Friday, August 29, 2014

Shouldn't this farmer be prosecuted for bribery?

The Waikato Regional Council, in reporting on the fine handed down to a polluting farmer, also has some disturbing news:

During the course of the Waikato Regional Council inspections that led to the prosecution, Bilkar Singh, a director of B & V Singh Limited, asked the inspecting officers not to report the matter to their supervisors and to take water samples in a manner that would not show any environmental effect.

Repeated comments such as “how much to make it go away” were made by Mr Singh to the two officers.

This appears to violate s105(2) of the Crimes Act:
Every one is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 7 years who corruptly gives or offers or agrees to give any bribe to any person with intent to influence any official in respect of any act or omission by him or her in his or her official capacity.

[Emphasis added]

This appears to be open and shut. He repeatedly offered a bribe in an attempt to influence officials. And he should be prosecuted and jailed for it. Eradicating corruption means not just making sure officials don't accept bribes, but also that corrupt people don't offer them.

Whatever happened to liberty?

Yesterday, the Independent Police Conduct Authority released a report finding that police routinely exceeded their powers in shutting down "out of control" parties, invading people's homes, assaulting people, using excessive force (in some cases causing significant injury), and shutting down parties and forcing people to disperse without any statutory basis. In other words, that they routinely commit trespass, aggravated burglary, and assault. To their credit, the police have accepted the recommendations, and are training their officers so they don't abuse their powers in the future (but naturally, there is no talk of prosecuting those who have). Unfortunately, the Police Association thinks this is the wrong approach:

The Police Association wants the law changed so officers can shut down out-of-control parties.


Police Association President Greg O'Connor said there should be a law change.

"I would imagine that there will be people in streets near where parties are taking place, who become aware that police can't do much about it, that may start putting pressure on their own local politicians to give the police those powers."

To which you have to ask "whatever happened to liberty"? These are situations where people are breaking no laws, or where those who are can be dealt with individually (something the law already permits). Instead, O'Connor is proposing at best a collective punishment of those who happen to be in the vicinity of someone who has broken the law, and in practice an open-ended power by police to suppress any gathering on private property they don't like. This is utterly inconsistent with the freedoms of assembly, association and expression, not to mention the right to liberty affirmed in the BORA. If you are not committing any crime, the police simply have no business interfering in your life, and should leave you to get on with it.

There is a name for states which suppress private gatherings. They're called "tyrannies". And greg O'Connor wants to turn us into one. And insofar as he can be assumed as an elected official to speak for the police rank and file, so does our police force. Isn't it time we reined them in, and defended our basic liberty from the arbitrary excesses of these uniformed dictators?

Kiwis care about inequality

Inequality has emerged as the key issue in the election campaign:

The gap between rich and poor is by far the biggest issue facing New Zealand three weeks before election day, a new poll has found.

The Roy Morgan Research poll of 966 people in July and August shows that concerns about inequality and other social issues have increased dramatically as worries about jobs and the economy have waned in the past three years.

Almost a fifth of New Zealanders (18 per cent) now say poverty, the gap between rich and poor or the imbalance of wealth is now "the most important issue facing New Zealand", up from just 4 per cent in the equivalent poll just before the 2011 election.

So what's the government proposing to do about it? Nothing, except tease about more tax cuts to the rich. Meanwhile, both Labour and the Greens have credible policies to increase taxes on the rich, tax capital gains, and lift those at the bottom by increasing wages and social support. If inequality is the issue, then they deserve to win.

Something to do on Saturday


There will be a series of anti-government marches in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin on Saturday:

The Auckland rally starts at Aotea Square, Wellington at Te Papa marching to Parliament, Dunedin held at the Octagon and the Christchurch rally at Haley Park, all beginning 1pm.

More information is available on FaceSuck here.

[Hat-tip: The Standard]

The cost of irrigation

At the moment, the government is pushing irrigation and water storage as a way of increasing milk production and boosting the economy. Critics have argued that the result will be dirty, polluted rivers unfit for recreational use. And we've just been handed the perfect example. In the 90's, a major tributary of South Canterbury's Opihi River was dammed for irrigation purposes. 15 years on, whitebaiters have been forced to abandon the river because it is so polluted:

Whitebaiters are giving up on the Opihi River because of high levels of algae.

Timaru man Brian Bennett has been fishing the river for almost 70 years. After leaving his net in it for 15 minutes yesterday, he found it covered in algae. "It's the worst I've ever seen."

Bennett said the problem had worsened in the past five years, despite an improvement in 2013.

Fellow angler and whitebaiter Des Thomas, who has given up fishing in the "black, filthy" river, said he "wouldn't eat it [whitebait] if I caught it" in the Opihi.

He believed a combination of the Opuha dam reducing water flows and rising nutrient levels had allowed algae to thrive in recent years.

This isn't a one-off incident; its been going on for years. And the major culprit is the dam blocking "flushing flows". It could of course release them manually, but that's water which could be sold to farmers and turned into cowshit, so they won't.

The upshot: irrigation ruins rivers. Rather than encouraging it, the government should be restricting it to protect our environment and recreational values.

An empty void at the heart of the election

Its election time. The blog should be humming. Its not. Why? Because there's not enough policy to comment on.

Note that this is not a complaint about Dirty Politics. How power is exercised and the ethics displayed in doing so is absolutely a legitimate election issue, and something we should talk about a lot more. But I've basically said what I want to say on that, so absent new developments, there's nothing there.

No, the problem lies with our political parties - and specifically, the government. The major opposition parties - the Greens and Labour - are releasing comprehensive policy. Its nice and chewy and the sort of thing I love to post about. Unfortunately, much of it has been pre-announced to prevent surprises, while Labour are dumping policies due to spending constants. Meanwhile, from the government, the election has been a policy-free zone. Their "policy" is to keep everything the same as it is, so they have nothing new to announce. So instead we get a boat going backwards while claiming everything is going forwards, pictures of John Key, some obligatory non-committal teasing about tax cuts, more John Key, and did I mention the John Key? There is an empty void at the heart of this election, in the form of a government with no ideas and no plan, just a desire to cling to power and their fat ministerial salaries. And they are desperately trying to paper over it with smiling pictures of the Prime Minister.

A competent opposition should be able to do something about that.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Labour on the environment

Labour released its environment policy today. While supposedly predicated on the idea of "no healthy economy without a healthy environment", its... weak. On the core issue of the RMA, they reject National's latest round of gutting, but basically accept all the rest. Oh, they'll establish a panel to consider the effects of the cumulative amendments to the Act, but that's a rather weak action, and there's no commitment to actually do anything to restore environmental standards, remove call-in powers, or restore community decision-making. And a lot of their proposed actions basically boil down to "we'll manage it better" - not appealing when what is needed is actual change.

They promise more National Policy Statements to provide guidance to local authorities on biodiversity, estuaries, and onshore gas exploration - but won't say what will be in them. They do make specific commitments around the NPS for freshwater, promising that lakes and rivers will be "swimmable, fishable and suitable for food gathering" and that they will set timelines for cleanup.

On dirty dairying, they're promising improvements to farm practices and a resource rental for irrigation water. But they won't phase out irrigation subsidies, which fund further pollution of our rivers.

On offshore drilling, they won't ban deepwater exploration - the furtherest they'll go is requiring "international best practice" (you know, the same as led to this). Oh, and they'll "reflect" on the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment's report on onshore drilling. Which is politician for "not going to do anything".

Overall, there's some promising stuff about freshwater and dirty dairying, but the rest of the document is a commitment to National's status quo. If you want stronger environmentla protections, you need to vote for a party which actually promises them.

Britain's toxic elite

In something that should be news to no-one, a report has found that Britain is in the thrall of an unrepresentative elite:

Britain is "deeply elitist" because people educated at public school and Oxbridge have in effect created a "closed shop at the top", according to a government report published on Thursday.

The Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission said its study of the social background of those "running Britain" was the most detailed of its kind ever undertaken and showed that elitism was so embedded in Britain "that it could be called 'social engineering'".

Alan Milburn, the Labour former cabinet minister who chairs the commission, said that, as well as being unfair, this situation was unacceptable because "locking out a diversity of talents and experiences makes Britain's leading institutions less informed, less representative and, ultimately, less credible than they should be".

The statistics are dismal. Only 7% of UKanians went to public schools, but they make up 71% of senior judges, 55% of top civil servants, 53% of senior diplomats, and 45% of board chairs. Less than 1% went to Oxbridge, but graduates of these two universities make up 75% of senior judges, 59% of Cabinet Ministers, 47% of newspaper columnists, and 24% of all MPs.

This is not about talent. It is about social networks, who you know. And those within those social networks use them to advance themselves and their friends and lock others out, regardless of merit. The result is a government and a society which works in the interests of a narrow elite, while ignoring the concerns of everyone outside it. A government which talks down to people, rather than listening to them. And fundamentally, a state which is illegitimate, despite its trappings of democracy. They're not a representative democracy; they're a self-perpetuating oligarchy.

Owen Jones calls it a racket by the establishment, and he's right. As for what to do about it, he recommends investment in early childhood education, ending the charitable status of public schools (the oh-so-polite British term for "private schools for the rich"), and banning unpaid internships. But why on earth would the British elite support that?

New Fisk

Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Public servants are now afraid to do their duty

How afraid are public servants of Judith Collins? So afraid they won't perform their legal duty and transfer "political" OIA requests to her office.

An FYI user asked the Ministry of Justice for information about the handling of OIA requests similar to those sent by Cameron Slater - basically to get some hard evidence on whether his explanation held, or whether journalists were being dicked around. The request was obviously misdirected, and should have gone to the Minister. In such circumstances, the receiving agency has a clear legal duty to transfer the request. And they always do.

Except in this case, where the Ministry staffer asked that the requester call them for an explanation (helpful), before effectively refusing the request. They did at least provide contact details for the Minister's office, but didn't transfer. I have never seen this before in a decade of requests. In my experience, where an agency doesn't hold the information sought, but knows who does (or might), they simply transfer it, problem solved. I'd especially expect this from the Ministry of Justice, which has a good record on OIA requests (and which is responsible for administering the law).

Of course, that means that there's a highly political OIA transferred to the Minister's office with a public servant's name on it. And in the wake of the revelations in Dirty Politics about what the Minister does to public servants who displease her (leaks their name and contact information to the sewer, where they receive death threats from her panting fanboys), I can understand why they might not want to do that. But it is unlawful, not to mention dysfunctional. And if public servants are this afraid in performing their routine legal duties, imagine how afraid they are if they have to give the Minister advice she doesn't want to hear...

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

About time

The Chief Ombudsman will be conducting an inquiry post-election on the general handling of OIA requests:

Chief Ombudsman Dame Beverley Wakem said issues which would be examined included government departments having to seek "sign off" from their ministers before releasing information when there was no reason to do so.


"I have observed unnecessary steps and referrals upwards. I have heard of at least five layers of approval before something can be released. That's absurd."

She said the unnecessary upwards delays included referrals to ministers for approval to release information. There were also offices which had "delayed things beyond what is reasonable" while others did "incredibly well".

Good. Its become increasingly apparent that there are problems, particularly around Ministerial control-freakery and abuse of the "no surprises" policy. And this is resulting in delays and information being withheld. I've got a complaint in ATM about the SSC's election period OIA guidance, which is basically "delay everything for referral to the Minister", and while it has all the appropriate caveats around ensuring that requests are responded to in a timely manner and not delaying responses simply because the information is embarrassing to a government facing an election, the practical effect (as observed on FYI) is that any remotely controversial request is delayed until (conveniently) the first working day after the election.

OTOH, she's explicitly not looking at rorting of the system, as seen here, or in the case of Cameron Slater's now-infamous OIA request to the SIS. Which seems to be a major gap in the inquiry. Shouldn't Ministerial bias in application of the law be examined too?

The disappointment of winning

The Greens announced their healthy homes policy today, promising a warrant of fitness for rental housing and funding to insulate 200,000 homes. And my initial reaction was "meh, Labour and National are offering this too". Which is a sign of how conclusively the Greens have won this policy argument, and convinced everyone. When they first pushed for a government insulation scheme and rental WOFs, National denounced it as a waste of money and a threat to landlords. Now they're implementing both policies and the debate is just over timing and numbers. Which rather robs policy announcements of their impact, but its a great problem to have.

But there is one important difference in the Greens policy: improved security of tenure for renters, and a move to a European model where landlords can't just chuck you out without a reason. Unfortunately the driving force here is increasing housing unaffordability, meaning more people will be renting for longer (or even forever). But it seems like a good solution to the problem. And now doubt, in three or six years, we'll see Labour and National adopting it too.

Confirmed: The police don't care about electoral crime

In 2007 Parliament passed the Electoral Finance Act. One of the changes it made to our electoral law, retained in the subsequent amendments, was to massively increase the penalties for electoral offences. The penalty for a corrupt practice was doubled, from one to two years imprisonment. That for an illegal practice was increased from a $3,000 to a $40,000 fine. The message was clear: Parliament took electoral offending seriously.

Meanwhile, police have stopped prosecuting them entirely.

According to an OIA sent via the FYI system, not a single case resulting from the last election or subsequent by-elections has resulted in prosecution. Instead, police have dealt with even clear cases of double voting with warnings. Eighteen months ago they hadn't even done that, so its hard to see it as anything other than a conscious push to clear cases off the books, to tick the "resolved" box so the stats look good.

The police's excuse is that offenders are mostly first-timers and that warnings are appropriate. That may be true in the case of double voters (but even so...). But its certainly not true in the case of political parties violating advertising and donations law. These are organisations who know what they're doing, who have past experience, who should know better. The police also say that they will prosecute "high-end" offending against the Electoral and Broadcasting Acts. Their past behaviour shows otherwise. And against a backdrop of Parliament increasing penalties, it signals a conscious desire to thwart Parliament's will.

So, the Electoral Commission considers complaints, refers them to the police, who then do nothing. While on paper we have a law, in practice it means nothing. Its a farce, which will only be fixed by taking the job away from police and giving it to someone who actually cares, like the Electoral Commission (OTOH, having watched Media Tkae last night, that might not be such a good idea).

But on the upside, you can probably play "Planet Key" on the radio, because the police will never do anything about it.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The spycloud


The Intercept has a major expose today on the NSA's ICREACH program, a front-end for searching their massive databases of communications metadata. In other words, their spycloud.

ICREACH has been accessible to more than 1,000 analysts at 23 U.S. government agencies that perform intelligence work, according to a 2010 memo. A planning document from 2007 lists the DEA, FBI, Central Intelligence Agency, and the Defense Intelligence Agency as core members. Information shared through ICREACH can be used to track people’s movements, map out their networks of associates, help predict future actions, and potentially reveal religious affiliations or political beliefs.


The search tool was designed to be the largest system for internally sharing secret surveillance records in the United States, capable of handling two to five billion new records every day, including more than 30 different kinds of metadata on emails, phone calls, faxes, internet chats, and text messages, as well as location information collected from cellphones. Metadata reveals information about a communication—such as the “to” and “from” parts of an email, and the time and date it was sent, or the phone numbers someone called and when they called—but not the content of the message or audio of the call.

And as the graphic shows, the GCSB is feeding them.

Its a horrifying insight into the scale of NSA and GCSB surveillance. Information supposedly being collected for national security purposes is being used by fuck knows who for who knows what - and often explicitly to circumvent legal restrictions on law-enforcement surveillance. This isn't what spy agencies are supposed to do. They need to be shut down and their surveillance networks permanently destroyed.

Monitoring the OIA: The view from FYI

FYI, the public OIA request service, has just posted its statistics for the year. There are a number of caveats around the data: the closure date is taken as the date of last response (which in some cases is not actually related to the request), and it doesn't capture extensions at all. But despite that, one thing is clear: a large number of agencies are not responding to requests in a timely fashion. And a significant number appear not to be responding at all. When in the first few rows you can spot multiple agencies which have left requests unanswered for six months, something is seriously wrong.

And remember, this is just the requests made through FYI, where there is public pressure to respond. The full picture could be even worse. Unfortunately, no-one is looking at that picture. Despite a recommendation from the Law Commission that agencies keep statistics and a body examine them for oversight purposes, nothing has been done. And with no-one watching, there is simply no incentive for agencies to comply with the law.

Climate change: Difficult to ignore

What was that I was saying about the climate voter campaign becoming difficult to ignore now it has hit 2% of the vote? After weeks of no comment, they've now forced National to attend a debate on climate change policy:

The 90-minute debate at Auckland’s Q Theatre will give the parties a chance to convince both live and online audiences to vote for them based on the action they are taking on climate change. It will be hosted by Samantha Hayes from TV3's 3rd Degree and has been organised by a group of New Zealand’s leading environmental, climate change and development organisations.

The confirmed politicians are National’s Tim Groser, Minister for Climate Issues, Labour deputy leader David Parker, Green co-leader Russel Norman and New Zealand First deputy leader Tracey Martin. Other party representatives will be announced in coming days.

Apparently there's limited seats, so you might want to buy a ticket early. Otherwise it will be livestreamed here.

New Fisk

Qatar and the reason US hostage Peter Theo Curtis has been released

A ten-billion dollar misery industry

For the past two decades (excluding a small gap between 2008 and 2011), Australia has pursued a policy of mandatory detention of refugees to "deter" them from fleeing war and persecution. Initially this detention was within Australia at purpose-built detention centres, but since 2001 refugees have been dumped in island gulags run by corrupt small island client-states as part of the "Pacific solution".

Naturally, service-delivery is outsourced. And an analysis by the Guardian shows the cost of that outsourcing: at least $10 billion since 2007:

Serco Australia has been the biggest beneficiary, with two contracts worth a total of $3.2bn, including the overall single largest contract worth $2.9bn. Serco Australia is contracted to manage various onshore detention facilities.

The contract value does not necessarily equate to the total amount paid to the contractor, and Guardian Australia understands that detention centre contract values may be higher than they need to be to account for the possibility of detention centres having higher than expected populations.

Transfield Services has nine contracts worth a total of $2.46bn, including a recent contract for $2.1bn to manage the offshore detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru.

The Salvation Army has been awarded four contracts for a total of $113.2m, with three covering “welfare and support services” for offshore detention and one covering welfare services for people in community detention.

They've also shown the ruinous cost of this sadism. Onshore detention costs A$157,014 per person per year, community detention only A$21,952. But spaces in Australia's Pacific gulags cost A$859,363 - almost a million dollars an inmate. And all to protect the government from political criticism from a vocal racist minority.

And of course now businesses are being paid billions of dollars for the infliction of misery, they have a direct incentive to ensure that such policies continue. Government sadism is profitable (for some). And so they will lobby to protect that revenue-stream, regardless of its morality.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Nothing the Prime Minister says can be trusted

When Bill English launched the PREFU, he announced that tax cuts were off the agenda. But today, with the government still mired in dirty politics over its relationship with Cameron Slater, that's apparently no longer true:

However, campaigning in Auckland today, National's leader John Key said the party was crunching numbers "to see what sort of head room we've got."

"If we can say a bit more definitively about that, we will, coming into election day."

Reminded of English's comments, Key said that the finance spokesman was "talking about an actual package of x and y. If you go and ask him the other question - 'will we talk about the outline of what might happen?' - you've got a different answer."

Its the same sort of bullshit we're seeing over the Prime Minister versus his "office". And the upshot is that nothing John Key says can be trusted. Even the clearest and most unequivocal statement may be arbitrarily redefined later to meet the needs of the moment, no matter how torturous an abuse of the English language it becomes.

If the Prime Minister has changed his mind, and now wants to offer tax cuts as an election bribe to his rich mates, he should say so. Equally, if he hasn't, he should admit it. Instead, he's trying to have it both ways, with deniable promises which can be read either way. But the result is that they are meaningless and valueless. Only a fool would vote for someone so transparently dishonest.

Something to go to in Auckland

The Bruce Jesson Foundation is hosting a public meeting with Nicky Hager this Wednesday.

When: 19:30, Wednesday 27th August
Where: Mt Eden War Memorial Hall (Cnr Dominion Rd & Balmoral Rd)

And from their press release, they can't spell his name either.