Wednesday, August 23, 2017



Oh, FFS

In response to scaremongering by (highly-paid) journalist Patrick Gower, (highly-paid) Labour leader Jacinda Ardern and (highly-paid) finance spokesperson Grant Robertson have just ruled out any prospect of tax increases on highly-paid people like themselves. By doing so they've chained themselves into National's current fiscal straitjacket, under which the government can not collect enough revenue to properly fund our health, education, and welfare systems, and effectively ruled out any real chance of making any progress if they become government.

If people wonder why I have nothing but contempt for the Labour Party, this is why. They talk a big game about fixing things, but refuse to embrace the necessary tools to do so. Instead, they're just the smily face of the austerity status quo, unwilling to really change anything.

But its not just a betrayal, its also simply fucking stupid. There is absolutely no political downside to making MP's and corporate bigwigs pay more tax. To the contrary, Helen Clark ran on a platform of taxing the rich, and she got elected on it. But now Labour has just made it look like they've put their own personal greed ahead of the public's needs. And they deserve to be punished for it.

Time to tax the rich to fix National's social deficit

Steven Joyce has released the Pre-Election Financial Update, proudly announcing that National has spent $2.1 billion less on health, education, infrastructure and social services than it could have this year. Because that's what National's "surplus" is: the result of deliberate government underspending in all of those areas. As I've said before, when you have people living in cars, you don't have a "surplus", you have a social deficit. And if you have people living in cars while you have billions of dollars of spare cash rolling around, you're a monster.

Apparently this is Bad For Labour because the social deficit is a one-off and if they want to do anything to fix it they'll need to raise taxes on the rich. Bring it on. Stick it to them. Those fuckers have had it too easy for too long, and its time they paid their fair share. And if they want to fuck off with their money to some foreign tax-haven with all the other criminal rich, good fucking riddance. We don't need sociopathic freeloading parasites in this country.

Kiwis want a high level of public services. We want free universal public education, a health system to take care of us when we're sick, a welfare system to take care of us when we're poor or disabled, superannuation to take care of us when we're old. We need to pay for that with taxes. National has cut taxes below the level required to provide the services we want, and shifted the burden from the rich to the poor. That has to change. Fortunately, we can change it in a month.

Let's lynch the landlord

That's the (regulatory) conclusion of the People's Review of Renting by Renters United and ActionStation:

A tenants' advocacy group is calling for an end "no fault" evictions by landlords, and to limit annual rent rises to no more than the percentage change in the national minimum wage.

The People's Review of Renting is being launched on Wednesday morning by Renters United based on over 600 renters' stories crowd-sourced by social advocacy platform Action Station.

It recommends a raft of law changes to regulate landlords and strengthen tenant rights, including licensing all landlords and introducing compulsory rental Warrants of Fitness.


These are good suggestions. They would ensure that houses are fit to live in and that renters can have the security to turn them into homes, while preventing the currently pervasive abuses of power by landlords. Naturally, the Property Investors Federation AKA the landlords union is not happy, saying that it will cause many landlords to quit the business. Good. Because we don't want exploitative, abusive arseholes renting properties unfit for a dog to live in, then evicting people if they complain, and sooner those scumbags exit the market, the better. And as most landlords are really just housing speculators, it also means less heat in the housing market (and if they sell the houses they're hoarding, even better, because it'll help crash the price). All in all, I don't see a downside to any of this.

You can read the People's Review here.

(Title from the Dead Kennedys)

Getting what he asked for good and hard

The Auckland University Students' Association has had enough of bigots taking their money to spread hate, and are moving to disaffiliate them. Voluntary student membership campaigner DPF is outraged by this. But bluntly, this is what he asked for. AUSA is now a completely voluntary association, an incorporated society under the Incorporated Societies Act 1908. It is, in law, no different from your local rugby club - or the National Party. And like those other groups, it has rights to freedom of association and freedom of expression and no obligation to support or promote groups or viewpoints its members disagree with. It might have done once, when membership was compelled by law. But it certainly doesn't now, any more than the National Party is compelled to support the Coal Action Network or the Animal Liberation Front or the Communist Party of Aotearoa. And if DPF doesn't like that, he has only himself to blame. He got exactly what he asked for, and now he can suck it.

Ardern wants a republic

Jacinda Ardern is shaping up as a change candidate. And she backed that up yesterday by telling the Herald that she wanted to push for a republic:

Labour leader Jacinda Ardern says it's time New Zealand started having the conversation about New Zealand becoming a republic.

"I do think that we should start having the conversation. There are a lot of issues that need to be resolved on that path, and I would have liked the government to have had that conversation when the flag debate came up," Ardern said during a special PM Job Interview with the Herald today.

"That was the time to say, 'actually, where are we heading? What's the Crown's ongoing relationship with Maori if we transition into a republic? Where will we be in 20 years' time in this regard.'"


The previous generation of politicians always said that a republic was "inevitable", but were never willing to do anything to bring it about. Ardern at least recognises that if we want a republic, we need to actually make it happen. And I'm looking forward to her doing it.

Coleman's plan for health savings: sell hospitals

Our health system is systematically under-funded. Canterbury DHB has responded to this in the way that DHB's traditionally have, by providing essential services and running a deficit. But the government wants them to stop, and instead make cuts. But don't worry, says Jonathan Coleman, it won't come from services:

In emails released yesterday, the board discussed what it said was a Ministry of Health demand for its deficit to be slashed to $17 million, down from its current estimate of almost $54m. The ministry has asked that the following year, it reduce its deficit to zero.

The DHB's former acting chair, Sir Mark Solomon, told RNZ that reducing spending on that scale would mean significant service cuts of unprecedented size.

He said it would equate to the cost of 750 nurses or 256 senior doctors, although Sir Mark emphasised those options were not being considered.

But Dr Coleman told Morning Report today that he could guarantee there was "no way" frontline services would be cut.


So where's it going to come from then? After decades of cuts, its not as if DHBs have thousands of pointless back-office staff they can cut. These people do jobs, and those jobs matter. Things like making sure everyone gets paid. Or making sure the wards are clean. Or ensuring there's enough cancer drugs for everyone who is scheduled to get chemotherapy. Or scheduling the appointments for all those hip replacements Coleman regards as the sole determinant of DHB output. Or is Coleman suggesting they sell their hospitals instead?

Oh, actually he is:
He said savings could be made by leasing facilities instead of owning them

Which is just a scam: you end up with a big capital injection (which the government steals for tax cuts), but paying more (which means providing fewer services) in the long-term. But Coleman clearly doesn't care about the long-term: he's probably opted out of the public health system by having private health insurance. And so he sees free public healthcare as a cost, rather than an enormous benefit which enables kiwis to get on with their our without fear of being completely fucked if we get sick.

(See also National's plans to redevelop Dunedin hospital using a public-private partnership: it saves in the short-term, but costs more in the long run. Another scam designed to make the books look good).

We deserve better than National's scams and accounting tricks. We deserve a health system that is properly funded to deliver the services we need. And we won't get that under National.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017



Australia denies refugees medical care again

Since 2013, Australia has been detaining refugees in concentration camps on Nauru and Manus Island. The refugees face persistent neglect by the government that has a duty-of-care towards them - including an explicit denial of basic medical care:

Nearly 50 refugees and asylum seekers held on Nauru – including at least three women seeking to terminate a pregnancy – are being refused, or not considered for, overseas medical treatment, in defiance of doctors’ recommendations.

Three pregnant refugee women on Nauru have asked to terminate their pregnancies, for cultural, familial and health reasons. Doctors’ requests for them to be transferred overseas for the procedure have been rejected. Terminations are illegal on Nauru, a devoutly Christian country.

And Australian immigration department staff have confirmed to the Guardian that nearly 50 refugees and asylum seekers are on a waiting list for approval for medical transfer for a variety of conditions including musculoskeletal injuries and surgeries that cannot be performed on the island.


Why is the waiting list so long? Because all transfers must be approved by the Nauru hospital overseas medical referral committee, which never meets. And in the case of abortion, will not approve overseas transfer because it is illegal on Nauru. And this suits the Australians perfectly - both because it increases the harshness of the conditions in the concentration camps, but also because it prevents refugees from exercising their legal rights once in Australia to avoid being sent back to torture and neglect - thus fulfilling the government's promise to never let them into Australia.

This is absolutely vile. As for the solution, there's an obvious opportunity for the New Zealand government to step in and provide the medical care Australia won't. But that would require politicians who aren't craven vassals of our racist neighbours.

The Valley

I've been watching and reading The Valley, Stuff Circuit's documentary and stories on New Zealand's involvement in Afghanistan, and it is disturbing. The SAS abusing civilians in order to provoke "insurgents" into combat. The Army secretly changing the focus of the Provincial Reconstruction Team from aid to killing people, without telling the public. Gung-ho ex-SAS officers getting their soldiers needlessly killed. A "very senior officer" giving illegal orders to set a booby-trap, then having their prosecution quashed and name suppressed by the top brass. And the usual NZDF secrecy and cover-up of all of this - including bullshitting their political masters. And that's what really stinks here: the NZDF is supposed to work for us, be subject to democratic control. Instead, it appears that they went entirely rogue, pursuing their own policy which endangered kiwi and Afghan lives, without any form of political consent.

They need to be held to account for this. We can not allow our military to undermine and ignore the principle of civilian control, simply as a matter of self-protection. As for how, I'd start with a full, independent and civilian inquiry into NZDF's actions in Afghanistan, to get to the bottom of who lied to us and investigate the crimes committed. NZDF will hate this, but at the end of the day either they work for us, or we're a military dictatorship. Its time to choose.

Monday, August 21, 2017



Bigotry is not for the public benefit

Bigot-group Family First has been stripped of its charity status by the Charities Registration Board:

The Charities Registration Board said in a decision today the reason was "because it does not advance exclusively charitable purposes".

"The board considers that Family First has a purpose to promote its own particular views about marriage and the traditional family that cannot be determined to be for the public benefit in a way previously accepted as charitable," said chairman Chairman Roger Holmes Miller.

"Family First has the freedom to continue to communicate its views and influence policy and legislation but the board has found that Family First's pursuit of those activities do not qualify as being for the public benefit in a charitable sense."


Or, to put it another way, hate and bigotry are not publicly beneficial. Which is pretty obvious, really.

Family First will naturally be appealing. I hope they fail. Not that this will put them out of business - they'll just need to pay tax like normal people, rather than being able to spew their hate tax-free.

#include("Bad Dunne pun")

After announcing he was running, and putting up signs all over Ōhāriu, Peter Dunne has changed his mind and announced he is retiring at the election:

Peter Dunne is standing down after 33 years as Ōhāriu's MP, saying voter sentiment in the electorate has shifted and there is a mood for change.

[...]

"I have concluded, based on recent polling, and other soundings I have been taking over the last few weeks, that, the volatility and uncertainty notwithstanding, there is now a mood amongst Ōhāriu voters for a change of MP, which is unlikely to alter," Mr Dunne said in a statement today.

"This shift in voter sentiment is quite at variance with polling and other data I have seen throughout the year, upon which I had based my earlier decision to seek re-election for a 12th term as MP for Ōhāriu."

He was "naturally extremely disappointed" after 33 years of service at the apparent change of feeling but he respected absolutely the electorate's prerogative to feel that way.

"I have therefore decided that it is time for me to stand aside, so the people of Ōhāriu can elect a new electorate MP."


A lot of people hate Peter Dunne for consistently selling out to whoever is in power, and there's some truth in that. Certainly, appearing to stand for nothing other than your own Ministerial salary is not something that attracts support or makes you many friends. Neither did being a roadblock to drug reform when in coalition with Labour. But since then he's changed his mind, and become a consistent advocate for better drug laws. He's also been a quiet protector of the environment, impeding National's efforts to gut the RMA for years (until the Māori Party finally sold us all out earlier this year). And he's been a useful voice for civil liberties and against the expansion of spy powers. So its not like he was a complete scumbag like David Seymour.

With Dunne's departure, United Future is, well, done. I don't think anyone will miss them, or even notice.

For transparent electoral donations

Our democracy is corrupt. Our political parties receive millions of dollars a year in "donations" (AKA bribes) from rich people seeking to buy favour and influence. In theory, we're protected against that by the forced disclosure of large donations, so people can see if e.g. state honours are "coincidentally" given to wealthy donors. But in reality, we're not protected at all, because more than 80% of that money is given in total secrecy:

At least four out of every five dollars donated to the two big parties is given secretly, as transparency around their political funding dwindles.

More than $31 million has been donated to registered political parties in the past six years, most of that to National.

Smaller parties like the Greens publicly disclose who provided most of their funding, but the big parties are secretive. 83 per cent ($8.7m over six years) of the money donated to National is from anonymous donors, and 80 per cent ($2.8m) of that donated to Labour.

The worst offender is NZ First: Most years, it allows every single one of its donors to remain secret.


And these are not small donations, ordinary people giving $20 or $50 to support their party. In 2016, the National Party took in $819,000 in donations between $5000 and $15000, while Labour gained $348,000 in the same range. And all of these sizeable donations are completely secret. Which means that we have no way of checking whether donors are getting favours in return.

This isn't good enough. To protect ourselves against corruption we need real transparency in this area, which means a much lower disclosure threshold - something around $1000, or even lower. Individual MPs have to disclose any gift they receive above the value of $500, and their parties should be treated no differently.

New Fisk

Trump's claim that a general dipped bullets in pigs' blood is fake news – but the US massacre of Moro Muslims isn't

I am glad Labour cares about climate change

Labour did its campaign launch over the weekend, and Jacinda Ardern announced that climate change will be a priority for any government she leads:

Labour leader Jacinda Ardern has targeted climate change as a priority area, saying it was the "my generation's nuclear-free moment".

[...]

Speaking afterwards Ardern said she remained committed to long-standing Labour policy for an emissions trading scheme that covered all gases and all sectors - including agriculture.

However, she said a Labour government would legislate for carbon emissions targets to ensure they were reported.


Good. Because this is the most important challenge facing our species at the moment, and we all need to do our bit to fix it. At the moment, National is dragging its feet and refusing to act so as to continue to subsidise polluters and farmers. And by doing so, they are putting our future directly at risk.

Meanwhile, political journalists are freaking out and regarding this as some sort of attack on the Greens. Hardly. As Ardern points out, it is 2017, and all political parties need to be talking about this. And in case anyone has forgotten, this isn't new territory for Labour: it was Labour who pushed for a carbon tax and who finally managed to pass the ETS in 2008 (though they made it too weak and then it was gutted by National). Policy areas aren't "owned" by parties any more than voters are, and its good to have parties competing in an area which actually matters, rather than on who can be the most vicious to criminals.

Friday, August 18, 2017



Suing for justice

In August 2010, NZ SAS soldiers murdered six civilians in a revenge raid in Afghanistan. When the raid was exposed, the government denied everything and refused to investigate. But now, their victims are going to court to force an inquiry:

The government was "unlawful", "unreasonable" and "in breach of natural justice" in its decision not to hold an inquiry into claims SAS troops killed Afghan civilians in 2010, say lawyers for the victims.

This morning lawyers Deborah Manning, Rodney Harrison QC and Richard McLeod announced they had filed an application for a Judicial Review in the High Court at Wellington, in response to the government's stance on the alleged incident.

[...]

They are seeking a Judicial Review under the Defence Act 1990, the Armed Forces Discipline Act 1971 and the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 in the matter of "decisions not to investigate alleged wrongdoing on the part of the New Zealand Defence Force in Afghanistan".

They revealed they were acting on behalf of three applicants, made up of groups of villagers from the area where the event - Operation Burnham - occurred.


I have no idea how strong their case is, but I wish them luck. The SAS's actions raise serious questions of war crimes, torture, and civilian control of the military. Allegations like this should not be ignored or swept under the rug to protect the "reputation" of the SAS or NZDF. To the contrary, it is the investigation and punishment of war criminals which protects those institutions, and our country. We need an inquiry, and people shouldn't have to go to court to try and get one.

The Greens can take nothing for granted

Like many people, I was shocked by last night's One News poll showing the Greens on 4%. Sure, I'd expected them to lose support over middle-class hatred for the poor and Labour finally having a credible leader, but that much? It was a bit of a shock. And while its six weeks to go and there will be other polls etc, its a wake up call that the Greens can take nothing for granted - either the decency of their fellow New Zealanders, or their survival as a party.

There's lessons in here for Labour as well. Historically, the Greens have done best when Labour has been weak, and worst when they're strong. Remember the Clark years, when they worried about scraping in every election? The Greens' success for the past nine years now looks like a commentary on Labour's weakness, its succession of bland, interchangeable dead white male leaders. And now Labour has a leader worthy of the name, someone young (or "youth-adjacent") and inspiring, who promises change rather than more of the same, they're doing well again. Which ought to tell them that the logic that saw them crown the likes of Phil Goff, David Shearer, David Cunliffe and Andrew Little - that they were a safe choice, that they had to go after the bloke vote, that it was their fucking turn - was bullshit. Empirically, Labour does best when it has a woman in charge. That's who their voters are, that's who they represent. So they might as well embrace it rather than pretend they're still the Labour party of the 1930's or 1950's in the era of "National mum and Labour dad".

Back to the Greens. Obviously, they'll need to fight hard, and hopefully they will. Those who want to see them in Parliament, who want there to be a voice for the climate, for the rivers, for the poor, need to give them their party vote. But more than that, every vote is now vital for them, and that includes electorate votes. There's long been a tacit understanding that Green voters would give their electorate votes to Labour candidates because the Greens didn't need electorates to stay in Parliament. Well, now they do. And they should respond accordingly. I know its a long shot, but every vote counts. If it means Labour candidates in tight races lose due to "vote-splitting" (as if they're owed Green support), fuck 'em - they have list spots as backup. The Greens don't, so they need to fight everywhere now.

(Also, this is your regular reminder that the 5% threshold is undemocratic and should be repealed)

Weaponised niceness

The citizenship insanity continues in Australia, with National deputy leader Fiona Nash admitting that she is a British citizen. Unlike other Senators who have found themselves in this situation, she has neither resigned, nor stood aside - and seems to have carefully sat on the news until after the Senate had risen in order to prevent it from referring her to the High Court and suspending her in the interim. Meanwhile, Senator Nick Xenophon, who last I heard was worried about being secretly Greek, is now worried about being secretly British. And to top it all off, a Sydney barrister is suggesting that New Zealand's niceness to Australians - AKA the one-sided Trans-Tasman Travel Arrangement, under which we let Australians live, work and vote here while they stick our people on Christmas Island - may in fact disqualify every Australian from standing for federal office:

If you are "entitled to the rights or privileges of a subject ... of a foreign power", you are ineligible to be elected to, or to serve in, Federal Parliament. You don't have to have the rights and privileges of a subject of a foreign power -- you just have to be entitled to those rights and privileges.

[...]

Guess what? Much closer to home, under recent and little-noticed changes to New Zealand law, Australian citizens now don't need a visa to live, study or work in the Land of the Long White Cloud. That's right: Any Australian citizen is entitled to live, study and work there.

That means we're ALL entitled to the rights and privileges of a subject of New Zealand -- not a citizen, with the attached rights and privileges such as voting -- but to be a subject of that country, living there, subject to New Zealand law, working or studying. And there's no doubt that New Zealand is a "foreign power" -- you only have to watch the All Blacks do the haka to realise that.

What does this mean?

New Zealand law has made every Australian citizen incapable of being elected to, or serving in, the Australian Parliament. It's not just Barnaby Joyce: It's everyone!


Except this isn't recent, or even a matter of law, but a long-standing mutual agreement with the Australian government, under which we essentially agree to be nice to one another (note: Australia stopped being nice some time ago, both to us and everyone else). So, being nice destroys Australia!

New Fisk

What the death of an Irishman who lost his life fighting for Britain can tell us about the stupidity of Brexit

Kate Wilkinson's crony appointment

Last month, Science and Innovation Minister Paul Goldsmith appointed former National MP Kate Wilkinson to the board of Landcare Research. Naturally, I sent away the usual OIA request. And naturally, it exposed the appointment as the usual crony stitch-up.

Here's how it happened. Back in February, Treasury sent the usual reminder to the Minister that he needed to make a number of appointments to CRI boards, including Landcare Research. The positions were duly advertised, and in May Treasury came back with a short-list of eight candidates for follow-up interviews. Kate Wilkison was not on that list, because she had not applied for the job. Four of the candidates were interviewed, and the Ministry made their recommendations. Then this happened:

The panel determined that Ngarimu Blair and John Rodwell are the preferred candidates for the Board. The panel's assessment of the interviewed candidates is outlined below. Following the completion of interviews you decided to appoint Hon Kate Wilkinson as an additional director to the Board.
[Emphasis added]

Yes, Goldsmith was so impressed by the qualifications of his former colleague (who hadn't even applied or been interviewed) that he decided to create a special position for her, at a cost of $24,000 a year. He then lied to Cabinet about it, claiming that Blair rather than Wilkinson was the additional director.

And that's how public sector board appointments in New Zealand work under National. They're not made on merit, but on politics, dished out as a spoil of office. Just like in the USA.

Thursday, August 17, 2017



Our own memorial problem

This week we've all been made aware of the problem of the USA commemorating the leaders of the racist, slave-owning Confederacy with public monuments. Meanwhile, there's a similar problem in New Zealand. Via Twitter, I was pointed at a map of the street names in Kihikihi, which points out just how problematic those names are:

Feb 1864 Pākehā soldiers looted & destroyed KIHIKIHI, and scattered the tangata whenua population. The stolen lands in Kihikihi were used to settle Pākehā milita families. Nearly every street in Kihikihi is named after a soldier or politician who ruthlessly pursued war against tangata whenua.

And I expect its the same story all over New Zealand. As the original tweet notes, imagine living in a street named after someone who murdered your whanau.

We should not be doing this. We should not be naming our streets after murderers and oppressors who stole Māori land. We're meant to be a better nation than that now, and its time we started acting like it, rather than memorialising oppression.

No protection for whistleblowers in NZ

There's been some debate about the need for increased whistleblower protection in New Zealand. And today, we have a perfect example of why it is needed: because the Western Institute of Technology at Taranaki has just got the Employment Relations Authority to punish someone for blowing the whistle on them:

A whistleblower has been ordered to pay $6000 for writing disparaging letters to politicians David Cunliffe and Steven Joyce about the Taranaki polytech where she used to work.

Western Institute of Technology at Taranaki (Witt) hired three handwriting analysts to ascertain whether the letters were written by Angela Parr, former personal assistant to Witt chief executive Barbara George. All three concluded that in all likelihood they were.

Employment Relations Authority concluded that Parr's actions were "flagrant, deliberate and at the upper end of wrongdoing".

"Furthermore by her defence Mrs Parr has shown no remorse. There is a strong case for condemnation and a need for deterrence."


The problem of course is that Parr's letters appear to be "protected disclosures" in terms of the Protected Disclosures Act. They were certainly presented as that when raised in Parliament:
Hon David Cunliffe: What action is the Minister taking to protect whistle-blowers to the Tertiary Education Commission, following allegations conveyed to him in a letter dated 14 February 2016 that the Western Institute of Technology is using taxpayers’ funds to pursue a legal vendetta against both former and current staff members who have properly raised substantiated probity issues to the Tertiary Education Commission?

From this, it appears that the allegations were raised up the chain, and ultimately to the Minister, as permitted by s10 of the Act. Unless they were shown to be in bad faith, the protections of the Act against civil proceedings should have been engaged. The Minister should also have treated the disclosure confidentially. Instead, he appears to have initiated a witch-hunt. As for the Employment Relations Authority, they appear not to have even considered the protections of the Act in their decision, not even to dismiss them. Which means they have helped WITT and the Minister piss all over the act and victimise a whistleblower.

And then we wonder why people don't come forward with allegations of wrongdoing in New Zealand. This is why: because the law does not protect them, even when it should.

That rail plan

The big political news this morning in Greater Auckland's proposal for Auckland-Hamilton-Tauranga commuter rail. It looks like a good idea. In the southern part of the North Island we already have (limited) commuter rail between Palmerston North, Masterton and Wellington, which allows people to commute from the outlying centres. And with half the country's population living in the upper North Island, it makes sense to have similar transport links there. And while the interim network doesn't look great, with travel times which are no better than a car, stages 2 and 3 look like they'll offer serious advantages. High-speed commuter rail will bring the whole area together, and make Hamilton as close to Auckland as Wellington is to Waikanae. It also significantly reduces the cost of travel to Tauranga and Rotorua - places where people just don't fly, because its too expensive - which could boost those cities as well.

The Greens have already backed the plan and I'm wondering how long it will be until Labour follows suit.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017



Meanwhile, in Poland

While we're all worrying about Nazis in America, we might also want to keep an eye on Poland:

Polish police broke up a feminist rally and forcefully removed activists to clear the way for a march for far-right extremists.

A live stream of the protest shows members of the All-Polish Women's Strike group and activists from Obywatele RP, which aims to defend democratic principles in Poland, taking part in a sit-in in central Warsaw, to block the far-right rally's route.

Many of the women were holding up photos of Heather Heyer, the American woman killed when a car ploughed into a crowd of counter-protesters during a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the weekend.


According to the story, the far-right groups included the National Radical Camp and the All-Polish Youth, explicitly racist, homophobic and anti-democratic groups (and in the NRC's case, fascist). Poland's politics has had an unpleasant nationalist and theocratic tinge for some time now, and recently the government has moved strongly towards autocracy, banning anti-government protests and attempting to end judicial independence. And now, their police are explicitly siding with fascists. Its a scary sign of how quickly democracy can die if you let people like the Law and Justice Party take over...

Privacy, not "secrecy"

Politik breathlessly reports that the New Zealand government kept information on Barnaby Joyce's kiwi citizenship "top secret":

New Zealand Ministers and officials imposed a heavy security lid once they realised that they had information which could, in effect, topple the Australian Government.

That extended to not even telling Australia's Foreign Minister Julie Bishop even though she was at the same meeting last week as New Zealand Foreign Minister, Gerry Brownlee.

The realisation that Australian Deputy Prime Minister, Barnaby Joyce, was a New Zealand citizen and therefore not eligible to serve in the Australian Parliament came after questions were asked last week of both the Department of Internal Affairs and the Minister, Peter Dunne.


Except there's an obvious reason why: privacy. Information on who is and isn't a citizen is normally considered private, and its not the sort of thing you go around telling other people willy-nilly, and certainly not without telling the person themselves first. DIA seems to have acted perfectly consistently with this, and its what I'd expect them to do in any other case.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017



Ardern stands up for kiwis

Today politics seems to be dominated by Australian ridiculousness, after the Australian government blamed Chris Hipkins (rather than hard-working Australian journalists) for exposing Barnaby Joyce as a New Zealand citizen, and Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop interfering in our election by saying that she would find it hard to work with an NZ Labour government (or, to put it another way, the racist, homophobic Australian government prefers National and Bill English. Good to know; now we can all vote accordingly). The good news is that with Joyce exposed as ineligible to sit in Parliament, Bishop may not be Foreign Minister for much longer. But we've also learned something useful: that when push comes to shove, Jacinda Ardern stands up for kiwis against our "allies":

It is highly regrettable that the Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has chosen to make false claims about the New Zealand Labour Party.

[...]

I also note that Internal Affairs Minister Peter Dunne has confirmed that the Australian media inquiries were the instigator of this issue and that he has described connections of the New Zealand Labour Party to this issue as “utter nonsense.”

I greatly value New Zealand’s relationship with the Australian Government. I will not let false claims stand in the way of that relationship.

I would happily take a call from Julie Bishop to clarify matters.

I have also contacted the Australian High Commission to register my disappointment and will be meeting with the High Commissioner later today.


Hopefully she'll mention our disapproval of Australia's refugee concentration camps while she's at it.

In a time when Australia is mistreating New Zealand citizens and the US seems to be trying to start as many wars as possible, it would be useful to have a Prime Minister who would decide foreign policy based on New Zealand's values, rather than just falling in meekly behind the powerful. That's what Helen Clark did over Iraq, and its clear that Jacinda Ardern is the same. The contrast with Bill English couldn't be any clearer.

Climate change: The Cullen fund divests

Climate change is now undeniable, and if we are to survive it, the fossil fuel industry has to die. And now the Cullen Fund has recognised that fact, and started divesting its risk:

The New Zealand Superannuation Fund has sold shares in some of the world's biggest companies to reduce exposure to firms emitting greenhouse gases.

The fund is quitting or reducing holdings in 300 firms as part of its "carbon transition". They include Exxon Mobil, Shell, BP and Statoil and local firms New Zealand Oil & Gas and Genesis Energy.

The firms are part of the Super Fund's huge passive investment portfolio - making up two thirds of the fund's total investments - and similar principles will be applied now to active investments.

Chief investment officer Matt Whineray said 40 percent of all super fund investments would be low carbon as a result of the changes.


40% doesn't sound high, but looking at their press release, they're ranking investments by emissions. The important thing is that they're bailing out of high-emission companies, effectively voting "no confidence" in their future. And that's one of the things that needs to happen if we are to get through this.

Dirty farmers

Surprise, surprise - Waikato's dairy farmers are failing to comply with their resource consents:

The Waikato Regional Council says dairy farm effluent compliance rates are heading in the right direction despite less than one quarter of farms monitored last year deemed fully compliant.

The figures released under the Official Information Act showed that the council inspected 1174 farms, nearly twice the number inspected the previous season.

Of those farms, 23 per cent achieved full compliance, 2 per cent had a high level of compliance, 43 per cent were provisionally compliant, 24 per cent were partially compliant and 9 per cent were significantly non-compliant.


Waikato Regional Council says this is "progress", but the proportion of fully-compliant farms dropped in the past year, from 26 to 23 percent. That's not "progress", it's going backwards.

The RMA includes enforcement provisions for both temporary and long-term non-compliance, including infringement notices, abatement orders, criminal prosecution, and ultimately review of a consent. WRC, like most councils, doesn't use these much. Clearly, they need to. Their current "enforcement regime" is not encouraging farmers to comply with the law. A tougher approach is required.

"As soon as reasonably practicable"

The Official Information Act requires agencies to decide on requests "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 over the decades that the Act has been operating, it has become clear that agencies systematically ignore the first part of that clause, and instead focus on the latter, setting a 20-day target for response. Note that that's a 20-day target, not a within 20 day target. In my experience requests tend to arrive on the last possible day (or later), especially when they are politically controversial.

And now there's proof. OIA user Mark Hanna gathered data on timeliness from his requests on FYI. Sadly, the results confirm widespread misbehaviour by agencies:
OIATimelinessHanna

That spike at close-of-business on the due date is telling. Some agencies at least really are dragging things out as long as possible, leaving it till the last possible minute to respond. This violates both the purpose of the Act, and the letter of the law.

This is a small data-set, but it clearly points to a problem. The good news is that FYI's database of more than 6000 requests is public, which means we can use it to get some serious data on this. This will both tell us how widespread the problem is, and which agencies are in need of a visit by the Ombudsman with fire and sword.

Monday, August 14, 2017



NZ Post spied on the public

Last night we learned that NZ Post had been spying on the public, using microphones on its delivery vehicles to record and listen to conversations between its employees and random members of the public without the consent of either party. They've stopped now, after a Privacy Act complaint was laid, but its not just the Privacy Act they should be worrying about, but criminal prosecution. Because pretty obviously, this seems to be a case of using an interception device:

Subject to subsections (2) to (5), every one is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 2 years who intentionally intercepts any private communication by means of an interception device.

Microphones are "interception devices", and there's no question that the spying was intentional and knowing: NZ Post had been downloading recordings of conversations and listening to them. A "private communication" in this context means a conversation where there's a reasonable expectation of privacy, and that depends on the context. Some of the recorded conversations - on public footpaths with other people nearby, for example - won't be "private", while others (e.g. those up people's driveways or even at letterboxes where there aren't others around) certainly will be. And those are certainly conversations where the police would need a surveillance warrant to eavesdrop with a directional microphone.

The only real defence available to NZ Post is whether it was a "party" to those conversations. This normally covers employers in the workplace e.g. spying on phone calls and email. But in those cases, employees know. And as we've seen with Todd Barclay, they're not allowed to stick a dictaphone under someone's desk and listen to them. In this case, NZ Post seem to have Barclayed every one of their little spytrucks, without the knowledge of either their employees or the public. I don't think they can argue that they're a party, and I very much doubt they had any sort of surveillance or intelligence warrant for their spying. So the question is: will they be prosecuted? And if not, why not?

Barnaby Joyce is a New Zealand citizen

Over the last few weeks the Australian Parliament has been rocked by a succession of resignations and court referrals over various Senators falling foul of s44 of the Australian constitution, which bars dual-citizens from the legislature. Today, that clause appears to have claimed its highest profile victim, with Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce referring himself to the High Court so they can investigate whether he is a kiwi. But I don't think there's any question about it at all.

According to his Wikipedia page, Joyce was born in 1967 in New South Wales. However:

His father, James Joyce, was born in New Zealand and moved to Australia to study veterinary science at the University of Sydney, where he met Joyce's mother, Marie
The Guardian has some links here and a conviluted explanation about the Citizenship Act 1977 (as enacted) and claims to citizenship by descent lapsing. But the descent clause of that Act only applies to those "born outside New Zealand on or after 1 January 1978". Joyce was born before that, so his existing rights of citizenship were protected by s13 of the Act, which makes it very clear that everyone who was already a citizen stays one, and (to reiterate the rules of the British Nationality and New Zealand Citizenship Act 1948),
every person born outside New Zealand on or after 1 January 1949 but before 1 January 1978 shall be a New Zealand citizen by descent if... in any case, his father was a New Zealand citizen at the time of that person's birth
Joyce's father was a kiwi, so he is a kiwi, end of story, no registration required. Which means that he will lose his seat in Parliament. That seat is the Australian government's majority, so NZ citizenship law may very well have just caused an Australian election.

Edit to add: Joyce is apparently trying to argue that his father wasn't a New Zealand citizen because we didn't create a citizenship until 1948 and before then everyone was a "British subject". Unfortunately that doesn't help him. Section 16(1) of the British Nationality and New Zealand Citizenship Act 1948 is crystal clear:
joycefathercitizen

Joyce's father was a British subject immediately before the date of the commencement of the Act. He was born in New Zealand. And so under New Zealand law he became a New Zealand citizen, whether he knew it or not.

National resorts to racism on water

National knows it can't defeat the Labour-Green policy on water charging on fairness grounds, so they're now appealing to racism, with Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations Minister Chris Finlayson scaremongering that making farmers pay their fair share will mean reopening historic Treaty settlements:

Treaty Negotiations Minister Chris Finlayson is warning that Labour's water taxes could force existing full-and-final Treaty of Waitangi settlements to be opened for renegotiation with iwi.

He said the policy overturned accepted policy of successive Labour and National Governments of the past 25 years that no one owned the water.

Governments applying a tax on water was an assertion of Crown ownership "and then that gives rise to the counter assertion that Maori own water".

"They are dicing with death, quite frankly," he told the Herald.

"It opens a complete Pandora's Box. I'd like to know [if] it is Labour Party policy that, after all the work we've done, both political parties over 25 years, are they proposing to re-open treaty settlements so that this matter can be looked at?


Except of course it wouldn't, for the simple reason that those settlements cover historic claims. A unilateral government assertion of water ownership would be a fresh injustice, and simply not covered by those settlements.

But Finlayson's dishonesty gets worse, because National has itself recognised that it needs to settle the issue with iwi. Their Cabinet paper on the Land and Water Forum's mock consultation notes that "Cabinet also agreed on June 2 [CAB Min (09) 19/7A] that there is a need to make real progress in the unresolved area of Māori rights and interests in water", which is why the iwi leadership group has been involved in the entire process. They have considered and rejected a nationwide "Waterlords" settlement which would resolve any issues around the Treaty and water allocation and pricing, primarily because they want to impede any progress in that area in order to continue subsidising farmers (or rather, letting them effectively own and sell the public's water, without having to pay for it).

This isn't a "Pandora's box". The model for an easy, full and final settlement to resolve this exists, and iwi are keen. What is lacking is goodwill from the government to sign it. And Finlayson knows all this - so he is actively trying to mislead the New Zealand public about it, trying to appeal to the racism of rednecks in order to protect the stolen "rights" of a privileged few. And to be honest, I thought he was a better person than that. But I guess now that English is back in charge, National is back to the same racism he ran on in 2002. He lost then; lets hope for the sake of New Zealand that he loses again.

Friday, August 11, 2017



The rising tide sucks us down

National is trying to talk up its supposed "economic growth" for the election. But the Herald's Brian Fallow points out the truth: the economy may be growing on paper, but its not making us better off:

The average wage (average ordinary-time hourly earnings from Statistics New Zealand's quarterly employment survey) rose 1.6 per cent in the year to June. But that was boosted by some pay increases in the public sector that had been a long time coming.

In the private sector, the average wage rose 1.2 per cent, in a year when consumer prices rose 1.7 per cent. In other words, it fell 0.5 per cent in real terms. That was still better than the March report, when annual wage growth was 1.1 per cent and inflation 2.2 per cent.

[...]

Interest rates are historically low. The terms of trade (the mix of export and import prices) are the most favourable they have been for 44 years, boosting national income. The demand pulse from the need to rebuild our second largest city has been followed by the need to respond to the largest city bursting at the seams. Tourism is booming.

In these circumstances, are declining real wages the best we can do?


And that's a good question. Economic growth is supposed to make us better off - "a rising tide lifts all boats" as the rich love to say. Except it turns out that its all a lie, and the rich's rising tide in fact sucks the rest of us down.

It doesn't have to be this way. The reason growth doesn't benefit ordinary kiwis is a matter of policy choices made by the government to favour the rich over the rest of us. Those choices can be made differently, as they were in the 2000's. All we need is a government which works for us, not foreign billionaires...

British inquiries are a sham

We all know how it goes: the UK establishment does something terrible, like murdering people, or illegally invading somewhere, or burning hundreds of people to death in a high-rise incinerator. The public get justifiably angry. The government announces an "independent" inquiry to "get to the bottom of" or "draw a line under" the issue. The inquiry drags on for years, decades even - as long as it takes for public anger to dissipate and for those responsible to disappear off into the private sector or retirement with fat golden handshakes. When it finally reports back, the problems are found to be "systemic" and no-one is held to account.

It sounds like a sham, and it is. And now those who have been involved in such inquiries have openly said so:

Two original panel members of the government’s child abuse inquiry have said they were forced to fight attempts at political control and interference from the Home Office when it was run by Theresa May.

The pair said they wanted to speak out to warn potential members of supposedly independent teams being assembled at the orders of the prime minister to investigate the Grenfell Tower fire and contaminated blood transfusions.

Sharon Evans and Graham Wilmer revealed how government officials intervened with the independent panel members by preparing a 23-page document instructing them how to answer questions from MPs.

Both left the inquiry when the original panel was disbanded within months of its formation and have since been critical of the inquiry.


In practice, these "independent" inquiries are tightly directed by the government of the day to ensure that they don't cause any problems. What they're allowed to investigate, what they're allowed to say, who they're allowed to listen to. The establishment members of such inquiries have no problem with this - they know its all a scam to pacify the public and prevent any accountability. But non-establishment members clearly take the government's promises of justice and expect something a little better. More fool them. Because the dirty truth is that there is no justice in British inquiries. Instead, they are an instrument to deny justice and uphold the unjust status quo. People should not cooperate with them and they should not participate in them. And they should not treat them as anything other than a scam and a further insult to the government's victims.

New Fisk

If you're wondering why Saudi Arabia and Israel have united against Al-Jazeera, here's the answer

Irrigation is a threat to public health

That's the view of Canterbury Medical Officer of Health Alistair Humphrey:

Drinking water in the Selwyn District is at increasing risk of contamination as more dairy cows are being farmed there, local residents have been told.

[...]

Dr Humphrey said it was impossible for the regional council, Environment Canterbury, to meet its targets for reducing pollutants while at the same time meeting its other targets for increasing the amount of irrigation that was happening.

He said a soon-to-be released report from the council showed the level of polluting nitrates in ground water was increasing in 25 percent of wells.

"There's increases all the way across the Canterbury Plains, so we're not doing very well and we're not even hitting the targets we've set ourselves."

Dr Humphrey said high nitrate levels were potentially fatal for newborn babies, and this was something midwives were now factoring into their visits to expectant mothers.


What's really worrying is that they try and do their jobs and take action against the people polluting the water table, they get told that they can't because they don't want to upset the Minister. Think about that for a moment. We have a clear threat to public health, pollution that poisons babies, and it is allowed to continue because of Ministerial interference. That's simply not acceptable. Public health officials must be free to do their job of protecting us. And the polluting industries which are endangering us must be forced to stop.

Thursday, August 10, 2017



Public servants should work for us, not foreign billionaires

Another sign of the decay in transparency under National: the Department of Internal Affairs unlawfully allowed lawyers for foreign vampire capitalist Peter Thiel to veto what was released about him under the OIA:

An Official Information Act request by the Herald into the handling of the botched redaction revealed emails showing lawyers acting for Thiel were behind the blacking-out of the short time he lived in the country.

The Ombudsman's full ruling showed Internal Affairs were happy to accommodate Thiel's concerns, despite describing the case for protecting his privacy in this case was "borderline".


Once again, we have a department ignoring its own judgements about what is lawful in order to bow to the wishes of the powerful. And that is simply not acceptable. The government must obey the law. And our public servants should work for us, not foreign billionaires.

We need a housing warrant of fitness

Why we need a warrant of fitness for rental housing: because unhealthy housing is making thousands of kids sick a year:

In a 50-page paper released today, the Royal Australasian College of Physicians has called on politicians to do more to address the causes of health inequity in New Zealand.

Too many people were living in cold, mouldy and over-crowded homes and it was ruining the health of children in particular, the college said.

[...]

"Cold, old, damp and mouldy houses directly links to poor health through respiratory illnesses, and those illnesses affect vulnerable groups in our society like children and elderly people and can exacerbate their other health conditions."

That was especially bad in winter, Dr Christiansen said.

More than 40,000 people were living in precarious, insecure housing, including garages, sheds and caravan park, he said.


The problem here is the houses. So why won't the government address this? Simple: because they're all landlords, and sticking up for their own "right" to profit from (government-created) desperation by renting out unhealthy homes. It is simply corrupt. But that is how the establishment rules New Zealand.

Statoil spies

Greenpeace has caught New Zealand's most infamous private spy agency, Thompson & Clark, spying on them:

Greenpeace claims it has caught spies in the act of tracking its staff and supporters and compiling detailed dossiers.

Greenpeace New Zealand executive director Russel Norman told the Herald the surveillance included tracking people in their private lives.

The environmental lobby group has filed a civil suit in the High Court against Thompson & Clark Investigations alleging breach of privacy and seeking an injunction to stop the surveillance.

[...]

"We have discovered that Greenpeace has been subject to systematic highly intrusive investigations by Thompson & Clark [Investigations] and people working for them," Norman said.

"They have been following our staff and volunteers in their private lives as well as their professional lives.

"We took steps to confirm some of the information we received. That involved looking at some of the dossiers compiled by Thompson & Clark. We also put in place a counter-surveillance operation to catch them in the act.


You may remember Thompson & Clark as the outfit Solid Energy hired to spy on anti-coal activists a decade ago and which has used illegal tracking devices on animal rights activists. Now they're working for Statoil and Anadarko - foreign companies. Which incidentally makes them an agent of a foreign power, spying on New Zealanders to try and disrupt our democracy. Supposedly we have an agency which is supposed to protect us from shit like that, but I think we all know whose side they're on. And so its left to Greenpeace to protect themselves through the courts.

The New Zealand government is allegedly involved in this as well (by which I assume MBIE). We've seen this before with Timberlands and Solid Energy, and it is simply not acceptable for any government agency to hire private thugs to spy on and disrupt democratic opposition to government policy. There needs to be a full and public inquiry into any government involvement, and if there is any, it needs to be stamped out and the people who arranged it fired. There should be no place in our public service or wider public sector for those who would suppress democracy.

Meanwhile, we should be asking Norway why a supposedly friendly country is hiring thugs to disrupt our democracy, and whether they think it is acceptable or in accordance with their democratic values.

Why should we subsidise the dairy industry?

The Green-Labour policy to make commercial water users pay for their use of a public resource has farmers running scared and whining that it will force them out of business. To which the response is "so?" To point out the obvious, that water is a public resource, and it is only fair that farmers pay for it. Letting them not pay for it is effectively subsidising them. And why should urban New Zealand subsidise environmental destruction for the private profit of a few?

The same argument applies to the whining about Canterbury dairy farmers going out of business if they have to clean up their act to save Lake Ellesmere. These farmers are currently destroying a public resource, causing (according to ECan) $300 million in economic damage to it per year. Which means that we are effectively subsidising them by that sum. And why the hell should we do that?

Polluters should pay the full social costs of the resources they use and the environmental damage they cause. If paying those costs means that they are no longer (privately) profitable, then they were never profitable in the first place - they were simply hiding that fact by getting us to pay for their losses. And in such situations, the best thing that can happen to such businesses is for them to go out of business as quickly as possible, so they don't cost us any more money.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017



Burn it all to the fucking ground

That's my immediate response to the news that Metiria Turei has resigned and will be leaving Parliament. Rage, just utter rage at a political system where this can happen. Where people who have been poor are villified and harassed because of the choices a corrupt, unfair, immoral system forced them to make. Where those people are sent a clear message that they should not and never can be involved in politics. Where instead, we're ruled by entitled wankers like Gower and Hosking and People Like Them who meet their approval.

The actual resignation was triggered by unsubstantiated rumours put about about Metiria's family. The sort of rumours which are impossible to answer without involving people who never signed up for politics. Rather than do that, Metiria resigned. It was the decent thing to do. At the same time, it is utterly fucking vile that these arseholes get to win like this. It is absolutely disgusting that the right wins by going after people's families. But that's the sort of arseholes we have running this country.

Earlier today, I said that if the right wants a C19th "democracy" which excludes poor people, they need to be reminded of the C19th solution: pitchforks and guillotines. I stand by that. Fuck them all, burn it all to the fucking ground.

Justice for CIA torture?

So far the US courts have ruled that those tortured illegally by the CIA can receive no justice from their torturers. But there is someone they can go after: the unethical psychologists who designed the torture programs:

A civil lawsuit brought by three victims of the CIA’s torture program against the two psychologists who created it will go to court on 5 September in Washington state, after a judge ruled that more than a year of discovery had yielded sufficient evidence to support the plaintiffs’ claims.

Judge Justin Quackenbush issued a written opinion on Monday in the suit, in which James Mitchell and John “Bruce” Jessen are accused of designing, promoting and sharing responsibility for the interrogation methods to which the three men were subjected.

It will now be up to a jury in Spokane, Washington, to decide if the psychologists, who reportedly were paid $75m-$81m under their contract with the CIA to create the so-called enhanced interrogation program, are financially liable for the physical and psychological effects of their torture.


At least 39 men were tortured using Mitchell and Jesson's techniques, and at least one of them died. Its entirely right that they be held liable for that. But they're not the only ones, and it shouldn't just be civil. The CIA thugs who drowned people on the waterboards and the suited policy-makers who approved it should all be facing criminal charges, and long terms of imprisonment if convicted. The US's refusal to allow this is a betrayal both of its own professed values, and of its obligations under the Convention Against Torture.

More Australian corruption

The Australian Liberal Party has been taking money from the mafia:

A Liberal insider conspired to funnel donations from an alleged Mafia boss and his three relatives into party coffers after a lobster dinner involving the men and Victorian Opposition Leader Matthew Guy, secret phone records have revealed.

Recordings of phone conversations obtained by Fairfax Media and Four Corners involving Liberal Party official Barrie Macmillan also capture Mr Macmillan plotting to split the promised donations into smaller amounts to avoid disclosing the source of the funds to authorities.

"They want to give Matthew a substantial donation towards next year. Now, I understand what they can and can't do," Mr Macmillan says on the recording, referring to alleged Mafia boss and long-time Liberal donor Tony Madafferi and three of his relatives.

[...]

Mr Macmillan said on the recording: "You can't associate Matthew with money and I would have to be the intermediary. But I'm talking about a swag of money that they're prepared to give for them [Mr Guy's campaign].


Guy has apparently referred himself to Victoria's corruption commission, which will find that everything is above board because they're specifically excluded from investigating cases like this. Which tells you how institutionally corrupt the Australian political system is: few safeguards, and the few they do have are intentionally crippled by corrupt politicians so that all they can do is provide a veneer of respectability. I'm utterly shocked that Australians put up with this. But I guess their unfair election system doesn't really give them much choice.

Class and Metiria

Over on Newsroom, Claire Timperley points out the not-so hidden subtext in the public lynching of Metiria Turei: class:

Beneficiary fraud is a uniquely class-based problem. The only people who are in the position of having to make difficult choices about whether to ‘play by the rules’ and by doing so risk not having the means to support their family are those who are in the poorest group of New Zealanders.

The fact Turei lied to the authorities demonstrates the very difficult position many beneficiaries find themselves in. Whether or not Turei made the morally or legally correct decision is not relevant to the issue I am raising (although there are undoubtedly important questions it raises about the beneficiary system).

What is important, however, is that by dint of her experience of this specifically class-based conundrum, she is no longer considered fit for high office.


And its all the more apparent when you compare it with Bill English's housing allowance rort: there, a rich man lied about where he lived and paid lawyers to order his affairs to scam the taxpayer of tens of thousands of dollars. But it was "within the rules" - rules he helped write - so its all OK. But as Simon Wilson points out on The Spinoff, beneficiaries don't have lawyers to order their affairs like this, and don't get to write their own loopholes, so they have to steal bread rather than being able to pay people to make it look like they're not stealing it. And again, that comes down to class.

The overwhelming message from the political status quo has been that poor people have no place in our Parliament and no place in government. That's been their message since the 18th century (hell, its been their message since fucking Plato). But if they want to overturn 150 years of democracy and go back to the C19th, then they are inviting the C19th response: pitchforks and guillotines.

Member's Day

Today is a Member's Day, the last for the Parliamentary term. Sadly, though, we won't be seeing a vote on death with dignity today, or any time soon.

Partly this is because there's an hour of valedictory statements taking up the House's time - Clayton Cosgrove and Murray McCully's political rememberances being considered more important than actually legislating. But mostly its because the top of the Order Paper is clogged with local bills and latter stages. First up is the second reading of the New Plymouth District Council (Waitara Lands) Bill, aimed at easing the oozing sore of the Waitara Purchase and subsequent land thefts from local iwi. Then there is the first reading of the (vitally important, I'm sure) Thames–Coromandel District Council and Hauraki District Council Mangrove Management Bill. If the House moves quickly it might get on to the third readings of Chris Bishop's Films, Videos, and Publications Classification (Interim Restriction Order Classification) Amendment Bill and Sarah Dowie's Private International Law (Choice of Law in Tort) Bill, but I don't think it'll get any further. And of course no first readings means no ballot tomorrow.

Labour steps up on water

Labour has followed the Greens' lead and committed to making commercial water users pay their fair share:

Water bottling companies and farmers operating irrigation schemes will pay royalties under Labour's new freshwater policy announced in Auckland on Wednesday.

Newly-minted Labour leader Jacinda Ardern has set out a plan to charge water bottling companies and users of irrigation schemes if Labour's in government after the election.

The policy would be flexible around drought or very wet areas but a rate won't be set until Ardern has an opportunity to consult on the issue, if in government after September 23.


Good. The New Zealand public are being ripped off over water, and in the process we're subsidising the harmful dairy industry to destroy our environment. But water is a public resource, and it is entirely right that companies who profit by extracting it pay for its use, just like they would for oil. Internalising those environmental costs may also help turn the tide against dairy intensification, and push farmers on to a more sustainable track. Alternatively, it might just drive the worst of them out of business. I'm fine either way.

This won't be easy - notably, it will require a Treaty settlement with the original owners - but its a necessary move to save our environment from destruction. And its good to see that Labour has got on board with that.

Tuesday, August 08, 2017



Climate change: Orwellian

How hostile is the Trump regime to climate change? They've banned Department of Agriculture scientists from even mentioning it:

Staff at the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) have been told to avoid using the term climate change in their work, with the officials instructed to reference “weather extremes” instead.

[...]

A missive from Bianca Moebius-Clune, director of soil health, lists terms that should be avoided by staff and those that should replace them. “Climate change” is in the “avoid” category, to be replaced by “weather extremes”. Instead of “climate change adaption”, staff are asked to use “resilience to weather extremes”.

The primary cause of human-driven climate change is also targeted, with the term “reduce greenhouse gases” blacklisted in favor of “build soil organic matter, increase nutrient use efficiency”. Meanwhile, “sequester carbon” is ruled out and replaced by “build soil organic matter”.


The clear aim is to remove any implication that people, and especially people who profit from the fossil fuel industry, are responsible for destroying the global climate. It is simply Orwellian manipulation of language. But I guess that's the sort of place the USA is now.

Climate change: "Happy with where we are"

14 NGOs have united to call on the government to pass a UK-style Climate Change Act, with legislated targets setting a downward path for emissions. National's response: yeah, nah:

Prime Minister Bill English said he had seen the letter but was happy with how New Zealand was getting on fighting climate change.

"We're happy with where we are on climate change," English said, but said some other policies to fight climate change might emerge before the election. There would not be a major shift from current policy.

"We've signed up to the Paris Accord - that's pretty clear cut, the measurements are published, we have the Emissions Trading System, which is one of most advanced carbon trading systems in the world."


"Where we are" is that we are going to miss our patheticly weak 2030 target, let alone National's "50% by 2050" target, because "one of most advanced carbon trading systems in the world" subsidises emissions rather than reducing them. No-one with the slightest interest in the issue should be happy with this, and if Bill English is, then it suggests that he doesn't actually care about our future at all. Which given his previous history of virulent climate change denialism, sadly isn't surprising.

Monday, August 07, 2017



Good riddance

Well, that was exciting, wasn't it? Two mediocre male Green MPs told the party "its Metiria or us", and were quickly and efficiently shown the door. Despite trying to roll it back for a bit on RNZ - "no, we didn't quit, we're candidates till writ day", they'll likely be suspended from caucus tomorrow and ejected from the party in short order. Because that's what happens when you pull that sort of stunt: you either win or you die.

Graham and Clendon were a poor fit for the Greens anyway. Back in 2010 they voted for Manukau to be allowed to jail prostitutes again - the only two Green MPs who did so. The rest of the party understand that sustainability and social justice and human rights go hand-in-hand, and you can't throw one of them overboard without harming the whole - a view which also resonates with the vast majority of their voters. Insofar as Graham and Clendon now seem wildly out of step with the party and its support-base, its probably better that they go (though obviously, it would have been better if they'd gone quietly, rather than trying to burn everything down in the process).

The net effect is that a bunch of talented candidates - including Chloe Swarbrick, Golriz Ghahraman, Jack McDonald and John Hart - will move up a place or two on the list and become that much more electable. Which isn't a bad outcome. The great thing about the Greens is that they have more talented people than they have space for. Dead-weights ritually throwing themselves overboard simply makes room for someone better.

The market is not providing

We have a housing crisis, caused primarily by a failure to build enough houses to cope with demand. Dogmatic economics tells us that the market will respond to this naturally by increasing supply to match demand - and the government has basicly crossed its fingers and is waiting for that to happen. Instead, the market seems to be building even fewer houses than before:

The government's forecast for new home building in Auckland in the coming years has been lowered for the second year in a row.

The National Construction Pipeline Report has sliced 2200 off the number of new home consents it expects to be issued in Auckland in the current calendar year, to 11,100.

[...]

The forecast for 2018 has been lowered by nearly 1700 to 11,900, and in 2019, by 513 to 12,800.

The 2017 estimate is now 3549 lower than the report forecast two years ago.

The pipeline report is compiled by the building industry, along with the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment and its findings are released each year by Building and Construction Minister Nick Smith.


And only about half the homes consented actually get built. So, they're consenting fewer homes, and only building half of what they get approved. Its a clear example of market failure, of an industry focused on providing status properties for rich wankers rather than ordinary homes for ordinary people. And the sensible solution is for the government to get involved and build what the market won't.

Climate change: A sad pretence of policy

Its election season, so the government is proudly announcing how much money it has spent to encourage new forests:

A total of 5183ha of new forest will be planted by 101 applicants who have received support through the 2017 Afforestation Grant Scheme funding round, Associate Minister for Primary Industries Louise Upston says.

[...]

“Estimates suggest that 1.1 million ha of land is at serious risk of erosion, and forest cover is the best form of erosion control. Through the AGS, we aim to plant 15,000ha of new forest by 2020,” says Ms Upston.

“The latest funding round drew 40 applications and 400ha more than last year’s. That brings the total number of hectares funded through the AGS since 2015 to 12,451, putting us well on track to achieving our 15,000ha goal by 2020.


1.1 million hectares of land under threat. So a paltry 15,000 hectares of forest (over five years!) to cover it. To ask the obvious, what about the other 1,085,000 hectares?

But we should also remember that this isn't really an erosion-control policy: its a climate change policy. Planting permanent forests is our best and quickest way of soaking up carbon from the atmosphere and buying time to decarbonise the economy. Once its through its initial establishment phase, a hectare of pine aborbs 25 tons of CO2 a year, every year, until it peaks in 40 or 50 years time. Doubling our current planting rate to 80,000 hectares a year would soak up an extra million tons of carbon from the atmosphere for every year we did it. That's the scale of ambition we need. Its achievable - we maintained this sort of planting rate for most of the 90's. Its cheap: a mere $40 million a year at AFG prices. Its the sort of thing a government which was serious about preventing climate change would be pushing hard to do. Instead, we've got the usual pretence of action, utterly disconnected in scale from the problem, aimed at getting headlines rather than actually doing anything. And when faced with a problem the size of climate change, it looks like downright negligence.

Australia kills again

Australia is reportedly planning to storm its Manus Island concentration camp to suppress protests there. Meanwhile, their refusal to provide proper medical care to those imprisoned there has claimed another life:

A refugee in Australia's immigration detention network on Manus Island has died, with local police suggesting the man had taken his own life.

The man was understood to be an Iranian refugee who had a history of mental illness. Manus provincial police commander David Yapu said a crime scene had been established.

[...]

According to Iranian refugee and journalist Behrouz Boochani, who is also on Manus Island, the refugee concerned had a long history of mental illness and distress.

He was reportedly jailed following a mental breakdown at the regional processing centre, but was released, only to be found wandering the streets of Lorengau without clothes.


Australia's concentration camps are full of people in utter despair, many of whom have already attempted suicide. In those circumstances, attempting to clear them by force to force refugees into an even more dangerous situation seems to be a recipe for deaths. And every single one of the corpses should be laid at the feet of the Australian government. They killed this man. They are his murderers. And they should be held accountable for it.

Auckland's future is rail

National and Labour both announced transport policy over the weekend, with the usual lists of projects and spending. But while they had different priorities, one thing is clear: Auckland's future is rail. Both big parties now support the third main (the idea National tried to bury) to stop freight from clogging Auckland's roads. National supports electrification to Pukekohe, Labour supports rail to the airport, but either way its on tracks, and they're arguing about what trains to build when rather than more useless roads. Which is a big shift from the previous roads vs trains arguments of the previous decade. I guess the evidence that Auckland needs proper public transport has got so overwhelming that even the trucking-industry funded National party can no longer ignore it (alternatively: too many Ministers got stuck behind trucks in Auckland gridlock).

The big difference between the parties is in funding: Labour would allow councils to charge regional fuel taxes, giving them a source of revenue to fund transport upgrades. National hates this idea, partly because its a tax, and partly because of control freakery. Auckland having its own revenue stream for transport would allow them to set the agenda, rather than having to wait for central government to dole out the cash (and if Auckland sets the agenda, Auckland politicians rather than government Ministers get to make the announcements). But it seems entirely fair that if Aucklanders need more transport infrastructure, they should pay for it, and for the revenue to be collected from those who would directly benefit from the spending rather than from residents in general. And its certainly a better idea than letting politicians in Wellington slowly strangle Auckland until there's an election on and they need to announce some spending.

Spies are a threat to democracy

If you need any further evidence that spies are inherently a threat to democracy, just take a look at South Korea, where its chief spy agency has just admitted manipulating elections to get its preferred candidate elected:

South Korea’s spy agency has admitted it conducted an illicit campaign to influence the country’s 2012 presidential election, mobilising teams of experts in psychological warfare to ensure that the conservative candidate, Park Geun-hye, beat her liberal rival.

An internal investigation by the powerful National Intelligence Service also revealed attempts by its former director and other senior officials to influence voters during parliamentary elections under Park’s predecessor, the hardline rightwinger Lee Myung-bak.

[...]

The NIS’s in-house investigation found that its cyberwarfare unit formed as many as 30 “extra-departmental” teams comprising officials and internet-savvy citizens to upload posts in support of conservative politicians for two years in the run-up to the 2012 presidential vote.

“The teams were charged with spreading pro-government opinions and suppressing anti-government views, branding them as attempts by pro-North Korean forces to disrupt state affairs,” the NIS report said.


The NIS's 2012 candidate was eventually forced from office and is now standing trial on corruption and abuse of power charges. The NIS director at the time is also currently standing trial, and faces four years in prison if convicted.

The fundamental problem here is a conflation of domestic politics with enemy action, and the interests of the spies with the interests of the state. Secretive agencies are prone to such problems, and the problem is that we'll never find out that they've done it until its too late. For safe, peaceful countries, its is safer then not to have such agencies at all, lest they get tempted...

Friday, August 04, 2017



Coalition relations and the silver lining

So, Jacinda Ardern has stuck the knife in by saying that she had told the Greens this morning that she would not have Metiria Turei in any Labour-led Cabinet. Political parties work for their members and their own interests of course, so I expect Labour to do what's best for Labour and the Greens to do what's best for the Greens. At the same time, that's crossing a boundary. Its one thing for Metiria and the Greens to decide that a recusal from any future Cabinet post is the best way of handling this. Its quite another for another party to order it. And it smacks of the usual Labour arrogance.

In case Labour people are having trouble understanding this, imagine of the Greens had said "Stuart Nash doesn't get to be in Cabinet" or "Greg O'Connor doesn't get anywhere near the justice sector" or "Trevor Mallard doesn't get to be Speaker" or "Willie Jackson doesn't get to be anything". Sure, they might all be good ideas (because right wingers, proto-fascists, useless has-beens and misogynist rape-apologists have no place in a left-wing government anyway) - but its not really the Greens' place to say. Part of good coalition relations is knowing when something is another party's business - and Labour just crossed that line. And by doing so, they've lost any basis to complain if the Greens demand a scalp of their own as utu (the sad thing is, there's just so many to choose from. Why does Labour tolerate these people? How bad is their judgement that they'd personally handpick a rape-apologist for a list spot?)

There is a silver lining however: not being in Cabinet means not being bound by Cabinet Collective Responsibility. Which means that if Labour forms a government, Metiria will be absolutely free to criticise them if they continue to weaponise poverty and wage war on the poor. So, Labour can either sort that shit out quick-smart, or they can have Meyt standing up to them in Question Time every sitting day holding them to account for not doing so (and wedging them against their own supporters in the process). Because shitting on the poor doesn't stop being wrong simply because a Labour apparatchik rather than a National one is collecting a fat salary for overseeing it.

Labour would probably be very upset with this. But they've made their bed. Now they get to lie in it.