Wednesday, October 17, 2018



Will Labour vote to weaken workers' rights?

Labour's Film Industry Working Group has reported back on National's "Hobbit law", which arbitrarily excluded film industry workers from basic employment protections. But rather than recommending that it be repealed, they have recommended massively expanding it to cover all "screen production work", including local TV and internet video and computer games. And while they have recommended repealing the ban on contract workers in those industries collectively organising, and allowing the negotiation of collective agreements with minimum standards, they propose an explicit ban on any form of industrial action - meaning such "negotiation" will be one-sided, favouring bosses, with workers limited to basicly asking nicely. Which is basicly the situation we had in the C19th, before the union movement.

The "justification" for this is that the foreign film industry is "unique" and "internationally mobile". But as we've seen with climate change, every industry makes these sorts of self-serving claims in an effort to gain regulatory subsidies. The foreign film industry also "needs certainty", but they can have that whenever they want it by employing their workers as employees rather than trying to treat them as disposable serfs.

These are not recommendations the government should accept. Weakening workers' rights in one industry undermines them for everyone (as we're seeing with the attempt to expand the law: local TV producers have looked at the foreign film exemption and decided they'd like to be able to legally treat their workers like serfs too please). Rather than enacting these recommendations, the government should repeal the Hobbit law, and then restore the right to strike to contractors. And if the foreign film industry doesn't like the prospect of having to treat their workers with basic dignity, then can fuck right off.

Time to fix electoral donations

Jami-Lee Ross' explosive allegations that National Party leader Simon Bridges criminally laundered donations to hide their origin has put the issue of electoral donations and transparency back int he spotlight again. In a background piece, Stuff highlights the horrific fact that the 'least corrupt country in the world" has virtually no transparency at all in this area, with 80% of donations to parties happening in total secrecy:

In 2017, it was reported at least four out of every $5 donated to the two big parties is given secretly.

More than $31 million has been donated to registered political parties in the past six years, most of that to National.

Smaller parties like the Greens publicly disclose who provided most of their funding, but the big parties are secretive. 83 per cent ($8.7m over six years) of the money donated to National is from anonymous donors, and 80 per cent ($2.8m) of that donated to Labour.

[...]

The worst offender is NZ First: Most years, it allows every single one of its donors to remain secret.


The reason? Because self-serving politicians set the disclosure threshold at a level where they would hardly have to declare anything, and then launder donations to flal under it to boot.

As for how to fix it, the answer is simple: align both the party and candidate disclosure thresholds (to prevent Bridges' trick of laundering candidate donations through his party), and significantly lower them to a level where we actually get transparency. $500 seems about right - more than any normal person would give a party, but small enough that splitting becomes too much damn work. Plus of course we need to actually enforce the law, and prosecute any party or politician who attempts to evade disclosure.

But of course, we have the fundamental problem: why would those corrupt, self-serving hypocrites in Wellington ever vote for any curb on their own behaviour?

Member's Day

Today is a Member's Day, and the long slog through later stages of bills continues. First up is the committee stage of Jan Tinetti's Education (National Education and Learning Priorities) Amendment Bill. Following that, there's the second readings of Gareth Hughes' Consumers’ Right to Know (Country of Origin of Food) Bill and Simeon Brown's Psychoactive Substances (Increasing Penalty for Supply and Distribution) Amendment Bill. If they finish that, then its more law and order bullshit with Alastair Scott's Land Transport (Random Oral Fluid Testing) Amendment Bill. As the House is unlikely to get any further, there probably won't be a ballot tomorrow.

Climate Change: More bad faith from Labour

Remember when Jacinda Ardern called climate change "my generation's nuclear-free moment"? It turns out that she didn't really mean it. At least, that's the impression you'd get from the government's actions in granting foreign oil giant OMV a two year extension on its exploration permit for the Great Southern basin:

The Government has just granted oil giant OMV a two-year extension to drill in the Great South Basin, despite issuing a ban on new oil and gas exploration permits in April.

Greenpeace climate campaigner, Kate Simcock, says the decision by the Ministry for Business, Employment and Innovation (MBIE) to grant the extension is essentially a way to give the oil company a new permit.

“The Government is breathing new life into this permit, and the extra two years could be the difference between finding and drilling for new oil and gas reserves, or not,” she says.


And drilling for that oil means more emissions at a time when the IPCC is ringing the final warning bell.

If we are to avoid catastrophic climate change and the famine, war and death it entails, we need to end the oil industry - not in twenty of fifty year's time, but now. If the government had refused this extension, that is exactly what would have happened: the permit would have expired in a few months, and (if you take OMV's rhetoric seriously), they would have left the country in a huff, dropping a bunch of other permits in the process. That is exactly what needed to happen. Instead, the government has given them time to organise a drilling campaign, and increased the chance of them finding, exploiting, and most importantly, burning oil and gas - and burning the planet at the same time.

As for what to do about it, MBIE's decision seems prima facie unreasonable given the climate change context, and could potentially be judicially reviewed as such. And if it is upheld, I suspect there will be protests on the water if there is any effort to drill. Because unlike the government, the environmental movement is taking this problem seriously, and will do what they can to stop it.

What a coincidence!

Yesterday, ex-National MP Jami-Lee Ross made a series of explosive allegations against National Party leader Simon Bridges, alleging that he had asked him to hide a $100,000 donation from a Chinese businessman in violation of the Electoral Act. But it gets worse - because this businessman was awarded a major honour by National on their way out of office:

Chinese multi-millionaire Yikun Zhang was put forward for a Queen's Birthday honour by the National Party.

[...]

The Herald has learned Yikun Zhang of Remuera - who Ross said had done nothing wrong - was among those put forward by the National Party on its way out of office.

Inquiries have revealed the nomination carried the names of current National MP Jian Yang, former National MP Eric Roy and Auckland mayor Phil Goff.

Zhang, who owns $40 million in Auckland property, was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the Queen's Birthday Honours list.

[...]

Normal practice general sees the incoming administration sign off those nominated by the previous government. It is understood most of those under National went through in the New Year's Honours but a number - including the nomination for Zhang - didn't go through until the Queen's Birthday Honours.


This looks ugly, because there are a number of other such astounding coincidences, where people who made significant donations to the National Party are awarded honours. If we didn't know that MPs were all by definition "honourable", you might be left with the impression that they were selling the things to line the party's pockets, and wanted to avoid the obvious link a major donation would cause.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018



British police spied on democracy

The Guardian last night had a horrifying piece on the extent of the British police's anti-democratic spying, showing they had infiltrated at least 124 green, anti-racist, and leftwing groups over four decades:

Police deployed 24 undercover officers to infiltrate a small leftwing political party over a 37-year period, the Guardian can reveal.

The police spies infiltrated the Socialist Workers party (SWP) almost continuously between 1970 and 2007, often with more than one undercover officer embedded within the party.

[...]

Undercover officers spied on 22 leftwing groups, 10 environmental groups, nine anti-racist campaigns and nine anarchist groups, according to the database.

They also spied on campaigns against apartheid, the arms trade, nuclear weapons and the monarchy, as well as trade unions. Among those spied on were 16 campaigns run by families or their supporters seeking justice over alleged police misconduct.

According to the database, police spied on 12 animal rights groups and eight organisations related to the Irish conflict.


And of course, they deceived women into sexual relationships and fathered children during this campaign of infiltration.

The police supposedly exist to fight crime. The conclusion to draw from this is that they think that leftwing, environmental, pacifist, anti-racist, republican and trade union political activity is inherently criminal, as is campaigning for justice from police. Alternatively, they're not really about fighting crime at all, but keeping a corrupt political system in power. And if its the latter, then the entire institution needs to be torn down.

This will get people to care about climate change

Danyl Mclauchlan thinks that people will never care about climate change, because its all so abstract. Here's something that will make them care: its goign to fuck up the global beer supply:

Trouble is brewing for the world’s beer drinkers, with climate change set to cause “dramatic” price spikes and supply shortages, according to new research.

Extreme heatwaves and droughts will increasingly damage the global barley crop, meaning a common ingredient of the world’s favourite alcoholic beverage will become scarcer. Key brewing nations are forecast to be among the worst hit, including Belgium, the Czech Republic and Ireland.

The researchers said that compared with life-threatening impacts of global warming such as the floods and storms faced by millions, a beer shortage may seem relatively unimportant. But they said it would affect the quality of life of many people.


And if you're not a beer fan, it will also do the same to coffee. And probably other types of food as well. Which is the real threat here: famine, and the consequent mass-migration and war it causes. And all because arseholes in America want to keep profiting by burning coal.

National's corrupt electoral practices

The National Party mess has just gone thermonuclear, with Jami-Lee Ross making public allegations that party leader simon Bridges repeatedly engaged in corrupt electoral practices. In his unscheduled press standup, he specifically accused Bridges of knowingly falsifying the identity of the "Cathedral Club" donor on his electorate donation return, in violation of s207G of the Electoral Act, and of instructing him to split a $100,000 donation from a "Chinese businessman" in order to avoid disclosure, in violation of s207LA. He says he has recordings and photographs, and will be going to the police tomorrow to make a statement.

(He also says he's been accused of multiple cases of sexual harassment by National Party staffers, which he portrays as a political stitch-up. We can treat that denial with the contempt it deserves)

This is an allegation of serious criminal behaviour. Both of these are corrupt electoral practices, and if convicted, both Bridges and Ross (because he's a self-admitted party to at least one of the offences) would be automatically removed from Parliament. Of course, that assumes the police will bother to investigate. And as we've seen, they are only interested in prosecuting electoral offences by small parties outside Parliament, not by those who might one day set their budget. So, I fully expect that nothing will legally come of this, no matter how compelling Ross' evidence. But if what Ross says is true, it should taint Bridges permanently, and renders him utterly unfit to be in Parliament, let alone a party leader.

Monday, October 15, 2018



Leaks, dirt, and ethics

So, National leader Simon Bridges thinks he has found his leaker: the same MP he granted leave to a few weeks ago for "embarassing" personal health reasons. Given that the leaker supposedly sent text messages to Bridges and the Speaker claiming to be mentally fragile, I'm not sure how much I really want to go near this. But earlier today Jami-Lee Ross tried to pre-empt things with a series of tweets claiming he was being stitched up, including this one:



Which is presumably related to this morning's revelations about a "clerical error" around donations. But if its more than that, and Ross does in fact have such recordings, he should release them. Because sitting on solid evidence of unlawful activities and corrupt electoral practices by a politician, presumably as "insurance" or "leverage", is not just unethical, but also being an accessory after the fact.

Our racist health system

When Don Brash and his ilk talk about "Māori advantage", they're ignoring a hell of a lot of empirical data showing that Māori are in fact disadvantaged. And now there's another data point for the pile: our health system is less likely to try and save the lives of non-white babies, and this is being explicitly blamed on racism:

Babies close to death are less likely to get life saving treatment if they're Māori, Pacific or Indian - and experts partly blame racial bias.

A Weekend Herald investigation can reveal the ethnic divide in resuscitation attempts on very premature infants.

[...]

Resuscitation was tried on 92 per cent of Māori babies, 89 per cent of Pacific and 86 per cent of Indian.

That compared to 95 per cent for "other" - mostly Pākehā and non-Indian Asians - which medical experts say is a statistically significant difference.

"Institutional bias or implicit biases are likely to play at least some part," concluded the Perinatal and Maternal Mortality Review Committee, a taxpayer-funded panel tasked with reviewing deaths of babies and mothers.


The Mortality Review Committee is now calling for training to minimise the impact of that bias, and that seems like a good idea. Because this should not be happening. The quality of health care you receive should not depend on the colour of your skin.

The "solution" that wasn't

In 2013, National introduced its "solution" to housing unaffordability. Its "Special Housing Areas" were basicly a developer's charter, with fast-tracked resource consents and lax oversight. The aim, as stated in the bill's purpose clause, was to "enhance housing affordability by facilitating an increase in land and housing supply in certain regions or districts". Higher supply (via lower standards) was supposed to lead to lower prices. Instead, it raised them:

The previous government's solution to the housing crisis in Auckland actually made homes less affordable, research has found.

Special Housing Areas (SHAs) were created in 2013 and touted as "crucial" in "enabling young Kiwi families to get into their own home".

Developers were offered fast-tracked consents on the proviso a portion of the development would be "affordable".

But the creation of Auckland's SHAs have now been found to have pushed up prices by 5 per cent within the area.

[...]

"The SHA programme simply allowed developers to offer new homes with an additional attribute (a shorter delivery time), which allowed developers to set higher prices," the researchers said.


So, National lowered consent standards, and their greedy developer mates made out like bandits. Why am I not surprised?

The market is not going to provide affordable housing, because there's just no profit in it for them (or rather, less profit than building palazzos for foreign immigrants). The only way it is going to happen is if the government builds those houses for us (and enough of them to crash the market). The current government, at least, is taking the first few timid steps towards this.

NZDF decorated a war criminal

Nicky Hager has a new piece in North & South today, with new dirt on the defence force, including drunkenness in the field in Afghanistan, and a systematic failure to investigate a sexual assault. But the worst of it is that they decorated a war criminal:

Investigative writer Nicky Hager says sources from the Defence Force have exposed a culture of bullying, sexual violence, drinking and cover-ups in the military.

In Mr Hager's 12-page investigation, published in the North & South magazine today, he details how a source revealed that an SAS soldier - known as Corporal B for privacy reasons - was awarded the second-highest military honour despite previously being considered for court-martial action for killing two children in Afghanistan.

"The Americans asked the SAS commander if they could take one of the New Zealand medical staff, a medic, on a raid they were doing on a Afghanistan compound," said Mr Hager.

[...]

Mr Hager said the soldier got involved in a firefight and later found he had shot two young boys, who joined the adults in defending the compound.

"And then when he got back to base he became a very unhappy and confused person, because the SAS commander was saying 'well hang on a moment, you've broken all the rules here, we're gonna court-martial you'.


But instead, for PR purposes, they gave him a medal, relying on secrecy to cover up the circumstances (its mentioned as a footnote in Willie Apiata's press release). In this, they're behaving exactly like the NZ Police: rewarding staff who have behaved criminally rather than punishing them. And in both institutions the cause is the same: a secretive institution which believes itself to be above the law.

NZDF and its soldiers need to be held accountable for their actions in Afghanistan. The first part of that is cleaning out the command staff who ran that war and who believe themselves to be unaccountable to the New Zealand public. But there also needs to be a full investigation, followed where necessary by prosecutions. And needless to say, the latter can not and should not be run by NZDF, and probably can't even be run by the police (because their natural instinct is to grovel to power and not rock the boat). Instead, we will probably need a special purpose authority to handle it, independent of NZDF, the police, and the national security state. Its the only way we will be able to get any form of justice.

Friday, October 12, 2018



Cuts kill

Another example of how austerity kills. A couple of years ago, when National was looking for things to penny-pinch on so it could pay for its tax cuts for the rich, NZTA cut the number of checks it made on heavy vehicle certifiers. And suddenly, there was a spate of crashes involving heavy vehicles:

Newly-released information shows checks on engineers who inspect big trucks plunged at the same time as the number of large rigs on the road jumped.

[...]

The agency cut its heavy vehicle compliance staff numbers in half in 2014. Figures released under the Official Information Act show that led to the number of audits it was doing on truck-certifying engineers - who both check and design things such as towing connections and brakes - plunging from 70 a year before 2014, to just 30 a year since then.

The discovery of a mass of poor certifications, and a spate of cracked or weak towing connections, has massively disrupted the industry this year.


NZTA denies any link between its cuts and higher crash rates, but they would, wouldn't they? Meanwhile, it seems pretty intuitive that failing to check the work of the people checking safety allows them to do a sloppier job, and that these may in turn have contributed to crashes. Unfortunately - and conveniently - police record-keeping is inadequate to show any link. But there's a reasonable case here that National's penny-pinching led to unsafe vehicles - and killed people on the roads.

New Fisk

A hundred years ago a ship sunk in the Irish Sea, causing more than 500 deaths – here's what its legacy can teach us about Brexit

One state at a time

While America is looking like a pretty horrible place at the moment, there's some progess: the Washington state supreme court just abolished the state's death penalty:

The Washington state Supreme Court on Thursday unanimously struck down the death penalty there as unconstitutional and “racially biased,” a ruling that makes it the latest in a string of states to abandon capital punishment in recent years.

The order will not stop any scheduled executions because Washington state has already frozen its death penalty under a moratorium by Gov. Jay Inslee (D) in 2014. But the court’s order, which declares that death sentences in the state should be converted to life in prison, is a sweeping rejection of capital punishment at a time when it is being used less nationwide and as states are struggling to obtain the drugs needed for lethal injections.

In their opinion, the justices focused on what they said was the unequal use of the death penalty, describing it as a punishment meted out haphazardly depending on little more than geography or timing.

“The death penalty is invalid because it is imposed in an arbitrary and racially biased manner,” the justices wrote. “While this particular case provides an opportunity to specifically address racial disproportionality, the underlying issues that underpin our holding are rooted in the arbitrary manner in which the death penalty is generally administered.”


This is a state decision rooted in state law, so Republicans can't overturn it with their stacked federal supreme court. And while its not the rejection on principle any decent court would have made - the death penalty is cruel, unusual, inhumane, and contrary to international human rights norms - anything which stops the killing is good.

Thursday, October 11, 2018



Submission on the Crown Minerals (Petroleum) Amendment Bill

  1. I support the Crown Minerals (Petroleum) Amendment Bill and ask that it be passed with the amendments suggested below.

  2. As this week's IPCC report shows, humanity needs to move rapidly away from fossil fuels if we are to have any hope of avoiding catastrophic climate change. Our global carbon budget does not allow humanity to burn the fossil fuels we have already discovered. Therefore, looking for more is both pointless, and insofar as it encourages the burning of fossil carbon and the pollution of the atmosphere with greenhouse gases, actively dangerous.

  3. Banning offshore oil exploration is a small step towards making that necessary shift, but it is a step in the right direction, and I support it. Banning exploration will gradually strangle the oil industry in New Zealand, and so reduce our contribution to global climate change. Obviously it needs to be followed up with further action: banning onshore exploration, banning fossil fuel extraction, banning fossil fuel vehicles, and ultimately banning fossil fuel use entirely. But those (and measures combating other greenhouse gases) are topics for other legislation.

  4. The bill however does not go far enough. There are two obvious flaws which limit its effectiveness:

  5. Holders of exploration permits have a statutory right to convert their permit to a mining permit if they make a discovery. If the government is serious about calling time on offshore oil, then it needs to remove that right, or put a sunset clause on it. Given the urgency of the global situation, I recommend eliminating it entirely for any petroleum permit outside of onshore Taranaki. Alternatively, a five year sunset clause seems more than generous, keeping in mind that any mining permit means another twenty years of dangerous emissions.

  6. Holders of exploration permits can also have them changed to change the area covered, the minerals to which they relate, extend their duration or change their conditions. Section 7 of the bill partially addresses this by forbidding petroleum permits from being extended to areas outside the onshore Taranaki region. However, this would still allow a holder of an existing permit to have it extended or have its conditions modified to remove "drill or drop" or surrender conditions, which is contrary to the intent of this bill. It also allows the holders of permits for other minerals - for example, ironsands - to have their permits changed to allow them to explore for or mine petroleum. The bill needs to be amended to ensure that no existing offshore petroleum permit can have any change to its conditions, and that no permit of any form can be changed in any way so as to allow the prospecting or exploration for or mining of petroleum outside the onshore Taranaki region. Failing to do this will invite game-playing by the fossil fuel industry, and will directly undermine the purposes of the bill.

  7. I do not wish to appear in person before the committee.

Benefit sanctions don't work

The Greens are currently campaigning to end benefit sanctions, under which people have their benefits cut and are left to starve if they refuse an arbitrary and demeaning drug test, or fail to take the first shit job they are offered. its a sensible policy, because the evidence shows tha tthese sanctions just don't work. Locally, MSD has concluded that the sanctions regime does not help people find secure and meaningful employment: those forced into shit jobs or into low-level training through the sanctions regime simply end up back on benefits again, with no increase in their financial security. And its the same story in the UK:

There is “no evidence” that benefit sanctions encourage claimants to get into work or increase their earnings, according to a government report published last month.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has been accused of “sneaking out” the findings, which cast doubt on the effectiveness of a key element of its flagship universal credit system.

The report, published with no ministerial announcement on 12 September, shows docking benefits as a punishment for alleged failures to comply with Jobcentre Plus rules does not encourage claimants to apply for additional work, and in some cases “damages the relationship between the work coach and the claimant”.


But then, in both countries you get the feeling that sanctions regimes aren't actually about helping people. Instead, they're about punishing the poor for being poor, and finding some ways to chisel "savings" for the government (while ignoring long-term costs, of course). sanctions regimes are there to fulfil the vindictiveness of people like Paula Bennett and Judith Collins - not to actually do any good for beneficiaries, the government, or society.

They're cruel. They're ineffective. They're pointless. So why continue with it? Or are we really just into pointless sadism?

Wednesday, October 10, 2018



"Surplus"

So, the government thinks its in surplus, to the tune of $5.5 billion. Of course, its nothing of the sort. As I noted last time, when there are queues for basic healthcare, people without homes, underpaid public servants, and kids going to school hungry, the government having cash on hand isn't really a surplus, any more than I'm rich if I have $1000 in my wallet and a $10,000 overdraft. What we have is deep-rooted social and infrastructural debt caused by decades of austerity and NeoLiberalism - debt that isn't recorded anywhere on the government's books. But the fact that its not recorded doesn't mean it doesn't exist or doesn't cause problems - merely that its not properly managed. And the government needs to manage it, by paying off that debt and investing in hospitals, homes, and yes, teacher's salaries, before it makes any moves to gives it themselves as tax cuts.

Bigotry loses in Romania

Romanians went to the polls over the weekend to vote in a constitutional referendum to ban same-sex marriage. Or rather, they didn't - because the referendum failed due to miserably low turnout:

A referendum to establish a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage in Romania has failed - after only a fifth of voters bothered to turn out.

Romanians were being asked whether they wanted the constitution changed to specify that marriage can only be between a man and a woman.

But just 20.4% of eligible voters cast ballots - short of the 30% needed.


The referendum appears to have been a plot by the government to distract from ongoing corruption scandals by appealing to bigotry. Fortunately it didn't work. Those who opposed the change boycotted the poll, holding boycott parties instead. Unfortunately Romania still doesn't recognise equal marriage in law - but at least there's not a constitutional prohibition on it. Meaning that that failure to recognise can easily be overturned by the European Court on Human Rights when it catches up with the rest of society and recognises such legal bigotry as fundamentally incompatible with the ECHR's affirmations of equality and non-discrimination.

Tuesday, October 09, 2018



Australia wants to destroy the world

Australia's response to the IPCC's dire climate warning yesterday? Full denial:

The Australian government has rejected the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report’s call to phase out coal power by 2050, claiming renewable energy cannot replace baseload coal power.

The deputy prime minister, Michael McCormack, said Australia should “absolutely” continue to use and exploit its coal reserves, despite the IPCC’s dire warnings the world has just 12 years to avoid climate change catastrophe.

He said the government would not change policy “just because somebody might suggest that some sort of report is the way we need to follow and everything that we should do”.


In other words, they plan to destroy the world. They're as immoral as the oil companies. On the plus side, we'll all be able to say they deserve it when their continent dries up and blows away and they're left without drinking water - but by then it'll probably be too late for the rest of us as well.