Thursday, July 24, 2014



There's a name for this...

The latest atrocity in the Australian government's war on refugees: covering up the rate of self-harm and attempted suicide:

Harrowing eyewitness accounts from the president of the Australian Human Rights Commission and a team of medical experts say there is a mental health crisis on Christmas Island, confirming multiple suicide attempts and self-harm incidents.

Fairfax Media has obtained a document that describes injuries sustained by at least 11 women on July 7 who used various methods to harm themselves including attempted asphyxiation and poisoning after being told by immigration officials that they would not be settled in Australia.

The document describes how one woman put a bag over her head three times, drank half a bottle of detergent and used a broken mirror to cut herself.

Professor Gillian Triggs, who arrived on the island last week as part of the commission's national inquiry into children in immigration, said there were 13 mothers on suicide watch and their conditions were deteriorating rapidly.


This is what happens when you deprive people of hope. But the Australian government views it as bad PR, so they cover it up. They also don't bother providing proper medical or psychiatric care, so the problem just gets worse and worse and worse.

There's a name for the deliberate infliction of severe mental pain and suffering on someone by public officials: its called torture. And if Australia continues with this policy, those officials may see themselves prosecuted in international courts.

UK police spied on their critics

First, it was the family of Stephen Lawrence. Now we learn that the UK police spied on other people seeking justice from them as well:

Undercover police gathered intelligence on grieving families who were battling the Metropolitan police for justice, including the relatives of Jean Charles de Menezes, Cherry Groce and Ricky Reel.

Police have approached the three families, inviting them to discuss their findings. The meeting with Reel's relatives has already taken place and they were told they had been subject to "inappropriate" surveillance.

Scotland Yard claimed that the families were not the target of the operations but information on them was gathered and wrongly retained as part of the covert infiltration of political groups.


Because there's nothing more "political" than wanting to know why the police killed your son, or why they didn't investigate his murder.

As with the Lawrence spying, this was not about preventing crime, or protecting the public, but about preventing criticism and protecting the jobs and reputations of police officers. This is not what police are for. And those who think it is should be prosecuted for misfeasance in public office.

Another botched execution in the US

Another US execution has gone horribly wrong:

The controversy engulfing the death penalty in the United States escalated on Wednesday when the state of Arizona took almost two hours to kill a prisoner using an experimental concoction of drugs whose provenance it had insisted on keeping secret.

Joseph Wood took an hour and 58 minutes to die after he was injected with a relatively untested combination of the sedative midazolam and painkiller hydromorphone. For more than an hour, he was seen to be “gasping and snorting”, according to an emergency motion to halt the execution, filed by his lawyers.

[...]

One eyewitness, Michael Kiefer of Arizona Republic, counted the prisoner gasping 660 times. Another witness, reporter Troy Hayden, told the same paper that it had been "very disturbing to watch ... like a fish on shore gulping for air."


This is pretty clearly cruel and unusual punishment, and hence unconstitutional. The question now is whether the US judiciary can admit that, or whether America's addiction to judicial murder will outweigh the facts and the law.

A serial offender

So it wasn't just a holiday in Oz Claudette Hauiti tried to stick us with:

Outgoing National MP Claudette Hauiti admits using her parliamentary charge card to buy petrol for her personal car in a further breach of the rules on card use.

But she says she doesn't know how much in total she had to refund because she repaid small amounts repeatedly over the year in which she had spent outside the rules.

Ms Hauiti announced this week she would step down from Parliament, days after revelations she used the charge card for personal spending, including a $200 fee related to flights to Australia.


Again: if people in an employment situation repeatedly violated their expenses rules in this manner, despite being warned, they'd be fired and/or prosecuted. Shouldn't the same apply to MPs? But because they're effectively employing the people who are supposed to watch over them, there's not a hope. So instead we get a full-on coverup, where we're not even allowed to know how much she stole.

This is also a stellar example of why Parliamentary Services needs to be subject to the OIA: so there is transparency and public accountability in these sorts of cases. The public have made it crystal clear that we have no tolerance for thieving, rorting MPs. Every day MPs refuse to take that message to heart and legislate accordingly is a day when they earn their reputation.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014



More stat-juking

There were more allegations in Parliament today that the government is juking the stats, with Andrew Little pointing at a report from the Taranaki Daily News that a Crown prosecutor had claimed:

"There was one occasion in 2012 when it was brought to my attention by another senior Crown prosecutor that a police prosecuting sergeant was telling a uniformed police officer in writing he should not have laid lower level drug charges as well as the class A and B charges my office were dealing with, because of the need to reduce crime by a certain percentage."
But its not just crime statistics. Its also education:
Parents can have little confidence in the Government’s National Standards after an Auckland school was told to manipulate its data so it added up, Labour’s Education spokesperson Chris Hipkins.

“Valley School in Pukekohe was advised in an email from the Ministry of Education to arbitrarily adjust student results from ‘below standard’ to ‘above standard’ to make their data add up.

“How can National Standards provide an accurate basis for measuring student achievement when the Ministry of Education is unilaterally scaling assessment results to produce the outcome it wants

This culture of stat-juking seems to be becoming pervasive. But its what happens when the people who collect the stats get sent a clear message from the top that the stats will improve or they will lose their jobs. But the result is that the stats become meaningless, which in turn means we have no idea at all about the effectiveness of policy, or the state of the world. The politicians love this, because the truth becomes whatever they say it is; they can say "crime is dropping", "educational achievement is rising", "our country is a better place", and there's no way to contradict them. But those of us who have to live in the unchanged reality which is not reflected by their false statistics shouldn't be so happy - because denying problems means denying any possibility of a solution. And when that problem is burglaries, domestic violence, or poor educational achievement, its not something we can afford to ignore for the rhetorical comfort of lying politicians.

Prison hulks

In the 18th and 19th centuries, Britain pioneered a new type of atrocity: the prison hulk. Faced with a shortage of jail space, they turned to imprisoning convicts on former warships. The prisoners were subjected to appalling conditions in an overcrowded environment deprived of natural light. Most of those sentenced to transportation to Australia spent time on a prison hulk before being exiled.

Sadly, it seems the present Australian government has decided to ape its former colonial masters:

Family members among 157 asylum seekers being detained on the high seas in separate rooms on a customs vessel are allowed out for meals and ''approximately three hours'' of daylight a day, according to a document lodged with the High Court on Tuesday.

[...]

A document filed by the government reveals the national security committee of cabinet decided on July 1, two days after the boat was intercepted, that those on board ''should be taken to a place other than Australia''.

The document says the asylum seekers are permitted ''approximately three hours' outside during the day in natural light for meals'', but says it would be unsafe to give them unrestricted movement.


These prisoners are now in limbo. Detained illegally on the high seas after an act of piracy by the Australian government, Australia will not accept them, and India (their port of origin) does not want them back. Meanwhile, the Australian government believes that Australian law does not apply to them, and that they have no right even to procedural fairness. Which tells us how badly Australia needs a Bill of Rights...

Challenging Britain's panopticon

Last week, the British establishment rammed through new "emergency" surveillance and data retention laws, with the collusion of all three major parties. Now those laws are being challenged in the courts:

Two leading Westminster civil liberties campaigners, David Davis and Tom Watson, are to mount a high court legal challenge to the government's new "emergency" surveillance law, which was rushed through parliament last week.

The application for a judicial review of the new legislation, which was passed with support from the three main parties, is to be mounted by the human rights organisation Liberty on behalf of the two backbench MPs.

[...]

Liberty is to argue on behalf of Davis and Watson that the new legislation is incompatible with article 8 of the European convention on human rights, which includes the right to respect for private and family life, and article 7 of the European charter of fundamental rights – respect for private and family life and protection of personal data.

The Drip Act requires internet and phone companies to collect their customers' personal communication data, tracking their phone and internet use, and store it for 12 months to give access to the police, security services and up to 600 public bodies on request.

Liberty argues that such communications data can provide a very intimate picture of a person's life by detailing who they have been in contact with, by what means, for how long, and from where.


They're on solid ground here. The EU Data Retention Directive, which DRIP replaces, was declared invalid for precisely this reason. Mass-surveillance without particularised suspicion is standing breach of the ECHR. Which is one of the reasons why the Tories want to leave it: because it is doing its job in protecting the rights of the UK's citizens against its authoritarian, spying government.

Member's Day

Today is a Member's Day, the last of the Parliamentary term. But thanks to government filibustering over the past few months, instead of seeing the third reading of Sue Moroney's Parental Leave and Employment Protection (Six Months' Paid Leave) Amendment Bill, the excitement has been stripped from it. Instead, we'll have 90 minutes of valedictories from failed politicians, to be followed by the third reading of a bill about laser pointers.

The next member's day won't be until after Parliament is recalled, and the political landscape will have changed. The exact arrangement is in the hands of the voters, but I'm hoping that the next government won't have such easy majority options, so that member's days become meaningful again and Parliament gets to act as an independent branch of government rather than a rubberstamp for the executive.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014



Manufacturing dissent

So, it turns out that almost all US "domestic terrorists" are created and directly incited by the US government:

Nearly all of the highest-profile domestic terrorism plots in the United States since 9/11 featured the "direct involvement" of government agents or informants, a new report says.

Some of the controversial "sting" operations "were proposed or led by informants", bordering on entrapment by law enforcement. Yet the courtroom obstacles to proving entrapment are significant, one of the reasons the stings persist.

The lengthy report, released on Monday by Human Rights Watch, raises questions about the US criminal justice system's ability to respect civil rights and due process in post-9/11 terrorism cases. It portrays a system that features not just the sting operations but secret evidence, anonymous juries, extensive pretrial detentions and convictions significantly removed from actual plots.

"In some cases the FBI may have created terrorists out of law-abiding individuals by suggesting the idea of taking terrorist action or encouraging the target to act," the report alleges.


And these manufactured "terrorists" are then used to justify more powers and greater budgets for enforcement agencies. Its a vicious circle, which alienates target communities, while keeping the public in a constant state of fear. And it really makes you wonder who the real enemy is...

Saved

The Basin Reserve has been saved:

Controversial plans to build a flyover next to the Basin Reserve in Wellington have been killed off by a board of inquiry.

In a stunning move today, four commissioners declined resource consent for the New Zealand Transport Agency’s proposed $90 million project.

It means the agency’s plans to build a 265-metre elevated highway 20 metres north of the historic cricket ground are now all but dead in the water.


Good. And now possibly Wellington can get on with designing a city for people, not cars.

Not serious

That's John Key's assessment of his government's failure in the Tania Billingsley case:

"I don't make apologies unless there's a serious reason for me to do that."

Except apparently it is serious enough to justify an independent inquiry (though one which won't inquire into Murray McCully's role), and so serious that Key's MFAT scapegoat must resign. Which is more than a small contradiction. Its therefore hard to see it as anything other than a calculated insult towards Billingsley, who refused to collude in the government's silence.

But it's also another example of how Key's government isn't serious about sexual violence. Sure, they'll push "tough on crime" headline-generating policies like eliminating the right to silence, but the reality is that they'll let attempted rapists flee the country, shut down rape crisis centres, and gratuitously insult victims who dare to speak out. Which tells us exactly how "serious" they are.

More Australian torture

Successive Australian governments have systematically dehumanised and demonised asylum seekers as part of their war on refugees, and the results have been predictable: torture, murder, and ill-treatment. And now they're torturing refugees to cover up their crimes:

Two asylum seekers in detention on Manus Island say they were forced to retract their eyewitness accounts of violence at the centre in February after being beaten and threatened by Australian officials at the centre.

They include the room-mate of the murdered Reza Barati, who has identified a number of staff at the centre as involved in the killing.

[...]

The two asylum seekers allege they were subjected to “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment” over a number of days last week before they say they agreed to retract their police statements.

They say they were taken to an area of the camp they had not seen before and fed bread and water for three days, sleeping on the muddy ground.

“We were crying and asking what is our fault?” one said in a Facebook post. “They said: 'Because you always object to all of our rules'."

They claim they were cable-tied to chairs and beaten about the body to avoid noticeable bruises and threatened with rape and murder if they did not retract their statements.


This is what happens if you have dehumanisation, secrecy, and a government-encouraged air of impunity. It's a natural consequence of everything Australia has done with its gulags. And now its made them a torture state like the US. I hope Howard, Rudd, Gillard and Abbott are proud of themselves.

Good riddance

Last week we learned that National MP Claudette Hauiti had been stealing from the taxpayer by rorting her expenses. Today, she decided to quit:

National list MP Claudette Hauiti has decided to withdraw from the election and politics altogether.

She has already been selected as National's candidate in the Kelston electorate, which is thought to be a safe Labour seat.

She told National MPs at their caucus meeting this morning.


Good riddance to a thief. If only more rorters would follow her example.

Monday, July 21, 2014



Sclerotic

The Standing Orders Committee has reported back on the triennial Review of Standing Orders. The big news: they think the trial of broadcasting select committee hearings ahs gone well, and want it made standard practice. It's a welcome boost to the transparency of the House. There's also a mild improvement around BORA reporting, in that reports of inconsistency from the Attorney-General will automatically be referred to select committee, so there will be some sort of formal response from the House.

As for the rest, its not good news. Picking a few topics:

  • Question Time will not be held automatically when urgency is called, because "the holding of question time is a significant element of negotiations about the expected progress of business under urgency". So, the government holds the ability to hold it to account hostage in order to let it ram through laws without proper scrutiny.
  • The Attorney-General won't be required to report on amendments to bills which are inconsistent with the BORA, despite a recognition that the absence of such reporting causes problems in Parliament's relationship with the courts because it could have "implications" for the collective responsibility of Ministers (meaning: it looks bad when a Minister is forced to say that their colleagues are pissing on our human rights).
  • MPs think a specialist human rights committee would be some sort of ghetto.
  • The crown financial veto will not be eliminated, because the committee thinks the executive shouldn't have to enact policies "foist upon it" by the legislature. Like, say, all the legislation passed by previous governments.
  • The committee sees no benefit to electing the Speaker by secret ballot.
  • Parliament will keep praying (and telling all non-theists that they are not really citizens) at the start of every day, but the next Speaker should consult the next Parliament about the wording of their entreaties to imaginary beings. The sustainability of this position in a country which is no longer christian is left as an exercise for the reader.
  • The Clerk of the House's innovative ideas for e-petitions and greater public involvement will not be adopted.
In short, "our" Parliament has once again rejected keeping pace with our society and our democracy. I know they're a conservative institution, but this is beyond conservative and into the positively sclerotic. Once again, MPs have earned their reputation. And they have no-one to blame for it but themselves.

This'll be interesting

Speaking of Internet-Mana, not only is Kim Dotcom promising a pre-election bombshell, but he's getting Glenn Greenwald along to help:

Internet Party founder Kim Dotcom says he has enlisted heavy-hitting US journalist Glenn Greenwald, who blew open secrets about mass spying by the US Government, to help embarrass Prime Minister John Key immediately before the election.

Mr Greenwald will travel to New Zealand for an event at the Auckland Town Hall on September 15, when Dotcom says he will release information that is highly damaging for Mr Key and National.

The general election is five days later.


This is guaranteed to put some international attention on whatever is revealed. Hopefully it'll be big enough to justify it. Meanwhile, there's the obvious question: while John Key get his spies to deny Greenwald entry to New Zealand as a "threat or risk to security"? Five days before an election, it would be absolutely toxic, a confirmation of authoritarianism. But OTOH, this is the SIS we're talking about, whose stupidity knows no bounds...

Either way, it'll be interesting, and good to see the government squirm.

A circus of self-mutilation

The political weekend: the Greens announce serious, sensible, and popular policy, Internet-Mana packs out another public meeting, and Labour's self-mutilation continues:

However, Labour MPS are disgusted by Cunliffe's skiing holiday just two months before the election and will question his work ethic at a caucus meeting on Tuesday, a senior party insider said.

Labour is trailing National by 30 percentage points, polling just 24.9 per cent in the latest Stuff-Ipsos poll.

"A lot of MPs are really f..... off about it," the insider said.

"They are all working hard up and down the country, and f...... Cunliffe is on holiday. Guys like [Phil] Goff and [Annette] King and [David] Shearer, these guys really want it badly and they are working like their lives depend on it. And I think they are a little incredulous about what the guy is doing."

Yes, faced with an election they're trying to convince us they need to win or National will privatise your kidneys and sell your children to a charter school, Labour's "senior insiders" are sabotaging their own campaign and focusing on positioning themselves for the post-loss leadership struggle. Why would anyone vote for such a clown-show? More importantly, why would anyone volunteer for them? They're clearly not worth the time and effort.

Meanwhile, Labour hacks are talking about the need for everyone on the left to work "hard, seamlessly, together, and well" (meaning "STFU and stop criticising Labour"). But its clear which party isn't pulling its weight here. The Greens are on track to equal or better their 2011 performance. Internet-Mana is doing so well even John Armstrong has to notice. If the left loses this election, it will be because of Labour.

New Fisk

Why do television producers think a grey blob over a dead person’s face shows respect?

Fiji: Impunity for torture

In 2012, a group of prisoners escaped from Naboro prison in Fiji. When they were recaptured, they were savagely beaten by police, and one subsequently had a leg amputated. The entire thing was captured on video, and several of the perpetrators have already been identified (naturally, one is an international rugby player). So it should have been easy for the Fijian police to prosecute and bring these torturers to justice.

Instead, they've closed the case. Nine minutes of graphic torture, several identified torturers, and no-one will be held accountable.

Amnesty International is right: this is impunity, backed explicitly by the military regime. There is no law in Fiji, only the whim of a brutal dictator.

Speaking of that dictator, apparently he wants to visit New Zealand. Our government should tell him to fuck off, and that dictators are persona non grata. The only reason we should let him into New Zealand is so he can be arrested and tried for the crimes carried out by his regime.

Friday, July 18, 2014



Australia's new authoritarianism

Australia has had a run of bad luck in having its dirty deeds uncovered, first with Wikileaks, then the Snowden revelations that they've been spying on their own citizens (and offering to share the data with the Americans), on Indonesia, and for the rich. Plus of course the whole East Timor spying scandal. These revelations have caused international embarrassment and ruined relations with their closest neighbours.

But now the Australian government has a solution: jail any journalist who reports on their crimes:

Australian journalists could face prosecution and jail for reporting Snowden-style revelations about certain spy operations, in an “outrageous” expansion of the government’s national security powers, leading criminal lawyers have warned.

A bill presented to parliament on Wednesday by the attorney general, George Brandis, would expand the powers of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (Asio), including creation of a new offence punishable by five years in jail for “any person” who disclosed information relating to “special intelligence operations”.

The person would be liable for a 10-year term if the disclosure would “endanger the health or safety of any person or prejudice the effective conduct of a special intelligence operation”.

Special intelligence operations are a new type of operation in which intelligence officers receive immunity from liability or prosecution where they may need to engage in conduct that would be otherwise unlawful.


(That latter definition BTW seems to give the government carte blanche to disregard its own laws on wiretapping and spying. They can just redefine it as a "special intelligence operation" and the spies are suddenly in a lawless zone where they can spy, steal, and even murder with impunity).

As with their raid on East Timor's lawyers, this is the action of a guilty government, one with a lot to hide which sees its own citizens as the enemy. This law cannot be allowed to pass.

Meanwhile, Chris Finlayson has recently been at the Five Eyes Attorney-Generals meeting, so how long will it be before we see such Orwellian legislation here?

Docs or its bullshit

Over the weekend we learned that police had been juking the stats, recoding burglaries as "incidents" to make themselves and their Minister look good. But its all fine now, supposedly - the police claim they've instituted a series of spot audits to ensure it can never happen again.

Except when they're asked for information about these supposed safeguards and whether they've uncovered any problems, they suddenly can't find anything...

A refusal by the police to release any details of their response to wrongly coded burglaries in South Auckland is being called a "snow-job".

A police investigation found that about 500 burglaries were wrongly reclassified as other offences or incidents between 2009 and 2012 in Counties Manukau.

Police and the acting Police Minister Judith Collins have said it was an isolated incident, and spot audits nationwide have been put in place to ensure the integrity of crime statistics.

There was no information to suggest it had happened elsewhere, police said.

But police have refused to reveal any details of the spot audits, and District Commander Superintendent John Tims could not answer when they started, or whether they had uncovered any irregularities.


Apparently its all very complex and would take too long to collate. Which sounds like poor excuses. At the least, you'd expect them to be able to point to the order for spot checks to be implemented, even if they don't have the results yet. The only reason they wouldn't be able to do that is if there is no policy and they're making it up to make themselves look good (sorry, "preserve public confidence in the police", because clumsy lies totally do that).

The police have totally forfeited our trust. If they want us to believe them, on this or any other issue, they need to front up with proof. Documents, or its bullshit!