Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Australia denies refugees medical care again

Since 2013, Australia has been detaining refugees in concentration camps on Nauru and Manus Island. The refugees face persistent neglect by the government that has a duty-of-care towards them - including an explicit denial of basic medical care:

Nearly 50 refugees and asylum seekers held on Nauru – including at least three women seeking to terminate a pregnancy – are being refused, or not considered for, overseas medical treatment, in defiance of doctors’ recommendations.

Three pregnant refugee women on Nauru have asked to terminate their pregnancies, for cultural, familial and health reasons. Doctors’ requests for them to be transferred overseas for the procedure have been rejected. Terminations are illegal on Nauru, a devoutly Christian country.

And Australian immigration department staff have confirmed to the Guardian that nearly 50 refugees and asylum seekers are on a waiting list for approval for medical transfer for a variety of conditions including musculoskeletal injuries and surgeries that cannot be performed on the island.

Why is the waiting list so long? Because all transfers must be approved by the Nauru hospital overseas medical referral committee, which never meets. And in the case of abortion, will not approve overseas transfer because it is illegal on Nauru. And this suits the Australians perfectly - both because it increases the harshness of the conditions in the concentration camps, but also because it prevents refugees from exercising their legal rights once in Australia to avoid being sent back to torture and neglect - thus fulfilling the government's promise to never let them into Australia.

This is absolutely vile. As for the solution, there's an obvious opportunity for the New Zealand government to step in and provide the medical care Australia won't. But that would require politicians who aren't craven vassals of our racist neighbours.

The Valley

I've been watching and reading The Valley, Stuff Circuit's documentary and stories on New Zealand's involvement in Afghanistan, and it is disturbing. The SAS abusing civilians in order to provoke "insurgents" into combat. The Army secretly changing the focus of the Provincial Reconstruction Team from aid to killing people, without telling the public. Gung-ho ex-SAS officers getting their soldiers needlessly killed. A "very senior officer" giving illegal orders to set a booby-trap, then having their prosecution quashed and name suppressed by the top brass. And the usual NZDF secrecy and cover-up of all of this - including bullshitting their political masters. And that's what really stinks here: the NZDF is supposed to work for us, be subject to democratic control. Instead, it appears that they went entirely rogue, pursuing their own policy which endangered kiwi and Afghan lives, without any form of political consent.

They need to be held to account for this. We can not allow our military to undermine and ignore the principle of civilian control, simply as a matter of self-protection. As for how, I'd start with a full, independent and civilian inquiry into NZDF's actions in Afghanistan, to get to the bottom of who lied to us and investigate the crimes committed. NZDF will hate this, but at the end of the day either they work for us, or we're a military dictatorship. Its time to choose.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Bigotry is not for the public benefit

Bigot-group Family First has been stripped of its charity status by the Charities Registration Board:

The Charities Registration Board said in a decision today the reason was "because it does not advance exclusively charitable purposes".

"The board considers that Family First has a purpose to promote its own particular views about marriage and the traditional family that cannot be determined to be for the public benefit in a way previously accepted as charitable," said chairman Chairman Roger Holmes Miller.

"Family First has the freedom to continue to communicate its views and influence policy and legislation but the board has found that Family First's pursuit of those activities do not qualify as being for the public benefit in a charitable sense."

Or, to put it another way, hate and bigotry are not publicly beneficial. Which is pretty obvious, really.

Family First will naturally be appealing. I hope they fail. Not that this will put them out of business - they'll just need to pay tax like normal people, rather than being able to spew their hate tax-free.

#include("Bad Dunne pun")

After announcing he was running, and putting up signs all over Ōhāriu, Peter Dunne has changed his mind and announced he is retiring at the election:

Peter Dunne is standing down after 33 years as Ōhāriu's MP, saying voter sentiment in the electorate has shifted and there is a mood for change.


"I have concluded, based on recent polling, and other soundings I have been taking over the last few weeks, that, the volatility and uncertainty notwithstanding, there is now a mood amongst Ōhāriu voters for a change of MP, which is unlikely to alter," Mr Dunne said in a statement today.

"This shift in voter sentiment is quite at variance with polling and other data I have seen throughout the year, upon which I had based my earlier decision to seek re-election for a 12th term as MP for Ōhāriu."

He was "naturally extremely disappointed" after 33 years of service at the apparent change of feeling but he respected absolutely the electorate's prerogative to feel that way.

"I have therefore decided that it is time for me to stand aside, so the people of Ōhāriu can elect a new electorate MP."

A lot of people hate Peter Dunne for consistently selling out to whoever is in power, and there's some truth in that. Certainly, appearing to stand for nothing other than your own Ministerial salary is not something that attracts support or makes you many friends. Neither did being a roadblock to drug reform when in coalition with Labour. But since then he's changed his mind, and become a consistent advocate for better drug laws. He's also been a quiet protector of the environment, impeding National's efforts to gut the RMA for years (until the Māori Party finally sold us all out earlier this year). And he's been a useful voice for civil liberties and against the expansion of spy powers. So its not like he was a complete scumbag like David Seymour.

With Dunne's departure, United Future is, well, done. I don't think anyone will miss them, or even notice.

For transparent electoral donations

Our democracy is corrupt. Our political parties receive millions of dollars a year in "donations" (AKA bribes) from rich people seeking to buy favour and influence. In theory, we're protected against that by the forced disclosure of large donations, so people can see if e.g. state honours are "coincidentally" given to wealthy donors. But in reality, we're not protected at all, because more than 80% of that money is given in total secrecy:

At least four out of every five dollars donated to the two big parties is given secretly, as transparency around their political funding dwindles.

More than $31 million has been donated to registered political parties in the past six years, most of that to National.

Smaller parties like the Greens publicly disclose who provided most of their funding, but the big parties are secretive. 83 per cent ($8.7m over six years) of the money donated to National is from anonymous donors, and 80 per cent ($2.8m) of that donated to Labour.

The worst offender is NZ First: Most years, it allows every single one of its donors to remain secret.

And these are not small donations, ordinary people giving $20 or $50 to support their party. In 2016, the National Party took in $819,000 in donations between $5000 and $15000, while Labour gained $348,000 in the same range. And all of these sizeable donations are completely secret. Which means that we have no way of checking whether donors are getting favours in return.

This isn't good enough. To protect ourselves against corruption we need real transparency in this area, which means a much lower disclosure threshold - something around $1000, or even lower. Individual MPs have to disclose any gift they receive above the value of $500, and their parties should be treated no differently.

New Fisk

Trump's claim that a general dipped bullets in pigs' blood is fake news – but the US massacre of Moro Muslims isn't

I am glad Labour cares about climate change

Labour did its campaign launch over the weekend, and Jacinda Ardern announced that climate change will be a priority for any government she leads:

Labour leader Jacinda Ardern has targeted climate change as a priority area, saying it was the "my generation's nuclear-free moment".


Speaking afterwards Ardern said she remained committed to long-standing Labour policy for an emissions trading scheme that covered all gases and all sectors - including agriculture.

However, she said a Labour government would legislate for carbon emissions targets to ensure they were reported.

Good. Because this is the most important challenge facing our species at the moment, and we all need to do our bit to fix it. At the moment, National is dragging its feet and refusing to act so as to continue to subsidise polluters and farmers. And by doing so, they are putting our future directly at risk.

Meanwhile, political journalists are freaking out and regarding this as some sort of attack on the Greens. Hardly. As Ardern points out, it is 2017, and all political parties need to be talking about this. And in case anyone has forgotten, this isn't new territory for Labour: it was Labour who pushed for a carbon tax and who finally managed to pass the ETS in 2008 (though they made it too weak and then it was gutted by National). Policy areas aren't "owned" by parties any more than voters are, and its good to have parties competing in an area which actually matters, rather than on who can be the most vicious to criminals.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Suing for justice

In August 2010, NZ SAS soldiers murdered six civilians in a revenge raid in Afghanistan. When the raid was exposed, the government denied everything and refused to investigate. But now, their victims are going to court to force an inquiry:

The government was "unlawful", "unreasonable" and "in breach of natural justice" in its decision not to hold an inquiry into claims SAS troops killed Afghan civilians in 2010, say lawyers for the victims.

This morning lawyers Deborah Manning, Rodney Harrison QC and Richard McLeod announced they had filed an application for a Judicial Review in the High Court at Wellington, in response to the government's stance on the alleged incident.


They are seeking a Judicial Review under the Defence Act 1990, the Armed Forces Discipline Act 1971 and the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 in the matter of "decisions not to investigate alleged wrongdoing on the part of the New Zealand Defence Force in Afghanistan".

They revealed they were acting on behalf of three applicants, made up of groups of villagers from the area where the event - Operation Burnham - occurred.

I have no idea how strong their case is, but I wish them luck. The SAS's actions raise serious questions of war crimes, torture, and civilian control of the military. Allegations like this should not be ignored or swept under the rug to protect the "reputation" of the SAS or NZDF. To the contrary, it is the investigation and punishment of war criminals which protects those institutions, and our country. We need an inquiry, and people shouldn't have to go to court to try and get one.

The Greens can take nothing for granted

Like many people, I was shocked by last night's One News poll showing the Greens on 4%. Sure, I'd expected them to lose support over middle-class hatred for the poor and Labour finally having a credible leader, but that much? It was a bit of a shock. And while its six weeks to go and there will be other polls etc, its a wake up call that the Greens can take nothing for granted - either the decency of their fellow New Zealanders, or their survival as a party.

There's lessons in here for Labour as well. Historically, the Greens have done best when Labour has been weak, and worst when they're strong. Remember the Clark years, when they worried about scraping in every election? The Greens' success for the past nine years now looks like a commentary on Labour's weakness, its succession of bland, interchangeable dead white male leaders. And now Labour has a leader worthy of the name, someone young (or "youth-adjacent") and inspiring, who promises change rather than more of the same, they're doing well again. Which ought to tell them that the logic that saw them crown the likes of Phil Goff, David Shearer, David Cunliffe and Andrew Little - that they were a safe choice, that they had to go after the bloke vote, that it was their fucking turn - was bullshit. Empirically, Labour does best when it has a woman in charge. That's who their voters are, that's who they represent. So they might as well embrace it rather than pretend they're still the Labour party of the 1930's or 1950's in the era of "National mum and Labour dad".

Back to the Greens. Obviously, they'll need to fight hard, and hopefully they will. Those who want to see them in Parliament, who want there to be a voice for the climate, for the rivers, for the poor, need to give them their party vote. But more than that, every vote is now vital for them, and that includes electorate votes. There's long been a tacit understanding that Green voters would give their electorate votes to Labour candidates because the Greens didn't need electorates to stay in Parliament. Well, now they do. And they should respond accordingly. I know its a long shot, but every vote counts. If it means Labour candidates in tight races lose due to "vote-splitting" (as if they're owed Green support), fuck 'em - they have list spots as backup. The Greens don't, so they need to fight everywhere now.

(Also, this is your regular reminder that the 5% threshold is undemocratic and should be repealed)

Weaponised niceness

The citizenship insanity continues in Australia, with National deputy leader Fiona Nash admitting that she is a British citizen. Unlike other Senators who have found themselves in this situation, she has neither resigned, nor stood aside - and seems to have carefully sat on the news until after the Senate had risen in order to prevent it from referring her to the High Court and suspending her in the interim. Meanwhile, Senator Nick Xenophon, who last I heard was worried about being secretly Greek, is now worried about being secretly British. And to top it all off, a Sydney barrister is suggesting that New Zealand's niceness to Australians - AKA the one-sided Trans-Tasman Travel Arrangement, under which we let Australians live, work and vote here while they stick our people on Christmas Island - may in fact disqualify every Australian from standing for federal office:

If you are "entitled to the rights or privileges of a subject ... of a foreign power", you are ineligible to be elected to, or to serve in, Federal Parliament. You don't have to have the rights and privileges of a subject of a foreign power -- you just have to be entitled to those rights and privileges.


Guess what? Much closer to home, under recent and little-noticed changes to New Zealand law, Australian citizens now don't need a visa to live, study or work in the Land of the Long White Cloud. That's right: Any Australian citizen is entitled to live, study and work there.

That means we're ALL entitled to the rights and privileges of a subject of New Zealand -- not a citizen, with the attached rights and privileges such as voting -- but to be a subject of that country, living there, subject to New Zealand law, working or studying. And there's no doubt that New Zealand is a "foreign power" -- you only have to watch the All Blacks do the haka to realise that.

What does this mean?

New Zealand law has made every Australian citizen incapable of being elected to, or serving in, the Australian Parliament. It's not just Barnaby Joyce: It's everyone!

Except this isn't recent, or even a matter of law, but a long-standing mutual agreement with the Australian government, under which we essentially agree to be nice to one another (note: Australia stopped being nice some time ago, both to us and everyone else). So, being nice destroys Australia!

New Fisk

What the death of an Irishman who lost his life fighting for Britain can tell us about the stupidity of Brexit

Kate Wilkinson's crony appointment

Last month, Science and Innovation Minister Paul Goldsmith appointed former National MP Kate Wilkinson to the board of Landcare Research. Naturally, I sent away the usual OIA request. And naturally, it exposed the appointment as the usual crony stitch-up.

Here's how it happened. Back in February, Treasury sent the usual reminder to the Minister that he needed to make a number of appointments to CRI boards, including Landcare Research. The positions were duly advertised, and in May Treasury came back with a short-list of eight candidates for follow-up interviews. Kate Wilkison was not on that list, because she had not applied for the job. Four of the candidates were interviewed, and the Ministry made their recommendations. Then this happened:

The panel determined that Ngarimu Blair and John Rodwell are the preferred candidates for the Board. The panel's assessment of the interviewed candidates is outlined below. Following the completion of interviews you decided to appoint Hon Kate Wilkinson as an additional director to the Board.
[Emphasis added]

Yes, Goldsmith was so impressed by the qualifications of his former colleague (who hadn't even applied or been interviewed) that he decided to create a special position for her, at a cost of $24,000 a year. He then lied to Cabinet about it, claiming that Blair rather than Wilkinson was the additional director.

And that's how public sector board appointments in New Zealand work under National. They're not made on merit, but on politics, dished out as a spoil of office. Just like in the USA.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Our own memorial problem

This week we've all been made aware of the problem of the USA commemorating the leaders of the racist, slave-owning Confederacy with public monuments. Meanwhile, there's a similar problem in New Zealand. Via Twitter, I was pointed at a map of the street names in Kihikihi, which points out just how problematic those names are:

Feb 1864 Pākehā soldiers looted & destroyed KIHIKIHI, and scattered the tangata whenua population. The stolen lands in Kihikihi were used to settle Pākehā milita families. Nearly every street in Kihikihi is named after a soldier or politician who ruthlessly pursued war against tangata whenua.

And I expect its the same story all over New Zealand. As the original tweet notes, imagine living in a street named after someone who murdered your whanau.

We should not be doing this. We should not be naming our streets after murderers and oppressors who stole Māori land. We're meant to be a better nation than that now, and its time we started acting like it, rather than memorialising oppression.

No protection for whistleblowers in NZ

There's been some debate about the need for increased whistleblower protection in New Zealand. And today, we have a perfect example of why it is needed: because the Western Institute of Technology at Taranaki has just got the Employment Relations Authority to punish someone for blowing the whistle on them:

A whistleblower has been ordered to pay $6000 for writing disparaging letters to politicians David Cunliffe and Steven Joyce about the Taranaki polytech where she used to work.

Western Institute of Technology at Taranaki (Witt) hired three handwriting analysts to ascertain whether the letters were written by Angela Parr, former personal assistant to Witt chief executive Barbara George. All three concluded that in all likelihood they were.

Employment Relations Authority concluded that Parr's actions were "flagrant, deliberate and at the upper end of wrongdoing".

"Furthermore by her defence Mrs Parr has shown no remorse. There is a strong case for condemnation and a need for deterrence."

The problem of course is that Parr's letters appear to be "protected disclosures" in terms of the Protected Disclosures Act. They were certainly presented as that when raised in Parliament:
Hon David Cunliffe: What action is the Minister taking to protect whistle-blowers to the Tertiary Education Commission, following allegations conveyed to him in a letter dated 14 February 2016 that the Western Institute of Technology is using taxpayers’ funds to pursue a legal vendetta against both former and current staff members who have properly raised substantiated probity issues to the Tertiary Education Commission?

From this, it appears that the allegations were raised up the chain, and ultimately to the Minister, as permitted by s10 of the Act. Unless they were shown to be in bad faith, the protections of the Act against civil proceedings should have been engaged. The Minister should also have treated the disclosure confidentially. Instead, he appears to have initiated a witch-hunt. As for the Employment Relations Authority, they appear not to have even considered the protections of the Act in their decision, not even to dismiss them. Which means they have helped WITT and the Minister piss all over the act and victimise a whistleblower.

And then we wonder why people don't come forward with allegations of wrongdoing in New Zealand. This is why: because the law does not protect them, even when it should.

That rail plan

The big political news this morning in Greater Auckland's proposal for Auckland-Hamilton-Tauranga commuter rail. It looks like a good idea. In the southern part of the North Island we already have (limited) commuter rail between Palmerston North, Masterton and Wellington, which allows people to commute from the outlying centres. And with half the country's population living in the upper North Island, it makes sense to have similar transport links there. And while the interim network doesn't look great, with travel times which are no better than a car, stages 2 and 3 look like they'll offer serious advantages. High-speed commuter rail will bring the whole area together, and make Hamilton as close to Auckland as Wellington is to Waikanae. It also significantly reduces the cost of travel to Tauranga and Rotorua - places where people just don't fly, because its too expensive - which could boost those cities as well.

The Greens have already backed the plan and I'm wondering how long it will be until Labour follows suit.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Meanwhile, in Poland

While we're all worrying about Nazis in America, we might also want to keep an eye on Poland:

Polish police broke up a feminist rally and forcefully removed activists to clear the way for a march for far-right extremists.

A live stream of the protest shows members of the All-Polish Women's Strike group and activists from Obywatele RP, which aims to defend democratic principles in Poland, taking part in a sit-in in central Warsaw, to block the far-right rally's route.

Many of the women were holding up photos of Heather Heyer, the American woman killed when a car ploughed into a crowd of counter-protesters during a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the weekend.

According to the story, the far-right groups included the National Radical Camp and the All-Polish Youth, explicitly racist, homophobic and anti-democratic groups (and in the NRC's case, fascist). Poland's politics has had an unpleasant nationalist and theocratic tinge for some time now, and recently the government has moved strongly towards autocracy, banning anti-government protests and attempting to end judicial independence. And now, their police are explicitly siding with fascists. Its a scary sign of how quickly democracy can die if you let people like the Law and Justice Party take over...

Privacy, not "secrecy"

Politik breathlessly reports that the New Zealand government kept information on Barnaby Joyce's kiwi citizenship "top secret":

New Zealand Ministers and officials imposed a heavy security lid once they realised that they had information which could, in effect, topple the Australian Government.

That extended to not even telling Australia's Foreign Minister Julie Bishop even though she was at the same meeting last week as New Zealand Foreign Minister, Gerry Brownlee.

The realisation that Australian Deputy Prime Minister, Barnaby Joyce, was a New Zealand citizen and therefore not eligible to serve in the Australian Parliament came after questions were asked last week of both the Department of Internal Affairs and the Minister, Peter Dunne.

Except there's an obvious reason why: privacy. Information on who is and isn't a citizen is normally considered private, and its not the sort of thing you go around telling other people willy-nilly, and certainly not without telling the person themselves first. DIA seems to have acted perfectly consistently with this, and its what I'd expect them to do in any other case.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Ardern stands up for kiwis

Today politics seems to be dominated by Australian ridiculousness, after the Australian government blamed Chris Hipkins (rather than hard-working Australian journalists) for exposing Barnaby Joyce as a New Zealand citizen, and Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop interfering in our election by saying that she would find it hard to work with an NZ Labour government (or, to put it another way, the racist, homophobic Australian government prefers National and Bill English. Good to know; now we can all vote accordingly). The good news is that with Joyce exposed as ineligible to sit in Parliament, Bishop may not be Foreign Minister for much longer. But we've also learned something useful: that when push comes to shove, Jacinda Ardern stands up for kiwis against our "allies":

It is highly regrettable that the Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has chosen to make false claims about the New Zealand Labour Party.


I also note that Internal Affairs Minister Peter Dunne has confirmed that the Australian media inquiries were the instigator of this issue and that he has described connections of the New Zealand Labour Party to this issue as “utter nonsense.”

I greatly value New Zealand’s relationship with the Australian Government. I will not let false claims stand in the way of that relationship.

I would happily take a call from Julie Bishop to clarify matters.

I have also contacted the Australian High Commission to register my disappointment and will be meeting with the High Commissioner later today.

Hopefully she'll mention our disapproval of Australia's refugee concentration camps while she's at it.

In a time when Australia is mistreating New Zealand citizens and the US seems to be trying to start as many wars as possible, it would be useful to have a Prime Minister who would decide foreign policy based on New Zealand's values, rather than just falling in meekly behind the powerful. That's what Helen Clark did over Iraq, and its clear that Jacinda Ardern is the same. The contrast with Bill English couldn't be any clearer.

Climate change: The Cullen fund divests

Climate change is now undeniable, and if we are to survive it, the fossil fuel industry has to die. And now the Cullen Fund has recognised that fact, and started divesting its risk:

The New Zealand Superannuation Fund has sold shares in some of the world's biggest companies to reduce exposure to firms emitting greenhouse gases.

The fund is quitting or reducing holdings in 300 firms as part of its "carbon transition". They include Exxon Mobil, Shell, BP and Statoil and local firms New Zealand Oil & Gas and Genesis Energy.

The firms are part of the Super Fund's huge passive investment portfolio - making up two thirds of the fund's total investments - and similar principles will be applied now to active investments.

Chief investment officer Matt Whineray said 40 percent of all super fund investments would be low carbon as a result of the changes.

40% doesn't sound high, but looking at their press release, they're ranking investments by emissions. The important thing is that they're bailing out of high-emission companies, effectively voting "no confidence" in their future. And that's one of the things that needs to happen if we are to get through this.

Dirty farmers

Surprise, surprise - Waikato's dairy farmers are failing to comply with their resource consents:

The Waikato Regional Council says dairy farm effluent compliance rates are heading in the right direction despite less than one quarter of farms monitored last year deemed fully compliant.

The figures released under the Official Information Act showed that the council inspected 1174 farms, nearly twice the number inspected the previous season.

Of those farms, 23 per cent achieved full compliance, 2 per cent had a high level of compliance, 43 per cent were provisionally compliant, 24 per cent were partially compliant and 9 per cent were significantly non-compliant.

Waikato Regional Council says this is "progress", but the proportion of fully-compliant farms dropped in the past year, from 26 to 23 percent. That's not "progress", it's going backwards.

The RMA includes enforcement provisions for both temporary and long-term non-compliance, including infringement notices, abatement orders, criminal prosecution, and ultimately review of a consent. WRC, like most councils, doesn't use these much. Clearly, they need to. Their current "enforcement regime" is not encouraging farmers to comply with the law. A tougher approach is required.