Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Another show trial

Another day, another show trial for an opposition MP for calling the Speaker on his bias. This time, the target is Ruth Dyson, who in various tweets supposedly called the Speaker "incompetent, biased, doesn't like the job, lazy, sexist, doesn't give a toss". Sadly, truth isn't a defence in National's kangaroo court. Meanwhile, in doing this, National's Deputy Speaker made it clear he thought Dyson was guilty, effectively pre-determining the outcome. But natural justice doesn't apply to National's kangaroo court either. Instead, there'll be a show trial, followed by conviction on a whipped vote and a forced, insincere apology. Its an abuse of power reminiscent of the days of absolute monarchy. But that appears to be how National wants to run the country.

National's Deputy Speaker also complained that the opposition's allegations of bias had damaged the public's opinion of parliament. Bullshit. You know what damages the public's opinion of Parliament/ Show trials. And if National wants to stop the House being perceived as lower than dogshit, a place we wouldn't piss on if it was on fire, it should start by stopping them.

Again, if the Speaker feels his reputation has been impugned by these comments, he should sue for defamation. The fact that he is instead demanding a show trial before his own kangaroo court tells us everything we need to know about the merits. He is biased (and incompetent, and lazy etc). He is National's Speaker, not Parliament's.

Climate change: Research is not a substitute for action

World leaders are assembled in Paris at the moment to pretend to do something (while actually doing nothing) about climate change. And in keeping with this, John Key has announced that rather than reducing emissions, he is once again attempting to delay action by funding research instead:

Prime Minister John Key has committed $20 million to find a fix for farmers to reduce emissions from agriculture.

Key is in Paris at the UN Climate Change Conference and acknowledged that half of New Zealand's emissions are from agriculture "where there are not yet cost effective ways of reducing emissions".

The $20m over four years is in addition to the initial $45m investment that will go specifically to the Global Research Alliance on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases.

$20 million over four years is about $5 million a year. Not bad - but at the same time it misses the point. Because funding research in and of itself does not reduce emissions. In order for that to happen, any solution the scientists discover must be widely adopted by farmers. And National has explicitly ensured that there will be no incentive for that to happen, by once again excluding agriculture from the ETS.

New Zealand is also apparently contributing $200 million in aid for victims - again, as a substitute for actually cutting emissions. But as the Climate Network points out, this is much lower than the amount new Zealand spends on subsidising fossil fuels - subsidies Key has increased since taking office (while demanding other countries eliminate theirs). Its a remarkable piece of hypocrisy to cloak inaction - and that's why we're Fossil of the Day.

Our rotten police

Yesterday, Giovanni Tiso posted an excellent piece about the police raid on Nicky Hager's home, which highlighted its ordinaryness. Intruding into innocent people's homes and upturning their lives is just how the police do business. It's raid first, and refuse to answer questions later.

That article has become horribly relevant this morning, with the news that the police are raiding the home of another journalist - this time 3News' Heather du Plessis-Allan. Like Hager, du Plessis-Allan is "guilty" of nothing more than doing her job as a journalist. But like Hager, that job embarrassed those in power - this time the police themselves, who had to explain (and close) a major failure in their oversight of gun laws which allowed unlicensed people to buy firearms. And in light of that, its difficult to see today's raid - supposedly to gain handwriting samples - as anything other than revenge and intimidation. If they actually wanted handwriting samples, they could have got them at du Plessis-Allan's office. But they might have encountered lawyers (and cameras) there, and it wouldn't be intimidating enough. So, they raid her home and go through her private life and underwear drawer instead. The message is clear: in New Zealand, journalists who do their jobs get their homes raided. Our rotten police will only tolerate a compliant, unquestioning media.

Monday, November 30, 2015

A victory for academic freedom

Last week we learned that the police had "blacklisted" a leading crime researcher from accessing police data under a "research contract" which lets them rewrite findings or veto publication at will. Today the police backed down and apologised to Dr Gilbert for blacklisting him. More importantly, they'll be revising that oodious (and quite possibly illegal) research contract;

As a result, Police is amending guidelines around vetting of researchers, including high-level oversight and more detailed case-by-case consideration on vetting checks on researchers which are negative.

Police will also be updating the research agreement, including removing any language that may be interpreted as restricting the independence of academic research.

Good. And now maybe they can focus on fighting criminals rather than massaging their public image.

New Fisk

David Cameron, there aren't 70,000 moderate fighters in Syria - and whoever heard of a moderate with a Kalashnikov, anyway?

The same mistake, over and over again

Things seem to be coming to a crunch in the UK Labour Party. David Cameron wants to bomb Syria (and despite having a majority to do it himself, wants the opposition to be complicit in it so they can't criticise him later when it all goes to shit). And despite his case being the same sort of mendacious bullshit used by Blair to justify his war crime in Iraq, despite it being highly likely to make things worse rather than better, despite it being just another repetition of the same mistake, UK Labour MPs are falling all over themselves to support it - while being outraged at the thought that their party membership might hold them accountable for it come candidate selection time.

Which I guess exposes the fundamental problem with UK Labour: they think of themselves as part of the Establishment. And being part of the Establishment means supporting military adventures, no matter how stupid and unjustified and disastrous and wrong. While of course being insulated from any form of popular accountability.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Journalism is not "espionage"

Back in June, Turkish journalists revealed that the Turkish intelligence services were arming Islamist rebels in Syria. And now they're being prosecuted for "espionage":

Two prominent Turkish journalists have been charged with espionage after alleging that Turkey's secret services sent arms to Islamist rebels in Syria.

Can Dundar, the editor-in-chief of Cumhuriyet daily, and Erdem Gul, the paper's Ankara bureau chief, face life imprisonment if found guilty.


The journalists, who deny the allegations against them, reported that trucks belonging to the Turkish intelligence agency MIT were used to carry weapons to Islamist opposition groups in Syria.

Video footage published alongside their report purported to show Turkish police officers intercepting the trucks and discovering crates containing weapons and ammunition.

So, telling voters what "their" government is doing is officially a crime in Turkey. I guess they're not going to be joining the EU any time soon after all.


Saudi Arabia is reportedly planning a mass-execution of "terrorists":

Saudi authorities appear set in the next few days to carry out a series of beheadings across the country of more than 50 men convicted of terrorism offences. Among those facing execution are three young men who were juveniles when they were arrested.

The publication earlier this week of an article in the newspaper Okaz, which has close links to the Saudi Ministry of the Interior, has convinced families of the accused and concerned human-rights organisations that the executions are imminent.

Sources have said that the plan is to behead the men in several cities across the kingdom, most likely after Friday prayers.

Note that Saudi Arabia defines atheism, questioning islam, and peaceful protest as "terrorism". So they're not just planning to murder people, but to murder them for "crimes" which shouldn't be crimes at all. But apparently some Saudi prince needs to look "strong", and the way you look "strong" is by lining people up in a public square and having your minions hack their heads off. It is simply monstrous.

This is a country which our government is pursuing a free trade agreement with (and bribing people with sheep in order to get it). We shouldn't be. Instead, we should explicitly link trade and human rights, and refuse the former until Saudi Arabia meets basic human rights standards.

Against a common border with Australia

This morning in an editorial the Herald proposes that we resolve our problems with Australia by means of a "common border":

Its proposed solution to that problem was a common border, which appears to mean migrants would face the same criteria for entry to both countries. Those applying under the skills category would need to persuade the (joint) immigration agency they had skills that were in short supply in both countries. That would give New Zealanders priority for filling skill shortages in Australia, and vice versa.
This is an Australian obsession, born of their idea that the trans-Tasman travel arrangement makes New Zealand "a backdoor to Australia". Because obviously, the only reason anyone would want to come here is to gain access to our corrupt, militaristic, racist neighbour. But while the Herald phrases it in terms of rules for skilled migrants, its more far reaching than that. Firstly, it would mean effectively ending immigration from the Pacific, except under limited and exploitative "seasonal guest worker" schemes. Australia's concern is that we have always "let in" far too many brown people, not understanding our connections with the Pacific, the fact that many of them are New Zealand citizens as of right, or indeed that Maori were here first and that there was no genocide here (unlike Australia). A common border effectively means adopting Australia's de facto white Australia policy.

Secondly, of course, it means adopting their refugee policy, under which no-one is effectively allowed to claim (let alone receive) asylum. It means ignoring our obligations under the Refugee Convention, not to mention human rights and the rule of law, and sticking refugees in offshore gulags and torturing them until they "decide" to go "home". In other words, it means actively joining in on a crime against humanity.

I don't think either of these proposals is consistent with New Zealand values or acceptable to New Zealanders. As with the idea of Australian statehood, our answer to a common border should be "no thanks".

More government abuse of the OIA

The Herald has a story this morning about Callaghan Innovation's R&D grants scheme, and a recent report which found the grant rules "ambiguous" and "contradict[ed] the purpose". But buried in there is another case of government abuse of the OIA:

The report by Deloitte emerged out of a dispute between government agency Callaghan Innovation and media firm Trends Publishing that has resulted in High Court challenges and a Serious Fraud Office (SFO) investigation.


Trends director of special planning Andrew Johnson said Deloitte had been engaged by Callaghan to look into his company at the end of last year, but the funding agency had refused to release an unredacted version of the report.

Johnson provided the Herald with copies of emails where Callaghan staff said in February the section criticising the growth grants scheme was excluded from release under the Official Information Act as it was claimed it related only to "administrative matters between Deloitte and Callaghan Innovation".

However, in subsequent court action an unredacted version of the report was released independently by Deloitte.

This is far more serious than Nick Smith playing the "out of scope" game to cover up National abusing public money to pimp its own MPs - here, a department explicitly lied to a requester about what they were covering up and why. Its simply an outright, flagrant abuse, and we should not tolerate it. But as long as the Ombudsman is too underfunded to investigate, then agencies don't fear being caught, and so will keep pissing on the law.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Fiddling the OIA

Even the Police Association's Greg O'Connor recognises that the police and wider public sector are fiddling the OIA:

Police and other government departments are reluctant to hand over public information because of potential embarrassment to politicians, says Police Association president Greg O'Connor.

"Anyone who is dealing with the public sector at the moment - there tends to be an attitude of making people work very hard for their Official Information Act information," he said.


Mr O'Connor said the public service - including police - had adopted a defensive posture when it came to releasing information.

"Commissioners are answerable to ministers as any other CEO in the public sector. The stuff that is going to embarrass government is going to be hidden in official documents or statistics."

This is a problem that everybody seems to recognise, yet nothing is ever done about it. The Ombudsman, who should be hacking into the perpetrators with a flaming sword, seems helpless. And the consequences for confidence in our political system and the rule of law are significant. If the government and public servants can flout the law like this, why shouldn't we?

Ngai Tahu supports dictatorship in Canterbury

The Local Government and Environment Committee is currently hearing submissions in Christchurch on National's latest bill to extend the Canterbury dictatorship. And surprisingly, local iwi Ngai Tahi wants to deny Cantabrians their democratic rights:

Restoring full democratic elections would be a "step backwards" for Canterbury, Ngai Tahu says.


Ngai Tahu emerged as one of the few groups at the hearing supporting the bill.

It was one of several groups, including Canterbury councils, that asked for government intervention in 2010. The changes resulted in the elected councillors losing their seats.

"The proposal to return to a fully democratically elected model does not provide sufficient recognition towards the Treaty partnership," its submission says.

"It is considered that the proposal would be a step backwards for Canterbury as a number of other regions have moved towards equitable representation for iwi at a governance level."

The iwi supported continuing the mixed model after the 2019 elections, proposing to incorporate three Ngai Tahu appointed commissioners alongside three appointed by the Government.

This is nonsense. If Ngai Tahu is concerned about ensuring iwi representation, it should argue for it. There's more than one way to address that problem, and councils are experimenting with various methods (some have Maori seats, Auckland has a statutory Maori Advisory Board, while Rotorua has an explicit partnership with Te Arawa giving them representation on council committees). There's scope for Ngai Tahu to find a model which works for them. But instead, they're arguing that the democratic rights of other Cantabrians continue to be suppressed and that they continue to be forbidden from controlling their own region. And that is fundamentally anti-democratic and a failure to uphold the Treaty Partnership.

National's RMA "reforms"

This morning the government announced that it had cut a deal with the Maori Party to introduce (and presumably pass) a bill for RMA "reform". The complete bill is here, and I've been going over it. The good news is that National's plans to gut environmental protection by removing environmental values 9and adding a development clause) to the Act's "matters of national importance" is dead. They're adding risks from natural hazards, which is uncontentious, but nothing else. The bad news? They're trying to get it in via the back door by requiring local authorities to ensure they have sufficient "development capacity" through land zoning and infrastructure. Meanwhile, much of their explicitly anti-democratic agenda to reduce public participation and allow the Minister to overrule local communities and dictate plans from Wellington remains unchanged.

They're also using the bill to completely rewrite the EEZ Act to allow the Minister to "call in" applications and appoint stacked boards to produce the desired outcome - exactly as warned by Greenpeace a fortnight ago. So, I guess we'll see those seabed miners back for another go at strip-mining the seafloor, this time with Paula Rebstock collecting a huge government salary to rubberstamp the applications. I'm extremely surprised the Maori Party accepted this, given their professed environmental values, and some pointy questions need to be asked there. Because given their recent complaints about being short of money, the natural suspicion is that another deal has been done...

Compare and contrast

School gets aid despite assets worth millions, Dominion-Post, 13 January 2014:

A high school under investigation by the Ministry of Education for illegal fee-charging has been criticised for being allowed to operate under its own set of rules.

Early last year former private school Wanganui Collegiate was integrated, after a falling roll and increasing debt meant it would fold without a government bail-out.

In 2012 the prestigious decile 10 school was running an expected loss of $800,000 and subject to government providing funding, a Crown Monitor was appointed to oversee its finances until integration went ahead in January last year.

When Wanganui Collegiate applied for integration it said it would likely close without financial support from the Crown, Ministry of Education acting head of sector enablement Marilyn Scott said. "The proprietor acknowledged capital assets were held but not liquid assets that could be used to pay the operational expenses of the school."

According to Wanganui Collegiate's annual report for the year ending March 31, 2013, the college had more than $3 million in freehold land and, in addition, the college grounds were valued at $1.7m.

The school's foundation owns three commercial properties in Wanganui, two of which have rateable values of just under $1m, while the third property, a car park on the corner of Victoria Ave and Glasgow St had a rateable value of $4.75m.

Maori girls school to close after 110 years, New Zealand Herald, 26 November 2015:
A secondary school for Maori girls will be closed after 110 years because of concerns about its debt and governance.

Education Minister Hekia Parata confirmed this morning that Turakina Maori Girls College in Marton, 40km north-west of Palmerston North, would close in January.

Ms Parata said there was "a great deal of goodwill" towards the Decile 3, state-integrated Presbyterian boarding school and she was saddened to have to close it down.

"However, the financial information provided ... doesn't give me confidence that the proprietor is able to clear its debt and become financially viable," she said.

The lesson is clear: if you are rich, white, and worth millions, the government ignores advice to shovel money at you. If you're poor and brown (and for girls), they let you fail. National's racism and pandering to the rich pervades every aspect of policy.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Climate Change: A look at our future

Climate change seems like a very abstract problem. Sure, emissions are out of control, our governments seem intent on doing nothing about it for fear of offending the fossil fuel industry, and the effects are all vague and general and very far away anyway. So the met service has decided to make the problem a little more concrete with a weather report from 2050:

A mock weather report looking 35 years into the future has painted a stark picture of a wintry New Zealand, ravaged by extreme conditions including both drought and flooding.

Just days before world leaders meet in Paris to discuss a global climate change deal, a futuristic fake MetService forecast for August 14, 2050 has appeared on social media.

TV meteorologist Chester Lampkin shows that winter temperatures that day ranging from 12C to 20C -- up to 3C warmer than normal for a winter's day.

It shows showers and thunderstorms across Northland, Auckland, and Hamilton, with 70-90mm daily rainfall causing flooding and closures to an "underwater" Northern Motorway, North-Western Motorway, and Tamaki Drive.

Coastal flood warnings are in effect for Auckland's coastline.

Most of Canterbury, meanwhile, is parched and under a fire risk.

If you're planning to be alive in 35 years, this is what you're looking at. John Key and Bill English don't care - they'll be dead, so why act? But the rest of us should care - and should force the government to do something about it.

Satire: $1 million to buy science headlines

Science and Innovation Minister Steven Joyce today announced nearly $1 million of new funding to produce news headlines suggesting that the government is positive about science.

"This government wants to appear positive about science and technology, and I am pleased to be able to announce this additional funding for a second tranche of projects designed to produce headlines saying that," Mr Joyce says.

"We’ve provided funding to the next highest ranked applications that were not able to be funded with the initial $1 million available in 2014/15. We want to support as many of these innovative headline-generating projects as possible.

"This means 25 new projects will be carried out in communities around New Zealand, gencouraging young people to care about science. Some of them will be inspired to go on and study science at university and become the scientists of tomorrow. Of course, they'll be laid off within three years and forced to go overseas or change careers, but the government's target of generating positive headlines about itself will have been achieved".

The Unlocking Curious Minds programme is part of the Government’s strategic plan to encourage all New Zealanders to get engaged with science and technology. It ties in with the innovation and skills stream of the Business Growth Agenda, and the National Statement of Science Investment, which commits to underfunding scientific research.

"The National Government believes that science funding should not be spent funding public good research by scientists," said Mr Joyce. "Instead it is focused on what matters: generating positive spin for itself while leaving the fundamental problem of an under-resourced science sector unaddressed".

Inspired by the Government apending yet more money encouraging young people to pursue careers in science while cutting jobs at the other end of the pipeline.

Vanuatu: Ending the farce

Last month 14 Vanuatu MPs were convicted of bribery and corruption and sentenced to imprisonment, robbing the government of its majority. But rather than accept this and resign, Prime Minister Sato Kilman initially tried to cling to power, refusing to call Parliament to allow a confidence vote. Now, vanuatu's President has ended the farce by dissolving Parliament and calling a snap election:

Vanuatu's president has dissolved the country's parliament in an attempt to resolve an impasse after the conviction of 14 government MPs for bribery.

The 14 MPs lost their appeals against both their convictions and jail sentences last week, forcing them to vacate their parliamentary seats.

The convictions meant the opposition, led by Ham Lini, controlled two-thirds of the remaining seats.

President Baldwin Lonsdale today called a snap election and dissolved the parliament, citing the inability of the prime minister and opposition to form a government of national unity.

And hopefully that's the end of it. A new Parliament can be elected, hopefully of people untainted by corruption, and Vanuatu can finally move on.

Police, censorship, and policy

This morning we learned that the New Zealand Police had "blacklisted" a leading crime researcher from accessing police data, supposedly because he talks to criminals in order to study crime. At face value, its merely Orwellian, or maybe Hellerian, but of course the "associating with criminals" is merely the excuse. The real problem is that the Police don't like what Jarrod Gilbert has been saying about them or crime policy - so they're trying to destroy his career as revenge.

So far, so normal: our police are chronic abusers of power and obsessed with maintaining their own public image. They've shown a willingness to manipulate and fabricate evidence in criminal cases (and continue to endorse those who do so); of course they'll do so to protect themselves from critics. But Dr Gilbert going public has exposed a very real problem with how the police view research and how they can shape our policy debate.

First, the context:

The data sought by Dr Gilbert was for a government research project into "alcohol-related crime and proximity to premises with liquor licences in Christchurch". He was working with a team of five researchers - four with doctorates and two who are full professors.

We would like such questions - and similar ones, such as "is the war on drugs working", or "what sort of policing works best" - to be determined by the evidence. But the police don't permit that. Their research contract is based on a commercial model, rather than a public service one, and so gives them not just a right of review, but also a right to "correct" findings if they are "negative", or to veto publication altogether. And to make it clear that the police only want results they approve of, they explicitly threaten to blacklist the researchers and "any organisations connected to the project ... from access to any further police resources" if they don't like the results.

All this is fine if you're talking about research into what colour of toilet paper people prefer, or which sort of widget sells better - but not so good when you're talking about public interest research like that performed by Dr Gilbert. And when you're talking about public interest research which will be used by or to convince other government agencies about the merits or otherwise of policy proposals, it becomes absolutely toxic. If a line of research does not accord with police preconceptions and whims, then they can censor your results, rewrite them, or even prevent you from doing the research altogether. Which allows them to shape the policy debate to ensure that the outcome matches those pre-conceptions rather than the data. Its policy-based evidence-making!

How much of the law enforcement policy landscape is shaped by this police censorship? We just don't know. But it suggests a rich line of questioning (both of police, and of other government departments) for any journalist who wants to ask.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

An offer we should refuse

Andrew Little is off to Australia tomorrow, to stick up for kiwis where John Key won't. In response, the Australians are suggesting that we join them and become part of Australia:

Most Australians would support hardworking Kiwis becoming citizens - and if New Zealand wants closer ties it should become his country's seventh and eighth state, an Australian senator who helped review tough new deportation rules says.

Ian Macdonald, who chaired the parliamentary committee that recommended a new law that has led to the detention and deportation of New Zealanders, said Labour leader Andrew Little's calls for, among other improved rights, access to citizenship for Kiwi expats would be uncontroversial with most Australians.

"The issue of closer ties with New Zealand is one beyond any limited expertise I might have, but as an observer...I would love to have New Zealand join us perhaps as the seventh and eighth state - you can have two. And what a wonderful country it would then be, and I wouldn't need a passport to get across to Queenstown with the wineries, it would be great."

No thanks. Because the three words that spring to mind when I think of Australia are racism, militarism and corruption. Australia has an explicitly racist refugee and immigration policy, which uses arbitrary detention, torture and rendition to keep Australia white. Its always first to sign up to America's imperialist wars, which New Zealand wants no part of. And its political culture is utterly toxic and corrupt, with MPs routinely having to be jailed because they seem incapable of obeying laws against taking bribes or corruptly using their influence to pay off their donors. And that is something that we should want no part of. Joining Australia would be turning to the dark side - and its an offer we should refuse.

Fiji: More torture

Another story of torture in Fiji - and once again its the police who are responsible:

Rajneel Singh writhed in pain on his Lautoka Hospital bed last night

The wounds on his body told a gruesome story.

They were slowly healing but Mr Singh, 32, still felt unbearable pain.

It comes admist claims Mr Singh found details of plans to destabilise the Government on a computer in his internet cafe.

The Lautoka internet cafĂ© owner claimed some Police officers then “tortured” him using “hot rods” and dumped him in a pine forest between Nadi and Sigatoka.

The criss-cross scars on his back (see photo), and burn marks on his hands and legs appear consistent with Mr Singh’s story.

Later, he alleged, officers wanted him to change his statement to say the scars were self-inflicted. He declined and called acting Police Commissioner Brigadier-General Sitiveni Qiliho. He is now being guarded by military officers and Police officers from Suva have been sent to investigate his claims.

Fiji really needs to clean up its police force and start jailing torturers. But with the military back in charge, that's looking unlikely.