Monday, February 29, 2016

Last chance? Hardly

With the public rejecting his vanity flag project, John Key is now resorting to threats, declaring that this is our "last opportunity" to change the flag:

The current referendum on New Zealand's flag will be the last opportunity Kiwis have to make a change unless the country becomes a republic, Prime Minister John Key says.


If Kiwis did not vote in favour of change now, they would not get another opportunity until New Zealand became a republic, which Key believed would not happen during his lifetime.

"Last chance" is a common pressure sales tactic used by shysters like Key to force people to buy something they don't really want - but in a democracy, there's always another chance. And I'll take the chance of a future better flag over John Key's shit one any day.

Rather than a last chance, this referendum is the start of a conversation. Its seen a lot of people think about what sort of a flag they want, and what they'd accept. And while Key's "independent" panel strapped the chicken and gave him exactly what he wanted, we saw a genuine alternative bubble up from the grass roots to make it into third place, ahead of two of the choices imposed on us by Key's "experts". Once Key's National Fern is consigned to the dustbin of history, we can continue that process, and see what else bubbles up. And next time, whether driven by a shift to a republic or an independent push, hopefully we'll get a chance for a genuine choice, rather than a strapped chicken referendum aimed at endorsing the Prime Minister's personal preference and giving him a "legacy".

Its their country too

Over the weekend, Winston Peters emitted one of his regular racist blurts, this time demanding that voting in the flag referendum be restricte donly to citizens:

Thousands of immigrants who are not New Zealand citizens should be barred from voting in the flag referendum, NZ First leader Winston Peters says.

Speaking in Whangarei on Saturday, Peters denied his view was discrimination, saying no other country allowed "outsiders" to make decisions about their national identity.


As with general elections, permanent residents who are 18 years or older and who have lived in New Zealand for at least one year continuously at some point are eligible to enrol and vote, along with New Zealand citizens.

But to point out the obvious, they're not "outsiders": permanent residents live here and so have a stake in our society. It's their country too! And that's why they get to vote. The alternative is that we have a large class of people who have a stake in our society, but are legally excluded from making decisions about it - and that's neither democratic nor reasonable.

Housing NZ colludes to deny the right to bail

Radio New Zealand reports on the disturbing practice of the Police, Corrections, and Housing New Zealand colluding to block bail requests:

Housing New Zealand is standing in the way of poor people getting home detention or being bailed to state houses even when they have no other options, lawyers say.

Police and Corrections are also being criticised for alerting Housing New Zealand to bail applications when they would not do the same with private landlords.

A person is more likely to be locked up - whether they've just been charged or already convicted - if they cannot find an address to go to that is acceptable to the court.

Judges ask police and probation what they think about an address, and they in turn have been making a habit of asking Housing New Zealand what it thinks.

What's wrong with this? Where to start? To point out the obvious:
  • It is inconsistent with the tenancy rights of Housing New Zealand tenants. They're allowed house guests or boarders, and Housing New Zealand doesn't get to vet them. So, they're violating their tenancy agreements with their tenants and acting as despots.
  • It is prima facie inconsistent with Housing New Zealand's duties under s24(b) of the Bill of Rights Act, which states that everyone charged with an offence "shall be released on reasonable terms and conditions unless there is just cause for continued detention". While this is normally the duty of the courts and police, as an arm of the executive, Housing New Zealand must also act so as to give effect to this right. Pretty obviously, its not.
  • It may also be inconsistent with the right to be free from discrimination on the basis of employment status or disability, insofar as it results in those groups (or people with relatives in those groups) receiving worse treatment from the courts as a result of Housing New Zealand practices.
And all of these are legally actionable and potentially impose significant liability on the government. And those who have been victimised by this collusion need to sue, because clearly state agencies won't obey the law (and common decency) unless they're taken to the cleaners whenever they break it. We have enshrined the right to bail to prevent the innocent from being unjustly imprisoned while their cases are resolved. Innocent people have almost certainly spent time in jail because of Housing New Zealand's actions, and they need to be compensated. But most importantly, this practice needs to be stopped immediately and those responsible for it sacked. Because apart from being unlawful, it is simply plain fucking wrong to discriminate against the poor in this way because they or their relatives are recipients of state assistance, and to use that fact as leverage to effectively impose a harsher punishment than others would receive.

New Fisk

Returning to the scene of a war crime: amid the vile slums of Sabra and Shatila, hope glows
State-of-the-art technology gives President Assad’s army the edge

Charter schools are a rort

Surprise, surprise - it turns out that three-quarters of National's charter schools are failing, but they'll all be paid their bonuses anyway:

The four remaining charter schools which opened in 2014 have all been paid a performance bonus despite three not meeting their targets.

Documents released to the Labour Party under the Official Information Act show that Education Minister Hekia Parata approved the payments - 1 per cent of the school's budget - on advice from the Education Ministry and Charter School Authorisation Board.

The payments total around $60,000 and were made to Vanguard Military School, Terenga Paraoa, the Rise UP Academy and South Auckland Middle School.

The "justification" for charter schools is that the financial incentives on private providers, the risk of not getting paid if they fail to deliver contracted-for services, and the possibility of getting bonuses if they do well, will produce greater performance. But what we're seeing here is the same problem we saw with Whangaruru school: the Minister has an incentive not to admit failure. And that means that schools get bonuses even if they are failing, because to do otherwise requires the Minister to admit that she made a mistake. The net result: the victims of these schools get a poor education, a failure which will cost us millions in the long-term, while their fatcat private providers laugh all the way to the bank. It's a rort, pure and simple. But its also a potent reminder of why we should never privatise services.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Government propaganda on the TPPA

Having signed a "trade deal" in secret with no public mandate, the government is now compounding its abuse by spending $500,000 on "promoting" it to the public:

Figures released to ONE News by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Trade reveal officials have budgeted $495,000 for a series of 16 roadshows and hui across the country.

It works out at $23,750 per meeting and MFAT says that will cover venue hire, accommodation, transport and other costs. The remaining cash will cover other communications about the TPP.

MFAT says it is preparing to accommodate several hundred guests in the Auckland, Christchurch, Dunedin and Wellington events. It said registrations "are tracking well" but didn't respond to a request for exact numbers.

But what's the purpose of these roadshows? The TPPA doesn't impose new obligations on citizens, or make us eligible for new entitlements. And to the extent that it does - for example around extended copyright terms, or reduced access to pharmaceuticals - those changes will of course be the subject of their own advertising campaigns when they occur. Instead, this money is being spent to convince voters that signing the TPPA was a good idea, that the government made a good political choice, and that we shouldn't hold National accountable at the ballot box for it. And that's not "raising awareness"; its government propaganda!

Its also of questionable legality. The guidelines for government advertising are spelled out in the Cabinet Manual. The short verison:
Government advertising should deal with matters in which the government has direct responsibility. The objective of the advertising may be to:
(a) inform the public of proposed/new/revised/existing government policies;
(b) inform the public of government services available to them;
(c) advise the public of new/revised/existing entitlements or responsibilities;
(d) encourage the public to adopt certain kinds of social behaviour generally regarded as being in the public interest (eg road safety advertising)

The only one of these objectives this campaign might fit is (a), and that's tenuous; instead, as noted above, it seems to be primarily about political justification, which is not an acceptable use of public funds. The Auditor-General should investigate, and no money should be spent until it has their approval.

The solution to Auckland's housing problem

Phil Goff has (a significant chunk of) the solution to Auckland's housing problem: turn the Remuera golf course into new homes:

Auckland mayoral candidate Phil Goff is eyeing the Remuera Golf Course as a possible site for thousands of new houses.

He wants the sale of the Auckland Council-owned land to be discussed, and he doesn't care that the Prime Minister plays there.


Developers say the land could be used for up to 8000 houses and apartments if the entire 200ha-plus area was made available, easing the city's chronic shortfall of about 30,000 homes, the Herald reported last year.

The golf course is public land, but not public space. Instead, the rich have exclusive use of it, for which they pay a peppercorn rent and are effectively subsidised $16.5 million a year. A combination of low-income housing and public parks would be a far better use for that land. Alternatively, if the uber-rich want to continue to keep it for themselves, they should be made to purchase it.

ACT's "proud green history"

This morning's joke: ACT is trying to talk up its environmental credentials:

Act wants the green vote - arguing its ideology is the best bet to save the environment and the party's proud green history has been ignored.

Leader David Seymour, who as a child was a member of the Kiwi Conservation Club and successfully campaigned for aluminium recycling at Whangarei's Maunu Primary, said it irked him that Act's environmental credentials weren't better recognised.

"We just maybe haven't done enough jumping up and down like the Greens. We have had the sausage and they have had the sizzle."

Right. This would be ACT, the party that advocated farming kiwi. ACT, the party which wants to repeal the RMA and leave the environment defenceless. ACT, the party which supported digging up our national parks. ACT, the party which was identified as the biggest barrier to reducing carbon emissions and whose climate change policy was (until late last year) that it wasn't happening and that they shouldn't do anything about it even if it was. If this is a "proud green history", I'd hate to see one they're ashamed of.

ACT is not interested in saving the environment. Rather, at every opportunity they have argued for its unmitigated destruction for the private profit of the few. If there was a party for orcs, it would be ACT.

Thursday, February 25, 2016


The first rule of the "war on terror"? You're not allowed to criticise the "war on terror":

A puppet show at an open square in Madrid during Carnival festivities this month featured a policeman who tried to entrap a witch. The puppet officer held up a little sign to falsely accuse her, using a play on words that combined Al Qaeda and ETA, the Basque separatist group.

Angry parents complained, and the real police stepped in. They arrested two puppeteers, who could now face as much as seven years in prison on charges of glorifying terrorism and promoting hatred.

Which you'd think rather proves their point: that anti-terror laws are being used for witch hunts. But they're not the only case. Last year Spanish authorities brought 25 cases under this law - ten times more than they did when Spain faced an actual terror threat from ETA - and convicted nearly everyone. And in this case, they're very obviously doing it not to punish the "glorification" of terrorism or public expressions of support for terrorists, but to punish those who raise questions about the "war on terror" and the abuse of the law. Just another example of how America's war has metastasized and now threatens democratic values.

Auckland's decisions are for Auckland II

And while we're on the subject of local democracy, the government appears to be threatening Auckland if they vote for the "wrong" mayoral candidate:

[Bill English] also sent a coded signal he was concerned about the impact of the Auckland local body elections, and the possibility former Labour leader Phil Goff would win the mayoralty.

"It is my hope that election year in Auckland won't affect the positive relationship between central government and Auckland city, developed in recent years."

This simply isn't acceptable. Who Auckland elects is a decision for Aucklanders, and central government shouldn't be using threats to try and alter the result. And if I lived in Auckland, I'd be voting for Goff, just to give the finger to English.

Auckland's decisions are for Auckland

The big news today is Auckland's planning debacle, which saw the Auckland Council suddenly withdraw support for urban intensification (and an increase in housing supply) when faced with intense pressure from ageing boomers wanting to protect their lifestyle by maintaining a (highly profitable, for them) artificial housing shortage. Normally, this wouldn't concern me - I don't live in Auckland, and I'm not enthused by urban planning. But what does concern me is the suggestion that the government could or should respond by dissolving the Auckland Council and appointing a Canterbury-style dictatorship.

To point out the obvious, that would be undemocratic. What Auckland looks like is properly a decision for Aucklanders and their elected council, and no-one else. If Wellington doesn't like those decisions, they just have to suck it up - because the decisions are not Wellington's to have an opinion on, let alone to make. As for Aucklanders, if (like many) you are appalled by this decision, then there's an election in October. Your vote is a weapon; use it.

More beatings in Australia's gulags

In February 2015, refugees in Australia's Manus Island concentration camp in Papua New Guinea went on hunger strike to protest against their treatment. Australia's response? Send its paid thugs to beat them, leaving some with lasting injuries:

Asylum seekers have also alleged that they were beaten by private security guards during an operation to end a January 2015 Manus Island hunger strike, and have told Fairfax Media in a series of letters that they were jailed in the nearby Lorengau police cells for up to 21 days.

Leaked files from Broadspectrum, the company contracted to run the Manus Island and Nauru centres, support some of the claims of injury and placement in the police cells.

The company's files show detainees sought medical treatment after complaining of nerve pain in their arms, which they claimed was the a result of having their wrists tightly bound by plastic restraints during the hunger strike.

One detainee wrote in a letter that he was kicked in the head by security guards while he was in the Lorengau police cells and was left shirtless during his 21 day stint in the cells. Another said the cells were filthy and that "the toilet sewage would come to where we slept".

An Iraqi asylum seeker has claimed in a letter that he was beaten about the head with a stick by security staff, resulting in damage to his eyesight and the loss of teeth.

Beating people because they peacefully protest against their treatment is not the action of a peaceful and democratic state. Instead, its the action of a tyranny. And that's what Australia's racist, anti-refugee policies are gradually turning it into: a country which uses torture and oppression and threatens to jail those speaking up about it.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Still underfunding the watchdog

The Government Administration Committee has completed its annual review of the Office of the Ombudsmen, and thinks it is still underfunded. After noting high caseloads, a backlog of complaints and the chilling effect that is having on possible complainants, they go on to say:

Given these metrics, we asked why the Chief Ombudsman stated in the media that the Office does not need more resources. She clarified that the Office has never had enough resources, but that it must do the best with what it has and seek to increase efficiencies where possible.

We commend the Office for the difficult and important work it does, on its progress in reducing staff workloads, and on its Continuous Practice Improvement strategy to increase the quality and efficiency of its work. We also note the extensive changes, restructuring, and renewal within the Office during the past decade to modernise its operating model and practices to match its expanding mandate and functions. Nevertheless, we believe the Office is under-resourced and over-worked, and would benefit from additional resources.

They don't suggest an actual figure, but when faced with a (former) Chief Ombudsman who was clearly cowed by government austerity into not asking for any more money to ensure that she could do her job properly, that's not surprising. Hopefully though the committee will follow this up with the new Chief Ombudsman and find out what is required. The overall budget for the office ($10 million) is pocket change on a government scale, so it shouldn't take that much money to make a significant difference.

New Fisk

On the front line with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards battling outside Aleppo

National's failure on human rights

Amnesty International released its State of the World's Human Rights 2015/16 report today, and the news for New Zealand isn't good, with criticism both of our role in the US's global spying network, and for our poor treatment of refugees:

"The evidence that pointed to New Zealand security services being involved in full-take collection in the Pacific particularly, are extremely concerning," Amnesty NZ chief executive Grant Bayldon said.

"Mass, indiscriminate surveillance can never meet human rights standards."

New Zealand also copped a slap over its "token" refugee intake.


"New Zealand's own announcement to take an emergency intake of 600 Syrian refugees over three years was a welcome and life-saving response but didn't come anywhere close to doing its fair share in the global refugee crisis.

The time has passed for token gestures, New Zealand must take its global responsibilities seriously," he said.

There's more there as well: our policy of detaining refugees in prisons alongside criminals, our systematic discrimination against Maori, the ban on prisoners voting and the impact of our terrible child poverty rate on children's rights to housing, food, health care and education are all noted and criticised. The question now is whether the government will respond to that criticism by acting on these problems, or whether it will continue to degrade our human rights by ignoring them. Sadly, I expect the latter.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The obvious question

John Key, Post Cabinet Press Conference, May 18, 2015 (referring to Rachel Glucina's Herald smear of the victim of his serial sexual harrassment):

Yeah no I had nothing to do with that...

Text message from Rachel Glucina to John Key, April 22, 2015:
just interviewed the waitress. Piece of work! Massive political agenda

So, if John Key had "nothing to do" with it, why was Glucina sending him status updates on the smear? It'd be great to see some journalists ask him this at his next standup.

Official by default

Last week, the Ombudsman ruled that the Prime Minister should release communications between him and sewer-scraper Rachel Glucina over his serial sexual harassment and bullying of a cafe waitress. Today, the Ombudsman released their formal case-note of the case, and there's some interesting features which are worth highlighting.

Firstly, on confidentiality, the Ombudsman reiterates that protection applies to information supplied to the government, not to information supplied by it. So, what journalists say to Ministers might be protected, depending on the circumstances - but what Ministers say to journalists probably isn't. And while that's a "might", its a pretty narrow one, because its a two-legged test: not only must there be an express or implied obligation of confidence (rather than just a chummy assumption that no-one will ever find out), there also has to be a real risk that release would prejudice the supply of such information in future. And on the latter point, the Ombudsman notes that journalists are "more aware than most" of the OIA and the principle of availability - an implicit suggestion that it is unlikely to be seen as prejudicing future communications. To which I'd add that the fact that it is a journalists job to talk to Ministers would weigh heavily against a finding of prejudicing future supply.

Secondly, the hat game. Its common for Ministers to try and dodge tricky questions by claiming that they were wearing a different hat and acting in their capacity as a Member of Parliament rather than as a Minister. Key's office tried to do this, after the fact, but the Ombudsman shut that down because he had already accepted responsibility. But more importantly, he goes on to say that

In the absence of any evidence that it was received by the Prime Minister in any other capacity, the Chief Ombudsman concluded that it was held in the Prime Minister’s capacity as Minister of the Crown and, as such, the OIA applied.

In other words, Ministers can't just assert that they were acting as an MP rather than a Minister - they need to prove it. The presumption now is that Ministers are always acting as Ministers, and the information they hold is official by default.

Papua New Guinea gives up on the death penalty

Papua New Guinea is one of many states which retain the death penalty on their books, but does not ever apply it. But for the past few years, their government has been pushing to start executions, even voting in 2013 to expand its application to new crimes. Nut now, they've officially given up on those plans:

The reactivation of the death penalty in Papua New Guinea is looking less likely, after Prime Minister Peter O'Neill decided to hold off on the reforms indefinitely.

The PNG government has been actively pursuing a return to capital punishment for some time, mainly in response to the outcry over sorcery related violence and violent attacks on women.

As recently as February 5th, Attorney-General Lawrence Kalinoe indicated that 13 prison inmates on death row had exhausted all avenues of appeal, and were likely to be executed before the end of the year.

But PNG's tough stance actually began to shift last year, with the government mindful of the bad publicity surrounding the execution of two Australians in Indonesia, and subsequent pressure from religious leaders and non-government organisations.

Its good news, but they can obviously do better, by permanently repealing the death penalty from their books and joining the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to outlaw it forever.

New Fisk

The untold story of the siege of two small Shia villages - and how the world turned a blind eye

Thieving employers should be prosecuted

Radio New Zealand reports that employers are stealing their employee's KiwiSaver contributions:

Tens of thousands of workers are missing millions of dollars from their KiwiSaver accounts because their employers have failed to either pass on payments docked from their pay, or pay their own employer contributions.

Figures obtained by RNZ News show Inland Revenue is chasing thousands of employers for $29.3 million in outstanding payments and penalties that have accumulated since the retirement savings scheme was launched in 2007.

At the end of June 2015, 1663 employers had failed to pass on $15.3m in KiwiSaver payments deducted from their employees' own salaries to the IRD.

IRD views this simply as a tax issue to be handled by negotiation. But it seems to me to be an open-and-shut case of theft by a person in a special relationship (previously "theft by a servant"), which carries a penalty of seven years imprisonment. And that's the case regardless of whether the money is repaid or not. So why aren't they prosecuting?

Monday, February 22, 2016

Gearing up for a whitewash

For decades, UK police engaged in undercover spying on peaceful political protesters. They used false names and led double lives, established long-term relationships under false pretences, fathered children and then disappeared from their lives. But they didn't just ruin people's lives with their personal behaviour and deceit - they also spied on their critics, encouraged crimes and perverted the course of justice - fortunately, resulting in acquittals.

The UK is (of course) holding an "independent" inquiry into this. But the police are demanding that all significant evidence be heard in secret and hidden from the public:

Police are to apply for sweeping legal orders to have large parts of a judge-led public inquiry into the controversial conduct of undercover officers held in private.

The Metropolitan police are arguing that significant portions of the inquiry must sit in secret in order to protect the undercover officers who have infiltrated hundreds of political groups since 1968.


But in a detailed legal submission last week, the Met said it wanted to be clear “at the outset” that it would be “applying for much of the detail of past or current deployments” to be considered in the absence of the general public and those who were spied upon. Five barristers hired by the Met said it is likely that “in the overwhelming majority of instances” the Met will argue that “the fact of, or details of an undercover police deployment” must not be disclosed in the open sessions of the inquiry. Nothing that identifies an undercover officer should be made public, they added.

This will also have the side-effect of preventing any new revelations of police wrongdoing - very convenient for the establishment, but it would absolutely defeat the purpose of the inquiry. And as with the establishment whitewash into torture, victims should respond by denying the inquiry legitimacy, and refusing to cooperate unless all evidence is heard in public. Anything less is simply inviting yet another whitewash.

A complete waste of money

The government is currently cutting health spending. Meanwhile, it plans to spend $11 billion over the next ten years on new toys for the defence force:

Simultaneously, a government that’s willing to slash the health system is planning to spend $11 billion dollars in the next ten years on new gear for our Defence Forces. That’s not a misprint. The scale of the Defence spend-up over the next decade is truly stupendous. As yet, it simply has not sunk in with the general public just how much they stand to lose in order to keep the military in the manner to which they have become accustomed.


The money will be spent on new frigates, new cargo planes to replace the C-130 Hercules and new surveillance aircraft to replace the Orions. That cost by 2025 will be three and a half times more than the most fanciful MFAT estimates of what the TPP will deliver us by 2030. How on earth can John Key be talking about tax cuts in 2017 when this country is facing a state spending programme of this magnitude?

And most of these toys are absolutely irrelevant to our real defence needs, let alone the NZDF's stated priorities of "cyber threats and terrorism". It is, by any measure, a complete and absolute waste of money. And to do it while slashing health spending is simply monstrous.

(Cyclone Winston is showing us what we actually need: a long-range plane with a camera in it to do initial damage surveys, and a basic airborne cargo hauler like the C-130 to deliver aid afterwards. High-tech airbone ASW platforms, Globemaster jets to fly non-existent tanks around the world, and dedicated ASW and anti-air warfare vessels are not what we need to do, let alone what we want to do. But NZDF isn't interested in our actual needs; rather they're interested in prestige and getting us involved in other people's wars through "interoperability" (which is just prestige by another name). And if we want to stop them, we need to do to the navy what we did to the airforce: gut it).

New Fisk

The story of a teacher evicted from Raqqa illustrates so much about the conflict in Syria
On the road to Aleppo – where people have abandoned all in the shadow of Isis

Pillaging our rivers again

Since coming into office, pillaging our rivers has been a major focus for National. They turned Canterbury into a dictatorship so they could give its fresh water to farmers, established deliberately weak "national bottom lines" of rivers that will make you sick so they could keep on polluting, even tried to let Regional Councils trash one river provided they improved another until the Environment Court stopped them. And now they're back for another go, with a package of Next steps for freshwater released over the weekend.

The Herald has seized on the proposal to fine farmers who let their stock intrude into waterways. But while its good to have the principle established, the fines are paltry: $100 per head with a $2000 maximum will not provide a real incentive for a multi-million dollar business to improve its behaviour. And given the general lack of enforcement on this issue, farmers are likely to think they can dodge the fine anyway. In other words, its just a pure PR exercise.

Meanwhile, while they're pretending to crack down, they're really doing the opposite. There's a proposal to "clarify" what it means to "maintain or improve water quality", which is simply an attempt to overturn the Environment Court's ruling outlawing offsets. And they're trying to stack the process on Water Conservation Orders to allow the Minister to just ignore applications and to make them subject to regional plans (which of course are set by and for farmers). The net result will be to open up protected rivers for exploitation, while reducing protection in the future (meanwhile, Nick Smith is trying to pretend its all about protecting iwi interests - but that stuff can very obviously be done without weakening WCOs, and it should be).

Despite its spin, National is not interested in protecting our rivers - they are interested in draining them dry and filling them with cowshit. If we want clean water, we will need to elect a government which will deliver that - and that means someone other than National.

Friday, February 19, 2016

A deal only for the rich

John Key is in Australia, and the Herald is trumpeting the "deal" he's made to allow kiwis there a pathway to citizenship. Except when you look at it, its not that good a deal:

Thousands of Kiwis who arrived in Australia after it tightened its immigration rules in 2001 will now be given an easier path to seek Australian citizenship under certain conditions.

If they earned A$53,000 over five consecutive years ($57,000) between 2001 and today, they will eventually be able to apply for permanent residence and eventually apply for citizenship.

Unfortunately I haven't been able to find a good time series of Australian median earnings, but you can get an idea of the problem by looking at household incomes and wages. On household earnings, Key's deal would exclude anyone living in the bottom 30% of households, and a lot more in higher percentiles if they are in two-income households (see table 1.2, income per week at top of selected percentiles). On wages, the threshold is set just below the 2012 average wage (which remember will be much higher than the median) - but significantly higher than the average earnings for women. So, basicly, Australia will only welcome you if you're rich and male. If you're poor, a woman, took time out of the workforce to raise a family, or if you moved to Australia as a child and haven't entered the workforce yet, you're shit out of luck, there's no possibility of citizenship or residency for you, and you're under permanent threat of deportation.

But hey, Key gets to announce another fabulous "deal" (like the TPPA, remember how great that was?), while Australia gets to keep a captive workforce of kiwi peons with no rights. Everyone's a winner! Except kiwis in Australia who needed our government to actually stick up for them.

More dictatorship on Nauru

Since it decided to host a concentration camp for Australia, Nauru's democracy has descended into a dictatorship. They've evicted the opposition from Parliament, censored the internet, and banned journalists from entering, all in an effort to prevent criticism of Australia's policy. And late last night, they suddenly revoked all visitor visas to the country. The reason?

(That tweet was rapidly deleted, but saved by @timsenior)

Its like a small child having a tantrum, except this is a country, and they have custody of almost five hundred refugees, who they have basicly declared to be beyond the protection of the law. Which actually makes all this secrecy rather scary. If everything was fine on Nauru, then they would have no reason to fear scrutiny.

New Fisk

Syrian soldiers on the Latakia Front finally taste the fruits of victory – but they know Isis is not dead

Open Government: Failure

The Open Government partnership's Independent Reporting Mechanism report on New Zealand is out. And as expected, it exposes the failure of the government's participation in the OGP:

One year into implementation, the New Zealand IRM report finds that the government’s action plan largely consists of programmes that were already underway, and were not primarily designed to improve open government practice. While OGP encourages governments to develop commitments around already existing programmes, under OGP rules the programmes are supposed to stretch practice and set more ambitious targets. The report found little evidence that this had happened.

A director of Transparency International New Zealand told the IRM researcher IRM that New Zealand’s action plan contains “low-hanging fruit – in fact it has already fallen off the tree”. By contrast, the action plan does not address any of the problems with official information laws currently causing controversy: the practice of charging for official information requests, the operational problems highlighted by the Ombudsman’s office, or last year’s High Court ruling that the government’s response to requests for information about the Trans Pacific Partnership was unlawful.

Furthermore, OGP requires that action plans be jointly created by government and civil society. However, the report also found that the public consultation leading up to the action plan was very limited, and that most of the feedback received was ignored. Many people interviewed for the report described it as a “box-ticking” exercise.

The full report is here. In addition to criticising the government's mockery of a consultation process, it also assesses the government's OGP commitments - described by SSC as "extremely ambitious" - as having only minor impact and limited implementation (with some on schedule and some behind). And in response to this lack of ambition, it suggests some ideas for our next action plan (which we're meant to be developing now and implementing from July), based on the consultation feedback the government ignored. The top five are:
  • Reform of the official freedom of information laws;
  • Creation of public consultation guidelines for new bills, regulations and policies;
  • Regular, standardized, technically independent “state of the nation” reporting on social policy and the environment;
  • A clear cross-government policy to allow public servants and those receiving public funding to speak out on significant public issues without facing any form of retaliation
  • Political party funding reform to increase transparency around donations and Parliamentary revenues.
It will be interesting to see how the government responds to this international criticism: whether they accept that they have failed and commit to doing a better job this time, or ignore it and continue merely going through the motions without any real commitment to open government. Sadly, based on their past practice, I predict the latter.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

More Australian racism

How racist is Australia? They deny indigenous Australian MPs the right to use their own languages in their own Parliament:

A Northern Territory Aboriginal Minister has been denied permission to freely speak in her first language of Warlpiri in Parliament.

The failed request from Local Government Minister Bess Nungarrayi Price came after the central Australian MP was warned over disorderly conduct after she interjected in a parliamentary debate in Warlpiri, prompting NT Speaker Kezia Purick to declare that "the language of the assembly is English".

"Should a member use a language other than English without the leave of the assembly it will be ruled disorderly and the member will be required to withdraw the words," Ms Purick said in Parliament last December after receiving complaints from Labor MPs about Minister Price's Warlpiri interjection.

Late last week — in part prompted by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull speaking an Aboriginal language in Parliament during his Closing the Gap address — Minister Price wrote to the Speaker challenging the Parliament's interpretation of its standing orders.

The Speaker refused the request, claiming that providing translators would be costly and the the Parliament followed the (racist, colonial) practice of all other Australian Parliaments in requiring business to be transacted only in English. Which is pretty much what racists here in New Zealand argued when people wanted to speak te reo in Parliament. But the use of indigenous languages in parliaments isn't about cost - its about dignity, about recognising that indigenous peoples are citizens and that their languages are valuable and have a role in public life. In New Zealand, we now have simultaneous translation, and te reo has become a regular part of our Parliamentary debate. Sadly, Australia still seems to be stuck in the colonial age.

The TEC and whistleblower protections

Yesterday at select committee, the Tertiary Education Commission revealed that tertiary institutions had rorted it for $28 million. They also said that they couldn't protect whistleblowers who tipped them off to this fraud:

Mr Cunliffe also asked if the commission could protect whistleblowers who alerted it to potential fraud.

Mr Spencer replied that it could not.

"We're not their employer. We can give them protection in terms of what's available under the legislation but we couldn't say to the employer 'now don't sue them'. We can't do that, we don't have that ability," he said.

Mr Cunliffe later told RNZ News it was not good enough and the commission must do more.

"I would like to see them make a public commitment that if a whistleblower came forward to them that they would offer to treat them in confidence," he said.

Cunliffe clearly hasn't read the Protected Disclosures Act 2000. Section 19 of the Act requires agencies receiving a protected disclosure to treat it in confidence. If the TEC isn't doing this, they're breaking the law.

And they're not the only ones. According to the article, "a whistleblower who alerted the commission to proven problems at a tertiary institute was now being sued for bringing it into disrepute". Section 18 of the Act grants immunity from such suits. The Act also effectively forbids sacking whistleblowers, though the ability to take a personal grievance suit for unlawful dismissal is a fairly weak protection. And if whistleblowers exposing fraud in the tertiary education sector are being persecuted, it suggests that existing protections are not strong enough. In Australia it is a criminal offence to retaliate against a whistleblower. That seems like a really good idea.

A useful precedent

Remember ponytailgate? Prime Minister John Key repeatedly bullied and sexually harassed a cafe waitress, then when his pet dirty politics smear operative Rachel Glucina expose the victim as punishment for speaking out, publicly denied any involvement. Oddly though, when asked about it under the OIA, he clammed up, refusing to release any information because "it is not the practice of the media team or the Prime Minister to divulge details of the communications with journalists".

Well, it might not be the practice, but its the law, and (having lodged a request of my own specifically to generate an appealable refusal) I now have the Ombudsman's ruling to prove it. The key lines:

Further, the Ombudsman rejected the use of s9(2)(a) (privacy) and s9(2)(ba) (confidentiality) in this case, and noted that even if they had applied, they would have been trumped by the public interest. In my case, that means I get to know whether Key had communicated with Glucina about pony-tail pulling incident or victim (the answer to which, from the Ombudsman's ruling, appears to be "yes"). As for the original requester (who had complained as well), this should mean that they will be receiving the content of that communication shortly.

As for the supposed consequences on the relationship between Ministers and journalists, there's exactly zero public interest in protecting the ability of the powerful to smear using media proxies. And if Key is so ashamed of his contact with Rachel Glucina that he will blatantly ignore the law to avoid admitting it, maybe he shouldn't talk to her in the first place.

More injustice

Three years ago, then-Minister of Justice Judith Collins tossed away any pretence of justice over David Bain's case for compensation by throwing out an independent report on the issue because she didn't like the conclusions (and just to prove the point, leaking dirt to a sewerblogger in a further effort to smear the applicant). That caused a court case, and the government having to start the entire process from the beginning with yet another independent expert. And now that they've reported back, some of their conclusions have been leaked to the Herald, in what appears to be yet another attempt to undermine the case for compensation.

I don't actually have an opinion on David Bain's guilt or innocence - crime news bores me shitless. But I do have strong views on how the government should treat applications for compensation, and this is simply appalling. In fact, you almost have to ask whether Bain deserves compensation for the prolonged government campaign to undermine his bid for compensation...

Meanwhile, this is once again showing the problems with having politicians involved in approving compensation for miscarriages of justice. The obvious solution is to remove them from the loop, and replace the current system of ex gratia payments with a statutory one, so that people who are wrongfully convicted are automatically compensated. And if the politicians don't like the prospect of someone who is potentially guilty receiving a payout, maybe they should focus their efforts on reforming the police, so they actually do their jobs properly, rather than seeking to further punish the victims of their injustice.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Austerity kills

The British government has been slashing social services budgets, throwing the disabled off benefits, cutting health funding and cutting meals on wheels to the elderly, all in a mad pursuit of austerity. And its had the expected results: once-falling death rates are now rising, as the poor are starved to death or humiliated into suicide:

Government cuts to social services could be the “largest factor” in the biggest annual rise in deaths in England and Wales for nearly half a century, according to an adviser to Public Health England.

The new preliminary figures, from the Office for National Statistics, claim that mortality rates last year rose by 5.4 per cent compared with 2014 – equivalent to almost 27,000 extra deaths. The increase is the highest since 1968 and took the total number of deaths in 2015 to 528,340.

Death rates in England and Wales have been steadily falling since the 1970s but this trend has been reversed since 2011.

This of course was an obvious outcome of the cuts, but the Tories went ahead and did it anyway. There's a name for knowingly pursuing a course of action which will kill people: its called "murder". And it sounds like the Chancellor of the Exchequer should be charged with 27,000 counts of it.

New Fisk

Damascus remains a war zone - but some families are returning

OIA charging: Who charges for OIA requests?

Back in January, the Reserve Bank announced a new policy of charging for OIA requests. This focused attention on the anti-democratic practice of charging, especially given an upcoming review of the charging regime by the Ministry of Justice and former Chief Ombudsman Beverley Wakem's suggestion that more agencies charge, so I thought I should gather some data to establish a baseline. As a result, I submitted OIA requests to every public service department seeking information on the number of requests they received, the number of times the demanded charges, the number of times they paid, and the amount collected.

Responses were due back on Monday and are collected here. The short version:

  • Out of 7,991 OIA requests made to 26 responding agencies, at least 30 attracted charges, a rate of about 0.4%. When Customs is excluded, because they are definitely an outlier, the rate is at least 4 out of 7373, or 0.05%.
  • Two agencies - the Ministry for Primary Industries and the Department of Conservation - claimed that they had no idea how often they charged, and that they would have to look through every OIA request to find out. This is indicative of poor record keeping and poor financial control procedures.
  • Two agencies - Corrections and the Ministry for the Environment - did not respond at all. Complaints have been lodged with the Ombudsman, and hopefully I'll be hearing from them soon.
  • 30% of agencies responded more or less immediately, within 5 working days of the request.
  • 30% of agencies took over 15 working days to respond to a simple request for data from their annual report. Which makes you wonder how committed they are to the OIA's "as soon as reasonably practicable" standard.

(I also surveyed the Reserve Bank, which previously had charged for one out of 51 requests, a rate of ~2%)

And now that we've established a baseline, we'll be able to see how charging practices change in response to the Ministry of Justice review and Ombudsman's advice. Though hopefully we'll see enough pushback from the media and requesters to make agencies conclude that the reputational damage from being routinely painted as secretive and anti-democratic simply isn't worth it.

PR-driven policy doesn't solve homelessness

Back in September, Social Housing Minister Paula Bennett promised she would end Auckland's homelessness crisis by spending an extra $2 million on emergency housing. Six months on has she done it? Of course not:

Government funding aimed at injecting more money into emergency housing and making more homes come available in January is still yet to be spent.

Social housing minister Paula Bennett said back in September that the Government would invest $2 million in non-government organisations for short-term emergency housing.

However, a tender process was being followed and requests for proposals had been submitted, the minister's office confirmed.

Negotiations were underway with social housing providers and support services. A decision would then be made as to where the money should go to.

Meanwhile, while she's faffing about, people are sleeping in cars and in parks. In a decent human being, that would be a cause for urgency, to solve this crisis as quickly as possible. But Bennett clearly doesn't see it as urgent, or a crisis. Instead, like so many other National policies, it seems to have been driven solely by PR considerations. The goal of the policy isn't the outcome, but the announcement; to create the perception of action rather than actually acting. But that only works as long as no-one looks behind the curtain to check up on whether it gets followed through. And now that the inaction has been exposed, we should be a lot more cynical about such announcements in future.

Open Government: Someone worse than us

One of the highlights of my poking into New Zealand's participation in the Open Government Partnership has been having to go to the Ombudsman to gain access to documents SSC should have released publicly to build trust in the process. But it could be worse: in Spain, they're having to go to court to see the results:

The Spanish government has launched a court case against Spain’s Transparency Council to challenge a decision that it should release documents relating to the implementation of Spain’s two Open Government Partnership action plans.

In November 2015, Helen Darbishire, Executive Director of Access Info Europe, secured a ruling from the Transparency Council that the Ministry of the Presidency should make public reports from Ministries about progress being made on Open Government Partnership commitments.

In its ruling, the Transparency Council argued that documents about Spain’s open government activities cannot be exempted as being “internal” because they are being used as the basis for taking decisions and hence are central to ensuring accountability.

The Ministry of Presidency launched the court case to challenge this and to keep the OGP-related documents secret in January 2016. The Transparency Council will defend the case and Access Info will participate as an interested party.

Spain is on the same OGP calendar as us, so getting those reports would have been part of checking their Mid-Term Self-Assessment. And going to court to cover them up speaks volumes about Spain's attitude to open government and its commitment to transparency.

Meanwhile, the OGP Independent Reporting Mechanism's review of New Zealand's OGP progress so far should be going online sometime within the next two days. I'll be looking forward to reading it.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Britain stands on the wrong side of history

Over the past decade, Israel's actions in Palestine have become so repulisve that a global movement has formed to boycott them. And it's been effective - not in crushing the israeli economy, but in eroding Israel's legitimacy and international support for its crimes. So, Israel's friends in the British Conservative party have a simple solution: make it illegal:

Local councils, public bodies and even some university student unions are to be banned by law from boycotting “unethical” companies, as part of a controversial crackdown being announced by the Government.

Under the plan all publicly funded institutions will lose the freedom to refuse to buy goods and services from companies involved in the arms trade, fossil fuels, tobacco products or Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.

Any public bodies that continue to pursue boycotts will face “severe penalties”, ministers said.

Senior government sources said they were cracking down on town-hall boycotts because they “undermined good community relations, poisoned and polarised debate and fuelled anti-Semitism”.

But while this is framed as being about Israel, its not just about them. The arms, gambling and tobacco industries are major targets for ethical investment policies. And there's a huge global movement to divest from the fossil fuel industry to combat climate change. And like the Israeli boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, these campaigns have been effective in de-legitimising those industries, building public support, and making real change possible.

And the Tories want to over-rule local democracy to outlaw this. In other words, they want to force local bodies, universities, and government pension funds to support Israel, give people cancer, sell guns, and destroy the planet, regardless of what their voters and stakeholders think. Which just shows how far they'll go to protect their corporate and foreign cronies.

More British hypocrisy on the death penalty

The UK has had a long-term policy of opposing the death penalty, but under the Tories that policy is being eroded. The Foreign Office dropped abolition of the death penalty from its global goals, and they are carefully ignoring Saudi Arabia's mass executions so they can sell them more guns. And now they've hit a new low, with the British National Crime Agency helping to put two men on death row in Thailand:

The National Crime Agency secretly assisted the Royal Thai Police with a controversial murder investigation that put two Burmese migrants on death row despite government rules designed to stop British law enforcement contributing to capital punishment convictions overseas.

BuzzFeed News can reveal that mobile phone evidence handed over by officers from Britain’s elite crime-fighting force played a central part in the prosecution of Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo, who were sentenced to death on Christmas Eve for the murders of British backpackers David Miller and Hannah Witheridge in Koh Tao.

The Foreign Office has previously expressed grave concerns about allegations that the two Burmese men were forced to confess under torture and a spokesman said after the verdict that it “opposes the use of the death penalty in all circumstances and we have made this position clear to the Thai government”.

British police are prohibited from supplying evidence to foreign authorities who still use capital punishment without written assurances that suspects will not be sentenced to death — unless they have ministerial permission.

But sources close to the case and documents seen by BuzzFeed News have revealed that the National Crime Agency (NCA) passed on the information linking the Burmese suspects to the crime “verbally” without seeking any written assurances that it would not be used to sentence them to death, and the evidence became a crucial part of the prosecution. The two men, both 22, are appealing their death sentences and claim they were framed by the Thai police and coerced into confessing during severe beatings.

This isn't just contrary to policy - its also fairly explicitly contrary to the UK Human Rights Act and the ECHR, which effectively forbid legal cooperation in death penalty cases. But its pretty clear that the UK no longer cares about that. And as for those NCA officers, they're no different from people who knowingly supply a weapon for murder. Under their own law, that makes them guilty of murder, and they should be tried for it.

Let them come to New Zealand

John Key is off to Australia this week for regular talks with Malcolm Turnbull. And while its been unreported in New Zealand, according to the Sydney Morning Herald, he's offering to take Australia's latest refugee PR disaster off its hands:

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key has opened the door to accepting 37 asylum seeker children destined for Nauru, offering a solution to the current immigration standoff through a deal he struck with former prime minister Julia Gillard.

Speaking ahead of a meeting with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull this week, Mr Key said it was "potentially possible" for New Zealand to accept any genuine refugees from Australia under the agreement.

Mr Key said it had originally been made because it was "sensible and compassionate".

The context: two weeks ago, Australia's High Court found that offshore detention was lawful, clearing the way for 267 refugees - including 72 children, 37 of whom were born in Australia - to be deported to Nauru. The decision has led to protests across Australia, to State Premiers announcing that the refugees are welcome in their state, to hospitals refusing to discharge refugees to prevent their deportation, and to churches and other groups openly declaring that they will provide sanctuary to refugees. This is a tipping point in Australia's attitude to refugees (Australians apparently being willing to tolerate offshore gulags only if they are illegal), and it threatens to destroy the Australian governments vicious policies. So naturally, John Key is stepping up to help out. Its the humanitarian thing to do, but there's a nasty feeling he's doing it to help keep Australia's racist and inhumane policy in place.

Of course, Key is merely repeating the same offer he made to Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott. And there's a reason why both refused it: because they view New Zealand not as a place where people might want to live, but merely as a stepping stone to Australia. Those 37 Australian-born kids could live here, become New Zealand citizens, then move to Australia! And when your whole policy is founded on a promise that no refugees will ever pollute Australia's fair white shores, and a view that having a well-founded fear of persecution and thus being entitled to protection is somehow cheating, the trans-Tasman travel arrangement seems like a backdoor (of course, this would require people to choose a country which had rejected them over one which had welcomed them - but like Americans, Australians believe their filthy, racist shithole is the greatest, and can't believe that anyone might not want to live there). So, while I hope Turnbull will accept Key's offer, and let us save those 37 kids from Nauru, I don't think its likely.

Monday, February 15, 2016

The Reserve Bank's OIA charges

Back in December, the Reserve Bank imposed a new policy of charging for OIA requests. So where did it come from? Someone used FYI, the public OIA request system, to ask. And the response is illuminating.

Firstly, there's a discussion note for the bank's Senior Management Group advocating charges. There are a couple of notable features. Firstly, the decision to impose charges is explicitly framed as a response to "greater public interest, because the Bank has been more active in the regulatory and policy space". Its also an explicit response to certain (and named) regular requesters, who for some reason the bank does not want to answer. Its also rooted in the bank's right-wing economics: the idea that if something is free, people will use it. The idea that a public agency might want public scrutiny or that it might be a core part of the bank's accountability to the public is not considered. Neither, of course, is the democratic cost of imposing charges.

Buried in there there's also some disturbing definitions. The bank's cutoff for when it will refuse a request for "substantial collation and research" is a mere three hours, while their definition of a "high volume requester" is someone who makes two requests a month for two months. Combined, these basically rule out any use of the OIA for serious research or investigation of the bank's policies, whether by academics, investigative journalists, or the public. And while MPs won't be charged, their requests will still be refused if they take more than that three hour limit. The net result: less scrutiny, and a specific incentive against regular scrutiny. Which means less accountability to the public.

Secondly, there's an approval memo, which is only available with annotations from someone from the Office of the Ombudsman. In the annotations, the Ombudsman's Office makes clear that they support charging, and are surprised more agencies don't do it. The answer is in the same document, in the section on practice at the Treasury: Treasury's comms team doesn't want to charge media "due to the likelihood of negative publicity and relationship damage". And that applies to the public as well. A "public" agency with a practice of charging for OIA requests can only be regarded as one which is unaccountable, untrustworthy, and with something to hide. One which does not understand who it really works for. If public agencies want to be viewed as trustworthy and democratically accountable, imposing OIA charges is exactly the wrong way to go about it.

Just wrong

We're throwing people out of New Zealand because their kids are autistic:

An award-winning Auckland University mathematics professor will leave the country after his residency application was rejected because of his stepson's autism.

Professor Dimitri Leemans moved to New Zealand from Belgium in August 2011 with his wife, Francoise Duperoux, their 5-year-old daughter, Margaux, and his stepson, 13-year-old Peter Gourle, after winning a job at Auckland University.


Leemans and his family applied for residency in March 2014. But in September last year, INZ said in a letter: "We have declined your application for residence because Peter does not meet the health requirements to be granted residence in New Zealand and is not eligible for a medical waiver."

Its explicitly discriminatory on the basis of health - a prohibited ground of discrimination - but immigration decisions are specifically excluded from the jurisdiction of the Human Rights Act. Meaning Immigration can be racist, bigoted, and (as in this case) discriminate against the disabled with impunity.

Leemans has decided not to appeal the decision, because who would? We've made it clear that he's not welcome, that we see his son as less than human, a burden to be excluded rather than as a potential New Zealander. Its a clear loss to New Zealand. But more than that: it is simply, flat-out wrong. And the message it sends to non-neurotypical New Zealanders is that they don't really belong here either.

New Fisk

Isis and the Taliban are brutally carving up modern Afghanistan

Inequality is holding us back

One of the right's arguments for accepting inequality is that it is necessary for economic growth that only the rich benefit from it. But the OECD has found the opposite: inequality holds us back. And thanks to Roger Douglas and Ruth Richardson, New Zealand has been the worst-affected country in the OECD:

New Zealand: New Zealand's economy could have grown by 44 percent between 1990 and 2010, but the country did only achieve 28 percent growth due to inequality. Hence, it lost 15.5 percentage points -- more than any other country. This is particularly surprising, given that New Zealand was once considered a paradise of equality, as Max Rashbrooke, the author of a book called Inequality: A New Zealand Crisis, pointed out in the Guardian newspaper.

"New Zealand halved its top tax rate, cut benefits by up to a quarter of their value, and dramatically reduced the bargaining power – and therefore the share of national income – of ordinary workers. Thousands of people lost their jobs as manufacturing work went overseas, and there was no significant response with increased trade training or skills programs, a policy failure that is ongoing," Rashbrooke writes in the op-ed. He also blames New Zealand for a lack of affordable homes which led to higher rents and unpaid mortgages.

Compared to the "gains" from the TPPA - a 0.7% increase in GDP over 15 years - these losses are enormous. And they certainly show what our real problem is: not a lack of free trade, but an economic system which systematically funnels all wealth upwards, while leaving more and more people behind.

Friday, February 12, 2016

No freedom of the press in Australia

In 2014, Guardian Australia journalist Paul Farrell revealed that Australia had intruded into Indonesian waters in its efforts to turn back refugees. The Australian government later admitted the incursion - but in the meantime they were having Farrell investigated by the Australian Federal Police in an effort to expose and punish his sources:

Sitting on my desk now are more than 200 pages of heavily redacted police files. Every journalist, in fact every Australian, has a right under the country’s privacy law to access personal information held on them by government agencies.

The files are made up of operational centre meeting minutes, file notes, interview records and a plan for an investigation the AFP undertook into one of my stories. Most concerning is what appears to be a list of suspects the AFP drew up, along with possible offences they believe they may have committed.

The documents show that during the course of an investigation into my sources for a story I had written, an AFP officer logged more than 800 electronic updates on the investigation file.

It’s a mosaic in document form of state surveillance of journalists by police. The files give an insight into the fragile state of journalism in Australia and the ease with which the police choose to take up these investigations because of poorly defined laws.

And Farrell is nowhere near the first victim of this anti-democratic attitude. The fundamental problem here is that Australia effectively still has an Official Secrets Act and criminalises all unauthorised disclosure of information. And in the hands of a government deeply embarrassed by its actions and desperate to hide them from the public, its easy to see how journalism is equated with espionage and journalists as spies who need to be investigated (and potentially prosecuted). But that's not how a democratic government is supposed to behave.

And fundamentally, if a government's actions can't withstand public scrutiny, maybe they shouldn't be doing them in the first place?

NATO is now an alliance against refugees

Back during the Cold War, NATO had the task of protesting Western Europe from Soviet Invasion. With the Cold War over for more than 25 years, they've struggled to find a reason to justify their existence. But now they have a new role: enforcing Europe's racist anti-refugee policies:

Nato has sent a patrol of three warships to intercept migrants trying to reach Greece by sea and send them back to Turkey, as Europe steps up efforts to contain the refugee crisis.

The mission has been agreed and ordered to the Aegean sea in less than 24 hours, an extremely rapid move for the alliance. Nato normally spends months deliberating over decisions and agreeing details.

The German-led patrol will be backed by planes that can monitor the flow of people attempting illegal crossings. Greece and Turkey have agreed that any migrants they intercept will be sent back.

“They will not be taken back to Greece. The aim of the group is to have them taken back to Turkey. That is the crucial difference,” said the British defence secretary, Michael Fallon.

So, Europe is basically going Australian, with Turkey as their Nauru - another example of how the European dream of a continent-wide federation committed to democracy and human rights is dying. As for NATO, no matter what you thought of the politics, their Cold War role was at least understandable; now they're just a jackboot stomping on the weak.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Another starving watchdog

What is it with National and starving watchdogs? First, they under-funded the Ombudsman, meaning a huge increase in the amount of time it took for OIA complaints to be resolved. And now they're underfunding the Independent Police Conduct Authority, with predictable results:

Allegations of excessive force by police are going uninvestigated by the country's independent watchdog, due to financial pressures on the organisation.


The authority had been forced to abandon plans in some areas, such as assessing the standard of detention facilities and shifting its focus from "just blaming" to prevention.

While the IPCA could cut costs by reducing its investigations, Carruthers said that was not a desirable solution.

"We'll never be short of money because we can always decline to investigate independently, as we think fit ... but there comes a time when we then don't feel comfortable about actually doing the job that we're there for."

Speaking after the meeting, IPCA operations group manager Warren Young confirmed the authority had already passed up independently investigating some cases, instead referring them back to police to check themselves, because it was "beyond our resource".

"There have been occasionally matters that we've referred back to the police where if we'd had the resource, we might have investigated, including, for example, excessive force cases."

Which means the police are investigating their own (and of course finding nothing) - exactly the problem the IPCA was set up to solve in the first place. Either they need to be funded to do the job properly, or we should end this charade of independent oversight.

OTOH, given that the police simply ignore repeated IPCA recommendations, you really have to wonder if there's any point to their existence.


Why does inequality matter? Just look at the consequences:

Children living in poverty in New Zealand are at least six times more likely to struggle with maths than students from wealthy backgrounds, a new report has found.

The ranking was one of the worst in the developed world, with only Ireland, Israel and Poland doing worse.

The report from the OECD, Low-Performing Students: Why they fall behind and how to help them succeed found students from the poorest 25 per cent of households in New Zealand were more than six times more likely to be low performers in maths compared with those in the top 25 per cent.

Our figure was five times that of Australia.

And what that bland statistic means is poorer life chances, kids hobbled from birth by the economic status of their parents. Which means worse jobs and higher costs later on. It is profoundly unfair, an affront to our values.

Our education system is supposed to correct for economic inequality somewhat, to give every kid a good start in life. That's clearly not working. And with National talking of "reforming" the decile funding system to take money from the poor and give it to rich schools that their rich mates send their kids to, its unlikely to get any better. The other alternative, of course, is that we tackle the root cause: poverty. But National is even less likely to do anything about that.

Open Government: Learned nothing

The government has finally released its Open Government Partnership Mid-term Self-assessment Report, just four months after it was supposed to. They're so proud of it that they didn't even issue a press release on it - just a quiet change to the heading of a web-page. The major change? The addition of the promised "statement from the Stakeholder Advisory Group" on the Action Plan and contents. Which, stripped of its waffle, comes down to one sentence:

Because of the brevity of time since the Stakeholder Advisory Group was formed, it is [sic] not been able to provide collective detailed comments on the particulars of the actions.

This is dated "September 2015" - from before the draft was published. Which makes you wonder why it wasn't in the draft in the first place, and why it took them four fucking months to produce the final one.

But the SAG is "look[ing] forward to providing practical advice and leadership" on the development of the new Action Plan, and to "be[ing] transformational and to ensur[ing] civil society is actively engaged". So how's that working out for them? Likewise, how is the government's promises of learning the lessons of their disastrous first action plan and starting consultation sooner working out?

Badly. It appears they've learned absolutely nothing (or at least nothing they're willing to take on board), and gearing up to repeat the same mistakes they made last time.

The central problem is time: the second National Action Plan is due on June 30. But the SAG is only just meeting today to discuss it. Which means they're running on pretty much the same timeline as they were last time - the one which left no time for meaningful public consultation. As for "co-creation", there's simply no time allowed to assess proposed commitments from the public, let alone have them signed off by Ministers. In other words, it'll be the same "consultation" as last time, in which we will be invited to comment on a pre-determined slate of (almost certainly pre-existing) proposals, with no real prospect for meaningful input. That's what New Zealand apparently means by "open government". And its a crock of shit.

And it doesn't have to be this way. Its not hard to find examples of countries which are doing this right, which are providing meaningful consultation and co-creation of OGP commitments. Just look at the UK - or Australia. But the big difference in both cases is both an earlier start, allowing ideas to be received, assessed, and analysed for credibility, and a commitment to actually listen to the public rather than presenting us with a fait accompli. The government is well aware of these alternative processes they could have followed, and has chosen not to follow them. Which tells us that they are not committed to the Open Government partnership's values, and that our participation in it is simply a sham.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

National erodes democracy

Another sign of the erosion of democracy under National: people who protest visibly and effectively against government policy have journalists asking their employers why they haven't been sacked yet:

The employer of a woman who threw a dildo at Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce refuses to say if she will be disciplined.

Josie Butler, a nurse at Hillmorton Hospital in Christchurch, leapt to international fame after flinging the toy in the face of Joyce at Waitangi


Canterbury District Health Board general manager of people and capability Michael Frampton said the DHB would not comment on whether Butler faced any disciplinary measures.

As if expressing your political views on your own time is something people should (or can) be sacked for.

And remember, you're probably paying for this Muldoonism, through taxpayer funding of National's dirty politics machine.

Of course, National could end this in an instant, by saying publicly that they respect the right of all New Zealanders to express their political opinions, and that political discrimination in employment is a crime. But their silence is deafening.

The death of open justice in the UK

Secret trials of enemies of the state are one of the hallmarks of tyranny. They were used by the tyrant Charles I, who was deposed for it; by Stalin; and by practically every tinpot dictator of the twentieth century. And now, thanks to a UK court ruling, they're entirely legal in the UK:

The court of appeal has refused to lift reporting restrictions following the secret trial of a London law student who was cleared of plotting a terrorist attack on the streets of the capital.

However, the lord chief justice, Lord Thomas, said that only the director of public prosecutions (DPP) could ask a court to sit in secret, and warned that MI5 and MI6 must not in future threaten to withhold evidence in a bid to secure courtroom secrecy.

Following an appeal brought by the Guardian and other UK media organisations, Thomas invited the parliamentary intelligence and security committee to investigate the role that MI5 and MI6 played in decisions that were taken around the prosecution of Erol Incedal.

...who will of course whitewash the whole thing, because the British establishment is incapable of reform, and incapable of holding its criminal spies to account, even when they murder and torture. Violating basic democratic norms is just everyday business for them, what they exist to do.

As for the victim in this, Erol Incedal, I have no idea if he is guilty or innocent. But a verdict given in these circumstances, on secret evidence which cannot be heard in court, let alone shown to the public, simply can not be trusted.

As for the UK, they have pervasive surveillance, spies who collude in torture, and now secret trials. While they still have (unfair) elections, they're fundamentally a tyranny, and utterly unreformable by democratic means. If you're in the UK, my suggestion is to leave while you still can.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

"Responsible economic management"

National likes to pitch itself as the party of responsible economic management. Yeah, right:

Prime Minister John Key has revealed a $17 billion hole in the economy from falling dairy prices but says the Government remains committed to tax cuts.

Outlining the Government's priorities for the year ahead in his opening statement to Parliament on Tuesday, Key said weaker dairy prices, along with other factors, were contributing to slower growth in the nominal economy, which was expected to be around $17 billion lower over the next five years than was expected in last year's budget. This flowed through to "slightly less tax revenue, slightly lower operating balances and slightly higher debt, compared to budget forecasts".

But the Government's overall fiscal strategy remained unchanged - that was "to keep a tight rein on spending, focus on results from public services, start to pay down debt and look to return any excess revenue on top of this to tax payers".

So, there's no money for anything, except for tax cuts for National's corporate donors and rich mates. And meanwhile, our schools will rot, our hospitals will be overcrowded, and kids will be living in cars because they can't get a state house despite their obvious need.

This isn't even ethical, let alone responsible. Instead National is just the party of crony capitalism, looting the state for the benefit of their rich mates.

New Fisk

After entering Aleppo with Russia's help, the Syrian army may set its sights on Raqqa
A plan must be made for ‘life after Isis’ in the Middle East

The user-pays Prime Minister

Radio New Zealand has a piece this morning on Auckland ratepayers having to pay to send council staff to hear John Key's big announcement on the City Rail Link - because the speech was a pricey private event. But its not the only one. In fact, according to Philip Lyth, Key has given only seven speeches in the last year, and only two of those (the Pukehau dedications) were open to the public:

The rest were all walled off from the public by expensive admission fees, despite policy being announced and public business being conducted. In other words, we have a user-pays Prime Minister who is afraid of the public and will only talk to rich people like himself.

Friday, February 05, 2016

Climate change: Pure fiction

The Ministry for the Environment released three reports on the Emissions Trading Scheme today, including an evalation of its performance against short, medium and long-term outcomes. So how is it doing? Unsurprisingly, in the executive summary, MfE declares that everything is going great:

The evaluation found that the NZ ETS has been successful in assisting the Government to comply with international commitments and to meet national targets. The NZ ETS has resulted in an overachievement of New Zealand’s first commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol (CP1).

The reality in the body of the report is a little different. The key question for me is "has it reduced emissions". And the answer to that is "not really":
Research for this evaluation, and evidence from the interviews, found no sector other than forestry made emissions reductions over Kyoto Protocol Commitment Period One (2008–12)(CP1) that were directly caused by NZ ETS obligations. The 6NC identified that the waste sector was the only sector to have reduced emissions over CP1 other than forestry, but those reduced emissions were not due to the NZ ETS [they were due to Labour's direct regulation in 2004 - I/S].

Or, to put it another way, the ETS has not resulted in any reduction in pollution from the energy, industrial, or transport sectors. And that's not really surprising, given that the government has subsidised those sectors to continue polluting, while letting them use fraudulent Ukranian "credits" to meet their paltry obligations. As for forestry, the estimated impact of the reduction is 0.2% of our annual emissions, which is within the margin of error of business-as-usual.

So how does MfE turn this obvious failure into a success? Simple: because "reducing emissions" isn't the only metric they're reporting against. They're also assessing whether it assists in "meeting international climate obligations and maintaining international reputation" (whether it gives us something to write about in our UNFCCC reports, which it does), and whether it assists in "maintaining environmental integrity, equity and economic efficiency, at the least cost, in the long run" (for which they say outright that they have no measures, before proceeding for half a page about a 2008 report on possible impacts, before noting that post-2008 policy changes probably make that report useless). But even then, it seems to be a huge stretch to claim a failure, a success against a bullshit and purely bureaucratic target, and a "we have no fucking clue" equate to the ETS being "successful". As to their headline attribution of our Kyoto overachievement to the ETS, that seems to be pure fiction. And if policy is being "assessed" in this manner, and obvious failures being rebranded as "success", its no wonder that we're in such a mess.