Friday, July 01, 2022

Labour fucks us on copyright again

Last night the government concluded a free trade agreement with the European Union. I'm pretty meh about FTAs, largely because they seem to be a backdoor for pro-corporate irregulation than actual trade now, so I wasn't enthusiastic to begin with (though on the plus side this one does at least make the Paris climate agreement legally enforceable, meaning that if farmers don't cut their emissions they can be cut out of the market). And then I read the bit in the "key outcomes" summary about copyright:

New Zealand has agreed to extend copyright term by 20 years for authors, performers and producers. New Zealand will also extend the protection it gives to digital locks (technological protection measures) to include preventing a person undertaking an act to circumvent those locks other than in limited circumstances. New Zealand will have four years from entry into force of the Agreement to implement these changes to the Copyright Act 1994.
Labour had already sold us out on term extension in their FTA with the UK, but at least that had a 15 year transition period. Now we'll have four. And with the FTA expected to enter into force around 2024, that means nothing will enter the public domain in New Zealand from 2028 or so. Immediate casualties will include Mary Scott (whose works would otherwise enter the public domain in NZ in 2030), Dennis Glover (2031), Bruce Mason (2033) and Ngaio Marsh (2033). They're literally going to be locking our culture away from us, forbidding the production of adaptations and derivative works for a further twenty years.

And they're doing this when the government admits there is no benefit to New Zealand from term extension, and that it does not further incentivise the creation of new works - the latter meaning that term extension violates the Bill of Rights Act. They're also doing it when MFAT and MBIE had told parliament back in April that they would "provide advice on mitigating factors that may guard against the potential harm of the copyright extension term". Against that backdrop, cutting a deal to do it even faster seems a lot like lying to Parliament to me.

Thursday, June 30, 2022


A ballot for one member's bill was held today, and the following bill was drawn:

  • Sale and Supply of Alcohol (Harm Minimisation) Amendment Bill (Chlöe Swarbrick)

Swarbrick's bill implements a number of past recommendations from government agencies and advisory bodies which for some reason (cough big booze money cough) have remained unimplemented. One of these is to remove a special-purpose appeal chain over territorial alcohol policies, which is something I am wary of. OTOH, the way that appeal process works is by preventing the policies from ever coming into effect, which seems to frustrate the law, and general appeal rights such as judicial review remain. So this would mean that territorial authorities actually get to make a policy (which can then be judicially reviewed), rather than stopping them from doing so.

There were only 61 bills in the ballot today.

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

The police lied in an OIA response

Stuff has a story this morning about the police juking the domestic violence stats, downgrading family violence crimes to "incidents" so they don't have to be investigated (and so Bad Number doesn't Go Up). That's appalling in and of itself, for the human consequences, and for what it says about the police's attitude to victims, their job and to accountability. But there's another appalling thing buried well down in the story: the police lied in an OIA response:

It said it did not release the full report publicly in line with “standard practice”. The 33,000 number was left out of a summary provided to Stuff under the Official Information Act because it could have been “misinterpreted”, it said. It only decided to release the full text after the Ombudsman stepped in.
The difference can be seen in the screenshot below:


The Ombudsman has apparently decided that releasing an intentionally misleading summary was wrong. But it raises other questions as well - namely whether protecting your institutional reputation is a "benefit", or whether depriving the public of information they are entitled to causes "loss". Because if either is true, the police staff responsible for this fraudulent release may in fact have committed the crime of altering, concealing, destroying, or reproducing documents with intent to deceive.

And if the answer to those questions is "no", we ought to be asking ourselves why lying in an OIA response is not a crime. It is in other countries, and the Ombudsman has recommended that we adopt similar provisions here. With agencies actually being caught lying in their responses, maybe the government should make that a priority? Because if agencies can just lie without consequences, the law means nothing, and public trust is dead.

Bigot schools are acting unlawfully

Earlier in the month we learned about institutionalised transphobia at Bethlehem College. The school is an "integrated school", meaning that it is state-funded while retaining a "special character". Stuff has now taken a look at several other similar schools, and found another three with institutionalised bigotry:

Three more state-funded Christian schools have been identified as having anti-queer policies, prompting advocates to call for a full-scale education inquiry into discrimination against the LGTBQI community.


The schools – Maranatha Christian School in Lower Hutt, Cornerstone Christian School in Palmerston North, and Matamata Christian School – say they only recognise marriage between a man and a woman, and only acknowledge two genders.

“Homosexual, lesbian or any other relationships or partnerships are seen as the outworking of mankind’s rebellious nature and therefore are not consistent with the school’s Special Christian Character,” Matamata Christian School says in its public statement of beliefs. “The term ‘gender’ is limited to the two separate and distinct sexes, the masculinity of the male and the femininity of the female.”

The bigotry is in the schools' official "statement of beliefs", which forms part of their integration agreement with the Ministry of Education. The problem is that it seems blatantly unlawful: both sex (which includes gender identity) and sexual orientation are prohibited grounds of discrimination in the Human Rights Act. While the Act allows "educational establishment[s] maintained wholly or principally for students of one sex, race, or religious belief, or for students with a particular disability, or for students in a particular age group" to discriminate on those grounds, there is no exemption for sexual orientation, or for sex or gender identity discrimination in co-ed schools. So, the schools are breaching the Human Rights Act.

Is the discrimination authorised by some other statute? It does not seem so. While the old Education Act 1989 authorised the Minister of Education to negotiate and approve integration agreements, which may "prescrib[e] the religious or philosophical instruction and observances that are to form part of the school programme after integration", no part of it authorises departure from the Human Rights Act (nothing in the new Education and Training Act 2020 seems to authorise it either). And insofar as an integration agreement actually contains clauses inconsistent with the Human Rights Act, they are void, and sections 3 and 19 of the BORA mean that they were beyond the power of the government to make anyway. Contracts must be consistent with the law, and the government cannot simply contract out of its legal obligations or ignore them when exercising its powers.

So what should happen? Pretty obviously, the schools should obey the law, cease discriminating against queer and trans students, and remove the offensive sections from their statements of belief. If they refuse, the Minister should exercise their powers under the Act, cancel the integration agreement, and refer them to the Human Rights Commission. The government should not be funding bigotry.

Member's day

Today is a Member's Day, and it looks like its back to local legislation for a while. First up is the committee stage of the highly controversial Canterbury Regional Council (Ngāi Tahu Representation) Bill, which would allow unelected appointees (and a disproportionate number of them, at that) on ECan. This was something Ngai Tāhu got used to under National's dictatorship, but there's a world of difference between appointing iwi representatives to an unelected body, and appointing them to an elected one. It might be a good way of recognising the Treaty relationship, but I'd want to see a much bigger constitutional conversation about it before proceeding.

Following that, there's the rather boring Palmerston North Reserves Empowering Amendment Bill, which is about letting my local council sell a former reserve (which they have deliberately neglected) to property developers so it can become another motel on Fitzherbert Ave. I oppose this, but the best way of dealing with it is to vote some arseholes out in October, so the council never uses the powers the bill grants.

After that, we have some first readings. First is some National-style law-and-order bullshit from Greg O'Connor, in the form of the Child Protection (Child Sex Offender Government Agency Registration) (Overseas Travel Reporting) Amendment Bill. Like a lot of law-and-order bullshit, it contravenes the Bill of Rights Act. Labour will vote it through anyway, because O'Connor is one of theirs. Which is about the level of "protection" Parliament gives to our human rights, and shows why we need a much stronger constitutional protection framework. Then its the first reading of Damien Smith's Overseas Investment (Exempt Investment from OECD Countries) Amendment Bill, which is about gutting overseas investment protections for people from rich, overwhelmingly white countries (which sounds very ACT, doesn't it?). If the House moves quickly I expect it to make a start on Chris Baillie's Repeal of Good Friday and Easter Sunday as Restricted Trading Days (Shop Trading and Sale of Alcohol) Amendment Bill. There should be a ballot for at least two bills tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

The police still suck at the OIA

Last year, sparked by the contrast between the official OIA statistics police reported to PSC, and their actual performance experienced and seen over FYI, I asked some questions about their numbers - and discovered that their official statistics were a lie. Once you remove the routine traffic crash reports and speed camera requests, which the police do not treat or track as OIAs (except for the purposes of reporting a big number to TKM-PSC) then their performance was dismal: 42.5% on time rather than the reported 95.3%.

I thought I'd do a followup on this, so I asked for calendar-year 2021 statistics to extend the existing dataset. The response shows that while their performance has improved, it is still unacceptably low, with only 76.8% of OIA requests processed by PNHQ completed on time (this compares to 42.5% in 2020 and 35.8% in 2019).

I also did a followup on a previous request (which I don't think I'd published) about the proportion of requests marked as "high organizational impact" (HOI). Requests marked in this way require extra scrutiny from legal and media teams, signoff by the police executive, and are notified to the Minister. The earlier results showed that the number of HOI requests was small but growing, making up 1.1% of requests in 2019 and 10.2% in 2020. This year, that number has exploded, with 32% of requests to PNHQ marked this way. And the resulting extra scrutiny has an effect on timeliness, with HOI requests being more likely to be late (63.8% on time vs 83% for non-HOI requests). This appalling performance is actually an improvement on last year (when only 30% of HOI requests were on-time), but HOI requests are still responsible for just over half of all late requests (231 late of 450 total).

In a normal organisation, the Ombudsman would be taking a pretty close look at why so many requests were being tagged in this way, and why it led to so many delays. But the Ombudsman cannot scrutinise police outside the context of a specific OIA complaint, so while they can notice individual problems (like this one, they can't do the usual practice investigation and examine the system as a whole. While it is within the functions of the IPCA, they are neither funded for or interested in general practice investigations. The Ombudsman pointed out that this was a problem in their submission on the OIA consultation back in 2019. The government has done nothing to fix it over the last three years. As a result, our most-request agency remains functionally immune from proper oversight, and continues to laugh at the law. The consequences of those arrangements can be seen in the statistics above.

Still digging

Over the weekend, the US Supreme Court followed through on its threat, and overturned Roe v. Wade, effectively outlawing abortion in much of the United States. People were outraged, in America and around the world. And in Aotearoa, this meant a lot of sudden questions for the National Party, which is led by a fundamentalist anti-abortionist, stuffed with fundamentalist anti-abortionist MPs, and which tends to take its lead from whatever crack the US Republicans are smoking this week. While National's fundy backbenchers celebrated the imposition of forced birth in America, Christopher Luxon desperately tried to backpedal on his past views and reassure the public that National had no intention of changing the law. Except that today, he's doubling down on being anti-abortion:

When asked about his views on Monday, he told Newshub he still has a pro-life stance.

"I acknowledge I have a pro-life stance at a personal level," he said. "Simon has his own views as do others in our Caucus. They should be free to express that but in this case, it was actually being misinterpreted as the National Party position and therefore it wasn't appropriate."

When asked what he thought about people who chose to have an abortion, Luxon reiterated his pro-life stance.

"As I said I have a pro-life stance. It's a very difficult and a very agonising decision," he said.

He is yet to clarify whether he still believes abortion is tantamount to murder despite Newshub asking early Monday morning.

Which rather casts doubt on all those prior "reassurances", doesn't it? But the real problem for Luxon is that, given that US conservatives have literally perjured themselves to gain power to impose theocracy, we just can't trust anything he says. Sure, Luxon says he won't change anything - but so did Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Barrett. And we know how that turned out. We should not make the same mistake here.

Monday, June 27, 2022

Two steps forward, one step back

The government is finally moving to improve transparency over party finances, lowering the donation disclosure threshold to $5,000. This is a good move, though it doesn't go as far as it should. And of course, there's a nasty twist:

The rules for larger donations are also changing. Presently parties must report all donations from a single donor that exceed $30,000 within 10 working days of receipt. Now the threshold will reduce to $20,000 – but these donations only have to be declared within 10 days during an election year.
...which means that in two years out of three, we won't be able to quickly see who is attempting to buy our political parties, instead learning about it after the policies have already been sold. This is a significant backwards step, despite the lowering of the trigger point, and its absolutely tone-deaf when the public has been consistently demanding more transparency. Heckuva job, guys. If you wanted to give the impression of a corrupt party with something dirty to hide, you're going the right way about it.

(If you want to see who's been buying our politicians recently, you can just look here).

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Treasury is ignoring long covid

I've read some bad stuff about long covid recently, and Marc Daalder's recent Newsroom piece about what endemic covid means for Aotearoa got me wondering about whether the government was thinking about it. Mass-disability due to long covid has obvious implications for health and welfare spending, as well as for the economy in general, as it will mean more people unable to work or working with lower productivity. A sensible covid policy would be including these long-term costs in its decision-making about covid control.

So is the government doing that? Sadly, the answer appears to be "no". I asked both Treasury and the Ministry of Health for any advice or assessment of the impact of long covid on New Zealand. And Treasury - the government's chief economic advisor, who run the cost-benefit analsis ruler over every policy - hasn't been thinking about it at all.

(Ministry of Health's response isn't due until mid-July, but I'd expect their focus to be more on the health system rather than broader economic effects).

This isn't very reassuring. This is a huge potential cost to our society, as well as a huge impact on people's lives. And the government's chief economic advisor is apparently blind to it. Which means they'll be systematically under-estimating the benefits of covid control (in reducing those costs), and likely doing less to control covid than they would if those costs were included. And that is not a recipe for good policy, or for trust in government.

A perfect example

Last year, a stranded kiwi criticised the MIQ system. Covid Minister Chris Hipkins responded by doxxing and defaming her. Now, he's been forced to apologise for that:

Minister Chris Hipkins has admitted he released incorrect and personal information about journalist Charlotte Bellis, after she criticised the managed isolation system.


Under mounting public pressure, Hipkins, who was Covid-19 minister at the time, cast doubt on Bellis’ story with a claim she had been offered consular assistance twice since early December 2021 but had not responded to the offers.

It’s understood Hipkins’ public apology was a request of Bellis’ lawyers. After Hipkins admitted fault privately to Bellis in March, her lawyers sought an apology instead of pursuing a legal settlement for defamation and a privacy breach.

Good, but obviously it would be better if Ministers weren't bullies, and didn't abuse their positions to obtain and release personal information about their critics. And obviously it would be better if the Prime Minister held her Ministers to account when they misbehaved liek this.

Its also worth noting that if Hipkins' department, Te Kawa Mataaho - Public Service Commission - had their way, he would have enjoyed legal impunity for this "proactive release". Which makes Hipkins, like Paula Bennett, a perfect example of why we should never allow that to happen.

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Why the Ombudsman should not oversee Oranga Tamariki

Last week the Social Services and Community Committee reported back on the Oversight of Oranga Tamariki System and Children and Young People's Commission Bill. The bill attracted an unprecedented three minority reports and universal opposition from other parties, but Labour is going to ram it through anyway. Among other things, the bill would make the Ombudsman the sole agency able to hear complaints against Oranga Tamariki - a move criticised by submitters as they are not child-focused and lack specialist skills. But there are other reasons to oppose this move - after all, just look at how they handle the OIA jurisdiction, where they:

The core idea here isn't about getting justice for complainants - instead, its about managing caseload and taking the path of least resistance. The results of this approach can be seen in the general contempt successive governments have had for the OIA, and their utter lack of fear about behaving unlawfully. If they take the same approach with Oranga Tamariki, the results will obviously be much, much worse.

Monday, June 20, 2022

One country at a time

Something I missed: the Central African Republic has abolished the death penalty:

The National Assembly of the Central African Republic (CAR) passed a law abolishing the death penalty in the CAR on May 27, 2022. Once CAR President Touadéra promulgates the bill, the CAR will become the 24th abolitionist state in Africa and the 110th in the world.
So that makes three countries so far this year (the others are Papua New Guinea and Malaysia). And it looks like Zambia won't be far behind.

An admission of guilt

Stuff reports that the National Party opposes greater transparency for political donations because it might have a "chilling effect" on donors:

National says officials have underestimated “the aversion of donors to being publicly identified”.

The party says only a “small fraction” of donors who currently give between $1,500 and $15,000 would still be prepared to do so if their privacy were not protected. The submission points to recent electoral returns, which showed only 14 donors giving amounts of more than $15,000 to the National Party in 2020, and 25 to the Labour Party.

“The chilling effect ... will have a significant impact on parties' ability to support candidates, meet regulatory requirements, and run effective election campaigns, with no alternative funding mechanism proposed or in-place to make up for this loss of income,” the party argues.

Think about this for a minute. The purpose of donation transparency is to prevent donors from buying influence, and parties from selling it. If we can see who is donating, then we can judge whether any sudden change in policy or intra-coalition advocacy - like a party suddenly pushing for an exemption in the interests of a large donor, say - is corrupt or not, and we can punish parties who fail basic political hygiene at the ballot box. The National Party saying that increased transparency will deter donors is basicly saying that this sort of corrupt secret influence is exactly what donors are seeking. Its an admission of guilt. And that makes their opposition an excellent reason to demand full transparency - so we can see exactly what they're selling, and who to. And if that means that rich donors donate less, and therefore have less influence over policy, then that seems to be a benefit, not a drawback.

[Also, where the hell does the Ministry of Justice get off by refusing to proactively release the submissions? Submissions to public consultations are ordinarily released, and there needs to be an exceptional reason to withhold information on why is attempt to influence policy and why. But then, they tried this as well with the 2019 public consultation on the OIA. It seems like MoJ has an appetite for secrecy...]

Friday, June 17, 2022

Labour: $1 million a year is "too much" for transparency

Back in 2018 the government proposed an OIA review. After a ludicrious attempt to do it in secret, they finally held a public consultation, which made a clear case for reform. They then sat on it for a year, before announcing out of the blue that they planned to rewrite the Act. And then, less than six months later, they shitcanned it, because years of austerity have meant that the Ministry of Justice is so under-resourced that it can no longer walk and chew gum at the same time, and Labour would rather they focused their efforts on giving them a four year term.

So what would it have cost? How much is "too much" for this government to pay for transparency? After a year-long battle, the Ministry has finally released all the documents unredacted: the draft cabinet paper, and rejected budget bid (other documents and redacted versions can be seen here). The budget bid makes it clear that a full review by the Ministry of Justice would have cost less than $4 million over four years - $1 million a year. Which is pocket change on a government scale - but apparently too much for Labour to pay. Which shows you just how little they value being "the most open, most transparent Government that New Zealand has ever had"...

(That cost is for an internal review by MoJ. As I've said before, they're probably not the best people to do it, as they lack both independence and credibility on the topic. By way of comparison, the Law Commission's 2012 review cost something like $2.6 million over three years (Their 2010 Statement of Intent says they had a total budget for advice of $3.5 million, with an expectation of 3-5 reports to parliament each year). So, an independent, external review would be no more expensive, and possibly cheaper, even allowing for inflation. But then Kibblewhite wouldn't be able to strap the chicken...)

Its also worth noting that - as an unredacted email states - this was a confidence and supply issue, to meet the commitment in the Labour - Greens 2017 confidence and supply agreement to "Strengthen New Zealand’s democracy by increasing public participation, openness, and transparency around official information". But after dragging their feet on it for years, it got dumped the moment the political situation changes (unlike the promises made to NZ First around climate change, capital gains taxes, waka jumping etc, which are apparently fixed and immutable). So again, that tells us how much is "too much" for Labour to keep its promises: $1 million a year. Future cooperation partners should take this as a warning.

Thursday, June 16, 2022

Another referendum in Scotland?

The Scottish government has announced plans for another independence referendum:

Nicola Sturgeon plans to hold a second referendum on Scottish independence in October next year if her government secures the legal approval to stage it.

Angus Robertson, the Scottish government’s constitution secretary, said that provided ample time to pass the necessary legislation, set out the Scottish National party’s case and stage a campaign.

The case for Scotland being allowed to decide its own future is clear - its their country, after all, and decisions about it should be made in Edinburgh, not Westminster. But we know how this will go: the Tories in London will refuse to permit any democratic vote. And support for independence will rise accordingly.

Something is wrong in Tauranga

On Monday, Stuff reported that queer-supporting students at a Tauranga "Christian" school were subjected to chants of "kill the gays". This morning, a building hosting queer and trans groups was burned down in an apparent arson attack:

A building used by Gender Dynamix – an organisation that aims to meet the mental health needs of the transgender and nonbinary community of the Bay of Plenty – has been targetted by a ‘suspicious’ fire.

The fire broke out at the building, which is also the home of advocacy and support service Rainbow Youth, at Tauranga’s Historic Village complex in the early hours of Thursday morning.

Police were called at around 12:45am to the premises on 17th Avenue following a report of a fire.

“It's being treated as suspicious,” confirmed a police spokesperson.

Homophobic harassment, followed by an apparent anti-gay hate crime. Something is very wrong in Tauranga, and it seems like the entire city is being infected by hate and bigotry (see also: their racist museum). I guess we just have to hope that the police catch those responsible. Meanwhile, if you'd like to help Rainbow Youth recover from this, they have a GiveALittle here.

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Proactive release: The documents

Back in April, Stuff was leaked a consultation copy of a cabinet paper on changes to proactive release policy. The full paper - The next steps in the public release of official information - was eventually released, but in the interim I filed an OIA request seeking information on the paper and the consultations which informed its development. Given that proactive publication had featured heavily in past Open Government Partnership "consultations" (just look at how often it comes up in the 2018 ideas list), I was particularly interested in learning whether they had bothered to discuss it with OGP stakeholders, or their handpicked Expert Advisory Panel. I got the response back yesterday, with several hundred pages of emails. The summary:

  • There was no consultation with OGP stakeholders. Which just strengthens the perception that the government's "engagement" and "co-design" over the OGP is a box-ticking exercise which goes nowhere, and that they think "open government" is something they do to us, rather than with us. It also makes it clear that the Public Service Act's statutory obligation to "foster a culture of open government" means precisely nothing in practice.
  • We were meant to have proper statistics: when the full cabinet paper was released, I commented on how the reporting regime for proactively released cabinet papers was broken, reporting only on numbers released, without providing the number lodged as a point of comparison. However, the original draft - then titled Progressing our commitment to open government - included proper reporting:
    This data would be supplemented with information from the Cabinet Office on the number of papers lodged during the same reference period and reported by the Commission to the Minister for the Public Service. I would expect to release the information. Because of the time lag between the lodging, consideration of papers and their publication, the two sets of data would not be directly comparable but would give an indication of the proportion of papers being released, and trends in the numbers made publicly available.
    This provision was removed in late April, apparently at the behest of one of Hipkins' ministerial advisors (a political appointee, not a public servant), who was "not sure how useful" it was for Cabinet Office to provide a denominator against which performance could be assessed. The decision was made in the wake of an embarrassing series of written parliamentary questions which revealed that the government was failing to meet its existing proactive release obligations, but I'm sure that had nothing to do with it...
  • Hipkins pushed for real change, but shot himself in the foot: In July 2021 the paper was rewritten by Hipkins and David Choat, his ministerial adviser. The second draft included some changes - most notably, a proposal for a central portal for proactive release of Cabinet material:
    I also recommend the Cabinet Office be tasked with creating a single portal for the publication of all proactively released Cabinet papers. Where supporting material is released on department or agency websites, links should also be provided to that information.
    This idea has been floating round in NZ open government circles for years, and would be a game changer for transparency. In consultation, other agencies loved it, and I think the public would too. DPMC, OTOH, hated the idea. Their feedback is a masterpiece of bureaucratic obstructionism, going from "we don't need this anyway" through "if we do need it, its not our responsibility" through "if it is our responsibility, then we would need a lot of money", before settling on "if you want it, you can do it". But its clear that they are hostile to the idea of being involved in releasing information, saying "The role of the Cabinet Office is to support executive decision-making... it is not our role to disclose Cabinet material... it is also not the role of Cabinet Office to assess what should be released or to make redactions". [This is clearly legally wrong. Cabinet material is official information, which they hold, so it is absolutely their job to disclose it, to assess what should be released and make redactions if necessary].

    It would be easy to conclude from this that DPMC hates transparency, and they do (just look at their response to requests for cabinet agendas). But there's another reason for their hostility to the idea, and that is that they simply weren't consulted about it. This is clear from an email between TKM/PSC policy analysts a week before the draft went out, in which they disclaim all responsibility for that bit. Whoops. You might think though that a minister with responsibility for open government might be able to make decisions and direct public resources to implement them. But apparently, they can't.

  • The government wanted to give impunity to Paula Bennett, again: Huge chunks of the early drafts are redacted as "confidential advice". But an unredacted header gives the subject as "Exploring changes to the OIA to facilitate proactive release", while an unredacted footnote shows that at least one of these changes relates to section 48 of the OIA: the immunity clause. This has been a long-standing fetish of the public service, and in recent years they've tried to divert every move to amend or reform the OIA to include extending s48 to cover proactive release (and their arses). The reason we shouldn't do it can be summed up in two words: Paula Bennett. Because immunity for proactive release means impunity for Ministerial doxxing, and that's something most kiwis would find absolutely unacceptable. Fortunately this attempt seems to have been killed at the final hurdle, and it was removed in rewrites in late April. But given the desire of bureaucrats to cover their arses regardless of consequences, no doubt it'll be back.
  • The SIS views transparency as a security threat: Yes, really. In their feedback they express concerns about the "mosaic effect", "when multiple agencies release single pieces of information which, on their own, are innocuous, but when viewed together could amount to information that is harmful to New Zealand or its interests". A large amount is redacted, but according to a later summary they are concerned about ineligible people reading proactive releases. Which sounds like another good reason to get rid of the OIA's outdated eligibility clause, and align it with the more modern LGOIMA. It also makes you wonder what they think of FYI...
Looking at this, there's both good policy gutted and bad policy dumped, with a side order of inter-agency squabbling. But the thing that strikes me most is that the government, which is supposed to be committed to consultation and co-creation via the OGP, constructed this entire policy in a vacuum, without asking anyone outside their closed circle about it. As mentioned above, this shows that they think open government is something they do to us rather than with or for us. But apart from the arrogance and insularity of this undemocratic attitude, in this case it also resulted in worse policy, because there was no external pressure to drive change and force reluctant agencies to get on board, or to stop them from making mistakes. And that's a tragedy for all of us.

Monday, June 13, 2022

The stench of corruption

A company gives a large amount of money to a political party because they are concerned about law changes which might affect their business model. And lo and behold, the changes are dumped, and a special exemption written into the law to protect them. Its the sort of thing we expect to happen in the United States. But according to testimony in the New Zealand First Foundation trial, it happened right here in Aotearoa:

An apartments developer worried a ban on foreign investors could kill its business donated more than $150,000 to the New Zealand First Party when it went into government with Labour after the 2017 election.

Various entities of Conrad Properties gave the party's fundraising foundation $155,000 in payments each under the $15,000 Electoral Commission public declaration threshold between April 2018 and January 2019.

Conrad Properties group founder Robert Holden gave evidence in the High Court trial in which two men face charges brought by the Serious Fraud Office of obtaining by deception through the New Zealand First Foundation.


Holden, who the court heard lives in Bermuda, became aware of reports the Labour Party wanted to restrict foreign investment in residential real estate. He believed this "would have been the death knell for our business" and realised Conrad would need to "engage with the government to explain why this would be detrimental".

"Engagement" apparently meaning "secretly give piles of cash", in a way which if it had been given directly to the party, would arguably have been a crime (in fact, the willingness of NZ First donors to admit arguably criminal evasion of donation laws in this trial has been shocking).

The article goes on to note that a few months after Holden began his donations, David Parker announced changes which gave him exactly what he wanted, which were then implemented by the select committee examining the bill. Which smells pretty bad. And I think Parker (and Labour members of the committee) need to front up and answer some questions about whether NZ First lobbied for those changes. Because from here, it looks like policy was purchased via the government's coalition partner. And that is simply corrupt.

Friday, June 10, 2022

One country at a time

Malaysia will abolish the death penalty:

The government has agreed to abolish the mandatory death penalty, giving judges discretion in sentencing.

Law minister Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said the decision was reached following the presentation of a report on substitute sentences for the mandatory death penalty, which he presented at Wednesday’s Cabinet meeting.

Obviously, this will need some time to implement, but its good news. Its a major inroad into Asia - one of the holdout regions on the death penalty - and hopefully other countries will soon follow.

Deeply conflicted

The Petitions Committee has reported back on a petition to introduce a capital gains tax on residential property, with a response that basicly boils down to "fuck off, we're not interested". Which is sadly unsurprising. According to the current Register of Members' Pecuniary and Other Specified Interests, the eight members of the committee collectively own 17 homes, with a majority owning more than one. The chair, Jacqui Dean, owns five. But none of them seems to have recused themselves, despite this obvious conflict of interest.

This is the problem: the body we need to fix house hoarding is comprised of house hoarders, who are financially invested in the current status quo, in protecting their own unearned capital gains, and ensuring they can continue to gain tax-free income (to add insult to injury, they get subsidised by a housing allowance for doing so). By any objective measure, they are deeply conflicted. I don't know how to fix it, but the continued toleration of this conflict and refusal to enact any solution undermines the integrity and legitimacy of parliament.