Friday, July 20, 2018

The UK uses child spies

British police and intelligence agencies are using children as spies:

British police and intelligence agencies are using children as spies in covert operations against terrorists, gangs and drug dealers.

A committee of the House of Lords revealed the practice while raising the alarm over government plans to give law enforcement bodies more freedom over their use of children.

Some of the child spies are aged under 16, the committee says, adding that it was worried about proposals to extend from one month to four the period of time between each occasion that child spies go through a re-registration process.

This isn't using children as informants or witnesses - its actually using them as covert, undercover agents in a criminal or terrorist environment. Which raises obvious child welfare and legal issues. Pretty obviously, it raises questions about whether the UK is complying with its duty under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child to ensure that best interests of the child is the primary consideration in any decision about them. And in anti-terrorist operations, it raises questions about whether the UK is complying with its duties under UNCROC's First Optional Protocol on the recruitment of children in armed conflict.

More generally, the use of children as soldiers is a war crime. Shouldn't this also apply to using children as spies?

Fuck Australia

The Australians are pissed off at Andrew Little for calling them out on their deportation policy and treatment of kiwis. And Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton thinks Little should "reflect" on the NZ-Australia relationship before criticising our neighbours. I think we should reflect on it too, because there's a lot to criticise.

Where to start? Their shittiness to kiwis is the least of it. The Australian government is full of racists. Their political system is irredeemably corrupt, and their federal politicans refuse to try and clean it up out of fear they'll lose their slice of the pie. They spy on their neighbours, and prosecute those who blow the whistle on them. They have authoritarian espionage laws which in practice target journalists. Their treatment of their indigenous people is appalling. They stick refugees in concentration camps where they are abused and neglected.

Whenever our politicians meet, they talk a lot about how the relationship is built on "shared values". I don't see a lot that we share. Racism is not a kiwi value. Corruption is not a kiwi value. Authoritarianism and cruelty are not kiwi values. The values we take pride in - compassion, fairness, justice, honesty, democracy - are values Australia is walking away from. They're even walking away from their supposed "mateship". They're no longer the sort of country a modern democracy can or should count as a friend.

As their closest neighbour and oldest friend, this is something we should be speaking out against, not keeping silent on. And if they don't like that, then fuck Australia.

Also, if you don't like what Australia has become or the way it treats people, then vote with your wallet and don't buy Australian. Don't give your money to these arseholes until they change for the better.

Labour lied on refugees

When they were in opposition, Labour advocated for an increased refugee quota. When they were running for election, they explicitly promised to raise it to 1,500 a year. But now they're in government, they're saying that we're full:

The Government has stalled on plans to double New Zealand's refugee quota - and it's because of the housing crisis.

Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway says Aotearoa need to sort that before it thinks about welcoming more refugees.


"What we have to do is make sure we've got the capacity to take those extra people."

Translation: we just don't have enough homes.

For context, the promised increase in the refugee quota is less than one percent of net immigration, and it would be completely buried by this year's decrease. So Lees-Galloway's "justification" isn't especially convincing. But more importantly, there will always be problems in New Zealand, but that's no excuse to ignore the greater problems of the wider world. Refugees are in desperate need, and we are nowhere near to doing our bit for them (we take fewer refugees per capita than the much-reviled Australians, for example). Labour promised to move part of the way towards correcting that, to be a more compassionate government than their predecessors. Sadly, it looks like they were just fucking lying to us, as usual.

New Fisk

A Bosnian signs off weapons he says are going to Saudi Arabia – but how did his signature turn up in Aleppo?

A victory for European justice

A week ago, a German court rejected the extradition of exiled Catalan President Carles Puigdemont on "rebellion" charges. He could be extradited for "misuse of public funds", but not for "rebellion" as there was no equivalent offence in German law (Germany requires actual or planned violence, not peaceful protest and democratic advocacy. The idea of a peaceful "rebellion" is nonsensical). And now, as expected, Spain is having a legal temper-tantrum and has withdrawn the European Arrest Warrants against all the exiled Catalan politicians:

A Spanish judge has dropped the international arrest warrants issued for the former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont and five other pro-sovereignty politicians over their roles in last year’s illegal referendum and subsequent unilateral declaration of independence.


The dropping of the international warrant means Puigdemont and his former colleagues – currently in Belgium, Scotland and Switzerland – no longer face extradition proceedings. But domestic warrants remain in force, meaning the six will be arrested should they return to Spain.

In his ruling, published on Thursday, Llarena hit out at the court in Schleswig-Holstein, accusing it of “a lack of commitment” over acts that could have “broken Spain’s constitutional order”. The German court’s refusal to extradite Puigdemont on the rebellion charge – which prosecutors had argued could be equated to “high treason” in the German penal code – meant the deposed president could not be tried for the offence if sent back to Spain.

That offence - again, for purely democratic actions taken and backed by the Catalan Parliament - is really all Spain wants to charge him with. The "misuse of public funds" charge is a smokescreen, and even the Spanish government says it didn't happen. But now Spain is being denied its show trial. No wonder they're upset.

Unfortunately, Spain is still holding nine Catalan political leaders as political prisoners on similar trumped-up charges. And they'll probably take out their anger on them.

Thursday, July 19, 2018


Good news from Nelson: the Waimea dam project - the one National wants to pass a Muldoonist Enabling Act to rip land out of a forest park for - has escalated in price and looks doomed:

Updated costs for the proposed Waimea dam have added a whopping $26 million to its bottom line, putting the future of the controversial project in doubt.

"Unless a solution can be found to close the gap, the dam won't go ahead," Tasman district mayor Richard Kempthorne told a media briefing on Thursday morning. "There is no doubt this is a major setback and possibly the greatest challenge yet for the project."

A long-time supporter of the dam as the best option to augment the water supply for Waimea, Kempthorne said he was "gutted" by the updated figures, which represent a 35 per cent escalation in costs.

Good riddance. The conservation estate is for conservation, not building dams, while the resulting intensified farming (in part driven by the need to pay irrigation fees) will only lead to dirtier rivers. The sooner this project is cancelled, the better.

A curious absence

The Free Speech Coalition has filed its suit against Phil Goff and the Auckland Council over their cancellation of a Nazi event, seeking to have the decision overturned. But reading the statement of claim, there's an odd omission: while they cite a variety of administrative law reasons and breach of sections 14 - 17 (freedom of expression, religion, assembly and association) of the Bill of Rights Act as reasons to overturn the decision, for some reason they don't include their strongest case: breach of the right to freedom from discrimination on the basis of political opinion. Its alluded to in passing when suggesting that Goff unlawfully directed the decision, but not otherwise mentioned. I'm not sure whether this is because they felt it would be difficult to prove, or because several of the Coalition's backers (e.g. Stephen Franks) are ideologically opposed to anti-discrimination legislation, but given that they're throwing the kitchen sink at it elsewhere, its a curious absence.

They've requested an urgent hearing and interim orders allowing the event to proceed, though whether they get it is another question. Still, hopefully we'll have a ruling and some clarification on local authority powers and freedom of speech soon.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Another transparency failure

Last month, Regional Development Minister Shane Jones claimed he had received 365 text messages supporting his criticism of Fonterra. But surprisingly, he's refusing to release them under the OIA:

Self-styled "provincial champion" Jones launched a blistering attack on the long-serving dairy co-operative boss last month. Defending his remarks, Jones then claimed 365 people had sent messages supporting his stance.

But the NZ First Minister is now refusing to release those text messages. And that raises questions about the Government's official record-keeping processes.

"The messages I was referring to were received predominantly on my private phone and not in my capacity as a Minister. They therefore do not fall within the scope within the scope of the Official Information Act 1982," Jones said in a letter to Stuff.

As the article points out, that's bullshit. Its not the phone that matters, but the capacity the messages were received in. And when they are supposedly received in response to a statement made as a Minister, that capacity can only be as a Minister. Meaning that they are official information and covered by the Act.

Perhaps in recognition of this, Jones' office is now claiming that releasing them would require "substantial collation and research". Not really. Or rather, as Jones is claiming to have counted them, then he already knows which messages they are, which means most of the work is already done. While there will obviously be substantial work required to redact the identifying details from these messages, that is not part of the "collation and research" process and cannot be used as a reason for refusal.

Of course, the real reason for the request isn't so much the content of the texts, but that a response will show the public whether Jones actually received that level of public support, or whether he was just big-mouthing himself. And that's probably the reason for the refusal as well. But while relatively inconsequential, its another failure of transparency by this government, and another example of how they are all talk and no action on this issue.

When police investigate police

Another IPCA report is out today, this time into an officer's use of pepper spray in a police cell. The inquiry found that the officer's actions were unjustified, in breach of police policy, and unlawful. So there's the obvious question again: why wasn't the officer charged? Interestingly, his fellow police officers thought his actions were so beyond the pale that the police were forced to launch a criminal investigation. But rather than recommend prosecution, it decided the officer's actions were "commendable". As for the quality of that investigation, and a subsequent employment investigation, the IPCA had this to say:

The Authority considers that both Police investigations failed to critically and objectively analyse the evidence and, therefore, the findings (that Officer H’s actions were justified and lawful, and did not amount to misconduct) are unsustainable when measured against the provisions of sections 39 and 48 of the Crimes Act 1961 and Police policy.

In light of our findings, the Authority finds it particularly disturbing that the criminal investigation concluded that Officer H’s actions were commendable.

But that's what happens when police investigate police. And its precisely why we need to give the IPCA the ability to launch its own prosecutions: because even in egregious cases like this, the police are clearly incapable of enforcing the law against themselves.

UK drone pilots are criminals

That's the conclusion of a UK Parliamentary inquiry into drone strikes:

British military personnel could be prosecuted for killing civilians in drone strikes and risk becoming complicit in alleged war crimes committed by the US, an inquiry has found.

A two-year probe by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Drones revealed that the number of operations facilitated by the UK in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia has been growing without any public scrutiny.

As well as launching its own strikes, the Ministry of Defence is assisting operations by the US and other allies that could violate both national and international law, it said.


Because the use of force outside conflicts Britain is directly involved with is not protected by combatant immunity, British servicemen and women can be prosecuted for murder.

As can the Ministers who approve such strikes. And they should be. Because what the UK has is a state policy of murdering its political opponents (some of whom are UK citizens) outside of armed conflict. The only difference between them and Putin's polonium and novichok poisonings is that they do it in Syria rather than Salisbury, and they use even more indiscriminate methods.

The inquiry also found that because the US drone program "appears to be violating international law", and that assisting it was therefore illegal and similarly exposed UK military and intelligence personnel to prosecution for US war crimes. Unlike the US, the UK is a party to the International Criminal Court, so it has an obligation to prosecute these criminals - and the threat that the international community will do it if they won't. Which ought to incentivise the UK government to cease such cooperation.

It also ought to focus the minds of New Zealand's spies - because in 2014 the Prime Minister admitted that their data may have been used for drone murders. Which could put them on the legal hook for murder and war crimes, just as the UK is. Once the Inspector-General of Intelligence and security has finished their report on SIS and GCSB engagement with the CIA (and its torture and rendition program), maybe they could look into this?

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

New Zealand should ratify the Kampala Amendment

In 2010, the parties to the International Criminal Court agreed the Kampala Amendment, which finally gave a formal, legal definition to the crime of aggression (you know, the one they convicted the Nazis of), allowing the court to prosecute it. 35 states have since ratified the amendment, and it finally came into force today. But strangely, New Zealand wasn't one of them. Writing in Stuff, lawyer Roger Clark and former Green MP Kennedy Graham argue that we should ratify:

Should New Zealand join? Of course it should. If it is good enough for the German chancellor and the prime minister of Samoa to be accountable under law for aggression, it is good enough for our own leaders. New Zealand signed on to the Kampala Amendment back in 2010. Liechtenstein ratified in 2012, Germany in 2013. New Zealand could also have done so then. No reason to delay further.

In the New Zealand Parliament back in 2009, a member's bill making aggression a crime was given a first reading debate. The penalty for a New Zealand leader could stretch to 10 years in prison, a sobering consideration. The bill was voted down, but the vote was close – 64 to 58.

It is time for the Kampala Amendment to be brought into the House, and for that vote to be reversed.

And they're right. New Zealand's fundamental foreign policy position is for a peaceful, rules-based international order. But such an order is impossible where aggression is legal. As a small country, all we have is our voice. So if we want a peaceful, law-governed international order, we need to put our money where our mouth is, agree to be part of one, and do our bit to strengthen and spread those norms. I'm actually boggled we haven't done so already, but I guess that's what happens when you have a previous government obsessed with grovelling to the aggressive US...

Monday, July 16, 2018

Israel's new apartheid law

Israel is an apartheid state. But the pretence in Israel has always been that this is about the occupation and "security" against their victims, and that Arab citizens are equal in law. Now, a new law aims to allow formal, legal segregation:

Israel is in the throes of political upheaval as the country’s ruling party seeks to pass legislation that could allow for Jewish-only communities, which critics have condemned as the end of a democratic state.

For the past half-decade, politicians have been wrangling over the details of the bill that holds constitution-like status and that Benjamin Netanyahu wants passed this month.

The proposed legislation would allow the state to “authorise a community composed of people having the same faith and nationality to maintain the exclusive character of that community”.

In its current state, the draft would also permit Jewish religious law to be implemented in certain cases and remove Arabic as an official language.

This isn't some fringe party project, but official government policy. The good news is that it is being vigorously opposed by Israelis who recognise its naked racism and corrosive effect on the society they live in. But the fact that it has been proposed shows how sick Israel is as a society, and how the occupation is undermining its democracy.

New Fisk

The fisherman in Sarajevo told tales of past wars – and warned me of ones to come

Will Talleys get what they paid for?

Talleys is one of the country's largest political donors. Last year it dished out $49,000 to election candidates, including $10,000 to NZ First's Shane Jones. Talleys also hates the idea of the government properly regulating the criminal fishing industry, and has written to the government opposing plans to but cameras on fishing boats:

The fishing industry says a Government plan to put cameras aboard commercial fishing vessels has been "driven by a level of hysteria around discarding" fish.

Stuff has seen an industry letter sent to the Government this month expressing "real concerns about the use of cameras without understanding what their purpose is".

In June, Fisheries Minister Stuart Nash confirmed he would push ahead with plans to put cameras on commercial fishing boats.

He hoped to put a proposal to ministers this month, but needed to get agreement from NZ First and the Greens.

...and reportedly, the primary opponent of the proposal is the aforementioned Shane Jones. But I'm sure it has nothing to do with the $10,000 they gave him. Absolutely nothing.

Friday, July 13, 2018

The Minister for Open Government, yet again

Clare Curran attended a secret meeting with Google and refused to take notes about it:

At least two Cabinet ministers attended a dinner at an exclusive club hosted by Google's top lawyer under secretive "Chatham House" rules, but made no notes of what was discussed.

National open government spokesman Nick Smith blasted their attendance, accusing Labour of hypocrisy.

Google's chief counsel, Kent Walker, hosted the dinner at the capital's swanky Wellington Club for invited guests who included Justice Minister Andrew Little, Open Government Minister Clare Curran and top public servants and lawyers.


Walker's visit came at a time when the world's fifth largest company faces the possibility of additional regulation in the areas of tax, privacy and competition policy.

Little said in a letter sent in response to an Official Information Act request that he didn't generate any notes or memos from the event. A spokeswoman for Curran said she hadn't either.

In which case, they should have generated them in response to the request. The Ministers attended in an official capacity, so any information that resulted is official information. And that includes information in Ministers' heads. Their failure or refusal to take notes does not protect them from requests, only from poorly-worded ones (though arguably, that would violate the duty of assistance). As for the "Chatham House rule", the government can not contract out of the OIA. It may be able to withhold information provided to them under such an express obligation of confidence, if the interest in receiving such information in future is not outweighed by the public interest. But they cannot withhold information they provided to others simply by declaring it "confidential". The problem is that refusal to record gives deniability, so even if Smith successfully appeals this atrocity to the Ombudsman, Curran will be able to smile and say she remembers nothing - while providing Google with whatever secret backhanders it wants.

And that's why refusal to keep records is bad: because it enables the government to lie to us, and it enables them to behave corruptly. Ministers who deliberately do so (and Curran is a serial offender) need to be held to account.

Better news than it sounds

Last night, a German court ruled that exiled Catalan President Carles Puigdemont could be extradited to Spain - but only on charges of "misuse of public funds". The charge Spain really wants to stick him with - "rebellion" - was rejected. Which is better news than it sounds, because (thanks to EU law) it means he can not now be prosecuted for that offence if extradited. The German court found that there was no violence or criminal organisation in the independence referendum (or at least, not from the Catalan people. The Spanish state is another matter). This hands a ready-made legal argument to those facing extradition elsewhere, as well as to the nine Catalan political prisoners Spain is currently holding. Its so bad for Spain that they may themselves refuse to accept the extradition rather than live with the legal consequences (though its unclear whether they can then seek it again elsewhere on charges which have already been rejected).

There will be an appeals process, of course. But its a good sign for Puigdemont at least, and it puts pressure on the Spanish government to drop its ridiculous charges. And given that they've declared that no public money was spent on the referendum, they should drop the "misuse of public funds" ones as well.

Climate change: Getting rid of petrol cars

What does the government's target of zero net emissions by 2050 mean in practice? James Shaw states the obvious: no more petrol cars:

If New Zealand is to meet its zero carbon pledge, nearly all the country's cars will have to be zero-emission by 2050, Climate Change Minister James Shaw says.

As of June, roughly 8700 plug-in cars are on the road of a total fleet of more than four million.

Mr Shaw said achieving the country's commitment to be carbon neutral by 2050 was reliant on significantly boosting the uptake of plug-in vehicles.

"We can't get to the zero-emissions carbon goal without switching over the ground vehicle fleet to electrics. You just can't get there," he said.

"We think that means about 95 percent of vehicles in the year 2050 will be zero-emissions vehicles."

Which is obvious if you think about it. Road transport was responsible for 13.6 million tonnes of CO2 emissions in 2016 - 17.3% of our national total. And if we are to reach zero emissions, those emissions need to be eliminated or offset. Some of that can be done by mode-shifting - getting people out of cars and into electric-powered trains and buses in our major centres. But the car is unlikely to die, so that means getting people to use cars which don't ruin the climate. And on current technological trends, that looks like a massive switch to electric vehicles.

The good news is that its possible. Electric vehicles are a tiny chunk of the fleet at the moment - there are less than 9,000 on the road. But thirty years is a long time for technological change, and New Zealand imports more than 250,000 cars a year. There's about 3.4 million cars registered, and the entire fleet will turn over multiple times before 2050. And while electric vehicles are expensive at present, the price will drop as they become standard, and we'll see greater numbers showing up on the used market (which is where NZ gets about half its cars).

As for how to push that change, rather than ending up a dumping ground for the rest of the world's discarded dirty cars when they switch to electric, the obvious policy is to set a long-term cutoff date on the sale or import of petrol cars. Overseas, dates have been set between 2025 (for Norway) and 2040 (for the dirty UK), with 2030 as the average. For New Zealand, I'd suggest no later than 2035, giving plenty of time for petrol cars to age out of the fleet. The followup policy is to have a cutoff date for registering petrol cars, 5 - 10 years after the import ban, which would restrict them to historical display use only. Because by that stage they should all be in museums, or driven only by obsessive engineers who like tinkering with and restoring dead technology, like Model-T Fords and 1957 Chevys today.

It sounds hard, but remember that it took only thirty years for the petrol car to completely replace horses in city streets. We've got that much time, and the technological shift required is smaller. We can do this. The trick is to make sure that it happens sooner rather than later, and not just leave it to the market.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Brexit as a natural disaster

Something bad is about to happen. The government has plans to stockpile food and medicine to ensure continued supplies, and to float thousands of generators on barges in the irish Sea to provide electricity to Northern Ireland. A hurricane, earthquake, or asteroid strike? No - all this is preparation for Brexit:

MINISTERS have drawn up secret plans to stockpile processed food in the event of EU divorce talks collapsing - to show Brussels that “no deal” is not a bluff.

Theresa May has ordered “no deal” planning “to step up” — with the government poised to start unveiling some of the 300 contingency measures in the coming weeks.


The Sun can reveal that includes emergency measures to keep Britain’s massive food and drinks industry afloat - including stockpiling ahead of exit day on 29 March next year.

More than £22 billion worth of processed food and drinks are imported in to the UK - 97 per cent from the EU - in an industry that keeps 400,000 workers employed in the UK.

Similar stockpiles are also being prepared for medical supplies amid fears of chaos at British ports next year.

Its as if the UK is preparing for a state of siege. Except it will be one entirely of their own making. And it really makes you think that the Brexiteers' insistence on leaving the common market is a really, really bad idea.

Time to fix renting

Renters United this morning launched The Plan to Fix Renting, a set of policy proposals building on last year's People's Review of Renting. Things like giving renters security of tenure by banning no-cause evictions and requiring landleeches to give reasons which can then be legally challenged. Reducing the degree to which landleeches or their property managers can intrude on their tenant's lives with inspections. Limiting rent increases to the CPI once a year, unless significant improvements are made. Requiring minimum standards for rental properties, and licences for property managers. And fixing the Tenancy Tribunal so tenants can actually use it without fear of being evicted and blacklisted.

These are all sensible proposals, and the government has already committed to implementing some of them (though that seems to be taking a while). Of course, the landleeches' union is outraged, and making their usual threat that they'll get out of the landlord business. Which is great - because one of the problems with our housing market is that there are too many greedy boomers hoarding houses so they can harvest tax-free capital gains, and playing landlord in between to pay the bills. If tighter regulation drives these parasites out of the market, we get a double benefit: the demise of bad landleeches, and more houses on the market, leading to a drop in prices. I fail to see any downside in this.

If you'd like to show your support for these proposals, ActionStation has a petition here.

We need to protect dolphins from mining

Correction: The Conservation Minister had no role in granting this permit. I had assumed that, as on land, exploration would require an access arrangement, which would have required her approval. But thanks to the Marine and Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Act 2011's "no-one owns the seabed" position, the Crown Minerals Act was amended so that you don't need an access arrangement to explore or mine in the common marine and coastal area. And thanks to Taranaki District Council's "drill, baby, drill" policy, exploration is a permitted activity despite the entire area being a marine mammal sanctuary, so there's no RMA process either. There will be an RMA process for actual mining at least, but that won't stop the disruption from exploration.

As for how to fix this, the Marine Mammals Protection Act allows activites within Marine Mammal Sanctuaries to be regulated, and this is already used to prohibit mining (but not oil drilling) in part of the West Coast North Island Sanctuary. That area could be expanded, and further oil drilling banned. But in the long term, there seems to be no reason to distinguish between onshore and offshore wildlife sanctuaries, so they need to be added to Schedule 4.

Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage MBIE appears to have quietly granted a permit to explore for ironsands in a Marine Mammal Sanctuary:

A mining exploration permit has been quietly granted inside a marine sanctuary set up to protect the endangered Māui dolphins.

The decision has shocked conservation groups who were unaware of the move and the Department of Conservation has “significant concerns” about the safety of the dolphins if mining were to go ahead.


In May, permission to explore a 220-square-kilometre section off the coast of New Plymouth that falls within the sanctuary was granted to a company that wants to dredge the ocean floor for minerals.

Ironsands Offshore Mining Ltd will now be able to carry out tests, including drilling, to assess the viability of the project.

Its an appalling decision, and a pointless one: while the impact of exploration may be low, it is difficult to imagine a full mining operation being approved. But like the Otakiri Springs water decision, it may be a case of the Minister's hands being tied: marine mammal sanctuaries enjoy no special protection from mining, while the law covering access arrangements requires the Minister to consider economic benefits but not environmental costs unless the land is specifically held for conservation purposes (because in theory that is dealt with at the RMA stage, not at the mining consent stage. Except where the local council short-circuits the entire process with a "drill, baby, drill" policy...)

As for how to stop this, hopefully Greenpeace will OIA the advice, and seek a judicial review if there is any doubt about the decision. And of course there's protests (though again, when will the government repeal the Anadarko Amendment?) But in the long term, if we want to prevent mining or prospecting in marine mammal sanctuaries, we need to change the law. And at this stage it is worth noting that sanctuaries for land-based wildlife enjoy the protection of Schedule 4, meaning mining is absolutely forbidden. Sanctuaries for marine mammals do not, despite serving an identical purpose at sea. It would be a very simple members bill to add them. Maybe a Green MP would like to put one in the ballot?