Friday, June 30, 2006

Policy hints

Climate change minister David Parker has dropped a policy hint in the leadup to the announcement of the government's new climate change policy, suggesting that imported vehicles could be subjected to fuel efficiency standards. This is good news if its true; according to the latest inventory report [PDF], transport contributes 18.6% of our greenhouse gas emissions, and its rising. Improving the fuel efficiency of our vehicle fleet is an obvious way of couteractign that rise (so obvious, in fact, that you wonder why it wasn't done a decade ago). Parker points out that care will have to be taken to avoid perverse incentives (such as encouraging people to keep shitty vehicles on the road longer), but I think that such a policy can work, and would be one of the most effective long-term strategies we could persue to lower emissions.

This will likely provoke squeals of outrage from market darwinists about growing regulation and "more red tape", but the simple fact is that with the lack of support for economic instruments, this sort of regulation is all the government has available. If they didn't want regulation, then they should have supported a carbon tax...

Standing mute

Over the last week, the Kahui family has come in for vicious criticism for exercising their right to silence. So what's the alternative? National's Richard Worth plagarises wikipedia to remind us of what we used to do in the past:

Peine forte et dure (Law French for "long and forceful punishment") was a method of torture formerly used in the common law legal system, where a defendant who refused to plead ("stood mute") would be subjected to having heavier and heavier stones placed upon his or her chest until a plea was entered, or as the weight of the stones on the chest became too great for the victim to breathe, suffocation would occur.

(This seems to clash with claims from the Law Lords that "the English common law has regarded torture and its fruits with abhorrence for over 500 years", and that torture had traditionally been performed under colour of the royal prerogative rather than the courts (read the full judgement) - but that seems to have been about using torture to extract evidence rather than getting people to plead)

While I'm sure that critics of the right to silence are as horrified as I am at the thought of pressing answers from people with heavy stones, it does make the problem clear. What exactly do they propose be done with people who refuse to talk to the police? Stick them in a cell until they do? Torture them? Not only would either be a gross violation of fundamental rights; it would also result in the police being told whatever they wanted to hear. That's probbaly fine if, like the police, you want to "make someone responsible" (rather than find who is responsible) - but if you are concerned about justice and finding out who is actually guilty, then it should be an anathema.

So charge them

The British government has responded to yesterday's court decision that control orders are "the antithesis of liberty and equivalent to imprisonment by carefully leaking the claim that the six men involved were "al-Qaida supporters sent to bring the insurgency to Britain" who were detained while they were "in the final stages of planning bomb attacks".

So charge them and prove it in court. It's illegal to belong to a proscribed organisation, its illegal to plan a terrorist act, its illegal to make or posess explosives (though there's no claim that the men actually did), or pretty much anything which is intended to be used for terrorism, and its illegal to collect information "of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism". That's without even getting into conspiracy to murder or blow shit up. These offences all bear heavy penalties, and if the British authorities have evidence of them, they should put it before a jury. Given the array of offences available, and the low level of proof required for some of them (collecting information - how easy is that to prove?), their failure to lay charges speaks volumes about the strength of their "evidence".

Meanwhile, the British government is also labelling the repeated failure of their anti-terrorism legislation in the courts a "constitutional crisis". But the courts are simply judging the law, as passed by Parliament, against the standards set by another law, also passed by Parliament. That's not a "constitutional crisis"; to the contrary, it's the judiciary doing its bloody job. But I guess to the authoritarians in Blair's government, any challenge to the power of the executive to do whatever it wants is a "constitutional crisis"...

Freedom of Speech 2, Catholics Nil

The Broadcasting Standards Authority has rejected all complaints about the "Bloody Mary" episode of South Park recently screened on C4. The BSA's words speak for themselves:

[116] Although it accepts and acknowledges the degree of hurt apparent in the complaints it has received, the Authority is of the view that the institution of the Catholic Church, its practices and its icons, are entitled to no greater degree of protection than any other institution in our society, whether it be religious, political or cultural.

[117] Were the Authority to uphold the complaint, this would amount to a statement that broadcasters who offer satire, humour and drama as their fare may not offend against the religious convictions of others, and that such offence amounts to a breach of good taste and decency. That, in the view of the Authority, would be an unreasonable limitation of a broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression, which includes the right to satirise religious issues.


[135] Again, while acknowledging the genuine concerns of the complainants, the Authority declines to uphold this aspect of the complaint [that the programme encouraged the denigration of Catholics]. In essence, the complainants are asking the Authority to compel a broadcaster to respect a religious figure that they hold dear. The Authority, however, remains unpersuaded that this lack of respect amounted to an abusive attack on Catholics or Catholicism.

(Emphasis added)

This is an appropriate decision for a society which repsects freedom of speech and holds no-one's beliefs to be sacred and above criticism, parody, or simple laughter. And the precedent should be very useful in any future cases.

The full decision is here.

Hamdan v. Rumsfeld

The US Supreme Court has finally ruled in the case of Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, and decided that the military tribunals used to try "enemy combatants" at Guantanamo are fundamentally unfair and violate both US and international law. In the process, they also ruled that the Geneva Conventions' Common Article 3 (which provides minimum standards of treatment for any prisoner, and bans both torture and kangaroo courts) applies to the "war on terror" (which means that the US's preferred methods of interrogation have just been ruled a war-crime by its own top court). It is a stunning victory for the rule of law - and for American values.

SCOTUSblog has the details here and here.

In the ballot XIII: Gay adoption

Two years ago we saw the biggest shitfight in recent memory in New Zealand politics, over civil unions. The law passed, but the level of opposition and the decision by the National Party to reject equality and human rights and instead pander to bigots led many to see it as a high-tide mark for social reform, at least for the next few years. But a bill in yesterday's ballot may put that to the test.

The bill is Metiria Turei's Adoption (Civil Unions Equity) Amendment Bill. In case it is not apparent from the new title, the bill would amend the Adoption Act 1955 to extend to civil union and de facto partners the same adoption rights as married couples. Which means that, if they are judged "fit and proper persons" and are not rejected by the birth mother, gay couples could adopt.

I support this bill, and I'm looking forward to it being drawn and passed. The current situation is blatantly discriminatory, and for no good reason; Gays make perfectly good parents, and that's what should matter in adoption decisions. But what I'm not looking forward to is the public "debate" that will result from the bill being put before Parliament. Civil unions saw an unprecedented anti-gay hatefest, complete with its own blackshirted Nuremberg rally marching on Parliament. Gay adoption will be worse. The fundamentalists will label every gay in the country a paedophile, and seek to tar those who support equality with the same brush - and while there's an obvious comeback to such vile bullshit - Graham Capill, anyone? - its really not something I'm looking forward to. Which is, I suspect the point: to deter progress through sheer viciousness and prey on the desire of most people not to deal with such lunacy. Which is also precisely why we cannot give into it.

I've commented earlier that gay adoption is (somewhat ironically) the progressive issue with the best chance of passing this term. The biggest danger is that the Exclusive Brethren's man in Parliament will decide that its a perfect issue to demonstrate his "anti-PC" agenda, and use the whip to force his MPs to vote against it rather than allowing a conscience vote. If that happens, the bill will fail. So while it hasn't even been drawn yet - and may never be, despite the Ballot Mojo - it might pay to start laying some groundwork and lobbying MPs to try and ensure that it has at least some chance of success.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

"The antithesis of liberty"

Human rights and the rule of law have won another victory in the UK, with a judge ruling that the Blair government's draconian system of "control orders" is equivalent to detention without trial, and is thus inconsistent with the European Convention on Human Rights. The orders in question had been applied to six suspected terrorists, and subjected them to virtual house arrest - an 18 hour a day curfew, restrictions on why they were allowed to meet or talk to, and no access to telephones or the internet. The only real difference between this and prison is that the victim gets to pay for it themselves - and it had all been imposed solely on the say-so of the Home Secretary, without any form of trial, and on secret "evidence" which cannot be effectively challenged by the victim.

Fortunately, the British courts are having none of it:

The judge said the restrictions were "the antithesis of liberty and equivalent to imprisonment".

"Their liberty to live a normal life within their residences is so curtailed as to be non-existent for all practical purposes," he said.

The Guardian also quotes him as saying

"The freedom to meet any person of one's choice by prior arrangement is significant. As is the freedom to attend any temple, mosque, church as whatever you choose." He went on: "I am left in no doubt whatsoever that the cumulative effect of the order has been to deprive to respondents of their liberty, in breach of article 5. I do not consider that this is a borderline case."

Blair and his latest Home Secretary have responded with the usual bluster, and are threatening to legislate to over-rule the courts, but in practice the only way they have of doing this would be to declare that the war on terror is a "public emergency threatening the life of the nation" and thereby opt out of the "fair trial" provisions of the ECHR for its duration. But if a thirty-year campaign from the IRA didn't qualify, its difficult to see how Al Qaeda will. Instead it will be hard not to conculde that the real threat to the life of the nation comes from Tony Blair's desire to cut England's laws flat.


The usual ballot for Member's Bills was held today, and the following bill was drawn:

  • Principles of the Treaty of Waitangi Deletion Bill (Doug Woolerton)

Normally you would expect such a bill to be voted down by the Labour-Progressive-Green-Maori Party bloc, but as with Ron Mark's Young Offenders (Serious Crimes) Bill, Labour agreed to support such a bill to select committee in its confidence and supply agreement with NZ First. The interesting question will be how hard NZ First will push to get these bills enacted into law - whether it will accept merely taking them to committee, or whether it will threaten to bring down the government unless it gets support for the second and third reading. We'll probably know in a few months, when Mark's bill is reported back.

There were three new bills today. The most interesting is Metiria Turei's Adoption (Civil Unions) Amendment Bill, the title of which alone is probably enough to make the Christians squeal (Meyt seems to specialise in this). The other two were Rodney Hide's Regulatory Responsibility Bill, and Darren Hughes' Airport Authorities (Sale to the Crown) Amendment Bill. Labour seems to be finally getting things in motion, which is good - though they're still using the ballot far less than they could. As with last time, there was also a preliminary ballot between United Future's and national's competing prison privatisation bills.

I'll be covering the new bills in an In the ballot post as soon as I am sent the details.

More on the right to silence

After a week of hysterical coverage, the Herald has finally got around to pointing out that it is not a crime not to speak to the police, and that the right to silence is fundamental to our criminal justice system.

Meanwhile, Labour's Russell Fairbrother appears to believe that effectively representing your clients and advising them of their rights is unethical behaviour, and that the Kahui family's lawyer should be struck off. I'd have thought that the reverse was true, and that a lawyer who failed to advise their clients of something as basic as the right to silence was guilty of gross negligence. But I guess standards are different when there are votes on the line...

Member's bill roundup

Sue Bradford's Corrections (Mothers with Babies) Amendment Bill passed its first reading with unanimous support last night, and will now go to select committee. This is good news, and a good sign that all parties are willing to examine the issue seriously. While the number of people ultimately affected is small - there are reportedly only thirteen pregnant women in prison at the moment - current practices of separating mothers from their children after only six months are fairly barbaric. While opinions will differ on how long they should have together (other countries allow up to six years), its good to see that parties are unanimous that it should be extended, and I don't really expect the bill to have much trouble at its later readings.

Meanwhile, both Sue Kedgley's Consumer's Right to Know (Food Information) Bill and Rodney Hide's execrable Human Rights (One Law for All) Amendment Bill were voted down last night. The former failed on a 99-20 vote, with the large parties (and Jim Anderton's "Progressives") uniting against the smaller ones to kill a bill which would have allowed consumers to make an informed choice about what they eat. The latter was voted down by everyone except National and ACT, after the Ministry of Justice reported that it violated the BORA by preventing the government acting to counter discrimination. Which was precisely the point; ACT is perfectly happy with existing inequalities and wants to preserve and perpetuate them.

There will be a ballot today to draw another bill for the next Member's Day in July. As usual, I'll post the results when I get them.

Climate change roundup

Greenland's icecap is disintegrating, glaciers are melting faster than ever before, and people are now planting olive trees in Devon to take advantage of the expected mediterranean climate. Meanwhile, our local cranks and shills are still in full denial mode. Nothing to see here, move along...

"Key issues"

US midterm elections are due in November, and so the Republican-dominated Congress is going through the usual pre-election charade of holding votes on constitutional amendments on "key issues". What do Republicans consider a "key issue"?. Well, first, it was gay marriage, which was successfully filibustered by Senate Democrats. Then last night it was the regular vote on a constitutional amendment to outlaw flag-burning, which failed by a single vote. Next, they'll probably be doing abortion, since nothing gets the religious fanatics riled up and ready to march to the ballot box with flaming torches like the thought that women might be allowed to control their own bodies.

Meanwhile, the US deficit continues to climb, inequality and economic insecurity continue to grow, forty-six million Americans have no health insurance, and the President continues to erode the constitution and transform America into an absolute monarchy. But I guess none of those things are "key issues"...

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The long-term forecast

I spent some time last night reading Treasury's new long-term forecast of the government's fiscal position, in which Treasury attempts to present some idea of what the government's books will look like in fourty year's time. This sort of crystal-ball gazing is frought with peril, and everything really depends on your initial assumptions. The two key ones for Treasury are that the Department of Statistics' long-term population projections are correct, meaning that we will shortly see a permanent change in our demographic makeup and far more old people, and that as in the past, health spending will rise faster than economic growth. The result of these assumptions is that both health and superannuation spending look set to double as a proportion of GDP by 2040. While welfare and education spending are both set to decline, it is not nearly enough to compensate. The result is a growing slice of government revenue being spent on health, super, education, and welfare, which (if revenue remains roughly constant as a share of GDP) results in narrowing surpluses, and eventually deficits from about 2030 onwards.

(Image stolen from Treasury here)

Its unclear what effect the Cullen Fund has on this, though you can bet we'd be in a worse position sooner if we didn't have it. Saving for the coming rainy day seems to have been a useful strategy, though not enough in itself.

As for the long-term options, its a stark choice: either we accept lower provision of health and superannuation (a political non-starter), or we slowly raise taxes to fund it. I prefer the latter option. Those health and superannuation costs will be paid somehow - people will still get sick, and old people will still need to eat and have a roof over their heads. The only question is whether we fund it through taxation, or the private sector. The latter is inherantly wasteful - you must pay for shareholder's profits as well as benefits delivered - and it leads to inequality, which I regard as being inherantly undesirable. I'm quite happy therefore for the government to increase its share of GDP in order to ensure New Zealanders the standard of living we expect, in accordance with the values we share.

Collective punishment

On Sunday, Palestinian militants captured an Israeli soldier, who currently seems to be being held hostage in the hope of some sort of prisoner exchange. Today, Israel responded by bombing three bridges and a power station in Gaza - a clear case of collective punishment. Not only is this contrary to international law (and despite Israel's fiction, the Fourth Geneva Convention clearly applies in the Occupied Territories - and certainly does now that they're not "occupied"), it pretty much concedes the moral case against terrorism. Fighting terrorism by targetting the wellbeing of civilian populations gives you absolutely no ground to stand on when your civilians are targetted in turn.

By all means, Israel should find the people who have captured its soldier, and rescue him - but it should take care that it does not stray into collective punishment or terrorism itself. But then, when an Israeli Prime Minister feels he can say publicly that Israeli lives are worth more than Palestinian ones, then I think israel has already gone a long way down that road...


According to the Order Paper, Metiria Turei's Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis) Amendment Bill has been deferred until next Member's Day, on July 26th. There's a lot of local business to get through anyway, so it was unlikly to get its first reading this week, but it highlights a growing trend of Members' Bills hanging around "below the line" at the bottom of the Order Paper. There's now four of them down there, all deferred by choice - three of them to the same day.

Meanwhile, one of the reasons we seem to be having so many Members' Bills drawn is that so many are being voted to Select Committee - and then not emerging (meaning there are no second readings or committee stages to take up time that could be spent on first readings). This might change in a couple of months, as there's a whole slew of bills due to pop out around the end of August. But if the select committees are true to form, these will be deferred as well...

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Dangerous frustration

I haven't commented on the Kahui case because, bluntly, I loathe the entire genre of crime d'jour reporting, and don't want to encourage it. But I do have to comment on the statements politicians have been making over the Kahui family's silence and refusal to speak with police. According to the Herald, Maori party co-leader Pita Sharples said that the police should bring people in for questioning, while NZ First's Ron Mark has issued a press statement calling for them to be arrested for obstruction of justice. These calls are dangerous and authoritarian, and, if acted upon, would grossly violate one of the fundamentals of the New Zealand justice system.

I'm not going to be popular for saying this, but I think people need to be reminded: in this country, you do not have to talk to the police. There is a right to silence, both legal and practical, and a right against self-incrimination. The police cannot arrest you simply for refusing to talk to them, and it is not a crime to do so. And if you are arrested, you still do not have to talk to them, just as you do not have to give evidence at trial if charged. These rights are fundamental to the New Zealand justice system (and to those across the civilised world), and they exist for very good reasons - chief among which are protecting people from abuses of power and stopping the police from compelling testimony and forcing "confessions".

It is frustrating when people do not come forward with evidence about a crime, and politicians naturally want to be seen to be "doing something" about such a high profile case. But the best thing they can do is shut the fuck up and let the police get on with their work. We should not ignore one of the fundamental safeguards of our justice system simply to relieve politician's and the public's moral panic.

Mapping the ICCPR

The mention below of Pacific states not having joined the Convention Against Torture raised the question of what else they haven't signed up for. So, I did some digging. Below is a map of the members of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, one of the core UN human rights documents which served as the foundation for our own Bill of Rights Act:

(Click the map for a larger version. Source here)

Note the large gap in the South Pacific. Clearly something else our government should be trying to persuade our neighbours about.

Against torture

This month is Torture Awareness Month. And yesterday, June 26th, was the International Day to Support the Victims of Torture. I'd like to echo UN Secretary General Kofi Annan's comments [PDF], and say that

We must all work to erase this ugly stain on humanity’s conscience. We must speak out forcefully against all such practices, and renew our efforts to end torture in all its forms

The best way of doing that is by getting countries to sign and adhere to the commitments of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Currently, only 141 countries are parties, and some of them are backsliding and seeking to circumvent their obligations. But this is not something we can compromise on. We cannot allow "a little bit" of torture, or "torture-lite", and we cannot accept the arguments of some that water-boarding and strapado - techniques used by the Spanish Inquisition - "don't count". They are still torture, and their continued use degrades us all. Neither can we allow our governments to have people tortured on their behalf, or look the other way while it happens. As the Committee Against Torture and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights note, the ban on torture is well established, absolute, and non-derogable; it cannot be subject to any limitation, anywhere, under any conditions. if we want a world free from torture, then we have to remind our governments of that, and make sure they stick to it - by de-electing and if necessary prosecuting them.

Non-membership in the Convention is also a problem, and the EU has marked the day by urging all countries which have not yet done so to sign and ratify the Convention. This is a task New Zealand can help with; a look at the map linked above shows that only two South Pacific countries - New Zealand and Australia - are parties (Nauru has signed but not ratified). Samoa, Fiji, Tonga, Tuvalu and Papua New Guinea are all non-members. We should be working to try and convince them to join this and other fundamental human rights instruments, and (if necessary) helping them with the cost of meeting their obligations.

New Fisk

In the Titanic cemetery, a day to remember

Monday, June 26, 2006

A close race in Mexico

Mexico goes to the polls on Sunday to elect a new President and legislature, and the race looks to be a nail-biter. Populist left-winger Andrés Manuel López Obrador currently has a narrow lead in the polls over his rival, Felipe Calderón, but the long-term data on Wikipedia shows that the race is close, and could go either way. Obviously, I'm hoping for an AMLO victory - if only to see Latin America's red tide reach all the way to the Texas border...

Treasury and private prisons

National's Simon Power is complaining that the government has consistently ignored advice from Treasury pushing for more private prisons.


The decision over whether to have private companies profiting from human misery is essentially a political one. It is therefore the domain of elected politicians - not unelected technocrats. If Treasury wants to see the idea implemented, then they should run for election like everybody else.

As for Simon Power, if he genuinely sees the role of government as slavishly following Treasury's advice, then you really wonder why he is in Parliament at all. And if that's what he's going to do if ever elected to Cabinet, I think we'd all be better off if we simply cut out the middle man and had Treasury make the decisions openly. Then at least it would be clear where the accountability lay...

Failing to deliver

Last year, the worldwide Make Poverty History campaign put the leaders of the rich G8 nations on the spot, and forced them to pledge to do more to help poorer nations. The final communique, while disappointing in many ways, at least promised something: an increase in aid spending (though far lower than claimed), better access to HIV drugs, and debt relief for the poorest nations, So, a year on, has the west lived up to those promises?

In a word, no. According to a report [PDF] from Action Aid, the rich countries have failed to deliver on their promises - betraying both their own citizens, and the world's poor. In Germany and the UK, foreign aid spending has actually fallen, once debt relief is excluded. A major fund to provide universal access to HIV treatments is in danger of failing, because donors simply haven't put their money where their mouth is. Economic "conditionalities" such as open markets and asset sales are still being attached to debt relief. And there has been absolutely no progress on the real solution to third-world poverty: opening first-world markets and ending first-world farm subsidies.

Basically, our governments have lied to us, spun us a line of bullshit in the hope that we'd go away, and then continued business as usual. They cannot be allowed to get away with this.

Meanwhile, Tony Blair is making excuses in The Independent, saying that "We could never make poverty history overnight". But the issue here isn't the failure to solve the problem overnight; it's the failure of his government and others to do what they had agreed to. But rather than admit that, it seems that Blair would rather tilt at strawmen...

Getting to work

Looking at this week's Select Committee timetable [PDF], I'm pleased to see that the Local Government and Environment Select Committee is meeting for the full three and a half hours on Thursday to work through their backlog. It's all estimates and petitions, but this is as much a part of their job as scrutinising legislation, and its good to see that they're devoting adequete time to it.

Hopefully they'll keep this up, and we won't see any more delays in bills they are scrutinising...

Sue Bradford has the numbers

Sue Bradford's Corrections (Mothers with Babies) Amendment Bill looks set to pass its first reading on Wednesday, with the support of National, NZ First and United Future. It's an unlikely combination - mainly because Labour hasn't made up its mind yet - but a testament to those parties' open-mindedness. The bill's proposals deserve investigation before a select committee, and its good to see parties from across the political spectrum willing to give it a fair go.

There's no information yet though on how Metiria Turei's Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis) Amendment Bill. This will probably face debate, if not a vote, on Wednesday as well, but the parties have given little indication of how they intend to vote. The most media attention it has received is Meyt proposing that it be a conscience vote. Maybe they're all just hoping that if they don't talk about it, it will go away...?

Sunday, June 25, 2006

A return, and some comments on the left

Span is back, refreshed from her European holiday, and wanting to blog about politics again. Huzzah!

As for her desire to talk about the future of the New Zealand left, Crooked Timber pointed me at an interesting piece on Urban Drift UK, which asks the same questions about the UK and the expected replacement of Tony Blair with Gordon Brown. After a long discussion of "triangulation" (pandering to the right) versus representing Labour voters, and the relative payoffs of these strategies, MizMillie makes a clear statement of what it's all about:

The success of any Labour administration needs to be measured by how much it has shifted the centre towards the left in its three terms of power, as much as as how successfully it has remained true to the values of the left in its policies.

So how well has New Zealand Labour done on this front? It's worth noting that they've delivered a lot of solid social democratic policy - better employment laws, regular increases in the minimum wage, better access to education and hence opportunity (whether tertiary or trade), paid parental leave, a slow re-extension of universal primary healthcare, working for families, kiwisaver - and that these policies have generally been popular. The biggest criticism here is that they've if anything been too timid in pushing these policies (the extension of annual leave being a case in point). I'm not sure whether it represents a shift of the centre to the left, but at the least it has cemented left-wing policy with the electorate, in that National will face an enormous political cost if they try to roll any of these policies back (really, just imagine the screams if National tries to reintroduce interest on student loans, or take away people's annual leave or free doctor's visits, or reduce WFF entitlements). Where the wheels have fallen off is in areas like crime, immigration, race relations, and now tax, where Labour has abandoned progressive values entirely and openly pandered to the right in an effort to avoid being painted as "soft" - or, in the latter case, abandoned the field entirely and given National free rein to shift public opinion its way on what should be a core part of social democratic policy.

As for what this means, here's MizMillie again:

The worst possible outcome is not necessarily that of a Labour party shut out of power for the foreseeable future, but that of a Labour government enjoying sustained electoral success in a society that has become more rightwing under its watch.

While I don't think Labour has allowed society to become more rightwing economically (though watch this space with their yielding the ground on tax), it certainly has in other areas. And this is something those of us on the left should regard as a tragedy.

(Yes, I know the left is bigger than the Labour Party, but the above is an interesting place to start talking).

Off the scale

Political Animal has a link to a Canadian marketing survey which classifies participants into tribes based on age cohort and shared social values. My result is graphed below:

Because I'm classified as an X-er, my tribe is officially Autonomous Post-materialist - though its pleasing to see that I'm well off the scale there. Maybe its something about being a Kiwi rather than a Canadian?

Ending capital punishment, one country at a time

The Philippines has abolished the death penalty and commuted all death sentences to life imprisonment. This makes it the 87th country (and only the 6th in East Asia) to have gone abolitionist.

If you're wondering how much progress is being made on ending the death penalty worldwide, Wikipedia has a handy map here.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Wave power for Cook Strait?

The front page of this morning's Dominion reports that Meridian Energy is looking at installing wave power generators under Cook Strait, and that this is reportedly capable of supplying all the country's electricity needs. I'm not sure about the latter - it would depend on how much energy you can get out of a turbine and how much shallow water we have which is subject to strong undersea currents - but the core idea is sound enough. Water is just like wind, only thicker; it moves, and that movement can be captured and turned into electricity with a turbine.

I'm not sure about the ecological effects. The turbines spin quite slowly, so they're not going to be directly killing fish. The real problem is likely to be noise, and possibly some minor pollution from lubricants leaking. On the plus side, you can't fish where there are turbines, so there may be some ecological benefits. The best way to investigate this is probably to build a test facility and see.

The biggest problem is the price; Meridian estimates that undersea wave energy will cost around 12 cents a kilwatthour, compared to around half that for wind or gas. But that's really Meridian's problem, and if they think they can make a profit generating electricity at that cost, then all power to them.

New kiwi blog

Sethop's Interesting Times

Friday, June 23, 2006


Submissions on the government's review of the Immigration Act are due on July 1st - which is about the end of next week. So if you were planning on submitting something, now is the time to finish it off.

If you're strapped for time, Tze Ming has prepared a handy template [DOC] to customise and use. It includes her comments on the proposals, but also a full list of the questions asked, and space for further comments. She also highlights the key issues and points to some useful resources in her Public Address post here. Submissions can either be entered via their online system (details here), or simply emailed to

As written, the review document proposes an immigration system which reflects immigration officials' view that potential immigrants are "the enemy", and that their decisions need not be justified to anyone, or even supported by evidence. That flies in the face of kiwi values of justice and fairness. If we want our immigration system to reflect our values, rather than theirs, then we need to speak up for it. So, please submit - otherwise the faceless officials will get their way.

Running out of time

According to this morning's Dominion-Post, the government is set to announce its replacement for the carbon tax next month, with a final decision to be taken in May next year after a round of public consultation. This seems to be running several months behind schedule; the working group convened in response to the government's climate change review was supposed to report back in early April. It is also coming perilously close to running out of time entirely. Kyoto's first commitment period begins on January 1st, 2008, and if there's any more delays - if legislation needs to be passed, for example, or if Peter Dunne throws his toys out of the cot - then we will run the risk of entering it with no firm policies in place to reduce emissions. And the consequence of that will be even greater exposure to a volatile international carbon market, where prices are already far higher than Treasury expectations.

As for the policy itself, it sounds as if they'll be going for a narrow carbon charge on electricity generators. It's better than nothing, but as I've said before, far too narrowly targetted to produce the emission reductions we need. It could still broadly work if the government adopts other mechanisms to target the transport and farming sector, such as those proposed in the Greens' Turn Down the Heat document - but they really have left it far too late for these policies to have a significant effect before the end (let alone the beginning) of CP1.

If I sound frustrated, it's because I am. We've had not one, but two comprehensive climate change policies which would have stuck a price on carbon and subsequently lowered our emissions - and they've both been ditched because the government got cold feet. In 1999, the then-National government proposed a carbon tax as an intermediate step before the introduction of emissions trading. The policy would have been implemented by 2002, allowing plenty of time for the effects to feed and lower our emissions in CP1, but the incoming Labour government got cold feet and started again from scratch. Their replacement - a carbon tax by 2007 with the option of shifting to emissions trading at a later date - covered the same ground, but was dumped last year after more chills were felt in the toes. And I half expect that the same will happen even to the wishy-washy half-measures currently on offer: industry lobbies will squeal, farmers will snarl, and the government will obediently back down and scrap the whole thing. And we will end up paying for it.

Meat without murder

Wired has an interesting piece on efforts to grow meat in vitro, ridding us of the need (or alternatively, the excuse) to kill animals to eat. While they're not quite there yet, the research is very promising, and it looks like they'll have some form of vat-grown product on the market within five years. It won't do steaks - that requires a lot more work - but you might be able to have a more moral cheeseburger in the not too distant future.

National's class-warfare policies

National is banging the Australia drum again, pointing out in yesterday's Herald that after-tax incomes in Australia are higher than before-tax incomes in New Zealand. But what's their "solution" to this? Employment legislation which would lower wages, and leave the average kiwi even worse off, combined with tax cuts for the rich which will reward the already wealthy. To call this counterintuitive is an understatement; these policies will widen the gap rather than narrow it. But then, closing the gap with Australia isn't really the point; instead, National is pursuing the same old agenda it always has: transferring wealth from the many to the few. There's an old and ugly and deeply unfashionable name for this, but one which is true nonetheless: class warfare. And judging by their policy pronouncements so far, National intends to pursue it with a vengeance at the first opportunity they get.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Progress on an independent Police Complaints Authority?

The government has suggested that it might finally pass the Independent Police Complaints Authority Amendment Bill. About bloody time! The bill would make the Police Complaints Authority truly independent, giving it the resources to properly investigate police misconduct rather than having to rely on police to "investigate" their mates. Unfortunately, its been on hold for almost three years, languishing at the bottom of the Order Paper while waiting for the current commission of inquiry into historic allegations of police rape to wrap up. But while the findings of that inquiry would be useful, the fundamental problem - that of police investigating their own - is pressing enough that it should be resolved sooner rather than later.

And OTOH, I'm not sure how much faith we should put in this. Back in May 2005, when the bill finally received its second reading (having sat around waiting for it since November 2003), then-Justice Minister Phil Goff said that "we have now decided to proceed with it at this time". It's been over a year since then, during which the bill has gone precisely nowhere. So forgive me if I wait until I see the bill actually before the House again before applauding...

Right on cue...

And right on cue, we have Katherine Rich, complaining about Labour "cronyism" in appointments to SOE boards. Except that the facts don't actually support her argument; just three of 43 appointments in the last year have been Labour Party members. Rich's response? She "admitted she had not closely looked at Mr Mallard's appointments yet", but said that it wasn't just about mallard's appointments anyway. Because why should little things like facts get in the way of a good smear?

Displacement behaviour

So, a last minute (but carefully planned) "rebellion" (against what?) by Green MPs has allowed National to have its way on dog microchipping, and once again pandered to farmer's belief that they should be above the law. I'm disappointed - I see chipping as a basic animal identification measure, and one that should be universal - but like Russell, hardly devastated. The whole issue was basically displacement behaviour, with political attention focussed on it precisely because neither party could make any progress on more substantive issues. And now that its out of the way, possibly Parliament could devote some time to things that actually matter, like climate change, or encouraging New Zealand businesses to invest for the long-term rather than sticking with the "low wage, low skill, hire another warm body" approach. But somehow, I suspect we'll be hearing about Ministerial parking tickets again...

Murdering civilians

US military authorities seem finally to have woken up to atrocities committed by those under their command, and are begining to enforce the law. Earlier in the week, we learned that a group of soldiers were facing murder charges for shooting three prisoners back in May. Now, we learn that seven marines are facing similar charges for taking an Iraqi man from his home, shooting him, then dumping a rifle and shovel next to the body so they could claim that he was planting a roadside bomb. Recent media reports suggest this sort of coverup is widespread, and you really have to wonder how morally sustainable the US occupation is when they've devolved to shooting the very people they claim to be fighting for.

The BBC story quotes a marine spokesman as saying that

The marine corps also prides itself on holding its members accountable for their actions.

But given the failure so far of the US military to hold its own to account, we'll just have to wait and see...

Blaming the victim

Spurred by recent reports of appalling conditions in remote Aboriginal communities, Australian Health Minister Tony Abbott is calling for a "new paternalism" to improve Aborigines' living standards. He begins his call to take up the White Man's Burden by claiming that

The fundamental problem here is not lack of spending...

I'm sorry, but a large part of the problem is a lack of spending. In health, education, and basic infrastructure, Aboriginal communities receive less per capita than white Australia, and certainly far less than they need. For example, in the Northern Territory, the government spends only half the amount it should on "Service to Indigenous Communities". It spends less than half as much per-capita on basic education in Aboriginal communities as it does on average - and its closer to a twentieth when the comparison is made with large urban areas like Darwin. And when it does spend money, typically at the behest of the Federal government, it is spent on bureaucrats rather than service delivery - assuming it is spent at all. According to a recent study, practically every state underspends Federal money allocated for improving housing in Aboriginal communities. The result is that Aborigines are left to languish in substandard housing, because "their" government is simply uninterested in helping them, despite having money allocated specifically for the purpose.

Not that the Federal government is immune. According to Oxfam, the Australian government grossly underfunds indigenous health, allocating less than a tenth of what is required. The result is catastrophic: infant mortality three times higher and a life expectancy seventeen years shorter than the Australian average.

Then there's the law enforcement issue. I was appalled to read recently that Aboriginal women wanting to report domestic violence and sexual assaults - exactly the problems that have sparked Abbott's call for paternalism - were being locked up on outstanding warrants for minor crimes, while their complaints were ignored and their abusers allowed to walk free. Which just does wonders to encourage victims to come forward and report crimes...

Many of the problems of aboriginal communities - the poor health care, the squalid housing, the lack of jobs or education, the culture of lawlessness - are the natural consequence of the Australian government's longstanding policy of neglect towards its indigenous people. But rather than address that, Tony Abbott would rather talk about a "culture of directionlessness". I guess it’s just easier and cheaper to blame the victim than actually try and do something about it...

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Outright corruption

Checkpoint this evening alerted me to today's Question Time, in which National's Immigration Spokesperson, Lockwood Smith, alleged that Taito Phillip Field had engaged in outright corruption and demanded cash in exchange for immigration permits. If substantiated, these allegations could see Field go to jail for up to 14 years for corruption as a Minister. Helen Clark knew nothing, and further said that the person involved should have raised it with Noel Ingram or the police, but there's a problem: they'd be liable for up to seven year's jail themselves if they admitted it. And while Clark has promised immunity, I'm not sure that its within her power to do so; decisions on who to prosecute are made by the police, not the Prime Minister, and quite rightly too.

That said, I hope the police make a similar offer of immunity, and that Smith's source comes forward. Corruption has absolutely no place in New Zealand, and if a Minister has been engaging in it, then I want to see them nailed for it - and political consequences be damned. There are some things more important than whose bums are on the government benches, and this is one of them. The sooner Labour remembers that, and stops trying to defend (or look the other way on) the indefensible, the better.

Keeping up the pressure

The Greens are keeping up the pressure over the government's position on Guantanamo, with Keith Locke planning to raise the matter in today's General Debate. His speech is up on Scoop already:

Yesterday the European Parliament, by a large majority, called for the closure of the US detention centre at Guantanamo Bay. Earlier this year I had a similar Guantanamo Bay motion on the Order Paper, but Labour vetoed our having a debate on it in the House. I would like my fellow MPs to become a little bolder on this important matter and risk offending the Bush administration, because there is hardly a Parliament in the world where the majority of MPs are not for the closure of Guantanamo Bay.

It will be interesting to see how the other parties respond, and I'll be trawling Hansard later to see whether any rise to the challenge. But somehow I suspect they'll focus on other parts of the speech, or simply call him a communist...

Torturing madmen

Anyone doubting the insanity and moral bankruptcy of America's use of torture in its "war on terror" has only to read this piece in today's Washington Post. In a review of Ron Suskind's The One Percent Doctrine, Washington Post national security correspondent Barton Gellman tells the tale of what happened to Abu Zubaydah, a "high ranking" Al Qaeda operative captured in 2002. Except it turns out he wasn't as high-ranking as the Americans thought he was. Rather than masterminding terrorist plots, he was a low-ranking mook who handled travel for wives and families. And he was mad:

CIA and FBI analysts, poring over a diary he kept for more than a decade, found entries "in the voice of three people: Hani 1, Hani 2, and Hani 3" -- a boy, a young man and a middle-aged alter ego. All three recorded in numbing detail "what people ate, or wore, or trifling things they said." Dan Coleman, then the FBI's top al-Qaeda analyst, told a senior bureau official, "This guy is insane, certifiable, split personality."

Not that any of this mattered. Desperate for a victory in his "war on terror", Bush publicly claimed that Abu Zubaydah was "one of the top operatives plotting and planning death and destruction on the United States." And then, in a classic example of the faith-based Presidency in action, he told the CIA to prove it:

"I said he was important," Bush reportedly told Tenet at one of their daily meetings. "You're not going to let me lose face on this, are you?" "No sir, Mr. President," Tenet replied. Bush "was fixated on how to get Zubaydah to tell us the truth," Suskind writes, and he asked one briefer, "Do some of these harsh methods really work?" Interrogators did their best to find out, Suskind reports. They strapped Abu Zubaydah to a water-board, which reproduces the agony of drowning. They threatened him with certain death. They withheld medication. They bombarded him with deafening noise and harsh lights, depriving him of sleep. Under that duress, he began to speak of plots of every variety -- against shopping malls, banks, supermarkets, water systems, nuclear plants, apartment buildings, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Statue of Liberty. With each new tale, "thousands of uniformed men and women raced in a panic to each . . . target." And so, Suskind writes, "the United States would torture a mentally disturbed man and then leap, screaming, at every word he uttered."

And all of this so the President wouldn't "lose face". It's positively medieval over there...

[Hat tip: Political Animal]

Shrinking coalition watch

Japan has announced that it will be pulling its troops out of Iraq. There are 600 Japanese troops in Southern Iraq, doing reconstruction work in a similar manner to the New Zealand deployment. Now, they'll be gone by the end of July. I guess they just didn't think it was worth dying for Bush's doomed crusade anymore...

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Better than a bag of bloody bones

Every Hogswatchnight, the Hogfather travels the land in his sleigh drawn by four wild boars, giving gifts to children. Good children receive gifts of pork products. Bad children get a bag of bloody bones...

This Christmas, though, we're getting something better: a TV adaptation. There's a full cast list here (short version: Ian Richardson as the voice of Death, David Jason (del-boy) as Albert, Marc Warren of the googly eyes as Mr Teatime).

I guess I'd better make sure to have the spare bandwidth for it...

"Very overworked"

Last week, I posted about the Local Government and Environment Select Committee delaying the the two Manukau local bills by four months. In the comments, Tony Milne said that this was because the committee was "very overworked" and had a large amount of business before it (which they do). But looking at the select committee timetable for this week, I see that they're dealing with this backlog by meeting for all of two hours. Not exactly busting a gut to catch up, are they?

I know there are significant constraints on select committee meeting times. Parliament is only in session for three days a week (Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays), and unless they are hearing submissions, committees will usually only meet in the mornings, before the House sits. Tuesday is eaten up by caucus, and MPs are often members of other committees, so some careful timetabling needs to be done. That said, other committees make far more use of the time available. Education and Science, Finance and Expenditure, Government Administration, Health... all are meeting for the full three hours to cope with their busy workloads. Why isn't Local Government?

New kiwi blog


Murdering prisoners

The latest scandal to hit US forces in Iraq? The outright murder of prisoners. Three soldiers are facing charges of premeditated murder, attempted murder, conspiracy, communicating a threat and obstruction of justice for shooting three prisoners in cold blood, and then threatening to kill another soldier if he told anyone about it. The good news here is that they've been charged very quickly; the murders took place just over a month ago, and an investigation was ordered the same day. The bad news is that rather than being charged in civilian court, they will be judged by the military, which doesn't exactly have a good record on holding its own to account. Still, we can always hope...

A contrast in quotes

"[i]f there's time we always raise [human rights] issues"
Helen Clark, November 30, 2004
"As a general rule, the Prime Minister is concerned about human rights in a country and she raises those when she meets heads of state."
Prime Ministerial Spokesman, March 13, 2006
"I haven't raised that specific issue with him"
Helen Clark, on whether she had raised human rights with Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, June 20, 2006

She doesn't want to talk about it

Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is visiting New Zealand at the moment, and media attention is focusing on his country's human rights record. While Singapore doesn't torture people, political freedoms are significantly curtailed - a fact exemplified by opposition politician Chee Soon Juan's facing charges for speaking in public without a permit.

As a progressive politician leading a party and a country which cares deeply about human rights, you'd expect Helen Clark to raise this issue with Mr Lee. Instead, she didn't want to talk about it, saying at a press conference this afternoon

"No, we haven't discussed that today"

And later

"I haven't raised that specific issue with him"

It's nice to know where her priorities lie. When trade is on the line, Clark will remain silent, rather than speak up for the values of the people she is supposed to represent.

Meanwhile, Mr Lee took the opportunity to slag off his opponent on New Zealand television, calling him

a liar, he's a cheat, he's deceitful he's confrontational and it's a destructive form of politics designed not to win elections in Singapore but to impress foreign supporters and to make himself out to be a martyr.

Note that if the roles were reversed, and Mr Chee said that about Mr Lee, he'd be looking at another defamation suit. But I guess the rules are different for the Singaporean government...

Monday, June 19, 2006

New Fisk

Fading frescoes of the Lebanon

Flipping them one by one

Pita Sharples has announced that he wll oppose Wayne Mapp's Employment Relations (Probationary Employment) Amendment Bill. The bill won its first reading 63 - 58. Sharples' about-face will cut that majority, but not by enough for the bill to fail; for that to happen the rest of his Maori Party colleagues (or New Zealand First) would have to vote against it as well.

Sharples changed his mind because of pressure from the flax-roots within his electorate. Which shows us the way forward on this: if you are on the Maori Roll in Te Tai Hauauru or Waiariki and you oppose the bill, either write to your MP at Parliament (the postage is free), or better yet, schedule an appointment at their electorate office. The Maori Party's MPs will at least listen to their constituents, and if people speak up, they can hopefully be flipped one by one so that Mapp's bill will fail.

Something to go to in Wellington

The Aceh support group will be holding a dinner in Wellington on July 8th to discuss West Papua and Aceh and the need for change. Highlights will include a talk by Marie Leadbetter, and excerpts from William Nessen's documentary film "The Black Road - Inside Aceh's Struggle for Independence".

When: Saturday, July 8th, 6pm

Where: Crossways Hall (cnr Elizabeth and Brougham Street, Mt Victoria)

How much: $5 unwaged, $8 waged

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Lee Hsien Loong visits

Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong arrives in New Zealand today for a five-day visit. According to the government's press release, the visit will focus on

the economic relationship between New Zealand and Singapore, which spans trade and investment and which sees Singapore as the hub for many New Zealand businesses in Asian markets.

Left unmentioned, of course, will be things like human rights and democracy. While an economic success, Singapore lags well behind in these areas. Freedom House's 2005 country report for Singapore sums up the problem:

Though general elections are free from irregularities and vote rigging, the PAP's manipulation of the political system means that they cannot be termed fair. Opposition parties are constrained by the ban on political films and televised programs; the curtailing of expressions of political opinion by the threat of libel or slander suits; strict regulations and limitations on associations, including political associations; and the PAP's influence of the media and in the courts, among other things.

The net result is that Singapore's "parliamentary democracy" is reduced to a charade.

A graphic example of this is the treatment of Chee Soon Juan, an opposition politician, who is currently facing charges for speaking in public without a licence - something we take for granted in a democracy.

In the Herald today, Fran O'Sullivan rightly asks whether any of this will be raised by our government, or whether it will simply turn a blind eye. Based on their past performance, I'm expecting the latter.

However, while our government may remain silent to avoid upsetting a valued trade partner, there's no reason we have to be. Prime Minister Lee will be welcomed to Parliament at 10:30am on Monday. It's an excellent chance to stand up for democracy in Singapore. As fow how to do it, I'd recommend subtlety - gags, or maybe a sign saying "I'd be arrested for this in Singapore".

Deportation to disappearance

Last week, we learned that the government had deported Rayed Mohammed Abdullah Ali, an associate of the September 11th hijackers, on national security grounds. Now, we learn that he has disappeared. The government will not say who they handed Ali to in Saudi Arabia, and his family have not heard from him.

Saudi Arabia is a torture state, where according to Human Rights Watch,

Arbitrary detention, mistreatment and torture of detainees... remain serious concerns.

The US State Departmnet's 2005 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Saudi Arabia notes that prisoners are subjected to

beatings, whippings, and sleep deprivation. In addition, there were allegations of beatings with sticks and suspension from bars by handcuffs.

and that people are often arbitrarily detained, in violation of both international and Saudi domestic law.

And we deported a man to this place - a man who, given his association with terrorists, would be likely to be treated in exactly this manner.

New Zealand is a party to the UN Convention Against Torture. Article 3 of the Convention states

1. No State Party shall expel, return ("refouler") or extradite a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture.

2. For the purpose of determining whether there are such grounds, the competent authorities shall take into account all relevant considerations including, where applicable, the existence in the State concerned of a consistent pattern of gross, flagrant or mass violations of human rights.

(Emphasis added)

In addition, s9 of the BORA affirms the right of everyone not to be subjected to torture or cruel, degrading, or disproportionately severe treatment or punishment. And the Minister has to consider that right. In their landmark decision on Ahmed Zaoui, the Supreme Court ruled that

the Minister, in deciding whether to certify under s 72 of the Immigration Act 1987 that the continued presence of a person constitutes a threat to national security, and members of the Executive Council, in deciding whether to advise the Governor-General to order deportation under s 72, are not to so decide or advise if they are satisfied that there are substantial grounds for believing that, as a result of the deportation, the person would be in danger of being arbitrarily deprived of life or of being subject to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

(Emphasis added)

Section 72 is exactly the same clause Rayed Ali was deported under.

So, the question is whether the Minister considered the possibility that Ali would be tortured or disappeared if deported, and if he did, how the hell he concluded that that there were not "substantial grounds for believing" that it would happen, given Saudi Arabia's appalling human rights record. Perhaps a question someone should raise in Parliament?

Friday, June 16, 2006

Sedition by Example XXI: Reverend James Chapple

(Being an ongoing incitement for the repeal of the archaic crime of sedition)

Reverend James Chapple, Unitarian Minister, speaking to a meeting in Greymouth, March 29th, 1918:

You are under the heels of the war lords. We have not enough population for our own country, yet we are lusting after the annexation of Samoa. The patriotic poison is in our schools. Childen are taught to salute the flag and taught to sing the National Anthem. I tell my children, when they come home, not to sing the National Anthem. I am hoping with a fervent hope that in this war there will be no victor to pray about. A war is blasphemy. A woman goes down the valley of death to bring a child into the world, she nurses it, sends it to school, sees it through the sixth standards, and then comes the call to arms, and it goes away to war. What for? To die for its country? No; to die for the profiteer.


Russia wanted war, England wanted war, the upper class in New Zealand wanted war. Never has there been such a wonderful five days (meaning the days of the Russian revolution). The old Russia has gone and the new Russia has come in. I hope before I die to see a similar movement in new Zealand. I hope the day will come in new Zealand when these war lords will be repudiated. I hope not a penny of the war loan will be repaid. You do not authorise them.

For saying these words during the course of a 90-minute speech, Chapple was charged with two counts of sedition. He was convicted, and sentenced to eleven month's imprisonment.

(Source: New Zealand Herald, May 11 and May 18, 1918).

In the ballot XII

Another batch of Member's Bills currently in the ballot. Previous batches are indexed here:

Education (National Standards of Literacy and Numeracy) Amendment Bill (Bill English): This bill would set allow the Secretary of Education to set national literacy and numeracy standards for schools (in terms of pass rates etc), and require schools to report on their performance in achieving those standards. Currently, schools get to set their own standards, making interschool comparisons difficult. The bill isn't evil in itself; it all depends on what the standards are and what is done with them. It is however easy to see it as laying the groundwork for a future No Child Left Behind-style setup, in which schools are set impossible standards, then punished for not meeting them; the goal being to brand the public education system as a failure and thereby promote privatisation.

Teen Health Check Bill (Barbara Stewart): This bill would require DHBs to provide a free health check to every year 9 (4th form?) school student. The exact checks to be conducted would be specified by the Director-General of Health, but must at minimum "must include the examination of ear, eyes, nose, throat, and teeth, and general physical and mental fitness". DHBs would be required to provide free followup treatment. The bill is likely to be expensive to implement, and may therefore be subject to the government's financial veto.

Corrections (Contract Managed Prisons) Amendment Bill (Simon Power): This would amend the Corrections Act 2004 to allow private prisons. Whether you think this is a good idea or not realy depends on which you care about more: corporations being able to profit, or the fact that they would be profiting from human misery.

As usual, I'll have more bills as they trickle in.

Idiot goes to Wellington

Apologies for the silence today; I've been in Wellington to talk to a party about a bill. It was a very encouraging discussion, and the results will hopefully be seen in the Member's ballot when the time is right.

Meanwhile, I have enough bills collected to do another "In the ballot" post, so I should have that out later tonight...

Sedition on Eye To Eye

The teaser for tomorrow's Eye To Eye:

The recent conviction of Tim Selwyn has brought the issue of sedition into the public arena. It's the first successful prosecution for sedition since World War II. This week EYE TO EYE WITH WILLIE JACKSON looks at what exactly constitutes sedition and whether the crime should still be on our books. Will the recent conviction mean that political dissent and opposition are curtailed and who will be most affected?

Guess I'll be getting up to watch it then...

Thursday, June 15, 2006

The Great Charter

Today, June 15th, is the anniversary of the signing of Magna Carta. It wasn't the first legal document to limit the power of the English monarchy, but its the one we remember. And it's worth remembering, even though John repudiated it the moment he'd escaped his rebellious barons' clutches. It established rights such as due process and freedom of travel, as well as the founding principle of the Westminister system of Parliamentary government: that there shall be no taxation without the consent of Parliament.

While John repudiated the Charter, his heirs consistently reissued it, and it became firmly established in British law - to the extent that its now looked on as the founding document of "British liberty". Ironically, it has been almost entirely repealed today. Only four clauses from the 1297 version survive in british law, and only a single clause in New Zealand. But it's perhaps the most important one:

NO freeman shall be taken or imprisoned, or be disseised of his freehold, or liberties, or free customs, or be outlawed, or exiled, or any other wise destroyed; nor will we not pass upon him, nor condemn him [or] deal with him but by lawful judgment of his peers, or by the law of the land. We will sell to no man, we will not deny or defer to any man either justice or right.

in the middle of a war on terror which has seen the erosion of human rights around the world, that's something we should all remember.


The usual ballot for Member's Bills was held today, and the following bills were drawn:

  • Corrections (Mothers with Babies) Amendment Bill (Sue Bradford)
  • Resource Management (Restricted Coastal Activities) Amendment Bill (Nick Smith)
  • Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis) Amendment Bill (Metiria Turei)
  • Human Rights (One Law for All) Amendment Bill (Rodney Hide)

All of these bills have previously been covered in an "In the ballot" post.

So, the Green Ballot Mojo strikes again - as does ACT's (two out of three ain't bad). I expect there'll be a real shitfight over medicinal cannabis (because its bad to take drugs for medical purposes, except for the really hard stuff like morphine of course), and that both Nick Smith and Rodney Hide's bills will be swiftly voted down by a Labour-Progressive-Green-Maori Party coalition.

There were four new bills today. Two of them, from United Future's Judy Turner, and National's Simon Power, were substantially the same (both would have repealed the ban on private prisons), and so under the Standing Orders a preliminary ballot had to be held. Turner's version was selected and went forward, but was not ultimately drawn. The other new bills were Don Brash's Broadcasting (2005 Election Broadcasting Reimbursement) Amendment Bill, and Barbara Stewart's Teen Health Check Bill, which I'm currently trying to find out about. Hopefully I'll have enough information to do another edition of In the ballot in the next day or two.

Showing the Iraqis their place

President Bush made a flying visit to Iraq the other day, to "show his support" for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. But while doing so, he also showed them something else: their place. For security reasons, the Iraqi Prime Minister was not informed of Bush's visit until five minutes before his arrival - a stunning vote of confidence in Iraq's security, and one which removed any question of permission. Instead, it was "the President will be here in five minutes; get ready to be the smiling backdrop in his photo-op". So much for Iraqi sovereignty...

A Clean Start

Today is International Justice for Cleaners Day - and the Service and Food Worker's Union is marking it by holding rallies as part of its "Clean Start" campaign for higher wages and secure employment for cleaners. If you'd like to show your support, then turn up at noon at:

Auckland: Aotea Square
Wellington: Corner of Molesworth St and Lambton Quay (so, pretty much outside Parliament)

The headline says it all

Cullen warns against large pay rises after getting 8.1pc

And this is a Labour government, you say?

A recipe for injustice

One of my sources alerted me to the new Maori Purposes Bill which was introduced to the House on Tuesday morning. A Maori Purposes Bill is an omnibus bill, like the regular Statutes Amendment Bills which come through every so often, only for Maori-specific legislation. This one makes a bunch of mostly technical amendments to various pieces of legislation - increasing the number of judges in the Maori land Court, retrospectively ratifying some of their judicial practices, amending the Maori Fisheries Act 2004 to tweak the way fisheries assets are allocated. More contentiously, it plans to amend the Treaty of Waitangi Act 1975 by setting a deadline of 1st September 2008 for the filing of historical Treaty claims (defined as anything from before 21st September 1992), and forbids the Tribunal from accepting or considering or making recommendations on any historical claims submitted after that date.

I've said before that I disagree strongly with this sort of policy. It's good to have a goal, a timeline on which you want to settle things. But the moment you start imposing a cutoff date after which no claims will be considered, you have a recipe for injustice which undermines the entire process. The Treaty settlements process is supposed to be about justice, righting past wrongs - and that is not aided by imposing bureaucratic limits on claims. To point out the obvious, what the government did in the past will not cease to be unjust because an iwi or hapu missed the filing date, and they will be no less deserving of recompense. And such an arrangement is not likely to help the mostly symbolic settlements we are handing out stick. If we want finality, then the way to get it is to work towards settling claims with the utmost good faith and goodwill - not by slamming down a deadline and attempting to impose settlements unilaterally.

Sedition in Brunei

Here's a lovely example of the company we're keeping with our archaic sedition laws: three men were jailed for a year in Brunei for sedition. Their "crime"? According to a police statement, they

recorded their voices on a cell phone and linked the file to a video clip of one or more members of Brunei's royal family, making it seem that whoever in the clip was speaking those words.

This was considered to "[bring] into derogation the status and position" of the royal family. We phrase it differently - here the crime is "bring[ing] into hatred or contempt" - but its the same nonetheless: mock your rulers, go to jail.

This law is a relic of absolute monarchy, and the sooner we are rid of it, the better.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

More absenteeism

While I'm on the subject, according to Radio NZ, the Waste Minimisation (Solids) Bill was passed on a 68 - 51 vote. Doing the maths, that means Labour, Progressives, Greens, Maori Party and NZ First lined up against National and United Future. Guess who's missing from this picture?

That's right - ACT didn't turn up to vote. Again. I wonder what their excuse is now, now that they're both no longer distracted by guns and dancing respectively?

Reducing waste

Nandor Tanczos' Waste Minimisation (Solids) Bill has passed its first reading and been sent to select committee. It's a fairly chunky and technical bill which would establish extended producer responsibility for manufacturers, impose a waste levy to send an economic signal to encourage waste minimisation, and set up a Waste Minimisation Authority to encourage recycling. The general aim is to internalise the cost of waste, rather than allowing manufacturers and consumers to dump it on society as a whole.

Predictably, National and United Future voted against. And the debate apparently saw their "environment" spokesperson, Nick Smith, standing up for the "right" of companies to externalise their costs and dump them on others. And they claim to believe in the free market...

Meanwhile, it looks like Parliament also got through Kate Wilkinson's Resource Management (Security for Costs) Amendment Bill and Steve Chadwick's Shop Trading Hours Act Repeal (Easter Trading) Amendment Bill , so there will be three bills drawn from the ballot tomorrow. And hopefully we'll be seeing some new ones as well...

What are the odds?

In her piece in the Herald on the failure of National to gain leave to advance its Broadcasting (2005 Election Broadcasting Reimbursement) Amendment Bill, reporter Ruth Berry notes that the bill will now have to go in the ballot, and that

There is about a 3 per cent chance of a successful draw.

Not exactly. While there are about thirty bills in the ballot at any one time, giving a 3% chance of being drawn, there are usually several bills drawn (I'm expecting them to pull three or even four tomorrow, for example). And of course, there are multiple draws. The real odds can be seen in the ballot statistics: so far this year, 46 bills have been placed in the ballot, and 15 have been drawn - odds of about one in three.

(In case anyone is wondering, the odds of a bill having been covered by an In the ballot post are also good - 34 bills out of 46).

Not impressed

Yesterday, National asked for the House to grant leave to introduce its Broadcasting (2005 Election Broadcasting Reimbursement) Amendment Bill, which would have allowed them to effectively pay broadcasters the unpaid GST on its electoral advertising. However, New Zealand First, the Greens, and the Maori Party all objected, meaning the bill will have to go into the ballot.

I'm not impressed. While I don't like National getting off the hook like this, I don't like the broadcasters being left out of pocket either (currently, they have no way to enforce payment, as paying the outstanding money would be illegal). And the parties' proposed "solutions" - that National simply pay up and take its lumps, or that the overspending be deducted from their allocation next election - aren't. The former simply is not going to happen - no-one is going to stand up for a $100,000 fine when they don't have to - and the latter, if not generalised so as to include Labour's overspending as well, is practically a Bill of Attainder (if generalised, of course, Labour would fight it tooth and nail). Given the realities of the political situation, the best that can be done is to extract the money from National, pay the broadcasters, and then make sure that it can't happen again by reforming the Electoral Act.

Shameless hypocrisy

Parliament is often a venue for shameless hypocrisy, but yesterday saw one of the worst examples I've seen for a long time. During Question Time, Dr Lockwood Smith attempted to quiz the Prime Minister about Taito Phillip Field's loyalty to the Labour party. Growing frustrated with the fact that his questions were obviously and clearly outside the Standing Orders, he then asked whether she had discussed with Field "the reasons that the Asian crime unit may have been investigating his activities". In response to this Winston Peters, in full outrage, asked

I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. You have just heard a most serious allegation made against a member of this House. I would have assumed that such a serious allegation would be backed up with some proof or documentary evidence, or with something to verify the reason that that question was asked. The question was not asked accidentally; it was planned. I do not know whether there is such evidence, but Dr Lockwood Smith owed it to this Parliament to provide some evidence before he asked a question in such a cavalier fashion, implicating a member of Parliament in a possible crime. I ask him to give us that evidence.

This, remember, is the same Winston Peters who has shown absolutely no qualms about defaming members of the public under the cover of Parliamentary Privilege, based solely on their national origins - and then refused to provide any evidence or apologise to his victims. But I guess the rules are different when the slanderer isn't Winston, and the victim isn't a refugee...

Another link in the spider web

It seems that South Africa has just become the latest link in America's unlawful "spider web" of extraordinary rendition. In November last year, they arrested a man named Khalid Rashid, on suspicion of links to Al Qaeda. He was hooded, interrogated, taken to a military airfield and stuck on a private Gulfstream jet with no flight plan. His current whereabouts are unknown, and according to his lawyer, he has been rendered for interrogation, in violation of South African and international law.

This is a particularly depressing development for South Africa. While that country has had all sorts of problems since the fall of apartheid - poverty, inequality, crime - they'd made quite good progress on the human rights front. Now, they're going backwards, to the dark days of disappearances.

It is vital that the struggle against terrorism does not reduce us to terrorists and human rights abusers ourselves. As Mr Rashid's lawyer notes,

"Just because someone is accused of being a terrorist, his legal rights should not vanish and he should not vanish"

If we have to stopp to such levels as disappearance, rendition and torture, then in a very important sense, the terrorists will have won.

Ligeti is dead

Gyorgy Ligeti is dead. For those who don't know, he's a composer, whose music was used without permission by Stanley Kubrick in the soundtrack to 2001: A Space Odyssey. I'm not a big fan avant garde music, but the stuff of his I've listened to so far is some of the creepiest, most atmospheric I've ever heard - and would make a perfect backdrop for the wrong parts of a game of Call of Cthulhu, Delta Green, Insylum, or perhaps Puppetland (Hmmm... I detect a certain Tynes / Detwiller theme there...) I've been meaning to acquire a CD of his Lux Aeterna (used for the lunar surface in 2001) for some time now, and hopefully this will spur me into action...