Friday, April 29, 2016

Burned flesh on their hands

On Wednesday, a refugee in Australia's concentration camp in Nauru set himself alight in protest at his continued detention. Today, he died. And the scary thing is, he wasn't alone: six refugees tried to kill themselves on Nauru in the last week alone. That's how hopeless they are, that's how damaging Australia's policy of dumping refugees in offshore concentration camps is.

And that's the cost of Australia's vicious, inhumane refugee policies: dead people. Those who support those policies have the burned flesh of the dead on their hands.

Will the UK Conservatives be prosecuted for overspending?

On Wednesday, the UK Conservative party admitted that it had failed to declare tens of thousands of pounds of electoral expenses last election. Today, the Electoral Commission looks to be seriously considering prosecution:

Following months of investigations by Channel 4 News, the Electoral Commission has requested an extension to the time limit available to pursue possible criminal prosecutions regarding Conservative Party campaign spending returns.

Bob Posner, Director of Party and Election Finance & Legal Counsel at the Electoral Commission said, "The police and the CPS both have the power to apply to the Courts to extend the time limit on bringing criminal prosecutions for electoral offences to allow for full investigations to take place. We have requested that they consider doing this."

Representatives of the Electoral Commission and the Crown Prosecution Service will hold also hold a summit with a number of police forces to discuss the Conservative Party's election expenses next week.

My inner cynic says they won't. The UK police exist to protect the establishment. So, they'll look the other way on lawbreaking by that establishment, even when it undermines democracy (and while spying on democratic opponents of the status quo). As for the Electoral Commission, if they're dependent on that rotten police force for investigation or cooperation, its just not going to happen.

And the fact that you can quite reasonably think that is itself an indictment on the UK's democracy. People deserve to be able to have faith in their legal and democratic institutions, to believe that the powerful will be held accountable if they break the law just as the weak are. But in the UK, you simply can't. Their institutions are so corrupt and deferential to power, full of people who all went to the same schools and the same universities, fucked the same pig to join the same snob network, all scratching each other's backs and overlooking each others crimes (because you're all chums, and otherwise, the photos may be made public). Until that changes, their country is unreformable.

The Wicked campers decision

For the past two months, the public has been complaining about Wicked camper-vans' offensive slogans. Yesterday, the Office of Film and Literature Classification responded, by classifying three of the vans as "objectionable" - meaning that merely possessing them is punishable by a penalty of ten year's imprisonment. But note what the ban applies to and why: three vehicles depicting drug use involving cartoon characters, deemed likely to encourage drug use among children. Their sexist, offensive slogans aren't affected. So, while Paula Bennet is blustering and threatening Wicked to remove their slogans or "get out the cheque book", its simply hot air. Those vans aren't banned, and on any honest reading of the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993, aren't likely to be - because sexist dickheadery isn't grounds for censorship in this country.

Meanwhile, there's this:

Wicked could face a fine of up to $200,000 per offence if it continued to use them. Drivers of the vans could also be fined and police would be able to use their discretion in charging. Police were deciding on the level of consequences.
Or, to put it another way, the police are going to make the law up as they go along to avoid damaging New Zealand's tourism industry. But these are strict liability offences here, which Parliament has decided apply regardless of intent or knowledge. If the vans are banned, anyone currently driving them (or whom they are currently rented to) is commiting an offence (likely multiple offences). It's the police's job to enforce the law as written, and they should do so - not subvert the will of Parliament. And if people don't like that (because, let's face it, it's going to look awful when we bang up a couple of German teenagers and subject them to a show-trial because the stupid van they rented was suddenly classified underneath them), then maybe they should have thought about that before clamouring for the law to be twisted in this way.

(Meanwhile, the Department of Conservation is now a week late on my OIA request on their issues about Wicked. Once upon a time, DoC made OIA a priority and dropped everything to process them. Clearly that is no longer the case under a National Minister. Just another sign of how National has eroded open government and transparency...)

UK police spied on Green politicians - again

More revelations of police political spying in the UK - this time on Green party politicians:

A secretive police unit tasked with spying on alleged extremists intent on committing serious crimes has been monitoring leading members of the Green party, the Guardian has learned.

Newly released documents show that the intelligence unit has been tracking the political activities of the MP Caroline Lucas and Sian Berry, the party’s candidate for London mayor.

Some of the monitoring took place as recently as last year and seemed to contradict a pledge from Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, the Metropolitan police commissioner, that the unit would only target serious criminals rather than peaceful protesters.

Extracts from the files show that the police have chronicled how the Green politicians had been speaking out about issues such as government cuts, the far right, police violence, and the visit of the pope.

Dangerous, radical stuff. Practically terrorism. Society clearly needs to be protected from these dangerous malcontents who seek to convince people peacefully, get elected, and change the law by democratic means!

Former Green mayoral candidate Jenny Jones gets it right: the UK police exist to protect the establishment. The Greens criticise, oppose, and ultimately threaten that establishment. And that is why they are targeted for political spying. But it is fundamentally undemocratic, the sort of thing you'd expect in a third world dictatorship, not a supposed democracy like the UK.

New Fisk

Saudi efforts to 'modernise' its economy away from oil are just PR tactics - and the West is lapping them up

A problem of trusts

Two weeks ago, when John Key was forced to reveal that he had at least $50,000 stashed with Antipodes Trust, a legal firm that specialises in money laundering via foreign trusts, he (though his office) assured us that it was all an accident. Key's lawyer had "moved firms", and Key's money had followed him. Of course, he lied:

Companies House documents show that Mr Whitney has been involved with the firm since its inception more than 20 years ago.

So if Key's money is with this dodgy firm of money launderers, it is because he has chosen to become involved in it. And remember, this isn't the first time Key has lied over his financial dealings - it seems to be a habit of his.

But it gets better - because Key's lawyer has also been lobbying to preserve his ability to launder foreign money, and using the Prime Minister's name to do it:
Ken Whitney, the executive director of boutique trust specialist Antipodes, wrote to then-Minister for Revenue Todd McClay on December 3, 2014, over concerns Inland Revenue were sizing up the sector.

"We are concerned that there appears to be a sudden change of view by the IRD in respect of their previous support for the industry. I have spoken to the Prime Minister about this and he advised that the Government has no plans to change the status of the foreign trust regime," Mr Whitney wrote in an email.

"The PM asked me to contact you to arrange a meeting at your convenience with a small group of industry leaders who are keen to engage to explain how the regime works and the benefits to NZ of an industry which has been painstakingly built up over the last 25 years or so."

[Emphasis added]

McClay followed the implied order, and told IRD to stop working on foreign trusts. Its unclear whether he confirmed that Whitney was speaking for the Prime Minister, or merely took it on trust, but either way, the PM's friend got his policy change. And as a result, New Zealand is still "open for business" for rich, tax-dodging sociopaths - and Russian gangsters, corrupt Chinese officials, international arms dealers, and terrorists.

Its an unpleasant insight into how policy is really made in New Zealand - the PM's rich mates having a word in his ear, and Ministers doing what they want because they are reminded of the relationship. And all the worse because Key's "defence" is that this "happens all the time". So, basicly, our policy is being made by and for his rich mates. And if their preferred policies also make us a bad international citizen and contribute to the global problems of tax evasion and money laundering, well, that's just the cost of doing business.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Climate change: The PCE on the ETS again

The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment has published the second part of her submission on the Emissions Trading Scheme - this time looking at long term changes. There's some proposals around advice and how policy is developed (the PCE suggests an independent agency to report on climate change issues. The PCE is exactly such an agency), but there's also some very topical advice on free allocation and the laundering of dodgy credits.

On free allocation (which saw New Zealand Steel apparently rort us for $4 million in 2014), the PCE recommends that it be phased out, with a clear pathway to doing so. They don't talk about timelines, but originally all free allocation was supposed to be gone by 2030. Given that business has already profited substantially from this, I think a shorter timeframe is justified; ten years ought to be long enough to prevent any short-term shocks (and also short enough to limit the damage from sabotage by a future National government).

On credit laundering, the PCE is clear that this was both fraudulent and is unnecessarily postponing necessary domestic emissions cuts (and tree planting). Her solution however isn't the immediate cancellation of the profits of fraud, but merely a commitment not to use them post-2020. Its a weak and morally compromised position that does her office no credit.

sadly, I expect National will ignore even that weak advice. As the Herald notes, they're simply not interested in climate change. While their denier faction is now publicly silent, they still prevent the government from taking any real action on our most pressing environmental problem. So, we'll have to wait for a change of government in 2017 or 2020 before we see any of this implemented.

New Zealand should take Australia's refugees

Yesterday, Papua New Guinea's Supreme Court found that the Australian refugee concentration camp on Manus Island was illegal and violated human rights. Shortly afterwards, Papua New Guinea's Prime Minister Peter O'Neill announced that the centre would be closed and demanded Australia take its refugees back. Australia, of course, is refusing, and alternating between "your country, not our problem" and promises to ship them to Christmas Island or Nauru, interwoven with threats to cut off aid to Papua if it doesn't ignore its constitution and continue to illegally detain and torture Australia's refugees.

Of course, there is a solution: New Zealand could take them. We've done it before, when Australia refused to accept refugees from the Tampa, and we should do it again. We've got space - and even a standing offer. But Australia refuses to accept that out of fear the people it has illegally detained, brutalised and tortured would become New Zealand citizens and use our open border to go to the very country which mistreated them. Yeah, right. But that does say something of Australia's high opinion of itself that they think they can abuse people in this way and yet they'll still want to live there...

But to be honest, given their policies, offending the racist, torturing Australians is a bonus, not a drawback. They need to be shown that not even their closest friends will accept their conduct. We should talk to the Papuan government directly, and offer to take all the detainees from Manus. And if Australia doesn't like it, tough.

Avoiding freedom of information in the UK

Like other countries, the UK has a Freedom of Information Act requiring them to disclose government information (subject to withholding grounds) to anyone who asks. Ministers don't like that - public scrutiny is so inconvenient - and now they've been caught deliberately trying to avoid it by using WhatsApp:

The Government is facing calls to be investigated over claims ministers supporting the Remain campaign have used WhatsApp to discuss strategy away from official channels.

A private group on the encrypted messaging service has reportedly been used to exchange texts by people guiding the campaign to keep Britain in the EU, prompting allegations that details are being kept secret from the public.

According to The Sun, one senior Tory warned attempts to avoid transparency laws could lead to "scandal and embarrassment" for the Remain group, and Labour MPs are said to have called for the Information Commissioner to probe the claims.

Context: the "Remain" campaign is run by the government. So we have government Ministers trying to discuss government business in secret. Which simply isn't legal. Hopefully the Information Commissioner will remind them of the law, and force release of this material pour encourager les autres.

Climate change: Failure

News of more climate change failure from National this morning, first with Genesis Energy's announcement that they won't be closing Huntly and will instead be keeping it open for another four years. Huntly is our dirtiest generator; it burns coal, FFS - the worst possible fuel for the environment. Shutting it down would remove 5% of our emissions overnight! But instead, generator nervousness (brought on by their inability to invest in clean options due to prolonged uncertainty over Tiwai Point) has won the day, so we will get dirty power instead of clean. Its a perfect example of how National's ETS - which should have priced coal and Huntly out of the market long ago - has utterly failed.

Speaking of the ETS, it also appears that New Zealand Steel rorted it for profits, taking free units in excess of its actual emissions, but paying in fraudulent Ukrainian and Russian "credit" they'd bought for next to nothing. As a result, they appear to have scammed us for over $4 million. Its certainly an incentive, but probably not one for the emissions cuts National was hoping for. Instead of "polluter pays", we have "pay polluters", while the planet burns.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Unlawfully killed

Twenty-seven years ago, in April 1989, 96 people were killed and over 700 injured in a crush at Hillsborough stadium in the UK. Today, an inquest found that they had been unlawfully killed by the police:

The 96 people who died at the Hillsborough football stadium disaster in 1989 were unlawfully killed and a catalogue of failings by police and the ambulance services contributed to their deaths, the jury at the new inquests into the disaster has determined.

The verdict, which came shortly after the 27th anniversary of the lethal crush at the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest, vindicated the bereaved families, who have campaigned tirelessly against the police’s efforts to blame supporters for the tragedy.

The question now is whether any of the police officers who made the decisions leading to those deaths, and the decisions afterwards to doctor evidence, change witness statements and blame the victims will be prosecuted. Sadly, I doubt it. Instead, we'll see the British establishment protect its own, say that too much time has passed and nothing can be done. And the net result of that will be to enable future wrongdoing, while further eroding public faith in government.

Justice for rendition

In 2009, Italy convicted 22 CIA agents in absentia for their role in the kidnapping and rendition from Italy of a refugee. One of those agents was dumb enough to set foot outside the United States, and was arrested in Portugal last year to face extradition. Her appeals have finally been exhausted and she is to be extradited to Italy next week:

A former undercover CIA officer is to be extradited to Italy following her conviction over the 2003 extraordinary rendition of a terror suspect to Egypt.

Sabrina De Sousa, a dual US and Portuguese citizen, was arrested in Portugal last October and has since lost three appeals against being handed over to Italian authorities. Her extradition is scheduled for 4 May.

Good. It may only be one of those responsible, but some justice is better than none.

meanwhile, there's a suggestion that the Italian government will pardon her to keep on-side with the US. They shouldn't. De Sousa conspired to kidnap and torture a man. Pardoning would simply make the government complicit in her crime.

Australia's gulag is illegal

Papua New Guinea's Supreme Court has found the detention of refugees in Australia's concentration camp on Manus Island to be illegal:

The five-man bench of the court ruled the detention breached the right to personal liberty in the PNG constitution.

There are 850 men in the detention centre on Manus Island, about half of whom have been found to be refugees.

The Supreme Court has ordered the PNG and Australian Governments to immediately take steps to end the detention of asylum seekers in PNG.

"Both the Australian and Papua New Guinea governments shall forthwith take all steps necessary to cease and prevent the continued unconstitutional and illegal detention of the asylum seekers or transferees at the relocation centre on Manus Island and the continued breach of the asylum seekers or transferees constitutional and human rights," the judges ordered.

In one of two lead judgments, Justice Terence Higgins said the detention also breached asylum seekers' fundamental human rights guaranteed by various conventions on human rights at international law and under the PNG constitution.

Australia is saying they will not take the refugees back. But they're Australia's responsibility. There's also the question of compensation from the PNG government for years of unlawful detention and abuse (and, potentially, from Australia's corporate subcontractors, who did the actual detaining and beating). But Australia will probably try and walk away from that too. Which is hardly going to encourage other countries to deal with their mess. Which means that Australia will have to admit responsibility and start dealing with refugees again, rather than trying to shove them out of sight, out of mind onto its poorer neighbours.

Open Government: Oh FFS

It is now 63 days until New Zealand's second National Action Plan must be presented to the Open Government Partnership. A requirement of OGP membership is that action plans be co-created with civil society, including a mandatory consultationperiod during development. So when is consultation on New Zealand's action plan scheduled to begin and how long will it last? The Minister won't say, and their answer implies heavily that they are still waiting for advice on it. And thanks to Kris Faafoi's useful monitoring questions, we know that she didn't receive any advice on the OGP in March, or in February, or in January, despite there being a consultation process to plan.

It gets worse. What awareness-raising activities, required by the OGP's articles of governance, has the New Zealand government undertaken? She's still waiting for advice on that as well, it seems. Does she even know when its due? Yes, but she seems to think the deadline is negotiable:

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.
There is, of course, no provision for extensions in the OGP statute. And its amazing that she's apparently decided this without ever having received any advice on it (you'd expect "ignore our international obligations and ask for an extension" to be a decision made by the Minister, not some public servant).

How has this happened? This might be the answer:
At any one time a minimum of one FTE in the State Services Commission (SSC) works on Open Government Partnership activities, with additional SSC staffing resources used as required.
One person. They have one person to handle what is supposed to be an ambitious, multi-departmental work programme with international obligations. No wonder its a fucking shambles.

Compare the answers from Bennett with the consultation requirements laid out in the OGP's Articles of Governance (p. 19). We've already failed on "availability of process and timeline", we've failed on "adequate notice", and we've utterly failed on "awareness raising". We will receive another negative report from the OGP's Independent Review Mechanism for this - and this after we promised them that we would fix those problems from our first consultation. Which means the possibility of a finding that we have ignored IRM recommendations, which (given we've already had one warning) means a referral to the OGP's Criteria and Standards Subcommittee and a formal membership suspension. That's what "open government" means under National: being suspended from the body which promotes it. Heckuva job they're doing, isn't it?

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Climate change: NZ must surrender the profits of fraud

Last week the government's use of dodgy Ukrainian emissions units hit the news, with a report from the Morgan Foundation accusing it of "climate fraud". The government felt this was serious enough that Climate Change Minister Paula Bennett was forced to admit on Q&A that it was not right and that they won't do it again. But while she's said she's waiting for advice on whether to cancel the AAU we saved by paying our Kyoto obligations in fraudulent hot air, I'm not holding my breath. That would involve doing the right thing. Besides, it was all "within the rules" so everything's OK, and it'll all cost too much, so we can't afford to. And so the march to oblivion continues.

This isn't good enough. Our government has just admitted committing fraud. Its not enough that it promises not to do it again - it has to make restitution for that fraud. And that means surrendering the profits of that fraud, the fraudulently-retained AAU. They apply that logic to criminals; the government should be held to the same standard it seeks to hold others to. And if it thinks that's too much, we should rightly ask why they seek to have one set of laws for us, and another for them.

For a land tax

John Key is apparently looking at a land tax on foreign property owners (including kiwis overseas) to cool the housing market. Good - but why stop at foreigners? There are New Zealand speculators who are driving up house prices, shouldn't they be taxed too? More generally, a land tax targets the wealthy directly, and in a way that can't be avoided by sharp accountants. If the government is worried about hitting ordinary New Zealanders, it can recycle some of the revenue as lower-bracket income tax cuts to ensure that only the rich and foreigners are worse off. It secures the tax base and redistributes in one hit.

But National will never do that, because its MPs own too many investment properties in Auckland and too many farms. So instead we'll get a half-arsed solution (and probably one easily dodged by playing corporate shell games), while ignoring the obvious one right in front of us.

Meanwhile Labour is doing its usual bullshit by crying "flip-flop". Which just shows again how they stand for nothing and how hollow and devoid of principle they are now. A left-wing party shouldn't complain when a right-wing government is forced to take progressive action - it should cheer while demanding (and promising) more. Labour's inability to do this again demonstrates how they're so caught up in the game of politics that they've lost track of where the goals are. Someone needs to put them out of their misery.

New Fisk

When we mourn the passing of Prince but not 500 migrants, we have to ask: have we lost all sense of perspective?

This is what happens if you don't have a plan

Radio New Zealand reports today that the electricity industry thinks the government's 90% renewables target is "unrealistic" and will not be met. This has been apparent for years. In 2010, the government's Energy Outlook - its modelling of electricity supply and demand to predict future needs - showed that we were never going to meet that target, and this was repeated in its draft 2015 generation and demand scenarios. And the reason is simple: because while the government set a target, it had no plan whatsoever to reach it. Instead, it relied on the market, which (while its moving in the right direction) is moving much slower than expected.

If the government was serious about this target, it would have backed it with policies: a thermal ban, a higher carbon price to drive existing thermal generation out of the market, mandatory renewables certificates to provide an additional revenue stream, or feed-in tariffs for wind to provide security for investment. Instead, they rolled back those policies, revoking the thermal ban and crippling the ETS. To the extent we've had progress at all, its only because Tiwai Point is threatening to shut down - and that's a mixed blessing because it has also stalled new investment.

But the fundamental problem is that the government doesn't care. Sure, they'll set a renewables target - but like their climate change targets, it'll be far in the future, when current Ministers expect to no longer be in government and therefore cannot be held to account for their failure to meet it. IBGYBG - and someone else will be left to clean up their mess.

Friday, April 22, 2016

An admission of guilt

Britain's political establishment just exempted itself from money-laundering regulations because one of them threatened to try and ban curtains. Yes, really:

George Osborne has agreed to make MPs exempt from anti-money laundering checks under pressure from moaning Tory backbenchers.


Mr Osborne caved under pressure from influential Tory backbencher Charles Walker, who has been pressing for the change for some months.

Mr Walker, who chairs the 1922 Committee of backbench Tory MPs, last week threatened to table a bill banning curtains if he was forced to publish his tax returns.

I'm not going to pretend to follow the absurd "logic" on display here, linking tax returns to money laundering checks to curtains. But to anyone outside Britain's pig-fucking classes, this looks like a tantrum by the entitled to protect their "right" to engage in corrupt behaviour and take secret bribes. In other words, an admission of guilt.

How Britain stacks the legal deck

Proper reporting of legal cases is just something we take for granted in a democratic society under the rule of law. Its just a basic function of the legal system, part of everyone being able to know what the law means and what the government is allowed to do. But Britain isn't such a society - and so over there, its government interferes with judicial reporting in an effort to stack the legal deck:

At some point, the reporting committee decided not to report the case of Qadir & SM vs the secretary of state for the home department. As I reported last month, this case proved that the Home Office had deported thousands – probably tens of thousands – of people on the basis of a scrap of hearsay evidence. It had accused students of fraud, put a black mark against their name which would prevent them being accepted into other countries, conducted dawn raids against them, separated husbands from wives, put many in detention, and then deported them. It did all this without giving them their day in court. Their only right of appeal was out-of-country.

Thousands of others were waiting on the result of the Qadir case so they could use it to fight their own appeal. After all, the case had seen the witness testimony of two Home Office officials - Rebecca Collings and Peter Milinton –branded unscientific and useless. These two witness statements were used against all the other people accused of fraud. If they were deemed useless in this case, surely they would also be useless in all the other cases?


But it won't, because the reporting committee is refusing to report it. The decision means that the case cannot be cited, except under very strict and laborious conditions, in other appeals. It means many thousands of people who have been unjustly deported will not even know of its existence. The decision makes the ruling against Theresa May legally useless. It’s as if it never happened. The reporting committee has taken a damning judgement against the home secretary and buried it.

It gets worse. Because this isn't the only case they've buried. It appears the upper tribunal (which deals with immigration appeals) has systematically been reporting rulings favourable to the government, while refusing to report rulings against it. Which makes those rulings difficult to use as precedents in future cases. And naturally, the committee which makes these decisions is secret, uncontactable, invisible. Which is how you exercise power without accountability.

Of course, the UK has a Freedom of Information Act, so the identity of the committee, their contact details, their criteria for reporting decisions, and their discussions with the Home Office about this case are all (in theory) obtainable - likely after several years delay and several legal appeals. But in the meantime, hundreds, perhaps thousands of people will be unjustly deported, because the precedent which could have saved them was suppressed. Just another example of how the UK isn't really a proper, democratic society.