Friday, March 27, 2015

Contributing to the international relations of New Zealand

On Monday, we learned that the GCSB had supported Tim Grosers campaign to become director of the WTO by spying on internet traffic about him and his rivals, including Brazil's Roberto Carvalho de Azevdo. Today, Brazil demanded an explanation:

Brazil has demanded an explanation from New Zealand after reports New Zealand's foreign intelligence agency the GCSB spied on its campaign to get Brazilian diplomat Roberto Azevedo elected as Secretary General of the World Trade Organisation in 2013 - successfully.

Brazil media have reported that New Zealand's ambassador in Sao Paulo, Caroline Bilkey, was summoned by the Secretary General of Brazil's foreign ministry (MRE), Sergio Danese, to explain.

A statement issued by the ministry was translated to say Brazil's Government was surprised at the news and is determined to have the facts clarified in consideration of the friendship that has always existed between the two countries.

Foreign Minister Murray McCully confirmed in statement that "MFAT officials in Brazil have discussed the matters raised in media reporting with their counterparts."

So, GCSB spying has damaged our relationship with Brazil. Just another way the GCSB "contributes" to the international relations of New Zealand...

Secret "justice" can't be trusted

Last year we learned that Britain was surrendering in the "war on terror", giving up open justice and the rule of law to terrorists by holding a secret trial. Yesterday, that secret trial resulted in an acquittal on its most serious charge of "preparation of acts of terrorism" (the defendant had already been convicted of a lesser charge of possession of a bomb-making manual). So did the jury get it right? Was the prosecution justified at all? Unfortunately, we'll never know, because all the evidence is secret:

As a consequence, members of the public have no idea what lay at the heart of the prosecution of Incedal; nor the evidence that resulted in the jury clearing him of plotting terrorist attacks.

The media is not allowed to explain why a man who was found guilty of possessing a bomb-making manual was not convicted of preparing acts of terrorism. Incedal claimed to have a “reasonable excuse” for carrying the document around with him. What was that excuse? By law, and on pain of prosecution, that small group of journalists who know the answer cannot disclose it.

Nor, currently, can the public be told why all these matters are being concealed from them, or by whom.

And those journalists allowed to attend the semi-closed parts of the case - who had their notebooks confiscated (and no doubt read) by police every evening - can not even consult a lawyer to organise a legal challenge of the secrecy, unless they do so in a closed room with all phones turned off or unplugged, on pain of being jailed for contempt of court. So, in a significant terrorism case, we'll know only what the government chooses to tell us - which will of course be nothing but self-serving propaganda.

As for the verdict, because we can't see it or assess the evidence it simply can't be trusted. Fortunately its resulted in an acquittal, sparing the UK from the nightmare of convicting someone on secret evidence. But the way in which the trial was conducted has permanently tainted its findings, and the entire British justice system. Despotisms hold secret trials. Democracies don't. Which camp the UK falls into now is left as an exercise for the reader.

Meanwhile, its worth remembering: National wants to introduce this poison into our justice system. We shouldn't let them.

That for your royal prerogative!

Ten years ago, Guardian journalist Rob Evans submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for Charles Windsor's infamous "black spider memos", the secret letters he writes to Ministers lobbying them on everything from architecture to education policy. In 2012, after a protracted legal battle, the Information Tribunal ruled that the letters must be disclosed. The government's response was to impose a Ministerial veto to protect Windsor's "political neutrality". But today, the UK Supreme Court overturned that veto:

The UK supreme court has cleared the way for the publication of secret letters written by Prince Charles to British government ministers, declaring that an attempt by the state to keep them concealed was unlawful.

The verdict – the culmination of a 10-year legal fight by the Guardian – is a significant blow for the government, which has been battling to protect Charles from scrutiny over his “particularly frank” interventions on public policy.


Delivering the verdict, Neuberger said: “The supreme court dismisses the attorney general’s appeal. The effect is that the decision of the upper tribunal, that the advocacy correspondence is disclosable under the Freedom of Information Act and, in the case of environmental material, the environmental information regulations 2003, stands.”

He said it was not reasonable for Grieve to issue the veto “simply because, on the same facts and admittedly reasonably, he takes a different view from that adopted by a court of record after a full public oral hearing”.

He added: “There is no clear or specific suggestion anywhere in the [Freedom of Information Act] that it is intended that [a veto] should enable a member of the executive to over-ride a judicial decision.”

In other words, the rule of law trumps the monarchy (or, as an earlier judge put it, "the proposition that the executive obey the law as a matter of grace and not as a matter of necessity [is] a proposition which would reverse the result of the Civil War").

David Cameron, who has already changed the law once to prevent any further disclosure of unconstitutional monarchical lobbying, is threatening to change it again. But its the last day of parliament before the election and the Tories are too busy infighting (over, I should note, a Speaker who took their role seriously rather than simply being a pawn of the executive), and they have to get the agreement of not one but two houses. So its unlikely that he'll be able to carry through with his threat. So, we can either expect to see the "black spider memos" released, revealing the true extent of Charles Windsor's lobbying pre-2006 - or we will see him jailed for contempt of court.

The full judgement is here. Paragraphs 51 - 59 is where the action is, and are a strong lesson on the rule of law.

[Title stolen from Terry Pratchett]

Thursday, March 26, 2015

If IGIS permits this, they will permit anything

Three weeks ago we learned that the GCSB was conducting "full-take" surveillance of our Pacific friends and allies - including the private communications of hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders who go there for business or on holiday. The surveillance, and particularly the passing on of raw intercept data to the US before it had been screened for New Zealand communications, appeared to be contrary to the purposes of the GCSB Act and contrary to the law. it immediately resulted in multiple complaints to the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security from New Zealanders who believed that their communications may have been intercepted, as well as from the Green party on policy grounds. Now, the Inspector-General has decided to take up the case, and launched a full investigation of the Pacific spying programme:

“I will be addressing the specific complaints that I have received, in accordance with the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security Act 1996. But there is also a clear need to provide as much factual information to the complainants, and to the wider public, as is possible.”

“For that reason, I have decided not only to investigate the complaints but also to bring forward and expand the relevant parts of my ongoing programme of review and audit of GCSB procedures and compliance systems. That review programme operates at a systemic level and doesn’t, of course, scrutinise or second-guess every day-to-day aspect of the GCSB’s operations: what it does allow for, as in this instance, is a focussed review of a particular area of GCSB or New Zealand Security Intelligence Service practice.”

“I have today notified the Acting Director of the GCSB of my inquiry and of my intention in this inquiry to provide as much information to the public on my findings as I can, withholding only that information that cannot be disclosed without endangering national security. The Director has assured me of the Bureau’s full co-operation.”

And now, we will get to see whether the GCSB Act is worth the paper its written on. Because if it permits this, it permits anything, and we will need to burn down our entire intelligence organisation and start again from scratch.

National sells us out

Wikileaks has leaked the latest draft of the investment chapter of the US-backed TPPA, revealing that National has sold us out and is signing us up to an investor-state dispute clause which would allow foreign corporations to sue New Zealand for compensation if they are denied resource consent or are forbidden to do anything by New Zealand law:

‘As anticipated, the deal gives foreign investors from the TPPA countries special rights, and the power to sue the government in private offshore tribunals for massive damages if new laws, or even court decisions, significantly affected their bottom line’.

‘Prime Minister John Key once described the idea of investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) as “far-fetched”.’

‘After he was briefed about the TPPA he changed tack, promising there would be effective safeguards. But the leaked text shows very little has not been agreed. That means the New Zealand government has accepted virtually everything the US has proposed with absolutely no effective safeguards.’

And just to give an example of what's at stake:
‘Just last week, as protestors rallied against an extension of the port into the Auckland harbour, an investment tribunal upheld a case against Canada because an environment review panel refused to grant a US firm a permit for a quarry and marine terminal, saying it violated community values and there was inadequate consultation. The investor wants $300 million compensation. The local council is likely to be made to pay the bill.’

So, if National signs this, the RMA will effectively no longer apply to foreign corporations (but will still apply in full to New Zealand ones). Which seems to be the very opposite of the "level playing field" they say its about.

British police spied on MPs

Protestors. Innocent people. Their victims. Human rights activists. The list of people the British police spied on without justification in their efforts to suppress democracy is pretty extensive. But it gets worse: they've been spying on elected MPs as well:

Police conducted spying operations on a string of Labour politicians during the 1990s, covertly monitoring them even after they had been elected to the House of Commons, a whistleblower has revealed.

Peter Francis, a former undercover police officer, said he read secret files on 10 MPs during his 11 years working for the Metropolitan police’s special branch. They include Labour’s current deputy leader, Harriet Harman, the former cabinet minister Peter Hain and the former home secretary Jack Straw.

Francis said he personally collected information on three MPs – Diane Abbott, Jeremy Corbyn and the late Bernie Grant – while he was deployed undercover infiltrating anti-racist groups. He also named Ken Livingstone, the late Tony Benn, Joan Ruddock and Dennis Skinner as having been subjected to special branch intelligence-gathering. The files on all 10 were held by Scotland Yard.

The whistleblower said special branch files were often “very extensive” and typically described the subject’s political beliefs, personal background such as parents, school and finances, and demonstrations they attended. Some contained “some personal and private matters”, Francis added.

None of the British police's spying has been justifiable. All of it threatens democracy. And yet, this is so much worse, raising questions of just what they hoped to achieve by this spying. gathering dirt to curry favour with the government of the day? Or as leverage to use against MPs for their own purposes? Either way, its horrifying. And those responsible for it need to be held to account.

Meanwhile, if the British police are looking for threats to the UK's democracy, maybe they should start by looking in the mirror.

Key will abandon kiwis to die

Speaking in Japan, John Key has reaffirmed his policy of leaving kiwis to die if they are taken hostage by ISIS:

[Key] said he and Mr Abe taalked about recent terror attacks on Japanese citizens and the broader threat of Islamic State.

He said New Zealand, along with Japan and other countries, has a firm policy of not paying ransom for hostages, as that effectively puts a bounty on the head of every New Zealand citizen.

And he said New Zealand was not willing to contribute to what was a money-making exercise for Islamic State.

So, again: Key's policy if a kiwi is ever taken hostage is not to do everything possible to save their lives, but instead to abandon them to die in pursuit of an abstract principle of not dealing with "terrorists". That's how much John Key cares about our lives. I guess he's hoping it never happens, because he'll be absolutely crucified if it does, and he does nothing.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Cop-cams work

Last year, then-Justice Minister Judith Collins suggested that the NZ police be equipped with body-cameras. The evidence at the time supporting the use of body-cameras was strong, but now it is even stronger:

Since police officers began wearing body cameras in January 2014, the city of San Diego, California, has seen a massive change in the relationship between cops and residents — for the better.

According to a March 18 report from the Police Department for the City Council's Public Safety and Livable Neighborhoods Committee, from when the body cams first went into use through January 2015, complaints had fallen by 40.5% and the use of "personal body" force by officers was down 46.5%. The use of pepper spray dropped 30.5%, reports the Los Angeles Times.

"Body-worn camera technology is a win-win for both the officer and the community," Deputy Chief David Ramirez said in the report, which also noted that 600 officers currently use the cameras. The city plans to equip 1,000 officers with cameras by the end of 2015.

Basicly, the knowledge that they are being watched improves police behaviour, reducing both use of force and complaints. And that's a good thing. So, why haven't we done this yet?

ANZ are still tax cheats

ANZ is cheating on its taxes again:

Five years after paying $413.7 million to settle a huge tax avoidance claim, ANZ bank is under fire for a $1 billion deal that appears to "double dip" on trans-Tasman tax benefits.

The criticism follows the Australian bank's issue this month of A$970 million ($995 million) of hybrid securities to finance its New Zealand operations. Veteran businessman and tax campaigner Tony Gibbs described the issue as "very smelly".

While the income on the notes counted as interest in New Zealand, generating a tax deduction for the New Zealand bank, it was treated as dividend across the Tasman, allowing Australian investors to access tax credits.

"It sounds to me like double dipping," he said.


IRD commissioner Robert Russell said the 2009 deal confirmed its long-held view that the transactions were tax avoidance.

So, the obvious question: will the IRD prosecute? And given that they are clearly repeat offenders, will we see ANZ's executives perp-walked in handcuffs as they deserve?

An unwarranted invasion of privacy

The Herald's David Fisher reports that the police are regularly accessing people's private and personal information without any form of warrant or oversight:

Broad swathes of people's personal data are being sought regularly by police from airlines, banks, electricity companies, internet providers and phone companies without search warrants by officers citing clauses in the Privacy Act.

Senior lawyers and the Privacy Commissioner have told the Herald of concerns over the practice which sees the companies voluntarily give the information to police.

Instead of seeking a legal order, police have asked companies to hand over the information to assist with the "maintenance of the law", threatened them with prosecution if they tell the person about whom they are interested and accept data with no record keeping to show how often requests are made.

The request from police carries no legal force at all yet is regularly complied with.

How does this happen? Because of the public's respect for the police, or at least for the job they do. But its a blatant end-run around the law. We have a right in this country against unreasonable search and seizure. And with no warrants, we have no way of determining whether such police "requests" (backed by their uniform, and an implied threat of arrest for non-cooperation) are in any way reasonable.

The Search and Surveillance Act 2012 gives police an easy way of accessing personal information held by third parties, in the form of a production order. But even then the oversight is insufficient, because the police don't keep records of how many production orders they obtain. But what we do know about production orders is that they are being used for dubious and petty purposes, including spying on journalists who embarass the Prime Minister. Clearly, more oversight is required. And if they're that lax in exercising their legal powers, I shudder to think how bad they are in exercising informal ones.

The good news is that the Privacy Commissioner is looking into it, and considering becoming a central register for such requests. Hopefully they'll also be providing advice to agencies on their duties in regards to such requests, when they can accept them, and when they should demand a production order, so agencies can have some confidence about protecting their customer's privacy.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015


Via The Standard, it seems that National has once again been careless in its choice of candidate for Northland:

National’s Mark Osborne is refusing to comment on his role as general manager of the controversial $15 million Te Ahu centre, which is now the subject of a governance and funding review by the Far North District Council.


NBR ONLINE has been attempting to contact Mr Osborne since March 10 to discuss the centre but he has not replied to phone messages. Mr Osborne has passed on all enquiries to National’s spin doctor Clark Hennessy, who won’t allow the National candidate be interviewed before the by-election.

The centre lost $185,000 in 2013, and another $523,000 in 2014. That's a lot of money for local government, and the people of Northland deserve some answers about what happened to it. Those answers are obviously relevant to Osborne's ability to be an effective MP, and its incumbent on him to give them before people vote.

British intolerance

The British government is planning to draw up a blacklist of "extremists" who should be banned from holding public service positions:

The Home Office is drawing up a blacklist of extremist individuals and organisations with whom the government and public sector should not engage, Theresa May has revealed.

The list of legal but unacceptable organisations is being compiled by a new Home Office “extremism analysis unit”, which is also to develop a counter-entryism strategy to tackle Islamist radicalisation and ensure there is no repeat of the Trojan horse affair in Birmingham schools across the public sector.

What's an "extremist"? Someone who espouses "vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs". Which would seem to cover both the Conservative and UKIP parties, not to mention the authors of this proposal. After all, what they're proposing to do is discriminate against people on the basis of their peaceful religious and political views. Which seems distinctly at odds with those "fundamental British values" they purport to adhere to.

But I forget. Only Muslims are "extremists". The term just doesn't apply to white people.

Fortunately its difficult to see how such unjustified political and religious discrimination could survive a legla challenge. If the UK courts don't defend English liberty, then the ECHR certainly will. Unfortunately, that probably won't be enough to stop Britain's lawless government from instituting such legal Islamophobia.

Another thermal generator shuts down

Mighty River Power will be shutting down its Southdown gas-fired power plant at the end of the year:

Mighty River Power will shut down its gas-fired Southdown power station in Auckland at the end of the year and sell the plant on the international market.

The company said the 140MW Southdown station in Auckland had played "a very small role" in MRP's portfolio in past two years, representing just 5 per cent of its generation, and meeting less than 1 per cent of New Zealand's total electricity demand.

It means the company will generate from its renewable hydro stations in the Waikato and geothermal plants around Taupo.

This will mean Mighty River will join Meridian and Trustpower as being all-renewable electricity companies. But it also points towards the limited future of thermal generation in New Zealand: it can simply no longer compete with the renewable alternatives. Which suggests that when Contact Energy's Stratford and Otahuhu B stations - both of which are a similar age to Southdown - reach the end of their lives, they'll be similarly dumped.

But its not something we want to leave to chance, especially with a target of 90% renewable electricity by 2025 to meet. Labour enacted a ten year moratorium on new thermal electricity generation, which National immediately repealed. But it was a good idea, which will push the market towards sustainable solutions at a crucial time when it will be considering replacing old plants. While we're obviously not going to see any progress on this under the current government, hopefully we'll see a thermal ban as a central plank of the next government's energy policy.

All about the sales

When National announced plans to privatise state houses, they tried to reassure us. The houses would only be sold to charities, they said. And they would have to be used as social housing, rather than simply demolished or flicked on.

Not any more:

The Government is set to loosen a requirement that former state houses be kept as low-income rentals for those most in need.

The move comes amid calls for it to sweeten the deal for potential buyers of up to 8000 Housing New Zealand Corporation (HNZC) homes.

It is also talking up the likely role of property developers, as one of the countries biggest social agencies walks away from plans to bulk-buy former state houses.

They're also planning to spend $1.5 billion doing up these houses before they sell them at a loss:
Finance Minister Bill English has confirmed the Government will need to spend $1.5 billion upgrading state houses as they are sold to social housing providers.

But he said the money would not be spent in one year.

Mr English conceded many state houses were not up to standard and had not been properly maintained.

He said the cost of deferred maintenance had risen to $1.5 billion and that the matter had been raised during discussions with social agencies considering buying state houses.

So, a policy of "these houses are not fit for purpose so we will sell them cheap to other providers" has become a policy of "these houses are not fit for purpose, so we will fix them, then sell them cheap to speculators who will demolish them or flick them on". Which makes you wonder why they're bothering with the second bit. If they're going to fix the houses, why not keep them?

But this policy was never about better provision. Instead, it has always been about selling state houses, even if they have to pay to give them away. Its about pillaging the state for the benefit of their donors and cronies, and abandoning the government's obligation to provide social housing. And they seem intent on pushing on with it, even if it costs them billions.

As predicted

When the government passed the Employment Relations Amendment Act 2014 last year, it promised us that the provisions removing employees meal breaks would be used only in workplaces where there was no other alternative and that ordinary kiwi workers wouldn't be affected. They lied. Now, the legislation is being used by major retail chains in an effort to steal employees meal breaks:

Staff at fashion chain Cotton On are facing the possibility of working without tea and meal breaks after a last minute claim in collective agreement negotiations.

It follows the introduction in October last year of a law that took away the legal right to a tea break. The Employment Relations Amendment Bill also weakened collective bargaining.

Labour spokesman Iain Lees-Galloway told Newstalk ZB the bill was being used against its proposed purpose.

"This was sold to us as something that was going to be important for small businesses and for workplaces where the work flows are unpredictable."

Cotton On workers had a predictable work-flow as part of large corporation, Mr Lees-Galloway said, and the company was trying to "pare back" its employees' work conditions.

This was totally predictable, as is the response: strikes. Because if there's one thing kiwi workers will fight for, its the right to have lunch.

Meanwhile, I'd suggest not buying from Cotton On, or from any other business which attempts to use this law. If the government won't constrain employers behaviour properly, then we will have to, through boycotts and bad PR.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Small target strategy

In theory, elections allow the public to choose among (or, in proportional representation systems, the mix of) competing policy platforms. But not if Andrew Little has his way. In an interview with the New Statesman, he is clear that he will not allow the public to see Labour's policies in 2017:

Last year, one of Labour’s problems was drowning the electorate in policy detail. “What I’m determined is that for the 2017 election, we won’t do what we did last time, which was have 120-odd policies,” Little says. Instead the party will offer a pledge card highlighting five or six main policies, much like Tony Blair’s Labour Party in 1997.

Obvious snarks about the wisdom of reminding everyone that labour once stole public money aside, this is a deeply dishonest tactic. Its one thing to highlight your party's central policies, the ones that are a key part of your platform. Its quite another to offer nothing else. It raises the spectre of a hidden agenda, of policies the party doesn't want to share with the public. And because pretty obviously the Labour Party will have Ideas (and maybe even written policy - because it is the party which makes policy, not the caucus) on all those other areas, then the natural question will be why Little is trying to keep those policies secret. And if there's any surprises in those policies, then they will be that much more damaging for the attempted secrecy.

But in addition to questions about honesty, there's the simple fact that it won't work. Why? Because a blank space is an open invitation for the government and the media to fill it in. This isn't even necessarily hostile; a natural part of the process now under MMP is the media investigating the possible policy mix by asking potential coalition partners about each other's policies. And when Labour is asked whether it agrees with unpopular-minor-party-policy-X, it will be very difficult to credibly say "no" without something to point to with an alternative. And that uncertainty about what the party actually stands for and what it will agree to to gain power is unlikely to be a vote winner.

Honesty is the best policy. A party can be judged on its own policies, or it can be judged on other people's. Little's strategy pretty much guarantees the latter. Its not just wrong, its a mistake.

(Meanwhile, I'm also wondering if this is the latest bout in the struggle between the caucus and the rank-and-file, an attempt to take back the policy control seized by the party membership by tricking them into surrendering it as an electoral tactic, effectively giving the caucus a blank canvas. If so, the party membership may want to tell Little who is boss).

What are the odds?

For a long time everyone has known that Britain's honours system is corrupt. If you donate enough money to a major political party, when they're in government they will reward you by giving you the right to call yourself by a silly name, wear a silly costume, and sit in an unelected upper house full of other people who have also bought their way in. And now its been proven: there is a statistically significant link between donations and peerages:

The academics examined the 303 Lords nominations between 2005 and the third quarter of 2014 and all donations since 2001. They isolated what they term the “usual suspects”: prominent people who would be expected to be in line for an honour, such as former parliamentarians, senior party staff, ex-council leaders, reserved public sector posts, “people’s peers” nominated by the House of Lords Appointments Commission, and those selected as part of Gordon Brown’s “government of all talents” agenda.

That left 92 “others”, who donated between them 97.9% (£33.83m) of all the donations coming from nominees to the Lords. Donations from the individuals’ companies, spouses or children were included. In the case of union leaders, the donations were generally from their unions rather than themselves.

Among those, 27 donated 95% of the £33.83m. The academics write: “Clearly, those peers nominated outside the ‘usual suspects’ are far more likely to be big donors.” The 27 came from a larger pool of 779 big donors who stood out on electoral commission records.

The academics ran the calculation of how probable it would be that from a random sample of 779 people from a pool of available nominees – defined as the 383,000-strong reported membership of the three main political parties – 27 or more would be nominated to the Lords between 2005 and 14.

In what they hope will be the opening shot in a debate about the state of British democracy, the academics – Dr Andrew Mell of Corpus Christi College, Oxford; Simon Radford, of the University of Southern California; and historian Dr Seth Alexander Thévoz – conclude the probability of such an outcome is “approximately equivalent to entering the National Lottery and winning the jackpot five times in a row”. They say that this is wholly in keeping with the argument that lifetime appointments to Britain’s upper house are in effect being sold.

They also found that individuals drawn from the “others” donated an average of a further £220,000 among Conservatives, £333,000 among Liberal Democrats and £464,000 among Labour nominees. If peerages are in effect being sold, the academics argue, “these could be thought of as the ‘average price’ per party.”

This is corruption, pure and simple. And all the major parties are in on it. Westminster needs a cleanout. And abolishing the House of Lords and ridding the UK of these corrupt parasites should be the start of it.

The full paper, Is There a Market for Peerages? Can Donations Buy You a British Peerage? A Study in the Link Between Party Political Funding and Peerage Nominations, 2005-14, is here.

The wheels come off

For the past four months, National has been pushing its big "solution" to the housing crisis: shuffling the deckachairs by selling state houses at a loss to the community sector. It won't result in any more houses being built, and so it won't actually address the problem - but it will let National say it is Doing Something without doing anything which might devalue their own extensive housing portfolios.

But now the wheels have come off the policy, because the Salvation Army - the charitable agency the government was looking to to buy all those state houses - has said that they don't want a bar of it:

The Salvation Army has decided against buying state homes off the Government, a blow the Labour Party says is "hugely embarrassing".

The decision came after a study to test its capacity to become a major social housing landlord.

Prime Minister John Key confirmed earlier plans to go through the transfer in January. The plan is to transfer more of the responsibility for housing low-income and vulnerable tenants by selling a portion of housing stock to community providers such as churches, iwi and non-government organisations.

But Major Campbell Roberts, of the Salvation Army, says the church organisation does not believe "the lives of tenants would be sufficiently improved by such a transfer".

Nor did it have the "expertise, infrastructure and resources to successfully manage any social housing transfer of size", he said.

This should mean the end of the policy, because if the Salvation Army, one of the biggest charities in the country, doesn't think it can manage these houses, then nobody else can. Sure, a few iwi and smaller charities might be able to handle ten houses here, ten houses there. But the government wants to dump thousands. Its just not going to work.

But this policy was never about working - it was simply about dumping state housing and reducing the capacity of the state. So instead of admitting defeat, Bill English is instead talking about mass-privatisation to property developers and the private sector. You know, the same people who have caused our current housing crisis by refusing to cater to the bottom end of the market. So, instead of seeing merely a shuffling of deckchairs, with social housing moved to other providers because National just doesn't think the government should be in the business of ensuring every kiwi has a roof over their heads, we'll instead see these houses given to speculators, given a quick lick of paint and a new kitchen before being flicked on at enormous profits in the overheated Auckland property market, or simply demolished to make way for more palazzos for the rich. Because that's what National thinks housing policy is about: feeding speculation and providing houses for pricks like them, not for ordinary kiwis in desperate need.

New Fisk

If Stephen Harper is serious about criminalising 'barbaric cultural practices', then he should arrest himself for even suggesting it

Spying for personal advantage

When anyone questions the GCSB's powers or budget, we're told its to protect us and keep us safe from (US-inspired) terrorists. But in reality, the GCSB has been spying to try and get a National MP a better job:

A top secret document reveals New Zealand's surveillance agency spied on candidates vying to be the director-general of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), a job sought by National Government minister Tim Groser.

The Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) programmed an internet surveillance system so it would intercept emails about the candidates from Indonesia, Mexico, South Korea, Brazil, Kenya, Ghana, Jordan and Costa Rica in the period leading up to the May 2013 appointment.

Mr Groser missed the selection.

This is not spying for "national security". It does not advance our "international relations" or "economic well-being" (quite the opposite; spying on friendly nations actively harms these goals). Instead, it was done purely to advance the personal career interests of a government Minister. That's simply corrupt, and cloaking it under "national security" raises some very disturbing questions about both oversight and what else they're doing for the same purpose.

[See also: Dim-Post]