Thursday, June 22, 2017

There is corruption in New Zealand

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

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

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

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

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

Labour grovels to the almighty cow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boo hoo

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

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

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

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

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

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

The latest Labour muppetry

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Treasury and the OIA

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

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

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

[Emphasis added]

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

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

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

Not good enough

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

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

New Fisk

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

Another look?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Grovelling to power

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

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

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

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

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

Our political parties are owned by the rich

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Winston's war with the Speaker

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

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

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

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

"Economic wellbeing" and "national security"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, June 19, 2017

More National lies on Pike River

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How convenient

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

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


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

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

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

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

Friday, June 16, 2017

The Boomers are afraid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

National vs the OIA 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Fisk

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

Climate change: Sweden vs New Zealand

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, June 15, 2017

He's on their side

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

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

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

The critics were cynics "speaking with forked tongues".

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

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

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

BAE collaborates in torture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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