Wednesday, February 28, 2007

New Fisk

In Iraq, the killing of 18 teenagers is a horrible routine

An ugly picture

The jury is out in the latest police rape trial. But regardless of what their verdict ultimately is, it has painted an ugly picture of our (former) police. Shipton, who has admitted having a sexual relationship with the victim, comes across as downright predatory, using the power of his uniform to get into bed with a girl 8 years his junior. Meanwhile, Schollum's his actions in having his wife lie for him raises questions about when else he has suborned perjury. Neither makes them guilty of rape (that really does seem to be a matter of whose word the jury believes - something which historically hasn't gone well for rape victims), but I am very glad that they are no longer in the police.

Sedition by Example XXII: Christopher Russell

(An occasional series chronicling the uses and abuses of our archaic law of sedition)

Last year, I noted that police had recently laid a charge of sedition against a Rotorua youth. I recently submitted an Official Information Act request seeking the details of the case, and received a response today.

The defendant was Christopher Russell, a 17-year old youth. He had written a racist essay entitled "Whites Only", which was read out in class, and was subsequently bullied by his classmates because of his views. He responded by sending "an obscenity-littered email" to the New Zealand Herald threatening a Columbine-style school massacre:

The email to the NZ Herald stated Russell was about to become more famous than the Columbine killers - "The murders I do ... shall be greater than those at Columbine."

He claimed a hatred for Maori who beat him up, and black people.

"If black people want to hurt me or insult me then they should be the first to die."

A second email the next day stated that "on October 18 everyone will feel my pain".

Bombs would be used in the massacre, he said.

"I am sick and tired of the abuse I get every day."

He detailed how he would also kill "popular kids who exclude me from everything" and signed off with the pseudonym "Chris Stalin".

For this, he was charged with threatening to kill and sedition. Here's what the police have to say about the latter charge:

The charge of sedition (that had been laid pursuant to Section 84 (b): Crimes Act 1961 ["publication of seditious documents" - I/S]) - was withdrawn. The original decision to lay that charge was made by a senior CIB supervisor, who was the acting Officer in Charge of the Rotorua CIB at the time. Notwithstanding the fact that the charge was withdrawn, the Police are satisfied that there was evidence to establish a prima facie case. Evidence to support that charge included correspondence that Christopher Russell had sent to a major newspaper. In that correspondence Russell stated that he intended to kill an unspecified number of people - based on their ethnicity. His efforts to have his views published in a major newspaper, in the context outlined in his letter, constituted a prima facie attempt to encourage racial hatred and violence.

The decision to withdraw the charge was made by the Crown Prosecutor, in consultation with police, following an indication from Russell's defence counsel that he would enter a plea guilty to the charge of threatening to kill, if the sedition charge was withdraw [sic].

Russell was subsequently sentenced to 200 hours community work and 18 months supervision, as well as required to undergo a psychological assessment and psychotherapy. At sentencing, the judge blamed the original essay and the emails on Russell's mental condition.

There is a troubling aspect to this, in that again sedition has been used in place of or in addition to other relevant charges (in this case, threatening to kill), meaning that police are going for the easier charge or (in this case) trying to charge twice for the same offence. But its also difficult to see how a sedition charge can be justified in this case. While I have not seen the emails, both relevant sections of the law (s81 (1) (c) and (e) - inciting violence or exciting hostility between different groups) seem to require an element of persuasion which is entirely lacking here. Saying "I am going to kill people" is not an "encouragement" - it is a threat, and ought to be prosecuted as such. In the end, it was - but the police's readiness to use sedition charges is not something we should be happy about.


When the SAS were sent to Afghanistan in 2002, it raised fears that they could become complicit in US war crimes. At the time, the US was sending captured Afghans to Guantanamo Bay, or otherwise mistreating them in violation of the Geneva Conventions, and there was some concern that prisoners captured by the SAS and handed over to the US would face a similar fate.

It seems those fears were realised. According to this morning's Herald, the New Zealand SAS was involved in "snatch-grab" missions to round up terrorist suspects for detention and interrogation by the US. Those prisoners were subsequently mistreated and were not properly registered after being turned over tot he Americans:

Instead of being identified, photographed and fingerprinted and having their weapons properly registered, they had their heads shaved, no photos or ID taken and their belongings thrown into a single pile.

The New Zealanders raised the alarm and wanted to know from other forces whether the proper procedures were being followed by them.

Fortunately they did the right thing, and arranged for the Red Cross to follow up on and monitor all prisoners captured - but it is disturbing they were placed in that situation in the first place. Helen Clark's decision to send the SAS to Afghanistan has seen New Zealand troops become complicit in American war crimes. And that is something we should hold her accountable for.

The Denialists' Deck of Cards


The Denalists' Deck of Cards is a humorous illustration of how libertarian policy groups use denialism. In this context, denialism is the use of rhetorical techniques and predictable tactics to erect barriers to debate and consideration of any type of reform, regardless of the facts. has identified five general tactics used by denialists: conspiracy, selectivity, the fake expert, impossible expectations, and metaphor.

The Denialists' Deck of Cards builds upon this description by providing specific examples of advocacy techniques. The point of listing denialists' arguments in this fashion is to show the rhetorical progression of groups that are not seeking a dialogue but rather an outcome. As such, this taxonomy is extremely cynical, but it is a reflection of and reaction to how poor the public policy debates in Washington have become.

Full paper here. It is more relevant to consumer-protection debates (the original Giveupblog post is better for climate change denial), but still quite funny.

(Hat tip: Crooked Timber).

"Trickle down" fails again

Remember "trickle-down economics"? That was the lie the Revolutionaries told us in the 80's and 90's to justify tax cuts for the rich. The idea was that they would get richer, but that some of their gains would "trickle down" to the rest of us, thus making everyone better off. It didn't work - instead, the rich got richer, and the rest of us got poorer in real terms. And according to a study of recent US census data by McClatchy Newspapers, exactly the same thing has happened in the US as a result of Bush's economic policies. Tax cuts for the rich combined with policies that keep unions weak and inflation low have ensured that virtually all economic growth has been funnelled into the pockets of the already rich - corporate profits now utterly dwarf wages. Meanwhile, everyone else is falling down the income pyramid, getting worse off in real terms ("the median household income of working-age families, adjusted for inflation, has fallen for five straight years"), while poverty levels are rising. And extreme poverty - defined as having an individual or family income less than half the poverty line - is at its highest levels since 1975, and growing 56% faster than poverty overall. In other words, people aren't just becoming poor - but bankrupt. Which is what you'd expect in a country with no social safety net and no public services, where many people are just a short period of unemployment - or an illness, or a divorce - away from destitution.

How can this happen in a democracy where people can vote for alternative policies? Part of the reason is that not enough Americans vote. But as the Independent points out, another reason is that American politicians just don't talk about inequality and poverty:

These figures are rarely discussed in political forums in America in part because the economy has, in large part, ceased to be regarded as a political issue - John Edwards' "two Americas" theme in his presidential campaign being a rare exception - and because the right-wing think-tanks that have sprouted and thrived since the Reagan administration have done a good job of minimising the importance of the trends.

This is a warning to us. The National Party still has not forsworn these policies (and Don Brash was pretty explicit about wanting to see them return). We should not let that happen. And the best way of preventing it is by ensuring that the subject is visible and that politicians don't just stop talking about it. On this front, perhaps John Key is doing us a favour.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Fiji: the judiciary has made up its mind

Earlier in the month, Fiji's ousted SDL party began proceedings before the High Court to test the legality of the coup. Meanwhile, many of Fiji's judges seem to have already made up their mind. Four Court of Appeal judges have left the country in the last three months after their contracts expired. The reason?

Justice Ward [the President of the Court of Appeal] said the appeals judges considered that in the present circumstances, they could not be appointed or re-appointed under the terms of the Constitution. "To accept re-appointment in these circumstances would be a breach of our judicial oaths," Justice Ward said.

In other words, they think the interim regime is illegal and unconstitutional. This doesn't bode well for the regime's chances before the courts - but it also doesn't bode well for the proper functioning of Fiji's judiciary. The court of appeal has now halved in size, and reading between the lines, it seems that more of them will likewise refuse reappointment. By the middle of the year, there may very well not be enough judges to keep the legal system operating.

Key's lightweight "policy"

John Key went to the Wellington City Mission today, and he had hinted that he would make a major policy announcement to help New Zealand's "underclass". So, what was it? Higher benefit levels? A commitment to retain non-market rents on state houses? An expansion of the state housing scheme to ensure everyone has a decent roof over their heads? Raising the minimum wage? A serious program targeting job training and education? Something to address transport issues or reduce other barriers to employment?

The answer to all of these questions is of course, "no". Instead, Key fiddled with tax deductions on charitible giving - a policy aimed more at the rich than the poor, the primary impact of which will be to help them dodge on their taxes. I think that shows you exactly how serious he is with his interest in the "underclass".

Lazy politicians

Last Thursday saw an unusual scene in the House: the Unsolicited Electronic Messages (or "anti-spam") Bill passed its committee state, and the Disabled Persons Employment Promotion (Repeal and Related Matters) Bill received its second reading, all without a single word of debate. ACT, which had opposed both bills, did not raise a word in protest. National, which had vigorously opposed moves to pay the disabled the minimum wage at the first reading, remained silent. The Greens, who had raised some thoughtful concerns about spam and its use by some political parties, didn't speak up - and they remained silent on a basic human rights issue. United Future passed up the opportunity to rant once more about the tide of pornography flooding children's inboxes. The Maori Party didn't talk about the Treaty or the impact on Maori. And of course government ministers failed to speak in support of either bill, and junior colleagues did not take their place.

All very efficient, of course - the bills just whizzed through - but I don't think this is what we are paying our politicians to do. We elect them to be our representatives; is it too much to ask that they actually bother to do one of the most basic aspects of their job, and actually represent us? Or do they all just have better things to do at 17:00 on a Thursday afternoon...?

Monday, February 26, 2007

Fiji: the military kills again

Fiji's military thugs have murdered again. Sakiusa Rabaka Ligaiviu was detained by the army last month as a suspected drug dealer. He and his friends were taken to a reservoir, stripped, and beaten so severely he suffered from headaches and seizures and required brain surgery. He returned home again last week, but collapsed and died, apparently of a haemorrhage from his beating.

This is not a political killing. Instead, it is a consequence of the military's illegal policy of "rough justice" and random beatings. But it is still murder, and those responsible should be prosecuted for it. Unfortunately, as the military granted itself immunity after the coup, the chances of that happening are exceedingly remote.

More on Intelligentsiya.

A nasty, racist little blurt

Since its inception, the Maori Party has been accused of being explicitly racist by the bigots on the right, who find the idea of Maori standing up for their own interests (rather than accepting whatever crumbs Pakeha deign to leave them) highly threatening. And it hasn't been helped by co-leader Tariana Turia's frequent blurts on the desiribility of teenage pregnancy (good as it boosts Maori population growth), or blaming immigration for the failure to gain an 8th Maori seat, which explicitly reflect old-fashioned racist ideas about demographics, growth rates, and the fear of being "outbred" by the Other (demographics apparently being a race to be biggest, rather than an epiphenomena of individual's different preferences). She's banging on the second drum again today with a call for New Zealand to limit immigration from western countries in order to preserve the demographic status of Maori and claim that the government has promoted immigration to undermine Maori. The latter is the sort of unhinged conspiracy theory normally heard from the National Front about asians, or the National Party about refugees (supposedly brought in to stack the electoral rolls against National). As for the former, restricting migration on the basis of skin colour or culture can only be described as racism. There is simply no other word for it. And contrary to Turia's claim that it's not "because we are not talking about Asian immigration", the word applies whether the people being victimised are brown or yellow, black or white.

Turia's comments are in short a nasty, racist little blurt, of exactly the sort indulged in by Winston Peters, though with a different target. And it will do her party no favours. Unfortunately, they seem to be less then concerned; Turia has apparently convinced them to adopt NZ First-style state racism as party policy.

New Fisk

27 July 1880. A date Mr Blair should look up

"No church involvement"

The Exclusive Brethren Church has denied it had any involvement in the 2005 election [audio], saying that "there was certainly no church sponsored involement in anything political" and that the publication of anonymous smears, running of push polls, funding and support for the National Party and hiring of private investigators to stalk the Prime Minister and her partner were all the actions of a few individual members.

Of course they were. The facts that the "secret seven" were all high up in the New Zealand Church heirarchy, that hundreds of rank-and-file members contributed to National's campaign as volunteers, that children in Brethren-run schools were given push-polling as "homework assignments", that their political activities followed the same pattern set by the Brethren in the Australian, Swedish, Victorian, Tasmanian, and US elections, and that this is a cult where people don't wipe their arse without a note from the "elect vessel" obviously mean nothing. And if you believe that, I have a god to sell you...

Wanganui and gang-patches

Last year, the Wanganui District Council floated a plan for a bylaw to ban gang patches in an effort to force gang-members out of the city. The plan was quickly shot down on the basis that, human rights concerns aside, they simply did not have the legal power to do so - but now its back, in the form of a Local Bill to be brought by National MP Chester Borrows. The bill has already been "looked at by police national headquarters" and is expected to be brought before the House in the next couple of months, with the full support of the National Party.

There are obvious problems with such a bill. Firstly, it would clearly violate the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of association affirmed in the BORA. But by creating an essentially local offence of "wearing a gang patch in Wanganui", it would also undermine the certainty people could place in the criminal law. When considering the recent Manukau Prostitution and Manukau Graffiti bills, the Local Government and Environment Committee expressed a strong preference against the creation of this sort of local offence, raising the spectre of a patchwork of local jurisdictions, with different criminal law in each. Parliament clearly does not want such a situation, and hopefully they'll say so clearly at the bill's first reading.

Climate change: no policy

What is the reason for the dismal increase in New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions over the past seven or seventeen years? The answer, as the Herald on Sunday so succinctly put it, is "no policy". While successive governments have talked a great deal about policy to combat emissions over the past seventeen years, very little of it has been implemented. And the two most successful implemented measures - the use of the government's call-in powers under the RMA for large emitters, which saw Contact Energy's Taranaki Combined Cycle gas turbine required to offset its emissions, and the current government's Projects Mechanism, which jumpstarted the wind industry in New Zealand - were both killed in short order, the first for ideological reasons and the second because Treasury used too-short a planning horizon.

So why have we had no real policy over the past seventeen years? Why have we seen the government promise and then back away from a carbon tax or equivalent economic instrument not once, but three times? There are three broad components to the answer:

  • Opposition from business: The business community has opposed any action on climate change since 1990, and has fought hard to protect their ability to increase their profits by dumping their costs on the rest of us. This has raised the political cost of government action (while the political benefit has remained low), and ensured that the government has backed away from any serious policy.
  • A radical policy-culture: The Revolution left us with a radical and doctrinaire policy culture, with a strong ideological preference for market-based solutions, no matter what the policy question was. In the case of climate change, this led to a fixation on the Holy Grail of a broad-based economic instrument which imposed a uniform price for emissions across the entire economy. This took years to develop, and has proven politically impossible to implement. In the meantime, more pragmatic policies have been ignored, or in some cases (e.g. use of the RMA) abandoned. Our policymakers have clearly felt that it is better to have no policy at all than one which fails to meet their rigorous standards of free-market ideological purity.
  • We thought we had plenty of time: Until 2005, projections consistently showed that New Zealand would have a large surplus of emissions credits to sell even if emissions followed a high growth scenario. In 1999 we thought forest sinks would give us 65 million tons of CO2 net to sell; in 2002 we thought it would be 55. This meant there was no real pressure to implement policy - after all, we already had the problem more than covered. The problem was that the forests weren't there - planting rates had been systematically overestimated since 1994, and while they were continually revised downwards, those revisions still overestimated. So, the forests we were depending on weren't being planted (and there was no government policy to ensure that they would be).

To a certain extent, the Bolger / Shipley National government also hid behind uncertainty, though rather less convincingly in the case of Shipley.

Fortunately, these three barriers are all much weaker now. Most of the business community has accepted the reality of the problem, and is now asking for a clear price on emissions to provide certainty. Neo-liberalism has eased, and the government is now pursuing more pragmatic solutions (some of which even involve regulation rather than market instruments). And we've woken up to the danger of relying on forests that aren't really there (though our projections still systematically overestimate planting rates), and have realised that if we want sinks we need to make sure that the trees are a) planted; and b) not cut down. So things are actually looking quite good to see serious policy implemented. Unfortunately, it's taken us seventeen years to get to this stage, and meanwhile those countries which acted early (like Norway) have seen their emissions reduce and are laughing all the way to the bank. So if we really want to lead the world on this issue, we have a hell of a lot of catching up to do...

Where do they get their figures from?

The problem with statistics is that once a false or misleading one enters the media, it's almost impossible to get rid of. So we have the Herald on Sunday reporting in a story on Contact Energy's renewable plans that

The reality is that since Labour took office in 1999 New Zealand's emissions have grown at twice the rate of the United States, four times the rate of Japan and are even larger than Australia.

Except its not the reality. Here are the rates of growth in gross emissions compiled from the UNFCCC's online table of gross Annex I emissions:

New Zealand gross 2000 - 2004: 6.79%
United States gross 2000 - 2004: 1.31%
Japan gross 2000 - 2004: 0.72%

What about net emissions (the statistic people should use, as it is what counts under Kyoto)? Again, here are the growth rates sourced from the UNFCCC's table of net Annex I emissions:

New Zealand net 2000 - 2004: 1.01%
United States net 2000 - 2004: 1.15%
Japan net 2000 - 2004: -0.02%

New Zealand net emissions 2004: 50.606 MTCO2-e
Australia net emissions 2004: 533.495 MTCO2-e

(I have used 2000 as the base year as the Labour government took office in December 1999).

As can be seen, the Herald's "statistics" don't match reality, no matter which way you slice them (and the gross emissions figures are significantly worse than they suggest). I've also done an analysis using the 1999 - 2003 figures from the UNFCCC's compilation of Key GHG Data [PDF], and it doesn't work for them either. Meanwhile, the Herald's final claim (that New Zealand's emissions are now "even larger than [those of] Australia") is simply insane. As with Nick Smith, you really have to ask where they get their numbers from...

Note that I am not trying to minimise either the seriousness of New Zealand's emissions growth, or the international comparisons. I think the figures above speak for themselves in painting an absolutely dismal picture of our performance over the past seven years (the figures linked here paint a worse one of our performance over the past seventeen). I would however prefer that both political parties and the media were accurate in their condemnation, rather than seemingly pulling numbers out of their arse.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

New Fisk

Strong delusions and weak memories

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Blinding the watchdog

In December, British Prime Minister Tony Blair forced his attorney-general to pull the plug on a Serious Fraud Office investigation of massive corruption by giant British arms dealer BAE. The SFO turned around and opened a second case against BAE, this time over payments made as part of an arms deal with Tanzania. Blair's answer to this troublesome watchdog which keeps investigating his friends? Disestablish them!

The move is breathtaking in its arrogance and its sheer lack of shame; not even Kenya (a country where official corruption is entrenched in the political system, and where politicians routinely impede attempts to investigate them) has dared take such a move. What next? Will he also disestablish the London Metropolitan Police Department for investigating his sale of peerages, or the Electoral Commission for investigating his party's failure to declare loans which were always intended to be donations?

But I guess in Blair's Britain nothing should be allowed to stop big companies from making money. Not even the law.

Security risk certificates overturned in Canada

For the last four years, Algerian refugee Ahmed Zaoui has been detained under a Security Risk Certificate issued by the SIS. Initially held in solitary confinement in Paremoremo prison on the basis of a police threat assessment deemed "not well considered nor well constructed" by the Police Complaints Authority, he is now on bail but still subject to substantial limitations on his liberty. Meanwhile the process for review of the SRC has stalled due to the SIS refusing to comply with court orders to supply its evidence to its own Inspector-General.

Meanwhile, in Canada, the Canadian Supreme Court has unanimously found their security risk certificate process - which is very similar to ours - to be "hopelessly flawed" and a violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Specifically they found that:

  • the process used for determining the reasonableness of the security risk certificate - in which the person detained is denied access to the evidence against them, and hence any ability to effectively challenge the government's case - was unfair, one-sided, and infringed the principles of fundamental justice affirmed in section 7 of the Charter;
  • the initial detention itself was not arbitrary; however the lack of review of detention for foreign nationals (they must wait until 120 days after the SRC has been upheld before being able to review their detention) violated the right not to be arbitrarily detained affirmed in section 9 and to habeas corpus affirmed in section 10(c);
  • The potential for prolonged (and effectively indefinite) detention without review violated both the right to justice and the right not to be subjected to cruel and unusual treatment under section 12 of the Charter.

The money quote - and the latest in a long series of similar statements from other judicial bodies in the face of government excess in the wake of September 11 - is

security concerns cannot be used... to excuse procedures that do not conform to fundamental justice.

The Canadian Parliament now has a year to fix the law so that it conforms to the Charter. Their most likely way of doing so is by making legislative provisions for the use of "special advocates" - a system found to be "critically flawed" in the UK.

There are obvious parallels here with the Zaoui case, but probably not so many implications, as the substantive issues (detention and review) have already been settled by successful court challenges and the voluntary appointment of a special advocate by the Inspector-General. However, the decision is likely to have strong implications for the treatment of any future detainees. while there are differences, the relevant sections of the Canadian Charter are practically identical (the big difference is that they explicitly make any deprivation of liberty subject to "principles of fundamental justice" in section 7; we instead affirm an overarching right of natural justice in s27 BORA). So any future detention, or any attempt to strip judicial review from the law, will run smack bang into this precedent, which while not binding, is likely to be paid close attention by our own judiciary.

Unfortunately, there is one very important difference between New Zealand and Canada. Canada has (at least de facto) constitutional sovereignty, meaning that the courts can declare laws to be inconsistent with the human rights affirmed in the Charter and strike them down. Here, we still suffer under Parliamentary sovereignty, meaning that Parliament can ignore the courts and the affirmations inthe BORA mean nothing. It is long past time we fixed this, and ensured that our Bill of Rights is actually enforceable. Where fundamental freedoms are concerned, the goodwill of elected representatives is as untrustable and worthless as the goodwill of kings.

Friday, February 23, 2007

So much for the New Zealand Day Bill

The Justice and Electoral Committee has reported back [PDF] on Peter Dunne's New Zealand Day Bill and recommended that it not be passed. The bill would have renamed Waitangi Day "New Zealand Day" in an effort to remove a focus for protest and encourage national unity. However, the committee thought it was misguided, to say the least:

We note that many of the submitters who opposed the bill claimed that renaming Waitangi Day would be a backward and divisive step. They argued that Waitangi Day is a national day that celebrates the signing of the founding document of new Zealand. It testifies to the importance of the Treaty of Waitangi and the partnership of maori and Pakeha since 1840, and remains an important occasion for recognising cultural heritage and history in New Zealand. Submitters suggested that renaming Waitangi Day would diminish the significance of the treaty and that this would be particularly harmful to Maori. Several submitters believed that renaming Waitangi Day would not defuse racial tensions but rather create further social division.

As someone who submitted against the bill, and made similar points in my submission, I'm naturally pleased. Dunne also seems to have got the message, and now looks set to focus his attempts to create a new "New Zealand Day" on a different date, rather than attempting to denigrate Maori. Unfortunately, he still doesn't seem to be considering the obvious option: declare a republic, and celebrate its birth!

No freedom of speech in Egypt

Abdel Kareem Soliman, an Egyptian blogger, has been jailed for four years. His crime? Accusing his university, al-Azhar, of suppressing freedom of thought, and calling Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's regime a "symbol of dictatorship". This was called "insulting Islam" and "inciting sedition" - which I think rather proves his point.

In a free society, criticising an educational institution and the government should not be a crime. But Egypt is not a free society. Rather, it is a vicious dictatorship, whose government engages in torture and which "manages" elections by beating and shooting members of the opposition and imprisoning those they elect. And all the while, the US government (and our one) praises it as a "moderate" Arab regime. If that's "moderate", I'd hate to see a bad one.

If you're interested in the case, there is a Free Kareem blog here.

Contact goes green

Contact Energy, New Zealand's second dirtiest electricity company, looks set to go green. According to a story on Stuff, they are planning to invest $2 billion in renewable electricity projects over the next five years, primarily in geothermal and wind power. While further gas generation (currently the core of Contact's portfolio) remains an option, it is very much relegated to a back seat, being seen primarily as a way of replacing older stations and providing dry-year backup. So, the National Energy Strategy seems to be working, despite not having been finalised or any legislation passed.

The down side is that Contact is pushing for changes to the RMA to get its projects through. It's easy to see why they want this - the local democracy aspect of the RMA is so troublesome for arrogant corporations, who would rather just lobby the Minister like they did under Muldoon - but I'm not sure that its really necessary. Despite challenges in the Environment Court, the RMA hasn't really been a barrier to wind generation (mainly because the arguments against it tend to be spurious at best - though Project Hayes may see some limits drawn around outstanding landscapes). With geothermal, there are tricky issues about impacts on others, and about the rights of local iwi to be taken into account, but OTOH we are still seeing geothermal projects going ahead as well. The participatory aspect of the RMA - giving local communities a strong say in their development - is one of the most valuable aspects of the law, and I would not like to see it eroded, even for renewables. The existing process seems to produce the right result in the end, and it would be better to let it just work its way out rather than eroding valuable protections so that foreign shareholders can receive greater dividends.

Lobbying on Section 59

While Sue Bradford's Crimes (Substituted Section 59) Amendment Bill now looks set to pass, we shouldn't take it for granted. The fundies and child-beaters will be pulling out all the stops to try and persuade MPs over the next three weeks, and so if we want to see the bill become law, those of us who support it need to do the same. So, if you'd like to improve the odds and shore up support, try contacting these MPs and urging them to vote against the amendments and for the bill:

If you're concerned, you might also want to contact the Maori Party MPs: Tariana Turia, Pita Sharples, Hone Harawira and Te Ururoa Flavell, or some of Labour's social conservatives (e.g. Harry Duynhoven) as well. I'm fairly certain they'll support the bill unamended, but it won't hurt to thank them for their second reading vote.

While I've included email addresses, the best way of lobbying MPs on this sort of issue is a letter. Just address it to [MP], Parliament Buildings, Wellington, and it will get there. And remember, no stamp required - postage to Parliament is free.

Do people think I should set up a pledge on this, to try and push people who would otherwise waver?

Bradford has the votes

According to this morning's Herald, things are looking good for Sue Bradford's Crimes (Substituted Section 59) Amendment Bill. NZ First MP Doug Woolerton has agreed to back the bill and oppose any amendment, meaning that it now has 61 votes against the amendment. meanwhile, two National MPs, Katherine Rich and Dr Jackie Blue, have confirmed thatthey will vote for it if Chester Borrow's amendments fail. So the bill now seems highly likely to become law.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

A referendum on child-beating?

Having seemingly lost the battle in Parliament over smacking, the fundies and child-beaters (fronted by former United Future MP Larry Baldock) are now planning to try for a referendum under the Citizens Initiated Referenda Act 1993. Naturally, and in keeping with previous referendum proposals, their preferred questions are extremely leading one-liners, rather than a specific piece of legislation. But fortunately, it has little chance of success. Their previous attempt - challenging prostitution law reform - fell 70,000 signatures short, and I don't really expect this one to do any better.

Petty racism from Bill English

Yesterday's Question Time saw an interesting exchange in the House, with Taito Phillip Field insisting on proper use of his chiefly title:

Hon Bill English: Has Phil Goff ever discussed with the Prime Minister the fact that he visited Phillip Field’s house in Samoa, met people who fitted—

Taito Phillip Field: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Only a few minutes ago it was pointed out to Mr Bill English that my name is Taito Phillip Field.

Madam SPEAKER: That is true.

Taito Phillip Field: He continues to ignore what is required of him in this House.

Like DPF, I think that Field's insistence on the use of his title is more than a little arrogant; I have no time for titles and I am no fan of the outdated deference they signify. However, it should also be pointed out that English supports knighthoods, and there is no question that he would use the traditional form of address for e.g. a visiting British Lord. So why won't he here? Do titles only "count" if they are borne or awarded by white people?

A fair share in '07

Two years ago, the EPMU ran a 5% in '05 campaign which saw 70% of their workers get at least a 5% wage rise. Now they're hoping for a repeat performance this year with the launch of their "fair share '07" campaign. But they're not just after a simple wage rise - with the launch of KiwiSaver later in the year, they will also be pushing for employer contributions to the scheme. It's an excellent idea; some workplaces already provide employer contributions to a retirement package, and extending this down the pyramid and for a portable package which can also be used for a house will make it a lot easier for workers to participate and build their savings. It may also help keep the Reserve Bank's instinct to raise interest rates to keep wages down in check as well.

Business New Zealand is already wailing and gnashing its teeth, complaining about making KiwiSaver an industrial relations issue (how could it not be?) and calling employer contributions "a wage rise by another name" (of course they are, and the EPMU explicitly rcognises that they will be bargained off against cash in the hand and other benefits). But if they want to dig their heels in, that's OK - the EPMU's members will just strike, just like they did two years ago. The 5% in '05 campaign showed that motivated workers can fight for and win concessions from their employers - and with unemployment still at near-record lows, and the economy going well, if they can't make up lost ground now, then when?

Shrinking Coalition Watch

After four years and 130 deaths, the UK is finally getting out of Iraq. Tony Blair has announced that 1,600 troops will withdraw over the next few months, with another 500 more by the end of the year. The remaining 5,000 troops will remain through 2008, but look likely to be gone by then. And its not a moment too soon, according to the Iraqis they have been "supporting" - in Basra, the move was almost universally welcomed, with provincial officials and politicians blaming the British for violence and the lack of security in the city.

Meanwhile, the Danes are getting out as well, slashing their deployment by 90% and leaving only a token force behind. I wonder who will be next to get out?

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

70 - 51

Sue Bradford's Crimes (Abolition of Force as a Justification for Child Discipline) Amendment Bill has just passed its second reading, 70 - 51. In the end it was passed on a party vote, rather than a personal vote, but as it was a split vote we will be able to record some names. in the meantime, here are the results as announced:

Labour: 49 in favour
National: 6 in favour (Paula Bennett, Jackie Blue, Chester Borrows, Paul Hutchison, Simon Power and Katherine Rich), 42 opposed
NZ First: 3 in favour (Brian Donnelly, Doug Woolerton, Barbara Stewart), 4 opposed
Greens: 6 in favour
Maori Party: 4 in favour
United Future: 1 in favour (Peter Dunne), 2 opposed
ACT: 2 opposed
Progressives: 1 in favour (Jim Anderton)
Taito Phillip Field: opposed

Thanks to the Brown Amendment to standing orders, those parties which split their vote must provide names to the Speaker. I'll publish them as soon as I get hold of them.

Meanwhile, the bill will begin its committee stage next Member's Day, on March 14th.

Update: added voting records from Stuff. They are now also available on CommoNZ.

Hate and thuggery

In the past, I have defended the right of CYFSWatch to vigorously criticise CYFS and the government. While I disapprove of what they say, the fact is that their site did not meet the bar for censorship in a free and democratic society. It may be defamatory, aggressive, and creepy, but it did not threaten people with violence or incite attacks on those it named - not even in the carefully veiled way which RedWatch did. There was thus no justification for any form of censorship and punishment.

Their post today on Sue Bradford, however, does meet those grounds. It explicitly threatens violence, and graphically describes what the poster wishes to do to her. It concludes

If ever someone needed a beating, it is this sociopathic witch.


Bradford is a worthy candidate for NZ's first political assassination - I only wish I had the resources to do it.

As a non-lawyer, I am not sure whether the acts described would constitute "grievous bodily harm". If they do, then s306 of the Crimes Act 1961 would apply, and the author and poster would be liable for up to seven year's jail. Otherwise, it certainly falls under s66 (d), of inciting, counselling, or attempting to procure the offence of assault, and may fall under s196 - common assault, which includes threats to apply force - as well.

These are serious crimes, and the people responsible should be prosecuted for them. It is one thing to vigorously criticise the government (and such should be an absolute right in a democracy); it is quite another to explicitly threaten to beat someone for their political views.

Meanwhile, its nice to see that once again the fundies have come through with a display of disgusting behaviour at the crunch - just as they did over Homosexual Law Reform and Civil Unions. I can't think of anything more likely to help push people towards supporting the bill than this sort of display of hate and thuggery.

New Fisk

Lebanon will be first victim of Iran crisis

A no-brainer

Australia is moving to phase out incandescent lightbulbs, and our government is looking at following suit. Is it a good idea?

Undeniably yes. The new compact fluorescent bulbs cost five times as much (less if you get them as part of an electricity company promotion), use a fifth of the power, and last eight times longer. They're already more than cost-effective, paying for themselves within a year of purchase. Mandating their use will drive uptake, and ultimately save everybody money. From an energy policy perspective, domestic lighting is 2.75% of gross electricity usage, so reducing it by 80% would allow us to offset around a year's demand growth. And from a climate change perspective, it would save approximately 130,000 tonnes of CO2 a year - not a lot, but every bit helps.

In short, it's a no-brainer. So why is our government dragging its feet on following suit?

Tax cuts and KiwiSaver

Peter Dunne is hinting that rather than offering personal tax cuts, the government will instead provide further sweeteners to people using KiwiSaver. It's a good idea, and one which neatly gets the government out of its self-imposed fiscal discipline hole.

The problem with tax cuts is that they are inflationary - people go out and spend the money, driving up prices, and eventually interest rates. KiwiSaver offers a way out of this problem, in that the money is not immediately available for spending, and so its inflationary effect will be negligible (the same thinking applies to the Cullen Fund, BTW). It also allows the government to get a double payoff - they are trying to promote saving and get people signed up for KiwiSaver, and providing extra incentives (higher bonuses, government contributions, automatic diversions of taxes into KiwiSaver accounts) will encourage this. And it allows them to avoid the whole issue of compulsory savings - why bother with compulsion if the offer is so good that almost everyone will take it?

My only worry is that increased private retirement saving may create space for a future right-wing government to undercut universal provision of superannuation - the absolute bedrock of the welfare state. OTOH with an aging population, the power of the grey voting bloc is only going to grow, and this should act as a check on such radical moves.

D-day for the anti-smacking bill

Today is the first Member's Day of the year, and Sue Bradford's Crimes (Abolition of Force as a Justification for Child Discipline) Amendment Bill is head of the order paper. The bill has been heavily watered-down in select committee, to the extent that it actually makes things worse than the current situation in some respects IMHO (a position shared by the Children's Commissioner). OTOH, the fundamentalist Christians who oppose it believe it would be the end of the world - so maybe it will be some improvement.

The fundamentalists have been lobbying hard, but apparently in vain - the bill looks set to pass its second reading with support from Labour, the Progressives, the Greens, and a handful of National and NZ First MPs. However, the real work will be in the committee stage in a few week's time. National's Chester Borrows has put forward a Supplementary Order Paper [PDF] which would add correction as a reason for the use of force - giving parents an explicit license to beat. Meanwhile I am also hoping to see amendments to remove new sections 59 (1) (c) and (d), which IMHO allow force for correction by the back door. They may fail, but it is worth a try - and I want to make sure that MP's positions are all on record, so they can't lie about it later.

Given the Parliamentary timetable, I expect the second reading vote to be held between 17:30 and 18:00 20:00 and 20:30 today. As usual, I'll post a voting list as soon as I acquire one.

Update: Corrected expected time of the vote - I'd forgotten about the general debate, which eats another hour.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Climate change: the hole in the policy

Over the past year, the New Zealand government has been working on a new climate change policy. While I think the policy is fairly comprehensive, and in some ways even an improvement on the old, it does have a hole: direct industrial emissions. And that hole is likely to become bigger with Holcim's plans to put a $200 million cement plant near Oamaru.

Making cement necessarily means producing carbon dioxide, and according to the Greens, the new plant would produce up to 800,000 tonnes of CO2 a year. The expected cost of those emissions (at Treasury's current estimate of NZ$14.77 / tonne) is $11.8 million - 6% of the plant's value - a year. And it could easily be twice that if carbon prices rise (as they are expected to). Because the current policy does not cover direct industrial emissions, that cost will be picked up by the taxpayer. So we will effectively be subsidising Holcim's foreign shareholders $12 million a year to pollute.

I take it as axiomatic that the New Zealand government should not be paying these sorts of environmental subsidies. Holcim should be paying for its own emissions, rather than being able to dump the cost on (and therefore boost their profits at the expense of) the New Zealand taxpayer. This hole in policy needs to be closed, and soon.

Climate change: already committed?

When the IPCC's Working Group 1 released its section of the Fourth Assessment Report, covering the physical science behind climate change, the Deniers made much of the fact that their estimate for sea-level rise had been narrowed since 2001. Unfortunately, it seems that Working Group 2, which covers impacts, adaptation, and vulnerabilities, disagrees. Their report, due out in April, concludes that there is "medium confidence" (a 50% chance) that we are already committed to seeing the icecaps melt. This would raise sea-levels by four to six metres over several centuries, and gradually inundate low lying countries and cities. If it happens, we can say goodbye to many of the Pacific Islands, much of the Netherlands and Bangladesh, and large areas of New York, London, and Tokyo. In New Zealand, it would put the Wellington and Christchurch CBDs under water, as well as parts of Auckland.

Of course, it's only medium confidence - they could be wrong. But given the enormous damage this would cause, and the uncertainty about how rapidly it could happen, this is not a chance we can afford to take. We may already be committed to seeing this happen, but if we are not, we need to make damn sure that it does not.

History repeating on Iran

The squalid history of how the Bush Administration lied its way into a war is currently being exposed in Washington - and meanwhile, that same history is gearing up to repeat itself in Iran. Despite denying that they have any plans to attack, the US is moving to create a cassis bellum out of Iranian "support" for the Iraqi resistance, is deploying another aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf, and has selected its initial targets for an airstrike. But rather than a "surgical strike" aimed at removing Iran's ability to construct a nuclear weapon (an idea problematic in itself), they're planning something far wider:

US contingency plans for air strikes on Iran extend beyond nuclear sites and include most of the country's military infrastructure, the BBC has learned.

It is understood that any such attack - if ordered - would target Iranian air bases, naval bases, missile facilities and command-and-control centres.

Even if you believe a "surgical strike" can be justified in the face of a distant (rather than imminent) threat, this can not be. It fails to meet the moral requirement that any use of force must be limited to that proportionate and necessary to prevent the threat. Once again, the US is trying to cloak an illegal war of aggression in the guise of "self-defence".

And of course that assumes that bombing can even succeed. But according to a simulation run by Atlantic Monthly, it can't - there is no military solution to the problem of Iran (and its become even less likely to work since the simulation was run). The key problem is this:

The United States simply knew too little about which nuclear projects were under way and where they could be destroyed with confidence. If it launched an attack and removed some unknown proportion of the facilities, the United States might retard Iran's progress by an unknown number of months or years-at the cost of inviting all-out Iranian retaliation. "Pre-emption is only a tactic that puts off the nuclear development," Gardiner said after the exercise. "It cannot make it go away. Since our intelligence is so limited, we won't even know what we achieved after an attack. If we set it back a year, what do we do a year later? A pre-emptive strike would carry low military risk but high strategic risk."

In other words, it will not work, and stands a very good chance of making things much, much worse. Just like Iraq, really.

Monday, February 19, 2007

In passing

I was busy today, but here's a few quick comments in passing:

  • Following the departure of Georgina Beyer, the Chief Electoral Officer has declared Lesley Soper elected off the list. She will presumably be sworn in tomorrow. For those wondering, if anyone else retires, the next on the list is Louisa Wall, and after that Manukau City Councillor Su'a William Sio.
  • The Saudi wahabis have a new human rights violation to add to their list: forced divorce. If you family changes its mind about your marriage, they can order it dissolved; if you continue to live together, they can have you imprisoned for cohabitation. "Monstrous" only begins to describe such interference in some of the most personal and precious choices a person can make. But this is what happens in a theocracy, where people think everyone should live according to the dictates of their imaginary friend.
  • And speaking of imaginary friends, Brian Tamaki thinks that stating the simple fact that New Zealand does not have state religion is "treason". Such pre-Enlightenment ideas which conflate belief in a particular god (pr particular ways of believing in that god) with loyalty to the state led to atrocities across Europe - and they're one of the primary reasons why we adopted the liberal consensus in the first place.
  • Finally, I'm not sure that "tolerance" is the right word to be using in a National Statement on Religious Diversity. It carries with it some nasty implications of contingency and patronage - that the majority tolerates the minority, but could change its mind. That people have different faiths is a fact, and one that is not going to go away, no matter how hard bigots like Tamaki wish it. Our challenge is to live with that fact without killing one another. The way we do this is to accept that on such issues, individuals are free to do as they please, and that their beliefs are between them and their consciences, rather than any business of the state. We don't "tolerate" this - we accept it, and then we get on with our lives.

I should add that the tour of Parliament is well worth taking if you haven't already done it.


No blogging today, as I'm in Wellington for a seminar on "ways to compensate people for climate change policy" [PDF] on avoiding economic harm to "highly mobilized indusrial stakeholders". IMHO this is missing the point - the aim is to internalise costs, and if it makes polluters go out of business, then they weren't really economic to begin with - but it might be interesting.

Meanwhile, I have a few hours to kill in the morning, and it occurs to me that while I spend a lot of time blogging about Parliament, I've never really been there. Oh, I've visited once, and sat on the lawn in the sun and had lunch a few times (one of the pleasures of Wellington, along with Midnight Espresso and Unity Books), but I've never sat in the gallery or taken the tour. So tomorrow, I might remedy at least one of those deficiencies. Either that, or find a library and bury myself in books...

Speaking of "participate or perish"...

A couple of months ago, my friend Morgue got together with a few of his friends to prepare a joint submission on the Waste Minimisation (Solids) Bill. On Thursday, they appeared before the Local Government and Environment Select Committee to present that submission. You can read about their experience here.

Blogs, standards, and spin

A post of Span's about the prelevance of spin on certain blogs raised the question of what (if anything) bloggers owe their readers:

What do bloggers owe their readers? Do we owe you honesty? Do we owe you truth? No, not really.

A comment Make Tea Not War made (on a post she wrote about phalloblogcentrism at What We Said) challenged me to think about the annoyance I feel when other bloggers don't link or hat tip - we don't even owe each other that. There is no code of ethics for nz pol bloggers.

Span is entirely right about the absence of any obligations or professional standards in the blogosphere. On the plus side, this lack of expectations means the barriers to entry are low, and it frees us to do our own thing. We can choose our own topics, our own level of involvement, our own style and tone. The free market in legal jurisdiction and ability to blog anonymously or pseudonymously means we can operate a genuinely free press, limited only by the ability to find hosting and attract a readership (to the extent that we care - and not everyone does). We can say things the normal media would not dare say, for fear of official or unofficial retribution; we can puncture inflated egos, and say that the emperor has no clothes. However we can also lie, spin, smear, defame, swift-boat, spread outright bullshit, and (in one worrying recent case from the sewer) threaten violence. The problem with our genuinely free press is that most of the time, it resembles a cesspool, and it isn't cream that's floating to the top.

Not that any of this needs to be a problem. After all, none of us have to read the crap if we don't want to - and I generally don't. Likewise simply because blogging as an institution has no standards doesn't mean that we all have to wallow in the sewer. The freedom to adopt whatever standards we choose means we can also choose to have some rather than none.

Unlike Span, I am trying to use my blog to push a political barrow. As I've said before, democracy is "participate or perish", and if you want your views to be taken into account, you have to speak up for them. That's what I'm doing here. I am also, in a small way, trying to change minds and influence opinion. The difference between this and some other blogs is that I choose to maintain some basic intellectual standards in doing so.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Lazy non-journalism

I don't normally comment on polls, leaving it for the party hack blogs to crow or mutter about respectively. But the Sunday Star-Times piece about tonight's One News Colmar Brunton poll annoyed me. After reporting a large lead for National, it goes on to say

If the poll was translated into an election result, National could easily lead a government unless Labour signed up the Greens and another minor party to give a majority in the house.

So, National could easily lead a government, unless it couldn't. Kindof like "it will be fine tomorrow, unless it rains". And they call this "journalism"?

MMP raises some fascinating questions around coalition formation; it's entirely possible that a party could form a government despite not winning a plurality due to its superior ability to negotiate with potential coalition partners. It would be nice to see these issues analysed. Instead, we have the sort of lazy non-journlism seen above.

Time for a court information act

The Sunday Star-Times today has a major story about the role of a multi-million dollar fraud in bringing down Provincial Finance. But reading their editorial, they had to fight very hard to get it. Despite the law allowing anyone with a "genuine and proper" interest in a case access to court records, they were initially refused, and faced obstruction from court officers even after hey had obtained a court order granting them access. The culture of secrecy long since stamped out in the public service is alive and well in the court system.

The editorial draws attention to a recent report from the Law Commission into access to court records [PDF], which recommends the enactment of a Court Information Act. This would follow the model of the Official Information Act 1982, with a presumption that records should be available unless there is good reason for withholding them, and conclusive and non-conclusive reasons for denying access. The former would mostly be a subset of existing reasons in s6 of the OIA: national security, endangering the safety of any person, or prejudicing the maintenance of the law including the right to a fair trial (an additional reason would be prejudicing the administration of justice). The non-conclusive reasons, which would be balanced against the public interest - would also be mostly a subset of those in s9 - the protection of trade secrets, privacy, information given in confidence - with the addition of clauses (partially) protecting information relating to cases before the Family Court, Youth court, and defamation, mental-health or divorce proceedings (all of which are really a subset of "privacy" anyway). Interestingly, information being subject to a court order would be placed in the latter category, rather than the former. Some general access rules relating to the stage a case is at before the courts would be set in statute, with an advisory committee of judges able to recommend more. Unlike the OIA, appeals would be to the courts rather than the Ombudsmen.

On my quick glance, its an excellent proposal which will open the justice system to public scrutiny and thereby help ensure public confidence. And I expect such legislation would have no trouble passing the current Parliament. So, why isn't it on Labour's agenda? It's not as if they're pushing anything particularly important at the moment...

Bumbling provincial hicks

Back in December 2002, when Ahmed Zaoui arrived in New Zealand, the police thought they'd found someone "big" on the international terrorist scene. So, when Zaoui was being held at the Papakura police cells while they debated what exactly to do with him, they put an "undercover operative" in his cell. Who asked him where Osama bin Laden was. By playing charades:

Manning said Zaoui realised the man was an undercover agent. "He was only let out of his cell into the day room a few times and this guy was always there asking bizarre questions."

Zaoui told the Star-Times he thought the man's activities were strange. When asked where Bin Laden was, he had replied "in Afghanistan". The agent could speak only English - which Zaoui could barely understand - so communicated some questions with charades.

It would be comical, except for the fact that Zaoui was subsequently subjected to solitary confinement for 10 months on the basis of the resulting threat assessment. I'm just wondering if the above was used as the basis for a claim that he "knew the location of Osama bin Laden". The Americans certainly would have.

(Oh, and in case anyone has forgotten, that threat assessment also used information sourced from an internet conspiracy website run by Lyndon LaRouche - so much for "police intelligence". OTOH, the SIS "evidence" wasn't much better).

Is it really too much to ask that our police behave like a professional force, rather than a bunch of bumbling professional hicks?

Justice for Rendition III

In 2003, a CIA-snatch squad kidnapped a suspected terrorist from the streets of Milan, bundled him off to a US air force base, and flew him to Egypt where he was tortured. Now, three years later, an Italian court has indicted 26 US citizens - almost all CIA agents - and ordered that they stand trial. In addition, seven Italians, including former secret service chief Nicolo Pollari, have also been indicted. So, there may yet be some justice for this appalling abuse of human rights and complicity to torture.

Unfortunately, Italy allows trials to be held in absentia - a violation of the fundamental right to a fair trial. Rather than compromising the human rights of the accused in this way, it would be better to aggressively pursue extradition, and make damn sure that those accused can not set foot outside the United States for fear of ending up in an Italian prison.

And as a further note, this report in the Chicago Tribune suggests former CIA station chief Robert Seldon Lady may not just be in trouble in Italy:

Although Abu Omar did not mention it in the handwritten statement, his lawyer, El Zayat, said that his client told the Egyptian prosecutor in his earlier testimony that a man who looked, dressed and spoke English like an American had been present during the first several days of his interrogation.

Asked whether the mystery man had been present during the torture as well as the questioning, El Zayat replied in a recent interview here that his client was "not sure."


Cell phone and hotel reservation records compiled by the Milan prosecutors show that Robert Seldon Lady, then the CIA's chief in Milan, traveled to Cairo four days after Abu Omar arrived here and that Lady stayed for two weeks.

Daria Pesce, an Italian lawyer representing Lady, who is one of the CIA operatives charged in Abu Omar's kidnapping, will say only that his visit to Cairo was "official" CIA business.

Conspiracy to torture is a crime under US law. And even if Lady was merely supervising the questioning, if he knew what his Egyptian mooks were doing between sessions to ensure that the victim gave the right answers, then he's guilty.

Unfortunately, under the Bush administration, the chances of him being prosecuted for his crimes are about as high as his chances of being extradited to Italy.

New Fisk

A legacy that will haunt us for years

Saturday, February 17, 2007

National still equivocating on Iraq

While cut short, yesterdays joint press conference with Helen Clark and visiting Australian Prime Minister John Howard did reveal one useful point of information. When pressed on the question of whether she agreed with Australia's decision to help the US invade Iraq, Helen Clark was unafraid to tell us where she stood, saying

Well, I think everyone's very well aware of the views of the NZ Government on the original intervention...

and then

Australia is our closest friend and neighbour. I respect Australia's decisions. I don't always agree with them. That's on the public record. But of course I respect them.

(Emphasis added)

Meanwhile Three News also asked John Key where he stood. His answer? A firm and repeated "no comment". Like Don Brash before him [video], he would rather remain silent than tell us what he really thinks. And again like Brash before him, the only reason to do so is because he knows that we would not like his answer.

What they should have asked John Howard

Yesterday, Helen Clark took the extraordinary step of shutting down a press conference in response to aggressive questioning of visiting Australian Prime Minister John Howard about Iraq and his comments to US Senator Barack Obama. But there was an obvious question he wasn't asked: New Zealanders overwhelmingly oppose the US occupation of Iraq. Does this mean we're all on the side of Al Qaeda?

It would have been nice watching him try and squirm out of that one...

Friday, February 16, 2007

Fiji: cry treason

Having illegally removed Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase from office in a coup last year, the Fijian military is now attempting to have him prosecuted for treason for investigating the possibility of foreign military assistance against the rogue military.

So, if its "treason" to investigate every avenue of defending the constitution, what do you call illegally overthrowing it?

Simply delusional

It's been a long-standing joke about Iraq that the NeoCon cabal which drove the US to war - Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Cheney and friends - believed that US troops would be greeted as liberators, and that the postwar phase would consist solely of a victory parade through baghdad, in which smiling Iraqi children would shower victorious US troops with flowers and rosewater. However, it's not so funny when you realise that the US military believed it too. The National Security Archive - a US research institute which explores national security issues - has obtained prewar briefings which lay out the plan for the postwar occupation of Iraq. And according to the plan laid out in August 2002, the US expected to have only 5,000 soldiers in Iraq today.

The National Security Archive calls this "delusional" - and they're right. Among the assumptions which underlay the plan were that a credible provisional government would be in place on the day of the invasion, that Iraqi troops would stay in their barracks rather than fighting, and that the only tasks facing the US after Saddam had been toppled were to "gather intelligence, detain terrorists and war criminals, [and] free individuals unjustly detained". They couldn't have got it more wrong - and over 3,100 US troops and 655,000 Iraqis have died as a result.

Good riddance

Taito Philip Field has quit the Labour Party and will remain in Parliament as an independent. Good riddance, I say. In accordance with his constituent's wishes, he will be offering his proxy to Labour, but they would be wise to refuse it. Field is political poison, and accepting it would further taint the party. Better to make a clean break.

Meanwhile, the latest chapter in the saga is once again revealing the ugly side of the Maori Party, with both Tariana Turia and Pita Sharples extending the hand of friendship (and possibly even an invite to join) to Field. I'd expect it of Tariana, with her racist blurt on immigration and her cuddling up to Donna Awatere-Huata after her conviction, but I'd generally seen Sharples as the sane, restrained one. It looks like I was wrong.


Today is No Right Turn's fourth birthday. In the past year this blog has seen 202,416 unique visitors, who have contributed 8,555 comments. I've written 1,471 posts, totalling 320,035 words. And I was supposed to be busy this year!

Looking back at past anniversary posts, it looks as if I will write my millionth word here sometime around the 1st of April. Should I check into rehab yet?

Two topics have dominated the blog in the past year. The first has been climate change and climate change policy, where interesting things are happening at the moment, both domestically and internationally. The second has been my coverage of Parliament, and particularly the In the Ballot series on Member's Bills. I plan to continue both themes. But I've also reviewed the review of the Immigration Act, submitted on legislation, organised support for striking workers, used the OIA to uncover arbitrary detention and New Zealand's position on Guantanamo, and stood up for freedom of speech and human rights, even for people I hate. The next year will likely see more of the same. The writing hasn't got any easier - there are still days when I look at the news and am either too angry or too bored to find anything I feel is worth posting about - but its still fun, so I'll keep on doing it.

Finally, I'd like to thank my guest columnists for the past year - Brian Easton, Muerk, and Greg Stephens - and everyone who has emailed with news or encouraging words. I'd also like to thank the commenters. Part of the unique flavour of this blog is that the comments are not the sewer seen elsewhere - so please, keep up the good work.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

The cost of capitalism II

In the UK, people are similarly shocked by their placement at the bottom of Unicef's child-wellbeing league table. But they're not afraid to point the finger where it belongs, with many commenters attributing it directly to the UK's "dog eat dog" society. Neal Lawson, of left-wing group Compass, goes further and says clearly that emulating the US has led to poverty:

"The reason our children's lives are the worst is because we emulate the USA. We copy their labour market flexibility, love of the free market, their worship of business leaders. At the top are the nations prepared to tax, regulate and create the conditions for a strong society, so get the best of all worlds".

Meanwhile, Tony Blair is planning to force solo mothers to work once their children turn three. I'm sure that will help.

The cost of capitalism

The big story of the day has been the Unicef report on children's quality of life, which shows that New Zealand is failing its children. While we fail to collect enough data to allow a full judgement to be drawn, what statistics we do collect are pretty damning. High rates of child mortality, low vaccination rates and low rates of material wellbeing would place us at near the bottom of the league-table, only just above the US and UK. The only bright spot is in educational achievement - and even that is tainted by low rates of participation in education after age 15. Overall this is an appalling situation, and one which should shame the nation.

The Herald's Simon Collins has a summary of the report here. The full report is online here [PDF]. For those who are interested, the full "league table" is:

  1. Netherlands
  2. Sweden
  3. Denmark
  4. Finland
  5. Spain
  6. Switzerland
  7. Norway
  8. Italy
  9. Republic of Ireland
  10. Belgium
  11. Germany
  12. Canada
  13. Greece
  14. Poland
  15. Czech Republic
  16. France
  17. Portugal
  18. Austria
  19. Hungary
  20. United States
  21. United Kingdom

New Zealand would come in just above the US, with Australia slightly higher than us.

Russell has already commented on the close correlation between countries which ban smacking and countries at the other end of the scale from us, but there's another obvious difference here as well - and that is between those countries which pursue American-style unfettered capitalism on the one hand, and those which maintain decent labour standards, a strong welfare state, and strong public health and education systems on the other. It is no accident that these countries tend to be at opposite ends of the scale: the welfare state and strong public services insulate people from the excesses of the market, and provide better living standards, opportunities, and health and educational outcomes for those on the bottom of the heap.

Unfettered capitalism has a cost, and it is borne by the weakest in society - children. Our terrible ranking today can be directly attributed to our move away from the welfare state and public services in the 80's and 90's, in favour of a market red in tooth and claw. Perhaps something to think about next time National promises to cut public services to provide tax cuts for the rich...?

New Fisk

War-weary Beirut marks Hariri death with peaceful rally

Climate change: trading in deforestation

National and the Kyoto Forestry Association are trying to beat up the proposal in December's Sustainable Land Management and Climate Change discussion document for a flat deforestation levy into a "retrospective tax" in an effort to discredit the government's policy and obtain windfall gains for the forestry industry. In response, the government has finally made explicit its preference for a tradable permits regime for deforestation. A full discussion document will apparently be released next week - well before the 30 March deadline for submissions on the main document.

But cynicism about government "consultation" aside, how would such a scheme work? The idea is the same as emissions trading: the government would issue a certain number of permits, and forest owners would be required to surrender permits when they cut down their trees. While the permits could be initially auctioned or grandparented, the ability of forest owners to trade permits among themselves means that the ultimate price of deforestation would be set by the market. Forest owners cutting down trees without surrendering permits would be subjected to large fines.

The general effect of such a scheme is summarised succinctly in the press release: it would "provide a small financial gain for those wanting to stay in forestry, while those planning to change their land use would begin to start paying some of the real costs". How much gain and how much cost would depend on the supply and demand of permits, and therefore ultimately on the cap. However, from previous government documents, we know what that cap will be set at: 21.5 million tons of CO2, or around 27,000 hectares of net deforestation.

Interesting features of such a scheme:

  • The effect of such a system is theoretically exactly the same as that of a tax designed to produce the same outcome. Trading systems simply transfer the work of getting the price right from the government to the market.
  • The government is likely to apply it only to pre-1990 forests. But as far as emissions are concerned, a tree is a tree is a tree. The system should be universal.
  • The cap is effectively a subsidy to the New Zealand forestry industry of (currently) NZ$300 million over five years. That's how much it will cost to buy credits to cover those deforestation emissions on the international market.
  • This bogs us down again in the same old arguments about allocation mechanisms, and a flat liability would be simpler. However, there are definite political advantages to such a scheme - firstly, that it takes the government out of the firing line (they're creating a market, not imposing a tax); and secondly, that it creates vested interests who will then turn around and fight to protect their newly-created property rights, thus making the policy more likely to survive.
  • If the permits are denominated in carbon dioxide, there's an obvious possibility for it to turn into a de-facto offset market, which the government would be foolish to ignore. A hectare of trees is about 800 tons of CO2. An electricity generator buying permits but not cutting down any trees could justly claim that they were reducing New Zealand's emissions by that amount. This possibility makes the question of allocation particularly fraught, as the permits may represent a cash windfall for forest owners, while an auction could see too many permits acquired by the electricity industry.
  • The system could allow the importation of Kyoto credits to allow additional deforestation.

As policies go, I think it is workable, and can easily be linked up with the other markets the government is creating to form a full emissions trading system post-2012. My main concern is time. We needed this system yesterday, but it will likely take another year before it is in place (time for another round of public consultation, and some time to get the required law through Parliament). A flat deforestation charge could be implemented much faster. However, it will be much easier to implement than a flat charge, so it is probably the best course of action.

Fiji: challenging the coup

Two and a half months on, the Fijian coup looks set to face the first real challenge to its authority, with lawyers for the ousted SDL party filing papers in Fiji's High Court challenging the legality of the interim government. And they're on solid legal ground. A similar challenge was lodged in the wake of the last coup against the interim government set up by the military and its decision to dismiss the Prime Minister in the absence of a formal vote of no-confidence in Parliament (Yabaki v President of the Republic of the Fiji Islands). The High Court ruled that it was constitutional, and if it was not, justified by the doctrine of necessity. The Court of Appeal took a dim view of the judgement, but as an election had been called, declared the issue moot. However, "because the situation may arise in the future – hopefully not in the aftermath of a coup" (talk about irony) it did make some comments on the constitutional issues, including this bit:

The Fiji Constitution, by the prescriptiveness of s109(1), denies the President such a right [to dismiss the Prime Minister with only "soundings" of the feeling of the House] as that given to the Governor [of Western Nigeria] in Ankitola. Consequently, it did not matter that his soundings may have indicated a general lack of support for Mr Chaudhry or indeed that Mr Chaudhry himself supported a dissolution - albeit with himself as caretaker Prime Minister. The framers of the Constitution appear to have been at pains to circumscribe the President’s power of dismissal of a Prime Minister and to have required the House and not the President to determine whether the Prime Minister has lost its confidence.

If the court follows its previous reasoning, then they are likely to find Commodore Bainimarama's purported dismissal of Prime Minister Qarase in the absence of a resignation or formal vote of no confidence similarly illegal. That will then open the whole can of worms of the "doctrine of necessity", and raise two key questions: is the overthrow of an elected government "necessary" simply because an autocratic thug with a gun says so, and whether an unelected regime can deliberately construct a situation post facto which justifies the "necessity" of their rule? If the latter is answered in the affirmative, then the courts might as well tear up Fiji's constitution now, because it will mean nothing.

Carnival of the Liberals

The 32nd Carnival of the Liberals is now up at The Greenbelt.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

New Fisk

Lebanon slides towards civil war as anniversary of Hariri's murder looms

What its all about

Listening to the "debate" today on the Privileges Committee's finding of contempt against former MP Matt Robson, and the statements of Michael Cullen, Gerry Brownlee, and Peter Dunne, it was clear that their position boiled down to one key thing: they think that members of the public have no right to question a Member of Parliament's integrity.

I think that axiom speaks to its own ridiculousness. I think it can only be described as "feudal".

Like the absolute monarchs of old, these people think they are so far above us that they should be beyond criticism. We must show them that they are not.

I am in contempt of Parliament

Parliament has voted to uphold the Privileges Committee's judgement of Matt Robson and demand his apology to both Peter Dunne and the House, with not a word raised against. By doing so, they have proven conclusively that they are self-serving sacks of shit, unwilling to live under the same laws as the rest of us, and willing to restort to arbitrary tyranny to suppress their critics. I would expect such behaviour from the government of Singapore, or the dictatorship of Fiji, not from the Parliament of New Zealand.

The absurd claim that elected representatives should have special protection of their self-proclaimed "dignity" strikes at the heart of our democracy, and our egalitarian society. Their ability to use their own Star Chamber to enforce it and punish "infractions" against themselves strikes at the heart of the rule of law. It is one thing for Parliament to be master of its own house. It is quite another for them to claim the right to drag one of us in there for imagined infractions which do not meet the test for being an offence in law.

If an MP feels public criticism is unfair, they have a clear course of action available: they can respond, front up to the voters, and explain why a perfect record of supporting the tobacco industry has nothing to do with the unfailing financial support gven to them. They can meet speech with speech, rather than seeking to suppress it. Or, if they feel criticism is false and damages their reputation, they can sue for defamation. The ability to suppress critical speech undermines MPs accountability to voters, and the freedom of speech on which our system of government rests.

We have just had a clear demonstration that an absolute Parliament is as dangerous as an absolute monarch. Over the last four hundred years, we emasculated our monarchy, limited its power, and finally locked it away in its little doll's house where it couldn't bother us. It is time we did the same to Parliament. We have a Bill of Rights Act affirming fundamental freedoms; it is time we made our MPs subject to it.