Friday, October 02, 2015

Some "watchdog"

Something I had missed: Parliament has appointed Simon Murdoch to the "Independent" Police Conduct Authority. Here's his bio:

“Mr Murdoch is a former Secretary of Foreign Affairs and Trade, has served as High Commissioner to Canberra and is a former Chief Executive of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. His wealth of public sector and diplomatic knowledge will lend a depth of experience to the IPCA,” Ms Adams says.

Unmentioned: he was also acting head of the GCSB. In other words, a yes-man and part of the deep state establishment who can be relied upon not to rock the boat.

Some "watchdog". And with appointments like this, its no wonder that the IPCA has no credibility whatsoever.

Going backwards under National

The latest sign of National's failure as a government? The gender pay gap is increasing again:

Men saw a far bigger increase than women, with median hourly earnings for men up $1.06 or 4.6 per cent to $24.07, while median hourly income for women rose up 50 cents an hour or 2.4 per cent to $21.23.

Statistics New Zealand said based on the survey the gender pay gap rose to 11.8 per cent in the year to June 30, compared to 9.9 per cent a year earlier and 11.2 per cent in the 2013 June quarter.

According to Statistics New Zealand the gender pay gap has generally been decreasing since 1998, but had stabilised in the last few years.

"Stabilised" being statistician for "progress has stalled". Though the trend over the last three years seems to be upwards, so we're actually going backwards.

As for what National is going to do about it, the answer is "nothing". Basic equality and the right to be paid the same wage for the same work (let alone equal wages for work of equal value) simply are not priorities for them; they won't even make businesses report on it, let alone require pay transparency or allow labour inspectors to actually investigate complaints. And why would they? They're mostly men after all. And to them, pay differences are the result of "merit" - which just happens to be strongly correlated with having a penis. Its simply a total coincidence, not a proper subject for government policy.

And that mindset is just another reason why we need to de-elect them, and elect a government which will address this issue.

Open Government: NZ's mid-term self-assessment

Yesterday, the State Services Commission finally published New Zealand's draft Open Government Partnership Mid-term Self-assessment Report - the one they'd refused to provide during the recent consultation round and refused to disclose under the OIA. They've also re-opened consultation for another two weeks, until October 16. Which is interesting, because according to the OGP's timeline and the one they provided to their stakeholder advisory group, it was supposed to be signed off by the Minister on September 10 and submitted to the OGP by September 30. It is unclear at this stage whether they have negotiated an extension, decided to be late so they can do it properly, or are "consulting" on a document which has already been submitted (and sadly, given their past behaviour, the latter isn't beyond the realms of possibility). But either way, it shows what an abortion this process has been.

So what about the report itself? I'll be making a detailed submission on it later, but I'm not impressed with a few sections. Firstly, there's an attempt to justify the government's inclusion of existing programmes as OGP commitments on the basis that they're "ambitious". But that's not enough; the OGP is clear that you can only include existing programmes in an action plan if doing so results in improvement, greater ambition or additional commitment (so tighter timelines or tougher targets). SSC tries to get around this by claiming that the "greater public and international exposure" from inclusion in the action plan will result in improved transparency and accountability. I don't think so. Or rather, if that's the level of additional benefit required, then the entire concept of additionality is meaningless. Plus of course there's the mistaking "making information available" with "accountability" - something which will likely get them spanked in independent review.

Secondly, they promise more and better consultation in future - they'll change, really! I'll believe it when I see it.

And then there's this bit:

New Zealand’s Action Plan contains commitments that are ongoing, multi-faceted, and extremely ambitious – and this is appropriate given the position from which we are building. It means that our first mid-term self-assessment report can only reflect a fraction of the complexity and scale of each of these projects.

Which sounds an awful lot like ACT's "I think my argument is so powerful, it's not necessary to talk about it". Alternatively, it suggests that their commitments were not specific and measureable enough to be reported on. Either way, I'm not impressed.

How National spent our money

When National started selling our public assets, they promised they would spend the money on infrastructure. As usual, they lied:

But documents released under the Official Information Act show only a third of the $3.9 billion dollars allocated so far in the Future Investment Fund has been earmarked for education and health, with another quarter to transport


The figures show a total of $1.3 billion has gone to education and health - $635.6 million to education and $684 million to health - about a third of the $3.9 billion allocated.

Transport projects have received $990 million, about a quarter of the total.

The remainder has been spread between Immigration and Border Control, Justice, Housing, and Science and Innovation, while another quarter - about $1 billion - falls into a catch-all category called "other".

Mr Robertson said ministers have treated the money as a slush fund for pet projects.

And with most of the fund gone, they're still a long way from their promised $1 billion on schools. There's also no indication that this spending is additional spending, rather than being used to cover shortfalls from government cuts.

In short, National sold productive, revenue-generating assets, and blew the money on bullshit and operating expenses. This is what they call "prudent economic management": selling the family silver to fund their whims.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

How it works in Nauru III

Back in June, people on Nauru protested against government corruption and the erosion of their democracy. The regime's solution? Cut off their welfare benefits:

A Nauru local has lost his over-60 benefits for allegedly participating in anti-government riots more three months ago.

Ronald Sandy Deduna received a letter from the Nauru government on Monday advising him his welfare payments and Nauru airline benefits had been revoked.

The letter says Cabinet made a decision last week that people involved in protests, riots and other criminal activities should cease to receive government privileges.

Which is both punishment for political speech and punishment without trial, in clear violation of the rights to freedom of expression, assembly and protection of the law affirmed in Nauru's constitution. But with Nauru no longer enjoying an independent judiciary, there's virtually no chance of that being enforced.

NZDF admits lying

Back in 2011, journalist Jon Stephenson exposed the SAS's complicity in torture in Afghanistan. The response of the NZDF was to call him a liar and accuse him of fabricating a key interview. That's a pretty serious allegation to make against a journalist, and so Stephenson sued them for defamation. And today, the government settled, paying an undisclosed amount of money and agreeing to issue a formal retraction. At the time I said it was a matter a credibility, "a question of who you believe: a journalist with sources, or a government and military with a history of deceit and every reason to lie." And I think it has been answered pretty definitively: publishing a retraction means the NZDF are admitting lying. This does not reflect well on them as an organisation, and it falls well below the standard we expect from our defence forces. And it means that next time they accuse a journalist of lying, we'll be even less likely to believe them.

It also raises some fairly obvious questions: does the PR flack who drafted Lt Gen Rhys Jones's defamatory press statement still have their job? How much public money has NZDF wasted on legal fees? ($75,000 two years ago). Was NZDF paying for Rhys Jones' lawyers for a statement made in the line of duty? Did NZDF lie to the Prime Minister before he made his equally defamatory statements? And most importantly, will Key now retract and apologise for them?

New Fisk

Niqab row: Canada's government challenges ruling Zunera Ishaq can wear veil while taking oath of citizenship

Syria, hypocrisy, and unusual honesty

Last year, the US started bombing Syria. As usual, there was no UN authorisation; they simply scraped together a bunch of vassals to form a new "coalition of the willing" and went ahead and did it. Unilateral action good!

Today, Russia started bombing Syria. They don't have UN permission either, but have just gone ahead and done it. The American reaction? Outrage, of course - complete with statements that Russia cannot act alone. Unilateral action bad!

American hypocrisy aside, I doubt this will do any good, any more than past bombing campaigns have. Sure, they'll spend millions of dollars, test their new weapons systems, get to play with their toys, and posture on the world stage by blowing up children - and the civil war will go on and people will continue fleeing and dying and there will be more chaos giving space to groups like ISIS and the atrocities will inspire a new generation of terrorists. Which will of course require more bombing in future. The only winners here are the people who sell bombs. I don't know what the answer to the Syrian problem is, but "more bombing" certainly isn't it.

And oddly, a US spokesperson seems to have come to some awareness of this:

Russia’s campaign in Syria will succeed no more than military solutions in Iraq or Afghanistan, press secretary Josh Earnest has told reporters in a briefing at the White House.

“Russia will not succeed in imposing a military solution any more than the United States was successful in imposing a military solution in Iraq a decade ago, and certainly any more than Russia was able to impose a military solution in Afghanistan three decades ago,” Earnest said.

Yes, the White House just called America's Glorious Military Endeavours in Iraq and Afghanistan - and by implication, the last 25 years of US foreign policy - a failure. Which is an unusually accurate assessment - but one which will no doubt result in Republicans calling for him to be prosecuted for treason or something.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015


Kim Dotcom's extradition hearing is currently underway, and it appears to have hit a hurdle: the government can't find key documentation:

The Crown has been unable to produce the original notices asking for Kim Dotcom and his co-accused to be extradited to the United States.


North Shore district court services manager Fiona Parkes - a witness for the Crown - today produced several documents she said appeared to be copies of the extradition requests.

Mr Dotcom's lawyer Ron Mansfield pointed out the documents were not date-stamped and asked Ms Parkes if she knew whether any originals existed.

She said she did not.

Yesterday a Justice Ministry employee was unable to confirm if the former Justice Minister, Judith Collins, had seen the provisional arrest warrants and the supporting evidence before the 2012 raid on Mr Dotcom's mansion went ahead.

Under the Extradition Act, the Justice Minister is meant to be given a copy of the warrants and supporting evidence, as part of a briefing.

This matters. A key question in extradition hearings is whether the supporting documents have been produced to the court. The fact that they can't do that (and apparently failed to follow due process in briefing the Minister, creating instant grounds for judicial review) makes them look like a bunch of muppets. And when it comes to matters of law enforcement and people's freedom (and millions of dollars in damages if they fuck up), you'd think they'd take a little more care...

Breaching the right to a fair trial in the UK

Back in April the British government introduced a Criminal Courts Charge to "make criminals pay". The charge is structured to encourage defendants to plead guilty. And now one of the government's own researchers has pointed out the obvious: it violates the right to a fair trial:

Mike Hough, a professor of criminal policy at Birkbeck School of Law, said in an interview with The Independent that controversial new court fees deny defendants the right to a fair trial because they encourage the innocent to plead guilty. Professor Hough established the Home Office’s British Crime Survey and recently did research for the Ministry of Justice.


The charge is applied to anyone found guilty and is not means-tested or adjusted according to the seriousness of the crime. In magistrates’ courts it is fixed at £150 if someone pleads guilty at the start, but can rise to £1,000 if they are later found guilty.

Professor Hough said: “I do think it’s a very unfair and very unpleasant bit of legislation that imposes very large costs on people without giving judges and magistrates any discretion to waive the charge where defendants clearly can’t afford them.

“It strikes me that these mandatory charges are in conflict with the European Convention on Human Rights. How can you have the right to a fair trial if you can only have one if you can pay for it? Article six gives people the right to a fair trial. I can’t see that you can have the right to a fair trial if you have to pay £1,200 to the court for it if you lose. It provides an added incentive to plead guilty even when you are innocent.”

Judges seem to agree. 50 of them have resigned rather than enforce the charge, while others are granting discharges without conviction to avoid imposing a manifestly unjust and disproportionate penalty. I wonder how long it will take the pig-head British government to get the message?

Another dirty deal between the UK and Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia is one of the world's worst human rights abusers. They executed over a hundred people so far this year, and this week will be beheading a man then publicly crucifying his body as a punishment for protesting against them. So naturally, the British government thought they'd be perfect for the UN Human Rights Council:

Britain conducted secret vote-trading deals with Saudi Arabia to ensure both states were elected to the UN human rights council (UNHRC), according to leaked diplomatic cables.


The Saudi foreign ministry files, passed to Wikileaks in June, refer to talks with British diplomats ahead of the November 2013 vote in New York. The documents have now been been translated by the organisation UN Watch – a Geneva-based non-governmental human rights organisation that scrutinises the world body – and newspaper the Australian.

The classified exchanges, the paper said, suggest that the UK initiated the secret negotiations by asking Saudi Arabia for its support. Both countries were eventually elected to the UNHRC, which has 47 member states.

This is absolutely morally bankrupt. But isn't it so very British?

The GCSB's PR campaign

The GCSB have had a bad time recently, with leaks exposing their mass-surveillance of the Pacific, spying on our friends, and spying to advance the private career interests of a National MP. So they've launched a bit of a PR campaign. Part of this was GCSB Director Una Jagose giving a speech at the Technology and Privacy Forum yesterday, in which she talked up what a great job the GCSB was doing in protecting the government from cyber-attacks:

A powerful cyber-attack has targeted certain officials in a government department in a possible effort to access sensitive information.

Another major IT firm received help from the Government Communications Security Communications Bureau (GCSB) after it was discovered their computer network had been compromised for some time.

The incidents have all occurred this year, and were revealed today in a rare public speech by GCSB acting director Una Jagose, who moved to reassure the public that data used in cyber security programmes was properly handled.

And judging by the recent revelations about their operation against Greece, half of them were probably done by our "friends" the NSA.

Stopping this is the uncontroversial part of the GCSB's job. And if protecting government departments and providing IT security help to private sector organisations who asked for it was all they did, there'd be no problem with them. But while they talk about "cyber-security" (IT being more glamorous if you call it "cyber", as Gibson and Sterling discovered), their real business is spying. And on that, Jagose just spouts the usual "trust us" bullshit and demands not to publish leaks. And while she highlights the "robustness" of the GCSB's internal checks and balances (you know, the ones which show that they have no idea if they are obeying the law), the key problem is that they're all internal, part of the spy-world. Captive "oversight" isn't. Secret "checks and balances" aren't. Handpicked "watchdogs" won't. And the real questions - such as "do we really want to be doing this" and "are we the sort of country which spies on our friends to toady up to the USA" - simply aren't asked.

We need to ask those questions, just as we asked the question of "do we want to be complicit in the crime of nuclear weapons" in the 70's and 80's. Mass surveillance is the nuclear weapons of the teens, and a violation of human rights on a massive scale. And it is time New Zealand took a stand against it.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Extrajudicial punishment from the UK

The UK's latest tactic in its war on terror? Asset freezes and travel bans:

Four British citizens fighting with Islamic State militants in Syria are to be subject to UN sanctions in the first such move in a decade, Downing Street has said.

The UK government took the drastic step of asking for some of its own nationals to face UN travel bans and asset freezes, amid increasing alarm about the hundreds of Britons being tempted to travel to Iraq and Syria.


The individuals are deemed to be associated with “participating in the financing, planning, facilitating, preparing, or perpetrating of acts or activities by, in conjunction with, under the name of, on behalf of, or in support of”, “recruiting for” and “otherwise supporting acts or activities of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria”.

Deemed, of course, by the executive, without reference to any court, let alone a conviction by a jury. In other words, its simply extrajudicial punishment, in violation of the fundamentals of human rights and the rule of law. But that now seems to be par for the course from the UK's tyranny.

A victory for the environment

A couple of years ago National was trying to dig up our national parks. Now they're palnning to declare a massive marine sanctuary over the entire Kermadec Islands EEZ:

A vast stretch of New Zealand's exclusive economic zone is being turned into an ocean sanctuary in a landmark deal to preserve one of the most pristine and unique environments on earth.

Prime Minister John Key announced the deal in New York Tuesday NZT, and said it would encompass 620,000 km2 in the seas north-east of New Zealand in the Kermadec region.

"The Kermadec Ocean sanctuary will be one of the world's largest and most significant fully-protected areas, preserving important habitats for seabirds, whales and dolphins, endangered marine turtles and thousands of species of fish and other marine life," Key said.

The sanctuary will cover 15 per cent of New Zealand's exclusive economic zone, an area twice the size of our landmass and 50 times the size of our largest national park in Fiordland.

Of course, it still requires legislation, and a lot will depend on the exact form of that legislation (not to mention them actually getting around to passing it). But its still a sign of how much National has been forced to shift on the environment. They know the public values our natural heritage, so they have to at least pretend to care about it; the 2010-era Brownlee attitude of bulldozing it all simply isn't tenable in New Zealand.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Australia doesn't want the UN looking at its gulags

Australia's Pacific gulags on Nauru and Manus Island are horrific places, where detainees are assaulted, raped and abused. They're so horrific that the Australian government doesn't want the UN looking at them:

The UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants says a lack of cooperation from the Australian government has forced him to postpone an official fact-finding mission

Francois Crépeau was scheduled to visit Australia for two weeks to gather first-hand information about the situation of asylum seekers detained in Papua New Guinea (PNG) and Nauru, on the invite of the Australian government.

But, in a statement, he said the new Border Force Act, which sanctions detention centre workers who disclose information about detention centres with up to two years in prison, would impact his visit as "it serves to discourage people from fully disclosing information relevant to my mandate".

Apparently they won't facilitate access to the gulags, and they won't guarantee that people who talk to him about them won't be prosecuted for it. Which makes it crystal clear that they are afraid of what he might learn and what he might say.

This isn't the behaviour we expect from a modern democracy which respects human rights. But I think its clear now that Australia can no longer be described in that way. We should structure our diplomacy and foreign policy accordingly.

Britain's dirty spies pervert the course of justice

How corrupt are Britain's spies? Not only did they participate in the US torture of a British citizen; they also ensured he was kept in Guantanamo so he couldn't give evidence against them:

The post 9/11 world was just a few days old when Shaker Aamer was first imprisoned. Captured by Afghan bounty hunters while attempting to flee from Kabul with his pregnant wife and their three children, he was sold on twice, and found himself in US hands.


The interrogators that MI6 and MI5 had sent to Bagram were warned that they must not take part in the torture that was being inflicted on the inmates; all received written instructions that “we cannot be party to such ill treatment nor can we be seen to condone it”. In practice, this meant that they would remove themselves from the room before the abuses began.

After being transferred to Guantánamo, Aamer gave a statement to his lawyers in which he alleged that, despite these instructions, British intelligence officers were present while he was being severely beaten at Bagram. As a consequence of this – and because of the UK’s wider involvement in his unlawful detention and mistreatment – he is expected to embark upon legal proceedings against the British government once he returns to the UK.

Furthermore, Scotland Yard detectives investigating the British government’s involvement in rendition after 9/11 are understood to have taken a statement from him at Guantánamo.

Members of his legal team suspect that the UK’s intelligence agencies have been so alarmed by the prospect of such allegations being aired on his return to the UK that they may have fed false information about Aamer to the US authorities in order to impede that release.

So we can add "perversion of the course of justice" to their list of crimes then.

Clearly, MI6 were hoping Aamer would die in Guantanamo. But he hasn't. Instead, he's finally going to be released, after being held for 13 years without trial. And hopefully this will mean that MI6 will be both sued and prosecuted, and be held accountable for their actions.

Challenging TPP secrecy

There's a significant court case happening today: a judicial review of the Minister of Trade's refusal to release information about the TPP under the Official Information Act. OIA cases are rare - I can't remember the last one, though I'm aware of a couple from the 80's - so its a bit of a landmark which will help clarify the meaning of the Act. Unfortunately I don't think there's much chance of a successful outcome. The Minister's refusal rests largely on the OIA's conclusive reasons for withholding official information, notably prejudice to international relations and to receving information from other governments. And these are areas where the judiciary has traditionally defered to the executive. Its not openly nonsensical that release of TPP documents will prejudice these interests, so I expect the court will uphold the refusal. In other areas - the ones most likely to be successful - the Ombudsman has not yet formed a view, so there's nothing to review.

More interesting is the fact that this refusal was not based on the merits of each document, but on a sample of them and the Minister's assumptions about what might be in them. While administratively convenient, that goes against the purpose and merits-based assessment regime of the OIA, and is something the Minister deserves to be spanked for.

What this case will expose is how out of step the OIA is on these issues. There is huge public interest in disclosure, yet the law will allow all material to be shrouded in secrecy (based in part on the government agreeing with other governments effectively to contract out of it - something which seems ultra vires). Governments, it seems, are united in the view that the negotiations they conduct on "our" behalf are not for the eyes of us dirty peasants, and that we should just shut up and accept whatever they decide. But this isn't the middle ages, and they're not kings; we live in democracies now, and such secret agreements simply have no democratic legitimacy. And if the OIA won't give us the transparency we now expect, we need to amend it, or replace those sections. And we should start with an Open Diplomacy Act, to ensure that any information our government provides other governments in negotiations is also shared with us.

New Fisk

What’s Putin up to in Syria? I would wager he’s after something big – retaking Palmyra

No homage from Catalonia

The Spanish region of Catalonia went to the polls yesterday, and gave a clear majority to parties promising unilateral secession. As a result, things are likely to get "interesting" over there.

How they got there is also interesting, and basicly boils down to utter mismanagement by the Spanish central government (whose governing party, the People's Party, is still full of Francoists). Think of Catalonia as a Spanish Scotland, with its own history, language, culture, and national identity. All those things were viciously suppressed under Franco's dictatorship, creating a history of persecution and a resentment of rule by Madrid. When Franco died, the region got some legally guaranteed autonomy and its own regional constitution and parliament, but as time went on, it wasn't enough. But when in 2006 they tried to get more autonomy through a revised regional constitution, that too was stomped on by the central government. Since then, the appetite for independence has been growing, and even people who want to remain part of Spain think that its a decision for Catalonia and support a referendum. Spain has rejected that option too, so instead the Catalonians have had an election, with parties offering a clear promise of independence, with or without Spanish approval. As in Scotland, Spain ran on fear, threatening that an independent Catalonia would be denied entry to the EU and that Barcelona would be kicked out of the Spanish football league. And as in Scotland, it has just made things worse. And the result is that pro-independence parties have a clear majority in parliament with 49.5% of the vote.

Its not entirely straightforward: those pro-independence parties are from different sides of the political spectrum and will need to hammer out a coalition deal. But assuming they manage that, they'll ask for independence or a referendum, Spain will refuse, claiming its illegal (and unlike the UK, refuse to make it legal), so they'll announce an intention to secede unilaterally. And what happens after that is anyone's guess. But as with Scotland, the idea of a central government denying a region that wants to leave the chance to decide, or worse, using military force to retain a region with a clearly-expressed desire for independence, is simply untenable for a modern democracy. And hopefully the Spanish government will realise that before it is too late.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Australia's war on dissent

Since Tony Abbott became Prime Minister of Australia there's been a progressive move (driven by the Liberals' coal-industry supporters) towards labelling environmentalism as terrorism. but now its hit a new low, with the inclusion of "alternative music", "left-wing activism" and environmental protest in the government's new "Radicalisation Awareness Kit" aimed at warning teachers about potential terrorists:

The Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Terrorism Michael Keenan launched the Radicalisation Awareness Kit in the form of a 32-page booklet on Monday.

Through a series of examples and fictitious case studies, the booklet aims to illustrate the circumstances which can lead young people to become radicalised.

But one surprising example cites the power of the alternative music scene and environmental activism in the radicalisation process.

The case study in the 'Violent Extremism' section tells the story of a girl called 'Karen' who becomes involved in the "alternative music scene, student politics and left-wing activism" when she leaves home.

'Karen' ends up sabotaging logging machinery and being arrested "on numerous occasions" while becoming "totally cut off from her family".

"It sounds like something that's been dreamt up in the cigar room of the Institute of Public Affairs. There's no resemblance to the way that people in Australia feel about their environment and the need to stand up to protect it.

The message is clear: lefties, greenies, and those who don't like INXS are UnAustralian terrorists. Its a perfect example of how Abbott has hijacked the (bullshit) war on terror to turn it into a war on his domestic political opponents. But now that Australia has a new Prime Minister, hopefully this bullshit will stop.