Monday, September 26, 2016



A welcome sight

One of the problems with our election laws is that who is funding a campaign is only disclosed after the fact, when it is obviously relevant information which could change voters' perceptions. But in the Palmerston North local body elections, it looks like several candidates are proactively disclosing both how much they're spending, and who is funding them:

[PN Green candidate Brent] Barrett said he was pleased to shed light on what had historically been "a shadowed corner of local politics in Palmerston North".

More than 200 local supporters had contributed to his campaign, with Barrett himself the largest single contributor of $4459, and underwriting the full cost.

The local Green Party branch contributed $2500 from its funds and through fundraising and donations.

There was $6420 from campaign fundraising events, $2271 from online campaign donations, $1350 from other local campaign donations.

[...]

The Labour Party's four candidates, Zulfiqar Butt, David Chisholm, Sheryll Hoera and Lorna Johnson worked together to pay for a campaign, likely to work out around $5250 apiece.

Johnson said they supported transparency and were happy to provide as much detail as they could. Each candidate has contributed $2000. The rest is from local fundraising ($2000 each) and donations from supporters, most under $100 ($1250 a candidate).


It would be good if there was an actual list of donors accompanying the story (rather than having it filtered by the candidates and the media), but any movement in this area is a welcome sight. And hopefully, we can make it a legal requirement in future.

Australia's backwards politicians

In New Zealand, we resolved the question of same-sex marriage through an (overwhelmingly supportive) vote in Parliament. Meanwhile, in Australia, politicians are dragging their feet, with the ruling "Liberal" party (which isn't) demanding that progress can only be by referendum - in other words, LGBT people can only have their fundamental right to marry recognised if politicians can't be held responsible for it, and if bigots get to mount a giant public hatefest first. But it turns out that the public they're so afraid of are overwhelmingly supportive of gay rights, and a referendum would lose in only a single rural electorate:

Just one electorate in the country has a majority of voters opposed to same-sex marriage, according to new research that suggests MPs and public debate significantly trail voters in backing change.

The University of Melbourne-led study found opposition to changing the Marriage Act ranges from 40 to just over 50 per cent in a handful of rural Queensland and northern NSW seats to less than 10 per cent in inner-city electorates in Sydney and Melbourne.

Maranoa, in outback south-western Queensland and held by the Coalition's David Littleproud, has just over 50 per cent of voters who do not want a change to allow same-sex couples to wed.

A small collection of seats – Groom, Flynn and Hinkler in Queensland and Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce's base in New England – could oppose same-sex marriage if undecided voters opted for the status quo.


And that's pretty much it. Australians support same-sex marriage. So why are their "representatives" against it?

Investigating Key's dirt machine

Back in 2014, John Key admitted that his staff were "briefing the bloggers" and using them as a backchannel to plant stories in the media. A number of people (including myself) were interested in this and lodged OIA requests for the details. The PM rejected these requests by playing the "hat game": the information was held in his capacity as the leader of the National Party, not his capacity as a Minister. But now, two years after my complaint was lodged, the Ombudsman is finally investigating it, along with an earlier request from NewstalkZB:

The Chief Ombudsman will investigate the Prime Minister over his refusal to release details regarding his, and his office's contact with right-wing bloggers David Farrar and Cameron Slater.

Back in early 2014 Newstalk ZB requested records of all such contacts that had occurred over a two year period.

John Key's office declined to release details, saying to do so would require substantial research and collation and also that some communications may have been made in Mr Key's capacity as an MP and leader of the National Party.


(I'd requested communications from a specific month, precisely to avoid "substantial research and collation").

When I originally complained, I had argued that the PM had not established that the briefings were not given in an official capacity:
While the PM's office is correct that he wears multiple hats, and information held in the capacity as leader of the National party or as an MP is not "official information" under the Act, he has not established that the information is held in such a capacity. One of the key allegations of Nicky Hager's "Dirty Politics" (which given your investigation into OIA processes I'm sure you're aware of) is that bloggers were being briefed by staff employed by Ministerial Services - that is, paid by the public. If that is the case, then that would make them definitively official information. In the case of the Prime Minister personally, the status of any briefing would have to be judged from the context in which it was given e.g. whether it was given on a day normally reserved for constituency or personal business, or during his "normal" office hours as Prime Minister. It can also be judged from the content e.g. if it is regarding official information or any OIA request then it must clearly be given in the capacity as Prime Minister, because the leader of the National Party or John Key MP do not "hold" such information and do not process such requests.

In the two years since, the OIA ground has shifted. Information held by the PM is now official by default, and he has to show it is held in another capacity. Whether that is actually the case will depend on the facts, but I think there's a good chance that they won't support a private capacity in every case, and that we'll see an official view of the heart of the PM's dirt machine.

Take that, British establishment!

The result of the UK Labour leadership election was announced on Sunday, and against expectations and despite a membership purge and universal hostility from the establishment media, Jeremy Corbyn won another landslide. Take that, British establishment!

Corbyn didn't just win - he increased his mandate (and from a larger party too). But, as with the previous leadership vote, this won't settle the issue. That won't happen until the Blairite "moderates" (Thatcherites who voted for war, privatisation and cuts) accept that parties belong to their members, not the establishment. And that looks about as likely to happen as Tony Blair admitting he was wrong to invade Iraq. Which means it'll be more backbiting, sniping and undermining, until their local electorate committees get tired of the bullshit and de-select them.

Friday, September 23, 2016



"Cluttering the internet"

In New Zealand the right of access to official information is well-established, and the introduction of FYI, an online service to make it easy, was uncontroversial. While a few agencies - notably the NZ Police - waste everyone's time by being dicks about the OIA's outdated eligibility rule, most are happy to accept requests from it. But in Australia, its a different story:

The Australian Tax Office has escalated a row with a website that facilitates freedom of information requests, claiming it "clutters the internet".

[...]

Last month, the ATO announced it would not cooperate with the [RightToKnow] website claiming it published the names of department staff and exposed abuse, stress, anxiety and damage to professional reputation.

Correspondence released under FOI laws reveal the ATO considered launching a court injunction to remove "offending material on the grounds it was defamatory, or threatening in a criminal sense".


RightToKnow publishes exactly and only what the ATO release. So if they publish the names of ATO staff members, it is because the ATO did not redact them (and I'm assuming that, as in NZ, names can be redacted for privacy purposes). But more generally, it exposes a deep unease in the Australian public service about freedom of information, and FOIA requests being public and publicly available. Its a toxic mindset, and one they will need to fix if they wish to be a modern democracy.

Good news on local government

Back in June, National introduced the Local Government Act 2002 Amendment Bill (No 2). The bill was yet another attack on local body democracy, allowing central government to effectively force mergers, force councils to divest services to council-controlled organisations, and (particularly disturbing in light of the Canterbury experience) create extended unitary authorities which could control water and air quality decisions in other districts (without those districts getting a say). But now its been delayed for a rewrite:

The Government has bowed to pressure from the country's mayors, putting changes to local government law on the backburner and signalling it may could rejig the most contentious measure.

Local Government Minister Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga has told the select committee considering the changes to postpone its report back from the scheduled October 28 until the end of next March.

He said the delay would "allow for further policy consideration and drafting changes" to the Local Government Act 2002 Amendment Bill (No 2).

"This will enable more rigorous analysis of submissions and more constructive dialogue with the local government sector," Lotu-Iiga said.


Hopefully this will result in the anti-democratic provisions of the bill being pulled. And if not, Peter Dunne has withdrawn his support, so the government may no longer have a majority for it.

Climate change: Its us or the fossil fuel industry

We always knew that dealing with climate change and preventing the oceans from drowning Bangladesh and the Netherlands and Tuvalu would mean having to wean our civilisation off fossil fuels in favour of cleaner energy sources. But a new analysis of the global carbon budget - how much carbon we can emit before we are likely to cause dangerous levels of climate change - shows if we are to survive, we need to kill the fossil fuel industry off urgently:

Scientists say that to have even a two-thirds chance of staying below a global increase of two degrees Celsius, we can release 800 gigatons more CO2 into the atmosphere. But the Rystad data shows coal mines and oil and gas wells currently in operation worldwide contain 942 gigatons worth of CO2. So the math problem is simple, and it goes like this:

942 > 800

“What we found is that if you burn up all the carbon that’s in the currently operating fields and mines, you’re already above two degrees,” says Stephen Kretzmann, OCI’s executive director. It’s not that if we keep eating like this for a few more decades we’ll be morbidly obese. It’s that if we eat what’s already in the refrigerator we’ll be morbidly obese.

And its worse than that, because two degrees isn't the target anymore - its 1.5 degrees. Which makes our total carbon budget to have even a 50-50 chance of meeting it only 353 gigatons. Which means that instead of the fossil fuel industry having the lifetime of their current fields to adapt, they've got only a third of that. Basicly, we need to put them out of business as quickly as possible, or we fry.

The good news is that we have the technology. A decarbonised economy is demonstrably feasible, and growing within the fossil economy as I write. With wind and solar and electric cars, we can eliminate carbon from the bulk of the energy chain, and use it only where we really need to. The bad news is that pushing this sort of crash transformation will require serious policy from the government - policy that will be fought tooth and nail by the fossil fuel dinosaurs, because it literally means their extinction. But its basicly us or them now, and we need to make sure that those rich polluting pricks don't destroy our future.

New Fisk

For the first time, Saudi Arabia is being attacked by both Sunni and Shia leaders

We know where this is going to end

Yesterday we heard that the Supreme Court had ruled that Corrections had made a mistake in calculating the release dates of two prisoners, imprisoning them for months after they should have been released. That's bad, and the state needs to make it right with compensation and a formal apology. But this mornign it got worse, with news that up to 500 serving prisoners may be affected by Corrections' bad maths:

More than 500 prisoners have had their prison sentences calculated wrongly, the Corrections Department has confirmed.

Twenty-one will be freed today after the Supreme Court ruled yesterday that Corrections had miscalculated the release dates for two inmates.

The ruling is expected to have a much wider impact, and could lead to compensation payments for those affected.

This morning, Corrections chief executive Ray Smith said the department had "solid plans" in place to ensure the release of the 21 prisoners today were well managed from a public safety and reintegration perspective.

"Around 500 serving prisoners out of the prisoner population of approximately 9800 are also affected, and will have their release dates brought forward. In most cases this will only be by a matter of a few days or weeks rather than a significant period of time."


Most significantly, that number does not include ex-prisoners. And that's where this is going to get expensive. Because if Corrections has calculated release dates wrongly for 5% of serving prisoners, they've probably done it incorrectly for those who have completed their sentences as well. Which means there could be thousands of victims. And while the average oversentencing seems to be a few months (suggesting compensation in the order of tends of thousands of dollars), that's very obviously going to get very expensive very quickly. And so it should: if the government imprisons you illegally, they should damn well pay through the nose for it.

Except they won't. Based on this government's past behaviour, they'll probably ram through a law under urgency to limit their exposure (and score some "tough on crime" votes) by removing the right to compensation for this false imprisonment by the state. Because that's how Judith Collins and friends roll...

meanwhile, you really have to question the basic competence of Corrections if they can't calculate a release date properly, and it really makes you wonder what else they're doing wrong.

Thursday, September 22, 2016



Standing for something

In his valedictory speech on Tuesday, departing Green MP Kevin Hague urged political parties not to dodge important issues like death with dignity, adoption reform, and drug decriminalisation, but to be brave and stand for something. Today, the Greens are just that, releasing a medically assisted dying policy:

“Adults with a terminal illness should have the right to choose a medically assisted death,” Green Party health spokesperson Kevin Hague said.

“The Green Party does not support extending assisted dying to people who aren't terminally ill because we can’t be confident that this won't further marginalise the lives of people with disabilities.

“This policy outlines the medical and ethical safeguards that need to be put in place to ensure that people who choose a medically-assisted death are making that choice freely and of their own accord.


The full policy is here, and its exactly what you'd expect from the Greens: sensible and in step with modern New Zealand. The question now is whether any other parties will follow suit, or whether they will continue to be chickenshits for fear of offending a dying fundamentalist minority.

Drawn

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

  • Private International Law (Choice of Law in Tort) Bill (David Bennett)

Its not the most interesting of bills, but at least its not spam - unlike the last two National bills drawn, it actually does something non-trivial which couldn't have been passed via a Statutes Amendment Bill.

Against restoring aid to Nauru

In 2015, New Zealand suspended all aid to Nauru after the country sacked its chief justice and suspended opposition MPs from Parliament. Now, Murray McCully is apparently thinking of restoring it:

New Zealand is considering whether to restore its aid spending to Nauru.

[...]


The New Zealand Prime Minister John Key met with Nauru President Baron Waqa during the recent Pacific Islands Forum summit in Pohnpei.

Mr Waqa said Mr Key indicated New Zealand would look to restore some of the $US878,000 in aid that had been suspended.

An official with the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs said they were exploring whether the unspent justice funding could be redirected to other projects in Nauru.


To which the obvious question is "why?" Nothing has changed - Nauru's judiciary is still not independent, and opponents of the government still face persecution for their views. Most recently, the Nauruan government is attempting to murder an opposition MP by arbitrarily cancelling their passport, preventing them from travelling for life-saving medical treatment. And of course they're still hosting an Australian concentration camp...

Nauru is not a regime we should be supporting in any way. We should not be restoring aid.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016



Against more gas

One of the first things National did on entering office in 2008 was to repeal Labour's ban on new thermal electricity generation. They've got away with it so far because their stagnant economy and worries about the potential shutdown of Tiwai Point has flattened electricity demand, meaning that old fossil fuel stations like New Plymouth and Huntly A & B haven't needed to be replaced as they shut down. But now it is under threat, with plans by Nova Energy to build a new 360MW gas-fired power plant in Otorohanga.

This will be a disaster for the environment. The new power plant will emit rougly half a million tons of carbon dioxide a year, reversing a decade of declining electricity sector emissions. Worse, that pollution will be locked in for the lifetime of the asset, twenty to thirty years. And given the current state of the climate, those are the exact twenty to thirty years we need to be reducing emissions, not increasing them.

We should not be building this plant, or any other fossil-fuelled power plants in future. We have excellent renewable energy resources, and it would be perfectly possible to meet that demand with geothermal or wind instead. National's repeal of the thermal ban and its support of more pollution is condemning us to a future of drought and floods. But they don't care, because the greedy old wankers will be dead by then.

The Greens are running a petition campaign on this issue; you can sign it here.

Justice for Iraq

In 2003, British soldiers threw Iraqi teenager Said Shabram off a jetty into a Basra canal. Now, they may finally face justice for their crime:

Three British soldiers could be taken to court over the death of an Iraqi teenager who died in military custody 13 years ago despite having been cleared of any wrongdoing in a 2006 inquiry.

Said Shabram,19, drowned in the Shatt al-Arab river after allegedly being forced into the water by British troops in a practice known as “wetting”.

The soldiers, including a decorated major as well as two current serving personnel, were originally cleared by an internal military investigation in 2006 with the family of Said Shabram later receiving £100,000 in compensation from the Ministry of Defence in 2011 in an out-of-court settlement.

However, The Iraq Historic Allegations Team (Ihat) which was set up by the Labour Government in 2010 to investigate allegations of murder, torture and abuse by British servicemen against Iraqi civilians has since reviewed the case and recommended prosecution of the soldiers to the Director of Service Prosecutions.


[Links added for context]

Pretty obviously, that 2006 internal investigation was a whitewash and cannot be trusted. And yet, a Conservative MP is calling the potential prosecution a "betrayal". To the contrary, it is attempting to shield people who extrajudicially murder civilians from justice that is a betrayal, of the values the UK purports to stand for. But I guess he's just worried that if war criminals are held accountable for war crimes, they might stop committing them or something.

Member's Day

Its another Member's Day, and it promises to be a fiery one - though not because of the member's bills. Instead, its a local bill, the New Plymouth District Council (Waitara Lands) Bill, which is likely to be contentious. The bill allows leaseholders of stolen Maori land in Waitara, the nexus of the land wars, to buy the land their ancestors stole. While some local hapu have agreed to this, others have not, and so it is likely to be highly contentious.

Following on from that we have the first reading of Catherine Delahunty's Public Works (Prohibition of Compulsory Acquisition of Māori Land) Amendment Bill, which aims to prevent a common source of Treaty of Waitangi breaches. The House should also make a start on Shane Reti's Consumer Guarantees (Removal of Unrelated Party Lender Responsibility) Amendment Bill, and if it moves quickly, might get to Chris Hipkins' Education (Charter Schools Abolition) Amendment Bill. There should be a ballot for at least one bill tomorrow.

Earning that reputation again

Today's "big" political news is a spat between New Zealand First and National over the House's extended sittings this week. Originally the Business Committee had agreed to hold a special sitting on Friday to finish off some Treaty settlement bills. National had also apparently received agreement for a voice vote on those bills. However, NZ First wanted its opposition to Treaty settlements to be on the public record, so have said they will not allow a voice vote - and in a supreme act of petulance, Gerry Brownlee has now cancelled the entire thing, with much finger-pointing and public blaming.

But this isn't just a case of MPs being petulant little brats, there's an underlying issue: having a party vote rather than a voice vote means that MPs actually have to turn up for work instead of skiving off and relying on a procedural trick to cover their absence. But instead of disrupting the weekend plans of a single government MP, Brownlee would rather throw a public tantrum and disrupt the travel plans of hundreds of Maori instead.

...and then politicians wonder why the public think they're lazy, self-interested wankers. In this case, as in so many others, they have no-one but themselves to blame.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016



Monstrous

Between 2012 and 2014, Brian Balzer raped and sexually exploited a female prisoner at the prison he worked as a guard at. Unlike many victims of sexual violence in US prisons, she complained about it on her release. And as a result, she's back in prison, detained indefinitely as a "material witness":

A former guard at Oregon's only women's prison is awaiting trial on accusations that he had sex with an inmate – but it's the alleged victim in the case who's in jail.

Washington County Circuit Judge Charles Bailey this week ordered that the 41-year-old woman remain in custody on a material witness hold because of the state's fear that she won't show up to testify at the Oct. 4 trial.

Jail records show she's been held since Aug. 16.


And a Guardian article yesterday shows that she is still being detained.

Jailing a victim is simply monstrous, and seems calculated to discourage future complaints. And I can't think of a better way to guarantee unhelpful testimony from an uncooperative witness than that.

Defending the indefensible

Last week the government released a damning review of MPI's decision not to prosecute fishers for illegal fish dumping, high-grading and under-reporting of catches. Today, unbelievably, Minister for Primary Industries Nathan Guy is defending their failure:

"In this one particular case I am disappointed. The director general is now making a raft of changes within MPI in terms of different processes and procedures to ensure this doesn't happen again."

Despite the changes - including fast-tracking more electronic monitoring equipment on boats - Guy said MPI did a very good job and the public could have full confidence in their fisheries enforcement.

"I have trust in MPI because, by and large, they do a good job as the regulator. But you need to understand...dumping and discards has been an issue [they] have been grappling with for a long period of time."


A good job as regulator? Yeah, right. MPI is completely captured by the industry it is supposed to be policing. Guy should be working to eradicate that culture, not defending it.

Another camp-guard quits

A third organisation has decided that it no longer wants to help Australia to run concentration camps for refugees:

A company contracted to provide support for refugees and asylum seekers on Nauru is pulling out, after deciding it would not re-tender for the contract.

The Guardian reports sources on Nauru saying Connect Settlement Services told workers and refugees at a meeting on Monday it would be gone by Christmas.

The agency, which took over after Save the Children pulled out last year, is believed to have consistently raised concerns about poor mental healthcare and child protection services on Nauru.

CSS is the third major contractor to announce a pull out in recent weeks after the security contractor, Wilson Security, and the main contractor, Ferrovial, which took over Broadspectrum, announced they would not seek to renew contracts.


Which means Australia either needs to find new gulag guards, or run the camps itself. Or shut them down. And they're clearly anticipating the latter by moving to ban any former gulag inmate from ever entering Australia - a move which would allow New Zealand to take these refugees, and protect Australia from the implausible scenario that, having built a new life here, they might choose the society which rejected, abused and tortured them over the one which welcomed them. Its an illuminating illustration of just how titanic Australia's ego is - they seriously think that, having tortured people, their victims will still be trying to join their putrid, racist country.

As for how we should respond, banning any Australian who has worked in the camps, or (more importantly) voted for them would be a good start. But you'd expect them to fail the "good character" test in any case.

Who to vote for in Palmerston North

My local body voting papers arrived yesterday, meaning that I need to decide who I'm voting for. So, here's my take on Palmerston North local body politics.

The mayoral race is a waste of time. On the one hand, we have a rugby meathead who thinks stadiums are more important than social housing. And on the other, a convicted child-beater who "claimed to be God, to be emperor and land lord, and said he could print money", who sounds like a character from "The Repairer of Reputations". Neither of those is a good choice; fortunately the ballot paper includes an "informal" option you can circle.

City Council is interesting, with 28 candidates competing for 15 spots in an STV election. That's a big field, and there's some easy ways of winnowing it down: first, exclude anyone who voted for at-large election rather than wards, which gets rid of Baty, Broad, Dennison, Findlay and Jefferies. Second, exclude anyone who voted for the (now dumped) plan to hire thugs to intimidate beggars, which eliminates Baty, Findlay, Hapeta and Meehan. Scrubbing anyone who promises low rates (i.e. to underfund council services) gets rid of Bowen, Egan, McLaughlin and Naylor as well. I recommended Duncan McCann last election, but him being in bed with the meathead doesn't make him appeal. Which has almost reduced us to a manageable number.

Of the rest, we have a Green candidate, Brent Barrett, and four Labour candidates - Zulfiqar Butt, David Chisholm, Sheryll Hoera and Lorna Johnson. Sue Pugmire and Aleisha Rutherford are also left-wing candidates. Abi Symes might be worth it if you want a youth voice, but scores poorly on the Generation Zero scorecard. Tangi Utikere and Elizabeth Paine are people I'd rank lowly (but at least rank). Joseph Poff supports wind fams, but sadly the wrong one (PNCC's corrupt little deal with Mighty River to put one in the Turitea Reserve) - he might be OK in another year, but not while the Turitea windfarm is on the table (looking back I also see he was a farmer candidate for Horizons last time. Which suggests he's an anti-green candidate and a definite "no"). I haven't worked out my exact ordering yet - do I do the obvious and go Barrett 1 because he's the candidate I want to see elected, or do I try and be tactical and give Symes my top vote in the hope that it saves her from early elimination? - but ranking women before men seems to be a good way to help address the monoculture of dead white men in local government.

(If you're looking for material on the candidates, NZ Election Ads has a good collection of stuff from the PN election this time, including every newspaper ad and flyer I could scan in).

Which brings us to Horizons. The state of the river is still the key issue (and is overflowing into city council politics because of PNCC's poor sewage arrangements). Unfortunately they still use the block vote, so its tick up to four boxes from a choice of six candidates. At this stage I should make an embarrassing admission: last election I recommended Rachel Keedwell as a clean water candidate. Turns out she's an anti-flouride nutter. Sorry, and I won't be making that mistake again.

Of the remaining candidates, I don't like the incumbents (Kelly and Rieger), because they clearly haven't been cleaning shit up. I don't like political nepotism and dynasties, so I won't vote for Amey Bell-Booth. Which leaves me with two candidates to support: Ralph Pugmire and Wiremu Kingi Te Awe Awe.

Finally, there's DHB - which is a waste of time because those elected don't control their budget, and have to work for central government, not for us. As usual I'll rank about five or six people (usually doctors) and screw the rest.