Friday, July 29, 2016



Open Government: Another strapped chicken

The New Zealand Government, through engage2, is currently running a public engagement process around New Zealand's Open Government partnership second national action plan. One of the concerns about this process is that it is a strapped chicken, a box-ticking exercise designed to lend a veneer of "consultation" to a pre-determined agenda.

Sadly, that appears to be true. I received AN OIA response from the State Services Commission today to some queries about the demise of the OGP Stakeholder Advisory Group (who appear to have been summarily dismissed after suggesting some ideas for the action plan). Included in it was an email from al Morrison, who is now in charge of SSC's OGP program, about future proposals for the OGP. And it included this bit:
OGP-strappedchicken

So, just to make that clear, SSC has already decided what the agenda is for the action plan. So much for "co-creation". The current engagement process around themes appears to be a waste of time.

It gets worse. Because when you delve into SSC's Direction and Priorities for System Stewardship Plan, what you find is Big Brother. It is all about legitimising and using the Integrated Data Infrastructure - the system that cross correlates your tax information with whether you have had an abortion - to push its social investment agenda. So, the major theme that the SSC wants to put in the OGP plan is the utter destruction of our privacy and the transformation of New Zealand into a data surveillance state.

My first reaction to this news is to say "fuck that" and walk away. Participating in the "engagement process" is a waste of my time which lends it legitimacy. The problem is that this is something we need to speak up against. And if we don't, it'll just slip through unnoticed.

So, rather than walking away, I suggest we actually engage. And if the government tries to use the OGP to push Big Brother on us, we make it clear that we do not think that this is what open government is about, and that it is an abuse of the OGP process. It might not work, but it at least will lay the groundwork for the IRM to agree and kick us out in 2017.

Something fishy in Christchurch II

Back in May I highlighted something fishy going on at Otakaro Ltd. Otakaro is the government's delivery vehicle for the Christchurch rebuild. But in May, Christchurch reconstrution Minister Gerry Brownlee allowed it to change its constitution, removing a requirement that its board keep "full and accurate minutes are kept of all proceedings" and explicitly allowing it to repudiate its own minutes. More recently, I've been made aware that Otakaro, a government-owned company responsible for billions of dollars of government assets and expenditure on a major government project - has been exempted from the Public Records Act. Which means that it is no longer required to

create and maintain full and accurate records of its affairs, in accordance with normal, prudent business practice...

[From the documents I've OIA'd from the Chief Archivist, it seems that this exemption has caused a bit of a headache, since it means that Otakaro cannot legally be transferred public records formerly held by CERA. Its enough of a headache that they are apparently investigating "amending [the] PRA 2005 by order in council". Its not clear whether that is to bring Otakaro and similar crown-owned companies under the Public Records Act regime, or whether it is to legalise the at-present unlawful destruction of public records. I'm poking into that further...]

The problem? As a company named in Schedule 4A of the Public Finance Act 1989, Otakaro is subject to the Official Information Act. Obviously, that's pretty meaningless if it is not required to retain official information so it can be requested.

And the kicker: I asked Otakaro if they have a document retention / archives policy. Their answer? Of course not.

So, just to make that clear, a government-owned company responsible for billions of dollars of government assets and expenditure on a major government project and subject to the OIA is not required to create and retain proper records and has no policy for doing so. You'd almost think they didn't want people to look at what they were doing...

Suing the victims

On Monday, we learned that the Northern Territory government tortures children, hooding prisoners in its juvenile detention centres, strapping them in "restraint chairs", beating and tear-gassing them. The public release of the graphic video (which the Northern Territory government had had for over a year) forced the Australian government to announce a royal commission to inquire into the abuses. But now, unbelievably, the Northern Territory government has doubled down on its abuse by suing their victims:

The Northern Territory government is countersuing two boys who were allegedly abused at the Don Dale detention centre.

[...]

The NT government is taking steps to countersue two of the boys who were teargassed, the ABC reports.

However, the counter-case is not to do with the tear-gassing incident but with alleged damage caused during an escape attempt. The ABC is reporting that the NT Government will be seeking $160,000 in damages from two of the boys, for damage caused to the facility during the escape attempt.


Pretty obviously, this suit would not be happening if the mistreatment had not been exposed. Which makes it very clearly an act of bullying and intimidation - if you report abuse we will bury you - and PR. By painting their victims as undeserving, the Northern Territory government hopes to limit the political fallout. Its a disgusting abuse of power by an authoritarian torture state. But I guess that's Australia for you...

New Fisk

Qatar exerts huge control over British business, but it could be heading for an ‘Arab autumn’

Even the rich support capital gains taxes

Ten years ago, capital gains taxes were a "third rail" of New Zealand politics, dismissed as a fringe idea advocated only by parties like the Greens. Now, after years of patient advocacy and a multiyear housing crisis, even the rich support them:

Mainfreight executive chairman Bruce Plested has advocated a capital gains tax to take the steam out of an overheated housing market and urged the government to treat teachers as "true professionals" paid on the basis of performance.

[...]

Plested said the price of housing in New Zealand "is another glaring problem", with the average house in Auckland now costing 10 times the average household income, which is above the ratio of three-to-five times average income that is the globally accepted norm.

Unprecedented immigration, low interest rates and a trend for the well-off and those nearing retirement to return to invest in the Auckland housing market had resulted in Auckland being one of the world's most expensive housing markets. Profit expectations were driven by "the perception and reality ... that upon sale, the gains made would be capital gains non-taxable," he said.

"Not taxing capital gains on the sale of assets causes distortion in buying and investment decisions," he said. "There is no reason that New Zealand should be different from Australia, UK or the US in taxing capital gains on housing. If this tax needs to be introduced progressively over say a two-year period, it will alter buyers' and sellers' behavior and perhaps pave the way to solving New Zealand's housing problems."


Its a sign of how far the political consensus has shifted that Plested is arguing for this, and it opens up enormous space for the left to both correct the housing bubble and act against inequality. After all, why stop at housing? Shouldn't we tax capital gains on shares and company sales as well?

Thursday, July 28, 2016



Policy failure

A couple of months ago, stories about people living in cars after being forced out of state housing and force dinto debt by WINZ hit the headlines. Social Housing Minister Paula Bennett responded by announcing a policy to pay people to move out of Auckland. It was the usual National Party cynicism - the policy had already been announced back in January, so it was just a spin job aimed at creating the impression of action rather than the real thing. So how well has this policy worked in practice? Badly:

The Government's $5000 offer to flee Auckland grant is off to a slow start with just 12 families taking it up after the first month - one of which was homeless.

In total, $54,508 has been paid out, covering things like moving costs, bond, rent in advance and letting fees for the dozen families - collectively consisting of 32 people.

Assistance has been approved for a further 10 applicants pending confirmed moving dates and verification of costs - that'll move 20 more out of Auckland.


It turns out that people aren't actually that willing to uproot their lives and abandon their friends and support networks just because it is convenient for the government for them to do so. Or, to put it another way, people aren't arbitrarily mobile "labour units" to be shoved whereever Paula Bennett wants them to go. Who'd have thunk it?

New Fisk

To understand the Islamist beheading of a French priest, we must remember what happened 20 years earlier

The rich steal from us again

So, it turns out that rich people are using private snob schools to cheat on their taxes:

The issue was first raised by Inland Revenue (IRD) in 2014 when they sent out an alert warning taxpayers that the practice of claiming private school fees as donations to collect tax rebates was unlawful.

Both IRD and Minister of Revenue, Michael Woodhouse, confirmed "a number of investigations" have been conducted.

[...]

But IRD wouldn't detail how widespread the issue was or how much money had been illegally collected in tax rebates by parents, saying it would compromise their investigations.


This appears to be enabled by the schools themselves, which set large fees, but then charge high "voluntary donations" as a substitute. Of course, the "donations" aren't really "voluntary", but just a fee by another name - but calling it that allows the parents to falsely claim a tax deduction and steal from the public. Just another example of how the rich rip us off. Its simply criminal, and both the tax cheats and their enabling school management should be prosecuted for it.

Meanwhile, I'm wondering whether any of ACT's charter schools are running this scam...

Wednesday, July 27, 2016



"Irresponsible"

This morning, Green co-leader Metiria Turei said what everyone knows is true: that house prices need to drop if we want to avoid a catastrophic crash and/or a fundamental change away from being a home-owning society. Somewhat predictably, Labour has denounced this as "irresponsible". Pretty obviously, its not - its what we need to do. So why are they doing this?

Simple: like National, Labour is in thrall to the landed Boomer vote, and they don't want to piss off these entitled arseholes before the election. So, they'd rather have a house price crash than tell people that prices can't go on rising forever.

But its worse than that, because while seemingly advocating for an eternal bubble and calling any mention of it having to end "irresponsible", Labour is pursuing exactly the same policies the Greens are to deflate it. Capital gains taxes. A mass affordable home building program. Eliminating tax breaks for landlords. This is exactly what the Greens want to do. Its just that, unlike the Greens, Labour doesn't want to be open about their policy goal.

That's not just irresponsible, it is actively deceitful. And that is simply not acceptable from a political party.

Why does the "mother of Parliaments" hate parents?

The UK Parliament is sometimes called "the mother of Parliaments" due to its influence on democratic traditions across its former empire. So its ironic then that it actually seems to hate parents and impede them from being MPs:

Writing in Tuesday’s Daily Record, the member for Aberdeen North, who was one of the cohort of first-time SNP MPs elected in May 2015, described the often comical difficulties she faced when she was left with no choice but to bring two-year-old Rebecca and five-year-old Harris to her place of work.

“The chief issue is the ridiculously archaic voting system. MPs have to physically be present to vote … As the division bells rang to signal [an unexpectedly early vote on Wednesday], both my children were on the toilet. I’m sure ‘hurry up’ is the last thing anyone wants to hear during a bowel movement, but they both took it fairly well,” Blackman writes.

“I did make them run afterwards though, and I made it into the division lobby with only moments to spare.

“I also took them through the lobby with me. This is definitely not supposed to happen. But I have yet to work out what the house expects us to do with small children who are not allowed in the lobby. How do I explain to a two-year-old that she has to stay with adults she has never met so I can vote? The system is nonsensical and overdue for reform.”


There's more - sessions decided on short notice, no proper childcare, and archaic rules preventing "strangers" in committees (leading to the censure mentioned in the article) or in the House. And its like this not for any decent reason, but because the UK Parliament's rules were established in a time when political power was wielded exclusively by old men who had their children raised by nannies and packed off to boarding school at age five, and now its Tradition which Cannot Be Changed. But the result is to make it difficult-to-impossible for MPs who are parents to fulfil their duties as elected representatives.

The establishment loves that - parents would probably do silly things like thinking of their children's futures (and whether they will have one at all) rather than Keeping Britain On Top by imposing austerity, shovelling money at banks, and promising to murder 100,000 people. But the UK's citizens should not. Other parliaments (e.g. in New Zealand) enable parents to be MPs. Isn't it time Westminster caught up, rather than being stuck in the eighteenth century?

Challenging Australia's anti-refugee gag-law

Australia has a problem: it tortures refugees in its Pacific concentration camps. But that's not the problem - the problem is that people talk about that torture - and by exposing the regular and consistent abuse and mistreatment of refugees, expose the Australian government to public criticism (not to mention crimes against humanity charges under the Rome Statute). So last year, they solved this problem by criminalising revealing any information from the gulags, on pain of going to prison. But now, that law is being challenged:

Australian doctors will launch a High Court challenge to controversial laws they say gag them from speaking out over child abuse and other threats to asylum seekers in detention centres.

Lawyers for the doctors in the case, due to be filed on Wednesday, will argue that the court should declare invalid laws that threaten detention centre staff with two years' jail for disclosing information about conditions they observe behind the wire.

Doctors for Refugees, represented by the Fitzroy Legal Service, said the case will question if the secrecy provisions breach health professionals' constitutional freedom to engage in political communication – in this instance, highlighting and debating the effects of the detention regime on their patients.


Under a law, if a doctor (or anybody else) reports a rape or child sex abuse happening in a concentration camp - something that happens with disturbing regularity - they can go to prison. If they report on risks to their patients' health, they can go to prison. If they report on substandard camp conditions which endanger patient safety, they can go to prison. This makes it impossible to fulfil their professional duties, not to mention being a contravention of the right to freedom of expression. And it is very obviously utterly self-serving, designed solely to prevent criticism of the government or information which might cause the public to reject its cruel and vicious policies.

However, that doesn't mean the case will be successful. Australia is virtually alone among modern democracies in lacking any legislated human rights protection. It has no Bill of Rights Act, and the only protection for freedom of speech is an implied right read into the Australian constitution from its clause requiring representative democracy. And the consequences of that can be seen in the authoritarian nature of Australian politics and the regular attacks on human rights that occur there.

No matter which way this case goes, Australia needs modern human rights protection. Australia needs a Bill of Rights Act.

Making it worse

We currently have not just a housing crisis, but a homelessness crisis, with people forced to sleep in garages or in cars due to unaffordable rents and gouging landlords. So naturally, National thinks that it is a perfect time to sell more state houses:

Hundreds of state and council homes north of Wellington that are almost all occupied are to go on the block for sale, with prospective buyers being lined up this week.

The government and Horowhenua District Council are looking to sell off 364 houses in a plan that will have information sessions for potential buyers held in Levin and Wellington this week.

The homes are almost all occupied, and their tenants are mostly the elderly, single people or single parents.


While they're officially seeking a community housing provider to purchase them, in the past almost all interest has been from banks and property developers. And their plan will be to improve the value of their new asset by booting out those tenants, bowling the houses, and building new palazzos for sale at a profit. Or just selling the existing home to speculators. Either way, it means people being made homeless, and the safety net which should protect them being removed.

This is not how you solve the homelessness crisis. Instead, it is how you make it worse. But National doesn't care about that. Instead, all they care about is getting out of the state housing business, wrecking the state's ability to help people by flicking it off to their cronies at bargain-basement rates. It is both corrupt and destructive. But isn't it so very, very National?

The unpalatable truth

The Greens' Metiria Turei said the politically unspeakable today: that she wants house prices to drop:

Auckland housing is unaffordable and a responsible Government would have a sensible plan to reduce house prices over time, while protecting families with mortgages, the Green Party said today.

“The simple fact is that housing in Auckland is totally unaffordable and if we don’t take action to bring house prices down, we will have a whole generation of people locked out of ever owning their own home,” said Green Party Co-leader Metiria Turei.

“In around 10 to 15 years’ time, we’d like to see families on the median household income buying their first home for about three to four times that income – not 10 times like it costs now.

Note the time-frame. This isn't about suddenly bursting the bubble, crashing house prices, burning the boomers' "wealth" and blowing up the banks. Instead, it is about avoiding that. Because on current policy settings of pandering to speculators, a burst and crash is exactly what is going to happen.

The problem is that the policy window to do this is very narrow. Infometrics expects the bubble to burst in December 2017 - just a few months after the next election. If the government wants to stop this, it needs to act now. But when they're in thrall to selfish landed boomers and so many of them own Auckland investment properties, that just doesn't seem likely.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016



Targeting the camp-guards

Speaking of Australia and torture: the company which runs Australia's refugee concentration camps in PNG and Nauru has been formally warned that its directors and employees could face prosecution for crimes against humanity:

The company that has taken over the management of Australia’s offshore immigration detention regime has been warned by international law experts that its employees could be liable for crimes against humanity.

Spanish infrastructure corporation Ferrovial, which is owned by one of the world’s richest families and the major stakeholder in Heathrow airport, has been warned by professors at Stanford Law School that its directors and employees risk prosecution under international law for supplying services to Australia’s camps on Nauru and Manus Island in Papua New Guinea.

“Based on our examination of the facts, it is possible that individual officers at Ferrovial might be exposed to criminal liability for crimes against humanity under the Rome Statute,” said Diala Shamas, a clinical supervising attorney at the International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic at Stanford Law School.


This seems perfectly justifiable. The decision to torture refugees is a political one, made by the Australian government (so every Minister and official who has been party to or helped implement that decision is also on the hook). But Ferrovial and its employees are the ones actually performing that torture on the ground, ensuring that they are detained indefinitely in cruel and degrading conditions (and occasionally waterboarding them). And that's something the company can and should be held responsible for. And while they can claim to be "only following orders" from the Australian government, I'm not sure that doing Nazi impersonations is really a good defence or PR strategy.

Meanwhile I'm wondering when we'll see former Australian immigration Ministers indicted and dragged to The Hague for this. Because they deserve to be, and they need to be, to make sure it never happens again.

Australia tortures children

Yesterday we got to see how Australia treats its children in prison. And its not pretty:

Disturbing footage has emerged of a 17-year-old boy, who was one of six boys tear gassed at a juvenile detention centre near Darwin, Australia, being strapped to a mechanical restraint chair.

The footage is part of a catalogue of evidence obtained by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC)'s Four Corners programme of the repeated assault and mistreatment of boys at youth detention centres the Northern Territory.

The vision shows prison officers strapping a 17-year-old boy, identified as Dylan Voller, being handcuffed, hooded and strapped to a mechanical restraint chair for almost two hours.

[...]

The shocking footage also shows the teenager being thrown across his cell, kneed and knocked to the ground, repeatedly stripped naked and also kept in solitary confinement.

The teenager was among six boys tear gassed at Don Dale Youth Detention Centre in Berrimah, near Darwin, in August 2014.


This is Abu Ghraib stuff, and a clear violation not just of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, but also of the Convention Against Torture. The Australian government has already announced an inquiry, but given that some of it is their own CCTV footage which they've had for over a year, you have to wonder why they didn't do that when it first came to their attention. And of course the real test is prosecutions. Children have been tortured. Will the torturers end up in court? Will they be jailed if convicted? If not, it is hard to view this "inquiry' as anything other than a British-style PR-exercise, aimed at dissipating public anger while ensuring that nothing really changes.

New Fisk

It is 10 years since UN peacekeepers were killed in southern Lebanon – and it could happen again now

The cost of a predator-free New Zealand

Yesterday the government announced a plan to make New Zealand predator-free by 2050. Unfortunately, the amount they committed to achieving this goal - a mere $26 million over five years - was laughable for a challenge the Prime Minister himself described as "New Zealand’s Apollo project". So how much would it really cost? An article in the Herald in 2013 paints a sobering picture:

The cost of national eradication would be gradual, but likely, ultimately staggering. Cleaning out Rangitoto/Motutapu, even after possums and wallabies had been dealt with, cost $3.5 million, and by extrapolation the sum for the rest of the country has been put at $24.6 billion.

More recently, a project to eradicate just mice from the 22 square km of the Antipodes Islands - the million dollar mouse project - will cost $3.9 million. Extrapolating that to the 268021 square km of New Zealand would give a cost of $47.5 billion.

More hopefully, there's a 2015 paper which estimates the cost at $9.04 billion over 50 years.

One thing all of these estimates have in common is that they are in the billions. And even on the cheapest of them, the government would need to be spending a solid quarter of a billion dollars a year to meet its target. Instead, it is spending around two percent of that.

What really sucks is that it didn't need to be this way. National has $26 million to spend over five years, and (on the 2015 estimate) that's about enough to eradicate predators from Stewart Island. And if they'd announced that as their target, and clearly allocated it resources commensurate to the task, I'd have nothing but applause for them. Instead, we have a bad joke, a PR exercise aimed at getting cuddly tuatara headlines with no real followthrough. Spin and bullshit, just like everything else they do.

Monday, July 25, 2016



Predator free?

Today the government announced a new goal to make New Zealand predator-free by 2050. Its a bold ambition, and one worth supporting. But when you poke into the details, it starts to look a bit sketchy.

They do at least understand that there's going to be some hard work involved. Initially, the plan will focus on eradicating introduced predators (meaning rats, stoats and possums; Moonbeam is safe for now) from offshore islands while expanding predator suppression (meaning aerial 1080 campaigns) and onshore fenced "islands". Unfortunately, their way of doign this is with a public-private partnership. Yes, a flagship conservation strategy, and its just a way to channel money to government cronies while paying too much for services. I'm also unsure that their initial investment of $26 million over five years is even remotely commensurate with the scale of this problem, and I suspect that DoC will have some juicy advice on how much it will really cost. Still, even if its nowhere near enough for the task, and parasitised by National's cronies, more money is welcome.

The really amusing bit is the long-term. Their policy includes the line that by 2025,

we will have developed a breakthrough science solution capable of removing at least one small mammal predator from the mainland entirely

Leaving aside the questions of whether they're promising biological warfare on rats and stoats, to introduce a new predator to eat them (because we know how well that worked out in the past), or just to build a better mousetrap, this isn't policy so much as wishful thinking. Its the policy equivalent of "I will win the lottery", or maybe "Baby Jesus will ride in on a sparkly unicorn, wave his magic wand, and make this problem disappear". In other words, not real. If this is their policy, then it is simply not going to happen.

(Well, unless they couple it with a $50 million a year increase in science funding for possum-specific plagues, feral cat breeding programs, and advanced mousetrap design. But that's about as likely as them not awarding this PPP to a collection of their donors and cronies, and it not delivering worse results than DoC would have got by doing it in-house...)

National has form on this sort of wishful-thinking-as-policy. In case anyone has forgotten, their 2009-10 economic policy, intended to "close the gap" with Australia, boiled down to "we will dsicover oil". This is no different. And its simply not credible. While I support the goal, New Zealand deserves a government which actually presents credible plans for achieving it, rather than this sort of underpants-collecting nonsense. And we won't get that under National.

Open Government: This is not how you do openness

On Friday evening, during dump hour, the State Services Commission "announced" its formal engagement process for its (late) Open Government partnership Second National Action Plan. I say "announced", because in their usual fashion, there was no actual publicity, just a hard to notice link on a buried corner of its website which only sad tragics like me read. The good news: there'll lbe an engagement process (as mentioned last week) with workshops etc. It even has a timeline, according to which we are already in "stage 2", raising awareness. How are we supposed to "raise awareness"? One of their suggestions is to "follow @OGPNZ on Twitter". What happens if you try and do that? Uh-oh...
OGPNZProtected

This is how the government does "openness": with a protected Twitter account which will only provide information to its friends. The message is clear: they're not really interested in engagement at all. And if that isn't the message they wanted to send, well, too late - they've fucked it up. Again.

Heckuva job they're doing there. Great use of public money.

Meanwhile, if you're still interested in open government despite SSC repeatedly slamming the door in our faces, they also suggest emailing ogp@engage2.co.nz to "stay up to date". I gues I'll do that and see what happens.

Managing to the target

National has campaigned hard on healthcare, setting targets for waiting times for elective surgery and fining DHBs which fail to meet them. Now this has had the entirely predictable response: DHBs are managing to the target by keeping patients on secret waiting lists:

District Health Boards struggling to meet the government's goal of a four month waiting time for treatment are being accused of hiding patients on "phantom" waiting lists.

But the government said there were no "virtual" waiting lists in the health system.

The claim comes as latest DHB figures show 45,000 patients sent to a hospital specialist were turned away in 2015 - 3000 more than the previous 12 months.

[...]

"Because we haven't got the workforce capacity to actually deliver on that in our public hospitals, there's quite a bit of - I'll use this term loosely - rorting going on, where some patients are actually put on what they call a virtual list or a suspended list. It's like picking up a number of patient files and just putting them on a shelf somewhere," he said.


The government denies that this is happening, of course, but they would. Meanwhile the stats indicate that it is, as do numerous health professionals. And I'll believe them over a health minister with a strong incentive to lie any day.

This was an entirely predictable outcome. In theory, the NeoLiberal public management method of targets and incentives encourages agencies to meet those targets. In practice, it is almost always easier to game the system than meet the target honestly. And so we see Serco directing employment assistance to those who don't need it, and UK emergency departments employing "greeters" so they can tick the box saying that the patient has been seen by someone. The structural logic is the same; why would we expect New Zealand agencies to behave any differently?

The net effect of all of this is to lie to the public about how good the health system is, while continuing to deny them care in practice. That's exactly the sort of dishonesty National was campaigning against when it established targets. But if you're unwilling to spend the money required to ensure that everyone who needs help gets it, lies are all you've got. Personally, though, I'd prefer a properly resourced health system which is there for us when we need it.

New Fisk

We love to talk of terror – but after the Munich shooting, this hypocritical catch-all term has finally caught us out

Charter schools are corrupt

ACT appears to be using charter schools to channel public money to government donors and cronies:

A trust with close ties to the Government - including former All Black and National Party supporter Michael Jones - was given a $500,000 charter school contract without going to tender.

The E Tipu E Rea Trust, a new body set up to promote and support the controversial schooling model, was awarded the funding directly despite education officials acknowledging it "may not result in the most capable entity being selected".

Opposition parties are now accusing the Government of cronyism, saying it's giving its "mates" public money to push Act Party policy, and disregarding what's best for children.


The trust also includes ACT donor and crony Jenny Gibbs, and former Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia (who is being well taken care of by National in her political retirement). The money was awarded despite a clear conflict of interest with Jones, who owns a charter school.

This is simply a corrupt abuse of public funds by the government to line its friends pockets. It is not how government is supposed to work in this country, and those responsible need to be held to account for it. As for the trust, if charter schools want "support and promotion", maybe they should pay for it themselves?

Friday, July 22, 2016



Another giveaway for farmers

Marlborough District Council is currently considering a water transfer mechanism to allow more efficient use of water. But there's a problem: it might lead to greedy farmers selling water:

A new proposal to share water between rural landowners could lead to people cashing in on their water-short neighbours.

The enhanced water transfer proposal would allow for the free transfer of water between Marlborough farmers and grapegrowers without having to apply for a lengthy and costly resource consent process.

Grapegrowers in the region say the move would unlock water that was allocated but unused, cut bureaucracy and boost economic development.

But there are fears it could lead to water being bought and sold, with the council having no powers to stop it.


Which wouldn't be a problem if they were paying for it in the first place. But they're not. Water is free, an implicit subsidy to our rapacious agricultural industry. Allowing consent-holders to onsell it would be effectively privatising a public resource, and channelling the profits into the hands of farmers rather than the public. And that's just not acceptable.

Though "privatising a public resource and channelling the profits into the hands of farmers rather than the public" is effectively what happens ATM, its just that they sell milk or wine rather than water. But they're externalising the cost of a key input, getting it for free from the public. And that's not acceptable either. Farmers use our water for commercial purposes, and they should pay for that. Anything less, and we're effectively letting them steal from us.

Voting until they get it right

The UK Labour party is currently in the middle of a leadership contest between the choice of the parliamentary party and the choice of the members. Normally, you'd expect such a contest to be resolved by a vote. But UK Labour's MPs have pledged to force the membership to keep voting until they get it right:

Jeremy Corbyn’s critics warned that they will wage a “war of attrition” until they force him out of his job after he suggested that Labour MPs who refuse to back him could be sacked by local party activists.

Senior Labour MPs rejected Mr Corbyn’s plea to rally behind them if he defeats his challenger Owen Smith in the September leadership election. They told The Independent they are prepared to trigger another leadership election next year – and even a further contest the following year. Many of the MPs who have quit the Labour frontbench because they have no confidence in Mr Corbyn will not return if he defeats Mr Smith.

One former shadow Cabinet member said: “There will be a process of attrition. Most of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) will not serve under Jeremy. His position is untenable. The sooner he realises that, the better.” Another Labour MP said: “If we don’t win [the leadership] this year, we will do it again next year and, if necessary, the year after. At some point before the next general election, he will go. The only question is when.”


Which really makes mass de-selection of sitting MPs the only option. Parties belong to their members. And if MPs won't accept that, and announce that they will refuse to accept the decision of the membership, then they should be shown the door. It is that simple.

New Fisk

Erdogan has military troubles of his own, but he still defends the Ottoman army over the Armenian genocide

The police should not be able to circumvent the law like this

New Zealand prides itself on being a civilised country when it comes to law enforcement. As part of this, people questioned by police enjoy some basic protections: the right to silence, the right to counsel, the right to know why they are being questioned. We have these safeguards to prevent injustice: to reduce the risk of false confessions to police, and to limit the ability of police to stitch up innocent people.

The police have been told that they can ignore all that, if they're willing to spend enough money on it and call it an "undercover operation".

There have recently been two cases which have used the "Mr Big" technique, where suspects are "recruited" into a criminal enterprise (actually a network of undercover police officers pretending to be criminals), and then eventually subjected to an interrogation in order to be able to become a full member. The interrogation is coercive, it implicitly involves detention (suspects are taken to a distant part of the country by their "criminal" associates and implicitly threatened with punishment if they leave), and of course it is conducted without the benefit of counsel or any procedural safeguards. It places strong incentives on suspects to tell the interrogators what they want to hear, meaning that it encourages false confessions. If the police did this openly, there would be no question that the evidence would be inadmissible (and the officers responsible would be disciplined or sacked). But a majority of the Supreme Court have found that it is legal. As one of the dissenting justices noted, the police should not be able to ignore our human rights by taking off their uniforms and pretending not to be police. These are official police actions, paid for with public money. The protections of the Bill of Rights Act and of our legal tradition should therefore apply. To allow otherwise is to allow the state to break its own rules by a subterfuge. And if they are allowed to do that, why should we obey them?

[See also: Andrew Geddis on the Supreme Court decision]

Thursday, July 21, 2016



Climate change: The cost of fraud

Radio New Zealand reports that Treasury advised the government to bring agriculture into the ETS after the latest review. but in the process, they bury the real news: that the government's poor decisions around allowing use of fraudulent Ukranian and Russian emissions reduction units in the ETS has put us on the hook for between $3.8 and 7.5 billion in additional costs between 2021 and 2030.

The bad news is contained in a Treasury aide memoire to climate change Ministers. In it, Treasury notes that allowing the use of cheap fraudulent units has led to New Zealand businesses stockpiling 140 million NZ units - roughly three years worth of net emissions. These units can be surrendered in the future to meet ETS obligations, but the government can't use them to meet its future climate change obligations (presumably because the Kyoto Assigned Amount backing it is no longer valid, thanks to our refusal to sign up for Kyoto II). Which means it will have to cover those emissions itself, by buying units on the open market at an estimated price of between $25 and $50 per ton. Which adds up to a hell of a lot of money.

The good news is that they expect the phase-out of the two-for-one deal to increase demand in the ETS and soak up some of this stocpile. But even then, they expect at least 50 million units (a liability of $1.3 to $2.6 billion) to be hanging around after 2020. And presumably they'll be facing the same problem, though on a lesser scale, in meeting New Zealand's 2020 target as well.

Which is presumably why the government is so reluctant to surrender the profits of its fraud: because they need those units to meet our 2020 target.

(Treasury's overwhelming goal remember is to avoid the "threat" of increased expectations, that is, actually being expected to do something about climate change).

How it works in Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea's Prime Minister, Peter O'Neill, is facing a confidence vote tomorrow. So naturally, now is the obvious time to pay every government MP US$900,000...

A Papua New Guinea Treasury source has revealed that the government has ordered a payment of US$900,000 to each government MP at the so-called 'Alotau retreat'.

The national broadcaster NBC reported the source, who wishes to remain anonymous, said the Finance Department was instructed to make payments ahead of tomorrow's vote of no-confidence in prime minister Peter O'Neill.

MPs who converged for the talks in Alotau and committed to support Mr O'Neill were in line for the payments, which were to be provided under the District Services Improvement Programme.


Officially, these funds are supposed to be used by MPs (but only government MPs, mind) to improve infrastructure in their districts. But what it actually is is a slush and bribery fund. And even if applied to their intended purpose, it still directs public spending to the government's supporters, effectively imposing a political test on the receipt of public services.

This practice is simply corrupt. Sadly, its the way politics works in PNG.

Open Government: The next steps

Back in April, the SSC "announced" (by an update buried on its web-page) that it was delaying New Zealand's Open Government Partnership Action Plan in order to further engage with the public. It called for submissions on the process, which closed at the end of May. Now, almost a month later, they finally sem to be moving ahead.

The big news is that SSC has contracted out the entire process to a private company, Engage2. Which is so new, it doesn't even have a proper website yet. But they have produced a (draft) engagement plan, which someone has thoughtfully supplied me with.

The timeline for the plan is here. The key part is that public input will happen next month, mostly through an (unspecified) online engagement mechanism, though there will be "co-design" events in Auckland and Christchurch. We'll have two weeks to "co-design the NAP vision", and then another ten days to "co-create recommendations", including through a "co-creation workshop" in Wellington at the end of August. Which is the right sort of language, but far too short a timeframe for meaningful public input and consideration. And while they're talking the talk, given that they're allowing all of a month afterwards to consider public input, there's no real time to meaningfully consider and assess the results of that process. Meaning that it is all likely to be a waste of time anyway, because significant policy change (or even anything they weren't planning on doing anyway) is essentially ruled out by the timeframe.

But maybe I'm wrong. Maybe, having displayed bad faith on this issue for the last two years, SSC has finally turned over a new leaf. Maybe they've assembled a high-powered policy team behind the scenes to quickly assess, cost, consult on and develop public suggestions, so they can present a plan to Ministers (and to the OGP) which accurately reflects the expectations of civil society, rather than a pile of pre-determined and pre-existing policies like last time. But I doubt it.

Sending the wrong message

US Vice President Joe Biden is in Auckland today. As part of this, he is being greeted by a guard of honour at Government House. This isn't specific to him - we do it for every foreign dignitary. We get a bunch of soldiers to line up so that people can look at them, presumably in the hope that they'll be impressed with New Zealand's military might and how bright and shiny those soldiers are (its no surprise that this tradition originated in the era of absolute monarchy, when kings treated their armies as personal toys, and war as a sport).

What message does it send to greet visitors like this? That we're about war, soldiers, and militarism (oh, and British). This is exactly the wrong message for a peaceful, democratic nation in the south Pacific to send. We should do away with this archaic, militaristic crap, and just stick with the Pƍwhiri instead.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016



Grovelling to the hegemon

US Vice President Joe Biden arrives in Auckland tonight, and in anticipation of his visit, the Civil Aviation Authority has declared a "no fly zone" over central Auckland until he leaves. The prohibited area includes Auckland hospital, so if you're unlucky enough to be in a serious accident and require airial evacuation to Auckland, tough shit - some self-important foreigner's safety is apparently more important than yours. If this is the price of US VIP visits, then I'm thinking that its not worth it. Sorry, but the "prestige" have having some foreign would-be overlord show his face here isn't worth a single life.

I'm also wondering whether Biden's bodyguards are armed, or whether they will be obeying New Zealand law and leaving their guns at the border. I can't really imagine the latter, but there seems to be no statutory authority for foreign protection staff to carry guns (and I don't think we'd want them to be either; our police are trigger-happy enough, but Americans are another level entirely). So, are they just ignoring the law? Sadly, I think the police will refuse to answer, even though its a basic question of accountability. But if the police won't answer, maybe someone should ask Biden...?

Medical neglect of prisoners is a crime

Yesterday I blogged about Serco's medical neglect of a prisoner of a prisoner under their care, and pointed out that it almost certainly constituted cruel and degrading treatment in terms of the Bill of Rights Act and Convention Against Torture. I also highlighted that this isn't an isolated incident: Corrections has very poor standards for supplying medical care to prisoners, and in one case left a man to literally rot in his own excrement. If you've been paying attention to the news today, that phrase should ring alarm bells, because there are people currently being prosecuted for manslaughter for doing that to an elderly relative. And poking around shows that Serco's behaviour is likely criminal.

Section 151 of the Crimes Act 1961 criminalises failing to provide the necessities of life where it leads to death. Section 195 is a parallel clause which imposes a peanlty of 10 years imprisonment for

intentionally engage[ing] in conduct that, or omits to discharge or perform any legal duty the omission of which, is likely to cause suffering, injury, adverse effects to health, or any mental disorder or disability to a child or vulnerable adult (the victim) if the conduct engaged in, or the omission to perform the legal duty, is a major departure from the standard of care to be expected of a reasonable person.

[Emphasis added]

Section 195A covers staff who know about such neglect and don't do anything to stop it.

What's a "vulnerable adult"? "A person unable, by reason of detention... to withdraw himself or herself from the care or charge of another person." Prisoners are "vulnerable adults". Which means that the routine denial of medical care by Corrections and its contractors is a criminal act, and should see those responsible - the managers who deny medical care, and the ordinary guards who know of this neglect and don't do anything to stop it. So why aren't they being prosecuted? Is the government really saying that this is the standard of care a reasonable person would expect be shown to a prisoner?

Less transparent than Australia

New Zealand likes to pretend we're not corrupt. But our system of disclosing political donations is backwards, with a high disclosure threshold, and only annual disclosure of most donations. One of the consequences of this is a deep suspicion of politicians, because we just can't tell who is buying them and who they are beholden to.

Meanwhile, in Queensland, they've just moved to real-time disclosure:

Information on political donations in Queensland will be published live from early next year, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has said.

The Government will work with the Electoral Commission of Queensland (ECQ) on the real-time updates for a list of state and local government electoral donations.

Ms Palaszczuk told Parliament during the estimates hearings that the electronic system would be set up by January 1 and go live by the end of February.


They've also lowered the disclosure threshold from $12,800 to $1,000. The reason, of course, is corruption - Australia has a serious corruption problem, with politicians routinely being jailed for doing favours for donors. This makes that sort of behaviour much harder to hide. New Zealand doesn't have that sort of problem (in part because zoning decisions are the responsibility of local government, in part for cultural reasons), but that's no reason to be complacent. And it burns to be left behind in transparency by corrupt Australia. Shouldn't we be trying to lead the world on this, to show we're as clean as we think we are? Or are we happy to continue a regime which may be allowing corruption to fester in secrecy?

Tuesday, July 19, 2016



The cost of the housing bubble

The cost of Auckland's housing bubble? Teachers can no longer afford to live there:

A primary school teacher says he has been driven out of Auckland by the high cost of housing, and the city's principals are worried he's not alone.

Joe Carey has been teaching at Kohia Terrace School in Epsom for the last 18 months but is set to start teaching at Highlands Intermediate School in New Plymouth next week when Term 3 begins.

He and his fiancee Vanessa wanted to start a family but could not afford to continue living in Auckland, he said.

"You get paid the same if you work in Auckland as you get paid anywhere else, but the cost of housing [elsewhere] is a lot cheaper."


And they're not alone. Schools in Auckland are increasingly having trouble filling positions because people just can't afford to live there.

And it won't just be teachers - it will also be affecting nurses, caregivers, retail workers, pretty much everyone the entitled landed Boomers rely on to lead their lives. So either they'll need to start paying a lot more for everything, or see vital services become unavailable.

There's a name for this

As if Serco wasn't bad enough with its strapped chicken statistics and fight clubs, they've also been medically neglecting prisoners:

The cellmate of a cancer-stricken elderly prisoner was forced to clean his friend's gangrenous toes with toilet paper after the prison failed to provide adequate care.

Details of the incident, which happened at Auckland's Mt Eden Prison in 2013 while it was managed by the multinational company Serco, were revealed in a report released by the Health and Disability Commissioner.

As well as failing to treat the prisoner's toes, the report slams Serco for failing to provide painkillers and denying him a wheelchair despite there being two available.

The man died later in the year.


The descriptions in the article are graphic and distressing, and its clear from them that this man's neglect constituted cruel and degrading treatment in terms of the Bill of Rights Act and Convention Against Torture. Denying medical care is a basic failure of the duty of care owed by the state - and its contractors - to those in its care. And when it results in pain and suffering, loss of dignity, and worsening health, it becomes cruel and degrading. And Serco and its management need to be held to account for that.

Not that Corrections is much better, mind. They neglect prisoners too, leaving them literally to rot in their own excrement. Because while the government purports to have a duty of care, in practice they systematically ignore it. And because prisoners can't vote and aren't allowed to protest or talk to journalists or exercise the sort of democratic countermeasures which we see this treatment ended outside prison, they're able to get away with it.

Britain's new Prime Minister is a wannabe mass-murderer

Given her history of authoritarianism as home secretary, we knew that Theresa may, the UK's new Prime Minister, would be bad news. But one of her first acts in office has been to announce her desire to commit mass murder:

Theresa May has declared without hesitation that she would order a nuclear strike to kill hundreds of thousands of people if she thought it was necessary.

The Prime Minister gave the blunt reply during a parliamentary debate on the renewal of the Trident nuclear weapons programme, which many suspect was staged by the government for the sole purpose of drawing attention to the rift between Jeremy Corbyn and a majority of Labour MPs.

Ms May was challenged by the SNP’s George Kerevan, who asked: "Are you prepared to authorise a nuclear strike that could kill hundreds of thousands of men, women and children?”

Ms May replied with one word: “Yes.”


In a civilised country, this would be seen as making her unfit for office, if not mentally unwell. But in the UK, still nostalgic for its bloody and criminal empire, its seen as being "strong". Ans so MPs obediently lined up to commit themselves to wasting a fortune on weapons whose sole purpose is mass murder, while denouncing anyone who recognises it as foolish and immoral as foolish and immoral.

Still, there's a positive side: May has also given the Scots yet another reason to leave. Because there's simply no hope for a peaceful, nuclear-free Scotland as part of the UK.

Monday, July 18, 2016



Dereliction of duty

We have a homelessness crisis in New Zealand, with people forced to live in cars because they can't afford a roof over their heads. Meanwhile, Housing New Zealand has abandoned an entire suburb of state houses in New Plymouth:

In 2008, 28 state houses were demolished in Marfell and, in 2012, 20 more families were moved out to make way for a redevelopment that never happened

Housing New Zealand has just demolished four more units but it still has about 30 vacant properties in the neighbourhood.

Contractors today boarded up windows and started filling skips with rubbish following a spate of theft and vandalism attacks.


Housing New Zealand has no future plan to re-open these houses - instead, the only option they are considering is to sell them. Meanwhile, they have a waiting list for state housing in the area, and people are going homeless.

Letting state houses lie empty while people are in need is sheer dereliction of duty on Housing New Zealand's part. They should do their job, make these houses habitable, and let people use them. And if the government doesn't want to, we should get a government which does.

Free Ashley Peacock!

Ashley Peacock is being tortured by Capital Coast District Health Board. A patient in one of their mental health facilities, he has been held in seclusion for five years, kept confined in a 10 m-square room with just a mattress and a urine bottle, locked up for long periods arbitrarily, and not allowed outside. His treatment has been found to constitute cruel and inhuman treatment by the Ombudsman and is illegal under New Zealand law. But despite this, it hasn't stopped.

Peacock's family have now started an online petition calling on the Minister of Health to intervene to end this torture. You can - and should - sign it here. No-one should be treated like this in New Zealand, and it needs to stop now.

Meanwhile, the Herald has OIA'd the last few years of Crimes of Torture Act reports from DHBs, and found that Ashley Peacock is not alone: he is just one of four cases of cruel and inhuman treatment uncovered by the Ombudsman. Which is four cases too many. Again, no-one should be treated like this. And if our mental health system is doing this, it is not fit for purpose. It needs to stop, and those responsible need to be disciplined, fired, and/or prosecuted. There should be no place for torturers in our health system.

New Fisk

Turkey's coup may have failed – but history shows it won’t be long before another one succeeds
Hollande's promise to respond militarily to the Nice attack just continues the West's vicious circle of terror and war

Coups are wrong. So is the death penalty

Over the weekend there was a failed coup attempt in Turkey. Like many people, I don't like the current Turkish government, which has attempted to suppress the media and silence criticism. But I like the idea of overthrowing it by force even less. Like it or not, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his AKP party are democratically elected. The only legitimate way to get rid of them is by voting them out at the next election - something which almost happened last year.

In the wake of the coup we've seen disturbing photos of people beating captured soldiers. We've also seen calls for the reintroduction of the death penalty, and the government likes the idea, with Erdogan promising that those responsible for the coup will "pay". In the process, they're giving a perfect example of how the death penalty is about sadism and revenge, not justice.

The death penalty is monstrous and barbaric. Reintroducing it would violate Turkey's obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights and the Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR. Applying it retrospectively would violate basic standards of justice and make Turkey a pariah nation.

Those responsible for Turkey's coup deserve justice. But no-one deserves to be executed. Turkey should stay civilised and resist these calls for a return to barbarism.

Friday, July 15, 2016



Climate change: Britain goes denialist

Earlier in the week, the British government was warned that climate change would have a severe effect on their country, leading to floods, heatwaves, and water and food shortages. New Prime Minister Theresa may's response? Abolish the government department dealing with it:

The decision to abolish the Department for Energy and Climate Change has been variously condemned as “plain stupid”, “deeply worrying” and “terrible” by politicians, campaigners and experts.

One of Theresa May’s first acts as Prime Minister was to move responsibility for climate change to a new Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy.

[...]

The news came after the appointment of Andrea Leadsom – who revealed her first question to officials when she became Energy Minister last year was “Is climate change real? – was appointed as the new Environment Secretary.


So, an outright denier appointed as environment secretary, and climate change policy dumped in the basement of the department for business and pollution. Having dumped Cameron, the Tories are returning to form.

Why we need to stick it to landlords

Writing in the Herald, Brian Fallow argues that the real cause of the housing crisis is the landlord in the room. Landlords - speculators by another name - are the marginal buyers in the housing market. And the prices they pay are not set the returns they can get from rents, but by rational expectations of tax-free capital gains, which are in turn driven by poor policy settings:

The combination of high investor demand and rampant house price inflation is no coincidence. It reflects the toxic interaction between how the tax system and the banking system view the purchase of rental properties.

For the taxman, the landlord is in business and entitled to deduct all the costs, including interest, incurred in earning taxable rental income.

For a bank, the landlord is someone borrowing against the security of a dwelling and banks are generally happy to lend as much as the Reserve Bank allows.

But few other businesses can gear up their balance sheet to the same extent. Few other investors can enjoy the same benefits of leverage in a rising market, amplifying the increase in their equity until they are ready to collect their tax-free capital gain.


As a result, landlords are buying 40% of houses for sale in Auckland - and up to 80% in some areas. And they're driving real home buyers, who don't enjoy their tax advantages, out of the market.

Tackling this requires both eliminating the tax advantages and restricting credit to speculators. The first is easy - eliminate negative gearing and impose a comprehensive capital gains tax. The second is harder as higher loan-to-value ratios aren't going to impact landed Boomers who have paid off their original homes. And unfortunately, by reducing demand, either could lower house prices - an anathema to the Auckland investment property-owning National Party. But if we don't stick it to landlords, then the alternative is that New Zealand becomes a society of landlords and tenants, rich people and peons. In the nineteenth century, the Liberal Party made sure that didn't happen to us, by breaking up large estates and strangling New Zealand's wannabe landed gentry at birth. We need a government that will do the same to our landlords - and fast.

New Fisk

How reading Shakespeare could help stop conflict in the Middle East

Because the last thing a Labour party wants is for people to join unions...

The UK Labour leadership election is turning into a public demonstration of everything that is wrong with that party. First, the Blairites tried to keep the "unelectable" incumbent off the ballot, because otherwise he might win in a landslide like last time. When that failed, they then disenfranchised the hundred thousand members who joined in the last six months - unless they paid £25 (which, in context, is a third of the weekly income of a part-time worker in the UK - but pocket change to the Oxbridge toffs of the Blairite faction). Then, when people realised they could participate by joining a union (resulting in a surge in union membership), the Labour party disenfranchised them too. Because apparently the last thing a party which purports to be the political voice of the labour movement wants is for people to join unions...

And then in a few months time, they'll no doubt start whining about "voter apathy" again. But by slamming the door so firmly in the face of their own supporters, the UK Labour party has sent a very clear message: they are not interested in the views of voters, or even of their own members. Instead, both should shut up and do what they're told. Faced with this attitude, it is no wonder people turn away in disgust and pursue change through other, more democratic vehicles. At least that way they don't get treated like peasants.

Thursday, July 14, 2016



Time for copcams

In the wake of Tuesday's killing by police, people are calling for cop-cams:

A criminal barrister is calling for police to wear body cameras which would record incidents such as police shootings as they unfold.

[...]

Criminal barrister Michael Bott said there were many questions about what happened which could be answered by body cameras.

"If the police, for example, had video cameras recording their interactions with people, such as the deceased so we could actually make an objective inquiry, we've got credible evidence as opposed to the words of various witnesses."


Its a good idea. In the US, copcams show us that police officers routinely lie. A video record is a check on their behaviour and any abuse of power. In this case, it would have given the required investigation solid evidence on whether the dead man had a gun or not, allowing them to determine whether the police officers should be charged with murder.

There are evidential issues - iPhone video was recently disallowed due to it not meeting the requirements of the Evidence Act. But this can be solved (largely by the police bringing their video storage in-house, rather than entrusting it to a foreign corporation). And it would give us greater oversight and therefore greater trus tin police, while allowing those who abuse their power to be weeded out.

(And as I write this, the police have shot and possibly killed someone else. Again, it doesn't matter if it is a "good" or "bad" shooting - the regular use of lethal force by police creates significant ethical issues around cooperating with them. If you provide information to the police in certain types of cases, there's now a non-zero chance that you will be complicit in a killing. And the morally safest way to handle that is to refuse to provide any information at all).

Good news on the TPPA

Its official: both US presidential candidates now oppose the TPPA:

Hillary Clinton delivered a shot across the bows to the Trans-Pacific Partnership as her bid for the US presidency was endorsed by Bernie Sanders, a vocal opponent of the controversial trade agreement.

[...]

But at a rally held in New Hampshire yesterday to mark Sanders' endorsement, Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee, went beyond the bounds of the party's official platform.

"We're going to say no to a tax on working families and no to bad trade deals and unfair trade practices including the Trans-Pacific Partnership," she said to a raucous crowd, which included many Sanders supporters.


Its not dead yet - there are still fantasies that the US Congress will ratify it in the "lame duck" session, where they can't be held accountable for their decision - but in the likely scenario that that doesn't happen, the TPPA will be over.

Meanwhile, legislation to implement the TPPA in New Zealand is currently before select committee, but is due back in November. Hopefully the government won't move too quickly on it. Otherwise we could be left in the situation of extending our copyright term and gutting Pharmac for nothing.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016



Killers in uniform

Last night, the New Zealand police shot and killed a suspect. Its the second person they've killed this year, and comes in the wake of four killings by police last year.

As with the previous killing, the circumstances of this one are being contested by the victim's family. The police say the victim had a gun. His partner says he didn't. The official version will win, of course - it always does, no matter what the truth is - but when this happens twice in a row, you have to wonder.

What is indisputable is that the New Zealand police are using guns more than ever before, intimidating the public with them and bringing them to operations where they would previously have been unarmed. And in such circumstances, when you have a gang of hyped up, heavily armed police going in somewhere, its easy to see how one cop crying "gun" and another believing them can end in a hail of bullets.

No matter what you think of whether any particular shooting was justified or not, the routine arming of the police fundamentally changes the equation of law enforcement in this country. To put it bluntly, when the police are armed to this degree, providing them with information may lead to someone getting killed. And if you don't want that to happen, then you shouldn't cooperate with them. Its an unpleasant conclusion - the police are supposed to protect us after all. But when the police are killers, we should treat them as such. You wouldn't provide information to a serial killer looking for their next victim. So why provide it to a killer in a uniform?

National protects tax cheats

National has revealed its response to the Shewan inquiry into the tax system, announcing that it will adopt all of its recommendations:

Foreigners setting up tax-free trusts in New Zealand will soon have to disclose their identity and any beneficiaries, after the Government agreed to sweeping changes in the wake of the Panama Papers.

Finance Minister Bill English and Revenue Minister Michael Woodhouse said today that they had agreed to all of the recommendations in the Shewan Inquiry into foreign trusts.

The recommendations were "sensible" and "well-reasoned", English said, and by acting on them the Government would help strengthen disclosure rules and protect New Zealand's reputation.


Yay, right? Well, no - because those recommendations were only half measures, which still leave us with secrecy by default. Oddly, National's register won't be available to IRD, and it will still be searche donly in response to inquiries, rather than automatically shared with foreign tax agencies. Meaning that we're still in the absurd situation that in order to discover tax cheating, other countries have to ask (and know the specifics). It's a catch-22 seemingly designed to prevent enforcement.

And there's a reason for this: because when you get down to it, National is on the side of the tax cheats. They're a party for the rich, who view taxes as an imposition rather than the price you pay for belonging to a civilised society. Their default attitude to people laundering money through Panama and the Cook Islands is to want to do it themselves, rather than stamp it out and make these parasites pay their way. So its not surprising that they're only interested in half measures. Like climate change, like refugees, like housing, they're doing the least they think they can get away with.

What they should be doing is being a good global citizen and putting the New Zealand foreign trust industry out of business. And the way to do that is with an open, searchable register, allowing the public and NGOs to trace who owns what, combined with automatic data exchange with other tax authorities, so foreigners can't use us for evasion. We should not be part of this problem. And if National isn't going to solve it, they should get out of the way and make room for someone who will.

Uber: tax cheats

Want another reason not to use Uber? In addition to the evasion of transport regulations designed to keep passengers safe, they're also tax cheats:

Internet transport firm Uber used controversial and complicated international tax structures to reduce its New Zealand tax bill to around that of an average Kiwi worker, records show.

Through a structure known as "Double Dutch" accounting, the online transport network channels revenue to subsidiaries in the Netherlands that hold earnings and minimise its worldwide tax bills.

According to financial accounts filed with the New Zealand Companies office, Uber declared gross revenues of $1,061,018 in New Zealand in 2014 but paid just $9397 in income tax. Someone on the average wage of $45,000 is taxed about $7800 through PAYE.


Like Google, Apple and Facebook, Uber is just another tax-cheating parasite, refusing to contribute to the infrastructure and society that makes their business model possible. Kiwis should not support such businesses.

New Fisk

Whether Isis jihadis or government soldiers, speak to fighters in Syria and you will discover infinite sadness

A worrying sign in PNG

Papua New Guinea's Prime Minister Peter O'Neill is in trouble. Facing arrest for corruption, he's had student protects and now calls for a general strike to force him to resign. Just yesterday, the PNG Supreme Court overturned his stooge Speaker's manipulation of the parliamentary process, ordering a recall of parliament to allow a vote of no confidence to be held. So naturally, it's time to roll out the "anti-terrorism" powers:

The National Security Advisory Committee in Papua New Guinea is expected to give police the power to arrest anyone inciting strike action within essential services.

The Committee was convened following threats from unions in the air transport and maritime sectors, who called on Mr O'Neill to step down at midnight last night to face fraud allegations.

The Chief Secretary to government, Isaac Lupari, told the newspaper the National, that the committee could invoke two laws which enable police to arrest people advocating violence, disruption of public services and destruction of public property.


Coming from a government whose police thugs have shot unarmed protesters (and hunted them through the streets in order to beat and shoot them), this isn't a good sign. Instead it sends a clear message that the current government is planning to cling to power by force.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016



Charged

When Chester Borrows ran over a protester's foot and injured her, I predicted the police would look the other way, falling back on the old "not inthe public interest to prosecute" routine they've used whenever someone powerful commits a crime.

I'm glad to see that I was wrong:

National Party MP for Whanganui Chester Borrows has been charged with careless use of a motor vehicle causing injury to two people after an incident at an anti-TPP protest.

Police investigated a complaint about an incident in March this year, as Mr Borrows and Minister Paula Bennett left a breakfast meeting in Whanganui.

Mr Borrows' first court appearance is on Tuesday 2 August in the Whanganui District Court.


The case is now before the court, so commenting further on it is inappropriate. As for the police, I'm wondering what's changed: have they finally decided that the law applies even to those who set their budget, or have they decided that Borrows is politically insignificant and therefore can be prosecuted without threatening it? The prosecution decision on this will be fascinating to read, but obviously won't be released until after the trial process is concluded.

Doing the right thing

Last night, the New Zealand government helped a former Nauruan MP, effectively kept prisoner on the island after the suspension of his passport, flee Nauru and begin a new life in New Zealand:

Mr Kun's Nauruan passport was cancelled amid accusations he had taken part in protests outside parliament - which he denies - and he had been unable to leave the country.

He applied for New Zealand citizenship in December last year in order to join his family in Wellington.

His lawyer, Claudia Geiringer, said his New Zealand passport was issued twelve days ago and sent to Nauru.


Its like something out of the Cold War - Kun had to check in at the last minute to avoid being detained at the airport. But now he's safe. Its something the government should have done a long time ago, but I guess accepting NZ citizenship would have meant publicly surrendering his seat in Parliament (which he wasn't able to take anyway). Waiting until the election (which the government has predictably won, having locked the opposition out of the media) looks to have been a good way to get away with it.

It is terrible that we're having to do this sort of thing in the Pacific, and we should be clear about who is to blame: Australia. Their blood money for hosting a refugee concentration camp has destroyed Nauru's democracy and turned it into a repressive regime. The sooner they close that camp, the better.

New Fisk

Rif Aleppo: the decisive battlefield in the Syrian civil war

Sometimes, you win

Over the weekend, Labour revealed its housing policy. Part of that policy was to stop sucking "dividends" out of Housing New Zealand, and instead get the company to reinvest that money in growing the state housing stock. The government immediately dismissed the idea, claiming the dividend was a "discipline" on Housing New Zealand. And then, within a day, Steven Joyce was tweeting that they'd decided not to take it - something which has now been confirmed by Bill English.

Forget all the bullshit about "flip-flops" and "U-turns" and policy on the hoof. The government has adopted a policy we want it to adopt, presumably in response to public pressure, and that's a good thing. Sure, they've done it in a chaotic, messy way which shows that they have no real idea what they're doing - but that doesn't change that fact.

It also shows how effective a good opposition can be. Presenting policies to the public, winning them over, creating a constituency for change and forcing the government to react - this is how parties can force change even when not in power. The Greens have been good at it, and its great to see Labour finally stepping up and trying it too, rather than trying to just float into power without doing anything to earn it.

Monday, July 11, 2016



ECan gets the message

Last month, we learned that ECan was ignoring blatant water theft by Canterbury's farmers. The public clearly wasn't happy with this lax enforcement of the law, and now they've been forced to finally crack down on it:

Canterbury's regional council ECAN is getting tough with farmers who have not installed water meters, after three years of them being required, it says.

The announcement comes weeks after Forest and Bird obtained documents revealing that one in five farmers in the region with consents to take water had serious non-compliance issues.

[...]

ECAN chief executive Bill Bayfield told Nine to Noon staff had put farmers on notice that they now had ten days to comply with the rules.


Good. As the article points out, you can't manage what you don't measure. The persistent failure to measure actual water use by farmers is a big part of why Canterbury's water is so badly managed. And now we're forcing them to actually measure how much they use, hopefully we can move on to the next step: making them pay to use this valuable public resource.

Good riddance to water robbers

The Ashburton District Council has decided not to sell the Lot 9 water consent:

The ditching of a deal to set up a water bottling plant in Canterbury has been hailed "a win for the Ashburton community".

The Ashburton District Council has backed out of negotiations with NZ Pure Blue to sell Lot 9 of its business estate, which came with resource consent to extract billions of litres of water from aquifers beneath the town.

[...]

Mayor Angus McKay said the potential purchaser failed to tell the council "how they intended to run a water bottling plant from the site".

"In particular, we wanted confirmation that the plant would be using bottles not water bladders ... [this] has given us enough cause for concern to cancel the Sale and Purchase Agreement," he said.


Good. While bottled water is one of the highest value uses we can have for this precious national resource, allowing someone to buy a $233 million annual revenue stream for a mere $500 was simple plunder. And letting them do it at a time when local residents are facing water restrictions, so they can suck the water out and send it (and any economic benefits from bottling it) overseas added insult to injury. Ashburton District Council has done the right thing here. Now they need to make sure it can't happen again.

As for how to do that, its simple: we charge royalties for oil. We charge royalties for gas. We should charge them for water, so that local communities and iwi actually benefit from its use. And until that happens, we shouldn't let the thieves and plunderers take any more of it.

Holding Blair accountable for his crimes

Last week, the Chilcot report was released, with an official finding that Blair lied to get the UK Parliament to back an American war of aggression against Iraq. Foot-dragging by the UK means he will never face prosecution before the ICC for that crime (though there is still the hope of a special UN tribunal). But there is a way the UK Parliament can hold him accountable for his crimes against them: by finding him in contempt:

A cross-party alliance of MPs is pushing for Tony Blair to be declared guilty of “contempt” towards Parliament over the Iraq War – as calls for legal action against the former Prime Minister grow. A parliamentary motion, being tabled this week subject to approval by the Speaker, will declare that Mr Blair used “deceit” in the run-up to the invasion. Its proponents say it could see him barred from public office and stripped of his privy council position.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn today signalled his backing for the motion, urging MPs to examine evidence suggesting that Mr Blair had misled Parliament over the invasion. The parliamentary device, to be formally proposed by outspoken Conservative MP David Davis, has attracted the backing of MPs from Labour, the Tories, Scottish National Party, Green Party and Plaid Cymru.


A formal finding that he misled parliament isn't much. But its some justice, and that's better than no justice at all.

It does however raise interesting constitutional questions about whether Parliament has the power to discipline a former member for grave crimes committed while in office. In New Zealand, I think there would be no chance of doing this - allegations of misleading the House must be raised at the earliest opportunity, and I don't really think the allegation here is new (though the formal finding of its truth is). But the UK does things differently, and this path might be open to them.