Wednesday, June 28, 2017



Fiji: You are not allowed to talk about torture

Last year, Fiji finally ratified the UN Convention Against Torture, almost thirty years after other countries had done it. At the time, they said they were goign to outlaw torture in Fiji. Instead, it seems they've outlawed protesting against it:

A man has been detained by Fiji police after making a lone protest march to mark the UN Day in support of Victims of Torture.

Jope Koroisavou was walking along the pavements of downtown Suva carrying banners with the names of men who have died in Fiji after alleged torture by the state.

The SODELPA youth wing leader was also carrying the Morning Star flag, used by supporters of West Papuan independence, which is banned in Indonesia's Papua region.

Mr Koroisavou's friend Viliame Waka said Mr Koroisavou was detained at the Suva central police station.

"Two guys came out of the 4x4 and took him. He was just crossing to cross and then the police came on the scene. He was alone. I thought it was really brave of him but ... plus today is a day of remembrance of all those who are tortured."

Viliame Waka said Mr Koroisavou was not disrupting traffic during his protest.


He has since been released, after two days of questioning, but it really makes you wonder about Fiji's commitment to ending torture - and to freedom of speech. After all, when you can't criticise the government for torturing people, what can you do?

Election issues: Student debt

Student loans have been with us for 25 years, and over that period ex-students have been burdened with billions of dollars of odious debt. Currently almost three-quarters of a million of us are carrying $15 billion of this unjust debt, and billions more have been repaid (at the cost of people delaying homes and families to pay off the government for the privilege of being denied a basic standard of living). The debt is odious in a legal sense because it is effectively coerced and extracted under false pretences. People at the beginning of their lives are told they must incur it to have any chance of a decent job: "get a loan or flip burgers". The reality is that NZ workers are underpaid and overqualified, meaning that the promised reward is a lie. There's also a huge intergenerational justice issue, in that the people extorting these loans benefitted themselves from free tertiary education when they were students.

Now, finally, we're seeing a move to end this. But it doesn't come from Labour (whose senior leadership all protested against student debt when they were at university). Instead, it comes from New Zealand First:

New Zealand First is promising to wipe student loans for new students who stay and work in the country for five years, and it says that it will only cost $4.6b a year.

People who bond themselves to regions in need of workers or study for less time could wipe theirs even faster.

The "Up Front Investment" announcement was made at the party's regional conference this weekend, along with the promise of a universal student allowance, instead of the means tested benefit currently in place.


But there's a catch: they'd impose full fees (not the current subsidised ones) on anyone who left the country. This would increase the size of the debt five- or six-fold (to about the size of a house deposit in Auckland). So, its nowhere near as good as it looks, and unnecessarily punitive. Kiwis overseas already face an excessively punitive regime, and this sort of sudden imposed "debt" is not going to encourage compliance (except possibly in the form of strategic bankruptcy, which really looks like a good idea if the government sticks you with that sort of burden).

Still, this is forcing the issue onto the agenda, and Labour looks uncomfortable on this. As noted above, their senior leadership are all veteran protesters against student debt. But they're opposing NZ First's scheme as "unaffordable" (compared to their half-measures). I guess that's how much a Parliamentary salary changes things.

But NZ First is right: something needs to be done. It is unjust to impose this odious debt on the young. It is unjust to effectively force people to borrow to pay for food. And it is unjust to continue to burden victims of this scheme with a lifetime of debt they will never repay. Political parties need to have policies not just to end student loans, but also to relieve this odious debt. And we should judge them on those policies in September.

About time

Having promised it for months, National has finally introduced its bill to wipe historic homosexual convictions:

A bill to expunge the historical convictions of gay men charged with homosexual activity has been introduced to Parliament.

The Criminal Records (Expungement of Convictions for Historical Homosexual Offences) Bill was announced in February by Justice Minister Amy Adams.

It will set up a system where men charged with consensual homosexual conduct (or their families) under old laws can apply to have those convictions wiped from the record.

The Justice Ministry believes there are around 1000 of these men still alive.

"The tremendous hurt and stigma suffered by those who were affected can never be fully undone, but I hope that this Bill will go some way toward addressing that," Adams said.


About time. And its a good gesture. At the same time, its worth pointing out that Germany is compensating the victims of its past anti-homosexual laws. "Progressive" New Zealand OTOH, includes a clause specifically denying any entitlement to compensation. I guess actually righting the wrongs of the past is too much for National.

Member's Day

Today is a Member's day, and it marks the end of the run of first readings and ballots we've had recently. Firstly, because bills are coming back from select committee, and their later stages will eat House time. And secondly, because National is likely to want to talk those bills out as much as possible, to reduce the chances of David Seymour's End of Life Choice Bill coming up before the election.

First up today we have the second reading of Chris Bishop's Films, Videos, and Publications Classification (Interim Restriction Order Classification) Amendment Bill. This is a non-controversial bill aimed at fixing a bug in the censorship regime exposed by the fiasco over Into the River, and normally it would fly through (but see point two above). Then we have Sarah Dowie's Private International Law (Choice of Law in Tort) Bill, which is also non-controversial (and a bit dull). If National fails in its filibuster, then the House will make a start on Marama Davidson's Local Electoral (Equitable Process for Establishing Māori Wards and Māori Constituencies) Amendment Bill, and if National doesn't filibuster at all then it will get to Parmjeet Parmar's Newborn Enrolment with General Practice Bill.

There should still be a ballot for one bill tomorrow. But despite all their big talk on the issue, no MP has offered a bill to repeal the archaic crime of blasphemous libel.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017



I do not care about Todd Barclay's lifestyle

The Todd Barclay saga hit the sewer this morning with a Newsroom article on Glenys Dickson's negotiations with Parliamentary Services, which included implications about Todd Barclay's lifestyle.

The Barclay scandal raises several matters of public interest. Whether Barclay broke the law against the use of interception devices. Whether the National Party perverted the course of justice by trying to heavy Dickson into dropping the matter. Barclay's shitty treatment of his employees, and whether he and the Prime Minister lied to the public about it. But what Todd Barclay (or any other MP) does in private is no part of it, and none of our concern. I keep my nose out of MP's private lives, and I'd appreciate it if they'd do the same for us.

New Fisk

By demanding the end of Al Jazeera, Saudi Arabia is trying to turn Qatar into a vassal state

Why we need to price water III

Another day, and another announcement of a water bottling firm wanting to suck us dry:

Millions of litres of crystal clear spring water could be bottled and shipped overseas in a proposal backed by the local council.

NZ Pure Blue Springs Limited wants to take from Putaruru's Blue Spring in the Waihou River more than the amount of water currently being pulled from the Waikato for bottling.

In its resource consent application to Waikato Regional Council, it has asked to extract 6.9 million litres a day.

[...]

A council spokesperson confirmed it would be getting some form of payment from the company for its support, saying it had indicated it would provide an amount of funding in trust to benefit the Putaruru community.


How much? Because 6.9 million litres a day is worth at least $2.5 billion a year retail. Obviously, there are extraction and operating costs associated with getting that money, but still. Its a huge amount of money, and the public deserves its share of the revenue derived from the extraction of a public resource. Otherwise, we're just being taken for suckers.

Just say no to Broadspectrum

National wants to sell 2500 state houses in Christchurch,as part of its plan to exit the state housing sector and make government suck. And who do they want to sell them to? Broadspectrum:

One of the consortiums shortlisted to buy Housing New Zealand homes in Christchurch has links to a company accused of human rights breaches on Manus Island.

[...]

One consortium is made up of housing provider, Trust House Limited and Broadspectrum New Zealand, a subsidiary of a larger Australian-based business in charge of operating the controversial Manus Island refugee detention centre.

Broadspectrum, along with the Australian government, this month agreed to a $73 million out of court settlement with detainees after they said they were mistreated.


Where "refugee detention centre" is Australian for "concentration camp where people are tortured, beaten, and neglected". Presumably Broadspectrum would bring the same standard of care it has shown on Manus Island to Christchurch social housing tenants.

This is not a bid we should accept. Instead, Broadspectrum should be banned from operating in this country as long as it continues to operate concentration camps.

Monday, June 26, 2017



OIA timeliness complaints

Official Information Act requests are supposed to be responded to "as soon as reasonably practicable, and in any case not later than 20 working days after the day on which the request is received". But as we all know, delays are common. Apparently 23% of all OIA complaints to the Ombudsman are about delays, and previously every single one of them resulted in a (time-consuming) formal investigation. But from 1 July, that will change. The Ombudsman is introducing a new, streamlined approach to handling OIA delay complaints, which basicly boils down to recognising that a formal investigation is fairly pointless if the requester now has the information. Which is sensible, and a good way to focus the Ombudsman's resources on the cases that need it. But before you start thinking that this is letting agencies off easy:

To ensure that repeated non-compliance or any other apparent systemic issues are identified and addressed, all delay complaints will be logged and tracked by the Office of the Ombudsman.

In addition, the number of OIA delay complaints received and completed will be published on a six-monthly basis, as part of our current publication of OIA complaints data project.


So, delinquent agencies will be named and shamed, and it is likely that the worst offenders will face formal investigations into their OIA systems. Its a good move, and one I support. And maybe it'll be worth complaining about timeliness again...

The British used waterboarding in Northern Ireland

Its long been known that the British government used torture in Northern Ireland during "the troubles". The Five Techniques were the subject of a case before the European Court of Human Rights, and it has since emerged that (contrary to the evidence it gave at the time) the British government had an official policy of torture. British army officers have admitted being torturers (that guy is still an MP, BTW. I guess Tories love torturers). But previously the admissions of torture have bene restricted to the Five Techniques. Now it turns out that they waterboarded, sexually assaulted, and electrocuted people as well:

Fresh documents which allege waterboarding was used by the British Army and the RUC in the North in the 1970s have been uncovered by a Derry human rights organisation.

Extracts from the papers - which also include claims of sexual assault and the use of electric shock treatment - will be read aloud by the actor Stephen Rea and others at a seminar hosted by the Pat Finucane Centre (PFC) and Amnesty International in London today (Monday).

Most of the documents, which have been seen by The Irish Times, are statements made by alleged victims to the Association for Legal Justice (ALJ).

In a way this isn't surprising. The British used similar techniques in Palestine, Malaya, Cyprus and Aden, and taught "friendly" dictatorships how to use them. At the same time, its worse than what's been previously alleged. And those responsible, from the soldiers and constables pouring water down people's throats to the politicians who authorised it, need to be prosecuted for it. And if the current British government won't commit to a full investigation and holding its past criminals to account, they should be joining them in the dock for perversion of the course of justice.

Climate change: To the courts!

There's an interesting case in court today: student Sarah Thomson is challenging the government's climate change target:

Sarah Thomson, 26, will have her case against Climate Change Minister Paula Bennett for the perceived failure to set emissions targets that reflect the science of climate change heard on Monday.

"Every year we're experiencing more extreme weather like cyclones, droughts and floods. Entire communities are being left devastated, yet our Government is burying its head in the sand," Thomson said.

While some have dismissed the action as a joke, Thomson will be climbing the court steps armed with affidavits from two of the foremost climate scientists from New Zealand and the United States, backed by lawyers from Auckland firm LeeSalmonLong.


The case revolves around the Minister's target-setting powers under sections 224 and 225 of the Climate Change Response Act and the degree to which they are governed by the UNFCCC (which the Act incorporates in its purpose and schedules). If the court concludes that the Minister's power is strongly constrained by the UNFCCC and that (in light of that) her targets were irrational, she could be required to set new ones. There's an analysis here by Otago law student Charles Owen, which suggests that the chances of that happening are not good - but I guess there's only one way to find out. And at the least it'll force the government to come clean about its target-setting process, and let us learn whether there was any improper purpose (e.g. adhering to the UNFCCC in name only) involved.

Not grovelling after all

Last week, after a report in Stuff, I accused the Labour Party of grovelling to the almighty cow by backing away from resource rentals for water. But it turns out they were misreported:

“It was reported following my speech to Federated Farmers last week that Labour has abandoned its policy of charging a royalty on farming uses of water. We haven’t.

“At the conclusion of my speech I was asked about resource rentals which I thought was a reference to our NZ Power policy of 2014. I replied that we were not continuing with that policy. I confirmed we would impose a levy on bottled water. This was in addition to our focus on water quality, which I had already spoken about.

“The message of my speech was that we will work with farmers on regulatory change and that there is urgency to act on environmental quality and climate change. We remain committed to setting a resource rental for large water take for irrigation at a fair and affordable price.


This is good to hear. Currently farmers enjoy an enormous public subsidy in the form of free water, and this encourages and enables environmentally destructive practices. Hopefully Labour will follow through on this policy, and make farmers pay their way, rather than letting them steal and pollute with impunity.

Friday, June 23, 2017



Correcting the wrongs of the past

Germany is to pardon and compensate victims of a Nazi-era anti-homosexual law:

Germany’s parliament has voted to quash the convictions of 50,000 gay men sentenced for homosexuality under a Nazi-era law that remained in force after the second world war.

After decades of lobbying, victims and activists hailed a triumph in the struggle to clear the names of gay men who lived with a criminal record under article 175 of the penal code.

An estimated 5,000 of those found guilty under the statute are still alive. The measure overwhelmingly passed the Bundestag lower house of parliament, where chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition enjoys a large majority.

It also offers gay men convicted under the law a lump sum of €3,000 (£2,600) as well as an additional €1,500 for each year they spent in prison.


Note that this isn't about Nazi crimes - those convicted under the Nazi regime had their convictions overturned in 2002. Its for those punished under the law between 1945 and its repeal in 1968 or 1994 (for east and West Germany respectively). This law was wrong, and it is entirely right that those punished under it receive an apology and compensation (though €1,500 for a year in prison is derisory).

Meanwhile, where's New Zealand? National promised to overturn past convictions for homosexuality back in February, but no bill has been introduced to the House yet. And of course its on a case-by-case basis (meaning you need to grovel for justice), and there's no talk of an apology or compensation for the state's abuse of power. I guess righting these past wrongs simply isn't a priority for the National Party...

New Zealand votes against international law

Over fifty years ago, Britain stole the Chagos Islands and forcibly expelled their inhabitants to Mauritius to make way for a US military base. Since then, they've been fighting for justice through the UK courts, and most recently at the UN. Last night, they won another victory, with the UN General Assembly voting 94 to 15 to seek an advisory opinion from the international court of justice (ICJ) in The Hague on the UK's actions, which appear to breach international law. Sadly, New Zealand voted against the motion:



I guess this is National's foreign policy now: voting to cover up the colonial crimes of our former masters. Its sickening. We're supposed to stand for a law-governed world, and that means supporting international law, no batter who benefits. Instead, we're just sucking up to the powerful and being their dogsbody.

As for how to fix this, if we want to change our foreign policy direction, we need to change the government. It is that simple.

New Fisk

What politicians said in the wake of Grenfell Tower rings hollow if you’ve seen it all before in the Middle East

Pull the other one

Issues around illegal interception of communications have been prominent in the media over the last few years. There's the Kim Dotcom case, of course, and all the GCSB's shennanigans around driftnetting communications (including those of New Zealanders) from our Pacific Island neighbours. And who could forget the Bradley Ambrose case, where a dictaphone was inadvertently left running during John Key's sitdown with John Banks, and which resulted in the police raiding several media offices? So its quite surprising then for Bill English to claim that he and the National Party had no idea that Todd Barclay might be committing a crime by recording the conversations of his electorate staff:

Prime Minister Bill English has indicated Todd Barclay didn't know his recording of a staffer's conversations could be illegal until a police investigation was launched.

[...]

Speaking to media in Auckland, English said during the dispute his advice to Barclay had been that "that wasn't good behaviour".

When a police investigation started it raised issues about possible offences and "I don't think [it] had occurred to anybody that there may be some potential offence", English said.

English said once there was an investigation established the possibility of an offence became clearer.


Yeah, right. In order to believe this, we'd have to believe that English, a senior politician, had paid no attention to major events affecting the party and government he is a part of. We'd have to believe he has been effectively brain dead for the past decade. Its simply not credible.

It is however a perfect example of how politicians pretend ignorance for political advantage. This is dishonest and it shows a lack of respect for the public. And we should respond by punishing such politicians brutally at the ballot box.

Thursday, June 22, 2017



There is corruption in New Zealand

Its commonly believed that New Zealand is not a corrupt country. But that belief is wrong, according to a new study by Deloitte's:

[A]ccounting firm Deloitte's latest bribery and corruption survey has found that about 20 percent of New Zealand companies surveyed had detected some form of corruption - about the same level as the previous survey two years ago.

"The perceptions differ from the reality. Corruption is real in New Zealand, it's happening and that's evidenced by the cases coming before the courts," said Deloitte forensic director Lorinda Kelly.

In February, Stephen Borlase and Murray Noone were each jailed for five years, and a third man was given 10 months' home detention, in a bribery case involving the awarding of contracts at Auckland Transport.


This is something we need to stamp out, before it becomes the sort of pervasive culture seen in Australia or elsewhere overseas. And the government should be leading on that, by eliminating corruption by politicians. Crony appointments, secret donations and gifts, and misuse of public funding all send a message that corruption is acceptable. If we don't want that message to become established, politicians need to clean house.

Labour grovels to the almighty cow

Correction: It appears Labour were misreported. Followup post here.

Farmers are destroying our environment, sucking our rivers dry and filling them with cowshit, while poisoning underground aquifers. So naturally, Labour wants to let them off paying for any of that:

Labour has dropped its 2014 election policy to charge a resource rental on farmers who use water for irrigation and discharge too many nutrients.

Speaking to the annual conference of Federated Farmers, Labour Party leader Andrew Little said while there were "real environmental limits to growth", the party would discard the policy which had alarmed the farming community.

Prior to the 2014 election, Labour said a resource rental was the best tool for making sure freshwater was used efficiently.

Federated Farmers environmental spokesman Chris Allen welcomed Labour backing off from the policy as a "significant shift".

A resource rental is both fair, in that farmers are profiting from a public resource, and environmentally sound, in that it will discourage environmentally destructive practices. But Labour clearly doesn't care about any of that. Instead, they're sucking up to farmers and grovelling to the almighty cow. And why? Its not like these people will ever vote for Labour anyway.

Still, its a crystal clear sign of where Labour stands on the environment. Faced with our biggest domestic environmental challenge, they've chickened out for fear of offending National voters. And the solution to this is clear as well: if we want clean rivers and for farmers to pay their way, we need to vote Green.

Boo hoo

Faced with the undeniable degradation of its rivers and lakes due to intensive dairy farming, ECan is finally planning to do something about it by imposing nutrient limits. Naturally, farmers hate the idea, claiming that it will put them out of business:

Dairy farmers in Canterbury could be pushed to the brink of bankruptcy by new rules designed to limit pollution from farm animals, a local farmer says.

Canterbury Regional Council's Plan Change 5 to the Land and Water Regional Plan involves limits being placed on, for example, how much urine is deposited on paddocks by dairy cows.

The intention is to reduce the leaching of harmful nitrates into surrounding waterways.

Mid-Canterbury dairy farmer Willy Leferink said in some cases this would force farmers to reduce their herd size, which could send them bankrupt.


Boo fucking hoo. To point out the obvious, farms threatened by this are only "profitable" because lax regulation means they are able to avoid paying their full environmental costs. And if ending that regulatory subsidy and preventing those costs puts those farms out of business, we're actually better off overall.

The latest Labour muppetry

Last week, the Labour Party announced a policy aimed at reducing the number of foreign students in New Zealand. Meanwhile, it turns out they've been using foreign students on their campaign - and mistreating them:

A group of 85 Labour Party interns flew to New Zealand from around the world expecting lectures from Helen Clark and real world campaign experience.

They arrived to a cramped dormitory, no pay, no lectures, and a broken shower.

[...]

Instead they have been working phone banks and living in a cramped dormitory in an Auckland marae, a report in Politik claims.

The scheme was run by former Labour Auckland head Matt McCarten, who left his job a fortnight ago.


The good news is that the party has stepped in to try and make things right, but its still not a good look. While international volunteering is a long and valuable political tradition, using foreign student volunteers to campaign against foreign students is simply hypocritical. And failing to treat your volunteers properly? That's stupid as well as wrong.

Once again, Labour have fucked up something they should have easily got right. They look like muppets. And if they can't organise an election campaign properly, how are they supposed to govern if they win?

Wednesday, June 21, 2017



Treasury and the OIA

How does Treasury handle OIA requests? Someone is using FYI, the public OIA request system, to ask agencies for their OIA processes as part of a wider research program. Treasury's response to this request is here, and the documents they have released are quite interesting and informative. And they reveal a couple of problems.

Firstly, Treasury's redaction policy appears to be unlawful. The instructions are contained in their process to "Finalise, Assess and Mark-Up Relevant Information" (p. 25) and requires staff to:

If at all possible, remove complete blocks of text (e.g. whole phrases, sentences, paragraphs, or pages) rather than individual words or numbers. If the removal of certain words or numbers makes the remaining information irrelevant or meaningless, then remove the entire sentence or paragraph.

[Emphasis added]

But information being irrelevant or meaningless without key words or numbers is not a lawful reason under the Act for withholding it. Furthermore, decisions on what to redact must be guided by the Principle of Availability - agencies should redact as little as possible. If this results in documents which look like confetti in places, then so be it - better that than agencies redact more than they need to.

Secondly, Treasury believes its OIA training material is secret (document 3, p 47-51). What staff are supposed to get out of the workshop, and examples / case studies of requests for discussion are all redacted as "free and frank opinion". This is simply ridiculous. A training goal is not an opinion, and neither is an example scenario. What staff say during any particular workshop might be free and frank opinion, but course material designed to encourage discussion and illustrate the proper application of the Act (and common mistakes in dealing with it) can not possibly be. Furthermore, there's a strong public interest in release, in that publication of this material helps build public confidence that Treasury staff are well-trained and will deal with requests lawfully. Conversely, keeping this material secret undermines public confidence. Treasury has fucked up here, and they need to remedy it.

The good news is that their detailed advice from that point onwards is not redacted, and is a thorough explanation of the Act and how it should be applied. There are a few problems - buried in the "process lessons" (doc 4, p. 99) is advice to effectively ask Ministers to approve redactions within Treasury OIAs, something they recognise elsewhere is inappropriate. But its generally good guidance. Hopefully other agencies guidance is as thorough.

Not good enough

So, spying National MP Todd Barclay has got the hint and decided not to stand at the election. Good riddance. And OTOH, as is being pointed out on Twitter, this is the "accountability" you have when you don't want to hold someone accountable for their actions. National will still benefit from Barclay's vote. And Barclay will receive full pay until 3 months after the election - effectively a $75,000 golden handshake.

As a reminder, Barclay is alleged to have unlawfully spied on his employees. And he has admitted that allegation on the public record. He shouldn't be getting $75,000 of our money to go quietly. He should be in jail.

New Fisk

The US seems keener to strike at Syria's Assad than it does to destroy Isis

Another look?

After yesterday's revelations, police are taking "another look" at the case against National MP Todd Barclay:

Police have confirmed they're taking another look at the investigation into under-fire National MP Todd Barclay.

Assistant Commissioner Richard Chambers confirmed police are "assessing the information that has been discussed publicly in recent days in relation to any impact on the findings of the original Todd Barclay inquiry".

Their investigation into Barclay ended after the rookie MP refused to cooperate with police and there was inconclusive evidence to pursue it further.


On the one hand, I'm pleased to see that they're at least pretending to care. OTOH, we all know how this will go: they'll say they're taking another look at the allegations, sit on it for six months, then announce the same result. Because the police work for the people who pay them, which means the government-of-the-day. And the last thing they will want to do is piss off that government by bringing charges against one of their MP's and destroying their majority.

Of course, I could be wrong - in which case I will be pleasantly surprised. But based on their past performance, I expect the police will continue grovelling to power, just like they always have.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017



Grovelling to power

NZ politics today has been all about National MP Todd Barclay's illegal bugging of his electorate staff and the Prime Minister's knowledge of and response to it. The latter is looking distinctly shabby, and the actions of the National Party outright criminal. But the police don't exactly come out of this looking good either. As with other investigations of criminal activity by politicians and political parties, they simply shrugged and concluded "nothing to see here, move along". And that's apparent from the press release they put out today:

Police can confirm that Mr English was spoken to as part of the investigation, and a statement was taken.

In relation to why search warrants were not obtained during the investigation, Police have previously stated that there was insufficient evidence to seek such warrants.

We now know that English told them that Barclay had recordings. The legal standard for obtaining a search warrant is reasonable grounds to suspect that an offence has been committed and that evidence of that offence will be found. That standard appears to have been met simply by Bill English's statement to them. They'd certainly conclude that in any other case (and did in the case of Bradley Ambrose). So why didn't they do so here? I think the answer is obvious: because the police don't want to rock the boat or potentially endanger their funding. Faced with an allegation against the powerful, they grovelled to power rather than investigating it. As fucking usual. Neutral, impartial enforcers of the law they're not.

And now they're refusing to reopen the investigation because it is "closed". This is simply arbitrary, and again serves to ensure that those in power are effectively above the law.

Our political parties are owned by the rich

Stuff reports on statistics on political donations, and reports the unsurprising news that our political parties are owned by the rich:

Over half of major political donations come from wealthy individuals able to splash out $15,000 or more, new research shows.

Fully 52 percent of the money from donations over $1500 in 2011-2016 came in chunks of $15,000 or more. Donations under $1500 aren't declared, but aren't thought to make up a significant percentage of party funding given the small population of New Zealand.

[...]

Journalist and academic Max Rashbrooke put together the numbers for a report on open government being released on Tuesday. He thinks that the donations clearly buy some kind of influence.

"If parties are reliant on very wealthy people for half of their donations, then they aren't going to ignore them are they? I think it must lead to influence for at least a certain class of people," Rashbrooke said.


Rashbrooke is right. This level of funding is going to lead to influence, if not outright ownership. That's not to suggest cash-for-policies, because donors don't need to even ask. Parties want donations, so they need to keep donors happy, so they adopt pro-donor policies. Like keeping taxes on companies and the rich low and opposing capital gains taxes and regulations which would keep kiwis safe. And those are exactly the policies we see from the major, establishment parties. They're institutionally corrupt.

As for how to fix it, outlawing large donations and replacing it with public funding directly tied to votes would be a good start.

Winston's war with the Speaker

If you've been watching Question Time for the last few years, you'll know that NZ First leader Winston Peters really does not get along with Speaker of the House David Carter. And now he's escalated that, with a formal motion of no confidence in the Speaker on today's Order Paper:

Rt Hon Winston Peters to move, That this House has no confidence in The Rt Hon David Carter as Speaker of the New Zealand House of Representatives, due to his gross misunderstanding of Standing Orders, for inconsistent Speakers' Rulings and for abusing his power as Speaker during and after Martin Matthews' appointment as Auditor-General, and for inaccurately reporting the proceedings of the Officers of Parliament Committee yesterday when he claimed that the decision of that committee was unanimous and again repeated his personal view of the propriety of the Auditor-General's appointment, all of which is resulting in an absolute failure to uphold and protect the standards and reputation of this Parliament.

All of which is true. Carter is the worst Speaker I can remember, a partisan hack who twists the rules of the House to advantage his party. What's also true is that Winston is a grumpy old fart with a seniority complex who is often incapable of remembering the point he was trying to make a sentence ago, which doesn't exactly help the order of the House. In other words, there are far better reasons to dump Carter than this. Unfortunately, due to the general chickenshittedness of the opposition. this is what we have.

Unfortunately, member's motions are not voted on, though I expect we'll see a move today to gain leave to debate and vote on it.

"Economic wellbeing" and "national security"

One of the most controversial ideas in New Zealand's national security legislation is the idea that "national security" includes "economic wellbeing". This appears to have been formally introduced for the first time in an amendment to the SIS Act in 1999 (the same one that immunised SIS officers for illegal burglaries), and it was greeted with immediate suspicion. And the reason for that was obvious: because historically, the government and deep state had regarded the left and the environmental movement's demands for higher wages and economic and environmental justice as a threat to the economic wellbeing of the rich.

Now, that controversial clause has just been used to justify the GCSB's spying on our friends and allies in a failed effort to advance the personal career of a government Minister - a move whose discovery upset those friends and allies and clearly undermined our peaceful diplomatic relations.

That "justification" comes from the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security in her report into the incident. From the summary:

First, the New Zealand government had made a foreign policy decision to support Mr Groser as a candidate. The decision reflected a considered assessment that Mr Groser would, if selected, advance the effective functioning of the WTO (an international, multilateral organisation) and so have a significant impact on New Zealand’s economic well-being.

Second, under the terms of the Government Communications Security Bureau Act 2003 which applied at the time, the GCSB had a statutory responsibility to provide foreign intelligence assistance in support of New Zealand’s foreign policy objectives. In line with the government’s decision and the foreign policy basis for that decision, the GCSB acted lawfully and appropriately in providing its assistance to the campaign.”


And so that's that. The "economic wellbeing" clause and a stated view from MFAT that Groser would behave corruptly in office to advantage New Zealand equals corruptly spying on our allies. And presumably the same logic applies to justify spying on e.g. Greenpeace if MFAT decides that a strong climate change agreement would be bad for farmers. As for the solution, I think its simple: we need to get rid of the economic wellbeing clause, as quickly as possible.

As an aside, the Inspector-General's picture of the GCSB's decision-making process in this case is not exactly flattering. The GCSB director (John key's chum Ian Fletcher) seems to have decided himself that it was a good idea, then asked Groser whether he wanted his career advanced by spying on his rivals. Of course, Groser said "yes". Its telling that the Inspector-General is forced to rely on the GCSB's statutory objectives being "sufficiently broad" to permit this, rather than being able to point to a formal government decision to undermine our diplomatic relations. And there are recommendations about proper documentation of such cases, including consideration of improper personal benefit to Ministers who receive GCSB intelligence.

Monday, June 19, 2017



More National lies on Pike River

One of the government's justifications for its refusal to re-enter the Pike River mine to retrieve the bodies of the 29 who died there is that there is nothing to retrieve - the mine was an "inferno" after the explosion, and any bodies would have been burned to ashes. But it turns out that that's just not true - and that they've known all along:

New footage from deep inside Pike River Mine shows no sign of an inferno or underground fire.

The footage, obtained by Newshub, also shows what appears to be a pair of spectacles belonging to Ben Rockhouse, the only miner working in that area who wore glasses.

Filmed in 2011, just over a month after the fourth 2010 explosion, the footage shows the coal face of the mine, as deep as operations had got.

There are wooden pallets, rubber hoses, and other combustible items that are untouched and uncharred.

It flies in the face of what officials told the families on November 24 2010 - that the no one would have survived and the bodies would have been reduced to nothing.


They've had this footage since 2011. They've never shown it to families, and they have effectively covered it up. As for why, I guess the last thing the government would want is evidence that people might have survived the initial explosion and waited for rescue which never came. Then they might go from a government which merely let people die needlessly due to deregulation to one which callously left people to die. For the politicians, the safest course is simply to seal it all up and forget about it - because actually looking might find something they desperately, desperately don't want to. For them, our ignorance is their bliss.

National has lied so often on this that we simply can not trust anything they say on the issue. And pretty obviously, if we want different decisions to be made, we need a different government, which isn't primarily invested in covering its own arse on the issue.

How convenient

Last month the government released its new housing affordability measure, which it used to claim that housing affordability wasn't so bad really. Now it turns out that the numbers are dodgy and it overstates affordability:

The Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment ignored advice from the Reserve Bank over its new housing affordability measure, and made houses appear to be more affordable than they actually were.

[...]

But emails obtained by RNZ show that on 8 May, two days before the ministry publicly released the measure, the Reserve Bank warned it should be using a higher mortgage lending rate in its calculations.

The Reserve Bank said it was discontinuing its effective mortgage rate series, which MBIE was using in the measure, and "this probably wasn't the best measure to be using anyway".

It said the new customer mortgage rate was "more relevant for assessing affordability" whereas the effective mortgage rate was "the average rate on all outstanding mortgages".


So, four months out from an election, an "error" makes the government look better than it is on a major election vulnerability. How convenient. And despite knowing about this "error", they publish it anyway. That's beginning to look a little more than "convenient", and into the realms of an SSC investigation. Because it naturally raises suspicions that the books were cooked for the electoral advantage of the government of the day, and our public servants need to be seen to be above such things.

Friday, June 16, 2017



The Boomers are afraid

The performance of Jeremy Corbyn in the UK election has highlighted the impact if young people turn out and vote. And judging by Boomer curmudgeon Martin van Beynen's column in The Press, the Boomers are afraid:

Corbyn's United Kingdom would see a return to collective bargaining, nationalised rail, post and water, a free national health and education service, high taxes on the rich and massive Government investment in infrastructure. It sounds very much like New Zealand pre-1984.

Young New Zealand voters won't remember the endless strikes and ubiquitous regulation. Yes wages were high but only for workers with unions who could hold the country to ransom.

If school holidays were coming up, the seamen would stop the ferries across Cook Strait. When stock was banking up at the freezing works, the freezing workers would go out. The wharves were centres of industrial blackmail, pilfering and inefficiency.

It took weeks to get a telephone installed and New Zealand set world records for the length of time it took to construct anything. Yes we protected our industries but that led to cronyism, high prices and lousy quality. We had about one per cent unemployment but how many people actually worked?


To which the immediate response is freezing works, wharves, ferries? Next he'll be talking about sticking his feet in a cow-pat and wearing an onion on his belt as was the fashion in the day. The right's old scary mythology about the horrors of the past is about as recognisable to modern New Zealanders as ancient Rome - and about as frightening.

(As for phones, I guess van Beynen has never tried to get broadband installed recently...)

Still, van Beynen is right about one thing. If you're under 40 (or even 45), you've never really known anything but NeoLiberalism and austerity. And its pretty clear that those don't work for anyone but greedy old Boomers. Boomers like van Beynen would like us to accept this as unchangeable, but its not. Low wages are a political choice. A housing crisis is a political choice. Low taxes on the rich and shit public services are political choices. And we can vote for politicians who will make different ones - ones which won't pump up and protect the paper wealth of the greedy old, but which deliver benefits to the many. All we have to do is tick some boxes on September 23.

National vs the OIA 3

Last week we had a blatant example of Ministerial interference in an OIA request, with Transport Minister Simon Bridges trying to bully KiwiRail into unlawfully refusing information. Yesterday the information was released, with substantial redactions suggesting Ministerial pressure. And today we learn that that is exactly what happened:

The new correspondence shows the state-owned company eventually conceded after Mr Bridges' officials escalated the matter to one of KiwiRail's executives.

On 6 June, KiwiRail reversed its initial decision to release the document in full and instead decided to withhold it altogether.

It changed its draft response to read: "Disclosing the document could inhibit KiwiRail from carrying out, without prejudice, future negotiations."

Mr Bridges' staff immediately replied: "The Office is supportive of this response."

However just days earlier, on 1 June, KiwiRail said its legal advice was that releasing the report "would be unlikely to prejudice our negotiations".


Given that the "negotiations" were with the government over budget funding, it really makes you wonder whether the Minister (or their office) told them "if you release this, you won't be getting any money".

This is a perfect example of Ministerial bullying, and of why we want Ministers kept away from OIA responses as much as possible. Ministers are interested not in transparency, but in whether information makes them look good. And they appear to be quite happy to break the law to suppress information which doesn't. The good news is that this has apparently been appealed to the Ombudsman, and with a document trail showing this sort of Ministerial pressure (based on the document supposedly being misleading and wrong - which are not reasons for withholding but rather reasons to release more information along with it), it should be an open and shut case.

New Fisk

It's not the first time the Tories have been forced into bed with Unionists – and this long alliance is troubling

Climate change: Sweden vs New Zealand

If we are to avoid dangerous levels of climate change, the developed world needs to drop its emissions to zero (or thereabouts) by 2050 or so. faced with this challenge, New Zealand is dithering and making excuses. Meanwhile, Sweden is getting on with it:

Sweden has committed to becoming a net-zero carbon emitter by 2045, under a law passed in parliament on Thursday.

Lawmakers voted 254 to 41 in favour of the proposal, which was developed by a committee involving seven out of eight parliamentary parties. Only the far right Swedish Democrats did not engage in the consultation.

The legislation, which takes effect from 1 January 2018, takes a similar form to the UK’s 2008 Climate Change Act. It establishes an independent Climate Policy Council and four-yearly cycle for updating the national climate action plan.


New Zealanders like to think our government leads the world on environmental issues. But on climate change, we've long since surrendered that role to others, and now we're just freeloaders. Just like the US. And again, if we want this to change, its pretty obvious what needs to happen: we need to change the government, to one that isn't stuffed full of farmers and climate change deniers.

Thursday, June 15, 2017



He's on their side

Farmers are destroying our environment. They're sucking our rivers dry, polluting our lakes and streams with their cowshit, and destroying the global climate with their emissions. So naturally, Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy has announced that he's on their side:

Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy was out to paint the Government as the sector's only true friend.

It was National that was openly defending farmers in an environment where there were rising tensions between the primary sector and its critics. Not its opponents.

The critics were cynics "speaking with forked tongues".

But said Guy, they were "better at communicating than we are."

"We need to be loud and proud - not humble."


Pretty obviously, we can not expect proper regulation of the farm industry from such a biased Minister. If we want farmers to clean up their act and stop ruining our country, we need to change the government.

BAE collaborates in torture

In unsurprising news, a British arms company is helping repressive Middle Eastern dictatorships spy on their citizens:

BAE, Britain’s biggest arms company, secretly sold mass surveillance technology to six Middle Eastern governments that have been criticised for repressing their citizens, the BBC has reported.

The sophisticated technology can be used to spy on a huge number of people’s emails and mobile phones, triggering accusations from human rights campaigners that it is being used to silence or jail dissidents.

According to documents obtained by the BBC, the equipment has been sold in recent years to the governments of Saudi Arabia, UAE, Oman, Qatar, Algeria and Morocco.

The documents also reveal official concerns that the export of the technology could backfire and imperil the security of Britain and its allies, the BBC said.


The latter is about the spyware's targeting and decryption capabilities, which could be used to spy on the UK government. UK officials apparently would have refused an export permit - but they were never asked.

But the real problem here is that a UK company is selling spyware to oppressive governments, which enables (and is used for) them to round up, detain and torture opponents of the regime. This is no different from selling those regimes hot irons, cattle prods, and electric drills. BAE is actively enabling and collaborating in foreign torture. And its executives need to be held criminally accountable for it.

Now is the winter of our discontent

Writing in Stuff, Massey University's Grant Duncan reports on the results of the Stuff.co.nz/Massey University Election Survey. The key one? People are angry and want change:

About half the sample (and more than half of women and those under 40) opted for "a complete change of government", even though Labour supporters were under-represented.

Over two-thirds thought that the system of government itself is either "completely broken" or "working but needs to change".

Only 23 per cent said they wanted a leader who wouldn't change things much.

Forty-seven per cent said the mood of the country was "discontented" and only 23 per cent said "contented". The older the age-group, the more the respondents chose "contented".

About half of the sample agreed that our political leaders are "out of touch with the people". Only 21 per cent disagreed.


There's more, particularly on age differences (people under 45 know they're getting a raw deal and are particularly focused on housing compared to old people), but its a pretty clear message. And while this was a self-selected sample, its almost 40,000 people - 1% of the voting population. So its not something that you can just ignore. At the least, it points to a significant pool of people angry at the status quo, willing to vote for change - and at least enough to swing an election.

But there's a problem for the establishment political parties: distrust. Huge majorities recognise that professional politicians are in a different boat to the rest of us and do not trust them. The result is that the usual managed, triangulated, weasely messages aren't going to motivate people to vote, because they simply won't be believed. In order to tap this discontent, politicians need sincerity - and that's not something they can fake.

Climate change: PR, not pollution reduction

Climate change is getting serious, and its looking inevitable that New Zealand farmers will have to start paying for their share of emissions, just like everybody else. They don't want to, of course - farming's entire business model seems to be to profit by dumping environmental costs on others - so DairyNZ has suddenly announced a new plan to "fix" the problem:

The dairy industry is stepping up moves to curb greenhouse gas emissions using "farmer champions" who will show other farmers the steps that can be taken.

In pilot trials, 100 farmers will have their livestock methane emissions recorded as part of environmental performance reporting, and 60 rural professionals will be trained in Massey University's greenhouse gas course.


Note what's not part of the plan: cutting cow numbers or reducing fertiliser use, or even planting more trees - the three biggest things farmers could do to reduce their pollution. But this isn't about reducing pollution - its about appearing to do something so they don't have to.

In this, DairyNZ echoes the New Zealand government, which for decades has "responded" to climate change with promises of "research". Oddly though, such research never actually results in action to reduce emissions. But if we are to solve this problem, that's what we actually need to do. And as our biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions, farmers need to step up and do their share, rather than being subsidised by the rest of us.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017



Cruel, inhuman and degrading

That's the United Nations Human Rights Committee's view of Ireland's archaic abortion laws:

The United Nations has again ruled that Ireland’s abortion laws have subjected a woman to cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment.

It is the second time in 12 months that the UN’s human rights committee has denounced the abortion rules in the Irish Republic, which denies women with fatal foetal abnormalities the right to terminate pregnancies.

The committee has found in favour of Siobhán Whelan, an Irish woman who was denied access to an abortion in 2010 despite being diagnosed with fatal foetal syndrome during her pregnancy, it was announced on Tuesday.

[...]

In the Whelan case, the UN committee held that Ireland must also provide her with reparations for the harm she suffered and reform its laws to ensure other women do not face similar human rights violations.


The latter means making abortion accessible and legal. But that in turn will require amending the Irish constitution. There are moves afoot to do that, but until it happens, more women will suffer as Siobhán Whelan did.

Some justice for the Pacific solution

Since 2012 the Australian government has detained thousands of refugees in a concentration camp in Papua New Guinea. The refugees have been tortured, denied medical care, and subjected to cruel and inhumane conditions in an effort to encourage them to withdraw their asylum claims and return to the countries which persecuted them. Throughout this, the Australian government has publicly denied that it is doing anything wrong or illegal. But now in an implicit admission of guilt, they've agreed to compensate their victims:

The Australian government has agreed to compensate 1900 asylum seekers currently or formerly held at the Manus Island detention centre, in what may be Australia's largest ever human rights-related settlement.

Lawyers Slater and Gordon confirmed the Commonwealth had agreed to reach a conditional settlement of $70 million plus costs, to be distributed to asylum seekers based partly on the length of their detention.

The Victorian Supreme Court this morning heard the parties had reached an in-principle agreement to settle the claim on behalf of 1905 current former detainees, though the settlement was not yet formally approved.

In settling the case, the government will avoid a long and potentially damaging trial, which was set to last about six months and reveal explosive claims about life at the Manus Island regional processing centre.


Of course, the settlement will say that the Australian government and its camp-guards are not admitting any sort of wrongdoing. But the fact that they're paying compensation shows that that is a lie: governments do not compensate people unless they have wronged them. They also don't settle if they think they're going to win - the usual pressure to avoid legal costs simply doesn't apply to a government with effectively infinite resources compared to the plaintiffs. So, by paying up, Australia is effectively admitting that its victims' claims are true.

Compensating past victims is some justice. But as long as the camps are still open, Australia's crime is ongoing. The only true justice is to close the camps, free the refugees, grant them all asylum in Australia - and prosecute those responsible for this criminal policy. And if Australia doesn't do the latter, then the international community must.

National vs the OIA 2

Following a blatant example of Ministerial interference in an OIA request, the Ombudsman has written to the Prime Minister asking for an assurance that the government is committed to the Act:

Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier has written a letter to Prime Minister Bill English after the Transport Minister's office tried to stop KiwiRail from releasing a report.

He said such incidents risked eroding public confidence in the government and democracy.

The Official Information Act sets out the rules for responding to requests and is designed to keep ministers and officials accountable.

Mr Boshier said he had asked Mr English to confirm his ministers were committed to the Act and understood their obligations, particularly in an election year.


Leadership on these issues comes from the top. John Key's office played fast and loose with the OIA, playing the hat game and refusing to answer requests, and this sent a clear message to other Ministers that that was how they were allowed (and expected) to behave. Bill English could send a different message by issuing a strong statement on transparency. But instead he has apparently simply told Ministers they are expected to "comply with the law". In other words, the current secretive and bullying practices will continue.

New Fisk

Did Donald Trump denounce Qatar as a ‘sponsor of terrorism’ due to failed business deals?

Pandering to an apartheid state

Israel is an apartheid state which regularly bombs and invades both its neighbours and its occupied Palestinian population. Last year its settlement programme of stealing and colonising Palestinian land was rightly condemned by the United Nations as a violation of international law. As a small nation which supports international law, New Zealand co-sponsored that motion. But now, National has issued a grovelling apology to Israel for it:

New Zealand has restored diplomatic relations with Israel after Prime Minister Bill English wrote a letter which expressed regret for the fallout caused by a UN Security Council resolution.

Israel recalled its ambassador from New Zealand in December in response to New Zealand's co-sponsoring of the resolution, which condemned Israel's continued settlements.

The Jerusalem Post has reported that English wrote to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu several days ago, saying he "regretted the damage done to Israel-New Zealand relations as a result of New Zealand proposing Resolution 2334 at the Security Council".


Which immediately raises serious doubts about whether New Zealand will be supporting international law in the Middle East in the future, or whether we'll be backing the US on its "except for Israel" exception.

National has form on this. Back in the 70's and 80's they were infamous for their support for South Africa's apartheid regime. Their support for Israel is just more of the same I guess. As for what we should be doing, the South Africa example is clear: boycott, divestment, and sanctions, until Israel obeys international law, ends its apartheid practices, and withdraws completely from occupied territory.

Monday, June 12, 2017



Canada's spies illegally retained metadata

Another day, another story about illegal spying. This time from Canada, where the Canadian Security Intelligence Service was found to be illegally retaining the metadata of innocent third-parties who called (or were called by) the targets of interception warrants:

When CSIS intercepted the communications of innocent people between 2006 and 2016 “all” the metadata related to those communications was retained in a controversial database, a top secret memo obtained by the Star suggests.

The document relates to CSIS’s Operational Data Analysis Centre (ODAC) and a now-discontinued program that stored data intercepted from the service’s targets — and people who were in contact with them at the time.

The Federal Court ruled in 2016 it was illegal for the service to indefinitely keep data on people who posed no threat to Canada’s national security — such as the family, friends or coworkers of CSIS targets — for future analysis.


Apparently CSIS claims it doesn't know how many people it illegally spied on in this manner - a simple database search apparently being beyond them. But its highly disturbing. These people were innocent, deemed irrelevant to any national security investigation. And yet their information was retained indefinitely for future mining. That's been stopped now, but it makes you wonder what else they're doing.

It also makes you wonder whether it is happening or has happened here. While New Zealand law has always required irrelevant information lawfully gathered under an intelligence warrant to be destroyed, its obviously open to game-playing about what's considered "irrelevant". And even if it is irrelevant for national security purposes, it can always be passed on to other agencies, either foreign intelligence services or the New Zealand police, if it "may assist" in their jobs. And given the "collect it all" mindset of the spies, they may very well decide that even the most innocuous information may assist one of these agencies, if not now, then at some indeterminate stage in the future (perhaps when a hypothetical incident occurs, and they ned to do network analysis to find any suspicious links). In the wake of the Canadian discoveries, I think our spies owe us some answers on this.

Climate change: Fixing the ETS

Writing in the Herald, Brian Fallow reports on economic consultancy Motu's proposals to fix the Emissions Trading Scheme. The good news is that they think that New Zealand will be locked out of international carbon markets for the foreseeable future - meaning no more fraudulent Ukrainian "credits" crowding out domestic emissions reductions. And this means we can finally have an ETS which limits emissions:

[C]entral to the Motu proposal is that the Government start to set a cap, a fixed supply of units for the next five years and updated annually.

The cap, which would be lowered over time, would drive the price, which would rise over time. That, after all, is the point of the scheme.

Most of the units would be auctioned. Others would be allocated free, as now, to trade-exposed emissions-intensive sectors, so they only face a carbon price at the margin. Potentially, that could include agriculture. The model is agnostic on that.

And some would go into a unit reserve which the Government could use to deliver a second key feature: a price band with a floor and a ceiling. The floor provides some security for forest owners and the clean tech sector; the ceiling some comfort for emitters wary of a price spike.


I don't see much value in a ceiling (businesses who don't want to be exposed to price spikes could just emit less), but if we want trees to soak up carbon, we will need a floor. As for the rest, we desperately need a cap, and a long-term trajectory will provide businesses with certainty to invest in cleaner technology. I'd also like to see an independent body to advise on the cap and trajectory to limit the potential for sabotage by a future National government (as they did to the ETS in 2009).

But I doubt any of this will happen under National. From the start, their policy has been to prevent polluters paying the cost of their destruction of our environment. If we want change in this area, we're going to have to get a better government first.

Trump gets the message

Donald Trump seems to have realised that he is unwelcome in the UK:

Donald Trump has told Theresa May in a phone call he does not want to go ahead with a state visit to Britain until the British public supports him coming.

The US president said he did not want to come if there were large-scale protests and his remarks in effect put the visit on hold for some time.


But while its a welcome delay, its unlikely to be out of any concern for UKanians' feelings. Instead, it will be because the narcissistic president doesn't want his visit dominated by headlines about people mass-mooning him. Because the last thing Trump can stand is people laughing at him.

Good riddance

Last year, the Panama Papers revealed that New Zealand is a tax haven, with secret foreign trusts used by foreigners to cheat taxes, launder money, and conceal ownership of stolen assets. In response, the government promised some weak reforms. And surprisingly, they appear to be working:

The Government adopted Shewan's recommendations and earlier this year introduced rules requiring people setting up or administering foreign trusts in New Zealand to reveal financial information and the identity of any beneficiaries.

The new regime requires all trusts to register with Inland Revenue by June 30.

These trusts, according to an Inland Revenue spokesman, must indicate whether they are going to stay registered in New Zealand and comply with the extra requirements.

Of the 11,750 foreign trusts in existence before the new rules were passed in February, only 66 have so far informed IRD they plan to register.

As at Thursday afternoon, 1838 had told the tax department they are not going to register under the new regime.

These trusts will no longer be able to operate as a result.


So it appears that the government's weak disclosure regime is too much for the international tax cheats, and may very well put our local money laundering industry out of business. Good riddance. Meanwhile, I'm glad to have been wrong about the impact. That said, the best defence against corruption is disclosure, and a public beneficial ownership register would still be a useful step in the global fight against corrupt officials and the cheating rich.

Friday, June 09, 2017



Voting matters and FPP sucks

The UK election result is firming up, and its now looking like a progressive coalition government is impossible. Instead, a shrunken conservative party will be forced into coalition with the Northern Irish bigots. Which sounds bad, but given the way UK politics works, they won't be able to do anything. The austerity government has been crippled, while the "unelectable" Jeremy Corbyn has (according to the Guardian's results) won 12.1 million votes - nearly half a million more than Tony Blair did in 2001.

The reason for this success? Young people voted. They looked at a government which wanted to sell out their future for the benefit of rich, said "fuck that", and marched to the ballot box. While it hasn't turfed the Tories out, it has absolutely crippled them.

The message is clear: voting matters. And that's a lesson people in New Zealand should take to heart. Here, we have a government intent on selling out the young for the benefit of greedy Boomers: on housing, on climate change, on superannuation (where young people will be shafted while the old will be protected). If you don't like this, and want to do something about it, then enrol to vote.

The other clear message is that FPP sucks. Only half a million votes - 2% of the total - separates the two parties. But under the UK's unfair electoral system, that turns into 60 seats and the difference between government and opposition. If the UK had a fair electoral system, they'd be looking at a Labour - LibDem coalition, possibly with SNP support on confidence and supply depending on where the threshold kicked in. Instead, they have yet another government without majority support. Though at least this time its a weak one, rather than having a manufactured majority. The UK needs proportional representation. And until it gets it, we shouldn't call it a democracy.

New Fisk

This is the real story behind the economic crisis unfolding in Qatar

A hopeful result

Voting has finished in the UK election, and the exit poll has been released, showing a hung Parliament. That poll could be wrong, of course - its been out by twenty seats in the past. But even if it is, Labour will have done far better than expected, and the Tories will have barely held what they have. Which means Theresa May's calling of a snap election in the hope of winning a larger majority and a stronger claw for hard Brexit has failed spectacularly. She's probably finished whether the Conservatives retain power or not - so we'll have the sight of more Tory cannibalism to entertain us.

As for Labour: contrary to Blairite dogma, it turns out that social democracy is actually quite popular, and people will turn out to vote for it. Whether its popular enough to cobble together a credible governing coalition remains to be seen, but its still seen them do massively better than predictions. As for Jeremy Corbyn, whether he wins or loses he's been vindicated. His policies were popular, as was his authenticity, and he's turned a predicted loss of seats into an apparent gain. You'd hope this would silence the Blairites, but it won't; the sooner they fuck off and start their own pallid NeoLiberal managerialist party, the better.

Thursday, June 08, 2017



Saving our rivers

Earlier in the year the government introduced new targets and standards for fresh water. As with so much else from national, it turned out to be mostly a PR exercise: the standards were literally bullshit, the targets so far off that they were meaningless. Meanwhile, rivers today are making people sick.

Today, civil society came up with its response: a plan to rescue our fresh water:

Political parties have been urged to adopt a "freshwater rescue plan" advocacy groups say can solve the country's freshwater quality issues.

The seven-step plan – jointly announced on Thursday by leaders from tourism, science, health, recreation and environment organisations – is an "unprecedented" attempt to reverse freshwater degradation.

It would involve stopping public funding of irrigation schemes, a reduction in cow numbers, stricter enforcement of environmental breaches, and forcing polluters to pay for their environmental damage.

The plan is supported by some public health professionals, freshwater ecologists and social scientists.


The plan looks pretty good. Firstly, it stops making things worse, by ending government funding for pollution - and it puts the savings straight into sustainable agriculture. Secondly, it proposes reducing currently unsustainable agriculture to sustainable levels - a vital part of solving the problem. Making polluters pay for cleanup will provide a disincentive, while forcing regional councils to report on their enforcement measures will provide a strong incentive for them to actually enforce the law.

Naturally, the government opposes all this (I'm just listening to Nick Smith doing so in Question Time). So the message is clear: if we want clean rivers, we need to vote them out.

30 years nuclear free

nuclear-badge

Thirty years ago today, the New Zealand Nuclear Free Zone, Disarmament, and Arms Control Act 1987 came into force. The law didn't just ban nuclear weapons from New Zealand - it was also a statement of who we were as a nation: peaceful and independent.

A decade ago when the 20th anniversary rolled around, the nuclear-free policy was still being contested by National party refuseniks who wanted to sell us out to Washington. Now its an accepted fact, political bedrock, which no politician seriously suggests changing. Even the US has now accepted it and gotten over their grudge - and their National minions have followed suit.

But while our nuclear-free status is stable, nuclear weapons are still a threat to the world. Our government should mark the day by reiterating its opposition to them, regardless of who owns them, and re-committing towards their complete global elimination. And if this pisses off the hegemon and causes 3am drunk-tweeting, then so be it.

National ignores slumlords

We have a housing crisis, and dodgy landlords are exploiting this by renting out drafty garages and squalid boarding houses for outrageous rents. In theory, violations of minimum rental standards can be investigated and prosecuted by the government. But how many compliance officers do they have? Just fifteen:

Just 15 officers are responsible for enforcing standards across the entire New Zealand rental market.

[...]

[Building and construction minister Nick] Smith said that the 15 officers were enough to cover the private rental market of around 450,000 properties, as most tenancy issues were brought forward to the tenancy tribunal by renters themselves.

"The compliance and investigation unit focuses on the properties of the more vulnerable tenants, where they are unlikely to be able to take a case to the tenancy tribunal."

He noted that local councils also have the power to shut down unsafe rental housing.


So we have a problem, and Nick Smith's response is to pass the buck. Which isn't really surprising when you consider how many National MPs are landlords (or indeed, slumlords). The last thing they want is for landlords like them to be forced to offer decent houses to rent - then they might make less money.

Meanwhile there's an obvious parallel with mine safety here, where National underfunded mine inspectors because they just didn't want to know about the problem. In that case, the result was the Pike River disaster. Obviously shitty rental housing is less dramatic than that - it is unlikely to lead to an explosion and 29 people dying in a single tragedy. At the same time, the number of deaths and illnesses caused by shitty rental housing is significant: poor housing causes 40,000 hospitalisations and 1600 excess deaths, and slum rentals will cause a disproportionate chunk of that. There are significant public health benefits to investigating these landlords and forcing them to comply with the law. Isn't it time the government acted?

It's on!

A ballot for four Member's Bills was held today. The first bill out? David Seymour's End of Life Choice Bill. So, we finally get to have the death with dignity debate we've been waiting for for the past few years. And this time, hopefully, it will pass.

But it gets better - because Julie Anne Genter's Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis and Other Matters) Amendment Bill was also drawn from the ballot. The bill allows people with terminal illnesses or debilitating conditions to use, possess, or cultivate cannabis, and relatives of such people to possess or cultivate it for the purposes of supply. So we're going to have a death with dignity debate and a medical marijuana debate at the same time. Watch the politicians scatter!

Its a great example of how the member's ballot can be used to get issues on the agenda, whether the government wants to deal with them or not. Now, if only someone would do it for repealing the "crime" of blasphemy.

(Also drawn: two National Party bills, one increasing sentences for livestock rustling, and the other banning gang members from local government buildings).

Wednesday, June 07, 2017



Fuck America

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was in Wellington yesterday - and he got an appropriate kiwi welcome:

The weather was awful and the mood of the locals wasn't much better when US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrived in Wellington.

US media travelling with Tillerson were surprised by the number of people flipping the bird at Tillerson as his motorcade sped through town.

New York Times correspondent Gardiner Harris said he had been in a lot of motorcades but even he was taken back by the negative reaction.

"I've been in motorcades for a couple of years now ... I've never seen so many people flip the bird at an American motorcade as I saw today," Harris said.

Harris wasn't the only one who noticed - US protection officers travelling by with Tillerson were overheard joking about the "warm" Wellington welcome.


This isn't protesters - they were outside Parliament - but ordinary people on the street. Its a sign of just how much Donald Trump has undermined relations just by being president. Not that they were that great to start with (kiwis dislike bullies, and the US is the biggest bully in the world), but at least the previous administration gave the impression they were trying not to be complete arseholes (while murdering people with drones and randomly bombing people as always). And with polls showing that kiwis are now looking to China for global leadership, it is going to become increasingly difficult for New Zealand governments to continue their usual pro-US policies...

Member's Day

Today is a Member's Day, and it looks like we have some interesting bills on offer. First up is a motion appointing Leo Donnelly as a temporary Ombudsman to help finally clear the backlog of old OIA complaints. Then there's the vote on Ruth Dyson's Crown Minerals (Protection of World Heritage Sites) Amendment Bill, which would stop National from turning Fiordland into an open-cast coal mine. Following that there's a National spam-bill, Stuart Smith's Friendly Societies and Credit Unions (Regulatory Improvements) Amendment Bill, which really should have been done on government time. Then there's Meka Whaitiri's Electoral (Registration by Special Vote) Amendment Bill, which would fix one of the big inequities in our electoral system, but which is unlikely to become law by the election. Next up is Fletcher Tabuteau's International Transparent Treaties Bill, which isn't so much about transparency in negotiations as Parliamentary ratification of treaties - still a valuable aim, but only half the problem. And finally there's Joanne Hayes' Marriage (Court Consent to Marriage of Minors) Amendment Bill. If the House moves very quickly it might make a start on Marama Davidson's Local Electoral (Equitable Process for Establishing Māori Wards and Māori Constituencies) Amendment Bill.

There should be a ballot for three or four bills tomorrow; hopefully someone will put in a bill to repeal our absurd law against blasphemous libel.

National vs the OIA

During its time in office National has made it clear that it is hostile to transparency and the OIA. The latest incident? Transport Minister Simon Bridges trying to bully KiwiRail into unlawfully refusing information:

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters tabled an email trail in Parliament yesterday showing that Mr Bridges' office repeatedly urged KiwiRail last week not to release a business case on Auckland's proposed third main railway track.

Initially, his officials opposed the document being released, saying it was part of an unsuccessful budget bid, but were told by KiwiRail on Thursday that the law was clear it should be released.

After consulting its legal team, KiwiRail told Mr Bridge's office it would struggle to justify not releasing it.

But on Friday Mr Bridges' office again urged KiwiRail not to release the business plan.

This time it used a scatter-gun approach - arguing the report was only a draft, was on a misleading template and that its proposed release was making them "extremely uncomfortable".


None of which are lawful reasons for withholding (in fact, all of them appear in the Ombudsman's list of common misconceptions). So, the Minister was telling a crown company to behave unlawfully. And that is simply unacceptable.

More generally, this shows the danger of agencies consulting Ministers about requests. While in some cases it is justified by the "no surprises" convention, it clearly exposes agencies to improper pressure and harassment from Ministers, and may result in unlawful decisions. In fact, I think there's probably a very interesting research project around this: OIA every Minister asking for all correspondence and information on the last ten requests they were consulted on. I suspect there's a lot more dodgy email trails like this waiting to be found...

Tuesday, June 06, 2017



Climate change: Retreat


For years, scientists have been warning about sea-level rise due to climate change. Now, with global CO2 concentrations over 400ppm and the window closing on avoiding dangerous climate change and an unknown climate, the New Zealand government is finally acting on those warnings. It's strategy? Retreat:

Councils are going to be told not to build or approve developments or structures lower than 1.9 metres above the high tide mark under new advice on rising sea levels.

It's a half-metre increase on the Ministry for the Environment's previous advice a decade ago, based on new information showing sea levels will rise faster than anticipated.

The detail - and other new guidance for councils - emerged in a briefing document provided to a regional council and gives an insight into the Ministry's delayed official guidance to local government which was meant to be published last year.

It also refers to "retreat" as a planning option for areas facing an encroaching ocean - a step that would see land surrendered to the tide and communities potentially relocated.


The restrictions will apply to infrastructure and new builds, with a specific example of new coastal residential developments. There'll be lower limits for altering existing buildings or consenting short-use structures. But the net result is that people are not going to be able to build close to the present coastline, and those currently planning coastal developments are going to lose a lot of money. As for those who currently own homes on low-lying coastal land, the inability to change uses or make significant alterations (not to mention the threat of inundation) will decrease their value significantly. So I guess we can expect outraged coastal wankers to sue in a vain effort to hold back the tide.

There's further details on Denis Tegg's blog here. Scarily, the 1.9m limit appears to be an underestimate - the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is expecting 2.5m, and given the way emissions are going, it'll probably get worse. But that's what happens when you ignore a problem for thirty years: it gets worse.