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.

Climate change: Melting faster

Bad news on the climate change front: Antarctica is melting much faster than we expected, and the rate of melting has tripled in the last five years:

Ice in the Antarctic is melting at a record-breaking rate and the subsequent sea rises could have catastrophic consequences for cities around the world, according to two new studies.

A report led by scientists in the UK and US found the rate of melting from the Antarctic ice sheet has accelerated threefold in the last five years and is now vanishing faster than at any previously recorded time.

A separate study warns that unless urgent action is taken in the next decade the melting ice could contribute more than 25cm to a total global sea level rise of more than a metre by 2070. This could lead eventually to the collapse of the entire west Antarctic ice sheet, and around 3.5m of sea-level rise.

This is bad enough as it is. New Zealand has $19 billion worth of property, and billions more of infrastructure, under threat from sea-level rise. Its already a half-billion dollar a year crisis, and that's on the old estimates. A higher rate of sea-level rise will blow that out even further.

And meanwhile, the government is still sticking its fingers in its ears and trying to pander to farmers by letting them off for their pollution (again). Despite calling this "my generation's nuclear-free moment", I don't think they've really grasped either the urgency or the magnitude of the problem. Sea-level rise is going to impose huge costs on New Zealand. Changes in climate are going to impose even more. This is not something we can piss about on any longer. The crisis is here, and we need to stop it. Or learn to fucking swim.

An "investigation"

Last year, Stuff published The Valley, an in-depth investigation into NZDF's actions on Afghanistan. It alleged that, among other things, SAS soldiers had deliberately abused civilians in order to provoke "insurgents" into combat, and that a "very senior officer" had given illegal orders to set booby-traps, and then had the resulting prosecution quashed by the top brass. The allegations were disturbing and criminal. And now, it seems, NZDF is finally investigating them. But not openly or transparently, of course:

Outgoing Defence Force Chief Tim Keating has revealed there is an investigation under way into allegations made in The Valley documentary.

The Stuff Circuit series looked into the 2004 SAS raid in Afghanistan which led to the awarding of a Victoria Cross to Willie Apiata.

In 2017, Keating said he would respond publicly but had failed to do so.

On Thursday morning, when asked by Stuff Circuit why he hadn't, he said because of the seriousness of the claims, there was a legal investigation under way and he would not give a timeframe.

The "investigation" is being done in secret, and kept tightly in the hands of Keating. Which suggests that its not an actual investigation, but the usual NZDF coverup. Its clear by now that we can't trust NZDF to investigate itself. As with the Hit and Run allegations, we need a full independent inquiry into NZDF's actions.

A terrible idea

When the then-Labour government first advocated American-style asset forfeiture laws way back in 2004, I highlighted the danger that they would begin to see it as a way of raising revenue - effectively incentivising police to make dubious seizures in order to meet revenue targets. And sadly, that's exactly what the government is doing:

A new police target aiming to seize $500 million from gangs may only serve to further marginalise a hard-to-reach community, those on the inside say.

A Cabinet paper seen by Stuff shows Police Minister Stuart Nash and Police Commissioner Mike Bush have set four new "high-level outcome targets", while also retaining most of the previous government's nine performance targets at an operational level.

The targets include $500m in cash and assets seized from gangs and criminals by 2021.

We're not yet in the horrific US situation where police can profit directly from forfeiture, encouraging them to engage in outright banditry or target people so they can seize their homes. But having a government-set target is bad enough, and it will undoubtedly shift enforcement action in order to meet it. So instead of investigating burglaries, they'll be targeting petty drug dealers because they're more likely to have money. Or going after people who enable university cheats so they can seize their $4.6 million...

Police enforcement should be based on the severity of the crime, not the profit motive. Nash's asset forfeiture target is a terrible idea, and it needs to be reversed.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Members' Day

Today is a Members' Day. Unfortunately it looks to be a boring one. First up is a two-hour debate on the government's investment strategy in place of the usual general debate, which will take an extra hour out of members' time. And following that there's a committee stage and second readings on Stuart Smith's Friendly Societies and Credit Unions (Regulatory Improvements) Amendment Bill, Jan Logie's Domestic Violence—Victims’ Protection Bill, and Jo Hayes' Marriage (Court Consent to Marriage of Minors) Amendment Bill. Of these, only Logie's bill has any real chance of serious disagreement (National as usual seeing no reason why employers should be decent people). As there's unlikely to be any first readings, there's unlikely to be a ballot tomorrow, or in the near future - these bills will clog up the Order Paper for the foreseeable future.

The harsh reality of government

Yesterday Land Information Minister Eugenie Sage granted a consent under the Overseas Investment Act for a Chinese water bottling company to buy land near Whakatane, effectively allowing them to suck the Otakiri Springs dry for foreign profit. Green Party members are naturally upset because the consent flies in the face of local Treaty claims and is contrary to party policies aimed at ending foreign water-theft, or at least charging a fair resource rental for it. Unfortunately here they're up against the harsh reality of government - namely that being in government doesn't mean you get to do what you want. Our Ministers are not despots, and have to obey the law - and the law on granting foreign companies consent to purchase sensitive land is very specific and doesn't let the Minister refuse consent just because her party wants her to. And because the law does not include a Treaty clause (or any respect for Maori rights), she couldn't refuse on those grounds either. Basicly, Sage had no choice but to grant the consent - and if she had refused it, the decision would likely have been overturned by judicial review.

If the Greens want this to change, they need to change the law - and that means negotiating with their coalition partners, both to obtain the necessary parliamentary majority to make it happen, and to get space in the legislative calendar against all the other things the government wants to do. Until that happens, the Minister just has to obey the law. This will no doubt mean making decisions she doesn't agree with, but that's the reality of government for you.

New Fisk

For once in the Middle East, a single Arab nation is solely responsible for the destruction of its land and heritage

DoC covers up for corporate spies

Thompson and Clark Investigations, New Zealand's most evil private spy agency, is in the news again - this time for getting DoC to cover up official information for it:

The Department of Conservation (DOC) withheld official information after demands from security firm Thompson and Clark, internal emails show.

Thompson and Clark spied on anti-1080 activists for DOC, sharing intelligence through what it called its "Fusion Centre" - locked, hidden chat channels on messaging app Slack.

The work cost nearly $4000 a month - several government departments are signed up to similar packages - and also included a weekly phone briefing involving senior staff from both organisations.

But DOC withheld all material from the Slack channels when asked for correspondence between its staff and Thompson and Clark under the Official Information Act (OIA), saying releasing it "may prevent the supply of such information in the future".

Initially DoC had decided to release everything. They reversed that decision after a serious lobbying effort from Thompson and Clark. The decision has now gone to the Ombudsman, where it is almost certain to be overturned. Why? Because firstly the clause relied on - s9(2)(ba)(i) - requires that "it is in the public interest that such information should continue to be supplied" - something which is highly debatable given Thompson and Clark's corrosive effect on our democracy. But more importantly, "the intelligence shared through Slack was all publicly available, drawn from the Internet". And the Ombudsman's guidelines are quite clear that such information can not be regarded as "confidential":
No obligation of confidence will arise where the information is generally known or is readily available to the public, for example where it can be obtained in a public register or other document open to inspection by the public.

Which pretty obviously applies if its publicly available on a news media or other internet site.

So why is Thompson and Clark so desperate to keep this information secret? Partly its pure hostility to democratic oversight, but I suspect also to protect their lucrative government contracts. After all, if the public saw that public agencies were paying them $4,000 a month to read the newspaper, we'd quite rightly question whether that was value for money, whether it was really necessary, or whether it couldn't be done cheaper. And then Thompson and Clark's government gravy-train would end.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

More dirty dairying

Oh look, its a Federated Farmers official convicted of spewing shit into a waterway:

A hefty fine has been handed down to former Southland Federated Farmers president Allan Baird, whose inaction on his dairy farm was "careless".

Baird and his two companies, Benlyon Ltd and Vendale Ltd, were fined a total of $39,600 when he appeared for sentencing in the Invercargill District Court on Monday.

He had earlier pleaded guilty to the three charges of discharging dairy effluent onto land on October 20, 2016, in circumstances that may result in the effluent entering a waterway.

Environment Court judge Brian Dwyer denied Baird's application for a discharge without conviction.

Baird had informed Environment Southland staff on the day in question that dairy shed effluent from his farm's irrigation system had discharged into a tributary of the Winton Stream.

Council officers found significant effluent ponding from the stationary irrigator and it was flowing overland into the waterway.

Despite this, he's trying to play the victim here. Which shows us exactly how much contempt his organisation has for basic environmental legislation.


Winston Peters is set to become acting Prime Minister this weekend. And he's chosen this moment to launch a new lawsuit against senior public servants who will in effect be working for him over breaching his privacy during the 2017 election campaign:

Peters has begun new legal action seeking $450,000 for alleged breach of privacy in relation to the leaking of details of his superannuation overpayment.

Ardern told RNZ today that she found about her deputy's latest action yesterday.

Peters is going after the Ministry of Social Development chief executive Brendan Boyle, State Services Commissioner Peter Hughes, the Attorney-General on behalf of the Ministry of Social Development and former ministers in the previous National government Paula Bennett and Anne Tolley.

These people need to be held to account. Passing on private information about a politician to their political rivals (who immediately and inevitably leaked it for political gain) is something that simply should not happen. Arguably, there's no reason whatsoever for Ministers to know anything about any individual's welfare payments unless they're sacking someone for fucking them up - its a purely operational matter, and none of any minister's business. Meanwhile, the obvious and significant risks of a privacy breach should have ruled out any disclosure. At the same time, its obviously awkward for Peters, who is now a Minister, to be suing people who effectively work for him (and with whom he will have to continue to work in future), not to mention his own government. While Cabinet conflict of interest provisions are robust enough to handle it, it's still going to be very awkward indeed.

Justice for Nicky Hager

In October 2014, as part of a political investigation into the book Dirty Politics, police raided and searched the home of journalist Nicky Hager. The raid has spawned a series of ongoing court cases which have in turn exposed illegal behaviour by the police: they deliberately misled the judge to get the search warrant, and unlawfully obtained 10 months of Hager's banking records. And now, finally, they've admitted the entire thing was wrong and paid damages:

Investigative journalist Nicky Hager has accepted a police apology and payment of "substantial damages" after the unlawful search of his home during the investigation into the hacking that led to the Dirty Politics book.

The settlement revealed police had sought information claiming Hager was suspected of criminal behaviour, including fraud.

"Police accept that they had no basis for such allegations," the settlement document read.

"Police apologise unreservedly for these breaches of his rights and have agreed to pay Mr Hager substantial damages and a contribution towards his legal costs."

The settlement also included police making a key admission around accessing Hager's banking data - a police practice used to get people's personal financial information without any legal order.

The full police apology is here.

Its good that they've settled and admitted their wrongdoing. But the real question is whether it will lead to any change of behaviour, or whether the police will continue raiding journalists whenever one offends the government of the day. And as no individual police officer seems to have been held to account, despite lying to a judge and systematically abusing their powers, I think we all know the answer to that.

Monday, June 11, 2018

This is what happens when you rely on reactionaries

Last month, the government indicated that it planned to repeal National's "three strikes" law in the first phase of its justice reforms. Now, their coalition-partners NZ First have said "no":

New Zealand First has put the brakes on Labour's plan to repeal the three strikes law - effectively hauling it off Cabinet's agenda.

Justice Minister Andrew Little planned to bring the matter before Cabinet this morning, but now says that won't happen.


Mr Little said New Zealand First had concerns about the repeal and indicated they'd be unlikely to support it.

He said further work on a criminal justice reform package will be progressed in August.

Damn. "Three strikes" is a reactionary law which has been found to be manifestly unjust by judges every time it might have applied. Its sole purpose was to make the then-government look tough and appeal to the arsehole vote. Sadly, that vote is NZ First's core support base, so its not surprising that they think this unjust law should stay. And unfortunately, as NZ First's votes are needed for any repeal, that means we're going to have to lump it. If we want change, we're going to have to vote for a better government at the next election - one which does not include reactionaries.

New Fisk

Lebanon's mountains are being wiped from the map – but does anyone care?

Time to deal with this criminal industry

Surprise, surprise! It turns out that the fishing industry - a pervasively criminal industry which has been caught time and time again lying about how much fish it is catching - has been resisting proper oversight:

Newshub can reveal that in just the past year-and-a-half, 50 skippers have refused to have government fishing observers on their vessels.

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) says since 2009, it's had to take 10 skippers to court for saying no.

Most refusals were due to skippers claiming there were issues with "maritime manning limits", meaning there wasn't enough room on board.

Other cases include a skipper simply not responding to MPI's phone calls, a skipper refusing to take an observer because of the extra food costs, and another case where despite being under "placement notice" orders not to sail without an observer, the vessel left port anyway.

This is of course illegal. The observer programme is statutorily authorised to collect proper information on catches and on safety. Its a crime to put to sea without a notified observer if one is required, its a crime to refuse to provide food and accommodation, and its a crime to obstruct them in their duties. The penalty for each of those crimes is a fine of up to $250,000, and it is severe enough that the court may order quota to be forfeited as well. Which makes sense: accepting observation is effectively a condition of holding quota, and fishers who refuse or obstruct it in order to hide their illegal practices shouldn't be in the business. And if we want to end this problem, actually seeking that penalty would go a long way towards bringing this criminal industry into compliance and making it sustainable (as is required by the law).

Friday, June 08, 2018

More spying from Thompson and Clark

New Zealand's most evil private security agency has been at it again - this time abusing their access to the Motor Vehicle Register to spy on protestors:

The MVR contains details of every vehicle and its owner. Details can be obtained by quoting a registration number plate.

1 NEWS has obtained figures from the NZTA under the Official Information Act that show a striking pattern. A spike in requests from Thompson and Clark to access the register coincides clearly with heightened activity from Greenpeace and other environmental groups.

For example in Jan/Feb 2013, the Rainbow Warrior was visiting New Zealand. In January 2014 there were extensive protests mounted when oil company Anadarko's drilling ship was in New Zealand waters.

Mr Norman says: "It's pretty plain that Thompson and Clark are using their access to the register as a kind of trawling tool to identify people who were involved in protest action".

This is illegal: TCIL was granted access to the register for a number of very limited purposes, and "spying on protesters" was not one of them. Access was also on the basis that information was not passed to third parties. Interestingly, they've since had their access removed - something NZTA says is common where there has been inappropriate use. Apparently there's a $50,000 fine for abuse of this information, but we can be certain the police will never prosecute: Thompson and Clark are on their side, and so the police will simply look the other way on their crimes, just as they do for crimes committed by their own officers. If Greenpeace wants justice, they'll need to seek it themselves by civil action or private prosecution.