Tuesday, September 02, 2014

New Fisk

Israel’s ‘land for lives’ is theft. Pure and simple

Spying on their allies again

The Intercept has a major new story about the US's intelligence relationship with Turkey, and how the US monitors the Kurds for the Turkish government, even helping them target hit squads. But at the same time as they're spying for the Turks, they're also spying on them:

The degree to which the NSA surveils its partner is made clear in the National Intelligence Priorities Framework (NIPF), a document establishing U.S. intelligence priorities. Updated and presented to the president every six months, the NIPF shows a country’s “standing” from the perspective of the U.S. In the April 2013 edition, Turkey is listed as one of the countries most frequently targeted by Washington for surveillance, with U.S. intelligence services tasked with collecting data in 19 different areas of interest.

The document places Turkey at the level of Venezuela—and even ahead of Cuba—in terms of U.S. interest in intelligence collection. Information about the “leadership intention” of the Turkish government is given the second-highest priority rating, and information about the military and its infrastructure, foreign policy goals, and energy security are given the third-highest priority rating. The same framework also lists the PKK as an intelligence target, but it is given a much lower priority ranking.

They hack Turkish government computers, they intercept mobile phone calls from the US embassy, they infect computers with spyware and trojans. And they share all the results with their "Five Eyes" partners, including New Zealand. So, through the US, we're effectively spying on Turkey as well, a country we have good and peaceful relations with.

This is likely to have diplomatic fallout, and further alienate Turkey from the US. Another example of how spies undermine friendships and poison international relations.

The Greens on work and wages

The Greens released their work and wages policy today, targeted firmly at improving living standards and reducing inequality. The headline policy is an immediate increase in the minimum wage to $16/hour, followed by annual increases to reach $18/hour in 2017. This is combined with a living wage for public servants (and outsourced contractors). We saw in 1999 - 2008 how this sort of bottom-up pressure lifts wages and living standards across a broad sector of the economy, while reducing inequality. But its not just about direct support for wages - they also want to repeal National's 90-day law, Hobbit law, and other employment law changes to allow workers to bargain once more. And they'll be supporting further moves to promote more collective agreements. Again, as the experience of the Clark government shows, this will be good for most New Zealanders, because better union bargaining outcomes are passed on (both as a direct anti-union tactic, but also by other employers if they want to compete for labour).

All of this is pretty much as expected, and entirely compatible with Labour's policies (and broadly with NZ First's). There are two interesting bits though:

  • statutory redundancy payments: this was recommended in 2008 by the Ministerial Advisory Group report on redundancy and restructuring. The right will already be squealing that this will increase unemployment, but the evidence from Europe is that it doesn't. Instead, it reduces unemployment in hard times, by making employers reluctant to sack workers.
  • Greater transparency over executive pay, and limits on it for government contractors. Again, this will have the right kicking and screaming - but transparency benefits shareholders, and the government is perfectly entitled to insist it gets value for money from its contracts, rather than seeing it support overpaid executives.

Overall, its a good policy. Hopefully they'll get a chance to implement it.

The caretaker convention and elections

There was an interesting discussion on Twitter yesterday between Dean Knight and Graeme Edgeler about the caretaker convention and elections. Dean highlighted the fact that Key had a perfect right to call for whatever sort of inquiry he felt like, as the caretaker convention (under which the decision-making power of post-election governments is constrained) does not apply before elections. According to the Cabinet Office,

The government has the right to govern until the election. The caretaker convention does not apply in the pre-election period.

Successive governments, however, have exercised restraint in the pre-election period in two main areas [appointments and advertising]

Edgeler disputed this, on the basis that the Prime Minister could not be said to enjoy the confidence of the House, because there wasn't one. IMHO he's right - but that does not a constitutional convention make. Instead, conventions are made by a wide acceptance across the political system, and (eventually) by someone actually standing up and admitting the fact. That pre-election restraint is a sign that such acceptance is growing. And interestingly, we also have (opposition) politicians supporting such a convention:
Peters said Key should not be ordering any inquiry this close to the election. With voters going to the polls in less than three weeks, Key's constitutional role was that of a caretaker. The decision should be left to the government elected after September 20.

Its easy to say that in opposition. Its another to say it in government. But if politicians keep saying such things, I think we'll see the scope of the caretaker convention expand to take in the period after the dissolution of Parliament, while imposing greater "self-restraint" in the leadup to an election. And our democracy will be better for it.

A clayton's inquiry

That's the only way to describe John Key's proposed "inquiry" into Judith Collins:

An inquiry into the events surrounding Judith Collins' downfall will not examine the relationship between her and Whale Oil blogger Cameron Slater or the Serious Fraud Office investigation into Hanover Finance, Prime Minister John Key says.

Opposition parties are calling for a broad inquiry, but Mr Key said it will instead be confined to the conduct of Ms Collins and her relationship with Adam Feeley, the former head of the SFO.


But Mr Key rejected a broader inquiry. "I just don't think that's warranted. The Opposition would want to make those claims because they simply want to use this as a way to make it bigger than it is, or to smear the Government.

The problem for Key is that this sort of obvious strapped chicken exercise to clear his Minister by deliberately blinding the investigators will convince no-one. Everyone can see it is bullshit, and they will treat its findings accordingly. And by trying to protect Collins, Key is making it clear that he supports dirty politics.

In any case he has no choice in the matter. Winston Peters has just said that a full royal commission of inquiry into dirty politics will be a bottom line in government formation. So, either Key cleans house properly, or he will no longer be Prime Minister.

Monday, September 01, 2014

Will the police investigate?

John Key is busy putting together an inquiry into Judith Collins' attempt to undermined SFO Chief Executive Adam Feeley. The effectiveness of any inquiry will ultimately depend on its terms of reference, and the signs are not good; Key looks like he wants a whitewash to clear his government rather than a full excavation of the truth.

Meanwhile, Feeley thinks the police should open their own investigation:

Former Serious Fraud Office boss Adam Feeley says he hopes the police are considering a criminal investigation into claims Judith Collins was linked to a smear campaign against him.

Mr Feeley said he believed both the police and SFO would be considering whether they had grounds to launch an inquiry.

"It's almost certain that several offences could have been committed if people were undermining a police or an SFO investigation, absolutely," he told RadioLive this morning.

"I would be surprised if both SFO and police weren't thinking about that today."

Based on what's been released, those involved could be looking at being prosecuted for conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. The question is whether the police will enforce the law, or show themselves again to be the faithful lapdogs of the government-of-the-day, preferring to sniff the arse of power rather than kick it.

Dirty Politics symposium on Friday

Otago University will be holding an online symposium this Friday on "Debating 'Dirty Politics': Media, Politics and Law". Andrew Geddis has more details on the agenda:

  • 1:00-1:15: Opening interview with Mr Nicky Hager
  • 1:15-2:05: Media panel with Dr Rosemary Overell; Dr Holly Randell Moon; Dr Brett Nicholls and Dr John Farnsworth.
  • 2:05-2:55: Politics panel with Dr Bryce Edwards and Professor Richard Jackson.
  • 2:55-3:45: Law panel with Professor Paul Roth and Professor Ursula Cheer
  • 3:45-4:00: Closing remarks from Mr Nicky Hager
You'll be able to watch it all livestreamed here (http://bit.ly/HagerDebate) ... as well as participate in debating the issues (and ask the panelists questions) via twitter at @HagerDebate and #HagerDebate.

This is a great example of a university performing its role as a conscience and critic of society; I'll be tuning in on Friday, and so should you.

More British collusion in torture

This time in Nepal, where they funded, equipped and supported a regime torture-squad:

British authorities have been accused of funding a four-year intelligence operation in Nepal that led to Maoist rebels being arrested, tortured and killed during the country’s civil war.

Thomas Bell, the author of a new book on the conflict, says MI6 funded safe houses and provided training in surveillance and counter-insurgency tactics to Nepal’s army and spy agency, the National Investigation Department (NID) under “Operation Mustang”, launched in 2002.


“According to senior Nepalese intelligence and army officials involved in the operation, British aid greatly strengthened their performance and led to about 100 arrests,” said Bell, whose book Kathmandu is released in south Asia on Thursday.

“It’s difficult to put an exact number on it, but certainly some of those who were arrested were tortured and disappeared,” he said.

There's the usual government denial that their spies ever participate, condone, support etc torture, ending with
We would never authorise any action in the knowledge or belief that torture would take place at the hands of a third party.

And that's the problem right there: they pretended they didn't know the consequences of their actions, so they could pursue their geopolitical aims. Its about plausible deniability, not ethical behaviour.

This has happened too often: the US, Pakistan, Libya, and now Nepal. There is a clear pattern of behaviour here of support for and collusion in torture. Those responsible for it need to be identified, dragged kicking and screaming into the light of day, and prosecuted. And if the British government won't do it, then the UN should do it for them.

EQC advertises for National

Yesterday, EQC ran a double page spread in the Sunday Star-Times, timed for the fourth anniversary of the 2010 quake. The ad focused on lessons learned and earthquake preparedness, but part of it was about what a great job EQC (and by extension the government) was doing - a highly contentious election issue. It looks as if public money was spent to support and promote the agenda of the government-of-the-day during an election campaign.

This should not happen. The Cabinet Manual requires that advertising "should not be conducted in a manner that results in public funds being used to finance publicity for party political purposes" and that it be "free from partisan promotion of government policy and political argument". It also refers Ministers to the State Services Commission's guidance to departments in an election year, which includes specific guidelines on election-year advertising:

in the run-up to an election, agencies should carefully consider the content and timing of their campaigns. Successive governments have exercised restraint around advertising campaigns to avoid any perception that funds are being used to finance publicity for party political purposes.

Communication campaigns or advertising undertaken during this period should be assessed for potential perceptions of ‘party political’ bias. Agencies should be aware that content, which might be unexceptionable at other times, may take on a party political flavour in the lead up to an election.

In the context of an election campaign, where the handling of the Christchurch rebuild is a significant election issue, an advertisement saying what a great job EQC has been doing (which would be unobjectionable at other times) inevitably takes on a party political tone. To do it 20 days before polling day smacks of interference.

It will be interesting to see whether the Minister was involved in this advertisement, and whether any assessment was made against the SSC guidelines, and I've sent in an OIA asking for this information. But while I've asked for urgency - abuse of government advertising during an election campaign being the sort of thing there is high public interest in - there's next to no chance of it being released before the election. No department is going to want to upset their Minister by embarrassing them during an election campaign, and no Minister will sign off on release until the polls have closed. Another example of how political interests undermine the OIA.

New Fisk

Isis isn’t the first group to use the butcher’s knife as an instrument of policy. Nor will it be the last

More OIA skullduggery from National

Another day, and more evidence the National government is manipulating the OIA process:

Judith Collins' office processed an Official Information Act request in just two days to release an email embarrassing then Serious Fraud Office head Adam Feeley in 2011.


On October 17 Collins disclosed Feeley had emailed her an apology, but she expected him to travel to Wellington to deliver it in person.

An OIA request by the National Business Review for the email was processed and the email released the following day.

The problem here isn't that someone got their response within two days - its that other people didn't. The law requires that requests be answered "as soon as reasonably practicable" (and in any case within 20 working days), but its increasingly clear that what is "reasonably practicable" varies significantly depending on whether you are a critic or ally of the government, and indeed on whether a Minister wants to deniably smear their own staff while being protected from legal consequences.

Meanwhile, OIAs seeking information which might be damaging to the electoral chances of the government are inexplicably delayed...

Which makes that upcoming Ombudsman's investigation even more urgent, and even more necessary. Ministers should not be manipulating the process like this, and those that do should be named, shamed, and sacked.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Collins' resignation

I've just been watching the Prime Minister announcing the resignation of Judith Collins. I'm glad to see her go. A Minister using a sewer-blogger to undermine their own chief executive is absolutely toxic. But rather than resigning, she should have been sacked. Hell, she should have been sacked long ago for Oravida and her relationship with Slater.

(And if the suggestions that she was leaking SFO information to subjects of investigations is true, she shouldn't just be sacked, but prosecuted)

Meanwhile, the email raises a number of other concerns:

  • New Zealand Herald journalist Jared Savage was "passing information directly to [Slater] that the Herald can't run and so are feeding me to run on the blog". Which doesn't sound a lot like journalism to me. Is he reporting on power, or trying to exercise it?
  • Slater's little clique fed information to journalists Fran O'Sullivan, Jock Anderson and Matt Nippert. Unlike David Fisher, they have not yet come clean about their role as transmitters of whaleshit.
  • Slater "arranged with Matthew Hooton for iPredict... to have a new stock released so people can invest on the probability of Adam Feeley getting the sack before Christmas or leaving". So iPredict dances to whalesong, with Hooton as the cutout. Which really makes you wonder how many of their other contracts are political placements for the extreme right.
Hopefully we'll see the Herald and iPredict fronting up about their role in this. But I'm not holding my breath.

Another meteorite

In 2003, the Court of Appeal delivered a bombshell ruling in Ngati Apa v Attorney-General: the crown had not generally extinguished Maori customary rights over the foreshore and seabed, and ownership of particular areas of the foreshore and seabed was a question of fact to be determined by the Maori Land Court in accordance with the facts and history of the area. The resulting Pakeha outrage at the idea that Maori might still have property rights led to the passage of an unjust raupatu law, the formation of the Maori Party, and its subsequent alliance with National to pass pretty much the same law under a different name.

Now the Supreme Court has delivered a similarly explosive ruling in Paki and Others v Attorney-General (No. 2).

The ruling is the result of a fifteen-year long case over ownership (and compensation for its loss) of a significant stretch of the Waikato River. The Pouakani people used to own it, but by the usual practice of theft through the Maori Land Court and acquisition under the Public Works Act, it was stolen from them. So they went to court, arguing (due to a prior case, Re the Bed of the Wanganui River) that the government at the time hadn't informed them of the conveyancing presumption that the river would be transferred along with its banks, and that it therefore owed them a fiduciary duty over the river. The crown argued that it owned it outright thanks to the Coal-Mines Act Amendment Act 1903 (which asserted crown ownership of the bed of navigable rivers), but in 2012 the Supreme Court ruled that that was not the case. And now they've gone one better, ruling that the crown may not have acquired title at all, and explicitly overturning Re the Bed of the Wanganui River as a general precedent. Instead, they've applied the core principle of Ngati Apa that aboriginal title continues until lawfully extinguished, and that absent a general extinguishment, it needs to be determined according to the facts of local custom and history. In the case of the Pouakani people, it means they may or may not own the riverbed, depending on Maori custom at the time.

There are two things which make this ruling explosive:

  • the same principle applies to other significant non-navigable rivers, which could lead to a flood of litigation;
  • but more importantly: the particular land in question holds three major hydroelectric dams (Arapuni, Maraetai and Whakamaru) operated by Mighty River Power. Mighty River may now owe the Pouakani damages, not to mention rent. Or the land may be resumed under sections 27A - 27D of the State Owned Enterprises Act (which still apply to mixed-ownership model companies)
Which means that no doubt we'll soon see Pakeha banging their racist drum about the prospect of Maori "owning the rivers" (even though such ownership has been a feature of several Treaty settlements already) - possibly aided by a partly government-owned company's PR machine (which would surely be a breach of the government's Treaty obligations). I've already seen people arguing that the government will not allow the ruling to stand. Which is going to put the rump Maori Party in a very unpleasant position, and is likely to further aid Internet-Mana. But the big problem here is that legislating over it directly undermines the settlement in New Zealand Maori Council v Attorney-General (1987) (the lands / SOE case). The core promise there was that land (and subsequently, water) subject to Maori claims could be transferred to SOEs, and even privatised, as long as the rights of those potential claimants were protected. The case is the foundation of modern Treaty jurisprudence (it established the idea that the Treaty was a partnership and the crown owed Maori a duty of good faith), and the Supreme Court relied on it just last year to overturn a challenge to the sale of Mighty River Power, on the basis of that protection of rights and "the proven willingness and ability of the Crown to provide such redress". Tearing that up would call every other settlement - and the good faith of the crown - into question. No sane government should want to go there.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Shouldn't this farmer be prosecuted for bribery?

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

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

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

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

[Emphasis added]

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

Whatever happened to liberty?

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

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


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

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

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

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

Kiwis care about inequality

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

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

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

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

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

Something to do on Saturday


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

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

More information is available on FaceSuck here.

[Hat-tip: The Standard]

The cost of irrigation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An empty void at the heart of the election

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Labour on the environment

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

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

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

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

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