Friday, July 01, 2016



New Fisk

In the fight against Isis, there's hope in the history of Islam

Open government: Late

Its the 1st of July. New Zealand's second National Action Plan under the Open Government partnership was officially due in yesterday, but the government has not even started public consultation yet. So we are now officially late - again.

The OGP has a four month grace period before it gets upset. The government is relying on using it to consult on, develop and finalise the action plan, submitting it right at the end of October. There's no real reason for this delay other than they can't be arsed meeting the deadline, so this is an abuse of the OGP's rules. And if they're a day late, then we're in trouble. We've already had one formal warning for lateness; a second one means we will be sent to the OGP's Criteria and Standards Subcommittee and possibly ejected.

And to be honest, we'd deserve it. The New Zealand government has never taken the OGP seriously, never made the sorts of commitments required by the partnership, never even been on time with any OGP obligation. We are, at best, a reluctant participant, dragged into it against our will ("as a favour to the Brits"), unwilling to do what is required. And if that's going to be the style of our participation, the sooner we're thrown out, the better.

Thursday, June 30, 2016



Ignoring the Ombudsman

Last week, the Ombudsman issued a damning report on Paula Rebstock's witch-hunt at MFAT, finding that it was a total hatchet job which ignored evidence and slandered innocent public servants. The Ombudsman recommended a public apology and compensation for Rebstock's defamation (something she sadly won't have to pay for out of her own pocket). State Services Commissioner Iain Rennie's response? An unenthusiastic "we'll think about it". Meanwhile, Paula Bennett, the Minister in charge of SSC, claims the report has been "misinterpreted" (a claim which shows that she is basicly illiterate), while Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully, who along with Rennie instigated and oversaw this debacle and defamed its victims afterwards is refusing to admit that the public servants have had their names cleared and are owed an apology.

In short, it looks like the government is planning to ignore the Ombudsman and reject the report. that would be crossing a constitutional Rubicon - the Ombudsman is one of our ultimate backstops, and their "recommendations" are always implemented. But that would embarass top National Ministers and a key crony (not to mention lead to public demands that she repay the $208,907 she was paid for her hatchet-job), so obviously the political needs and sensitive egos of the government of the day trump that.

Just another example of how National abuses power, and why they should never be trusted to hold it. We need a new government, one which will respect the checks and balances of our democratic system, rather than running roughshod over them. We need to get rid of National.

There is no corruption in America

America is one of the most corrupt democracies on earth, with politicians forced to grovel and do favours to wealthy donors in order to collect the millions (or in the case of Presidential elections, billions) of dollars needed to run for election. But not anymore. With a single decision, the US Supreme Court has effectively defined corruption out of existence:

In the McDonnell case, it was proven that Jonnie Williams, the CEO of a dietary supplement company, gave [former Virginia governor Bob] McDonnell an engraved Rolex watch, took McDonnell’s wife Maureen on a $20,000 shopping spree at Louis Vuitton and Oscar de le Renta in New York, loaned the couple over $100,000, and much more. In return, McDonnell set up meetings for Williams with Virginia officials that Williams used to push for the state to fund studies on the effectiveness of his supplements, pestered his staff about it, let Williams throw a product launch lunch at the governor’s mansion, and allowed Williams to add himself and associates to the guest list for a reception for state healthcare leaders. Williams himself testified that the gifts he gave the McDonnells were “a business transaction.”

But so what, wrote Chief Justice John Roberts: “Conscientious public officials arrange meetings for constituents, contact other officials on their behalf and include them in events all the time.” If McDonnell’s conviction stood, “officials might wonder whether they could respond to even the most commonplace requests for assistance, and citizens with legitimate concerns might shrink from participating in democratic discourse” – since presumably all citizens buy their governor’s wife a full length white leather coat and pay for him to go see the Final Four.


Or, you know, those public officials could refuse to do favours for donors, and treat them like any other citizen (and behave like elected representatives in any other modern, western democracy: non-corruptly, and with a sense of decency). But then they might not get all that money. So, instead, the Supreme Court has basically legalised the most egregious corruption, and provided you never say "here's $100,000 for your vote", you're in the clear.

And then they wonder why no-one votes. Because doing so simply legitimises the corruption of the few, while enabling them to rule over the many.

New Fisk

Brexit is a 'heartbreaking wake-up call' – and other meaningless political clich├ęs used this week

Repeal the veto

Vetoparl

Last night, National vetoed Sue Moroney's bill to extend paid parental leave. The bill had a clear majority in Parliament, and they couldn't vote it down. So they invoked an archaic, feudal provision to prevent there from being a vote at all. It shows an utter contempt for democracy and the new constitutional norms of MMP. So what are we going to do about it?

Simple: repeal the veto. Its an archaic and unconstitutional relic of (spit) English feudalism, ultimately dating from the days when the English Parliament (from whom we inherited our Parliamentary tradition) was merely a rubberstamp for the king, rather than an elected, sovereign, representative body.

As for how to do it, the veto is contained in Parliament's Standing Orders. The way to change it is therefore by petitioning Parliament. I've set up such a petition (through ActionStation), and you can sign it here.

Once submitted, the bill will be assigned to an appropriate select committee, likely the Standing Orders Committee. The government does not have an inbuilt majority on that committee, so they can't simply ignore it. Which means we will either get rid of the veto, or force the other parties to declare where they stand on it, allowing us to vote accordingly.

It's our parliament, and it is supposed to work for us. If you want it to actually work that way, rather than simply be a rubberstamp for the government, then sign the petition.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016



Austerity violates human rights

Its official: the UK's programme of austerity (which has seen widespread cuts to government services, the bankruptcy of the NHS, and a spate of benefit-cut induced suicides) violate human rights:

The United Nations has confirmed that the UK's Austerity policies breach the UK’s international human rights obligations.

The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has expressed “serious concern” about the impact of regressive policies on the enjoyment of economic and social rights in a damning report on the UK.

Based on evidence it received from Just Fair and other civil society groups, the Committee concludes that austerity measures and social security reform breach the UK’s international human rights obligations.


The UN particularly criticised the UK's failure to tackle homelessness and the growing reliance on food banks, as well as its vicious regime of benefit cuts and sanctions. All of these problems exist in New Zealand (because National copies Tory policies), which makes you wonder what sort of report we will get when we're up for review in 2017.

The PCE on environmental reporting

Last year, National passed the Environmental Reporting Act. The purpose of the Act is ostensibly to produce regular, independent reporting on the state of New Zealand's environment. But that could result in bad news (such as reports that our greenhouse gas emissions are rising, our rivers are unswimmable, and our native species being driven to extinction), so National strapped the chicken, dictating the topics the reports would cover.

Today, that chicken came home to roost, with the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment panning the prototype Environment Aotearoa 2015 report.

The criticisms are serious. The report is poorly structured, which obfuscates key issues. The indicators are poorly chosen. There is no forecasting of future trends. But above all, there are no conclusions, and no assessment of the seriousness of problems.

That, of course, was the point: National wanted people to think it cared about the environment, so it had to produce reporting - but forecasts, assessment of seriousness, and conclusions are the last things it wanted. Because then it would have the Department of Statistics telling it (and the people of New Zealand) that climate change, dairy intensification and over-fishing are real and serious problems, and they might be expected to do something about them. But if an environmental report isn't going to do those things, you really have to ask what the point of it is.

But the PCE's final recommendation is the best: she recommends that the Ministry for the Environment be required to produce a formal, public response to each environmental report, outlining priorities and options for action. This respects the difference between (scientific) reporting and (political) action, while making it clear that reporting must drive action. Which again is the very opposite of what National wanted. But if reporting doesn't result in action, then why bother with it?

National will try and dismiss this response. That could come back to bite them. Because if the PCE doesn't get what she wants, as an independent Officer of Parliament she can simply start producing her own reports, or her own assessment of responses. And that will be even worse for National.

Open Government: The dog ate their homework

Back in March, the New Zealand government received a formal warning from the Open Government Partnership that we were failing to meet our obligations. Given the reputational damage of such a warning, you'd expect it to have had a saultory effect on our policy and encouraged the government to do a better job. Instead, SSC did the opposite, unilaterally delaying the action plan and deciding to use it as a propaganda exercise, while ending any pretense at a partnership with civil society.

So how did this happen? Simple: The Minister claims to have never received the OGP's warning:

On 11 April 2016 I was first made aware of the Open Government Partnership Support Unit’s letter to the New Zealand Government dated 4 April 2016 (but received by New Zealand after that date). The letter dated 21 March 2016 referred to in your question was never received by the New Zealand Government.

"I didn't receive it" is the saddest of sad excuses, and it raises serious questions about whether SSC is fulfilling its duties as a point-of-contact competently. But also if they're paying this little attention to the issue then it explains a hell of a lot.

11 April is also when Bennett was briefed on SSC's plans to ignore the OGP's deadlines. Presumably, she also approved them. Which means when they turn into a clusterfuck and we get ejected from the OGP, we can hold her accountable for it.

Submitted

For the past two weeks I've been running a petition campaign against Bill English's cowardly, unconstitutional and undemocratic veto of Sue Moroney's Parental Leave and Employment Protection (Six Months’ Paid Leave and Work Contact Hours) Amendment Bill. On the advice of ActionStation, the petition was submitted by post yesterday when it had only 1275 signatures:
PetitionPostedSml

With a supplementary email with the final list following just a few minutes ago.

All up, 1385 people signed it, which is far more than I ever expected. Now, I guess, we get to see whether it works. And if not, well, I have other plans...

Member's Day

Today is a member's day, and the finale in Sue Moroney's campaign to extend paid parental leave. There's a private bill to get through first, but her Parental Leave and Employment Protection (Six Months’ Paid Leave and Work Contact Hours) Amendment Bill will have its third reading today. The bill is subject to an unconstitutional financial veto by National, and unless that is withdrawn, it will not get a vote.

When that's done, there's the third reading of Adrian Rurawhe's Official Information (Parliamentary Under-Secretaries) Amendment Bill. I doubt that will be finished tonight, but if it passes, I'll be celebrating.

Because today will be all late stages, there won't be a ballot tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016



National wants domestic GCSB spying

The Law Commission has just announced the statutory review of the Search and Surveillance Act 2012. But in addition to the expected material on whether the Act has worked and whether it needs to be fixed, the terms of reference also include this:

As suggested in the report of the First Independent Review of Intelligence and Security, the review will also consider whether the Act (or any related legislation) should be amended to enable broader use of the capabilities of the Government Communications Security Bureau and/or New Zealand Security Intelligence Service to support police investigations.

Those "capabilities" of course include mass surveillance, spying on private communications, and covert burglaries and bugging with no judicial oversight whatsoever. The capacity for abuse is obvious.

There will be public submissions on this, and we need to speak up about it. The question is whether it will do any good, or whether National's stooges on the commission have already been told what their conclusions will be.

New Fisk

My father fought in WW1, and my mother learned Esperanto – this is what they would have thought of Brexit

Customs are Islamophobic and racist

Radio New Zealand this morning has appalling data on apparent Islamophobia by Customs, with kiwi Muslims being regularly stopped and searched at airports for no apparent reason other than their religion:

Members of New Zealand's Muslim community say they have been humiliated and treated like "criminals" by airport customs.

They say they are regularly stopped at Auckland Airport for hours, while their belongings are searched and their mobile phones taken off them.

[...]

On Sunday night, Muslims living in Auckland's Mount Roskill suburb gathered at Al Manar mosque to pray, celebrating the final week of Ramadan.

Between prayers, the Imam made an announcement asking those who had been stopped by New Zealand customs to come forward and share their stories.

RNZ News spoke to 11 people that night.


Unmentioned: thanks to National, Customs can give the data it pulls off those phones and digital devices straight to the police, or the SIS (who can then pass it on to their foreign masters), without any need for suspicion, let alone a warrant.

Also worth noting: this isn't the first time this issue has been raised. Its a persistent, pervasive problem of discrimination at the border. Customs, of course, denies it, pretending that there is a reason for these searches. Unfortunately, what this "reason" boils down to is Islamophobia and racism. And the net effect of it is to tell kiwi Muslims that they're not "real" New Zealanders and that the state hates them and will not let them live their lives in peace. And when you're fighting a "war on terror", that message is an extremely dangerous one to send.

Monday, June 27, 2016



A coincidence, I'm sure

Damning inquiry points finger at the Government, State Services Commissioner, Stuff, June 23, 2016:

The Government has rejected parts of a damning report into its handling of an inquiry into leaks from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Ombudsman Ron Paterson has told the Government it should compensate a former top diplomat whose career ended in tatters after he was targeted by the inquiry, which was instigated by the State Services Commission.

He has also recommended a formal apology.

[...]

In a statement, Rennie said he did not agree with all elements of the Ombudsman's findings, in particular that in making findings relating to the investigation being outside its terms of reference.


Ombudsman resigns: Professor Ron Paterson steps down two years early, New Zealand Herald, 27 June 2016:
One of the country's two Ombudsmen has resigned and will leave the role two years before the end of his five-year term.

Professor Ron Paterson will leave the role on Thursday. He was appointed an Ombudsman in June 2013 for a five-year period.

Deputy Ombudsman Leo Donnelly will be appointed temporary Ombudsman for a 12-month period, which could be extended by another two years.


The timing of this really doesn't look good. The SSC report was apparently hotly contested, and Rennie effectively refusing to accept its "recommendations" may have been a final straw.

Open Government: Dismissing the stakeholders

In 2015, a year after joining the Open Government partnership, the government established a Stakeholder Advisory Group. According to its terms of reference, the purpose of the group was to

assist with the development, implementation and evaluation of the commitments in New Zealand's Action Plans by providing constructive advice, communicating openly and involving other stakeholders.

The Stakeholder Advisory Group was also important for compliance with our OGP obligations. According to SSC,
Establishment of the SAG also aligns with an OGP requirement for a forum that enables regular multi-stakeholder consultation on implementing the Action Plan. It will also address concerns expressed by stakeholders during development of the Action Plan about the OGP being about stakeholder participation, not just consultation.

According to my sources, SSC has recently sacked the SAG. It will apparently be replaced with a yet-to-be-detailed "external advisors group".

As for why, it appears to be because SSC no longer considers it necessary for stakeholders to participate in the development of open government policy (if they ever did), and no longer wants to hear from them. Back in February, the SAG were told to go away and "provide further feedback on the possible themes for the next Action Plan". They dutifully did this, and produced a variety of reports on draft OGP commitments, the OGP and the Treaty, and specific commitments around the review of the OIA. In the meantime, SSC had decided that they wanted to delay the action plan and use it as a propaganda exercise, so their response was "thanks, but no thanks":
The Deputy Commissioner thanked SAG members for their contributions. Given the need to conduct a wider enhanced engagement process, individual SAG input could be revisited following planned engagement with Civil Society and New Zealanders, and formulated as a part of a broader group of ideas for consideration by government.

It will be interesting to see how many of their proposals feature in whatever document SSC finally produces, but my guess is "none". SSC isn't interested in hearing from civil society about open government. And apparently that even extends to a bound and gagged "advisory group". They just want us to shut up and go away. This attitude is of course utterly inconsistent with the ethos of the Open Government Partnership. But it has been clear from the beginning that SSC has no commitment to that ethos at all, and simply regards our OGP membership as a burden foisted upon them, to be grudgingly and technically complied with and otherwise ignored as much as possible.

Fixing the Statutes Amendment Bill

Last October, I highlighted a problem with the government's Statutes Amendment Bill. Such bills are supposed to be used only for "technical, short, and non-controversial amendments", but the bill included amendments to the Victims’ Orders Against Violent Offenders Act 2014 which created new powers and new criminal penalties, as well as being a prima facie violation of the right to freedom of expression.

Following my post, I made a submission to the Government Administration Committee on the matter, and it seems they took it seriously: today, they've split those provisions out into a seperate Victims’ Orders Against Violent Offenders Amendment Bill, allowing them to be properly debated.

I expect that bill to pass - the new powers (to clear courtrooms and make suppression orders around proceedings under VOAVO) are reasonable and a justified limitation under the BORA. At the same time, its good to see Parliament standing up against the constitutional abuses of the National government in trying to slip changes of this magnitude through under the (abbreviated) legislative tidy-up procedure of the Statutes Amendment Bill.

New Fisk

The relationship between Israel and Lebanon is deteriorating again - and it's civilians who will suffer
What does the Middle East think of Brexit? A lot more than you'd assume
Fallujah, the 'resistance' city, is liberated yet again – for the fourth time in a decade

The establishment protects itself

In 2004, Britain helped the CIA kidnap Libyan dissident Abdul Hakim Belhaj and his family from Thailand. Belhaj and his pregnant wife were rendered to Libya, where they were imprisoned by the Gaddafi regime. Belhaj was tortured. MI6 knew and wanted this to happen. And yet the British government has spent over £600,000 trying to prevent him from seeking justice through the British courts:

The government has spent at least £600,000 of taxpayers’ money trying to prevent a civil case being brought against it by a husband and wife who allege that British intelligence was complicit in their detention, rendition and torture.

Figures released under the Freedom of Information Act reveal the extraordinary lengths to which the government is going to prevent the civil case against it, former home secretary Jack Straw, and former MI6 spy chief Sir Mark Allen coming to court.

[...]

[I]nformation released under FOI shows that by 10 September last year the government had spent £355,000 on internal legal advice and £259,000 on external advice as it sought to have the case dropped. Of this, £27,000 was spent on advice relating to Straw and £110,000 on advice relating to Allen.

The FOI data reveals that the government has been paying as much as £250 an hour to two senior barristers involved in defending the action. A number of junior barristers have also been charging between £45 and £120 an hour.

Given that the figures are 10 months old, there is speculation that the total cost of fighting the case – before it even comes near a court – could be well in excess of £10m.


Belhaj isn't seeking damages - he is seeking an admission of involvement and an apology. But actually admitting what everyone knows - that they are complicit in rendition and torture - would be deeply embarrassing to the British political establishment, not to mention expose senior members to (well-deserved) criminal prosecution. So instead they're spending public money to prevent that. Just another example of how Britain's criminal establishment governs in its own interests, not those of the people.

Friday, June 24, 2016



The people have spoken

So, the results are in, and its Brexit by a million votes. The old, nostalgic for empire and Britain being important, voted to fuck the young, as always. And it turns out that I do have an orc in this fight - and it wears a kilt. Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain part of the EU. England voted to get out. So another independence referendum beckons.

As for England, some people are trying to highlight the fact that the poll is not legally binding, and hoping that parliament will veto the people. While legally true, doing so would give up any pretence that England is a democracy and that its government is legitimate. The consequences of such action will probably resemble the nightmare we saw on Friday.

Finally, no matter what you think of the result, its a Good Thing that the people of the UK can express their opinion and decide to leave by peaceful, democratic means. And it would be nice if the Basques, Kurds and Tamils were allowed to do the same. If a region or group wants to leave your country, the only moral option is for a peaceful departure, on terms which will maintain a friendly and peaceful relationship. So the idea that the EU would punish the UK for leaving and impose punitive exit terms pour encourager les autres to stay is fundamentally immoral. And if that happens, it will, like Greece, be another reason not to care what happens to the EU anymore.