Wednesday, November 21, 2018

We need fewer cows

Writing in The Spinoff, ecologist Mike Joy presents the answer to most of our environmental problems: fewer cows:

The problems faced by New Zealand’s environment, particularly freshwaters and soils are wicked, complex and intertwined. After struggling with these issues for a half a lifetime, it strikes me with great clarity that if you look at each in isolation they seem intractable; but when you grasp that there could be one single solution that addresses them all, then suddenly there is a glimpse of light at the end of the tunnel.

Take, for example, a subset of the many environmental issues facing New Zealand, such as bacterial and pathogen contamination of water and soil, excess nutrients in waters, excess sediment in waterways, freshwater habitat loss, groundwater contaminated with pesticides and nutrients, and the huge loss of the mauri of waterways. Any of these issues appear impossibly hard and/or expensive if evaluated in isolation for costs, or for the difficulty or value of resolution.

But if there was one action available that substantially addressed all of the issues listed above, then the decision would be simple – take that action. When multiple gains can be made for the cost of a single action, and the combined gains far outweigh the single cost of that one action, the next move is obvious. When it comes to the freshwater crisis, a single solution does exist – simply, reducing farming intensity: less cows.

Reducing the number of cows will reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve water quality, and preserve freshwater habitats. It also looks to be profitable for farmers, because they don't have to waste money on fertiliser to support overstocking. So why don't we do it? Because the entire agricultural industry is invested in either high volume, or in quick-fix solutions for specific problems which become unnecessary if we remove the root cause. But ultimately, its the best way to get our environment back.

NZDF is hiding evidence

When the government announced a public inquiry into "Operation Burnham", its SAS revenge raid which resulted in the deaths of six civilians, NZDF said it would cooperate fully. They lied:

The Defence Force has given up just 324 documents out of more than 17,400 relating to 2010 Afghan SAS raids, it has emerged.


Deborah Manning, a lawyer for villagers allegedly caught up in SAS raids, said she learned overnight about the scale of documentation yet to be disclosed to the inquiry.

Of the 17,400 items deemed relevant, the Defence Force have catalogued and processed around nine per cent, or 1600. Only 324 have so far been provided to the inquiry.

Previous advice, received from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in July said there were more than 2000 items of classified information . "That is quite a difference in number," she said.

Whatever way you look at it, this seems like a long way from the full cooperation that was promised. It needs to be made clear to NZDF that they work for us, and that as an institution they must cooperate completely with the inquiry and provide everything it asks for - or those in charge will be prosecuted, fired and replaced with people who will cooperate.

Climate Change: What would real action look like?

In the wake of the IPCC report, it has become clear that we actually need to do something to prevent catastrophic climate change, or we all burn. Over on The Spinoff, Alex Braae asks "what would real climate action [in NZ] actually look like?" There's a couple of suggestions: putting solar panels on kiwibuild homes, banning the import of petrol and diesel cars, rethinking Auckland's waterfront stadium and other high-emissions projects. That's a start, but what would it really look like? To decide that, we need to look at our emissions, both source and size. Fortunately, the Ministry for the Environment has that covered:

The most obvious point to take away from this graph is that reducing agricultural emissions is the key to everything. And most of these emissions are due to exports. NZ exports 95% of its dairy production, and a similar percentage of its beef and lamb. In other words, we don't need these emissions to eat - they're just farmers getting rich by destroying the planet. Eliminating these unnecessary emissions would obviously be terrible for the economy - dairy and meat are our biggest export earners, and their spending supports rural economies - and our methods of production are efficient, carbon-wise, because we grow cows in fields, not barns. So there's an argument that we might want to keep a food export industry. But that would require its emissions to be offset with mass tree-planting (because there is no other magic way of removing carbon from the atmosphere), and as the source of pollution, farmers are going to have to pay for that. So, step one of any action plan is make farmers pay the true cost of their emissions, while regulating the number of farms sharply downwards.

The next biggest segment on the graph is transport. Alex Braae has already suggested the obvious solution: force the transition to electric vehicles with an import ban. I've talked about the specifics of that here, but its basicly a matter of setting two dates: a cutoff for imports, and a cutoff for (non-historical / narrow permitted uses) registrations. The policy needs to be backed up by tight vehicle fuel efficiency standards in the interim (because the vehicles we import today are going to still be on our roads in 20 years time), and by a massive investment in both urban public transport and long-distance rail (the current government is at least beginning to work on those bits). But we also need to think about the heavy vehicle fleet, which uses 21% of our fuel (for only ~3.7% of vehicles, so they're disproportionate polluters). Some of these emissions can be eliminated by forcing a modal shift to rail and coastal shipping for long-distance stuff, but to get rid of the rest we either need electric or non-fossil fuel trucks (coming, but not as fast as suburban cars), or to change logistics patterns away from one which sees the food I buy in a supermarket in Wellington trucked down every day from Palmerston North. A rising carbon price might help with this, but if it doesn't seem to be forcing change quickly enough, its worth remembering that we used to regulate trucking to distances of less than 48 and then 150 km. Applying that sort of restriction to fossil-fuel vehicles (so clean transport is exempt) would force the change we need. Alternatively, there's the option of biofuels (which are carbon-neutral) for heavy vehicles - and that looks necessary for aviation anyway and has significant benefits for other energy uses. NZ has significant potential to produce biofuel from trees, but getting there would require significant investment to build an industry. Which means the government would have to do it.

Electricity is a small sector, but if we're driving electric vehicles, we're going to need a lot more of it. Here at least the government has made a commitment for 100% renewables (in an average year) by 2035 (building on 90% by 2025), but its important that that be backed by actual policy. Which means using regulation to prohibit dirty generation and relegate any fossil fuels to dry-year backup. It also means a real push to ensure that all future generation we build is renewable: wind, geothermal, solar or hydro. The RMA is a key tool here, and Labour looks like its going to allow it to be used. There's also an obvious synergy between distributed generation - solar panels on rooftops - and electric vehicles (not to mention summer A/C load, which is only going to increase in a warmer world), so promoting that - and doing it directly using the state housing system - should be a no-brainer.

Industrial, manufacturing and construction are a bit diverse, and some of the solutions are things which come out of things already discussed - process heat needs similar solutions to electricity, and construction similar tools to transport. The rest of the solution is to kill their fuel sources at source: kill oil, and kill coal. They either go green, or go extinct - because that's the choice facing humanity.

That's the emissions reduction side, but we're also going to have to deal with the effects of the climate change we've already locked in (and which we're feeling now). The most obvious move there is to stop people building on the coast, as the first part of a managed retreat. This will be hugely unpopular - witness the repeated lawsuits by outraged coastal property owners whenever local authorities perform their statutory duty to inform future buyers of flood risks - but if the government doesn't do it, then the insurance industry will make it happen anyway. Because bluntly, they're not willing to carry the can for people's past stupid decisions. And they can act on this a lot quicker than government can. The danger is that central or local government will face pressure for a bailout of coastal property owners, or to waste money on seawalls to defend the undefendable, all to prop up the inflated wealth or property values of entitled coastal landowners.

One way or another, we are going to have to deal with climate change and adapt to the new world we are making. as Brae points out, we can either choose to manage that transition, or just let it happen to us as a succession of shocks and crises. I would prefer the former. The big concern is that by dragging its feet, our government is heading for the latter.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Support locked-out bus drivers

Bus drivers in Hamilton have been taking industrial action for the last six months in pursuit of a living wage. And now, after they announced a new plan not to collect fares, GoBus has locked them out. The reason? "Health and safety":

"Go Bus must protect its employees. Providing a safe workspace is paramount. The majority of drivers are non-union members, but the decision from FIRST Union members to not collect fares puts all other drivers at risk of verbal abuse and physical assault if passengers think they are going to get a free ride, and don't," Piper said.

Which is simply laughable. Instead its a naked attempt to bully the drivers into submission. But Go Bus doesn't even have the courage to say so openly.

If you'd like to donate to the union's strike fund, you can do so here.

Secret "evidence" isn't credible

NZDF's response to Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson's exposure of their war crimes in Afghanistan in Hit & Run has been to deny everything and smear the authors. Now, they're claiming they have secret "evidence" which supports their claim that they didn't kill any civilians:

New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) has almost eight hours of secret American drone footage it says shows there are more than 100 mistakes in a book about a controversial raid in Afghanistan.


NZDF said the drone footage was so compelling and contradicted the veracity of so many claims in the book, it asked the United States to release the footage publicly. But the Americans refused, saying the videos had not been declassified.

The problem, of course, is that because this "evidence" is conveniently secret, we can never know if it shows what NZDF says it does - or even if it exists at all. It should be treated as seriously as the SIS's secret "evidence" showing that Ahmed Zaoui was guilty. And the same goes for any other secret "evidence" NZDF claims to have or wants to rely on at the inquiry.

Monday, November 19, 2018

An unfair allocation

Radio New Zealand reports that business in Hawke's Bay are looking at rationing water or shutting down production due to the rivers running dry. Meanwhile, six dairy farmers get to take half the region's water:

Some businesses and farmers in Central Hawke's Bay may start rationing water as parts of the Waipawa and Tukituki rivers are already bone dry.

It comes as figures obtained by RNZ show the top six water consent holders in the district are using more than half of all allocated water from the Ruataniwha Aquifer and rivers.


He asked the council to look at who was using the water and when they crunched the figures for the first time it showed that the top six consent holders were all dairy farms and they were taking more than half of all the allocated water in Central Hawke's Bay.

The largest, Bel Group Dairy Farms, took two and a half times the amount used by the townships of Waipawa and Waipukurau put together.

Roughly six thousand people live in those towns. So that one farmer gets 15,000 times as much water as them. As the article points out, this raises some equity issues. It is simply not fair that a tiny rural elite gets to monopolise our water supplies to enrich themselves at the expense of everybody else. Its even more unfair if they keep getting supplied while others go thirsty. We desperately need to fix this situation, and restore a fair allocation of water. And we need to ensure that those who extract a profit from it, pay for it.

Climate Change: Committing to burn the world

The government likes to talk about New Zealand doing our "fair share" to reduce greenhouse gases. But are we? A paper in Nature and accompanying website looks at countries' commitments, assessing them on the fairly simple metric of "what if everyone else did this?" The result is (unsurprisingly) that major economies are on track to burn the world. And if you look at the graph, New Zealand is among the worst:

If everyone did as little as New Zealand has promise - a promise we are failing to keep, BTW - then the world would warm by 5.1 degrees by 2100. And that means melted ice-caps, uninhabitable tropics, a collapse of the global food supply, and all the war, famine and death that that involves. As for New Zealand, we just don't know, because NIWA's reference case just doesn't consider effects that high (oddly, they're not studying what we're actually doing). But 5m of sea-level rise will mean great chunks of our major urban areas under water, and the East Coast drought scenarios (already disastrous at 2 degrees) will basicly mean the whole place dries up and blows away. Plus, we'll be flooded with Australians fleeing the baking, uninhabitable wasteland their country will become.

The Prime Minister has talked of climate change as "my generation's nuclear free moment". If that is to be anything more than hot air, we need to dramaticly scale up our ambition and actually do something. The current policy of mouthing platitudes while refusing to do anything which might cost polluters any money or require anyone to change anything they do is not enough. This is about literally saving the world, and the government needs to start acting like it.

The government's secret OIA plans

Back in September, when the government announced plans to increase proactive release of official information, we learned by accident that they were also considering another review of the OIA, and "intend[ed] to carry out targeted engagement to inform a decision on whether to progress a formal review". As someone interested in OIA reform, I was naturally curious about this, so I sent an OIA off to Justice Minister Andrew Little seeking information about the proposal. I finally got the response back on Friday, after a month-long extension for "consultation". Unfortunately, its not very informative.

You can read the released documents here. As is obvious, all interesting information about the proposal has been redacted. All their specific proposals for reform are secret, as is practically everyone they plan to consult in their "targeted engagement". People with specific expertise in the law? Secret. Bloggers and commentators? Also secret. They do list some media organisations, and the members of the OGP Expert Advisory Group, but everyone else is secret. Which is outrageous when you think about it. The OIA is quasi-constitutional legislation, something that belongs to (and affects) all of us. But rather than a full public consultation, they plan to privilege some voices over others, presenting their select secret proposals to a select secret group, then presenting the stovepiped results to us as a fait accompli. And they kept this entire process secret as well: they decided it all back in May, but never announced anything. The only reason we know about it at all is because of a passing reference in another document. Whether these are the actions of a government committed to transparency, accountability, and participation is left as an exercise for the reader.

As for the quality of their proposals, well, they're secret, so we can't tell. But what they do reveal isn't encouraging. For example, the Ministry of Justice's brief advice on whether the OIA should be extended to Parliament cherry-picks its examples to include only those that support the status quo, while ignoring the obvious counterexample: the UK Parliament is fully subject to its Freedom of Information Act, and this has brought about a huge improvement in accountability. Which doesn't provide much reason for confidence in the quality of their advice. And while they don't seem very keen on extending s48 of the OIA to cover proactive release, repeatedly highlighting the Law Commission's recommendation against extension, all their actual advice is secret, so we can't tell whether its robust or flawed. Which given the huge potential for abuse in the proposal - it would basicly give Paula Bennett total impunity to dox people at will with their benefit, medical, police and tax records - is something we need to know.

We deserve better than this. Its not just politicians, journalists and trouble-making bloggers who use the OIA, but all of us. Steven Price's 2005 study of the OIA contained an extensive list of examples of how ordinary citizens use the Act, and summed it up as "the stuff of democracy". According to the Ombudsman's 2017-18 annual report, individuals made three times as many OIA complaints as journalists, and its 5.5 times as many when you look at the LGOIMA. In short, it's our Act, not theirs. And any non-trivial changes to it require publicly consulting all of us, not just a select group of chosen insiders.

Friday, November 16, 2018

"A serious threat to public health"

That's how UK doctors have described that country's benefit system:

Universal credit has become a serious threat to public health, doctors have said, after a study revealed that the stress of coping with the new benefits system had so profoundly affected claimants’ mental health that some considered suicide.

Public health researchers found overwhelmingly negative experiences among vulnerable claimants, including high levels of anxiety and depression, as well as physical problems and social isolation exacerbated by hunger and destitution.

“Universal credit is not only failing to achieve its stated aim of moving people into employment, it is punishing people to such an extent that the mental health and wellbeing of claimants, their families and of [support] staff is being undermined,” the report states.

It concludes that universal credit is actively creating poverty and destitution, and says it is not fit for purpose for many people with disabilities, mental illness or chronic health conditions. It calls for a radical overhaul of the system before the next phase of its rollout next year.

This system is profoundly evil. And its entirely intentional. Tories have never supported effective welfare systems. Instead, they want them to be cruel and punitive, pour encourager les autres. Every "suicide" due to universal credit is in fact a murder - a murder committed by a cruel and vicious government wanting to eliminate the poor.

meanwhile it'd be interesting to see similar information on the New Zealand welfare system. But I suspect WINZ refuses to collect any useful information, because it could only make them look bad.

New Fisk

On Armistice Day, we had the luxury of remembering the Great War – while Palestinians are still living its consequences

Time for the government to pay up

Primary teachers are on strike this week, secondary teachers are planning the same, and next year there's the prospect of a joint teachers' strike meaning schools everywhere will shut. Meanwhile, other strike action is shutting down the courts, forcing trials to be delayed and clogging an already overstretched justice system. The underlying cause of this? Nine years of National penny-pinching and trying to "do more with less" has left public servants overworked and underpaid, and now they're sick of it enough to actually do something about it.

The government's response has been to claim there is no more money. Bullshit. Whether there's money for public servants or planes is simply a matter of priorities. And this government's priorities are to spend $2.3 billion on war-toys for America rather than making sure basic government services like schools and the courts function. More generally, they get to decide their financial parameters, such as how fast they pay down National's debt, or even whether to raise taxes to gain additional revenue to boost public services. The fact that they're not considering any of this tells us that providing basic services is simply not their priority. What is their priority? Fuck knows - but its looking like as little as possible while collecting their fat salaries. Just like National, really.

But the New Zealand public does care about those services. We care about whether kids can go to school, and we care about whether the courts function. So unless the government wants us to start caring about them, at the ballot box, it needs to change its priorities and pay up.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

More dirty dairying

Councils and the courts finally seem to be getting serious about dirty dairying, with another conviction in the Waikato resulting in a near-record fine:

A Waikato dairy farming company has been fined almost $60,000 for discharging effluent into a waterway.

H & S Chisholm Farms Limited has been convicted and fined $57,375 for two discharges of dairy effluent from its South Waikato farm in mid-2017.


Judge Harland noted that the company's response to the incidents was "exemplary", with significant investment in effluent infrastructure on the farm following the pollution events.

However, she also noted that "dairy farmers in the Waikato region have had ample time to understand what is required to lawfully manage dairy effluent and to become educated about best practice, both in terms of the design, operation and management of effluent systems".

The fine is among the highest for effluent offences in recent years, with two other fines of more than $50,000 and a further six of more than $35,000 in 2017/18. However, the 21 convictions in the past two years involve a tiny fraction of the country's 8000 farm owners and 4000 sharemilkers

Which tells us the scale of the problem: a huge number of dairy farms fail to comply with their resource consents (almost a third in some regions), yet only a tiny number are ever prosecuted for it. Which means that most of these environmental criminals get away with it. if we're to solve this problem and clean up our waterways, that needs to change. The law needs much greater enforcement, so that dirty farmers will credibly fear prosecution and change their behaviour. Fortunately, the government looks like it is planning to do just that, by allowing the EPA to prosecute where councils won't.

The Fijian election

Fijians went to the polls yesterday in the second elections since the 2006 coup. While bad weather forced polling to be suspended in some areas, and the final count is not yet in, the provisional results show coup-leader Voreqe Bainimarama's FijiFirst party has retained its majority. The iTaukei SODELPA party, led by another former coup-leader Sitiveni Rabuka looks likely to be the main opposition, with about 38% of the vote, the Ind-Fijian National Federation Party coming third on 7.5%. There's 30% of the vote left to be counted, and things would have to shift significantly for FijiFirst to be forced into coalition.

FijiFirst threw everything it had at this election, unsuccessfully trying to convict the leader of the opposition over his asset declaration (which, if successful, would have disqualified him from the poll and made all votes for him invalid, costing SODELPA around half its total vote), and prosecuting another high-profile SODELPA candidate for sedition (again, unsuccessfully), and disqualifying former Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry from competing. Fiji's election system is built entirely on candidate recognition, with most votes going to party leaders - for example, ~over 70% of FijiFirst's votes were cast for Bainimarama - so eliminating high-profile candidates can have hugely disproportionate effects. And with their dirty tactics, they've managed to just retain power. Which suggests that in a fair election, they might not be so lucky. While none of Fiji's political parties is especially appealing, in order for the coup legacy to end, its architects need to be de-elected. The sooner that happens, the better.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Keeping a promise

After the Pike River disaster, then-Prime Minister John Key gave the victims' families an "absolute reassurance" that their loved ones bodies would be recovered. He lied, and left them to rot. Now, Labour is keeping his promise:

The Minister responsible for Pike River re-entry has this morning announced that a plan to re-enter the mine drift to retrieve the bodies of the 29 men who died there in 2010 will proceed.

Andrew Little made the announcement at Parliament, in front of a number of the families of the Pike 29.

"Re-entry of the Pike River Mine will proceed. To the Pike River families, to New Zealand, we are returning."

He said he decided the Te Kāhui Whakamana Rua Tekau Mā Iwa - Pike River Recovery Agency, recommended course of action to enter the drift, using the existing access tunnel, was by far the safest option.

Good. Because this isn't just a sentimental matter of recovering remains. Pike River is also a crime scene, and re-entry may help the police gather the evidence required to hold those responsible to account. They've already bribed their way out of trouble once - actions later found by the Supreme Court to be "an unlawful agreement to stifle prosecution". Hopefully they won't be able to do that again.

Pure cronyism

So, the rumours were true: the government has appointed former Labour deputy Annette King as High Commissioner to Australia. So much for Winston Peters' supposed opposition to such appointments - it turns out that he's really only opposed when they're from the wrong party. But the normal arguments against cronyism are even stronger in the case of this job. Australia is our nearest neighbour and one of our most important diplomatic relationships. It deserves better than to be used as a retirement home for washed-up, has-been former MPs.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Another reason to use a false name for OIA requests

Because if you request information about a company, they may turn around and request information about you:

In a case of the hunter becoming the hunted, people making Official Information Act requests cannot bank on remaining anonymous.

Over the past two years the Commerce Commission has received 10 requests from companies wanting to know the identity of those seeking official information about them.

Three requesters - all of them companies - were identified with their consent, five had their identity withheld under the privacy protection clause in the Act, and a further two cases were undecided.

While agencies should consult requesters about release, they're not bound to withhold if you object, and s48 of the OIA gives officials absolute protection from liability if they release your information in good faith. I've started putting a "fuck off" notice on the bottom of my requests, making it clear that I do not consent to any release of my personal information to any third party, but ultimately the only way to protect your personal information is not to give it away in the first place. If you care about your privacy, or think anyone else might care about the requests you are making, you should use a false name. Its not illegal, its not immoral - its just basic privacy protection. And fortunately, we have an online platform which makes it very easy...

Monday, November 12, 2018


That's the Chief Ombudsman's formal opinion of Horowhenua District Council's practice of redirecting, blocking and editing emails from people on a secret shitlist. While the Ombudsman recognises that sometimes members of the public might send emails that require management to prevent harassment, the way Horowhenua Council was doing this - in secret, without any formally recorded justification, and blocking innocuous and ordinary business content as well as abusive emails - was simply wrong. They highlight the way the blocks prevented communication with elected representatives and encouraged one councillor to route official emails through a private account to ensure they were received - effectively undermining good record-keeping practice and the LGOIMA. Apparently the policy has already been ended, which saves the Ombudsman from having to recommend that, but they have recommended an apology. Given Horowhenua's toxic environment, it'll be interesting to see whether the Council even tries to fake sincerity on that.

This is what happens when agencies investigate themselves

The State Services Commission's inquiry into its appointment of Deputy Police Commissioner Wally Haumaha has reported back - and unsurprisingly, cleared the SSC of any wrongdoing. The full report is here, but the short version is that the appointment panel didn't know of Haumaha's support for convicted rapists Brad Shipton and Bob Schollum, because Police Commissioner Mike Bush thought it had all been resolved and didn't think it was "relevant", even when explicitly asked by the Minister. Which seems to be extremely poor judgement on his part. But they go further, and claim that it wouldn't have mattered anyway if the panel had known, because they would have agreed with the Police Commissioner and ignored it.

Which is the exactly the sort of result you get when organisations investigate themselves, and simply shows the extent to which the police and SSC still don't get it. Their past behaviour of raping women and covering up for it has left the police with a lingering taint and caused many people to lose confidence in them. If they want to be rid of that taint and regain the public's trust, they need to change, and be seen to change. The fact that the Commissioner considers concerns about it to no longer be relevant, and sees no political risk in appointing someone perceived as condoning that past behaviour to a senior position sends a clear message that the police haven't changed, and that they are utterly blind to public concerns about their integrity. And that in itself seems to be a reason to sack him as well as Haumaha.

We don't need more terror laws

Back in 2007, the New Zealand Police invaded Ruatoki, terrorised the town, and held children at gunpoint as part of a series of raids against "terrorists". But when it came time to prosecute the seventeen people they'd arrested, the whole case fell apart because the police's behaviour had been "unlawful, unjustified, and unreasonable". No-one faced terrorism charges because, fundamentally, none of those targeted had broken that law: no-one had committed or planned a "terrorist act" (and no, talking shit about firing the Prime Minister out of a trebuchet doesn't count). In the end, despite four Arms Act convictions, it was a humiliating fiasco for the police, requiring a public apology to the people whose town they had invaded.

So now the police want more anti-terror powers, so they can do all that again and get away with it this time:

The Government is reviewing the anti-terror laws because of the carnage of the poorly enacted Urewera raids meaning authorities don't want to use them.

Minister responsible for GCSB and SIS Andrew Little, has ordered officials to fully scrutinise the Terrorism Suppression Act and the Counter Terrorism Act, both passed in the aftermath of the 9/11 and Bali bombings.

They were judged "unworkable" after the botched Urewera raids in 2007, and Little says authorities are now "reluctant" to use them.

While Little wants to remain open to what will happen, police are pushing for greater powers to intervene earlier when they detect suspicious behaviour.

Unlike the Minister, I don't regard reluctance to use anti-terror laws as a problem. Instead, they're something police should be reluctant to use. The fact that they want to use them (and in the complete absence of anything remotely approaching a terrorist threat, or which can't be dealt with under existing laws criminalising assault, murder and arson) says rather more about their desire to crush political dissent than any real need. And in this context, the reference to UK-style laws criminalising people for what they read on the internet - which are primarily used to persecute academics - is chilling. Faced with a lack of real terrorism to justify their inflated budget, the police want to introduce ThoughtCrime. And that's something any democraticly-minded kiwi should oppose.

But we know how this will go: they'll have a secret, closed-shop review, agree to limit our human rights for their convenience, and the law will be rammed through under urgency, backed by a National-Labour duopoly. Democracy? Not where "terrorism" is concerned, apparently.

"Not a priority"

On Friday, the Supreme Court upheld the right of the courts to formally declare laws to be inconsistent with the Bill of Rights Act. This does not overturn or invalidate them, but it sends a clear message to Parliament that it needs to fix the situation. But the government's response to this situation is that it is "not a priority":

Prisoners look unlikely to get the vote any time soon even after a Supreme Court ruling in their favour.


Justice Minister Andrew Little told reporters he personally disagreed with the ban, but the government as a whole had yet to take a position.

"It's not that much of a priority," he said.

"We haven't even had a discussion about that and it would be wrong for me to express any view on behalf of the government about it."

Ministers were unlikely to consider the issue for at least a year, he said.

This is simply not acceptable. When the Supreme Court makes a ruling like this, it should automatically become a priority for Parliament, and should be formally drawn to its attention for a response. The government has already signalled that that is what it wants to do in future, so why won't it do it in this case? And there's a pressing need: we're having an election in 2020, and it would simply be unacceptable given the ruling for prisoners to be unable to vote in it.

The government needs to make this a priority. And the longer it refuses to do so, the stronger the argument is for simply taking it out of their hands. If politicians will not protect our human rights, lets remove them from the equation: repeal s4 of the Bill of Rights, and the courts fix the law directly when the politicians abuse it.