Thursday, November 23, 2017



A bribe's a bribe

In 2010, Peter Whittall killed 29 men at Pike River Mine by running an unsafe mining operation. In 2013 he bribed his way out of prosecution by demanding (and receiving) a plea bargain in which the serious charges he faced under the Health Safety and Employment Act would be dropped in exchange for making a compensation payment to his victims' families. Now, the Supreme Court has ruled that the decision to drop the charges was unlawful:

The Supreme Court says a deal not to pursue a prosecution against Pike River boss Peter Whittall was unlawful.

Two families of miners killed in the Pike River mine disaster had asked the Supreme Court to overturn a Court of Appeal ruling that upheld a WorkSafe NZ decision to drop charges against Whittall. Families were paid $3.4 million in the deal.

[...]

The Supreme Court on Thursday said Worksafe dropping the charges against Whittall was "an unlawful agreement to stifle prosecution". It said the deal was "struck in return for a $3.41m payment".

[...]

The Supreme Court said it was irrelevant WorkSafe took account of other factors in deciding not to prosecute.


And that's basicly what it comes down to: a bribe's a bribe, and the fact that one was discussed and paid taints everything else. Even when its disguised as a "plea-bargain".

But this raises an obvious question: will the charges be reinstated? Or if not, will Whitall and those who conspired with him in this unlawful conspiracy be charged with conspiring to defeat justice? Because you can be damn sure that a gang member who paid a prosecutor to drop charges would be back in court when it was discovered, and the same rule should apply to the rich as well as the poor.

Justice for Srebrenica

In July 1995, a Bosnian Serb army under the command of Ratko Mladić murdered more than 8,000 people around the town of Srebrenica. It was an act of genocide, and the worst human rights abuse in Europe since the Nazis. Today, Mladić was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment for those crimes:

The former Bosnian Serb commander Ratko Mladić, nicknamed the ‘butcher of Bosnia’, has been sentenced to life imprisonment after being convicted of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

More than 20 years after the Srebrenica massacre, Mladic was found guilty at the United Nations-backed international criminal tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague of 10 offences involving extermination, murder and persecution of civilian populations.

[...]

The one-time fugitive from international justice faced 11 charges, two of genocide, five of crimes against humanity and four of violations of the laws or customs of war. He was cleared of one count of genocide, but found guilty of all other charges. The separate counts related to “ethnic cleansing” operations in Bosnia, sniping and shelling attacks on besieged civilians in Sarajevo, the massacre of Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica and taking UN personnel hostage in an attempt to deter Nato airstrikes.


Good. The Bosnian genocide was a crime against humanity, and those responsible needed to be held to account. The good news is that they largely have been. Mladić was the last person awaiting trial befre the ICTY. While there are a handful of appeals remaining, its work is basicly done. Unfortunately, there are plenty of other crimes against humanity crying out for justice - most notably Iraq. We need to see justice for those too. But that will be the job of another court, not the ICTY.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017



No tears for Mugabe

So, Robert Mugabe has finally resigned as president of Zimbabwe. Good riddance. He was an authoritarian dictator who fixed elections, looted his country, and tortured and murdered his opponents, so I'm glad to see him go. At the same time, its a shame that it was the army, rather than the people, who removed him. At least nobody was killed, but it looks more like an internal power struggle in an authoritarian government than the transition to democracy Zimbabwe desperately needs. One dictator replacing another is hardly progress, and the new boss may simply turn out to be the same as the old boss. All we can do is hope that its not going to be like that, and that the new regime will actually respect democracy and human rights, rather than just changing the names of the abusers.

Climate change: Fudging on trees

So, it turns out that the government's "billion trees" policy isn't a billion extra trees, but maybe only half a billion:

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is denying that the Government is backtracking over its goal to plant 1 billion trees over 10 years, saying it was always going to be in partnership with the private sector.

Forestry and Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones told the National Business Review today that the Government was going to plant about half of the 1 billion trees, while the private sector would plant the rest.

"[The one billion goal] is not something that is going to be pursued in isolation from the industry. If we work together, if they continue with their 50 million [a year] over 10 years and we continue with 50 million [a year] over 10 years, you get to a billion."


Partnership with the private sector is one thing, but misleading the public about the ambition of the policy is another. Because the 50 million trees a year private industry currently plants is almost entirely replanting, replacing trees which they've already cut down. In other words, that's just planting to stand still. Worse, the required replanting rate is going to soar over the next decade, as the forests that were planted in the 1990's are harvested. If private industry wants to avoid deforesting land (and paying the carbon costs for doing so), it will probably end up planting that billion trees itself.

Meanwhile, if we want to get the emissions benefits, we need to plant additional trees, not just replant harvested land. The billion trees policy looked like it was an ambitious target to do this, and bring our emissions under control. Instead, it looks like it is just more bureaucratic fudging, designed to give the impression of action while deliberately avoiding achieving anything substantive.

Against the Te Kuha mine

The orcs are at it again, wanting to rip the top off a mountain on the West Coast to dig an open cast coal mine. Part of the area they want to mine is DoC stewardship land, so the Minister of Conservation has to decide whether to grant them access. That's bad enough, especially when the area in question is a rare ecosystem of an unusual type and home to threatened and protected species. But its actually worse than that, because the rest of the mine is also on public land - specifically, a water conservation reserve under the Reserves Act 1977. The Buller District Council had already granted access, then rescinded it after the decision was challenged in court. The case was heard in October, and if the judicial review fails, it will effectively gut the Reserves Act and open all local reserves to mining.

If that happens, there will need to be a law change, because I don't think that's remotely acceptable to the New Zealand public. Just as conservation land is for conservation, reserves are for preserving and protecting. That's why we have them. Opening them up for an inherently destructive activity like mining would defeat that purpose.

As for the DoC land, the Minister will have to make a decision. Thanks to National, the Minister of Energy will also be involved, and they will have to consider economic benefit as well as environmental factors (because, apparently, that's what's important about conservation land: how it can be exploited. Again, that's something else that needs to go). But they'll also have to consider the purpose the land is held for, and any recommendation from the Director-General of Conservation. And if their significance report is anything to go by, that's unlikely to be favourable to the miners. So, we may get the right decision; it'll just take a while to get there. And if the judicial review against mining in reserves succeeds, the entire point will be moot anyway.

Monday, November 20, 2017



Climate change: Eliminating coal

Last week, at the climate talks in Bonn, New Zealand joined an alliance to eliminate coal-fired power stations:

New Zealand has joined an international alliance - including Britain and Canada - to phase out coal from power generation before 2030.

The Powering Past Coal Alliance was unveiled at the COP23 climate talks in Bonn, Germany, working out implementation of the 2015 Paris Agreement.

[...]

Since signing the Paris Agreement, several countries had already made national plans to phase out coal from their power supply mix.

The Powering Past Coal Alliance also involves sharing technology to reduce emissions, such as carbon capture and storage, and encouraging the rest of the world to cut usage.


For us, this is largely a business-as-usual goal, in that the government has already committed to a 100% renewables target, which includes the elimination of coal. The country's sole coal-fired power station, Huntly, usually runs on gas at the moment, and the older dual-fuel turbines are scheduled to shut down in the next five years anyway. At the same time, its an important sign of international solidarity to help shift the balance away from and de-legitimise dirty electricity, and it turns a domestic commitment into an international one, raising the cost if a future National government welches on it. It also lays the groundwork for a future agreement to eliminate coal from industry (e.g. from Fonterra). So, worth doing, even if it doesn't mean much for us immediately in practice.

Restoring democracy to the RMA

One of National's primary policy goals during its time in power was to remove democracy from the RMA by removing notification and appeal rights while allowing Ministers to dictate local plans from their office in Wellington. This agenda was so extreme that they were unable to gain the votes for it for years, despite reliable footstools as coalition partners. But finally, earlier this year, the Maori Party sold out and let them do it. The changes only came into effect a month ago, so their impact hasn't yet been felt. But they're bad enough that Environment Minister David Parker has promised to roll them back and restore democracy:

The Government will attempt to reverse a National-led law change that has removed the public's right to participate in discretionary resource consent processes, Environment Minister David Parker says.

The Resource Legislation Amendment Act 2017 also removed the right for applicants and submitters to appeal discretionary resource consent decisions made by district councils.

[...]

Parker told Stuff this week removing public notification and appeal rights was going "a step too far" for applicants and submitters.

"We still think that was wrong. We are intending to have some reform of the Resource Management Act and that would be one of the things that we would fix," he said.


Sadly, it'll take a while, because the RMA is a complicated piece of legislation. On the other hand, there's usually at least a bill a year tinkering with it in one way or another, so it should be easy enough to put the changes in the next one. But unlike National, Labour won't be ramming it through under urgency.

Meanwhile, while they're restoring democracy, maybe they could do something about ECan as well? Apparently they can't hold an immediate election because National's dictatorship dragged its feet on setting electoral boundaries (which were set before the earthquakes and will not take subsequent population shifts into account). But they have nearly complete discretion to sack the appointees, or to appoint new people to replace them. Removing National's dictators from office ought to be a priority. As for their replacements, if they can't yet hold a proper election, holding some sort of poll and appointing the winners would seem to be a more democratic solution. Because its simply unacceptable for Cantabrians to have an illegitimate local government where half the members have no democratic mandate and were specifically appointed to thwart the will of the people.

Unnatural partnerships

Post-election, there was a sustained campaign in the media from National supporters for the Greens to support National to cling to power for another term. One of their arguments was to point to Germany, where Green - Christian Democrat coalitions have been tried at a regional level, and such an arrangement looked like the only possible outcome in the wake of the German elections. Except that hasn't worked out so well...

Exploratory talks to form Germany’s next coalition government were on the verge of collapse on Sunday night after the four parties involved missed their own deadline to resolve differences on migration and energy policy.

Chancellor Angela Merkel has been trying to forge a coalition between her Christian Democratic Union (CDU), its Bavarian sister party the Christian Social Union (CSU), the pro-business Free Democratic Party (FDP) and the Green party following federal elections at the end of September.

A so-called “Jamaica” coalition – so nicknamed because the parties’ traditional colours mirror that of the Jamaican flag – represents new ground even for Germany’s experienced leader, and has only previously been tested at regional level.


The key sticking points are immigration and climate change, with the parties unable to find common ground on either. And this in a country where the political mainstream is greener than ours. In Germany, they're in a four party situation (thanks in part to the CDU maintaining a regional partner party), but in New Zealand some of those parties are effectively factions within the National Party. And its hard to imagine National's farmer-yokels or climate change refuseniks accepting Green demands for real action on water or the climate, let alone allowing them to be implemented effectively.

Basicly, unnatural political partnerships are difficult and likely to fail. In Germany, they've been forced to explore the option because successive grand coalitions turned voters against the political establishment. And even then, it looks to have failed. In New Zealand, where there's no such pressure, there's no reason for parties with choices to take the risk. National's long-term problem of course is that now it has no friends, it has no choices, so it will be perpetually begging for such an unnatural partnership - and is likely to be perpetually rejected if there's any credible alternative.

Friday, November 17, 2017



Farmers ruin another river

The Kaiapoi River is turning salty, and irrigation is to blame:

A freshwater Canterbury river is on the brink of turning into a saltwater estuary, in part due to water abstraction, new data shows.

It has blindsided some in the community and would permanently alter the river's character if the trend continued.

"The prospect of that river turning to a smelly, scum-filled seawater estuary is just totally unacceptable," Waimakariri District councillor Sandra Stewart said.


The problem is caused by farmers taking too much water from the Waimakariri River, meaning that its flow is too weak to prevent salty tidal flows from entering the Kaiapoi. The solution is obvious: reduce irrigation flows. But that means reducing farmers' profits, which was unacceptable under National. Hopefully with a different government (and a soon-to-be elected ECan) they'll be able to stop the farmers poisoning this river before its too late.

New Fisk

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri accepts exile in France as Saudi Arabia no longer feels like a home away from home

Democracy wins in Tonga

Back in August, Tonga's king dissolved the country's parliament, because he and the noble caste did not like the elected government. Yesterday, Tongans went to the polls, and re-elected Prime Minister 'Akilisi Pohiva in a landslide. Pohiva's Democratic Party won 14 of the 17 "commoner seats", giving them an absolute majority in parliament and the ability to elect a government unchallenged.

You'd hope that the king gets the message: that it is for the people, not the monarch or the nobles, to choose governments. And hopefully Pohiva will be able to use this mandate to push for further constitutional change, such as the elimination of the noble seats and the restriction of monarchical power. Because the current situation, where a third of parliament is elected by just 33 inbred nobles, is simply unsustainable. The sooner this undemocratic power is removed, the better.

Thursday, November 16, 2017



Horse trading

In their coalition agreement, Labour and New Zealand First agreed to pass a "waka jumping" law, preventing MPs from switching parties. Now, it looks like the Greens will support it to keep the coalition peace. But naturally, they want something in return:

The Green Party is considering opposing NZ First's "Waka Jumping" bill - a deal struck in coalition talks - unless Labour gives it a national "Parihaka Day".

Green Party justice spokesperson Golriz Ghahraman, in an internal email obtained by Stuff, suggested some horse trading with Labour to acknowledge the fact the party has long opposed waka jumping legislation.

Ghahraman's suggested her colleague Marama Davidson's bill, which recognises the anniversary of the invasion of Parihaka by making it a National Day, be put on the table for Government support.


Waka-jumping laws are undemocratic, prevent the natural formation and evolution of parties, and give too much power to parties and their leadership to stifle dissent. At the same time, I don't think this is worth dying in a ditch over. It sounds as if there's been some additional limits on the ability of parties to throw out members, and if they sunset clause it for the end of the Parliamentary term, then its something that can be accepted in the name of getting along. And that said, the Greens should not let themselves be taken for granted, and its entirely right that they ask for something in exchange. If Labour and NZ First don't like that, then they're welcome to seek National's support instead.

Austerity kills

Tory austerity has murdered 120,000 people in the UK since 2010:

The Conservatives have been accused of “economic murder” for austerity policies which a new study suggests have caused 120,000 deaths.

The paper found that there were 45,000 more deaths in the first four years of Tory-led efficiencies than would have been expected if funding had stayed at pre-election levels.

On this trajectory that could rise to nearly 200,000 excess deaths by the end of 2020, even with the extra funding that has been earmarked for public sector services this year.


The study attributes this to cuts in health and social spending. It attributes 10% of the death toll to cuts in the number of nurses. And those cuts have led directly to the deaths of people. Just as the Grenfell Tower fire was social murder, a result of "cutting red tape", this is economic murder, a result of cutting the vital services people depend upon to protect their lives. And in both cases, the architects of that murder, the policy-makers who cruelly cut those vital protections, need to be held criminally accountable for it.

Meanwhile, here in New Zealand National pursued a similar strategy of health cuts. How many people have they murdered?

The same question, again

The Independent Police Conduct authority has found that police used unjustified force, including pepper spray, to effect an unlawful arrest:

A Lower Hutt man who was pepper sprayed by officers trying to serve a trespass notice on him was within his rights to stop them entering his home and should never have been arrested, the police watchdog says.

The man complained to the Independent Police Conduct Authority that the officer who pepper sprayed him in his apartment complex on 23 December 2015 also kicked him and deliberately forced his arm up behind his back while he was being led away.

The authority has determined the officer did not kick the man and the force used to escort him from the building was not excessive - but it was unjustified.

Its chairman, Judge Colin Doherty, said the complainant, who was trying to close the door on the officers, had clearly revoked permission for them to be there, which meant they were trespassing and the arrest was unlawful.


The police could simply have served the notice on the victim by dropping it at his feet. Instead, they invaded his home, assaulted him with a weapon, and kidnapped him. If you or I did that, we would be prosecuted and would be facing up to 14 years in jail. So, to ask the obvious question again, why aren't the police? Or does the law simply not apply to them?

If the law is to mean anything, it must apply to those who enforce it as well as those they enforce it on. As long as police officers feel they are above the law, they will continue misbehaving and treating New Zealanders with contempt. These officers must be prosecuted, pour encourager les autres.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017



We need to do more than this

Jacinda Ardern has again approached Australia with New Zealand's offer to save refugees from their concentration camp on Manus Island - and again been rejected. So instead, we're giving aid to Papua New Guinea to help them:

New Zealand will give Papua New Guinea and aid agencies up to $3 million to help care for Manus Island refugees.

[...]

"We intend to work with PNG and other agencies like the International Red Cross to financially support them with any additional needs that may need to be met while those refugees remain on the island."


Its better than nothing, but we must do more. We cannot allow people to be tortured in concentration camps. If Australia opposes them coming to New Zealand, then fuck them - we should talk directly to Papua New Guinea. The New Guineans don't want them, we do, so it should be easy to negotiate a deal. Especially as the refugees have already been assessed.

Meanwhile, while we're all celebrating Australia's vote against bigotry today, lets also remember that they are currently detaining people who fled countries where they fear persecution on the basis of their sexuality in a country which will persecute them on the basis of their sexuality. And that is blatantly failing to meet their obligations under the Refugee Convention.

Australia votes for equality

The results of the Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey were released today, showing a 61.6% majority in favour of marriage equality. Good. And now maybe Australia can join the civilised world and actually legislate, rather than trying to remain a bigoted backwater? But before it does, I suppose we'll have to watch another orgy of autophagy from the Australian "Liberal" Party, as its bigots desperately try to pretend they're still living in the C19th. Not to mention attempts to roll back basic anti-discrimination laws to enable bigotry. This people would be justifiably outraged if shops refused to serve them on the basis of their bigoted religious views, but they think the same protections shouldn't apply to gay people. Which just shows how hypocritical the bigots are.

Meanwhile, while Australians are in a progressive mood, maybe they could release the refugees they are currently torturing in concentration camps as well?

Tuesday, November 14, 2017



"Daddy leave" and the parental leave bill

Labour's Parental Leave and Employment Protection Amendment Bill will be going through its committee stage this afternoon, having been introduced and taken to second reading under urgency last week. The bill essentially duplicates Sue Moroney's Parental Leave and Employment Protection (Six Months’ Paid Leave and Work Contact Hours) Amendment Bill. That bill had already been through the select committee process and had the support of the House, but National subjected it to an unconstitutional financial veto earlier in the year. So naturally, having now lost an election over the issue, National are trying to wreck the bill with an amendment allowing the parental leave allocation to be split between parents - effectively halving its length.

They do have a point. The best overseas parental leave schemes include provisions requiring leave to be split (or rather, that no parent can take the full allocation). In Sweden, this "daddy leave" has levelled expectations around parental leave, leading to greater equality in the workplace. Employers have come to expect employees to take leave irrespective of gender, and this has a levelling effect on both pay and promotions. In 2007, the Families Commission recommended [PDF] that the then 14 weeks of parental leave be extended progressively and include a specific "partner leave" allocation. So, this is clearly something New Zealand should do at some stage. At the same time, what we're doing really badly on at the moment is duration and pay rates. I'm perfectly comfortable for the government to prioritise fixing that first - especially when that's the bit that's already been examined by select committee. When a bill is introduced in this way, under urgency, then I'd prefer to keep the scope to what's already been approved, thanks.

In the longer term, I think its likely that further extensions to the paid parental leave scheme will feature in future Labour-NZ First budgets. So we'll hopefully see a move to a split allocation in the future, in a way that doesn't effectively reduce existing entitlements.

Opening the floodgates

One of Labour's first decisions in government was to respect the ruling of the High Court and inflation adjust Teina Pora's compensation payment for the more than twenty years of wrongful imprisonment he suffered. Now, National's "justice" spokesperson Amy Adams is warning that this move will "open the floodgates":

National's justice spokeswoman Amy Adams is warning the Government may have opened up a can of worms in awarding Teina Pora almost an extra $1 million for his two decades of wrongful imprisonment.

[...]

How the new calculation for Pora's settlement will affect "everyone else who has had compensation that wasn't inflation adjusted" remains to be seen, Adams said.

"The way the decision is written, it now throws in to question every sort of payment of any sort the Government might make that isn't specifically provided to be inflation-adjusted."

"There will be others now looking at whether they should be inflation-adjusted."


And so they should. Because the High Court has effectively ruled that National's penny-pinching policy of screwing over people shown to be innocent was wrong. And that means the current government may have to clean up National's mess. But the proper response to that is to clean the fucking mess up, not stick your fingers in your ears and deny that you ever did anything wrong.

So, let the "floodgates" open. The worst that will happen is that we'll have to treat people fairly, like we should have done in the first place. And only an arsehole from a party of arseholes which grubs for votes from other arseholes would see any problem with that.

New Fisk

This isn't the first time Saudi Arabia has threatened the stability of Lebanon

Climate change: Not good news

Back in September, we had some apparent good news about climate change for once, with reports that emissions had peaked. Sadly, those reports were incorrect:

Scientists’ predictions that carbon emissions had peaked were actually far too optimistic and they will continue to rise this year, according to a major new study.

After claims that world CO2 emissions could soon start falling, new research has been presented at a UN meeting that says they will rise by 2 per cent this year to hit a new record.

Emissions had been roughly flat between 2014 and 2016, leading to hopes that one of the leading drivers of climate change would stay that way. But they are up this year in large part because of an increase in China, where emissions have fallen over the last couple of years.


Damn. Climate change is the world's most urgent problem, and one we desperately need to see progress on. But hopefully this will encourage parties to the UNFCCC to do more, rather than fiddling while the planet burns.