Tuesday, November 19, 2019



Still denying responsibility

Stuff's story on NZDF's negligence around its Afghan firing ranges has produced a result, with a commitment from the Prime Minister for an urgent cleanup. But this doesn't mean NZDF is accepting responsibility for the deaths and injuries that have occured - they're still refusing compensation. Which given that the sums involved are so trivial on a government level, just seems petty, a further effort to deny responsibility. But it is our responsibility: we accepted it when we sent troops to Afghanistan and took over those ranges. And even if it was someone else's grenade which killed those children, its still our fault for not cleaning it up, and we have accepted as much by accepting the full cleanup costs. This just smacks of the usual NZDF arse-covering and reluctance to acknowledge responsibility.

Unfortunately, its also looking like NZDF has engaged in its usual behaviour towards Ministers, their bosses. NZDF has said they received a report from Human Rights Watch about deaths and injuries on the firing ranges last year, which apparently spurred some action and resulted in a briefing to the PM on the issue. But she said on Morning Report this morning that she was not informed of any possibility of deaths. Did NZDF bullshit her, massaging the truth to equivocate away civilian casualties, as they did over Operation Burnham? I expect Stuff already has an OIA in for that briefing (if they don't already have it), so we'll find out eventually. Unless NZDF tries to hide it under "national security", of course.

But I'm also wondering why Ministers continue to tolerate NZDF, given that all they seem to do is leave these stinking messes around for people to tread in. Whenever they go overseas, they fuck up, and Ministers are left to deal with the fallout. Which suggests keeping them on a short leash, at home, is necessary to keep them under proper supervision.

A corrupt practice

Last week RNZ broke the news on NZ First's mysterious "foundation" and its dodgy-looking loans. The arrangement seemed to be designed to evade the transparency requirements of the Electoral Act, by laundering donations. But now Stuff has acquired some of their financial records, and it gone from dodgy to outright criminal:

Almost half a million dollars in political donations appear to have been hidden inside a secret slush fund controlled by a coterie of Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters' trusted advisers.

The secretive New Zealand First Foundation collected donations from wealthy donors and used the money to finance election campaigns, pay for an MP's legal advice, advertising, fund a $5000 day at the Wellington races and even pay an IRD bill.

[...]

Stuff has seen records for the foundation that suggest there have been breaches of the Electoral Act and that the foundation is being used to obscure political donations to the NZ First Party.

Donors to the foundation are primary industry leaders, wealthy investors and multi-millionaires.

One legal commentator, public law expert Graeme Edgeler who also saw the records, believes there would be different consequences under the Electoral Act depending on whether the party and foundation are separate entities or connected.

In either scenario, Edgeler concluded the Electoral Act had likely been broken.


The big offence here is making a false electoral donation return - a corrupt practice if done knowingly, but merely an illegal practice if the result of negligence and other people's lies. And with that on the line, you can see why their party president suddenly quit rather than sign the financial statements.

Stuff appears to have evidence that funds were given to the foundation as "donations", and then used to directly pay party expenses. Some of these donations were split up to avoid the declaration threshold - suggesting a belief they were going to a political party (not to mention corrupt intent on the donor's part). Which suggests other criminal offences as well. But because politicians write the law to suit themselves, there's an extraordinarily short time window for prosecution, and many of the offences may not be able to be prosecuted. Still, the Electoral Commission needs to investigate, and bring charges if it finds anything. Anything less would simply be a betrayal of our democracy.

Monday, November 18, 2019



Corruption as usual

Next year is an election year, and Labour needs money to fund its campaign. So naturally, they're selling access:

Labour is charging wealthy business figures $1500-a-head to lunch with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at its annual conference later this month.

[...]

On the weekend beginning November 29th, around 800 delegates will gather at the Whanganui War Memorial Centre, for the convention.

Also on the guest list are a select number of business guests, who will spend the day at a business conference and lunch with Ardern.

Eight MPs will give presentations and all MPs are invited. Stuff understands Education Minister Chris Hipkins and Broadcasting Minister Kris Faafoi are expected to attend.


Officially, they're all attending in a "personal capacity" of course. But the only reason anyone is interested in talking to them is because they hold public office. They are exploiting that office for party profit. Their "excuse" that they're only selling themselves a little compared to the previous government is unacceptable. What they are doing is corrupt and wrong, and any politician who engages in it should be prosecuted for soliciting a bribe.

Fairer rentals

Yesterday the government announced its changes to tenancy laws, including an end to no-cause evictions, limits on rent increases, and anonyminity for tenants who defend their rights against bad landlords (sadly necessary because landlords are scum who maintain blacklists of "uppity" tenants). They're all good moves, and have resulted in the usual squeals from landleeches, who think it will be the end of the world if they are required to treat people with basic fairness and dignity. And they're making the usual threats of people "leaving the industry", which they seem to think is a Bad Thing. Its not. Every house owned by a landleech is a hoarded house. If they sell, then those hoarded houses will end up in the hands of people who want to use them as homes, not investments - pushing house prices lower in the process. And I don't see how society loses at all by that.

Another NZDF coverup

In 2003 New Zealand sent a Provincial Reconstruction Team to Afghanistan to support America's doomed war there. While there, they conducted regular weapons practice on local firing ranges, littering the landscape with unexploded ammunition. These ranges weren't secure - they're on land used by locals for animal herding - so the inevitable tragedies occurred. And re-occurred. And kept occurring. And NZDF did... nothing:

Seven children were killed in an explosion caused by a device left behind on a New Zealand firing range in Afghanistan, a Stuff Circuit investigation has revealed.

The children are among 17 civilians killed or injured in incidents connected to unexploded ordnance on New Zealand's firing ranges.

[...]

The Defence Force refused to be interviewed, but in a statement said it "takes its responsibility to ensure areas used by New Zealand forces are free of unexploded ordnance very seriously".

Defence was in talks with the Afghan government to clear the ranges, and had set aside $10 million to do so, the statement said.

But locals point out it is now six years since New Zealand left Afghanistan and question why the work hasn't been carried out already.


NZDF's statement is the usual arse-covering, saying their negligence was all within the rules, and trying to point at the finger at others (again: so much for the supposed military ethos of taking responsibility). But as the article points out, the clearance was clearly inadequate, and there was a spike in injuries and deaths after NZDF had used the ranges. And frankly, its their responsibility, our responsibility, and they have failed. Its also appalling that we're only learning about this now, and it just smacks of the institutional behaviour currently under examination in the Operation Burnham inquiry: keep the public in the dark, shuffle everything under the carpet, and deny, deny, deny (next they'll no doubt be attacking the journalists as well). If NZDF is wondering why people don't trust them, and look at them as liars and criminals, then they simply need to look in the mirror.

As for what to do about it, there needs to be an immediate cleanup, and compensation for the victims. Anything less is simply failing our responsibilities.

A loss for the Greens

Green MP Gareth Hughes has announced he will retire at the election. Its understandable - he's been there ten years, and wants to actually see his children grow up rather than miss it while drowning in the toxic parliamentary sewer. But his departure is also a huge loss for the Greens, stripping them of parliamentary experience and energy.

Hughes has also made it clear that one of the reasons for his departure is frustration at the failure of this government to rise to the challenges we face and be transformational. That was always a doomed hope, and not just because of NZ First: Labour is an establishment party, so it reflexively supports the status quo, no matter how unjust, unequal, and unsustainable it is. And yet, the need for transformation to deal with climate change and inequality is clear. Sadly, convincing our sclerotic establishment of that is simply banging your head against a brick wall. That's useful in the long-term - it wears down the wall, so that eventually, someday, your successors can smash it - but frustrating and pointless in the short-term. And its perfectly understandable that people don't want to waste their time doing that, especially when they have better things to do with their lives.

Friday, November 15, 2019



New Fisk

Michael Lynk’s UN report on Israeli settlements speaks the truth – but the world refuses to listen

Unacceptable

That's the only response to the findings of the Ombudsman's investigation into LGOIMA practices at the Christchurch City Council:

My investigation identified serious concerns about the Council’s leadership and culture, and its commitment to openness and transparency. In particular, Council staff raised concerns with me about various methods employed by some members of the Executive Leadership Team to keep negative information about the Council from the public and/or elected members. These methods allegedly included manipulating or removing information from reports, project reporting not occurring, staff being told not to record information or to keep information in draft form. This has caused a perception to develop among staff that some members of the Executive Leadership Team wished to manipulate any messaging about the Council that might be negative.

The then-Chief Executive was in total denial about this, refusing to see any problem. The good news is that they've now left the job, and their replacement seems a lot more interested in transparency. Still, the Ombudsman has taken the unusual step for a practice investigation of issuing a formal recommendation to prevent this from happening again, which the council has accepted. Its a huge change from the previous situation, where the chief executive tried to ignore formal recommendations and had to be taken to court.

Which I guess shows how one rotten person at the top can undermine transparency in an entire organisation, and how important it is to keep an eye on them to stop that from happening.

This is what corruption looks like

NZ First seems to be nakedly trying to enrich itself from public office:

A powerful New Zealand First figure helped establish a forestry company that then pushed for money from two key funding streams controlled by a New Zealand First Minister.

An RNZ investigation has found Brian Henry, lawyer for Winston Peters and judicial officer for the New Zealand First party, became a founding director of NZ Future Forest Products in March.

The company immediately began its bid for money from the Provincial Growth Fund and also sought funding from the One Billion Trees programme - both overseen by New Zealand First Minister Shane Jones.

The Billion Trees funding bid was rejected by officials at Te Uru Rākau, Forestry New Zealand, on 22 August.

Less than a week after that rejection, Future Forest Products appointed the partner of New Zealand First Leader Winston Peters as a director of the company.

[...]

Ms Trotman was made the fourth director of the forestry company on 27 August, when the company bid for at least $1 million from the Provincial Growth Fund was still live.

They were turned down for that as well, fortunately, but its more than a little disturbing that they tried, and got the Deputy Prime Minister's partner on board for it. What's also disturbing is that the ultimate ownership of this company is unknown, hidden behind a "limited partnership" designed (by National) to give secrecy. Is it more politicians? NZ First's mysterious foundation? Or the Deputy Prime Minister himself? We simply don't know, and thanks to National's love of corrupt foreign money, we can't. But here we see how the foreign money laundering regime can potentially be used to cover up domestic corruption. Its a perfect example of why we need a public beneficial ownership register, to ensure that the rich and corrupt can't hide their dodgy financial dealings.

Escape from Manus Island

Behrouz Boochani is an award winning author and journalist. He is also a refugee, who for the past six years has been detained in Australia's offshore gulag on Manus Island, and in Papua New Guinea. But last night, with the cooperation of the WORD Christchurch festival and Amnesty International, he finally escaped to New Zealand. As for what he was escaping from, The Guardian has the litany of horrors:

Over the six years he was held on Manus Island and in Port Moresby, Boochani witnessed friends shot, stabbed and murdered by guards on Manus Island, saw others die through medical neglect, and watched others descend into mental anguish and suicide.

He was twice tortured for several days in the notorious Chauka solitary confinement block, in the now-demolished Manus detention centre. He was jailed for eight days for reporting on a hunger strike in the centre, which was put down by force by PNG police.


This is basicly nazi stuff. And its our "closest friend" Australia doing it. But countries who run concentration camps, who deliberately leave people to die, who torture, can never be our friends. Which is why you should never buy Australian.

As for Boochani, he will be appearing at the WORD festival in Christchurch tonight, and plans to enjoy his freedom in New Zealand. While he has no plans to apply for asylum here, that could (and should) change if the US withdraws its acceptance. Because what's clear is that he has been persecuted by Australia and its PNG patsies, and would suffer further persecution of returned there. Which gives him a slam-dunk case for refugee status in New Zealand should he need it.

Thursday, November 14, 2019



Climate Change: We need more trees, not less

Farmers held a hate-march on Parliament today, complete with MAGA hats, gun-nut signs, and gendered insults. While supposedly about a grab-bag of issues - including, weirdly, mental health - it was clear that the protest was about one thing, and one thing only: climate change. And specifically, forestry "destroying" rural communities. They want the latter to stop, with land-use restrictions to prevent sales for forestry.

Think about that for a moment. If at any other time a Labour government proposed preventing farmers selling their land to the highest bidder or putting it to the most profitable use, these rednecks would be screaming "communism!" Now they're demanding it, to protect their unsustainable, unprofitable way of life.

But the blunt fact is that these conversions happen because they are a more profitable use for the land than existing uses. Now that carbon costs are internalised in the non-agricultural economy, the market has shifted, and these farmers are on the short end. And the best thing that can happen, both economically and for emissions, is for them to be planted out.

Cows emit greenhouse gases. Trees absorb them. Any tree, anywhere, is better than a cow. So the faster this transition in rural land use happens, the better, for us, and for the planet. It is that simple.

The IGIS annual report: Dead letters and secret law

The Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security released their annual report today, and I've been busy reading through it. In amongst the usual review of what they've been doing all year, there's a few interesting bits. For example, a discussion on "agency retention and disposal of information", which points out that the clause of the Intelligence and Security Act which requires the destruction of "irrelevant" information is basicly a dead letter:

The application of s103 is more problematic, because judging when information collected for intelligence purposes is no longer relevant is not straightforward. If s103 means that information may only be retained so long as it is necessary, rather than merely desirable, to keep it, that is still a difficult test to apply in practice. The practical effect of s103 remains under discussion between our office and the agencies.

Reading between the lines, it appears that the current test for keeping irrelevant information - that is, information about people of no interest to the spies whatsoever, with no justification for retantion - seems to be whether it is "desirable" (that is, whether the spies feel like it, or feel they may be able to use it, somehow, in the future, despite no apparent use today). Which is a long way from what we were told when the law was passed, and basicly renders the clause meaningless. And that in turn creates an incentive for over-collection and mass-storage, just in case information becomes useful in future.

There's worse. One of the key safeguards in the Act is that any collection of intelligence about a New Zealander requires a Type 1 warrant, with enhanced safeguards. But (as mentioned in the IGIS's earlier report on warrants) the spies have been playing language games over anticipated "incidental" collection of New Zealanders' communications under less stringent, foreign intelligence Type 2 warrants - and they now have a legal opinion from the Solicitor-General backing up their view that this is OK. Which is part of the legal process and the back and forth of oversight, but as the IGIS points out, government agencies are bound to follow such opinions, so where they are issued, they are for all practical purposes the law. Which then raises a significant issue of there being a body of effectively secret law, shielded by legal professional privilege, which may differ significantly from the public understanding. Even more disturbingly, the spy agencies have "come close" to trying to use legal privilege to prevent the Inspector-General from stating their position on the law - effectively trying to keep it completely secret from the public.

But in a democratic society, the very idea of "secret law" is a nonsense. The law is, by definition, public. The government has to tell you what it is. And they should do exactly that with their interpretations of the spy laws. Otherwise, there will always be public suspicion that they mean one thing to the public, and something very different to the spies. And that is simply not sustainable in a democracy.

(If someone has the appetite for an OIA shitfight, there's a past Ombudsman's opinion supporting openness for such internal interpretive advice, so it may be worth trying to request it.

A referendum on bigotry

The End of Life Choice Bill passed its third reading last night, 69 - 51. Thanks to a compromise with NZ First - which looks to have been necessary on the final numbers - the commencement of the bill will be subject to a referendum.

Given the ugliness of the "debate" over the bill, which saw bigots equating the terminally ill being able to choose to die on their own terms when they are ready for it - something they already do illegally - with the mass murder of the old and disabled, it is likely to be a very ugly campaign. The same tiny clique of well-funded fundamentalist nutjobs who have opposed gay rights, women's rights, equal marriage, and pretty much any progress in this country forever are going to spew hate into our political system for months, because that is all they know how to do. And the biggest effect of it is likely to be to make people turn off, walk away and not vote.

I urge people not to do that. We simply can not let the bigots win, on this, or on anything. Instead, we have to crush them at the ballot box. This won't change their minds - bigots are incapable of learning - but it should teach them not to inflict themselves on us in this way, and go back to just bothering MPs instead.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019



Irony

Since 2013, the Australian government has detained refugees without trial in Pacific gulags, where they are abused, tortured, and driven to suicide. The policy is not just an abuse of human rights and possible crime against humanity; it has also had a corrosive effect on the states Australia uses as hosts. Nauru in particular has turned into a dictatorship, banning the media, evicting the opposition from parliament, and ending freedom of speech in an effort to stop criticism of the flow of Australian gulag money. And now, some of the victims of that regime are applying for asylum in Australia:

A former Nauruan politician is seeking political asylum in Australia as a retrial of anti-Government protestors kicks off in the island nation today.

Squire Jeremiah is a member of the so-called Nauru 19, a group of former opposition MPs and their supporters who were charged with rioting and disrupting the legislature over protests outside the nation's Parliament in 2015.

Mr Jeremiah and his cousin, Rutherford Jeremiah, fled to Australia in September.

He says the Government is determined to have them convicted.


And he's right. Nauru has conducted a campaign of persecution against these people, and then when the courts finally ruled it was illegal, abolished them. Now, they've bought in a Fijian judge, whose claim to fame is purportedly legalising a coup, to hear the trial. As the former chief justice says, this is simply an abuse of the judicial process.

The irony here: Australia's anti-refugee policies in the Pacific are now creating refugees in the Pacific. Its appropriate that they clean up their mess, and give sanctuary to those who they are having persecuted. If not, New Zealand should offer to help.

Another captured agency

Last month, Greenpeace head Russel Norman surrendered his speaking slot at an EPA conference to student climate activist Sorcha Carr, who told the EPA exactly what she thought of them. It was a bold move, which confronted both regulators and polluters (or, as the EPA calls them, "stakeholders") with the voices they were ignoring. The EPA's reaction was astounding:

“[EPA CEO] Allan Freeth publicly chastised her [the student] for lack of ‘politeness’ and the inappropriateness of the speech – seemingly more concerned about the offence caused to other ‘invited guests’. From what I witnessed, I believe he was particularly acknowledging a rep from the oil and gas industry, who not only shouted at Sorcha during and after her speech, but immediately stormed out and accosted senior EPA staff to express his outrage at the ‘ridiculousness’, inappropriateness and ‘bad taste’ of her speech.”

The event was described as an annual update where central and local government, industry and community groups were invited to hear what the EPA had been doing and an opportunity for the EPA to understand "what is of concern and interest to our stakeholders". Norman was a guest speaker.

Freeth later sent a letter to attendees apologising for “a person’s poor and disrespectful behaviour”. He was referring to either Norman or Carr, not the oil industry representative who spoke over Carr.


What this shows is a regulatory agency which is completely and totally captured by the industry it purports to regulate. It shares their values, and their sense of offence at being confronted with a message they do not want to hear. And by doing so, it has ceased to be a neutral, professional public service agency, and has effectively become an industry lobby group within government.

Such unprofessional and corrupt conduct should not be tolerated. Freeth needs to resign or be sacked. As for the EPA, if they are this captured and this compromised, they need to be disbanded. Raze it to the ground and start again from a clean slate, because clearly they're no fucking good to anyone but the polluters they protect.

NZ First's dodgy loans

The core principle supposedly underlying New Zealand's electoral finance regime is transparency: parties can accept large donations from rich people wanting to buy policy, but only if they tell the public they've been bought. Most parties abide by this, so we know that TOP was wholly-owned by Gareth Morgan, and that ACT is basicly the pawn of a couple of rich arseholes in Auckland. The exception to this is NZ First, which has never declared a single donation by anyone, ever. They do however declare lots of "loans":

Records show New Zealand First has disclosed three loans from the New Zealand First Foundation. In 2017, it received $73,000. Then in 2018, it received a separate loan of $76,622, in what the Electoral Commission says was a loan executed to "replace the first loan". In 2019, it received another loan for $44,923.

Those giving money to the foundation are able to remain anonymous because under electoral law, loans are not subject to the same disclosure requirements as donations.

Both of the foundation's trustees refused to answer any questions about what the foundation did and how it operated, and New Zealand First's party secretary, Liz Witehira, said she knew nothing about it.

"I don't know and I don't need to know," Mrs Witehira told RNZ.


The natural suspicion here is that they are simply laundering their donations. And of course, its all "within the rules". But when those rules were written by self-interested politicians for their own benefit, that doesn't fly very far with the public. Electoral law expert Andrew Geddis says that this isn't the level of transparency we expect to see from a political party, and he's right. As for how to stop it, we busted trusts on donations, requiring the true contributors to be identified; clearly we need to do this for non-commercial "loans" as well.

But that's just plugging the current loophole, and dodgy politicians wanting to hide their corrupt dealings will soon find (or create) another. So in the long-term, we need to insist on total transparency, with every non-trivial donation disclosable, while shifting to public funding to get the rich out of politics. The rich have their outsized influence because the parties need their money. Remove that need, and politicians might actually start working for voters for a change.

Member's Day: The choice on End of Life Choice

Today is a Member's Day, probably the second-to-last one of the year, and its a big one, with the Third Reading of David Seymour's End of Life Choice Bill. last Member's Day it was reported back from committee, after MPs voted narrowly to make it subject to a (rules TBA) referendum. This week, we get to see if enough of them are happy with that compromise. Polling from Stuff suggests they are, and that the bill will pass comfortably with 70 votes. Its a two-hour debate, so we should find out just before 6pm.

After that, the House will move on to the third reading of Todd Muller's Companies (Clarification of Dividend Rules in Companies) Amendment Bill and the second reading of Ian McKelvie's Dog Control (Category 1 Offences) Amendment Bill. Neither of these should be especially contentious, so I expect they'll make a start on the second reading of Rino Tirikatene's Electoral (Entrenchment of Māori Seats) Amendment Bill as well. There is unlikely to be a ballot tomorrow, and looking at the order paper, there probably won't be one till next year.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019



Contemptuous

The Referendums Framework Bill was due back from select committee today. But there's no report on it. Instead, the bill has been bounced back to the House under Standing order 295(3) because the Committee didn't bother to produce one.

They probably tried. But given the membership of the committee (which includes 4 National MPs), and National's opposition to the bill, they couldn't pass one. Oddly though they couldn't even produce a "we could not agree, but let's fix the typos" report which is usual in such circumstances.

The net result: if you submitted on this bill, congratulations: you wasted your time. I'm not especially annoyed about this personally, because my submission was a lightweight thing done at the last minute. But if I'd put actual work into it - and many submitters will have - I'd be feeling pretty pissed off right now. This failure to report treats submitters with contempt. And it is another perfect example of how MPs earn their reputation and the contempt the public holds them in.

Meanwhile, each member of this Committee is paid $160,000 a year (plus $16,000 a year slush fund). We're paying them to not do their jobs. Maybe we should be looking at some mechanism to dock their pay for this sort of bullshit in future.

New Fisk

Only ‘believers’ can sell their soul to the devil and expect justice

Climate Change: What happens next?

Now the Zero Carbon Bill is law, what's next? Obviously, the ETS changes currently before select committee are going to be the next battleground. But we're also going to get a good idea of where we're going, and if the progress the Zero Carbon Act promises is good enough, during the Act's first budget process next year.

Under the Act (s5U), the Minister must ensure there are emissions budgets for the 2022-25, 2025-30, and 2031-35 periods in place by 31 December 2021. But they don't get to just make them up: the Climate Change Commission must advise the Minister on the budgets in advance, with a legislated deadline of 2021 (they must also provide advice on the first emissions reduction plan, basicly what they recommend doing to achieve the targets in the budget). And before they do that, they must make their advice public, and run a public submissions process on it. Meaning that we are likely to be seeing those preliminary budgets sometime around the middle of next year (unless they go early to try and get it all in before the election).

So, before the middle of next year we are going to find out how the Commission thinks we should get to a net-zero by 2050 target: whether it will allow business as usual to continue for "just a little bit" (inviting failure), whether it will recommend immediately going for a straight linear cut (which basicly means slicing ~17% off net emissions every five years), or whether it will aim for going harder so as to make it easier to meet a stronger target if we need to. We'll also see whether that pathway is consistent with the government's (weak) international promise of a 30% cut by 2030 (which isn't enough to meet the 1.5 degree Paris target). And we'll see from its methane targets where in the (again, weak) 24 - 47% target range it is aiming for.

And more importantly, when the report lands on the Minister's desk, we'll see whether any of it means shit. There's an election between now and then, and National has already promised to gut the Act if they win; I doubt they'll be willing to accept strong budgets and plans. And even if the current government stays in power, there's the danger that NZ First will refuse to accept the outcome of the scheme they have supposedly signed up for, and demand any budgets and plan be watered down to protect polluters. Of course, there's the prospect of judicial review, but that's not guaranteed to force a Minister to accept the expert advice.

All of which is a long way of saying that we will have no idea whether this thing will work until 2022. In the interim, we should assume it won't, that the politicians will continue to drag their feet just like they always have, and keep up the pressure.