Tuesday, May 24, 2016



An abuse of the Speaker's chair

Last week NewsHub revealed leaked MPI reports which showed that MPI had been turning a blind eye to widespread criminal behaviour in the fishing industry. Today was the first day of Parliament since those revelations, and given their seriousness, it was unsurprising that someone took the opportunity to ask for an urgent debate on the matter. Speaker David Carter turned them down flat.

Which is interesting, because the Minister responsible during some of those investigations (and who oversaw the pattern of non-prosecution which has become rampant) was none other than... David Carter. So, he used the Speaker's chair to shut down Parliamentary inquiry into his incompetence while a Minister.

This is an outright abuse of the Speaker's chair for personal political gain, and we should not tolerate it. Speaker Carter must resign.

Open Government: Unilateral

Back in April, State Services Minister Paula Bennett announced in an answer to a Parlaimentary written question that we were consulting the Open Government Secretariat about an extension to the deadline for submitting our action plan:

While New Zealand's second Open Government Partnership (OGP) Action Plan is due to be submitted to the OGP by 30 June 2016, New Zealand intends to consult the OGP Secretariat on this timing to ensure that we can engage meaningfully in the development of the Action Plan.

So was there any consultation? Of course not. I asked the OGP under its information disclosure policy for all communications with the New Zealand government on this issue. I received their response today, and there were no "consultations". The first OGP heard of New Zealand's intention to ignore its obligations was when SSC told them we were (the attached letter is here). No advice was sought beforehand on whether this complied with OGP rules. Instead, SSC decided unilaterally that they didn't apply to us. In response, OGP apparently directed New Zealand to the OGP's "rules regarding delays", which highlight that missing a deadline by more than four months could result in a referral to the Criteria and Standards subcommittee and possible ejection from the OGP.

The obvious question: was Bennett lying, or did SSC simply not do what she said they'd do? Either way, she owes us some answers.

We are all socialists now

A mass government house-building programme is a favourite policy of the left for solving the Auckland housing crisis. Use cheap government capital, build affordable, energy-efficient homes, mass produce them to get efficiencies of scale, and get people back into owning their own home (violently popping the bubble and crashing house prices is an optional bonus). But things are so bad that even the right supports it now:

The option of large scale government-built housing should be put back on the table, a business lobbyist says.

Northern Employers and Manufacturers Association chief executive Kim Campbell said the government's current plans were not working.

Mr Campbell said Aucklanders with homes and good jobs were doing better than ever but others were missing out badly, unable to afford the region's high house prices.

"Clearly at the bottom end there needs to be something done. We have had 50 to 60 years (of doing it) and suddenly we've decided there isn't a need, and one wonders. Whatever is happening now is not working."


It gets better: the same article quotes the managing director of Mainfreight as wanting to get more freight off roads (and his trucks) and onto rail. It seems even the government's supporters are socialists now.

More odious debt

The media over the last few days has been full of stories about WINZ and odious debt. But the worst one is this:

A woman with eight children living in emergency housing is facing a debt to Work and Income of $100,000, which she will never repay, a support group says.

[...]

Auckland Action Against Poverty said the mother and her eight children were evicted by Housing New Zealand months ago after it found the house was contaminated by methamphetamine.

The organisation's coordinator, Alastair Russell, said it was not clear if the woman caused the contamination.

He said the family had been living in emergency accommodation costing more than $1200 a week and she had already borrowed $60,000 from Work and Income to pay for it.

"Housing New Zealand have banned her for 12 months from seeking their assistance so she'll clock up this debt for another six months and then go back to Housing New Zealand seeking assistance with a debt probably in excess of $100,000."

$100,000. Down here, that's enough to buy a serious chunk of a house. There's no credible possibility of this debt ever being repaid, but WINZ is under a statutory duty to gouge it out of her for the rest of her life. And to impose this because another government department basicly believes in witchcraft (and needs to churn state houses to create vacancies for homeless mothers with children living temporarily in motels) is simply crazy. Not to mention immoral. This "debt" is the result of government failure, a government agency refusing to do its job properly. And as such it should be voided.

Except it can't be. There's no easy mechanism for debts to WINZ to be forgiven. The law contemplates regulations permitting this, but none have ever been issued. And so the debts rack up: beneficiaries "owed" WINZ $627 million last year, half of which was for "recoverable grants", AKA "benefits being too low" (the other half was for overpayments, AKA WINZ fucking up. hardly any of it was for fraud). There are Parliamentary questions in at the moment to quantify how much of this is due to emergency housing assistance, but given that this is an area where debts can really rack up, I expect we're looking at well over $100 million here - assuming WINZ even knows to that level of detail. Which is a pretty big chunk of National's "surplus".

But this odious debt needs to go. And if this government won't forgive it, we need a government that will.

Monday, May 23, 2016



Accountability for Iraq?

Six years after it was established, the Chilcot Inquiry into the UK's involvement in the Iraq war is finally about to report back. And from the sound of it, its going to pin the blame squarely where it belongs: on Tony Blair:

The long-awaited Chilcot report into the Iraq war is reportedly set to savage Tony Blair and other former government officials in an “absolutely brutal” verdict on the failings of the occupation.

The former Prime Minister “won’t be let off the hook” over claims he offered military assistance to the former American President George W Bush, a year before the invasion of Iraq, a source told the Sunday Times.

[...]

The source added that the harshest criticism will be reserved for the former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw. “It will be absolutely brutal for [Mr] Straw,” they told the Sunday Times. “The build-up to war is very crucial. It will damage the reputations of a number of people, Richard Dearlove as well as Tony Blair and others.


But being officially blamed by a public inquiry is one thing, accountability is another. And the latter won't happen until Blair and his co-conspirators are where they belong: in the dock in The Hague and on trial for war crimes and the crime of aggression.

Climate change: The latest inventory

The annual inventory report [PDF] of our greenhouse gas emissions was released on Friday. The headline data: emissions are still increasing:
NZemissions2014

There's been another "recalculation" in the last 12 months, making year-to-year comparisons difficult. Naurally, this seems to have shifted everything lower: while the difference between 2014 and 2013's estimated emissions from the two reports is only ~150,000 tons, this years report says that there has in fact bene an 800,000 ton increase in emissions in the last year. Meanwhile, they report net 1990 emissions as being two million tons lower than they did last year - suggesting some serious fiddling going around with forestry numbers. And even then, our net emissions still appear to have increased by two million tons.

And keeping the comparisons within the same data set, it is clear that emissions are not dropping, and that National's emissions control policy has failed. That's hardly surprising, given that they subsidise pollution, but when we've committed to decreasing emissions, its the wrong way to go. But its been clear for a while that the only way National is going to meet its targets is by outright fraud.

Australia lets kiwi detainees literally rot

What are our "closest friends" Australia doing to kiwis awaiting deportation? Letting them literally rot away in prison due to substandard medical care:

A New Zealander held at an Australian immigration detention centre will find out today if his leg has to be amputated, he says.

The Type-2 diabetic blames substandard medical care in the Sydney lock-up of Villawood for his plight.

A human rights lawyer is calling on the New Zealand government to step in.


How did he get this way? He was denied basic medical care for months, turning a trivial injury into a life-threatening one. And now he may lose his leg due to Australia's policy of wilful neglect towards those in its gulags.

Worse, the New Zealand government just sat idly by and let this happen. Despite John Key's assurances that the government is taking a close interest, our people in Australia don't get consular assistance or even communications. They're just abandoned. Wouldn't it be nice to have a government which stood up to Australia, rather than crawling to them?

National should give us our $13,000 back

We all know that National works for the rich and screw over ordinary New Zealanders to funnel wealth upwards into the pockets of its rich mates. But how bad have they been? $13,000 bad:

Yesterday, Mr Little said that since National came into power in 2008, 37 per cent of economic growth had gone into the pay packets of workers compared to 50 per cent under the former Labour government. The share that had gone into company profits and returns from property investment had increased.

He said that was a symptom of a government catering to the wealthy few rather than working families, who would be $50 a week better off if their share of economic growth had not been eroded. "All up, the average family has missed out on more than $13,000 under this government."


This is what 90 day trial periods, the erosion of union rights, corporate tax cuts and huge environmental subsidies to farmers and other polluters mean in practice: the rich get more. And they get more by taking it from us. National enables the rapacious few to rob from the many.

We need a government that will put this right - and not just by restoring a just distribution of any economic growth, but also by making up the lost ground and restoring wages and benefits to where they would have been. And we won't get that from National.

Friday, May 20, 2016



Priorities

Yesterday, the Greens proposed making a start on a long-term solution to the housing crisis by returning Housing NZ's dividend so they could build 450 state houses a year. Bill English's response? To defend the dividend - money the government gives Housing NZ and then takes back - as "a discipline on Housing New Zealand".

Translation: to Bill English, an abstract financial disciplinary tool is more important than housing an additional 450 homeless families every year. Its a stark reminder of National's priorities, and how they don't care about people.

Cronyism in action

So, the government has just announced that they will be establishing more charter schools - because clearly one failure resulting in a private company running off with millions of dollars of government funding isn't enough. They've also announced a new "independent" entity to support them, run by ACT crony Jenny Gibbs and Maori Party crony Tariana Turia. So, pork all round for the support parties then.

Entirely coincidentally, the Maori Party announced their opposition to Labour's bill to abolish charter schools. Which looks simply corrupt, as if they're just protecting one of their own. Its a perfect example of how National's crony politics has eaten away at our democracy and trust in politics. If they weren't appointing cronies, the Maori Party's support could be taken as principled. But because their people personally profit from this policy, their support for it can only be regarded as corrupt.

Raiding the opposition in Australia

A country is having an election. The opposition has been effective in exposing government incompetence, so the government has responded with force, conducting midnight raids of its offices and the homes of its officials.

Russia? Zimbabwe? Malaysia? No - it's happening just across the Tasman in Australia:

The Australian Federal Police have raided Labor Party offices in Melbourne over the alleged leak of documents from the National Broadband Network.

In an explosive development in the middle of a federal election campaign, officers searched the Treasury Place office of former communications minister Stephen Conroy.

Shortly after 11pm, up to ten plain-clothes officers raided a Brunswick house believed to be the home of a Labor staffer.

Two staffers for Labor's communications spokesman Jason Clare, one of whom is a former staffer to Senator Conroy, are believed to be targeted by the raids. One of the staffers is a key operative in Labor Party campaign headquarters.


With all this effort, you'd expect the documents in question to be vital to "national security" or something. But no. They merely "revealed that the NBN roll-out was slower and more expensive under the Coalition than under Labor", personally embarrassing the Prime Minister who had been responsible for it under Tony Abbott. In New Zealand, we consider that to be part of our democracy and the business of holding an elected government to account. But in Australia, accountability is for oppositions, not governments, and holding the government to account is apparently a criminal offence.

This is not behaviour fitting for a modern, democratic state. Australia needs to repeal its authoritarian anti-leaking laws, and let the media and the opposition do their jobs. Instead, by criminalising disclosure, they merely protect incompetence and corruption.

New Fisk

Or rather, old Fisk - the Independent seems to be publishing some "best ofs".

Hardly a breath of wind: the silence that emphasises a city’s fate
‘Murdered by the Syrians’
The destruction of morality
The Syrians had no chance...

National wants Customs to be able to read your email

Thinking of travelling overseas ever? The National Party wants Customs to be able to force you to divulge passwords to all your electronic devices at the border, so they can paw through your files and read your email. Or just download it all. And National has already passed legislation allowing them to give that information to spy agencies for "sharing".

Supposedly Customs will only exercise this power on suspicion of criminal activity. But they'll be writing the rules themselves, and have expressed a strong desire or suspicionless searches, so that "threshold" will be deliberately easy to meet. And there is no question that it will be abused: Customs has been caught in the past abusing its border search and seizure powers for political bullying of cyberactivists, to get "brownie points" with the FBI, and to help police circumvent legal checks and balances on their search powers. And in practice, what they mostly examine digital devices for at present is to search for TV - the possession of which isn't a criminal offence. National would give these searches legal sanction, and allow Customs to force passwords to be divulged on pain of prosecution - and all so they can be local bully boys for Hollywood.

We should sya no to this expansion of powers. If Customs want access to digital devices to perform intrusive, wide-ranging searches, they should do what the police do: get a warrant.

Thursday, May 19, 2016



A convenient "mistake"

The Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA torture is supposed to be a full accounting of the CIA's illegal torture and rendition during the war on terror. Only part of it has been released, but from what we've seen, the classified parts contain evidence of serious criminal behaviour by CIA officers. But conveniently, the CIA has managed to "mistakenly" delete one of the few copies:

The CIA inspector general’s office has said it “mistakenly” destroyed its only copy of a comprehensive Senate torture report, despite lawyers for the Justice Department assuring a federal judge that copies of the documents were being preserved.

The erasure of the document by the spy agency’s internal watchdog was deemed an “inadvertent” foul-up by the inspector general, according to Yahoo News.

One intelligence community source told Yahoo News, which first reported the development, that last summer CIA inspector general officials deleted an uploaded computer file with the report and then accidentally destroyed a disk that also contained the document.


What a convenient mistake! And if similar "mistakes" happen to the other copies - all of which are held by the CIA - then all their torturers will be off the hook, because the evidence against them would have been destroyed. Now who would have an interest in that happening, I wonder?

Despite their protests, this should be treated as a deliberate destruction of evidence by the CIA. And those responsible should be prosecuted for it.

Making a start

What's the solution to new Zealand's homelessness crisis? The central problem is that thanks to National's selling down the stock, there are no longer enough state houses to cope with demand. The long-term solution clearly has to be building more. Today, the Greens recommended a simple solution to make a start on that: letting Housing New Zealand keep its dividend:

Housing New Zealand should build hundreds of new state homes for Kiwis living in cars and garages with hundreds of millions it currently pays to the Government, the Green Party says.

The party has unveiled its Homes Not Cars policy at an event in Auckland, saying it would allow Housing NZ to keep the dividend it currently has to pay to the Government - while also refunding its tax.

[...]

The Greens say their policy would free up $207 million for the "emergency building" of around 450 new state houses.


The idea of government agencies paying "dividends" to the government, effectively handing back part of their budget rather than spending it on services, is something which has never made sense. ending it for this vital agency would allow it to focus on its core job of building houses, rather than making money go round in circles. And while 450 homes a year isn't a lot, its at least a start - which is more than National is doing.

A criminal industry

The fishing industry is 80% criminal. That's the natural conclusion you get from reading the Operation Achilles preliminary investigation report (leaked to NewsHub), which found widespread dumping of fish at sea:

The operation was part of a trial of CCTV cameras onboard the boats, and it found four of the five vessels equipped with the technology "openly discarded substantial quantities of quota fish" without reporting it.

What is of particular concern, though, is that the report states that between 20 percent and 100 percent of some quota fish were being discarded every time the net was pulled up.


As noted previously, this is serious criminal behaviour. And yet astoundingly, despite having clear evidence, MPI refused to prosecute, supposedly after legal advice saying that it could not be used in court. I'm currently seeking a copy of that advice or a summary of reasons under the OIA, but the report suggests an extremely disturbing practice:
As I understand it the Ministry has previously ignored offending (dumping) that has been observed and recorded by Ministry of Fishery Observers because an assurance had been given to the vessels concerned that all such offending that was seen would be disregarded and no prosecution action taken. It is understood that this agreement was reached as a condition in order to allow the Observers on board the vessel in the first instance.

Which is just fucking unbelieveable. As Susie Ferguson asked this morning, what is the point of observers if MPI can't act on their observations? It appears that MP is utterly captured by the fishing industry and unwilling to enforce the law. In which case, why are we paying them $73 million a year to do so? maybe we should sack them all and hire people actually willing to do the job?

The report raises serious questions about the legality of this practice. But more importantly its just stupid policy which allows fishers to get away with environmental murder. Accepting observers on a vessel should be a requirement of holding quota. It is that simple. And refusal or intimidation should result in the quota being revoked. Ditto cameras. As for the concern that fishers would interfere with cameras or obstruct footage, a severe strict liability offence seems to be a justifiable solution. Because its clear that trusting the fishing industry to obey the law and honestly report catches when they have strong financial incentives not to and an entrenched and pervasive culture of lawbreaking is a mug's game. Instead, we need mechanisms to enforce honesty, starting with prosecutions. They're criminals, and they should be treated as such.

Forgive this odious debt

Earlier this week, John Key airily told the homeless to "talk to Work and Income". But it turns out that if you go to WINZ, they can't actually help, and the best they can do for people in a crisis is arrange to put them up in a motel for a week. But this isn't free assistance, no - WINZ treats it as a loan, and gouges it back out of its victims:

Homeless people are finding themselves thousands of dollars in debt to Work and Income (Winz) for money loaned to them to stay in motels.

Winz will loan people money to rent out a motel room as emergency housing, when there is nowhere else to put them.

People then have to repay the debt, and many say that is just not possible.

[...]

Diane moved in to a motel with her children, aged eight and three, on Friday. Winz was paying for it until next Monday.

The stay was costing $1600, which she said was all Winz would loan her. She has to pay it back at $16 a week.

$16 a week may not sound like much, but when you've got nothing, its the difference between eating and not eating.

So, basicly, WINZ fails to do its job of providing people in extreme need with a state house, then makes its victims pay for that failure. And at a top rate too, far more than you'd pay if you just booked a motel online. But because its not on their budget, and someone else eventually pays, WINZ has no incentive to ensure that its victims are getting value for money.

Action Station currently has a petition calling on Social Development Minister to forgive this odious debt. You can sign it here. And you should - because people shouldn't have to pay for WINZ's failure. Their job is to ensure that people in desperate need have a roof over their heads. And if they can't do that, and they have to resort to motels, they should pay the price.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016



Security detention is arbitrary and illegal

Over a decade ago, the New Zealand government imprisoned Ahmed Zaoui, an Algerian refugee, for two years without charge or trial, on the basis of a spurious and secret "security assessment" which the SIS later withdrew. Today, the UN UN human rights committee ruled that an identical scheme of detention in Australia is arbitrary violates international law:

Australia’s indefinite detention of refugees on secret security grounds is arbitrary and illegal, the UN has ruled, in the latest of 51 cases – the most of any country – before the human rights committee.

The government should offer compensation to those it incarcerated without charge for up to six years, the UN’s human rights committee said in its latest rebuke, which could harm Australia’s ambitions to secure a seat on the powerful UN human rights council.

[...]

The latest adjudication by the UN human rights committee relates to five refugees – one Iranian, three Sri Lankan Tamils and one Afghan Hazara – who were illegally detained between 2009 and 2015 because the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation had made an “adverse security assessment” against each of them.

They were recognised as refugees by Australia – “for whom return to their countries of origin was unsafe” the committee said – but were refused visas on security grounds.

But they were not allowed to know why they had been deemed security risks, nor were they permitted to see any of the evidence against them, or contest it. As a result, they were held in detention indefinitely, without facing charge or trial, or without any [recourse?] to the courts.


ASIO has since withdrawn its secret "security assessments" of the men, as it has with almost everybody it has detained in this manner. However, an unknown number - estimated at between six and ten, but the government won't even say how many - remain illegally in indefinite arbitrary detention on the basis of secret "evidence" they are legally forbidden to contest. Just another example of how Australia is the sort of country we shouldn't be friends with.

As for Zaoui, the New Zealand government never compensated him, and the Ministers who approved his detention (some of whom are still in Parliament, though in opposition) never apologised for his treatment. Maybe they should do something about that sometime?

Back to the middle ages in Samoa

Before the wars of religion and seven and a half million dead made them recognise the value of religious tolerance, European states persecuted those who followed a different religion from their ruler. Today, Samoa seems intent on going back there, with the Prime Minister considering constitutional changes to reflect christianity while the powerful council of churches is calling for an outright ban on Islam:

Samoa's council of churches has welcomed the prime minister's call to review the religious freedom provisions of the constitution.

Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi recently said the country's supreme law may be changed to recognise Christian principles and teachings, not just in the preamble.

However the Secretary General of the Samoa Council of Churches, Reverend Ma'auga Motu, said he would go a step further and ban the religion of Islam.

He said even though most Samoans are Christian, Islam poses a future threat to the country.


The supposed justification for this is concerns about "Islamic extremists". I can think of no better way to radicalise people and turn them to extremism and violence than to ban their religion. On the flip side, if you want people to live in peace, you leave them in peace. Interfering in people's private choices rather than ignoring them is the cause of discord.

New Fisk

Justin Trudeau is a champion for women – but he can’t protect his wife from the anger of Conservative Canada