Friday, June 22, 2018

The IGIS advisory panel mess

Back in April, Stuff published the news that our spies had been without proper oversight for over a year, due to the failure of the previous government to appoint members to the Inspector General of Intelligence and security's statutory advisory panel. At the time, I blamed the previous government, saying that they simply couldn't be fucked appointing anyone to it. I also blamed DPMC for dropping the ball, assuming that they didn't follow up the appointments process they began in February 2017. Documents I've received via the OIA today have shown both my conclusions to be unfair and wrong. There's plenty of blame to go around, but the failure to appoint anyone wasn't for lack of effort by either former Prime Minister Bill English or DPMC.

The full documents are here. They show:

  • DPMC ran a straight appointments process in 2017, came up with a shortlist and two nominees (one of whom English "had reservations" about). These were duly discussed by the Intelligence and security Committee in May, and only one of them was approved.
  • In June, senior DPMC staff consulted the Inspector-General about alternative candidates and shoulder-tapped two alternatives. English offered both of them to the Intelligence and Security Committee and invited them to pick one. Both were rejected (though it is unclear if this was a formal or informal rejection). National MP Amy Adams is specifically identified as vetoing one candidate.
  • Despite this, DPMC tried to get the (previously approved) panel chair appointed in the last cabinet meeting before the election, noting both the urgency of the appointment and that the candidate had been approved by both opposition members of the ISC. Cabinet rejected them, with the result that the panel remained vacant.
  • The rejection of multiple candidates by National Ministers presents problems for future appointments, as noted by DPMC in November 2017:
    IGIS Panel Email Nov2017
So, it wasn't Bill English's fault. But Amy Adams certainly bears some of the blame here. Meanwhile, its now been 20 months, and this panel is still vacant. I wonder if it will ever be filled? Update: A replacement panel was finally appointed a month ago. Somehow in my googling I'd managed to miss that.

New Fisk

Can former Lebanese MP Mustafa Alloush turn even the coldest of Middle Eastern sceptics into an optimist?


When they were in government, National stuck an arbitrary cap on the size of the public service, ostensibly to keep costs down. It was a dishonest sham: Ministers still expected agencies to do more and more work, and so they responded by hiring hugely expensive consultants. The result: costs rose by quarter of a billion dollars. So now, Labour is ending the scam and removing the cap:

The Government will dump the cap on public servant numbers in a bid to reduce the half a billion dollars a year being spent on consultants and contractors.

"The Government has made a decision to lift the 'cap' on core public servant numbers put in place by the previous government," State Services Minister Chris Hipkins said today.

"The cap was introduced at the height of the global financial crisis but it created perverse incentives and in the following years its arbitrary nature forced the previous government to find creative ways to get around it."

The estimated cost of contractors and consultants in the year to June 2017 was more than $550 million, nearly double the $272m spent in 2008/09 before the cap was introduced.

National will no doubt wail about "costs" and "waste" (because that's ultimately what they think public servants are: "waste"). But hiring actual employees is likely to be far cheaper in the long run than outsourcing, and internalising capabilities means that they're more likely to be available when required. We'll get better public agencies from this. And then, next time they're elected, National will sack everyone again - because ultimately, they don't want better public agencies, just lower taxes for their rich mates.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

The EU needs to stand up against its racists

The European Union is founded on values of "respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities". Those values are under threat from several of its members. In Spain, the government has unleashed state violence against those who peacefully advocate secession. In Italy, the government wants to deport Roma, an ethnic minority who were targeted for extermination by the Nazis. And in Hungary, the racist government has just made it illegal for lawyers and NGOs to help refugees claim asylum.

These actions clearly contravene the EU's fundamental values. They may also explicitly contravene European law and the European Convention on Human Rights, and look likely to result in court cases. But more than that, they require political action from other EU nations to enforce the Eu's values. These are not things civilised, democratic countries which respect human rights should be doing. And insofar as a government by its actions consistently fails to meet that standard, the EU should be looking at suspending or even revoking membership. If Hungary and Italy want to go back to being 30's racist shitholes, then they can do it without belonging to the EU.

A childish tantrum

That's the only way to describe events in Parliament last night. Faced with the opposition filibustering two time-sensitive bills, the government moved urgency, then attempted to amend the instruction to the committee to prevent any debate on what was being voted on. The urgency isn't problematic - the bills are time-sensitive, and need to be passed this week if they are to come into force on time on July 1. They could have been completed under urgency with the budget, but the government unusually didn't take that opportunity at the time (something which I was happy to see, but it did set them up for this problem later). But the motion to forbid debate was an affront to our democracy. While it was withdrawn this morning - saner heads having prevailed - the fact that it was moved at all is obscene.

Oppositions exist to oppose. This will be inconvenient to the government, and that's the point. The way governments respond under this pressure illustrates their character. And Labour has exposed itself as authoritarian and intolerant of dissent (who'd have thunk it) - not values I want to see in a government. Chris Hipkins' childish tantrum actively undermined our democracy and the stature of our Parliament. And someone who does that is not fit to be Leader of the House.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

NZ must speak out for its values

At the moment, the USA is separating children from their parents and putting them in concentration camps. This is utterly abhorrent to most New Zealanders. So what is our government saying about it? Nothing:

Winston Peters is coming under pressure from the Government's support partner, the Green Party, to speak out about the United States' separating children at its southern border from their non-documented migrant parents.

The Greens want Peters, the Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, to protest to US ambassador Scott Brown about the treatment of children.

Labour deputy leader Kelvin Davis and National leader Simon Bridges yesterday joined an international chorus of opposition to the current practice, saying it was cruel and inhumane.

The closest Peters got to criticism was saying New Zealand would not do what the US did but said he wanted focus on what was happening in New Zealand, while he deputises for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on maternity leave, not other countries.

This silence isn't acceptable. Kiwis expect our government to represent our values, and criticise the powerful where necessary. The fact that even National, who are normally craven little US vassals, recognises this shows how utterly unacceptable America's conduct is. The government needs to speak out about it. Alternatively, we can get a government who will at the next election.

Sanity in Canada

Canada has taken a major step towards ending America's insane "war on drugs", by legalising recreational cannabis use:

Recreational cannabis use in Canada is to become legal after the Senate approved the legislation.

The measure is expected to come into effect in two or three months, with the exact official date to be set by the government. Prime minister Justin Trudeau has previously emphasised that the Cannabis Act will be implemented without delay.

The landmark agreement, making Canada the first G20 country to legalise recreational use, came to pass after the Senate voted 52 to 29 to approve the legislation.

It means adults will soon be allowed to carry up to 30g of dried cannabis (or its equivalent) in a “public space”, which includes personal vehicles. Those caught with more than 30g could face up to five years in prison. It will remain illegal for one adult to sell cannabis to another, unless they are a licensed retailer.

Exactly what that means will vary from province to province, but one thing which is guaranteed is far fewer arrests, far less police time wasted on how people choose to entertain themselves, and far fewer lives ruined.

Meanwhile in New Zealand, the government has promised to give us a vote, but not to be bound by the result. Which shows us how deceitful and dishonest they are on this issue, and how committed they are to perpetuating the persecution of recreational drug users.

One way of fixing it

The USA - which is currently kidnapping the children of refugees and sticking them in concentration camps - has consistently complained that the UN Human Rights Council is not fit for purpose. For a start, it criticises Israeli human rights abuses - something a human rights organisation should apparently never do. But the US is also annoyed that countries which persistently abuse human rights are regularly elected to the council. So they're quitting it.

I guess they're finally admitting they're a human rights abuser, and being the change they want to see in the world.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Cosy corruption

Since Thompson and Clark have been in the news over their undemocratic and bullying behaviour around Southern Response, people have been looking hard at what parts of government they've been doing business with and what exactly they're doing. And the picture exposed is... not good. First, there was their dubious manipulation of DoC to cover up public domain information. But they've now been exposed as having dubious dealings with MPI and the SIS which have resulted in the State Services Commissions' inquiry into them being broadened to cover the entire state service.

The dubious behaviour was apparently revealed by OIA requests to those agencies. I haven't seen the MPI one, though they have a press release here about it. But the SIS one is on FYI, and it is... disturbing. The SIS's Protective Security Engagement Manger, responsible for making sure government agencies handle information securely, had a very chummy relationship with someone from Thompson and Clark, and steered business their way. They provided them with information to help bids, got them into classified meetings, arranged for them to do a bug sweep for someone who had contacted SIS for assistance. The head of the SIS notes in response to this:

In light of this correspondence, I have asked for several matters to be looked into. The emails raise questions in relation to conduct and possible bias in favour of Thompson and Clark. These questions are the subject of an internal investigation. I have also asked for our internal processes, policies and guidance to be reviewed to ensure that our (necessary and important) engagement with private sector providers is professional, appropriate and even-handed.
And, as noted, the SSC is now investigating as well. as they should - because this is basicly a case of cosy corruption, mates helping mates, and at the heart of an agency (the SIS) we trust to be above such things.

This relationship is far too cosy. The best thing the government can do is amputate it.

Time for the government to pay up

Yesterday, the New Zealand Nurses Organisation voted to take strike action. While they'd been offered a half billion dollar pay package by DHBs, this was mostly focused on divide and rule and raising salaries for those already at the top of the pay scale, with only crumbs for the overworked and underpaid masses at the bottom. And clearly, their membership felt that this was unacceptable, that after nine long years of austerity under National, they deserved more.

And they're right. They do deserve more. And the government has to pay up. Pleading poverty won't help - everyone knows that their "poverty" is entirely self-inflicted, a voluntary adherence to National's budget targets in a vain effort to please the business community (who will never be pleased, so there's no point). But people elected this government to fix the social infrastructure National had eroded, to make sure we had schools and hospitals which actually work. The bill for that is now due. Either they can pay up and promise more money, or they can see those hospitals stop working and pay the political price for that.

Let's do this

Westpac has been modelling the effects of the government's proposed capital gains tax, and concluded that it would be effective in lowering house prices:

House prices would fall, rents would rise but home ownership would improve if a capital gains or some other type of property tax was brought in according to a new study.

Westpac Bank has looked at six possible changes to the tax system, ranging from a capital gains, property or land taxes through to a new way of taxing rental income.

A 10 percent capital gains tax, a 1 percent land tax or 0.5 percent property tax would result in house prices falling 10 or 11 percent.

A deemed rate of return, which would tax landlords on an assumed rate of return, say 5 percent on their properties, could see prices fall by 20 percent.

In all cases, the tax changes would boost home ownership rates as investing became less attractive, but would also cause rents to rise.

Rents would rise because landleeches would have to actually make a (taxed) profit from their houses, rather than using rent as a loss-leader for untaxed capital gains. OTOH, the drop in house prices will make it far easier for people to own their own home, as well as removing some of the unearned, paper wealth of those who have benefited from the bubble, so it'll reduce inequality as well. The task for the government will be to ensure that there's a good supply of new houses, so that people can buy, rather than being trapped paying rent to some greedy Boomer forever.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Not achieved

Back in 2010, the then-National government sacked the elected Canterbury Regional Council and replaced it with a group of unelected dictators. One of the key tasks of National's dictators was to implement the Canterbury Water Management Strategy, a collaboratively developed plan to improve Canterbury's water. But it turns out that the strategy has been a failure:

A report looking into the 10th anniversary of the Canterbury Water Management Strategy (CWMS) suggests it has failed numerous goals to protect the health of rivers and the environment.

But an Environment Canterbury councillor is pouring cold water on the concern, saying it was not an official report.

The report, presented to CWMS's regional committee, gives marks out of 10 against the strategy's initial goals, and how it was meeting them.

Some goals, such as maintaining rural community viability, and "ensuring high levels of audited self-management", received good marks. However, protecting "ecosystems, habitats and landscapes and indigenous biodiversity received a zero out of 10.

And really, that's not surprising: the strategy's use of regional "zone committees" in practice means turning over control of water to farmers, who unsurprisingly give it to themselves. The committees are so conflicted and corrupt and unwilling to consider environmental issues that environmental organisations have simply walked away from them rather than lend them legitimacy. Which is a huge failure for a strategy supposedly based on "collaboration".

The only way we will get proper management of Canterbury's water is with a fully elected council which gives a full voice to Canterbury's people. Fortunately that will be happening next year.

The RMA and deterrence

Our environment is under threat. We have farmers polluting our rivers and sucking aquifers dry. Our own "defence" force is poisoning people's drinking water. Greedy property developers cut down protected native trees. And that's just a few recent examples. In theory, all of this should be prevented by the RMA: environmentally damaging activities require resource consent, and there are hefty fines or even prison terms to deter people who don't bother. But the problem is that none of that is enforced: local councils just don't prosecute:

Fewer than a hundred prosecutions are being carried out under New Zealand's main environmental law each year, despite thousands of breaches.

Now a legal researcher is investigating whether the 27-year-old Resource Management Act (RMA) is having the deterrent effect that any law including criminal offences should.


"There is a difference between the law itself and how it works in practice," he said.

"There are thousands – if not tens of thousands – of breaches of the RMA every year, yet under 100 prosecutions a year."

Many of those breaches are minor, and better resolved by an infringement offence and bringing them into compliance. But local councils are looking the other way on major environmental crimes with irreversible effects. And the effect is obvious: people keep on committing those crimes, because there is no penalty for them, not even one as simple as having to stop. And that's just not good enough.

Our environmental laws need to be enforced. If local councillors are unwilling to direct their councils to do that, then we should elect ones who are. Local government elections are just over a year away, so making sure your council knows that you will be judging them on their prosecution rate is probably a good idea.

Stopping the orcs in their tracks

When the government was elected, they promised to end mining on conservation land. And they're delivering:

An application to mine coal on public conservation land near Te Kuha in the Buller District has been declined, Minister of Conservation Eugenie Sage and Minister of Energy Resources Megan Woods announced today.

Rangitira Developments Ltd had applied for an access arrangement under the Crown Minerals Act to mine 12 hectares of public conservation land in the Mt Rochfort Conservation Area, near Te Kuha, as part of a large opencast coal mine.

The 12 ha area is part of the company‘s 116 ha mining proposal and compromises approximately 10 per cent of the planned mine site and open cast pit. Most of land which the company seeks to mine is within the Westport Water Conservation Reserve vested in, and managed by, the Buller District Council. The Council is the decision-maker for mining access to that area.

The Ministers declined the application to mine 12 hectares of conservation land because it was not considered that the mine’s potential economic benefits were large enough to outweigh the irreparable damage to an area with very high, unique and nationally significant conservation values.

This decision was made under the existing law, and was made possible simply by having a different Minister who listened to DoC's views on ecological significance rather than ignoring them as National had done. Obviously, we want a safer framework so we don't have to rely on that happy coincidence in future, but for the moment it'll do. The orcs have been stopped in their tracks!

The Minister has saved a whole mountain from being dug up and turned into a scar. But she's also sent a clear message to the coal industry that they have no future in New Zealand (or at least, no future on conservation land, which is pretty much the same thing, because that's where most of the coal is). If it has a chilling effect on future coal investment, so much the better: this is not an industry we want or can afford to have in New Zealand anymore. The sooner it dies, the better.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Farmers covering up their epidemic

The government is currently trying to eradicate Mycoplasma Bovis, at huge expense to the taxpayer. But there's a problem: farmers are refusing to cooperate:

A crucial part of the puzzle in working out how far the cow disease has spread is establishing who has received calves from the Southland farm believed to have had it first in late 2015.


MPI's Geoff Gwyn said this had been made more difficult by a lack of co-operation from farmers.

"After 10 months we've not had one scenario, and many of these names are in the public domain, who have come to us and said 'oh by the way I got animals from a property down south'.

"We have even gone out down in Invercargill and put advertisements in the newspaper with the farmer's consent and people are not coming forward and saying I traded with them."

Mr Gwyn said MPI has had to trace every farmer itself or find them through some form of testing.

Not mentioned: the mass non-cooperation with NAIT, which would allow the sources of disease to be pinpointed and quarantined.

So why aren't farmers co-operating to fight this disease? Because if they say they're infected, then they can't sell their animals. So instead, they keep it secret and spread it to others, making the problem worse. Which is a serious crime. But the chances of farmers being held responsible for their actions is about zero.

Climate Change: National's forked tongue

So, National says it wants to work with the government on climate change:

National leader Simon Bridges has offered bipartisan support to the Government on climate change.

Bridges wrote to the prime minister on Friday saying he wants to help find cross-party support for a non-political Climate Change Commission.

"In order to drive long-lasting change, broad and enduring political support is needed for New Zealand's climate change framework - on the institutional arrangements we put in place," Bridges wrote.

"I am confident that we can work constructively together to establish an enduring non-political framework for future governments and parliaments when considering climate change issues."

Which sounds great. Except there'll be a price - and that price will be to water down policy to make it virtually pointless.

Don't believe me? Just look at their record. In the 90's, when in government, National repeatedly delayed and prevaricated, in the end producing two climate change policies and then refusing to implement either of them. Then when in opposition from 1999 to 2008, they opposed any action whatsoever, no matter how mild, even driving a tractor up Parliament's steps to oppose farmers paying a small contribution towards researching ways to reduce the pollution they caused. And their first action on winning power in 2008 was to repeal a bunch of climate change policy and gut the ETS to turn it into a pollution subsidy scheme. So no, I don't think they can be taken at face value, or trusted in the least on this issue. Their only interest in it is to delay or prevent action and ensure a free ride for their farmer cronies.

The government wants effective action. National doesn't. There is no middle ground here - ineffective action is pretty much the same as no action at all. As for what to do, National's support would be welcome, but the government shouldn't compromise one iota to win it. At that price, their support is not worth having.

A living wage for public servants

The government will be paying all public servants a living wage:

All core public service employees are being given a pay rise to at least the living wage of $20.55.

The new hourly rate, which works out to an annual salary of $42,744, will apply to full-time, part-time and casual employees.

It will be implemented on September 1.


ASB chief economist Nick Tuffley said it could put pressure on other businesses to match the increase.

"It does have the potential to spill over and influence what other people may need to pay to attract and retain people."

Which is the point: not just for the government to be a decent employer itself, but to create pressure on other employers to do the same. Which is why employers groups hate this: because its a direct attack on their cosy low-pay cartel, and on the unjust profits they extract by underpaying their staff.

Hopefully this is just the beginning. The next step is for the government to require a living wage for all crown entity staff, and all contractors as a condition of doing business with them. But that's probably one for next budget cycle.

New Fisk

I spoke to Palestinians who still hold the keys to homes they fled decades ago – many are still determined to return

More lies from NZDF

When NZDF was first forced to admit that their firefighting foam was poisoning water around their bases, they said it was a historical problem and that the foams hadn't been used for many years. They lied about that. Then when they were banned from using foam at all, they said everything was fine because they hadn't used it since 2016. But it turns out that they lied about that too:

The Defence Force (NZDF) has changed tack, just three days after saying it had stopped using potentially damaging firefighting foam for training at all its bases in 2016.

The military did not stop in Auckland until a few months ago, and it remains unclear whether it has stopped at all in Taranaki.


"Our previous response that we stopped training with foams 'at all of our bases' referred to 'air bases'," it told RNZ.

"We apologise that this was not clear in the initial response.

Once again, their response to a problem has not been to come clean and help other government agencies solve it, but to spin and lie in an attempt to reveal as little as possible and minimise their exposure. Its another example of their systematic culture of deceit. It appears we can not believe anything NZDF says unless there is documentary evidence backing it up (and even then, they lie in that too).

This culture of deceit is not acceptable from a public agency. The New Zealand public deserves a defence force we can trust (and we deserve a defence force that doesn't fucking poison us). We deserve a defence force with integrity. And that means firing those responsible for this strategy of deceit.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

"Shared values"

Whenever New Zealand leaps to join Australia in another foreign war, the politicians always talk about our countries' 'shared values". Well, this is an example of the Australian values we are supposed to "share":

That's an Australian SAS truck in Afghanistan, flying a Nazi flag:

Australian soldiers have been photographed flying a Nazi swastika flag from their vehicle while on operations in Afghanistan.

The photo, obtained exclusively by the ABC, was taken in August 2007.

The photograph shows the large swastika emblem hoisted over an Australian military vehicle.

Two separate Defence sources have identified a particular soldier as the individual who took the flag to Afghanistan.

Because that's who Australia lets into its military: Nazis. Not surprising when you remember that for the last decade they've been sticking refugees in concentration camps and torturing them until they kill themselves of "voluntarily" leave.

We should have nothing to do with a country with a military like this, with policies like this.