it?'

"And the answer I always get from my agencies is that it's not as clear-cut when you get to court. They claim different things, and ... they just wanted absolutely firmer evidence to take them to court."


Right. They spend millions of dollars a year watching these people, who they "know" are involved in terrorism, a criminal activity - and yet they are unable to gather sufficient evidence to secure a conviction in court. Which suggests two options: either they're doing an appallingly bad job of it, or they're watching the wrong people. Either way, it does not inspire confidence that our spies are doing their job properly.

Monday, November 23, 2015



One country at a time

Indonesia has announced a moratorium on executions:

Indonesian presidential chief of staff Luhut Panjaitan made the announcement, saying the country needs to focus on fixing its economy.

The decision comes seven months after the execution of convicted Australian drug traffickers Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran.

"We haven't thought about executing a death penalty with the economic conditions like this," coordinating security minister Luhut Pandjaitan told reporters. He didn't elaborate.


Possibly that's a sign that the Australian boycott of Indonesia over their executions is working.

A moratorium is not repeal, and Indonesia has had moratoriums before them resumed executions. Still, anything that stops them killing people is a Good Thing - and hopefully, this time, it will become permanent.

Vote on the TPPA!

handsup-400px

Last month I highlighted an interest effort to run a DIY referendum on the TPPA. Voting has opened, and you can vote on it here.

The obvious criticism is that a DIY effort has no legal effect. But neither does a referendum under the Citizens Initiated Referenda Act 1993. What it can do is send a message, and help focus public anger if the government ignores that message. So, go ahead and vote - the worst that can happen is that the government ignores it.

New Fisk

Whoa there, David Cameron! Haste and rhetoric is no recipe for peace

Let the rich pay for their own golf courses

Over the weekend, Bernard Hickey pointed out an unpalatable truth: the Auckland Council is giving massive subsidies to the rich. How? By subsidising golf courses:

Did you know that 1400 members of the Remuera Golf Club receive the exclusive benefit of a piece of Auckland Council-owned land valued at up to $517 million?

The club pays rates of $130,000 a year. If up to 70 per cent of that land was broken up and sold for housing and the rest left in parks, it would produce revenues of $16.5 million a year.

That's an annual subsidy of $16.37 million, or $11,700 a member. That includes Prime Minister John Key, who is an honorary member.

Even if each member played 50 rounds a year, that would be a subsidy of $233 per round or $13 a hole.


This is obscene. It is also, in a city facing a serious housing crisis, absolutely unjustifiable. And unfortunately, its a common problem across the country. Here in Palmerston North, for example, the rich are subsidised through rates rebates - which until recently were denied to charities serving the poor.

Cities need public spaces. But golf courses aren't public spaces. Instead, they're exclusive preserves of the well-to-do, the New Zealand equivalent of a medieval English forest. That would be fine of their rich members were paying for them, but they're not. We're paying for it. And we shouldn't be. Auckland should either redevelop its golf courses, or sell them. Either way, the rich can pay for their land-hungry snob-clubs themselves.

Friday, November 20, 2015



Fiji: The military obstructed justice

Ten days ago the Fijian government forced out its police chief over his efforts to prosecute torturing, rapist soldiers. Naturally, the Fijian government lied and said he was departing for "personal reasons". But today, former police commissioner Ben Groenewald has made it clear why he left; because the military obstructed justice:

Fiji's former Police Commissioner has urged his replacement to open an independent criminal investigation against the military officers he says obstructed the course of justice.

In a statement published by Islands Business, Ben Groenewald says the way the military thwarted police efforts to arrest Pita Matairavula, a suspect in the brutal assault of Iowane Benedito, played a big role in his decision to resign last week.

Mr Groenewald, who's back in his homeland of South Africa, says during a meeting where the Prime Minister and the acting commander of the military were present, he informed them that the police were going to arrest the five suspects in the Benedito case.

Four were apprehended the next day but it took several days before Pita Matairavula, a former body guard of the Prime Minister, could be arrested.


The problem? Groenwald's replacement, Colonel Sitiveni Qiliho, is the very person who obstructed the arrests. And its hard to escape the conclusion that he has been put in place to stop the prosecutions and restore military impunity.

This is Fiji's new "democracy": a military regime under a democratic mask, run by the same criminals by all the same methods. Our government should not allow itself to be fooled. Unless the Fijian government demonstrates a clear commitment to human rights and the rule of law, we should restore sanctions on it.

New Fisk

In a borderless world, the days when we could fight foreign wars and be safe at home may be long gone

Climate change: Ignoring a problem doesn't make it go away

Yesterday the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment released a major report on the impacts of sea-level rise on New Zealand. Its a major problem, which threatens to 30,000 homes and businesses and will inflict tens of billions of dollars of economic damage in the fairly near future. The government's response? Do nothing:

Finance Minister Bill English says the Government will not budget for the costs of rising sea levels, despite a call from Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Jan Wright to plan for the cost.

[...]

English said he would not be including sea level rise as a fiscal risk in the Budget "in a hurry".

He said Wright's report was "pretty speculative" both on the level of sea level rise and the likely cost that would incur - and whether that would change any decisions.


So, do nothing to reduce emissions, then do nothing to deal with the effects of that inaction. Instead, dump the costs and the politically unpleasant decisions on someone else (and meanwhile, sell up your coastal property portfolio and dump it on some other sucker). That's pretty much the government's plan. But this is a real problem, and it is already having real effects. Our government has a major role in both minimising the damage caused by and compensating the victims of natural disasters. Well, this is a natural disaster, albeit a slow-motion one. And it is the government's job to do something about it. Which means providing policy tools to allow councils to restrict coastal development and manage retreat, and (in the longer term) compensation for those whose homes will be rendered uninhabitable by the government's continued refusal to act. We do this for earthquakes and for landslides, with building standards and EQC. And we need to adopt the same approach for climate change too.

OTOH, if they don't, these decisions will be made for us by insurance companies, and by nature. If you live in a low-lying area, your home and business will become uninsurable, which will effectively destroy its value overnight (banks won't give you a mortgage unless a property can be insured, so no-one can buy an uninsurable home - which means you can't sell one). And when the rising seas wash away the only road to Eastbourne, its residents will simply have no choice but to move. Ignoring the problem won't make it go away - it will simply make dealing with it harder and more expensive. But I guess if National cared about long-term costs, they would have dealt with this problem (and rotten state houses, and child poverty) long ago.

Thursday, November 19, 2015



Drones feed terrorism

And that's according to the people who murder people with them:

Four former US air force service members, with more than 20 years of experience between them operating military drones, have written an open letter to Barack Obama warning that the program of targeted killings by unmanned aircraft has become a major driving force for Isis and other terrorist groups.

The group of servicemen have issued an impassioned plea to the Obama administration, calling for a rethink of a military tactic that they say has “fueled the feelings of hatred that ignited terrorism and groups like Isis, while also serving as a fundamental recruitment tool similar to Guantánamo Bay”.

In particular, they argue, the killing of innocent civilians in drone airstrikes has acted as one of the most “devastating driving forces for terrorism and destabilization around the world”.


There's more, but its basicly what we've known all along: that you don't defeat terrorism with terror. You don't defeat murder with murder. Instead, that just gives you an ongoing problem where your efforts to solve it continue to feed the cycle and make it worse. And the only people who do well out of that are terrorists, militaries, and the parasitic industries who feed them.

Urgent?

Last year, National rammed through a new anti-terror law, giving the Minister of Internal Affairs new temporary powers to cancel passports without notification and for an extended period. We were told this was urgent - so urgent that a select committee couldn't be permitted time to read the submissions on the bill - but was it really?

If the law was urgent, you would have expected those powers to have been used immediately after its passage. So were they? Of course not. Here's the Department of Internal Affairs' statutory declaration on its annual use of passport cancellation powers from its Annual Report:
passports2014
Note that that's under sections 4A and 8A, not the schedule. The conclusion: these "urgent" powers have not been used. That's good - people's rights have not been abused. And yet it suggests strongly that there was simply no case for urgency, and casts doubt on whether they were ever necessary in the first place. National abused our Parliament and our democracy to pass this law. They told us it was urgent and necessary to prevent imminent terrorist threats. And yet whenever we've checked that claim - on emergency warrantless surveillance, on whether DIA had ever had trouble extending a passport revocation in the courts, and now on urgent passport cancellation, we find that it was not necessary and that new powers have not been used. The obvious conclusion: the whole law was not justified, but was simply a power grab by the SIS to increase their budget and shift the status quo ahead of a statutory review which might have been unwilling to grant new powers (but would be less willing to remove existing ones). And National let themselves be played like a fiddle. The other obvious conclusion: it should be repealed.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015



New Fisk

Francois Hollande's 'war' with Isis won't stand in the way of France's arms deals with Saudi Arabia

Open Government: Compare and contrast

In late 2013 New Zealand announced it would be joining the Open Government Partnership. One of the core requirements of OGP membership is the co-creation with civil society of a National Action Plan, setting out targets and benchmarks for open government measures. The New Zealand government did this wrong from the very beginning, running a mockery of a consultation process which (they advised) "does not provide communities with the opportunity to comment on the development or content of the Action Plan".

Meanwhile, over the Tasman, Australia has announced it will be re-joining the OGP (after secretive Tony Abbot withdrew from the application process). They're currently developing their National Action Plan. So how are they doing it? With a six-month, multi-phase consultation process which solicits and votes on commitments from civil society. The government will still have the final word based on "what is possible and practical to endorse", but everything that was suggested (and turned down) will be public and part of their reporting on the process. The difference with New Zealand's process - which basicly pre-decided everything then ran a box-ticking "consultation exercise" as cover - couldn't be starker.

According to the OGP's timeline, New Zealand is supposed to start developing its second action plan early next year. Hopefully they'll learn some lessons from the past and use the Australian process, rather than simply seeking to have us endorse government's ideas of "open government".

Abusing language to avoid the BORA

When is a punishment not a punishment? When its convenient for the government, of course! That's the take-home message of Attorney-General Chris Finlayson's Bill of Rights advice on National's Returning Offenders (Management and Information) Bill. The bill subjects people deported to New Zealand after serving a criminal sentence to a period of parole, involving restrictions on freedom of association, movement, and assembly. It does so explicitly because they have been convicted of a crime in a foreign court. But according to Finlayson, "none of the standard or special conditions have a punitive character". Bullshit. People's freedoms will be restricted as a result of criminal offending. That's a punishment. Pretending otherwise is simply an abuse of language. And by imposing such restrictions, the government will be either punishing people without trial, in contravention of basic norms of justice, or punishing them again for the same offence, in violation of s26 BORA.

Sadly this is part of a growing tradition of pretending things aren't punishments in order to evade the BORA in New Zealand. Asset forfeiture without conviction? "Not a punishment". Civil detention for high profile criminals the government doesn't want bad "high profile criminal released" headlines from? "Not a punishment". But they are, and no amount of pretending will change that, or change the real feeling of those victimised by such regimes that they are being punished by the state for their behaviour. And if we subjected politicians to the same regimes - took their stuff without trial because they were "bad", locked them up because we didn't like them, or subjected them to parole on their departure from parliament to assist their re-integration into society after their political institutionalisation - I have no doubt that they would agree.

National's New Zealand: Mass unemployment forever

Welcome to National's New Zealand, where business expects mass unemployment forever:

Business leaders and economists are signalling there will be no drop in unemployment for the next two years.

At the start of November figures from Statistics New Zealand showed unemployment hit 6 per cent in the September quarter, the highest level in 18 months, following a surprise drop in the workforce.

On Tuesday the Reserve Bank's quarterly survey of expectations, which gathers economic predictions from economists and business and industry leaders, showed no relief is in sight.

The survey showed participants expect unemployment to be 6.18 per cent in 12 months and 6.01 per cent in two years.

In each of the last four surveys expectations for unemployment have been rising, with the last survey in August predicting unemployment would be about 5.8 per cent in 2016 and 2017.


This is only a survey, and business could be wrong. But it does make their expectations clear - and they clearly have lost faith in National's ability to deliver jobs. Or want them not to. Because as the article points out, high unemployment isn't actually bad for business - it leads to "subdued wage inflation pressures". Or, in English, lower wages for you and higher profits for your boss. Which is exactly the policy goal. Because despite all Bill English's denials, high unemployment is government policy, something they have chosen to have. And if we want to change that choice, and see people back in jobs, we are going to need to change the government.

Outrageous and unbelieveable

That's the only response to this morning's news that Anne Tolley wanted to pay Paula Rebstock $3,000 a day to tell her how to further victimise the poor. Its an obscene amount of money, and getting it so you tell the government how to shit on people who get that in 3 months simply makes it more obscene. And it really makes you wonder what Rebstock has got on Tolley to make her offer so much.

But it gets worse;

Based on a standard eight hour work day, that constitutes a rate of $375 an hour: three times the normal maximum daily fee specified by Cabinet's guidelines.

State Services Minister Paula Bennett, objected, saying it was out of line.

[...]

Mrs Tolley said she was prepared to pay for the best, but now realised her request wasn't justifiable.

"Well it wasn't in the end, and we renegotiated. The papers show [Mrs Bennett] came back to me, saying it was way out of kilter - I had no idea there was a structure in place," she said.


"I had no idea there was a structure in place"? Tolley has been a Minister for seven years. In that time she's been Minister of Education, Tertiary Education, and now Social Development. In that time, she's made dozens of appointments. And she "had no idea there was a structure in place"? Bullshit. The fee structure is clearly set out in a Cabinet Office Circular, and its her job to know it. If, after seven years, she's still ignorant of the basics of that job, then I think its time we got a new Minister.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015



Urgency for abuse

The House has just gone into urgency for two key (for the government) bills - the first to punish retroactively people who have already been punished, the second to steal from the poor.

The first bill is the government's returning offenders legislation, designed to impose "parole-like conditions" on New Zealanders deported from Australia after serving their sentences. This means not just a host of invasions of privacy such as taking fingerprints and DNA, but also restrictions on where and how they live and the ability to recall them to jail:

Those who breached the conditions would be "dealt with as any other offender" and could be put back in prison, she said.
But, as noted above, these are people who have already completed their sentence. They've done their time, been deported - and now the government is proposing that they be punished again through invasion of privacy, conditions, and possible jail - for a crime they have already been punished for. And this, pretty obviously, violates s26(2) of the Bill of Rights Act:
No one who has been finally acquitted or convicted of, or pardoned for, an offence shall be tried or punished for it again.
[Emphasis added]

And yet, somehow, the bill failed to attract a section 7 report from the Attorney-General. Benefits of urgency, I guess. But once again, we're seeing all-stages urgency being used by National to pass a bill repugnant to our constitution and to basic standards of justice. And once again, its a strong argument that parliament simply is not fit to decide such things, and that they need proper supervision by the courts.

The other major bill they're passing under all-stages urgency is a bill to steal from the poor. For 18 years, WINZ deliberately underpaid beneficiaries, robbing them of a day every time they signed up for a benefit. And then when they were caught, the government's solution is not to pay people what they are owed, but to legislate retrospectively to legalise this theft. It is unfair, and it is unjust, to rob from the poorest New Zealanders. But isn't it so very, very National? And isn't it so very, very National to bring Parliament into disrepute by committing such theft under the cloak of urgency?

Today's must-read

The Spinoff's Nigel McNie on The Bullshit and Myths of Online Voting. Its a great read, and highlights exactly why we should not go down this mad path.

New Fisk

France’s unresolved Algerian war sheds light on the Paris attack

No crisis should go to waste

Over the weekend, ISIS gunmen murdered over 120 people in Paris. So naturally, Five Eyes governments are exploiting that crime to undermine our Privacy. In the US, the spies used those dead bodies to immediately demand a ban on encryption. In the UK, politicians did the same. And here in New Zealand, "our" Attorney-General Chris Finlayson immediately fell into line:



Encryption protects your communications and keeps them private - and its the best thing you can do to stop the spooks from casually spying on you. It also protects your internet banking, your online credit card transactions, the New Zealand government's RealMe online authentication service and its planned experiments with online voting. Banning it, or compromising it, means that all of those things are unprotected. It means criminals being able to rob you, use your credit card, and steal your identity. It means hackers, criminals, political parties and foreign governments will be able to fix our elections. But hey, the spies will be able to watch them while they do all of that - then arrest you for it.

Banning or compromising encryption is the stupidest idea ever. It leaves us naked and defenceless on the internet. Clearly, that's how our increasingly totalitarian governments want us - their underlying axiom here seems to be that none of us should ever be allowed to have a private conversation without them listening in. But I doubt that any of us wants that, any more than we think we should all have to go to the mall naked to prevent Paris-style attacks. But if we don't want our governments to exploit this crisis to advance their own agenda, we need to stand up to them. And we need to de-elect every quisling politician who advocates for the spies and their surveillance dystopia.

Monday, November 16, 2015



A huge implementation problem

The government introduced its bill today to collect GST from online services. The basic idea is that overseas suppliers of e-books, video, software and other intangibles will be required to register for GST, and charge it to NZ customers, if they do more than NZ$60,000 of business with New Zealanders a year. Its a reasonable measure, designed to plug the hole in government finances posed by the internet, and one I support. At the same time, there's an obvious problem with requiring e-tailers to register: what if they don't? What if they instead decide that its just too much hassle to deal with the NZ government for that amount of custom, and simply start geo-blocking or refusing transactions with NZ customers? This already happens for physical products for businesses who don't want to think about postage, so its a real possibility. And it basicly puts kiwis in the position of either not buying the stuff they want, or becoming tax cheats.

To give a concrete example: as some of you may have worked out by now, I'm a gamer. The past decade has seen a real shift in roleplaying games from physical to digital products, and the online market is dominated by two quasi-monopoly providers: DriveThruRPG and Kickstarter. While there are other providers, a lot of products are listed on only these platforms. I'm fairly certain both will be well above the threshold, but what if they refuse to register? I'm faced with basicly three choices: give up my hobby, piracy, or tax evasion. Which is a pretty uncomfortable place for the government to put me.

While I'm not a computer gamer, I expect a similar question arises with major online game delivery systems such as Steam.

As Netflix's attempts at geoblocking showed us, the internet finds solutions for geographical problems - which means tax fraud will be a very easy option. But is the New Zealand government really going to try and criminalise people (with a penalty of five years imprisonment and a $50,000 fine) for evading website geoblocking to buy stuff? Doesn't that seem disproportionate and draconian?

If offshore websites register, that's great. But if they don't, punishing New Zealanders who do the internet thing and keep on buying stuff from them simply isn't on.

Meanwhile, on Christmas Island

Something I missed on Friday: how Australia is treating kiwis detained on Christmas Island: sticking them in cages and starving them:

Detainees who had nothing to do with the riot on Christmas Island were kept in cages, denied food and water and forced to urinate on the ground for more than 24 hours after police regained control of the facility, according to migration agent Marion Le.

[...]

"Those who were not involved in the riots and indeed were cowering unprotected in fear are being punished for simply being there," Ms Le wrote in a separate email to Immigration and Border Protection Department head Michael Pezzullo.

Her account is at odds with the department's official version, which asserts: "All detainees have been provided with food, water and shelter throughout the unrest at the centre."

Ms Le says her client was permitted to leave the "cage" he shared with some 40 others only after he agreed to be strip-searched, the day after order was restored to the centre.

"There has not been enough food and water, for some time some of them were in cages and with nowhere to pass urine or defecate except on the ground within the cages shared by up to 40 people," she writes in the email.


And they can do this in part because we don't have anyone there watching and standing up for the rights of our citizens (and everybody else) - because our Prime Minister is too craven to send anyone.

Again, we should not call a country which does such things a friend, and we certainly shouldn't be supporting them for a position on the UN Human Rights Council.

New Fisk

Beirut bombing: Hezbollah threatens ‘long war’ as Lebanese capital reels from deadliest terror attack in years
'We remain blindfolded about Isis' says the man who should know

Paris

Over the weekend we were all horrified by the terrorist attacks in Paris. 132 people are dead (so far), over 350 injured. ISIS has already claimed responsibility, and made it clear why: because France is bombing them in Iraq and Syria.

The deliberate targeting of civilians is a violation of international law and a war crime - something western nations largely observe in the breach - and those responsible should be held to account in The Hague for that crime. But still: war is not a one-way relationship. When the citizens of France allowed their government to go to war in Iraq and Syria, they invited retaliation. And over the weekend, they received it. We've got used in the west to thinking that war is cost free, that the jets go out and rain down their bombs and its other people's children who die. We're wrong. When you try and kill someone, you invite them to kill you back. And they might not adhere to the rules we've forced our governments to pay lip service to.

Meanwhile, France's response to these attacks is more bombing, another invitation. And so round and round it fucking goes...

The other expected response - demanded but not yet implemented - is a further crackdown on French Muslims, with the usual arrests, trials, deportation, spying and abuses. This would be the height of stupidity. France's Muslim community are as appalled by these murders as everybody else. But nothing changes minds like oppression, and history abounds with examples of how government "anti-terror" campaigns turned sympathetic populations into bitter enemies and drove rather than prevented terrorist recruitment. The Fenian Brotherhood fed off British oppression in the wake of its risings, the British lost Ireland because they arrested and executed so many people after the Easter Rising, and (more recently) Australia now has a problem with homegrown Islamic terrorism because they set out to prevent one. France has not yet made this mistake. Sadly, given their past behaviour and present oppression of Muslims, its likely they will. And once again, it will be civilians who will pay the price for government stupidity.

Friday, November 13, 2015



Gagging the gulags

Australia claims it did nothing wrong when it stormed the Christmas Island gulag. If that's the case, though, why have they taken away everybody's phones?

Immigration detainees on Christmas Island have had their mobile phones confiscated, restricting their ability to contact family, lawyers and journalists.

All detainees at the island's detention centre were stripped of their phones following three days of rioting sparked by the death of Iranian Kurd asylum seeker Fazel Chegeni.

The Department of Immigration and Border Protection confirmed phones had been seized for "security reasons" after Australian Federal Police and guards brought the centre under control on Tuesday.

"Following the disturbance mobile telephones and other personal belongings were removed from detainees temporarily for security reasons," a spokesman said.

The spokesman would not say if or when the phones would be returned.


Pretty obviously, Australia is afraid of what these people will say, both about the riot, and their treatment. And so they're gagging them. They've already done this with refugees, and now they're doing it to transportees - many of whom have done absolutely nothing wrong and have never been convicted of any crime (remember, half the detainees are being transported for "poor character" - which seems to mean "having brown skin". Australia really is a racist shithole).

Our government should be speaking up about this. It should have people on the ground to vigorously represent for the interests of our citizens and protect them from abuse, and it should be speaking out loudly about Australia's racist and unfair deportation policy. As for the rest of us, we should take Peter Dunne's advice and vote with our feet and our wallets: don't visit Australia and don't buy Australian until it starts behaving like a civilised country again.

More crony appointments

Yesterday must have been cronyism day, with National making two crony appointments. First, they appointed former National MP Tau Henare to the board of Housing New Zealand. Secondly, they appointed former Energy Minister Phil Heatley to the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority.

Just another example of how National abuses public money - this time to feather the nests of its retired MPs.

Something is wrong in our public service

Two stories from today's Herald illustrate the decline in our public service under National. First, news that the Ministry of Education pressured the (supposedly independent) Education Review Office to rewrite a report to prevent criticism of their Minister:

A damning report by an education watchdog about babies and toddlers was partially rewritten after high-level meetings about its "risk" to the Government.

Documents show Ministry of Education advisers also tried to mitigate the impact of the Education Review Office report by planting good-news stories to balance negative media coverage, and carefully crafting a communications "narrative" during "war-room" meetings before its release.

[...]

Its imminent release sparked a flurry of activity at the ministry, including meetings with ERO and internal "war rooms" about risks, after which a message was sent by a communications manager saying the report was being rewritten - one day before its intended release - to "put the onus of responsibility more firmly on providers".

Sources say the ministry wanted the report "reframed" as it was seen as a threat to the Government and could have potentially embarrassed the minister, Hekia Parata.

But its not the role of public servants to protect the Minister from embarrassment. They're supposed to be politically neutral, not Ministerial PR flacks. And the fallout from this is that it is clear that ERO reports will be rewritten to suit the political needs of the Minister, meaning that we can simply no longer rely on them in shaping education policy (or rather, that we might as well treat them like material from lobbyists - in this case, lobbyists for the National Party).

Meanwhile, the National Party is abusing public money for electoral purposes, and abusing the OIA in an effort to hide that fact:
Housing officials tried to hide a National MP's attempt to use a Government housing roadshow to raise her own public profile, documents show.

The Labour Party said National list MP Parmjeet Parmar was guilty of trying to use taxpayer money for political campaigning, and officials had been caught red-handed trying to cover it up.

Documents released to Labour MP Kris Faafoi revealed Dr Parmar wanted to co-host a meeting for the Government's HomeStart programme near Mt Roskill, where a by-election will be triggered when current MP Phil Goff runs for the Auckland Mayoralty.

"Parmjeet Parmar has ... expressed a keen interest in hosting a roadshow as she is keen to raise local profile in Mt Roskill in case of a by-election," an email from Housing Minister Nick Smith's private secretary said.

Dr Parmar wanted to support the event with billboards and letters, the email said. Officials said a roadshow meeting in Onehunga would be a good location because it was close to the boundary with Mt Roskill.

And this was planned and pushed for not by Smith, not by his Ministerial Advisor, a hired political hack, but by his private secretary - a public servant supposedly committed to public service neutrality. And then, to top it all off, they then played the "out of scope" game to try and hide these discussions from an OIA request. So, an attempt to corruptly use the machinery of government for political purposes, and an abuse of the OIA as well.

(As a matter of policy, if the government releases a document with "out of scope" withholds, you should always request a clean copy just to see what they're trying to hide. They waste our time, we waste theirs...)

Both of these stories point to an increasing politicisation of our public service and its increasing distortion to serve National's political and electoral goals. This makes a mockery of the idea of a neutral public service. And the result will be a loss of public confidence in the public service, and the risk of a lot of sackings next time there is a change of government.

Update: The story on the ERO report has been pulled, resulting in this apology. An OIA has been dispatched in an effort to excavate the internal reaction to the story and the threats that were made. Meanwhile, you can read the original story (and the supporting OIA docs) here.

Thursday, November 12, 2015



How the Ombudsman has undermined Ministerial accountability to Parliament

One of the things you notice when watching Question Time is how Ministers only know what it is politically convenient to know. Whenever they're asked a specific statistical question where the answer would be embarrassing - say, how many New Zealanders currently detained on Christmas Island currently have convictions for rape or murder (zero), or how many eligible children did not receive an early intervention service within 90 days of referral last year - they refuse to answer and profess ignorance. Even when it is unbelieveable that they have not been briefed and do not have the number right in front of them. Even when they have that very day provided that very answer to the member asking the question in an OIA response or response to a written question.

They do this because they know they can get away with it. And they know they can get away with it because this abuse is specifically protected by the Ombudsman.

Let me explain. When Ministers are asked a question in Question Time, they are given the primary question in advance. That's part of the basic procedures of the House, and it ensures that the Minister can prepare and have appropriate information to hand. What this means in practice is that their departments prepare a briefing of relevant information, which includes information on possible supplementary questions that may be asked. Ministers use these briefings (as well as other material, like whatever has come down from Crosby-Textor) in deciding how to answer in the House.

These briefings are Official Information in terms of the Official Information Act. They are held by Ministers and by departments. They can be requested. but they will never be released. That's because of a ruling by the Ombudsman - summarised in this 2002 Ombudsman's Quarterly Report - that says that there is almost always good reason to withhold them:

In the first case [of a request to a department for draft answers], s9(2)(f)(iv) of the OIA was found to apply. This was because Ministers must be free to make their own decisions as to the most appropriate manner in which to answer a question. They are then accountable to Parliament for the response actually given.

Any advice tendered by officials to assist Ministers prepare answers to Parliamentary questions is advice tendered in confidence. Releasing draft answers would undermine the ability of Ministers to determine the manner in which questions should be answered.

If draft answers were released, it was considered that Ministers would be less likely to seek the advice of their departments in the future, which would diminish the quality of information provided to the House.

For these reasons, draft answers from departments will usually be protected by s9(2)(f)(iv).

[Link added]

And so the OIA's most dubious clause - the sniffy, feudal "can't have dirty peasants looking over our shoulders" confidential advice clause - effectively gives Ministers licence to lie to Parliament, and to the public, with impunity. They can profess ignorance to any inconvenient fact, because the Ombudsman has granted them protection from being shown to be liars.

This is inconsistent with the purposes of the Act. It does not promote the accountability of Ministers of the Crown and officials. It does not promote the good government of New Zealand. Beyond the purposes of the Act, it does not enhance our democracy or respect for Parliament.

If a Minister does not know the answer to a clear question connected with the primary, there are two possible reasons: either they are lying, or their department are incompetent and have failed to brief them. Either way, this is something we deserve to know, and which we would be manifestly better off by knowing. The Ombudsman needs to rethink their decision, the sole effect of which is to protect deceitful Ministers and incompetent departments. And to give them a chance to do so, I'm filing some OIA requests today for draft responses to Parliamentary questions, with the specific intention of complaining when refused. I'll keep you posted on the results.

Protecting New Zealand homebuyers

Today Phil Twyford's Overseas Investment (Protection of New Zealand Homebuyers) Amendment Bill was drawn from the ballot. This has prompted the expected outpouring on Twitter of comments about "Chinese names" and so on, which Twyford has brought upon himself and fully deserves. But what does the bill actually do?

Simple: it requires people buying New Zealand houses to either build new ones, or actually live here, either permanently or temporarily.

And that's a completely defensible idea. Homes are not some sort of abstract financial instrument to provide tax-free capital gains to absentee foreign speculators - they're for people to live in. At the moment, their utility as the former seems to be undermining the latter. And that's something a competent government which cared about its people (rather than foreign, tax-cheating speculators) would do something about.

As for the nitty-gritty, the core provisions largely mirror existing provisions relating to sensitive land. There's no obvious fish-hooks or errors. And there's a regulations clause allowing the Minister to exempt applicants from particular countries from this part of the Act (which would enable compliance with various FTAs). Its also worth noting that people who are ordinarily resident in New Zealand are not "overseas persons" in terms of the Act, and simply will not be affected (and rightly so; permanent residents are already kiwis. They can vote, FFS). The law only applies to absentee property speculators, people who have no intention of living in the houses they buy.

Overall, this looks like a good, sensible, perfectly defensible measure. So naturally, National will vote it down to protect its foreign friends.

Drawn

A ballot for four member's bills was held today and the following bills were drawn:

  • Commerce (Supermarket Adjudicator and Code of Conduct) Amendment Bill (Mojo Mathers)
  • Overseas Investment (Protection of New Zealand Homebuyers) Amendment Bill (Phil Twyford)
  • Oaths and Declarations (Endorsing the Principles of the Treaty of Waitangi) Amendment Bill (Marama Fox)
  • Social Security (Stopping Benefit Payments for Offenders who Repeatedly Fail to Comply with Community Sentences) Amendment Bill (Mark Mitchell)
Today was the biggest ballot ever, at 78 bills. But despite packing the ballot with inconsequential tweaks, National managed to get only one bill drawn (and that one an actual serious bill to promote crime). Meanwhile, we'll finally get a chance to remedy the cultural imperialism whereby New Zealanders are forced to swear allegiance to a foreign monarch rather than anything really kiwi. But sadly, while it will be debated, NZ First won't vote for it, and I can't imagine National doing so either. So that business will have to wait for a future Labour government to be resolved.

More dictatorship from National

Back in 2012, National passed the Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf (Environmental Effects) Act 2012, which gave the Environmental Protection Agency the job of safeguarding our marine environment. Contrary to expectations, the EPA actually did that job, rejecting two high-profile seabed mining applications due to their uncertain or adverse effects. The mining industry was outraged - and so they're getting National to change the law to enable the Minister to effectively decide consents by handpicking cronies as decision-makers:

A “dirty deal” between big business and the Government to sideline the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and strip it of some of its powers is being considered after the watchdog declined two seabed mining applications.

ONE News revealed the deal could remove the EPA’s power to appoint an independent board to assess marine mining applications, and instead the Minister for the Environment, Nick Smith, would hand pick the board of inquiry himself.

Greenpeace Executive Director, Dr Russel Norman, was interviewed during the news segment and calls the move a “dirty back-door deal” that takes any integrity out of the process.


The EPA's independence over consent processes is currently guaranteed by statute. Section 14 of the EEZ Act states that
The Minister may not give a direction under section 103 of the Crown Entities Act 2004 that relates to the exercise of any power, duty, or function of the Environmental Protection Authority [to decide applications for marine consents]

National passed that law. But now that an independent body isn't giving their donors the decisions they want, they want to revoke it. Its not just another example of National's dictatorial tendencies - it smells of corruption.

Today's must-reads

While I blogged about the Speaker doubling down on bias yesterday, I didn't blog about the real news: the mass silencing, ejection and walkout of female MPs. The reason for that is that, to be honest, I didn't feel that I could do it justice. Fortunately, there are people who can:

Read them, then tune in to Parliament at 2pm to see if the Speaker will apologise for his outrageous behaviour yesterday.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015



Trans-Tasman relations

How much damage is Australia's indefinite detention of (frequently innocent) New Zealanders in its offshore gulags doing to Australian-New Zealand relations? This much:

A group of activists protesting the detainment of New Zealanders on Christmas Island have stormed the Australian Consulate in Auckland.

About 50 protesters were present at Wednesday's demonstration.

An agreement had been made that the group was allowed to protest peacefully outside the Consulate in downtown Auckland and one person was allowed to come onto the grounds to hand over a document at the end of the demonstration.

However, a group of about 20 protesters followed that person through the open gates and entered the building.

They stood in the building's atrium yelling "shame" and "stand up and fight back when human rights are under attack".


Australia is what we think of as our closest neighbour, our best friend. And now, they've made themselves so reviled that people are storming their consulates. But then, that's what happens when people open their eyes and realise that Australia really isn't the place it once was, and that its now an angry violent bullying drunk of a country - and nobody's friend anymore.

Doubling down on bias

David Carter's bias as Speaker has been a matter of public record for a long time now, but came to a head yesterday after his outrageous behaviour in allowing John Key to accuse the opposition of backing rapists. And in response to the opposition 9and public commentators) callign him on it, National's Speaker has doubled down, dragging both the Leader of the Opposition Andrew Little and Labour's chief whip Chris Hipkins before the Privileges Committee for comments made outside the House.

This is permitted by Standing Order 410(o), which gives as an example of breach of privilege

reflecting on the character or conduct of the House or of a member in the member’s capacity as a member of the House

I've long argued that this is rule is inconsistent with democracy and with freedom of speech in a free and democratic society. While the need to maintain order in the House means there's a need for such a rule in the debating chamber, in a democratic society there's absolutely no justification for such a rule outside of it. And it speaks volumes that its primary use thus far has been to punish a member of the public who criticised Peter Dunne's relationship with the liquor and tobacco industries. Now, its being used specificly to target members of the opposition for comments made outside the House. What are we, Nauru?

As for the process, Little and Hipkins will now be dragged before the Privileges Committee - a political kangaroo court with whipped votes. Its not a court, and there's no possibility of a fair hearing - whipped voting sees to that - and there's a high likelihood that they will be convicted on the (National) chair's casting vote. This is what passes for "justice" in our Parliament.

Of course, if the Speaker really felt that his character had been harmed by these allegations, he could sue for defamation. The fact that he and his party have instead chosen to pursue matters through the privileges committee tells us everything we need to know: he won't sue because he won't win. And he won't win because the fundamental allegation is true: he is biased, a patsy of his party. And no amount of show trials and forced, insincere apologies and extorted fines can disguise that.

Fiji: Ending police independence

During the coup years, Fiji's military thugs committed several high-profile atrocities, beating, torturing, raping and on a few occasions murdering their victims. Fiji's post-coup police chief, Ben Groenewald, has been relentless in pursuing these thugs, and finally managed to get the most outrageous abusers charged. In retaliation, the Fijian government has forced him out:

Fiji's Police Commissioner Ben Groenewald has resigned and been replaced by Fiji's land force commander Colonel Sitiveni Qiliho as Acting Police Commissioner.

Mr Groenewald told the ABC he was not happy with the way the Fiji military was interfering with policing.

His departure was indirectly due to a standoff with the military over policing matters, he said.

Mr Groenewald, who described himself as a true-blooded policeman, said he was not satisfied with the way they interfered.

In a statement, the Fiji government said Mr Groenewald was leaving for personal and family reasons.


The Fijian military has actively shielded suspects from arrest and has now hired three former police officers accused of rape and torture. There's an attitude of impunity and, with a non-independent judiciary, a strong suspicion that the trials will be a farce with judges directed to acquit. And Groenewald's departure suggests that that is exactly what is going to happen.

Voting down Portugals coup

Last month, Portugal went to the polls, giving a Parliamentary majority to a left-wing Socialist-Communist-Left Bloc coalition. But rather than allowing the winners of the election to form a government, Portugal's conservative president attempted a legal coup by re-appointing the loser, Pedro Passos Coelho, as Prime Minister.

Today, that loser's "government" was inevitably ousted in a confidence vote:

A surprise alliance of leftwing parties with a mission to “turn the page” on austerity has ousted Portugal’s centre-right government barely 11 days after it took power.

The moderate centre-left Socialist party forged an unprecedented alliance with the smaller Communist party and the radical Left Bloc, linked to Greece’s anti-austerity Syriza party, and used a parliamentary vote on policy to force the government to resign on Tuesday.

The Socialist leader, António Costa, 54, is now expected to become prime minister in the coming weeks with a broad, leftwing coalition government, which hopes to ease austerity while still adhering to European Union rules.


There's a few problems with this - the alliance isn't a "surprise", but one that had been offered to voters and won a majority at election time. And while we'd all expect the Socialist leader, or someone with the backing of that coalition, to become Prime Minister, Portugal's crazy constitution does not actually require it. Portugal's anti-democratic President, who has made it clear that he opposes any government which might roll back austerity on "stability" grounds, could simply re-appoint Coelho again as a caretaker pending elections next year - effectively, force the Portuguese people to vote until they get it right. So, we now get to wait and see whether Portugal's President will respect democracy - or effectively declare himself a dictator.

But whatever the outcome, Portugal clearly needs constitutional change to limit the power of the president and ensure that this anti-democratic outrage never happens again.

Member's Day

Today is a Member's Day, and one with a solid slate of first readings. First up is Gareth Hughes' Electricity Industry (Small-Scale Renewable Distributed Generation) Amendment Bill, aimed at giving a fair go to household solar. Following that is Carmel Sepuloni's Social Security (Pathway to Work) Amendment Bill, which does the same for beneficiaries wanting part-time work; based on past votes there might be a majority for that one, though National will likely oppose it because its good for the poor (who should both work and be penalised for doing so, or some such "logic"). Next is James Shaw's Climate Change (Divestment from Fossil Fuels) Bill, which is about insulating government finances from the carbon bubble. Its a prudent measure as well as a strong political statement, so National and its cronies will probably vote it down. Fourth up is Clare Curran's Telecommunications (Interception Capability and Security) Amendment Bill, an utterly mild bill which merely requires that the Minister appoint a Technical Advisory Board to help them understand the complexities of teh internetz and the consequences of the GCSB's demands. That'll be voted down too. Finally, there's Winston Peters' Affordable Healthcare Bill, which contrary to the title is about raising the price of healthcare to new migrants and making them second-class citizens. That one will fail too, but it will be interesting to see whether Labour votes for an explicitly racist measure in the name of snuggling up to Winston's racists.

If all goes according to schedule, there should be a ballot for four bills tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015



Sack the Speaker

Today saw the most appalling behaviour in the House I can remember, with John Key responding to questions about his weakness in the face of Australian abuse of New Zealanders by accusing the opposition of supporting rapists. This is obviously highly offensive and exactly the sort of thing (like calling someone a "gutless little quisling") that tends to lead to disorder in the House. And yet Speaker Carter did nothing, and invited opposition members offended by it to leave.

And so they did. You can watch the whole sorry business on In the House, if you can stomach it, but its exactly the sort of thing that reminds kiwis of why we hate politicians.

At the end of Question Time, Labour filed back in, and sought leave for a motion of no confidence in the Speaker. National denied it to protect him, because after today they weren't sure that it wouldn't pass. But the mere fact that it has been lodged shows that Carter does not have the confidence of the House as a whole. His partisan hackery, incompetence, and desire to protect his caucus mates and turn a blind eye to their offences has gone too far.

Lets be very clear: Carter is not the "Speaker of the House" - he is National's Speaker, the "Speaker for the National Party". And that's just not sustainable. He should resign, or the House should sack him.

The spies' PR blitz

Last night, TVNZ's Andrea Vance highlighted the convergance of PR strategies among Five Eyes intelligence agencies - its as if they're swapping PR tips and working to an agreed plan to increase the social licence for mass surveillance and invasion of privacy. Meanwhile, the NZ Council for Civil Liberties published the New Zealand Intelligence Community's Draft NZIC Communications Strategy 2014-2017. Which is a very interesting document. The NZIC has a "Strategic Communications Group" whose core role includes "building awareness and understanding of the role and value of the community" and "Building the reputation, authority and trust of the leadership of the NZIC". That is, convincing the public that spying is necessary and that we can trust them. And they're spending public money to do this. Which is getting fairly Orwellian. Its not as obvious as the sort of propaganda campaigns used in totalitarian states, but it differs only in tactics, not objectives. Trust the Secret Police! The Secret Police are your Friends!

There's a lot of detail there, including key messages and stakeholders (which does not list the public, the very people they are seeking to convince), but the most interesting bit is the detailed work programme. Which reveals that

  • NZIC has been conducting "regular polls" to get a view of how the public sees them and massage their messages. Naturally, we're paying for this.
  • They have been briefing "key editors/journalists" to "clarify incorrect assumptions" and on "values, threats, staff". We're paying for this too.
  • They've been deliberately placing editorials on cyber security incidents, and are seeking an international commentator or expert to talk up the threat of foreign fighters.
  • They're planning a "museum exhibition" which will "help deliver our key messages". While the venue has been redacted (for "negotiations"), its almost certainly Te Papa. So, our national museum will be hosting an explicit government propaganda exhibition.
There's also a host of options for OIA requests. Who is doing their polling, what are they asking and what are the results? Who do they get to do their media monitoring and what keywords do they track? What's in their "InTell Newsletter"? Which "local and regional bodies" and "sector groups" have they targeted as part of the ODESC roadshow and what did they tell them? Which schools and universities have they visited and spoken at? Which law magazine have they been trying to get their puff profiles in? I already have requests in with these agencies, and since they'll vigorously use s18A(2) to combine and then refuse multiple requests, other people will have to ask these questions. If you'd like to help, create an account on FYI and get to it.