Thursday, July 20, 2017

Unprotected disclosures

The State Services Commission has released the results of its inquiry into retaliation by convicted fraudster Joanne Harrison against staff who tried to blow the whistle on her. They're pretty devastating:

Four whistleblowers at the Ministry of Transport suffered "humiliating" reprisals after they raised concerns about convicted fraudster Joanne Harrison, a high-level inquiry has concluded.

And while the staff members were not forced out of their jobs as initially claimed, Harrison's advice meant some of them were made redundant just before Christmas or had requests for a pay rise rejected.

The affected staff members are now in line for compensation, the State Services Commissioner Peter Hughes said at a press conference this afternoon. The size of the payout was confidential.

Each of these staff did the right thing, and were punished for it. Its a clear breach of the Protected Disclosures Act, and SSC has recognised that with compensation. At the same time, it has once again raised the wider issue of whether the Protected Disclosures Act is fit for purpose. There's some vague recommendations for a review, but nothing concrete, despite the clear failure of the Act in this case. Reform was suggested in last year's Open Government Partnership consultation, but was not taken up by the government. This case suggests very strongly that that was a mistake. We need an improved whistleblower law, one which empowers employees to go to MP's and the media if their bosses ignore them, and one which offers concrete protection against retaliation, with personal liability and jail terms for bosses who try to silence them. Anything less, and we are implicitly tolerating corruption in our public service and our society.

National's New Zealand

Welcome to National's New Zealand, where infant mortality is at a three-year high:

New Zealand's high rates of infant deaths places it near the bottom of the OECD, with opposition parties blaming inequality and poverty for the country's poor record compared to the rest of the developed world.

Poor healthcare; poor housing; lack of access to a midwife or maternity carer; and poor health in the mother have all been blamed by experts for the poor statistics.

The rate of neonatal deaths has fluctuated over the past 20 years, but in that time there has been little sustained improvement.

Recently-published government figures from 2013 are the worst in three years.

This is the hard edge of National's cuts and its grinding down of the poor: dead babies. National doesn't care - hell, it probably sees them as a net gain, an avoided cost in their "social investment" models. If we want to fix this, and rejoin the first world, we need a government which does, and which will reverse National's austerity.

People should be paid for their work

The Māori Party's latest immigration policy: slavery for migrants:

An internship visa that would require migrants with special skills to train young people in the regions is to be announced by the Maori Party today.

The package is part of the party's new policy on immigration, which until now has been solely a bid to have a crash course on Te Tiriti o Waitangi - the Treaty - added to the requirements for citizenship.

The Community Internship Scheme would see migrants work for two years as builders, doctors, beekeepers, plumbers or in other skilled work, depending on their qualifications or the needs of regions. The regions targeted would be identified as "Economic Hotspots" - areas experiencing an economic, population or income decline.

The internship would be unpaid

But don't worry: the local community would feed and house their migrant slaves, so they won't starve or freeze to death.

As with WINZ's provision of force labour to The Warehouse, this is not something we should permit in New Zealand. People should be paid for their work. If the Māori Party wants to offer proper, paid jobs in the regions to encourage people to migrate there, that's one thing. But removing their right to pay and restricting their freedom of movement under a coerced "contract" is simply slavery.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Who needs tax collectors anyway?

New Zealand has a problem with tax cheats. Large multinational corporations, rich pricks, dodgy tradespeople, all not paying their fair share. So naturally, National is gutting the IRD:

Staff at Inland Revenue offices around the country have been told 30 percent of its workforce will go by 2021.


The PSA said restructuring from February next year could affect up to 4000 staff in various ways, but the impact had not been fully explained.

In a statement released this afternoon, Inland Revenue Commissioner Naomi Ferguson said there would be no reduction in frontline customer services staff.

She said the 3300 customer-facing staff would all be offered new roles or confirmed straight into new roles.

Which means the ones they're planning to sack are the specialist staff, the ones who know what they're doing. The ones who know how to detect fraud and spot bullshit from the rich. Because hey, who needs to do that? Its not like the government depends on people paying their taxes to fund all those schools and hospitals or anything...

This is pure wrecking behaviour by National. And clearly, if we want a functioning state supported by a functioning tax system, we need a change of government.

If this is "terrorism", we should all be "terrorists"

Turkey has arrested six human rights activists for "terrorism":

Amnesty International urged the British government to end its silence over Turkey’s slide into authoritarian rule on Tuesday after its local director and five other activists were remanded in custody on accusations of belonging to a terrorist organisation. It is possible the six will now be held in jail for as long as two years before their full trial comes to court.

Idil Eser, local director of the London-based organisation, was one of a group of activists including a German and a Swedish national detained on 5 July while attending a routine workshop on digital security and information management near Istanbul.

Turkey’s state prosecutor had asked the court on Monday to remand all 10 in custody pending trial on charges of membership of a terrorist organisation. Six were retained in jail to give the prosecution time to assemble full charges. Four others were released.

If promoting human rights is "terrorism", we should all be "terrorists". And governments which adopt that definition deserve to be overthrown by their people.

Farmers never learn

The dairy lobby is trying to tell us that farmers are cleaning up their act and polluting less. Meanwhile, a Waikato farmer has been convicted for the second time of pouring his cowshit into the local river:

A south Waikato dairy farming company has been fined for the second time in four years for unlawfully discharging dairy effluent into the environment.

Fernaig Farms (2006) Limited was convicted and fined $33,750 for their activities at their Lichfield property.

The fine was imposed in the Rotorua District Court last week by Judge CJ Thompson following a prosecution taken by Waikato Regional Council under the Resource Management Act.

The company owns a number of farms within the Waikato region, including four dairy farms.

A prosecution in 2013 also resulted in convictions and a fine of $30,000 for effluent mismanagement on their Mangakino property.

This farmer is a repeat offender, and its clear that they haven't learned from their first prosecution. And if it happens again, the court should ban them from farming. We do this for those who mistreat animals. Shouldn't we also do it for those who mistreat our environment?

A game of hide and seek

Radio New Zealand reports on the Ministry of Transport's attempts to bury information about its resident fraudster Joanne Harrison:

Emails from the Transport Minister show he told his own ministry that its plans to withhold information from a Labour MP were at odds with its promise to be open and transparent.


Labour MP Sue Moroney used the Official Information Act to request information about taxpayer-funded flights to the Far North that Harrison had taken, and a restructure of the finance team that took place at the Ministry while she was employed there.

Emails obtained by RNZ show the Transport Ministry's chief legal adviser David Bowden knew the information existed but was going to refuse to release it.

Mr Bowden said the financial restructure happened just outside the timeframe the MP had identified in her request, so the Ministry would say the information did not exist.

He said the Ministry would not release the costs of Harrison's flights because the MP asked for information on flights to Kaitaia, whereas Harrison had flown to a different airport in the region.

In this case they were pulled into line by the Minister's office, who reminded them of promises to be open and transparent on the issue (not that this is the same Minister who himself tried to bury information about Kiwirail). But it illustrates the toxic culture of secrecy that same Minister has allowed to fester (and at times promoted) in his Ministry. Agencies faced with a request which is obviously for certain information should not be playing these sorts of games to pretend that it does not exist. That both thwarts the purpose of the Act and arguably violates the duty of assistance. It also makes more work for them, in that if specific requests are gamed, they will be replaced with broader, more general ones which require more work. Plus it undermines the reputation of the Ministry, and broader trust in government.

We need a complete culture change around secrecy in our government agencies. It needs to be made clear to Chief Executives and to public servants in general that failing to properly comply with the OIA is a career-limiting move. No government is interested in this, so it is only going to happen when Parliament itself takes an interest and defends our right to transparency.

Labour finally opens its wallet

Labour has announced a massive spending package this morning, aimed at restoring our health, education and welfare systems after National's neglect:

Labour has run its numbers and opened its books, promising multi-billion-dollar injections into health and education.

If elected, Labour leader Andrew Little said he would pump $8b more over four years into health and $4b into education, all the while maintaining surpluses of more than $4b.

The party has released its fiscal plan at an event held in Wellington's Kilbirnie Medical Centre. It provides the broad-brush numbers of what Labour would spend in key social areas, of health, education and housing.

These are big numbers, even over four years, and National will no doubt cry "fiscal irresponsibility". But they add up. And what's amazing is how easy it is to enable that level of spending on core services simply by tweaking a few parameters: the net debt target (20% vs 15%), and the annual surplus (a billion dollars lower in 2022). And by cancelling some tax cuts. And it makes it crystal clear how National's brutal austerity, which is seeing the homeless freeze to death and the sick waiting in ambulances at A&E, is entirely a matter of choice, of their prioritising numbers on a spreadsheet and giving money to their mates rather than delivering the core services the public expects from government. We can afford to have decent public services - its just that National chooses not to. And they do it, bluntly, because they are vicious arseholes.

As with the Greens' families package, this is a negotiating platform rather than a concrete promise. But if Labour manages to lift its vote, then it becomes the framework its coalition partners' policies will fit within. And what's clear is that they have plenty of room to manoeuvre, and deliver a kinder, fairer New Zealand, if we let them. Or we can have three more years of National giving themselves tax cuts, while telling you that you'll have to wait for that operation or pay a thousand dollars in "donations" to keep your kids' school operating. I know which one I prefer.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Dealing with the tax cheats

New Zealand has a problem: large multinational companies like Facebook, Amazon, and RT cheating ontheir taxes. Now Labour is proposing a solution: a diverted profits tax:

Labour is promising to claw back hundreds of millions of dollars a year from multinationals such as Apple, Facebook and Google if they don't pay their fair share of tax.

If elected, the party would impose a diverted profits tax (DPT) on multinational firms that sent profits offshore to minimise their tax bill.

Leader Andrew Little has written to 50 multinationals setting out the pledge.

He told Morning Report an extra $200 million a year could be collected, which would make a "huge difference" and represented "a heap of teachers, a heap of nurses and doctors".

The basic mechanism is a deemed rate of tax on anything routed through a tax haven. Both the UK and Australia have such mechanisms, and they seem to be successful in eliminating transfer pricing and making these countries pay their fair share. There's no reason why such a policy wouldn't work here. The trick is getting a government that wants to tax the cheats rather than defend them.

But they still hate cats

Gareth Morgan's Opportunities Party has announced a $200 a week youth UBI:

All New Zealanders between 18 and 23 will be given an obligation-free $200 a week under an Opportunities Party policy announced this afternoon.

The policy would allow young people to "pursue their dreams" and "take stress off ... at a pivotal time" in their lives, the party said.

The Opportunities Party (TOP) has previously announced an "unconditional basic income" for over-65s and families with children under 3.

But today it said budget surpluses announced this year would make it possible to extend a basic income to "one of the most needy and neglected groups in society possible".

We already have a UBI for over 65's: its called "New Zealand Superannuation". Expanding it to true universality would be good for everyone, and that expansion has to start somewhere. Starting at the bottom, with young people, is a good place to do it. In a flash it would remove the inequity of students having to borrow to eat, while also replacing or supplementing student allowances, youth unemployment benefits, and the DPB for young parents. For those pursuing work rather than study, it would massively improve their bargaining position by allowing them to just walk away from a bad job. And because oppression starts at the bottom, this would have significant flow-on effects on the pay and conditions of older workers. And all for the price of Nationals' tax cuts.

And on the gripping hand: Gareth Morgan hates cats, so fuck him and his party. Him floating the idea is useful, but I'll get someone else to implement it, thanks. Someone who doesn't want to murder half my family.

Why we should price water IV

At their campaign launch in Nelson the Greens announced a 10 cents a litre levy on bottled water. So how much is that worth? Up to $2 billion:

Right now, 73 companies hold consents to take up to 23.7 billion litres of New Zealand water between them. Adopting the same approach as our Pacific neighbour and charging 10 cents per litre would bring in nearly $2.37 billion a year in revenue - roughly about 1 percent of the country’s GDP, and comparable to a third of the $8 billion the dairy industry contributes every year.

The country’s largest water permit grants Okuru Enterprises permission to pump 800 million litres of water out of Jackson Bay on the South Island’s West Coast for export every month, or 9.6 billion litres annually. With a 10 cents per litre tax, the West Coast Regional Council-approved consent would rake in a staggering $960 million a year alone.

Of course, not all of these consents are fully utilised, or even used at all: Okaru infamously has consent, but hasn't pumped a single drop in 25 years. And really, we want some of these consents (such as Okaru's) to be surrendered or never used. At the same time, it shows how charging water bottling companies for their use of a public resource could be a significant revenue stream for the government (and for iwi, once the necessary settlement is reached) and allow us to fund better public services for kiwis. And at the heart of it, there is the basic fairness article: that water belongs to the people of New Zealand. It is only right that those who want to profit from its extraction pay for it.

The same question

Another day, another case of unjustified taser use:

The police watchdog has found that a sergeant's use of a Taser on a young man in south Auckland was "excessive and unjustified".


"Police policy clearly states that a Taser must only be used on a person who is assaultive," said IPCA chair, Judge Sir David Carruthers.

​"The young man was being restrained by two officers at the time he was Tasered. Although he managed to spit in the sergeant's direction twice, the sergeant's use of the Taser was excessive and unjustified."

The IPCA also found that while the sergeant's arrest of the young man was lawful, his decision was "ill-considered and premature," and his decision to arrest the young man had unnecessarily escalated the situation.

Again its a classic case of "compliance policing": of electrically torturing someone for the convenience and ego of the police rather than because they were a threat to public safety. And as in other cases, it's the same question: Will this officer be prosecuted? Because ont he face of it, they appear to have committed an assault with a weapon, and arguably torture. If any of us did this, we'd be in jail, and rightly so. So, does the law apply to the police, or not?

This constant stream of taser abuse cases also shows why we can never allow an armed police force. It is clear that these weapons are constantly abused and that police lack judgement around use of force. We're lucky that so far no-one has died as a result. If they were using guns, I'd undoubtedly be asking that question about murder, not just assault.

The Warehouse: Subsidised by forced labour

Social Development Minister Anne Tolley is proudly announcing a new "youth initiative" with The Warehouse to give young people work experience. Which sounds great, until you realise that that work experience, lasting 15 days, is unpaid. So what this really means is that MSD will be leaning on young people and threatening to cut benefits unless they "agree" to work for free for three weeks for a perfectly profitable major company. There's a name for that: forced labour. And its not something we should permit in New Zealand.

Assuming National's discriminatory "training wage" applies, each of these workers will be deprived of over $1500 in wages during their "work experience". MSD has agreed to provide a thousand of them, so what this really amounts to is a $1.5 million government subsidy to The Warehouse, extracted by bullying and threatening vulnerable young people. For a company which supposedly prides itself on its social conscience, its absolutely disgusting. And we shouldn't shop there, until they agree to pay every one of these workers at least the minimum wage, like any other employee.

Monday, July 17, 2017

And he says he's not racist...

Last week, Winston Peters was in full outrage mode because the Greens had dared to speak the truth and call him what he was: a racist. This week, he wants Pakeha to have a vote on whether Māori should be effectively represented in Parliament:

Mr Peters also said that if New Zealand First was part of the next government, he would let the public to decide whether to abolish Māori seats and cut the number of MPs in Parliament to 100.

He said Māori seats send a terrible message and vowed to hold a mid-term binding referendum on the two matters.

"The fact is that Māori don't need to be told that they're not good enough to be equal, or that somehow they should be handicapped or somehow they should be pigeon-holed," Mr Peters said.

What the Māori seats actually do is ensure that Māori are effectively represented in Parliament, and can never be silenced by the Pakeha majority. We also effectively have a referendum of Māori voters on them every five years when the seats are recalculated after the census. Māori have overwhelmingly chosen to be represented that way. Against that background, a referendum seems to be a calculated attempt to strip representation and silence voices Peters and his redneck followers would rather not hear.

Fundamental rights should never be decided by referendum. The good news in this case is that if Winston wants his binding referendum, he'll need legislation. And he'll never get that from the left. So I guess the question is whether National will also rule it out, or whether they're so desperate for a fourth term that they're willing to return to Brash-style racism to get it.

Accountability measures

National supposedly loves targets, on the basis that they allow the government to be held accountable for failure. But when you look inside the sausage factory, its not a pretty picture:

A goal of reducing New Zealand's total suicide rate by 20 per cent over 10 years was rejected over fears the Government would be held accountable if the rate didn't drop.

The target would have seen New Zealand aiming for 12 fewer people to die from suicide per year, each year until 2027. An expert panel created to advise the Ministry of Health concluded that target should be the main purpose of the ministry's new suicide prevention strategy.

But Health Minister Dr Jonathan Coleman's office pushed instead for vague phrasing, like "reduce rates of suicide", that wouldn't become an "accountability measure" for the Government.

Because the last thing the government wants is to actually have to do what they say they're going to do. So instead, they avoid meaningful targets, or we get bullshit business-as-usual ones which will be met regardless, as seen in the EECS.

Except that there's a bigger "accountability measure", of holding them to account for their failure to set (and achieve) proper targets. And from the above, I think its clear National is a failure.

Standing on their principles

The Greens held their party conference over the weekend, and announced a $1.5 billion families package aimed at massively relieving poverty in New Zealand. Benefits would be raised, the minimum wage increased, child support universalised, and the boot of WINZ removed from beneficiaries' faces. This would be paid for by cancelling National's tax cuts - and by adding a new top-tax rate applying to rich people like MP's.

MMP being what it is, this is a negotiating platform rather than a concrete promise. But its a bold statement of principle, and of priorities. NeoLiberalism, with its benefit cuts, has left us a legacy of entrenched poverty. The policy of ever-harsher sanctions - continued unchanged under Clark and made even worse under National - has made things worse, not better. We have tolerated this inequality for far too long, and it is time we did something about it, by reversing the policies that cause it. And for those who think money is more important than basic decency, its not a question of whether we can afford it: given the huge social costs these policies have imposed on us, it is a question of whether we can afford not to.

As for Meyt's admission that she lied to WINZ in the 90's, well, wouldn't you to help your kids survive? And if not, you're a sorry excuse for a human being. People deliberately and consciously setting out to rip off the system out of greed is one thing; desperate people who are just trying to get by in the face of a system designed to grind you down rather than support you is quite another. Anyone who has ever had the misfortune of dealing with WINZ knows what wankers they are, and I'm not going to condemn anyone for doing what they need to do to survive.

The message is clear: if you want principle, you vote Green. If you want bland, technocratic tinkering, business-as-usual with a few more smiley face stickers over the nasty parts of NeoLiberalism (plus crawling into bed with Winston), you can vote Labour. I know which one I'll be doing.

Absolutely outrageous

We all knew that Horowhenua District Council was a toxic environment, with the council and Chief Executive refusing to accept the election of a new mayor. But Radio New Zealand this morning reported that its Chief Executive was spying on the mayor's email and personally redirecting, blocking, and editing emails within the council system. The story is audio only, but its worth a listen (as is the interview with one of its victims, mayor Michael Feyen).

According to the story, council David Clapperton had the IT team set up a blacklist several years ago, and emails to those on the list were sent to him for his review (and editing) before being sent on. Feyen, while a councillor, was on that list, as well as a number of other people. There's at least one quoted example of emails being edited in transit by Clapperton, and another of emails marked "confidential" being screened.

The report all this is from calls this an extreme risk to the council. No shit. It goes well beyond what's acceptable in the workplace, and raises serious questions about the Chief Executive's ethics. In case he's forgotten, he is an employee of the council. And here he's effectively spying on his bosses, and directly manipulating communications with them for his own purposes. This is absolutely outrageous, and he should be being fired immediately for it (sadly I doubt he can be prosecuted for use of an interception device, as an agency is considered to be a party to everything which crosses its own email system, even if its clearly private and not for them). It also raises obvious risks under the Privacy Act, and under LGOIMA.

But don't worry! The Chief Executive has decreed that the audit report covering all of this - which also talked about the governance issues between him and the council - will be peer reviewed, and that his abuse of the email system was "out of scope". Well, obviously, that makes it alright then, if its never mentioned in an official report ever.

Like parliamentary Services' spying on MPs, this isn't acceptable. The spying needs to stop, and Clapperton needs to be sacked. Sadly, given the toxic environment at HDC, he'll probably get away with it entirely.

Friday, July 14, 2017

An investment in the future

Labour has announced more policy: reversing National's ECE cuts:

Labour is promising an extra $193 million over three years for early childhood education.

Leader Andrew Little said Labour would increase funding "for centres that employ 100 per cent qualified and registered teachers, and we will require all ECE centres to employ at least 80 per cent qualified teachers by the end of our first term".

"This $193m increase for Early Childhood Education demonstrates our commitment to strong public services as the foundation for a just and prosperous society."

ECE funding has been frozen since 2010 - effectively a cut once inflation is factored in. This reverses that, as well as National's cut in teacher qualifications. And it will be money well spent: ECE is one of the highest value investments a government can make in future generations, and has a significant payoff by reducing future education, welfare, and justice spending. And it speaks volumes that National would rather have tax cuts now than investing in our future.

New Fisk

Fethullah Gulen is facing extradition to Turkey by Donald Trump – so he should read up about his country

National's New Zealand

How bad is National's New Zealand? We now have people freezing to death in the streets:

A homeless man has been found dead, huddled under his sleeping bag at the back of a church - the second known such death of a homeless person in two weeks as a polar blast grips the nation.

The man was found on Tuesday morning as Manurewa Methodist Church set up its weekly soup kitchen for the homeless.

Manurewa mum Beverley Losefa, who organises the soup kitchen, thought he was sleeping in. But when they served the first cup of tea and he still hadn't risen she became worried.

Police were called and confirmed the man had died, before they cordoned off the area.

This is what happens when you cut benefits and state housing and mental health care: people end up on the street, exposed to the weather. And then, in Winter, they die. It is social murder, pure and simple. And Ministers and officials need to be held accountable for it.