Friday, October 31, 2014

Long past time

The Dominion-Post reports that the government is considering wiping past convictions for homosexuality. Good. As a guest-poster to On The Left has recently explained, living with a criminal conviction isn't easy; employers and agencies will simply dump applications from people with convictions, without bothering to learn the circumstances. For someone whose offence was never-again-repeated youthful stupidity that's bad enough; when its for something they should never have been prosecuted for in the first place, its worse.

Homosexuality is not a crime, and it should never have been one. It is time for our government to ecrasez l'infame and stop allowing people to be persecuted base don this long-repealed law.

MacLennan on fixing the OIA

Journalist and lawyer Catriona MacLennan has some suggestions on Fixing Official Information Act Abuses . She identifies three problems with the law: lack of resources to enforce the law; deliberate flouting of the act; and inadequate understanding of the legislation by some officials. More resources for the Ombudsman should help with the first (though it might be harder than she thinks, given the drop in service levels), and she has a list of suggestions for the other two: an Information Commissioner, reducing the time limit to 15 days (as recommended in 1997), including Parliament, specific rules for the "no surprises" policy, and pushing more proactive release. But she also notes that:

In particular, it is difficult to envisage any sanctions for breaching the act which would outweigh the political stakes involved if a government thinks that holding information back until after an election will assist it at the polls.

She's right and wrong here. Minor sanctions won't influence Ministers, who we already know put their careers before the law. But they will influence the professional public servants who actually do the work. Criminal penalties will give those public servants a reason to resist Ministerial lawbreaking, give them absolute protection from employment sanctions for doign so (because you can't fire someone for refusing to break the law for you), and if Ministers say "I'll handle it", create a clear paper trail which will assist in their prosecution. And if the maximum penalty is two years jail, triggering automatic removal from Parliament on conviction, then that may give even Ministers pause for thought - if only because they won't want to have their future political career reliant on the silence of their past Ministerial advisers.

The trick is persuading Ministers to vote to stick themselves in jail. And that is going to be very, very difficult.

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy

It's Halloween! Time for a jolly pumpkin to remind everyone that there is chocolate nearby


The weather is terrible, and while it can't rain all the time, I suspect there may be an absence of ghosts and ghouls. Whatever shall I do with all that chocolate?

Indistinguishable from totalitarianism

SF author Charles Stross has a lovely alternate-history thought experiment which demonstrates quite neatly how British surveillance is indistinguishable in practice from totalitarianism. And if you're in any doubt, you've only got to read today's news:

The Government is facing calls to reveal the truth about a spying operation on one of Britain’s most respected human rights activists.

Previously secret documents show the late Martin Ennals was put under years of surveillance by Special Branch. He was a key figure at Amnesty International and the National Council for Civil Liberties – now known as Liberty – and a leading campaigner against apartheid.

Details of his marriage, family and holiday destinations were recorded. His luggage was also regularly searched as he made trips to and from Britain. But the files, released by the Metropolitan Police under the Freedom of Information Act, have been heavily redacted.

Any suggestion that Ennals was any sort of "security threat" is laughable. He was spied on because he challenged government policy around human rights and support for apartheid. People should not be targeted in this way in a democracy - and the fact that he was, and people like him today still are, suggests that the UK is not and never was a democratic state.

Spies and spying are simply incompatible with democracy. If we want to control our government, we have to get rid of them. It's that simple.

A lack of commitment

New Zealand has finally joined the Open Government Partnership. A requirement of membership is to submit an action plan about how you will improve open government over the next two years. So what's in ours? Sweet fuck-all:

Our Action Plan will initially focus on the:
  • Better Public Services Results programme
  • Government ICT Strategy and Action Plan to 2017
  • Kia Tūtahi Relationship Accord; and
  • Transparency International New Zealand's 2013 National Integrity System assessment.
To point out the obvious, this was all stuff the government was doing anyway, so our membership of the OGP has made no difference at all to actual practice. But more importantly, its a long, long way from open government as understood by citizens. There's nothing in here about increased transparency, and nothing about increased civic participation. And when you compare it to Transparency International's suggestions, top of which was extended coverage of the OIA and more transparent political party finances, there's a yawning gap. But then, given their "consultation" process, which excluded the public and ignored even its handpicked participants, that's not really surprising.

This is not an ambitious programme for open government. It is lazy, and it deliberately avoids the areas the government desperately needs to make progress on. The obvious conclusion is that we're not committed to the OGP process, but instead are using it for PR purposes, to say how great we are, while changing nothing. And that is simply dishonest.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

An unmanaged conflict

Katherine Rich is a member of the government-appointed Health Promotion Agency, responsible for (as it says on its website) "inspiring all New Zealanders to lead healthier lives".

Katherine Rich is also Chief Executive of the New Zealand Food and Grocery Council, a lobby group for the food, sugar, tobacco and alcohol industries. As part of this role, she subcontract lobbyist Carrick Graham to run dirty politics hits on health researchers via Cameron Slater's sewerblog.

Rich's two roles appear to be in direct conflict. But the government says that that conflict is managed appropriately. Bullshit. While it has been declared, as Kevin hague pointed out in Question Time today, Rich has never recused herself from a single discussion or decision of the HPA, despite a clear requirement in the Crown Entities Act that she does so on any matter in which she has an interest.

There are two possibilities here. Firstly, despite its name, function, and the extensive contents of its website, the Health Promotion Agency has never in the time that Rich has been a member dealt with any issue related to sugar, alcohol, tobacco, or any of the other unhealthy products she peddles.

The second is that the chair of the HPA is a muppet and Rich's conflict is effectively unmanaged, contrary to the law.

Which seems more likely?

Robert Fisk

Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A stretch

This morning the Herald revealed that Kim Dotcom had been convicted and fined for dangerous driving in 2009, but had not declared it on his application for residency. Immigration is now talking about deporting him.

So, this is what we are now: a country where the government talks openly of deporting its political enemies for traffic offences.

Deporting Dotcom would require the Minister to find that his residency was procured through fraud. That would require the Minister to find that Dotcom knowingly concealed his conviction, rather than viewing it as a speeding ticket. But given the summary nature of the proceeding, that would be a stretch. If the Minister did make such a finding, it would be subject to appeal to the Immigration and Protection Tribunal, and to judicial review for bias. And I'm not sure the government would win such a case.

Sadly, this being third-term National, I don't think we can rely on them not to try. Which at least will be entertaining as they buy themselves another legal nightmare.

The obvious question

John Key says he knows who the hacker Rawshark is. So, will the police be raiding his home for ten hours and taking all his data, or is that something they only do to enemies of the National Party?

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

National's failure on child poverty

National has failed on child poverty, according to the UN:

New Zealand's child poverty rates have come down by less than half a per cent since 2008, according to the Unicef report Children of the Recession.

By contrast, Australia reduced its child poverty rate by more than 6 per cent over the same period, and Finland and Norway, countries with similar populations, reduced theirs by more than 4 per cent and 3 per cent respectively.

Key is hiding behind the Christchurch earthquakes and the global financial crisis as excuses for this lack of progress - but those countries also had to deal with the banker-induced recession. No, the real difference isn't because we had disasters, but because those countries have policy where we do not. Which simply illustrates a point made long ago: the level of child poverty is entirely a matter of choice by the government. Other countries choose to have a lower level than us, and set policies appropriately. Whereas for National, its just not a priority, ranking behind forking out tax cuts to the rich and pollution subsidies to polluters and farmers - policies which collectively cost us billions.

The message is clear: if we want action on this problem, we need to elect a government which will make it a priority, rather than making excuses. Sadly, we won't have that opportunity for another three years. How many kids will suffer stunted lives and restricted opportunities in the meantime?

GCHQ's backdoor spying

One of the suspicions about the Five Eyes spying pact is that it is a pact between spies to circumvent the restrictions put on them by their governments. The NSA isn't allowed to spy on Americans, the GCSB isn't allowed to spy on kiwis, and GCHQ isn't allowed to spy on UKanians - but they can all spy on each other's citizens, then trade the data through the backdoor.

GCHQ has just confirmed this practice:

British intelligence services can access raw material collected in bulk by the NSA and other foreign spy agencies without a warrant, the government has confirmed for the first time.

GCHQ’s secret “arrangements” for accessing bulk material are revealed in documents submitted to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal, the UK surveillance watchdog, in response to a joint legal challenge by Privacy International, Liberty and Amnesty International. The legal action was launched in the wake of the Edward Snowden revelations published by the Guardian and other news organisations last year.

The government’s submission discloses that the UK can obtain “unselected” – meaning unanalysed, or raw intelligence – information from overseas partners without a warrant if it was “not technically feasible” to obtain the communications under a warrant and if it is “necessary and proportionate” for the intelligence agencies to obtain that information.

The rules essentially permit bulk collection of material, which can include communications of UK citizens, provided the request does not amount to “deliberate circumvention” of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa), which governs much of the UK’s surveillance activities.

Of course, whether its a "deliberate circumvention" is up to GCHQ and decided in secret, and its a fair bet that they never refuse to take information on this basis.

UK Ministers have gone on record to state that a warrant is required for all interception and analysis of UK data. GCHQ has just shown that they lied. We can't trust our spies, and we can't trust what our politicians tell us about them. The only way to be safe from mass-surveillance is to shut them down, permanently.

Women going backwards under National

The World Economic Forum has released its Global Gender Gap Report 2014. Last year we went backwards, dropping a place from 6th to 7th. This year its worse - we've dropped six more places to 13th, and our score has dropped even further. The reason? Its all down to "economic participation and opportunity", where we've dropped on nearly every measure. Labour force participation? Down. wage equality for similar work? Down. Earned income? Down massively. We've held our own on the proportion of women in technical and senior management positions, but economic discrimination appears to have increased.

Its not hard to see why. National has passed laws which have lowered wages and reduced employment rights. And that has a direct impact on the economic status of women. But that's what happens when you have government of, by and for dead white males.

A reminder

Earlier in the year, the World Justice Project released its Rule of Law Index, an assessment of 99 countries' complaince with the rule of law. New Zealand did pretty well on it, ranking first in the Pacific and sixth overall. But there was a down side: we ranked poorly for criminal justice, and we were trending down. And where we do badly tells a story:


[The green line is the average for high-income countries such as NZ; the orange line is the average for East Asia and the Pacific]

Looking at this, the problem is not with our law - it is with our police. If investigations are not timely, then evidence fades, criminals walk free, and justice is ultimately denied. Which is exactly what has happened with the Roastbusters case. But its not just this case - the Police are systematically failing to meet their targets for clearing cases. There is a big problem with underfunding here, but the problem with Roastbusters wasn't a lack of resources, but a basic lack of willingness to investigate serious, sustained criminal offending. And the fact that they're still not even bothering to talk to the victims tells us that this is a problem in this case.

Our police need to get their act together. If they fail consistently to investigate crimes, then people will rightly ask what purpose they serve. And at the moment, that purpose simply seems to be raiding the government's political enemies. If that's what the police are for, its time to burn down the organisation and start again from scratch.

Today's lesson

If your dad is a cop, you can get away with raping kids:

Police are to make an announcement this afternoon on Operation Clover, the investigation into the "Roast Busters" allegations.

The Herald understands the victim has been told that the alleged offenders will not be prosecuted due to a lack of evidence.

"Lack of evidence" meaning "we ignored the complaints for two years, then we dragged our feet for another year, then we decided that any testimony would be regarded as unreliable in court". Heckuva job you're doing there. I hope all of you wearing that uniform are proud of yourselves.

Meanwhile, the public should be asking themselves: if the NZ police can't prosecute a case like this, where offenders gloated online about their crimes and even posted video footage, what fucking good are they? And why are we paying them when they are clearly incapable of doing their job?

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Australia deports another refugee to torture

What a surprise: a refugee Australia refused to recognise was tortured after being deported:

Mr Naseri arrived in Australia by boat in 2011 and spent time in detention before being granted a bridging visa. He was deported from Australia in late August after his refugee application was rejected by the Immigration Department.

Mr Naseri was reportedly abducted and tortured by the Taliban for two days but managed to break free from chains around his leg using a rock.

He said he was kidnapped while travelling from Kabul to his home district of Jaghori, along the same stretch of road where Australian-Afghan Sayed Habib Musawi, also a Hazara, was reportedly killed by the Taliban last month.

Mr Naseri told the ABC he was targeted within weeks of returning to Afghanistan because militants found evidence linking him to Australia.

"They found my [Australian] driving licence, then they understood I was from Australia. They beat me, they said 'this boy is from Australia, that country is full of infidels'," he said.

Whether an attempt to claim refugee status will itself lead to persecution is something that is supposed to be considered as part of an application for refugee status. But the Australian government pretty obviously ignored that risk, in violation of the Refugee Convention, the ICCPR and the Convention Against Torture. Sadly, I doubt this is the only example.


Also interesting in that OIA release about the Christchurch Convention Centre contract is the withholding of information under s9(2)(k) to

prevent the disclosure or use of official information for improper gain or improper advantage.

This is a rarely-used clause, and this is the first time I've seen it used in a commercial tender context (normally in such cases information is withheld as commercially sensitive, provided in confidence, or under the negotiations clause). And as the Ombudsman's guidelines make clear, "improper" gain is a very high threshold to meet, requiring the expected use to be almost illegal or extremely morally dubious. Its very hard to see that in this case, especially as the requester is not a bidder in the process and cannot gain any advantage by it. Instead, the obvious suspicion is that Brownlee thinks that the information will be used politically by the opposition, and that makes it "improper". Which tells us a great deal about the government's attitude to democracy and the law...

Cronyism in Christchurch II

Back in August, National announced they were handing a $284 million contract to build a new convention centre in Christchurch to a consortium which included the Speaker's brother. From the outside, it looks like cronyism, if not outright corruption, and in such cases, the onus is on the government to front up and show that the crony was in fact the best bidder. So did they? Yeah, right:

I wanted to know more, so I fired off an OIA request. Mr Brownlee refused to respond until after the election, even though this breached the normal four week time limit. Sadly, that was no surprise. He finally responded on 13 October, some nine weeks after receiving my request.

And what his reply reveals is… nothing at all, except the need for more investigating.

About half of the documents Minister Brownlee has released to me (part 1, part 2) have been redacted, including it appears any mention at all of Philip Carter of the Carter Group. They just aren’t there at all. Curious.

That's not quite correct - they're mentioned in a footnote on p13 of part 2 as being one of the constituents of the Plenary group. And only mentioning them in that way seems appropriate - Plenary is the official bidder. So I don't think that's curious. No, what's curious is that all information on the process for selecting the consortium was withheld. All we know is that the RFP was sent to five "previously shortlisted consortia" and that
Plenary's proposal also met the requirements of the Request for Proposal

Which, in a prima facie case of cronyism, seems oddly weak - and especially compared with the information released on the operation RFP, where they say outright that "Accor was the top ranking respondent". If there was a similar statement about Plenary, they'd release it. The absence of such a statement suggests that the Speaker's brother's consortium was not the top-ranked option.

The government owes us some answers here. They're refusing to give them. And based on what they've released, it looks a lot like they've got something to hide.

Criminalising the poor in Britain

One of the first things the Conservative-LibDem coalition in Britain did was cut benefit eligibility, requiring beneficiaries to jump through even more pointless hoops to gain state assistance. The purpose of this of course was that some of them would fail, allowing their benefits to be cut off. And now that's having the expected effect: the criminalisation of the poor:

What would you do to keep your baby from starving? Perhaps the same as Lucy Hill. At the start of October, the 35-year-old mother from Kidderminster was broke. After missing an interview at the jobcentre, her disability benefits had been stopped – which left her, her partner and her toddler of 18 months without anything to live on. So she went to the local Spar and stole a chicken and some soap powder.

Two weeks later, Hill was up before the magistrate. Her police interview noted that she said “sorry to the shop … but had no money … and was in a desperate situation”. She was ordered to pay compensation, a fine, costs and a surcharge: a total of over £200 to be taken off someone who’d only committed a crime because she had no money. Her solicitor John Rogers remembers that the mother’s chief worry was that the social services might find out and take away her baby.

After running me through the details, Rogers sighs. Cases like this keep coming his way, he says: “They miss an appointment so their benefits are sanctioned [docked or stopped altogether], so they have no money, so they steal.” His local office now handles “at least half a dozen” such cases each month – up from almost nothing a year ago.

He’s just one lawyer in one post-industrial town, describing a national policy: of starving the poor into committing crime.

The net result of this policy is that "savings" from cutting benefits are spent on police, courts, and prisons, while lives are ruined. But that's not on the welfare budget, and it allows the government to demonise the poor even further.

Meanwhile, its worth considering: our government has pursued exactly the same policy of erecting bureaucratic barriers to force people off benefits. It would be interesting to hear whether we are seeing the same effect here.

New Fisk

Isis attack on Idlib: Assad's army leaders 'slaughtered' as jihadists storm Syrian provincial capital
The 200,000 Syrian child refugees forced into slave labour in Lebanon

Cementing pay equity?

Yesterday was Labour Day. Today, National is going to celebrate it by removing your right to a tea break at work. The fact that this is their highest priority as an incoming government (as opposed to, say, reducing child poverty) speaks volumes about who they work for and the direction they plan to take New Zealand in over the next three years. "Governing for all New Zealand", my arse!

Also today, the Court of Appeal ruled in the case of Terranova Homes & Care v SFWU. The case was over pay equity - the principle of "equal pay for work of equal value". Terranova pays its caregivers barely more than the minimum wage, and the SFWU argued that this was because aged-care was a female-dominated profession with devalued wages. Last year, the Employment Court accepted that, based on a straight reading of the letter and purpose of the Equal Pay Act 1972. And today, the Court of Appeal backed that up, dismissing Terranova's appeal. Which means that the Employment Court is now free to state pay equity principles and conduct a comparison exercise which should result in Terranova employees (and hopefully everyone in the industry) getting the pay they deserve.

...unless the government legislates, that is. After all, they're taking away your tea-break today, purely out of spite. What do you think they'll do when the law is on the side of workers for once, and it threatens to cost their donors and cronies real money?

Friday, October 24, 2014

Freedom of information: A good idea from India

One of the better ideas for freedom of information implemented overseas is disclosure logs - agencies posting requests and responses publicly, allowing performance to be monitored and reducing repeat requests. This is widespread in Australia and the UK, but poorly implemented in New Zealand. But now India has taken the idea a step further, with a single, nationwide disclosure-log:

All Indian government agencies have been told to post online their replies to Right to Information Act requests by the end of the month.

The ministry overseeing the administration of the Indian RTI Act on Oct. 21 announced a new website feature that will allow placement of replies on the RTI Online system.

Agencies were instructed to contact the Department of Personnel & Training (DOPT) for directions on the system upgrade. A one page memo by Sandeep Jain says the goal is to implement the policy by Oct. 31.

[Requests which include personal information won't be included]

The utility of the system will depend greatly on searchability and how good agencies are at tagging releases. But these are not difficult problems. And the advantages are huge. For a start, it will enable the collection of national statistics, not just about numbers, but also about the amount and type of information released. It will also allow appeal authorities to spot problems - e.g. if an agency is consistently misinterpreting the law, or making dubious withholding decisions. And of course its a huge benefit to journalists, academics and historians examining government policy.

We should do this here. It wouldn't require a law change, just a decision by the government to develop (or acquire) the software and fund the server. And the improvement in openness would be tremendous.

Christchurch's rebuild should be decided by Christchurch, not Wellington

Radio New Zealand has an appalling story this morning about the government's interference in the Christchurch rebuild over the new District Plan. Normally district plans are decided by elected local councils accountable to the voters who will live under them. But National has been using its extraordinary CERA powers to impose one from Wellington - and threatening to simply legislate for one if the council resists:

The email finished with a threat from the minister.

" should be noted that the Council should not consider the current track of a truncated process under the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Act the only option. An incoming government will always have the option of special legislation to create a standalone plan process for Christchurch as was done for the first Auckland unitary plan. I would urge the Council to carefully consider the relative risks and merits of proceeding with the current track."

This was a reference to what happened as part of the Super City legislation, where the Government required a new district plan for the whole region to be in place within three years and where the Government set the terms for how the new city should operate.

This is simply an affront to democracy. Christchurch belongs to the people who live there, and they should decide what it looks like. The only reason for National to bully the Council in this way is if their preferred options would not be approved by the people of Christchurch - which simply highlights why they should keep their nose out of it.

Turning a blind eye to corruption

As we are constantly reminded, New Zealand consistently leads the Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index as the "least corrupt country in the world". And as we are increasingly becoming aware, that reputation may be undeserved. Today there's another nail in the coffin of that image, with a new report from Transparency International showing that we are dragging our feet on enforcing the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention.

We're not alone in this - most of the Convention's parties are similar unenthused about stopping their companies bribing foreign officials. But the real shame is that we are behind even corrupt Australia in our enforcement, being rated only as "Limited Enforcement" versus Australia's "Moderate". Our investigations into corruption by our companies go nowhere, while key legislation has been left to rot on the Order Paper. The Companies and Limited Partnerships Amendment Bill, designed to close the loophole which, among other things, allows foreigners to establish NZ companies for use in money laundering and fraud, has been before the House for three years. Its headline Organised Crime and Anti-corruption Legislation Bill hasn't even had a first reading. You'd almost get the impression that policing their corrupt corporate mates just isn't a priority for the National Party.

Political interference at Maori Television

A government-owned television channel arranges an interview with a former opposition MP, but the government-appointed CEO spikes it. Something from Russia or Cuba maybe? No - according to Hone Harawira its happening right here in New Zealand:

“[Maori TV CEO Paora] Maxwell also gave an undertaking that the changes were purely operational and that there would be no political interference in the decisions made by the News and Current Affairs Division.

“Well … that undertaking has lasted just one month, with Maxwell telling Native Affairs staff that there was no way he would allow me to come onto Native Affairs final show of the year, set to go to air live on Monday 3 November.

I had already been invited by Native Affairs to feature in the show alongside other ex-MPs, Tau Henare and Shane Jones (see emails below), but when Maxwell found out he called in the Native Affairs team and told them point-blank that I would not be allowed on the show. No problems with Henare, no problem with Jones, but no way for Harawira.

[Emphasis added]

Its not the role of the chief executive of a public broadcaster to interfere in editorial decisions. But that's exactly what National's crony CEO is doing, and specifically for political purposes. It appears the concerns about Maxwell - that he was appointed to gut Maori TV and turn it into a cheerleader for the establishment rather than a journalistic watchdog - were fully justified. But its hard to see how Maori, or the public, are well-served by the corruption of their public service broadcaster. Maxwell has to go, before he does any more damage.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

More police misconduct

Another day, another IPCA report - this one into a police officer who unjustifiably set a police dog to savage a surrendering suspect:

A police dog was set on a man who had his hands in the air in what is described as ''an excessive use of force and unlawful'' by the Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA).


''The officer's use of his dog in this instance was an excessive and unlawful use of force,'' Independent Police Conduct Authority chair, Judge Sir David Carruthers said.

"Given that the offender was standing still with both hands in the air and making no attempt to resist arrest the deployment of the dog was unnecessary. There were other, less harmful tactical options available to the officer which he should have used rather than deploying the police dog," Sir David said.''

In a statement, assistant police commissioner Allan Boreham said they accepted the report's findings.

''We need to get our judgement right every time when using force, notwithstanding the hundreds of incidents our staff respond to every day,'' he said.

The officer involved would be ''subject to employment actions reinforcing police policy and the importance of good decision-making around the appropriate use of dogs and other tactical options,'' Boreham said.

Its good to see that the police accept the findings. But notice what's not on the table: prosecution. If a member of the public set a dog on someone, they'd be in court, and possibly in jail. So why isn't this uniformed thug? It appears that the police are still suffering from the mindset that they are above the law, and still committed to protecting their own no matter what they do...

No freedom of speech in Turkey

Musa Kart is a Turkish cartoonist. In February he published a cartoon criticising Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's cover-up of a corruption probe. Now, he's being prosecuted for it:

Turkish prosecutors have filed an indictment against a famous cartoonist working for the Cumhuriyet daily over a caricature he drew criticizing then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's attempts to cover up a graft probe that shook the country late last year, seeking up to nine years and 10 months in prison for the cartoonist.

Cumhuriyet reported on Monday that according to the indictment filed by the İstanbul Chief Public Prosecutor's Office, Erdoğan filed a criminal complaint against cartoonist Musa Kart for insulting him and slandering him via the media in a caricature that was published in the daily's Feb. 1, 2014, edition. The press bureau of the prosecutor's office initially ruled that there were no grounds for legal action over the caricature. However, upon objections from Erdoğan's lawyer, the Bakırköy 14th High Criminal Court ruled that the cartoon went beyond the boundaries of criticism and revoked the initial decision. The indictment filed afterward calls for a prison sentence of up to nine years and 10 months for Kart. The court will begin to hear Kart's case on Oct. 23.

Meanwhile, the targets of the corruption probe which inspired the cartoon have been allowed to walk free. The message is clear: in Turkey, corruption is not a crime - but criticising it is.

Freedom of information: How it works in Norway

While we're all wailing and gnashing our teeth about the corruption of our Official Information Act, the Open Government Partnership has a great piece on how Norway does it better. Key to their approach is proactive publication of the metadata of all government documents, down to the lowliest email:

Norway’s Freedom of Information Act cuts across state, county and municipal governments. It interfaces with the Archives Act and Noark [the Norwegian Archival Standard] by requiring administrative agencies to keep and publish a register of metadata daily to an online access portal, the Offentlig Elektronisk Postjournal (OEP). The OEP, a central access point for government information, enables users to search all records across government for a given issue and make requests easily and rapidly. Anyone, anywhere in the world can request access to records through the OEP. See

Under the Act, government documents, including email, are available for access as soon as they are produced, received or transmitted by a central government agency unless there is a legal restriction. About one fifth of the records, classified for security reasons, are not listed in the register. Agencies have five days in which to respond to information requests, via the OEP or direct to the agency. They provide the documents by email, fax or regular mail, normally within two to three days.

By the end of 2012, the OEP contained over five million registry entries published by 105 government agencies. It processed about 20,000 information requests a month: 50% from journalists (50%), 28% from citizens and businesses, 21% from public employees and 3% from researchers.

The Government is considering the possibility of providing direct access to full text documents through the OEP to make administration more open and transparent and enable government agencies to work more efficiently. There is significant potential for linking records to data to support data traceability and enable reliable Open Data.

The result is that people can see what the Norwegian government is doing virtually in real time.

I would like to see such a system (and Norwegian response timelines) here. But can we really imagine any of our political parties standing up for our democratic rights and volunteering to make themselves more accountable to us? It would be like turkeys voting for christmas - they won't do it unless we force them to.

[Hat-tip: Andrew E]

National lets Shell drill illegally

Back in 2012, National passed the Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf (Environmental Effects) Act. At the time, they made a lot of noise about how this was the first legislation to properly protect the EEZ, and that it would lead to a higher level of protection than the existing Continental Shelf Act. So, have they actually enforced the law? Yeah, right:

Shell Todd Oil has drilled two wells off the coast of Taranaki without marine consent, the Green Party says.

Official Information Act (OIA) correspondence between the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) and the Greens -- released to the media tonight -- show the EPA inspected the company's Maui oil wells in May this year.

The authority concluded that in two instances Shell Todd Oil Services Ltd (STOS) did not comply with Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) regulations.

"[T]he two activities are considered to be in breach of section 20 of the EEZ Act and were undertaken without a marine consent," the EPA said in a response to OIA questions from the Greens.

Breaching s20 is a strict-liability offence carrying a penalty of a $10 million fine. But National seems to have just let that slide for its mates in the drillign industry. The message is clear: the law applies only to little people, to us peasants. Under National, corporate criminals get a free ride.

Justice for Nisour Square

On September 16, 2007, Blackwater mercenaries ran amok in Nisour Square, Baghdad, indiscriminately firing at civilians. 17 people were killed and 20 injured. Today, a US jury has convicted them of that crime:

Three security guards working for the private US contractor Blackwater have been found guilty of the manslaughter of a group of unarmed civilians at a crowded Baghdad traffic junction in one of the darkest incidents of the Iraq war.

A fourth, Nicholas Slatten, was found guilty of one charge of first-degree murder. All face the likelihood of lengthy prison sentences after unanimous verdicts on separate weapons charges related to the incident.

The weapons charge alone carries a 30-year sentence. OTOH, courts in other Iraq war crimes cases have been reluctant to impose serious sentences even for cases of outright murder. Failure to do so again will simply reinforce the need for an international court to provide justice for America's victims.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Auckland's disturbing panopticon

Earlier in the month, we learned that Auckland was planning to install a creepy panopticon, complete with ANPR and facial recognition, for vague and undefinied purposes. This produced a flurry of OIA requests via FYI, and one of them (for advice from the Privacy Commissioner) has come back. The picture it paints is disturbing. According to the Privacy Commissioner,

  • Auckland Transport is unclear about the purposes of the surveillance and what it will be used for;
  • want to share the cost with police, which raises the spectre that police are using AT to install a city-wide ANPR network by the backdoor;
  • have some entirely innocuous uses for it e.g. counting queues at traffic lights to adjust light phasings, detecting pedestrians so they can trigger a crossing;
  • want to use ANPR to collect trafic statistics. You can use it for traffic time statistics simply by logging the time it takes for a vehicle to pass between two points, but this raises privacy concerns if the data is retained. Worse, they want to use it to monitor traffic-flow "e.g. 10% of cars leaving from point A travel to point B; 30% travelled to point C etc" which raises more serious concerns, since it is actively tracking people's movements;
  • they also want to use ANPR to prevent non-residents parking in resident's parking areas; something which raises very serious privacy concerns (since they're matching vehicles to where people live).

The widespread use of ANPR raises real concerns, and while there are some good uses for it (and traffic-flow stats sound pretty useful), it hinges crucially on how long data is retained for. If data is immediately anonymised ("car1", "car 2" etc) or dumped the moment a vehicle passes the next point or within an hour, its fairly harmless. But if its retained for any longer than that, then what we really have is a widespread databasing of innocent people's movements. And once it exists, it will be used for other purposes - not just by police (who already request camera info, will request ANPR data if it is collected, and already pressure e.g. telecoms companies to retain data for longer than necessary to facilitate access), but by others. The idea of council staff using ANPR to track the movements of their abused partners, or selling the information to debt-collectors, or leaving it open to hackers to exploit and poke through at will is a nightmare. But its what will happen if we collect this. The best way to protect our privacy is not to collect information in the first place, and to destroy it the moment its purpose has passed.

Judith Collins' two-tier OIA service

Back in August, we learned that sewerblogger Cameron Slater was receiving extraordinary OIA service from then-Minister of Justice Judith Collins, in one case receiving a response to a request within 37 minutes. But it wasn't just extraordinary for its speed; from OIA records OIA'd via FYI, it appears that Slater's OIA requests were not even logged.

According to 3News, Slater's afterhours OIA for a letter the Minister had only just received was handled on December 21, 2012. Here's the relevant section of the logs:

Slater's OIA request doesn't appear. Which is highly unusual and suggests it was handled outside the normal process.

Slater's 37-minute OIA doesn't appear either, but two similar requests do:

(Thanks to @LostArcNZ for the excerpts and the legwork)

Neither matches either the final request - for correspondence since August 2012 - or the date of response: 12 February 2013. Its possible that the first request could be the relevant one, but then you have to ask why Collins' staff put the wrong response date in.

What's going on here? It's pretty clear Collins was operating a two-tier OIA service: one for the public (official, logged, slow), and one for her pet sewerblogger (unlogged, lightning fast, with special tips on what to request and likely distorted release decisions). That's a gross abuse of power as a Minister, and to the extent that she politically profited from it, a corrupt use of official information.


This week we've seen the Prime Minister desperately trying to cover up his war plans by pretending that Obama's war-planning meeting was just a "regular" meeting of defence partners which we just happened to be attending. Over on Kiwipolitico Pablo has already told us why this is bullshit, and last night the Chief of Defence Force effectively said the same:

The Chief of Defence and the Prime Minister have been caught at odds as they prepare to send troops into Iraq.

Lieutenant General Tim Keating has admitted a meeting he attended with US President Barack Obama about the war against Islamic State was extraordinary. That's despite John Key claiming it was regular.

Lt Gen Keating was in Washington DC for a meeting of military chiefs, with Mr Obama taking charge.

"The President arriving is not regular; it's quite an extraordinary event," says Lt Gen Keating.

But then he tries to cover for the PM by saying that the NZDF had no clue that Obama would be attending. Which isn't exactly credible either. This isn't some surprise visit to a children's hospital; its a planned diplomatic event. And if our Chief of Defence Force isn't aware of what's happening at the events he's going to, then he shouldn't be representing us at them.

Are the police using ANPR to target the disabled?

The media this morning is full of stories of the paralysed man caught driving using a walking stick to reach the pedals. Its good that he's off the road, but there's one point in the story which raises questions:

The driver was caught at an automatic number plate recognition checkpoint this morning.

He had held a learner licence since 2002. He also had two passengers, neither of whom were licensed to drive.

So why was he in the ANPR database? Did he have a prior record of dangerous driving (which might justify inclusion), or are the police automatically classing disabled drivers as dangerous and databasing them as such - in which case there's a serious discrimination issue? I think we deserve some answers on this, and fast.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Security Council and free trade

Last week, New Zealand won a seat on the United Nations Security Council. And over the weekend the New Zealand business community made it clear what they wanted from the position:

A business director says New Zealand's new seat on the UN Security Council will help push free trade agreements through more quickly.

New Zealand's ten-year campaign to win a two-year seat on the body came to fruition yesterday in New York.

The Foreign Affairs Minister, Murray McCully, said having a place on the Security Council will enable better discussions on trade with other countries.

Grant Thornton Consultancy's tax director Greg Thompson said this would help advance free trade deals.

How? The UNSC doesn't have jurisdiction over trade. The only way this is going to happen is if New Zealand corruptly abuses its new position - a position we should be exercising to protect world peace - in order to gain benefits for ourselves. This would be deeply unethical, and the fact that the New Zealand business community is proposing it tells us everything we need to know about their lack of ethics.

National's failure on housing

A year ago National passed the Housing Accords and Special Housing Areas Act 2013. In his speech introducing the bill, then-Housing Minister Nick Smith laid down some clear targets:

It is an ambitious agreement, and sets out a plan to consent 9,000 homes in the first year, 13,000 homes in the second year, and 17,000 homes in the third year. That will have us consenting three times as many homes over the next 3 years as have been consented over the last 3 years.

Its now been a year since the bill was passed, so how many houses have actually been built under it? Five. And according to the Herald, the total number of consents issued is 294. The government is making excuses about this being a long-term project, but whichever way you look at it, they've failed to meet the targets they set for themselves. Which makes you wonder whether those targets had any basis in reality, or whether they were just chosen to sound good in a speech.

Monday, October 20, 2014

John Key on Iraq: A timeline

No New Zealand forces to Iraq, says Key. Stuff, 18 June 2014:

Prime Minister John Key has ruled out sending special forces soldiers to Iraq as the United States mulls options in response to the unfolding crisis there.

Speaking in New York, Key said the New Zealand Government was looking at what humanitarian aid it might provide as tens of thousands of Iraqis have been displaced by a violent takeover of parts of the country.

He said it was high unlikely New Zealand would put "boots on the ground" in Iraq in terms of combat troops.

"We're not a country out there looking for a fight," he said.

PM ponders NZ role in fight against Islamic State, TVNZ, 29 September 2014:
The Prime Minister is seeking advice as to how, and if, New Zealand could help out in the fight against Islamic State terrorists.

The United States hasn't specifically come to New Zealand for help - although John Key admitted that's likely to be because National is only in caretaker government mode.

He says he's just "being cautious" by seeking further advice and anything beyond humanitarian support is something the government would have to "carefully consider".

Key: SAS could join Isis fight on ground, New Zealand Herald, 30 September 2014:
Asked whether he would send military personnel if requested, Mr Key said: "I can't rule out that there won't be because what you can see around the world is countries being asked to give support."

As far as sending SAS personnel, Mr Key said: "I can't rule that absolutely out, but what I can say is that I'll get advice and we'll see how that goes, but it would be my least preferred option."

SAS in Iraq unlikely - Key, 3 News, 13 october 2014:
Mr Key told Radio New Zealand this morning that while he was reluctant to rule any type of involvement in or out at this stage, a combat role was unlikely.

"As to the SAS physically going into a combat role up against the ISIS... I would have thought that would be at the very outer edge of what we'd be wanting to do," Mr Key said.

Islamic State fight: PM ramps up talk of troops in Iraq, Stuff, 20 October 2014:
New Zealand troops could soon be following their Australian counterparts to Iraq to train Iraqi security forces, with Prime Minister John Key confirming that was "definitely an option".

At this rate, we will Always Have had Troops In Iraq by the end of the month.

New Fisk

With US-led strikes on Isis intensifying, it’s a good time to be a shareholder in the merchants of death

National doesn't care about crime by the rich

National likes to make a lot of noise about benefit fraud. Meanwhile, they've buried a report into the social costs of economic crime:

At the beginning of last year the then Minister for the SFO, Anne Tolley, was reported as saying that a number of Government ministries had been working for two years on a report quantifying the cost of economic crime and it would be presented to Cabinet in the near future.

But the report did not make it to Cabinet and was not released.

Radio New Zealand obtained a draft copy of the SFO's report under the Official Information Act. The methodologies that would have made it possible to calculate the total costs were redacted.

However, Radio New Zealand has also obtained a copy of the report with the estimated costs of the various types of economic crime included - which put the total cost of economic crime at between $6.1 and $9.4 billion.

To put this in perspective, in 2006 Treasury estimated the total cost of all crime in New Zealand at ~$9.1 billion (this includes about a billion for fraud). So, fraud by the rich costs us about the same as all the burglaries, drug deals and murders combined.

Its easy to see why National buried this. Tax fraud costs us ~$2 billion a year. White collar fraud across the private sector costs us ~$3.2 - $5.1 billion. These activities are carried out overwhelmingly by National's donors and cronies, and are vastly larger than the ~$80 million of estimated welfare fraud. Keeping us in the dark reduces the risk of being held accountable for this failure, reduces the pressure for them to act against their friends, and allows them to focus on kicking the poor. And if the cost is that the state is robbed of the sort of revenue which would allow it to end child poverty, well, they don't really care about that.

New kiwi blog

On The Left - a collective of lefties.

Habemus Parliament

So, a month after the election, we finally have a Parliament. Good. meanwhile, people seem to be noticing that the associated ceremony - white wigs, fancy dress, oaths of allegiance to a foreign monarch - isn't very kiwi (and tomorrow, with its "black rod", will be even worse. Seriously, the "gentleman usher" sounds like a Buffy villain). Wouldn't it be nice to have ceremonies which reflected the values and constitutional realities of modern New Zealand, rather than C18th Britain?

One of those value clashes is the oath. MPs are required to swear allegiance to the queen and her successors. This causes problems every year with MPs who believe it is more appropriate to swear allegiance to the Treaty of Waitangi, or the constitution and people of New Zealand rather than a foreign millionaire. Our Parliament's way of handling this recently - effectively to ban all dissent - is simply white supremacist bullshit, a denial of our diversity and our democracy. It has to change. The quicker we do away with this colonial, feudal relic, the better.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Treasury cherry-picks its data

Yesterday we learned that Treasury didn't like food-in-schools. And now we know why: because they cherry-picked their data to support their preferred conclusion of leaving the poor to starve:

A report behind Treasury advice that said school breakfast programmes did not work, says the programmes may need to be used more, to get better results.

The Treasury cited an Auckland University study done in 2010 which showed that children's participation in breakfast programmes did not result in higher school attendance or achievement.

But the study also showed there was a significant decrease in children's hunger and that more frequent attendance of the programmes may be required to influence attendance and achievement.

Treasury document did not include these findings in its report to the Government.

This is intellectually dishonest. But its also another example of the deterioration in public service values under National. Public servants are supposed to be professionals, giving robust and unbiased free and frank advice. Treasury clearly isn't. They're a department of hacks, telling the government what it wants to hear (or, alternatively, serving their own right-wing ideological agenda). And that's simply not acceptable in our public service.

TPPA would criminalise journalism

Wikileaks leaked the latest version of the TPPA intellectual property chapter last night. There's some nasty surprises from the US, including its efforts to revive the defunct Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement by the backdoor and its efforts to ensure poor countries fighting, say, ebola can't violate patents to save lives and prevent an epidemic (because in American eyes, the profits of big pharmaceutical companies come before human lives). But there's another nasty sting: the TPPA would criminalise investigative journalism:

The draft text provides that TPP countries will introduce criminal penalties for unauthorised access to, misappropriation or disclosure of trade secrets, defined as information that has commercial value because it is secret, by any person using a computer system.

TPP countries may criminalise all such disclosures or, if they wish, limit criminal penalties to cases that involve "commercial advantage or financial gain"; are directed by or benefit "a foreign economic entity"; or are "detrimental to a [TPP] party's economic interests, international relations, or national defence or national security."

There are no public interest or free speech exemptions. Criminalisation of disclosure would apply to journalists working for commercial media organisations or wherever the leak was considered harmful to the "economic interests" of any TPP country.

Unmentioned: it also criminalises leaks which are detrimental to a party's international relations or international security. So, the US is trying to US the TPPA as a backdoor to silence WikiLeaks, the Snowden files, and the entire enterprise of journalistic criticism of power.

The TPPA was bad enough when it was merely a secret deal being negotiated against our interests. But now its actively anti-democratic as well. Which I think shows us the danger of allowing our governments to negotiate such deals in secret: because we may find out at the end of it that they've signed away our democracy.


As everyone already knows, New Zealand has won a term on the UN Security Council. I'm less than overjoyed by this. Why? For the simple reason that I do not trust our government to do the right thing in the position.

National has made it abundantly clear over its six years in office that its primary foreign policy goal is to crawl as far up America's arse as it possibly can. They've sent kiwi soldiers to Afghanistan to die in a pointless American war, and they're lining up to do the same for Iraq. They're fully committed to the Five Eyes mass-surveillance agenda, despite the UN finding that it violates international human rights law. They support American drone strikes, and American foot-dragging on climate change (something the US military thinks is an immediate threat to global security).

National will not change that goal simply because they have been elected to the UNSC, so rather than the independent voice the world voted for (and which they sold us as), they'll be getting an American patsy. The result will be bad for the world, and worse for our foreign policy. We've spent decades building that reputation for independence; its the only thing our mana-based foreign policy has. And National is going to piss it all away for some transitory international prestige and a chance to be a better boot-licker for their foreign masters. And we'll be paying for that betrayal for decades to come.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

ECan puts cows before people

Disturbing news from Canterbury: according to Green MP Eugenie Sage, ECan's dictators are planning to lower drinking water-quality standards to allow more dairy expansion - at the cost of poisoning the drinking water supply:

Environment Canterbury (ECan) is proposing several variations to its regional land and water plan that will allow for increased nutrient and other pollution from irrigation and intensive agriculture on the Canterbury Plains. Commissioners are hearing submissions on Variation 1 to the proposed Land and Water Plan and I popped along to listen.


ECan’s proposed plan variation for the Selwyn-Waihora catchment allows for a major increase in nitrate pollution in shallow groundwater – up to 8.5 mg/l of nitrate-nitrogen. This is more than half what the World Health Organisation considers acceptable for drinking water and breaches the targets in the Canterbury Water Management Strategy (CWMS) as Dr Humphrey noted. ECan’s limit is not precautionary. It will allow nitrate levels to get too close to the unacceptable maximum for drinking water and prevent prompt remedial action such as changes in land use to reduce leaching.

Nitrate in drinking water can cause significant health effects including blue baby syndrome.

Basically they're putting cows before people, proposing a permanent contamination of groundwater (which people in Canterbury drink from) to allow more cows. A tiny minority of dairy farmers will make more profits, while the people of Canterbury will pay for it in water treatment costs and dead children.

That's what capitalism means under National: destroying our environment, and supporting the Mighty Cow on the backs of everybody else.

No wonder National destroyed Canterbury's democracy: because the people of Christchurch would never have voted to poison themselves for the enrichment of the few.

Protecting journalistic privilege in the UK

Recently we've learned that UK police have been abusing anti-terror laws to uncover journalists' sources. Now, the UK government is moving to end the practice:

Police will be banned from using anti-terrorism powers to monitor journalists’ telephones under plans to be detailed today by Theresa May.


Her intervention over police powers comes after it emerged that officers twice invoked the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (Ripa) to access the phone logs of reporters to identify the sources of stories.

Under a new code of practice to be published within weeks, officers will have to demonstrate they are investigating a serious crime and may have to get permission for the move from a judge.

Its a welcome move - and one we need to duplicate here. Currently, the police can seize a journalist's phone records, stored emails and text messages simply with a production order signed by a JP, and there's no recognition of journalistic - or even legal - privilege. And we have no idea how often they're doing it, because they don't even bother to count. While this is a useful investigative tool, the safeguards are clearly insufficient. Parliament needs to tighten them.

John Key's contempt for our democracy

John Key has admitted what we all knew: that his government delays OIA requests for its own political purposes:

Mr Key has always maintained that when it comes to requests for official information, his ministers act within the law.

But he has now revealed a strategy which appears at odds with that.

"Sometimes we wait the 20 days because, in the end, Government might take the view that's in our best interest to do that," he said.

And meanwhile, it uses the OIA as a backchannel to deliver dirt to its sewer-bloggers with a 20-minute response time...

The Ombudsman has pointed out that this is illegal. Responses must be made "as soon as reasonably practicable", with 20 working days as an upper limit. The government's political interests are not part of that calculation. But there's no penalties for non-compliance, and systematic government underfunding means that they won't even get a stern letter from the Ombudsman until a year after the fact. Which is why today's news is full of what should have been 2013's scoops: because the government has manipulated the process designed to hold it to account.

How do we fix this? Removing the current government is an obvious first step. But we can't rely on politicians to behave lawfully and with respect for our democracy out of the kindness of their hearts. So we need an Ombudsman's office with real funding and real teeth, backed by a law with criminal penalties where politicians have conspired to undermine our right to know.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

An example of the problem

How much contempt do National Ministers have for the OIA? Paula Bennett ignored an Ombudsman's ruling to hold back information that made the government look bad until after the election:

The advice [on child poverty] has finally been released under the Official Information Act after Radio New Zealand made a request in May last year. It took a complaint to the Ombudsman's Office to force former Social Development Minister Paula Bennett to release the information - but even then she managed to delay the release until after the election.

So much for the public duty to release once the Ombudsman has ruled...

But then, its no wonder, because the advice shows MSD blatantly ignoring their own findings to recommend what they believe the government wants to hear. It shows a department which has sacrificed its professionalism and surrendered its duty to provide free, frank and fearless advice - in the process tainting itself and compromising its ability to serve future governments. This destruction of public service values happens for one reason: because Ministers bully their departments. Its no wonder therefore that Bennett wanted to cover it up until our chance to hold her accountable had passed.

But what's worse is that Bennett is now Minister for State Services. So instead of bullying and compromising a single department, she now gets to bully and undermine all of them. So we can expect a lot more of this sort of shit in future.

Australia has the right idea on tax cheats

Australia has a problem: big corporations cheating on their taxes. So, the Australian Senate has asked them to front up and explain to Australians why they shouldn't pay their fair share:

Forty of Australia's biggest companies will be asked to explain their tax affairs to a Senate committee investigating corporate tax avoidance.

Companies shown, in a recent report, to have the lowest "effective tax rate" over the past decade and to operate the most subsidiaries in tax havens have been given the chance to outline their tax strategies before the committee decides which corporate leaders to call in to appear before public hearings.

The Senate can subpoena witnesses and committee chairman Sam Dastyari has vowed to use that power if the inquiry encounters resistance from big business.

Companies that will be invited to explain their persistently low tax contributions, according to the report, include shopping centre company Westfield, building products firm James Hardie, motorway group Transurban, Sydney Airport, Telstra, SingTel and Echo Entertainment, owner of Sydney's Star casino.

And suddenly, tax cheating has a reputational cost, and voters can see exactly what sort of selfish pricks do it.

I would love for our Parliament to do the same. But can you really imagine a National government hauling its donors and cronies before the Finance and Expenditure Committee to explain why they're laundering their money in the British Virgin Islands? No, I can't either. Because our government is on the side of the tax cheats, not us.

The failure of the Ombudsman

The Ombudsman released their annual report today, and its dismal. Yes, they've worked enormously hard, receiving 1,207 OIA complaints and completing 1,623 - more than twice as many as they are funded to handle. But they utterly failed to meet their timeliness targets, closing:


They also note that they had a significant decrease in complaints about unreasonable delays and deemed refusals. Given those timeliness stats, I can understand why: there's just no point anymore. It takes so long for the Ombudsman to notice a complaint and send that polite letter telling an agency to comply with the law that you might as well not bother, because even the most foot-dragging agency will respond first.

This is what happen when you fund your watchdog agency for only two-thirds of the workload it usually receives: it can't cope, and people lose faith in it. And that faith, once lost, is extremely difficult to get back.

The simple fact is that if the Ombudsman receives ~1200 OIA complaints a year, they should be funded to process that many. Because the cost of not processing them is agencies and Ministers running riot, and the public learning that the law is a joke. And that's not good for our democracy. Sadly, it is very good for those Ministers, which is why the problem has been allowed to fester for so long.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Something special?

Is this John Key's "something special"?

New research from Massey University shows the affordability of homes nationwide has dropped by 11.4% over the past 12 months and is likely to decline even further by year's end.


Even worse news, The Home Affordability Report found the situation is expected to deteriorate, with mortgage rates set to rise. It's compounded by a decline in the national average wage in 10 of the 12 regions surveyed.

Unaffordable houses, declining wages, ordinary kiwis being squeezed and locked out of the kiwi dream. But landlords and property investors (including a large number of National MPs) are raking in the cash, and that's all National cares about.

American "justice"

This came over my Twitter feed this morning:

The full motion is here, and its an appalling story of the state ignoring the rulings of its own courts to continue to imprison a man without conviction. I'm just absolutely boggled that this could be allowed to happen in a modern state.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Apparently, NZ has a terror level

And its just been raised from "very low" to "low" because John Key is terrified he doesn't look tough enough in the "war on terror":

New Zealand's national threat level in response to risk posed by foreign fighters and Isis has gone from "very low'' to ''low'' Prime Minister John Key said this afternoon but the Government will advance ''urgent'' law changes in response anyway.

Mr Key said Cabinet had today approved terms of reference for a a review of settings in relation to ''foreign terrorist fighters''.

Key has finally admitted that terrorism is already illegal, but claims that it is too difficult to gain a conviction (note: there have been no trials, or even charges, so his empirical basis for this claim is zero). So we're going to have new laws limiting freedom of movement and creating new criminal offences because our police and spies are too fucking lazy to do their jobs properly, and the Minister in charge of them is too fucking lazy to do his and say "no".

(Image stolen from @megapope)

More rotten cops

Last week it was cops in Timaru who unjustifiably tasered a man and perjured themselves; this week its like something out of The Shield: covering up for cops who stole drugs from evidence:

Waikato police covered up the existence of a corrupt cop who stole drugs from a police station evidence safe.

The theft is believed to be the reason a Black Power gang member changed his guilty plea in a drugs case in 2011.

But it was only after the Waikato Times approached police following a three-month investigation that Waikato police district commander superintendent Bruce Bird last week admitted the incident occurred.


More than 70 officers - past and present - were interviewed from Huntly and Ngaruawahia police stations in the Waikato incident. No one was charged, the case remains unsolved and the police officer involved may well be still serving on the force.

The failure of police authorities to be open about what occurred at the time angered a police source who said it was hushed up to protect the police's reputation.

Because that strategy worked so well for the Catholic church, didn't it?

This is a case of outright corruption: a cop stole these drugs either to feed their habit, for money, or specifically to sabotage the case against a gang-member. Either is deeply concerning. But if that's going on in our police force, we need to know, so we can do something about it. Keeping it secret stops us from doing that, and potentially allows corruption to spread. But it protects police management from accountability for their failure, which is all that seems to matter to them.

Something to go to in Auckland

The annual Bruce Jesson lecture is this Wednesday, and this year its ecologist Mike Joy on the topic of "Paradise Squandered; New Zealand’s Environmental Asset Stripping":

New Zealand’s lakes, rivers and most of our groundwater are in a critical state. Decades of misguided regulation and a free-for-all on diffuse pollution have encouraged agricultural intensification and driven our increasing reliance on imported feed and fertiliser.

The inevitable consequences have been devastating environmental impacts as well as increasing economic and biosecurity risks.

The solutions are many but require a paradigm shift; a move away from dependence on imported feed and fertiliser to keeping nutrients on farm and adding value to products, and strong leadership to move away from short-term thinking that accepts the massive ecological debt we are running up.

When: 18:30 Wednesday 15 October

Where: Maidment Theatre, Alfred Street, University of Auckland

And for an example of the problem, here he is on Nine To Noon this morning talking about how the Ministry for the Environment is misleading the public about water quality in our lakes and streams - another example of policy capture by the farming industry.

New Fisk

Beware of the role of the laptop in our addiction to politics and war

MPI's policy capture is now a threat to public health

New Zealand is currently being swept by an epidemic of severe gastroenteritis which has seen at least 127 people ill and 38 hospitalised. So, is our food regulator, the Ministry of Primary Industries, naming names so products can be withdrawn and more people don't get ill? Yeah, right:

Canterbury medical officer of health Dr Alistair Humphrey said a report from Environmental Science and Research (ESR) last Monday identified bagged lettuce and carrots from one particular supermarket chain as the source of the bug.

"Everybody involved in this work, including MPI, ESR, all the public health units and the Ministry of Health, have seen the results of the ESR study, which is quite clear. It is unequivocal and it does name the types of food that have led to this problem and it also names one particular product."

MPI had asked public health officials to keep the products and the supermarket's name a secret, he said.

People's lives and health are at risk here. And MPI is still more concerned about protecting the profits of supermarkets and suppliers than it is about our health.

As Dr Humphrey points out, this highlights the big problem with MPI: we think they're a regulator, but they think they're there to promote the industry. They've been totally captured by the industry they're supposed to be regulating. That's bad enough when they're blocking progress on clean water or climate change, but in this case, where people's lives and health are directly at risk, its appalling.

We're not Americans. We expect our regulators to protect us, not launch cover-ups for industry. MPI needs to name names - after which it needs to be thoroughly cleaned out and its staff replaced with those who work for us, not farmers.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The GCSB has been using our embassies as spybases

Last night, The Intercept leaked the NSA's "core secrets" - or rather, the list of classification keywords covering them. While the descriptions are intentionally vague, they're still illuminating - especially the ones marked as relevant to New Zealand. Here's what the GCSB is up to with the NSA:


In other words, we're assisting the NSA to hack other country's computer systems - effectively waging covert warfare on their behalf.


This is probably stuff like TEMPEST, or equivalents, designed to extract electronic data by trace emissions from the hardware it runs on. It is unclear whether the GCSB helps position and run these sensors, or merely that they are cleared to know about them.


This one is uncontroversial: the decent, honest work of cracking codes.


And the explosive one: according to the NSA, they and the GCSB use our embassies as spybases to snoop on host countries - a violation of diplomatic privileges and the sort of thing which ruins diplomatic relationships. Exactly where isn't stated, and it won't be even in the associated classification guideline (which from the main article, The Intercept probably have too). But its only a matter of time before some enterprising journalist starts looking at what we've got on the roof of our embassies in China, Malaysia and Fiji and publishing photos of any funny-looking antennae or odd shacks. And then there'll be a shitstorm. Thanks, GCSB!

Friday, October 10, 2014

10/10: World Day Against the Death Penalty

Poster_12th World Day

Today, October 10, is the world day against the death penalty. Out of 195 UN member states and observers, 95 still have the death penalty on their books - though fewer than half of them apply it in practice. Today is the day we work to change that.

This year the focus is on the use of the death penalty against the mentally ill. Despite it being illegal under international law (and indeed under the domestic law of all practicisng death-penalty states) to execute the mentally ill, it still happens with disturbing frequency and in the US there is even a practice of forcibly medicating the insane in order to make them competent for execution. This is cruel and inhumane, and serves no just purpose, and it needs to be stopped immediately.

A mansion tax for New Zealand?

Scotland has just exercised its devolved taxation powers for the first time, replacing stamp duty - a tax on all house sales - with a "mansion tax": a higher tax on expensive ones. Which raises the obvious question: why don't we do this here?

Labour proposed a capital gains tax, but it sunk at the polls in the face of a sustained fear campaign. Its probably a non-starter for next term. So why not simply make it transparently about sticking it to the rich, and tax those insanely inflated house-prices in Auckland?

According to REINZ, 368 houses sold for more than a million dollars last month - about seven percent of the total. Taking ten percent of that would raise roughly half a billion dollars annually to spend on health, education, and housing for ordinary kiwis. Setting the threshold at a million would ensure that most kiwis would never have to pay it (you could introduce a lower, progressive rate at $750,000 - well above the national median house price - but that would mean it was widely paid in Auckland).

A mansion tax would raise revenue from those most able to pay by taxing a social bad. What's not to like?

Thursday, October 09, 2014

We need more transparency from our telecommunications providers

A couple of days ago Twitter announced that it was suing the US government for the right to publish proper details of the demands for user data and communications it has received (or not received from them). Which caused Vikram Kumar to ask why there wasn't such transparency reporting in New Zealand:

Why aren’t we seeing similar moves here? Why aren’t New Zealand service providers publishing transparency reports to show how many government requests for user information they get?

I’m not aware of any law or practice that prevents them from publishing annual or six monthly transparency reports. But there may well be so if anyone is aware of a law, regulation or standard practice please put it in the comments.

Transparency reports are about aggregate numbers broken up into meaningful categories. They don’t interfere with law enforcement operations or privacy.

Its not entirely true; Vodafone included partial statistics on New Zealand interception warrants in its Law Enforcement Disclosure Report. This revealed that the New Zealand Police had gained 34 interception warrants for Vodafone's network in 2013. Subsequent media work forced Telecom to admit it had handled about 40 interceptions over the same period. However, this is well short even of the 104 interception warrants declared by police in their annual report [p. 109], let alone SIS and GCSB warrants. And it does not include any information on production orders for access to metadata or TXTs. The latter is potentially a widely-used intrusion (so wide that its used to track sleeping drivers), but not even the police count them. Which suggests that our telcos and ISPs certainly should.

More rotten police

There's an Independent Police Conduct Authority report out today about a case in Timaru, and its deeply disturbing. Police went to a house in Timaru in response to a report of domestic violence. Despite being told to leave, they entered the house, but did not find anyone in danger. They then invaded the privacy of people in the bathroom, and when they were told to leave again, tasered and pepper sprayed one of them. They then charged him with assault and perjured themselves in court in an attempt to gain a conviction, with the full knowledge of prosecutors and their superior officers. The prosecution was unsuccessful, and the judge was very clear that the police had exceeded their lawful authority.

The IPCA hides all this behind the anodyne headline of "Timaru officers failed to follow good policing practice during potential domestic incident". I'd call it something different: trespass, assault with a weapon, aggravated burglary, perjury, and attempting to pervert the course of justice.

There are apparently employment and criminal investigations underway into the staff involved, but we know how that will turn out: the police will whitewash the whole thing (as they've already done once already), everyone will keep their jobs, and nothing will be done. And that's simply not good enough. There should be no place in our police force for officers who disregard the law and abuse their powers to assault people. And there should definitely be no place for officers who lie under oath on the witness stand. Those officers, and the officers who enabled and conspired with them, need to be treated like the uniformed criminals they are and prosecuted to the full extent of the law.