Friday, May 27, 2016

Nauru repeals capital punishment

Australia's puppet gulag government in Nauru has repealed a host of antiquated laws - including the death penalty:

The Nauru government on Friday announced that the island's Parliament this month passed a number of laws to bring the nation up to international human rights standards.

A new act replaces a former criminal code that dated back to 1899 and was based on old Queensland laws.


Sentences such as the death penalty, imprisonment with hard labour and solitary confinement have been removed, and penalties for sexual offences, including those relating to children, have been increased.

Also repealed: laws against homosexuality and attempted suicide, and the law permitting marital rape. However, both abortion and "criminal defamation" remain illegal.

This leaves only Papua New Guinea and Tonga with the death penalty still on the books in the South Pacific. Neither has executed anyone for decades, and hopefully we'll soon be able to convince them repeal this barbaric punishment.

New Fisk

The US is dropping calls for Assad to go because the Syrian regime is a better bet than Isis

More policy incoherence

The government is paying homeless people $5,000 to move out of Auckland to the regions where they will have better access to state housing. Meanwhile, in Palmerston North, they're demolishing state houses:

Three empty double state housing units are fenced off and awaiting demolition at Awapuni's Raleigh St.

The demolition would happen at the same time as New Zealand was experiencing a housing crisis, with families living in sheds, garages, in cars, and crashing on the sofas and floors of friends and relatives, [Manawatu Tenants' Union advocate Kevin] Reilly said.


The tenants' advocate sees three to four families a week looking for affordable, decent accommodation. He tells of a woman, and her daughter, escaping an eight-year relationship of family violence, forced to sleep on a friend's couch. There's a 20-something man and his two young sons who spent several nights sleeping rough somewhere behind St Patrick's Cathedral.

He knows of a couple of families crammed into small two-room $400-a-week motel units on Pioneer Highway, and suffering from 'cabin fever'.

"These are people with serious living needs, and the thing that's really wrong with these [Raleigh St] houses coming down is that they've been neglected."

They're not being demolished in order to build new ones - Housing New Zealand is selling the land, trying to permanently shrink the number of state houses here. While we have people without homes here and Paula Bennett is offering money so we have more. Again, its incoherent policy from a government which has no idea what it is doing, and is just layering "make it up as they go along responses" on top of one another.

A government that doesn't know what it is doing

On Friday, in response to the homeless crisis in Auckland, Social Housing Minister Paula Bennett announced that WINZ would pay people up to $5,000 to leave Auckland and move to the regions. Meanwhile, in the Budget, they're paying people to do the opposite:

The Government will pay beneficiaries $3000 to move to cities such as Auckland for work - but the Budget doesn't mention Social Housing Minister Paula Bennett's plan to pay social housing tenants $5000 to move out of Auckland.


In the absence of other new spending, Social Development Minister Anne Tolley trumpeted $26 million over four years to maintain targeted case management for 120,000 beneficiaries and fund the "3K to Work" scheme. This is a $3000 grant originally just for beneficiaries moving to work in Christchurch, but extended last December to cover all beneficiaries in intensive case management moving to any new location to take up work.

So, they'll pay you to move to Auckland to find work, but then when you can't find a house, they'll pay you to leave. Throw in WINZ's long-standing prohibition on beneficiaries moving to the regions for cheaper accomodation, and its clear that we have incoherent policy from a government that doesn't know what it is doing.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

No money for housing, more money for spies

New Zealand currently has a housing crisis, with people being forced to live in cars and garages in Auckland due to a bubble and insufficient state housing. So is the government doing anything about it in today's budget? There's the $41 million of emergency housing spending over four years, and an inflation adjustment to income related rents subsidies (because rents are skyrocketing while incomes are stagnating). In other words, business as usual, rather than a credible response to the crisis.

Meanwhile, they're shovelling money at the spies, with an extra $178 million over four years. GCSB gets an extra ~$15 million a year and SIS between $18 and $35 million extra a year to hire more staff to deal with the "threat" of "foreign fighters" and invade our privacy even further. But really, what's more of a threat to New Zealand? Homelessness? Or imaginary "terrorists".

This speaks volumes about National's priorities. No money for the real needs of real kiwis, but buckets of it for spies.

Something fishy in Christchurch

A tweet by Phil Lyth alerted me to a series of Parliamentary written questions from Labour's Megan Woods about Otakaro Ltd, the company the government established to manage the Christchurch rebuild. It seems Otakaro has just changed its constitution, removing a requirement that its board keep "full and accurate minutes are kept of all proceedings", and replacing it with:

The Board must ensure that minutes are kept of proceedings at meetings of the Board and that a record is kept of all written resolutions of Directors.

Which is clearly a much lower requirement, allowing discussions to happen un-minuted and information to be hidden. Interestingly, they also modified the standard clause that such minutes are prima facie evidence of proceedings to add "unless they are shown to be inaccurate" - effectively allowing them to repudiate their own decisions.

(You can get all of this from its page at the Companies Office)

As for the reason, its pretty obvious: the Christchurch rebuild is a politically hot topic, and board minutes will be OIA'ed to keep an eye on it. By making them less complete, they deny information to the public about what is planned. The second change also seems to be a deliberate effort to protect against lawsuits, by creating an ability for Board members to perjure themselves. Its a perfect example of how freedom of information (and government accountability) depends on the keeping of accurate public records, and how that is attacked to undermine accountability.

But there's a problem: while its a company, Otakaro is also very clearly, as an agency of both central and local government, a "public office", and subject to the Public Records Act requirement to create and maintain full and accurate records of its affairs. And to the extent that this amendment signals an intent not to do so, I think the Chief Archivist might want to take a look at it...

Meanwhile, it will be interesting to see whether Gerry Brownlee ordered or was informed of this. Because if he did, we have an outright conspiracy against transparency from a senior government Minister.


A ballot for a member's bill was held today, and the following bill was drawn:

  • Our Work Our Future Bill (Andrew Little)

The bill is a simple one which would require MBIE to amend government procurement rules to favour bids which would create jobs in New Zealand. A no-brainer, but National will no doubt vote it down.

There were 82 bills in the ballot today, which is a new record.

Pettiness and transparency

Last night saw the second reading of Adrian Rurawhe's Official Information (Parliamentary Under-Secretaries) Amendment Bill. Following the select committee phase and a very convincing report by the Ministry of Justice refuting National's constitutional claims, it seemed like the bill would pass unanimously. But things are never that simple:

NZ First has added a new party policy to its list - voting the opposite to ACT leader David Seymour.

In a weird twist of events on Wednesday night NZ First pulled its initial support for the Official Information Act (Parliamentary Under-Secretaries) Amendment Bill purely because Seymour had decided to vote for it.

Yes, really. And so increased transparency is undermined for the sake of a petty political feud. MP's are once again earning their toxic reputation here.

Meanwhile, while Seymour will be voting for the bill, its clear from his speech last night that he does not accept its underlying premise that the government should be transparent and accountable, and is promising to move wrecking amendments at the committee stage in an effort to apply the OIA to private bodies for which there is no argument for transparency, such as the press gallery or the Leader of the Opposition. Which shows you what he really thinks of the OIA and its principles. Worse, it is clear from their speeches that National's backbenchers don't accept it either. So there's a real chance that they will combine to wreck the bill and prevent it from passing.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Paula Bennett's housing deja vu

After a week of bad media coverage about homelessness in Auckland, Social Housing Minister Paula Bennett was today forced to act, announcing that she would pay homeless Aucklanders $5,000 to move to the regions (where they'd conveniently be out of sight of the media and out of mind of the public). This is being pitched as a response to the current crisis. But it seems awfully familiar. Because she announced practically the same policy back in January:

Aucklanders languishing on the state house waiting list are likely to be offered financial incentives to move to regions that have a surplus of homes, the Herald can reveal.

Social Housing Minister Paula Bennett confirmed last night that the Government wants prospective tenants to consider moving to regions where dozens of state houses are vacant - and in some cases could be offered thousands of dollars in taxpayer sweeteners.

Pacific Island tenants could be prime candidates for such a move, she thought.

The only difference is that now she's offering more money. But its the same policy, driven by the same imperative: not to actually solve the problem - that would require building more state houses, something National does not want to do - but to create the appearance of action and allow the government to say that it is "doing something". Meanwhile, National is selling or even demolishing its state houses in the regions, meaning that there will be nowhere for people to move to. But it doesn't care about the reality, any more than it cares about the homeless. Its just a PR problem to them, rather than an open wound in our society.

Member's Day

Today is a Member's Day, and one with some real business. First, there's the second reading of Sue Moroney's Parental Leave and Employment Protection (Six Months’ Paid Leave and Work Contact Hours) Amendment Bill, which will hopefully either pass, force action from National in the budget, or force a constitutional crisis allowing us to do away with the unconstitutional financial veto. Second, there's the second reading of Adrian Rurawhe's Official Information (Parliamentary Under-Secretaries) Amendment Bill, which also looks likely to pass (even David Seymour will vote for it, despite calling transparency over the executive "silly"). Finally, the House should make a solid start on Phil Twyford's Overseas Investment (Protection of New Zealand Homebuyers) Amendment Bill. If they're really quick, they'll finish that and make a start on Marama Fox's Oaths and Declarations (Endorsing the Principles of the Treaty of Waitangi) Amendment Bill.

If everything goes as expected, there should be a ballot for one bill tomorrow morning.

Forcing transparency on Ministerial transport

One of the perks of being a government Minister is the Ministerial limo - a chauffeur-driven car you can take anywhere. These vehicles are publicly funded and used for public business, so we should be able to see who uses them and what for, right? But not according to the Department of Internal Affairs, who have spent three years unsuccessfully trying to keep the public in the dark about what our cars are used for:

The Government has lost a three-year fight to keep details of ministers' use of Crown limousines secret.

The Ombudsman has ordered the information be released and, barring a Cabinet-ordered veto, the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) is set to release details of thousands of trips by John Key and his ministerial colleagues in the fleet of taxpayer-funded luxury BMWs.

The recommendations of Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier, a former judge, are likely to mean details of future use will also have to be released. The information will be presented in the coming weeks without precise locations, for privacy and security reasons.

The case note hasn't made its way online yet, but according to the news article DIA had argued that the information was confidential, and even that the abuse of Ministerial limos for private business meant their travel details weren't "official information" at all. Fortunately the new Ombudsman was having none of it: these are public vehicles used for public purposes and so the information should be public. And as he points out, their abuse for non-public purposes strengthens the case for disclosure (just as it did for Ministerial expenses).

And as with Ministerial expenses, the release will force future proactive release, which in turn will act as a strong curb on Ministerial abuse. These cars are for public business, and Ministers will be forced to make sure that they are seen to be used that way. If Ministers want to nip down to the shops, or spend a night on the town, they can drive themselves, rather than forcing the public to pay for it.

We shouldn't just forgive, but pay back odious debt

Over 9,000 people have signed Action Station's petition calling on the government to forgive odious emergency housing debt. The government's response? Nope:

Wiping the debt of people who have been staying in motels for emergency accommodation would not be fair to others in the system, the Social Development Minister says.


The government was a place of last resort, and would keep supporting them, but she said that would not mean wiping existing debt.

"Well it might be a help to these people in particular, but what about the people who have worked really hard and paid their debt off in the past, and how much debt do you forgive, and when do you start?"

The "logic" here beggars belief. This is a "debt" which should never have been charged. But because they've fucked people over in the past, they have to keep fucking people over forever, because to stop fucking people over would be unfair to their past victims. Or to put it another way, you can never correct a wrong.

I'm not buying it. This is "debt" which should never have been charged. Its continuing existence is an outrage. The government should forgive it all immediately. And if they're worried that any of their victims might have repaid some or all of this odious debt, the solution is to pay them back, not use that as an excuse to avoid doing the right thing.

But I forget. That WINZ debt? That's National's "surplus", built on the backs of the poor.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

An abuse of the Speaker's chair

Last week NewsHub revealed leaked MPI reports which showed that MPI had been turning a blind eye to widespread criminal behaviour in the fishing industry. Today was the first day of Parliament since those revelations, and given their seriousness, it was unsurprising that someone took the opportunity to ask for an urgent debate on the matter. Speaker David Carter turned them down flat.

Which is interesting, because the Minister responsible during some of those investigations (and who oversaw the pattern of non-prosecution which has become rampant) was none other than... David Carter. So, he used the Speaker's chair to shut down Parliamentary inquiry into his incompetence while a Minister.

This is an outright abuse of the Speaker's chair for personal political gain, and we should not tolerate it. Speaker Carter must resign.

Open Government: Unilateral

Back in April, State Services Minister Paula Bennett announced in an answer to a Parlaimentary written question that we were consulting the Open Government Secretariat about an extension to the deadline for submitting our action plan:

While New Zealand's second Open Government Partnership (OGP) Action Plan is due to be submitted to the OGP by 30 June 2016, New Zealand intends to consult the OGP Secretariat on this timing to ensure that we can engage meaningfully in the development of the Action Plan.

So was there any consultation? Of course not. I asked the OGP under its information disclosure policy for all communications with the New Zealand government on this issue. I received their response today, and there were no "consultations". The first OGP heard of New Zealand's intention to ignore its obligations was when SSC told them we were (the attached letter is here). No advice was sought beforehand on whether this complied with OGP rules. Instead, SSC decided unilaterally that they didn't apply to us. In response, OGP apparently directed New Zealand to the OGP's "rules regarding delays", which highlight that missing a deadline by more than four months could result in a referral to the Criteria and Standards subcommittee and possible ejection from the OGP.

The obvious question: was Bennett lying, or did SSC simply not do what she said they'd do? Either way, she owes us some answers.

We are all socialists now

A mass government house-building programme is a favourite policy of the left for solving the Auckland housing crisis. Use cheap government capital, build affordable, energy-efficient homes, mass produce them to get efficiencies of scale, and get people back into owning their own home (violently popping the bubble and crashing house prices is an optional bonus). But things are so bad that even the right supports it now:

The option of large scale government-built housing should be put back on the table, a business lobbyist says.

Northern Employers and Manufacturers Association chief executive Kim Campbell said the government's current plans were not working.

Mr Campbell said Aucklanders with homes and good jobs were doing better than ever but others were missing out badly, unable to afford the region's high house prices.

"Clearly at the bottom end there needs to be something done. We have had 50 to 60 years (of doing it) and suddenly we've decided there isn't a need, and one wonders. Whatever is happening now is not working."

It gets better: the same article quotes the managing director of Mainfreight as wanting to get more freight off roads (and his trucks) and onto rail. It seems even the government's supporters are socialists now.

More odious debt

The media over the last few days has been full of stories about WINZ and odious debt. But the worst one is this:

A woman with eight children living in emergency housing is facing a debt to Work and Income of $100,000, which she will never repay, a support group says.


Auckland Action Against Poverty said the mother and her eight children were evicted by Housing New Zealand months ago after it found the house was contaminated by methamphetamine.

The organisation's coordinator, Alastair Russell, said it was not clear if the woman caused the contamination.

He said the family had been living in emergency accommodation costing more than $1200 a week and she had already borrowed $60,000 from Work and Income to pay for it.

"Housing New Zealand have banned her for 12 months from seeking their assistance so she'll clock up this debt for another six months and then go back to Housing New Zealand seeking assistance with a debt probably in excess of $100,000."

$100,000. Down here, that's enough to buy a serious chunk of a house. There's no credible possibility of this debt ever being repaid, but WINZ is under a statutory duty to gouge it out of her for the rest of her life. And to impose this because another government department basicly believes in witchcraft (and needs to churn state houses to create vacancies for homeless mothers with children living temporarily in motels) is simply crazy. Not to mention immoral. This "debt" is the result of government failure, a government agency refusing to do its job properly. And as such it should be voided.

Except it can't be. There's no easy mechanism for debts to WINZ to be forgiven. The law contemplates regulations permitting this, but none have ever been issued. And so the debts rack up: beneficiaries "owed" WINZ $627 million last year, half of which was for "recoverable grants", AKA "benefits being too low" (the other half was for overpayments, AKA WINZ fucking up. hardly any of it was for fraud). There are Parliamentary questions in at the moment to quantify how much of this is due to emergency housing assistance, but given that this is an area where debts can really rack up, I expect we're looking at well over $100 million here - assuming WINZ even knows to that level of detail. Which is a pretty big chunk of National's "surplus".

But this odious debt needs to go. And if this government won't forgive it, we need a government that will.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Accountability for Iraq?

Six years after it was established, the Chilcot Inquiry into the UK's involvement in the Iraq war is finally about to report back. And from the sound of it, its going to pin the blame squarely where it belongs: on Tony Blair:

The long-awaited Chilcot report into the Iraq war is reportedly set to savage Tony Blair and other former government officials in an “absolutely brutal” verdict on the failings of the occupation.

The former Prime Minister “won’t be let off the hook” over claims he offered military assistance to the former American President George W Bush, a year before the invasion of Iraq, a source told the Sunday Times.


The source added that the harshest criticism will be reserved for the former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw. “It will be absolutely brutal for [Mr] Straw,” they told the Sunday Times. “The build-up to war is very crucial. It will damage the reputations of a number of people, Richard Dearlove as well as Tony Blair and others.

But being officially blamed by a public inquiry is one thing, accountability is another. And the latter won't happen until Blair and his co-conspirators are where they belong: in the dock in The Hague and on trial for war crimes and the crime of aggression.

Climate change: The latest inventory

The annual inventory report [PDF] of our greenhouse gas emissions was released on Friday. The headline data: emissions are still increasing:

There's been another "recalculation" in the last 12 months, making year-to-year comparisons difficult. Naurally, this seems to have shifted everything lower: while the difference between 2014 and 2013's estimated emissions from the two reports is only ~150,000 tons, this years report says that there has in fact bene an 800,000 ton increase in emissions in the last year. Meanwhile, they report net 1990 emissions as being two million tons lower than they did last year - suggesting some serious fiddling going around with forestry numbers. And even then, our net emissions still appear to have increased by two million tons.

And keeping the comparisons within the same data set, it is clear that emissions are not dropping, and that National's emissions control policy has failed. That's hardly surprising, given that they subsidise pollution, but when we've committed to decreasing emissions, its the wrong way to go. But its been clear for a while that the only way National is going to meet its targets is by outright fraud.

Australia lets kiwi detainees literally rot

What are our "closest friends" Australia doing to kiwis awaiting deportation? Letting them literally rot away in prison due to substandard medical care:

A New Zealander held at an Australian immigration detention centre will find out today if his leg has to be amputated, he says.

The Type-2 diabetic blames substandard medical care in the Sydney lock-up of Villawood for his plight.

A human rights lawyer is calling on the New Zealand government to step in.

How did he get this way? He was denied basic medical care for months, turning a trivial injury into a life-threatening one. And now he may lose his leg due to Australia's policy of wilful neglect towards those in its gulags.

Worse, the New Zealand government just sat idly by and let this happen. Despite John Key's assurances that the government is taking a close interest, our people in Australia don't get consular assistance or even communications. They're just abandoned. Wouldn't it be nice to have a government which stood up to Australia, rather than crawling to them?

National should give us our $13,000 back

We all know that National works for the rich and screw over ordinary New Zealanders to funnel wealth upwards into the pockets of its rich mates. But how bad have they been? $13,000 bad:

Yesterday, Mr Little said that since National came into power in 2008, 37 per cent of economic growth had gone into the pay packets of workers compared to 50 per cent under the former Labour government. The share that had gone into company profits and returns from property investment had increased.

He said that was a symptom of a government catering to the wealthy few rather than working families, who would be $50 a week better off if their share of economic growth had not been eroded. "All up, the average family has missed out on more than $13,000 under this government."

This is what 90 day trial periods, the erosion of union rights, corporate tax cuts and huge environmental subsidies to farmers and other polluters mean in practice: the rich get more. And they get more by taking it from us. National enables the rapacious few to rob from the many.

We need a government that will put this right - and not just by restoring a just distribution of any economic growth, but also by making up the lost ground and restoring wages and benefits to where they would have been. And we won't get that from National.