Thursday, June 29, 2017



Open Government: Will they get it right this time?

SSC has announced its upcoming public consultation on New Zealand's Open Government partnership Mid-term Self-Assessment Report. There's nothing concrete yet, other than that there will be a whole two weeks consultation at the end of July. Hopefully they'll do a better job than last time, where an overly restrictive online platform attempted to channel and constrain feedback, turning the "consultation" into a terrible self-parody.

They've also posted progress reports on our OGP commitments. This is a massive improvement on last time (where the "commitments" were vague waffle with no targets and no milestones, let alone reporting against them). On the other hand, compare the milestones for commitment 2, improving official information practices, with the progress report, and it is clear that the government is dragging its feet in some areas. For example, there's no progress towards a policy on proactive publication (meant to be done by tomorrow), or towards improving access by publishing responses online (meant to be done by February). What they do have is more secret meetings, in which the government talks to itself about secrecy, without telling us what they're doing. I'll be probing this, as usual, but given that in the past the government has withheld its discussions of the OIA as "free and frank advice" (which tells us that they don't think the public would like what they were saying), I doubt I'll have much luck.

1% for the 1%

How much time did US vampire capitalist Peter Thiel spend in New Zealand before national granted him citizenship? Thanks to the Ombudsman, we now know: just 12 days:

US billionaire Peter Thiel spent 12 days in New Zealand before being granted citizenship by the then Internal Affairs Minister in 2011.

The entrepreneur was granted citizenship in June 2011 under exceptional circumstances despite not having lived in the country previously and not intending to do so in the future.

Normally a permanent resident has to spend more than 70 percent of their time in New Zealand over five years before they can apply for citizenship.


According to Stuff, that works out to 1350 days. So Thiel spent less than 1% of the required time here. I guess that's what being one of the 1% gets you. But again, it simply looks like naked corruption. Thiel was granted citizenship, and the normal requirements waived, because he was rich. And that should not be acceptable to any of us.

Justice for Hillsborough?

In April 1989, 96 people were killed and over 700 injured in a crush at Hillsborough stadium in the UK. In the wake of the disaster, the police and other officials blamed the victims. In 2012, those lies were exposed, and responsibility for the deaths firmly laid at the feet of the police. In 2016, a new inquest found that the victims had been unlawfully killed by police. And now, finally, nearly thirty years after the disaster, those responsible have been charged:

Six people, including two former senior police officers, have been charged with criminal offences over the 96 deaths in the Hillsborough disaster and the alleged police cover-up that followed.

David Duckenfield, the South Yorkshire officer who was in command of policing at the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest in 1989, has been charged with the manslaughter of 95 people.

[...]

Sir Norman Bettison, the former chief constable of Merseyside and West Yorkshire police, who was an inspector in the South Yorkshire force at the time of the disaster, has been charged with four counts of misconduct in a public office.

[...]

Graham Mackrell, the Sheffield Wednesday chief executive and officially designated safety officer for the Hillsborough stadium, has also been charged with breaching the terms of the ground’s safety certificate and failing to take reasonable care under the Health and Safety at Work Act.

The three other men are all charged with doing acts with intent to pervert the course of justice, for the process by which statements made by South Yorkshire police officers on duty at Hillsborough were subsequently reviewed and changed.


Hillsborough is the British establishment in a nutshell: a disaster caused by those in power, covered up with reflexive lies and victim-blaming, followed by decades of fake "investigations" and foot-dragging in an effort to wait out public anger. But it has finally caught up with them, and hopefully those responsible will be convicted and go to jail. It also shows how broken the British system is: justice should not take thirty years. It should not be this hard, when those in power commit crimes, to hold them to account. But I guess that's what happens when those in power arrange things to suit themselves, and treat everyone else as disposable peons. And the only way of fixing it is to sweep away that establishment. Otherwise, we'll likely see a similar display of official lies and foot-dragging over Grenfell Tower.

Drawn

A ballot for two Member's Bills was held today, and the following bills were drawn:

  • Sentencing (Domestic Violence) Amendment Bill (Nanaia Mahuta)
  • Education (Teaching Council of Aotearoa) Amendment Bill (Chris Hipkins)

There were seventy bills in the ballot today, but still no bill to repeal blasphemous libel. Which I guess shows us how much we can trust the public statements of politicians.

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.