Friday, September 22, 2017



National's New Zealand

How bad is National's New Zealand? Whole families are homeless and sleeping in doorways:

A homeless family-of-eight are among those sleeping rough on the streets of south Auckland.

The couple and their six children were recently found lying in the entry of the Manurewa Citizens Advice Bureau by its board chairman Gordon Myer when he arrived for work two mornings in a row.

"They lay matting in the area and set their beds up in the foyer," he says.

"There's another group of people who sleep around the back. There's about seven or eight of them."


This is simply indecent, reminscent of the Victorian cities many of our ancestors fled here to escape. And we should not tolerate a government which permits it, which allows families to be left homeless and on the street and without support. Instead, we should take our opportunity tomorrow to vote to end this indecency.

New Fisk

A year on from the murder of Christian writer Nahed Hattar in Jordan, many questions remain unanswered

Last day to enrol

Today is the last day on which you can advance vote. It is also the last day you can enrol to vote - for some odd reason we don't allow enrolment on election day. So, if you're not enrolled, get along to an advance voting station and do it. Likewise if you think you might be busy tomorrow (and don't want your two hours paid time off to vote), or just want the whole thing to be over, get out there and vote! The polls are tight, so no matter who you support, every vote is going to matter.

The Electoral Commission has a list of advance voting locations here.

Thursday, September 21, 2017



WINZ steals from the poorest

Hot on the heels of yesterday's news of WINZ lawlessness, we learn that WINZ has been illegally underpaying the poorest beneficiaries:

More than 7000 of New Zealand's most-desperate beneficiaries have been short-changed by the Government - and they're about to get payback.

A Ministry of Social Development report has found 7148 people on Special Benefits have been underpaid by the Government since 2006, and they have known about it for two years. MSD have estimated the amount could be up to $9.5 million.

In 2015, MSD was advised that it needed to offer the Temporary Additional Support (TAS) to beneficiaries if they were better off on it.


And the short version is, they didn't. Instead, they deliberately kept people on the lower benefit and didn't inform them of their entitlement to the higher one, in order to keep benefit costs low. The good news is that they're going to have to pay it all back - but you can guarantee that they will make that process as slow and difficult as possible to ensure they don't have to. Because that's just how WINZ are: lawless, and focused on cost-cutting rather than helping people.

This agency needs a complete culture change. And that change needs to start by sacking the entire senior management who have allowed this toxic culture to grow and fester. And its lawless chief executive needs to be the first to go...

Suspicious

Remember National's court case with Eminem? A decision was supposed to be issued within three months of the trial ending in May. But strangely, its late:

Justice Helen Cull reserved her decision on May 12 - noting at the time that decisions were usually delivered within three months.

That three-month deadline was reached on August 12, not long before Parliament was dissolved and the election campaign period began on August 22.

It is now more than four months since the decision was reserved.

The Herald has formally asked the High Court if the verdict has been delayed because of its political sensitivity in the election period.

There has been no response so far.


I think the court owes us an explanation for this, because it certainly looks suspicious. As the article points out, 90% of court decisions are delivered on time. If there's a reason for the delay, then we deserve to hear it. Otherwise, the judiciary has only themselves to blame if people believe the worst of them.

New Fisk

If Donald Trump is going to use WW2 to justify his UN speech, it would be good if he got his facts right

A positive sign

While Donald Trump seems trying to start nuclear wars with both North Korea and Iran, there's abeen a positive sign: the UN has outlawed nuclear weapons. And New Zealand was one of the first countries to sign up to the ban:

Dozens of countries, including New Zealand, have signed a treaty to ban nuclear weapons amid tensions over North Korea's nuclear and missile tests.

The US, Britain, France and others, including Australia, boycotted the event at the annual United Nations gathering of world leaders.

The treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons will enter into force 90 days after 50 countries have ratified it. Only a few states were due to deposit their ratification on Wednesday.


No nuclear states are signing - but the treaty effectively criminalises them in international law and declares them to be outlaw regimes, providing a solid basis for international justice if they ever use the things. Assuming there's still people left to care, that is. And while a treaty without the nuclear powers doesn't sound like much of a step forward, its a start towards a safer world.

Rotten to the core

How rotten is WINZ? So rotten that they use false names for those serving on their internal Benefit Review Committees, and present them as truthful to their statutory appeal body. As if that's not bad enough, they then continued to do it, even after promising not to:

Decisions by the Ministry of Social Development's benefits review committees have been issued under fake names and signatures, in breach of the chief executive's personal undertaking.

The deception was exposed when a woman appealed against seven decisions on her case, and a MSD manager disclosed the falsity to the Social Security Appeal Authority that was to hear them.

The woman's lawyer, Tony Ellis, called it "extraordinary misbehaviour".


Except its worse than that, because the false identities were disclosed in an ex patre attempt to influence the Appeal Authority against the victim.

The Appeal Authority's full decision on the falsification is here. Its worth reading, both so you can see how thoroughly rotten WINZ is, but also for its robust defence of the principles of open justice. To put it simply, we're not a shitty despotism, and we just don't do that sort of shit here. In New Zealand, a democratic state under the rule of law, decisions are made in open court, by people whose identities are known. And that's vital to ensuring that both the parties and the public can have confidence in the system. In the case of WINZ decisions, its especially important, because of the enormous disparity in power between the parties. To counteract this, WINZ has a statutory duty of full and complete disclosure to appellants in SSAA cases. Its chief executive has knowingly and repeatedly shat all over that duty.

As for the solution, at the least MSD chief executive Brendan Boyle should resign. He has systematicly violated his statutory duties and fundamentally undermined the integrity of his entire department (and by doing so, endangered his staff). He needs to go for it. He should also be prosecuted for fabricating evidence before the SSAA. This is not something we as a country should tolerate, and we need heads on spikes for it. As for State Services Commissioner Peter Hughes, he needs to go too. A country under the rule of law can not tolerate senior public servants who support this judicial fraud.

Of course, we all know this will never happen, because our "justice" system works for those in power against those without. Official crimes are never punished, and those in power are never held to account. Is it any wonder then that WINZ's victims take matters into their own hands?

Wednesday, September 20, 2017



This is how civil wars start

As I write this, Spanish police are raiding Catalan government offices and arresting government officials in an effort to prevent Catalans from voting in a referendum on independence:

Spanish police officers have raided three Catalan regional government departments and arrested 12 senior officials as Madrid steps up its battle to stop an independence referendum being held in less than two weeks’ time.

On Wednesday morning, a spokesman for the regional government said Guardia Civil officers were searching the Barcelona offices of the presidency and the ministries of economic affairs and foreign relations.

He also confirmed that Josep Maria JovĂ©, the secretary general of economic affairs and an aide to the Catalan vice-president, was among those detained – apparently in connection with the launch of web pages related to the referendum. Catalan ministers are due to hold an emergency meeting.


They've also attacked the Catalan domain name registry in an effort to censor pro-referendum sites, and seized polling materials. The message is clear: Spain's government (the ideological and literal descendents of Franco's fascists) is willing to use force to prevent Catalans from deciding their own future. Its both grossly undemocratic and horrificly stupid. At best, forbidding Catalans from voting invites the Catalan government to unilaterally declare independence. And at worst, using force means its only a matter of time before someone, either the Catalan government or just the 70% of Catalans who want to decide this democraticly, decides to defend themselves with force. And what happens then?

Spain is supposed to be a modern state, committed to democratic ideals. It is part of the European Union, which is similarly committed to democracy. The idea that such a state should behave in this manner is as absurd as it is obscene.

Questions like this should not be resolved by force. They should be resolved democraticly. Let Catalans vote! And if they vote for independence after today, then Spain only has itself to blame.

Kiwis support a water tax

The prospect of making farmers and water bottlers pay for their use of public water has been a big issue this election campaign. Irrigation-dependent dairy farmers hate the idea, of course - they're freeloaders who don't want to pay their fair share. The rest of New Zealand, OTOH, recognises that a resource rental on water is simply fair:

The results of a new Water New Zealand survey show the vast majority of Kiwis want commercial water users to be charged, and are concerned about the quality of waterways.

Seventy seven per cent of those surveyed said agriculture and horticulture users should pay for water, as did 77 per cent of participants living in rural communities.

Fifty nine per cent of respondents said that all water users should pay, and 42 per cent of respondents thought they were already paying for water use.

A clear majority, 89 per cent, thought bottled water companies and similar industries should pay.

"Interestingly, these responses are consistent across city, regional and rural regions," Water New Zealand said in the survey report, released on Wednesday.


Yes, even people in the country recognise that if you profit from the effective privatisation of a public resource, you should be paying for it, just like you do for gold, silver, and oil. Sadly, there seems to be a strong culture among farmers that their profits and lifestyle should be subsidised by the rest of us. But with this sort of support, that culture simply can't last. Farmers are going to have to pay their own way, so they'd better start getting used to the idea.

National censors NZTA

Last month, when the National Party announced ten expensive new roads as the core of its election campaign, the Greater Auckland blog noticed something interesting: the business case for one of them, Whangarei to Wellsford, had disappeared from NZTA's website. Google's cache also suggested why: because the business case found that the road "perform[ed] poorly from an economic efficiency perspective" and should not be built.

The natural suspicion was that the government had ordered the business case removed because it undermined its election promise. And thanks to the OIA, we now know that that is exactly what happened:

NZTA-missing-BC-OIA-Reply-Email-1

Interestingly, Transport Minister Simon Bridges had denied giving any such orders. So either he was outright lying in response to an OIA request, or doesn't know what his own staff are doing. Either way, its not acceptable, and NZTA should not be censoring public information to help with the Minister's election campaign.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017



How WINZ got social housing costs so wrong

Last year, National bowed to public pressure over homelessness and replaced emergency housing loans - under which the homeless were saddled with odious debt to be put up in price-gouging motels - with a grant. Their initial budget for these grants was a mere $2 million, but demand was so high that they burned through that in the first month. Currently, WINZ is on track to spend $50 million on these grants, 2500% of their budget. So how did they get it so wrong? Someone used FYI, the public OIA request site, to ask. The result is a depressing insight into the paucity of WINZ's thinking on the issue.

WINZ released 9 MB of documents, but the money quote is buried at the back:

The cost of the SNG has been estimated on the basis of supporting 750 single people and 1,250 families at 7 days each at the maximum SNG rate. Once implemented, the SNG will be demand-driven but an estimate of expected cost still needs to be provided as this is a policy change

So, 2,000 grants at $1,000 each. According to the cover letter, the number of grants was estimated from the number of households with "insecure housing" on WINZ's (severely restricted) social housing register (~800 - 950), and the number of households listed in the 2013 census as lacking habitable accommodation (4,200). In other words, they deliberately estimated that only 40% of those eligible would be given a grant - either because they wouldn't apply, or because WINZ would unlawfully refuse it. They also assumed that families would be given such a grant for only 7 days, after which they would miraculously find an affordable home to live in.

The reality, according to MSD's Social Housing Report, is a little different: MSD gave out 11,446 grants totalling $12.6 million to 3,108 individual clients in the March quarter alone. The average grant wasn't just higher - $1,100 instead of $1,000 - but there were significantly more of them. Partly this is because there were more clients, but the biggest factor is that each client received almost a month of support rather than the expected week. And price-gouging by the motels WINZ was hiring didn't exactly help either.

In retrospect, this should have been obvious to WINZ. People don't just find an affordable home in a week, and given that WINZ itself was organising a big chunk of those homes via its social housing programmes, it should have known how long it would take. But like everything from National, the policy seems to have been designed as a PR stunt, so they could claim that something was being done, not as something designed to actually make a difference.

The scary thing is, it could have been worse. WINZ's first budget estimate, in August 2015, was for 750 grants, at $500 each - a mere $375,000. Clearly the organisation responsible for preventing homelessness had no idea of either the scale of the problem, or the cost of fixing it. And there's little evidence that they've learned anything since.

Climate change: This is going to cost us

For the past six months, National have been suppressing Ministry for the Environment guidance on coastal hazards, which show that sea level rise and the resulting storm surges threaten $19 billion of coastal property. This government malfeasance isn't just bad froma transparency point of view - it has real consequences. Consequences like this:

The Thames-Coromandel District Council recently gave its consent to a 72 lot extension of the Whitianga Waterways canal housing project, and relied on a “least drama” IPCC projection for sea level rise of 1.06 m out to 2120. That 1m projection complies with nine-year-old 2008 Ministry for the Environment guidelines. But was this good resource and risk management practice? If the Council had instead taken account of high-impact but relatively low-probability projections, as has been proposed by the latest 2017 Draft Ministry guidelines and other 2017 reports from the USA, it would have been forced to conclude that both the subdivision itself and most of Whitianga township will be submerged by rising seas.

Instead, people are going to build houses there, and those houses are going to be underwater in 80 years. And long before then, the council will be forced to redzone them, and the owners will sue the council for deliberately and knowingly consenting them when they shouldn't have. Whoever ends up carrying the can, it is going to be hugely expensive, and hugely wasteful, not to mention ruining people's lives. And all because some property developer wanted to to find a greater fool to realise their asset before it became valueless, and the council was too stupid or too corrupt to say "no".

When that happens, we should send the bill to Paula Bennett, whose suppression of bad news has allowed this decision to be made.

Suffrage Day

Kate_Sheppard

Today, September 19th, is Suffrage Day. 124 years ago today, women gained the right to vote in New Zealand. Its one of our greatest achievements as a nation, and yet its not one we publicly mark. That needs to change: Suffrage Day should be a public holiday. Its certainly better than celebrating a dead religion, a foreign monarchy, or their odious wars.

This year, Suffrage Day has fallen in the middle of an election campaign, so its a particularly appropriate day to advance vote. If you're not sure where to do that, just select your electorate from the list here.

Australia tries to deport Rohingya to persecution

Myanmar is currently waging a campaign of ethnic cleansing against its Rohingya minority. So naturally, the racist Australian government is trying to force Rohingya detained in its concentration camps to return to persecution:

Australia is promising thousands of dollars to Rohingya refugees who agree to return to Myanmar, a country that has been accused of ethnic cleansing against the Muslim minority.

Asylum seekers in the Australian-run detention centre on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island, have been pressured by officials to return to their home countries, even if they face violence.

[...]

Returning Rohingya to their country could put their lives at risk. Myanmar does not recognise the ethnic minority and has conducted military operations in Rohingya villages that the United Nations’ top human rights official branded “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing”.

Close to 400,000 Rohingya have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh, many with bullet wounds and stories of mass killings, as their villages burn.


This is simply monstrous. But its the ultimate endpoint of Australia's racist, anti-refugee policies: sending people back to be murdered. And the parallels with the shameful treatment of Jews fleeing Nazi Germany - treatment which the Refugee Convention was created to prevent any repeat of - couldn't be any clearer.

National's New Zealand

The latest manifestation of National's social deficit? Malnourished kids:

Malnutrition is putting twice as many kids in hospital compared with 10 years ago, as food prices continue to bite into household incomes.

Child hospitalisation data shows around 120 children a year now have overnight stays due to nutritional deficiencies and anaemia, compared to an average 60 a decade ago.

Doctors say poor nutrition is also a factor in a significant proportion of the rest of the 40,000 annual child hospitalisations linked to poverty - and that vitamin deficiencies are more common in New Zealand compared to similar countries.

"Housing, stress and nutrition - it's all tied together," said pediatrician Dr Nikki Turner, from the Child Poverty Action Group. "If you want to eat nutritiously on a low-income it's difficult, and that means you're more likely to get sick and stay sick for longer."


National has allowed a housing bubble to grow while neglecting poverty and homelessness. And this is the result. And its not simply indecent - it will also cost us later in health, education, and reduced life chances for these children. But I guess National's "answer" to that would simply be to build another road...

Monday, September 18, 2017



Its going to be a short election night

Advance voting has really taken off this year, with enormous numbers exercising their right to vote early, parties campaigning specifically for advance votes, and queues at some advance polling booths. As of Sunday, 445,000 people had advance voted - more than did so in the whole 2011 election. The number of advance votes look like it will easily surpass the 2014 election as well - but by how many?

Looking at the Electoral Commission's graphs, there's a rough pattern. In 2011, roughly 70,000 people had advance voted a week out from the election, versus a final tally of 334,000. In 2014, the week out number was 179,000 versus a final tally of 717,000. So, the final number is somewhere between 4 and 5 times the week out figure. Applying the lower estimate to Friday's tally of 312,000 gives an estimate of roughly 1.25 million advance votes - or about half the total expected to be cast. And it could be even higher.

Those votes are counted early, starting on election afternoon, and announced shortly after the polls close on election night. Which means that from pretty much the moment the election specials start, we're going to already know the rough shape of the result, and have an idea which of the rival polling houses' models is correct. And with fewer votes to count, the rest of the results should be counted much quicker, giving us a final result much earlier. In other words, unless something goes catastrophically wrong somewhere, it is going to be a very short election night.

Too many cows

Waikato's dairy farmers - the dirtiest in the country - are protesting in Morrinsville today to defend their "right" to keep pumping their shit into our rivers and their piss into our wells. Meanwhile, to get an idea of how obscene this is, farmers are just 1% of the population. They produce 50% of greenhouse gas emissions. And their cows use as much water as 60 million people:

Dairy farms in New Zealand use water equivalent to the combined populations of London, New York, Tokyo, Los Angeles, and Rio de Janeiro, experts say.

[...]

Fraser and Dewes, using Dairy NZ figures, said there were 12,000 dairy herds in New Zealand consuming 4.8b cubic metres of water.

An average person - based on figures from Wellington, although water use varies nationwide - uses around 80 cubic metres of water, meaning dairy farms alone use the equivalent of around 58.2 million people.

Almost all of the water is used by about 2000 farms, primarily in dry areas such as Canterbury and Otago.


And that's why our rivers are so dirty: because we have the equivalent of five global megalopolises sucking them dry, and spewing their shit back, untreated. And this massively disproportionate use of environmental resources is done by and for the benefit of a tiny clique of rural landowners, while fucking up and threatening the lives of the rest of us.

This has to stop. The number of cows has to decrease, and their water use needs to be reduced to a sustainable level. People running dairy farms in areas of the country like Canterbury where its just not environmentally sustainable need to switch to farming something else. Part of the solution to that is to cut the environmental subsidy and make farmers pay for their profiteering from a public resource. But as we've seen with the ETS, market mechanisms alone are insufficient. Ultimately, we need to regulate unsustainable dairying out of existence. And those persist in illegally pumping shit into our environment need to start going to jail for it.

Friday, September 15, 2017



National: climate freeloaders

Climate change is the greatest threat humanity has ever faced. Globally, it promises famine, disease, death, and war. Within New Zealand, it promises to destroy our agricultural industry and drown our coastal communities. Labour and the Greens are taking this threat seriously, promising to set a target of carbon neutrality by 2050 to push us down the pathway towards a greener economy. National, OTOH, doesn't care:

Both Labour and Greens, likely coalition partners, have committed to a carbon-neutral country by 2050 - but National won't commit to one of its own - and the party doesn't think it's possible within the next century.

"It certainly won't happen by 2050, it might happen by 2100," he said in the Young Voters' Debate hosted by 1 News.

[...]

"We don't have a stated policy goal of carbon neutrality. Our goal is to meet our international commitments, take climate change seriously, invest in the stuff that actually makes a difference which is the science around agricultural emissions reductions," Mr Bishop said.

"This might not be a popular view, but whether or not New Zealand becomes carbon neutral by 2050, will not stop hurricanes and sea level rise in New Zealand. We are 0.16 percent of global emissions."


And yet National somehow expect other, poorer, countries to make sacrifices that they are unwilling to make, to save their dirty farmer cronies from being driven off the land. Faced with the biggest crisis the world has ever seen, National's policy is simply to freeload off the efforts of others, while doing nothing ourselves, so that their cronies can make money for a little while longer.

That's not the kiwi way. We can and must do better than National's pathetic inaction.

New Fisk

If Nikki Haley doesn't drop her nonsensical pro-Israeli propaganda line at the UN, she could cause real problems for Lebanon