Friday, September 30, 2016



More cronyism

National has appointed former National MP Tony Ryall to chair Transpower:

Former Health Minister Tony Ryall has been appointed as the next chair of grid operator Transpower.

The appointment was announced by Finance Minister Bill English and State Owned Enterprises Minister Todd McClay.

Ryall is currently a director of Transpower and will take over as chair on November 1.


I guess National doesn't think that the gold-plated parliamentary retirement scheme is enough, so instead try and use public-sector sinecures as a bonus retirement package. It is an abuse of power and nothing more than theft from the public purse to line their own pockets.

Return of the zombie dam

Back in August, the Court of Appeal dealt an apparent death-blow to the Ruataniwha irrigation project, ruling that the Department of Conservation couldn't downgrade conservation land to allow it to be built. Now, Hawke's Bay Regional Council is attempting to bypass the ruling by trying to acquire the land under the Public Works Act:

The Hawke's Bay Regional Council intends to try to acquire conservation land for the Ruataniwha water scheme even if an appeal to the Supreme Court fails.

Now the council's investment company, which is responsible for the scheme, has applied to become a requiring authority over the formerly-protected land, which includes the reservoir and dam footprint area.

The council needs requiring authority in order to be able to apply to the Minister for Land Information to compulsorily acquire the land under the Public Works Act.

The investment company's chief executive, Andy Pearce, said it was exploring all options available.


Which is going to lead to another legal shitfight over whether the Public Works Act trumps the Conservation Act, and (if that is the case) over the facts justifying compulsory acquisition. Because for a protected conservation area, you'd expect an elevated bar, something beyond merely "some farmers want to make a profit by destroying the environment".

(And of course this seems like a perfect opportunity for a Members Bill to make protected conservation land immune to such seizure...)

Review of Standing Orders

Watch Question Time every (sitting) day? Don't like the way the House is run? It's your chance to say something about it! Parliament has just started its triennial review of Standing Orders and the Standing Orders Committee has called for submissions. If you're wondering what to put in yours, here's a few suggestions:

Submissions are due by Friday, 25 November 2016.

New Fisk

An apology from Francois Hollande won't absolve France of its responsibility for Arab Harkis

Fiji is not a democracy

The Fijian regime has just abused its Parliamentary majority to kick an opposition MP out of Parliament:

Fiji's parliament has voted out a third opposition MP, dismissing calls that a suspension until the end of the term is too harsh.

Sodelpa's Ratu Isoa Tikoca went before the Privileges Committee this week over his speech in July which government members branded as racist.

Ratu Isoa was found to have breached parliament's freedom of speech rules by his listing of Muslim officials serving in high offices.


You don't need to support Tikoca's speech to think that this is unacceptable and undemocratic. Whatever his views, he was elected by voters. The Fijian regime has effectively vetoed their decision - and in the process, denied those voters their voice in Parliament (while bolstering their own numbers, of course).

This isn't an isolated incident. The regime has indefinitely suspended two other opposition MPs on similar pretexts - in one case apparently because they responded in kind to government insults. The overall impression is of a regime intent on silencing the opposition and disenfranchising their voters. And that simply isn't democratic.

Meanwhile, the New Zealand government is trying to mend fences with Fiji. It shouldn't be. While they've held elections, the regime's behaviour shows that they're a long way from democratic norms. Our sanctions should be reimposed until they start behaving properly.

Thursday, September 29, 2016



The EU threatens Afghanistan

Fifteen years after the US invasion and "reconstruction", Afghanistan is still a basket-case. Wracked by a low-level civil war, thousands of people still die each year. The government is fragile, corrupt, and incapable of delivering even basic services. So naturally, the EU wants to deport refugees there, and is threatening to cut off foreign aid unless Afghanistan accepts:

When international donors and the Afghan government convene in Brussels next week, the EU secretly plans to threaten Afghanistan with a reduction in aid if the war-torn country does not accept at least 80,000 deported asylum seekers.

According to a leaked restricted memo (pdf), the EU will make some of its aid “migration sensitive”, even while acknowledging that security in Afghanistan is worsening.

[...]

The pressure on Afghanistan is part of a broader EU strategy of making aid to poor countries conditional on them accepting deported migrants.

The best known example is the €6bn deal (£5.2bn) offered to Turkey in exchange for taking back asylum seekers and improving border controls. Other targeted countries include Niger, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Lebanon and Libya. The EU has also considered similar deals with Eritrea and Sudan, the governments of which are accused of crimes against humanity and war crimes.


And its part of a broader pattern of increasing racism and hostility to refugees from the EU. You'd think the continent which provided the reason for the UN Refugee Convention would know better, but apparently 70 years is long enough for them to have forgotten.

Once upon a time the EU stood for human rights. Not anymore.

Insult to injury

In 2014 the government appointed a taskforce to investigate "loopy rules" - absurd laws which shouldn't exist. The project was bullshit - most of the alleged "loopy rules" were fictional, urban myths spread among right-wing farmers as "evidence" of why government was bad. But to add insult to injury, National paid a pack of cronies $25,000 for this bullshit:

The National-led government paid tens of thousands of dollars to former National Party MPs, a former candidate and a financial donor to produce its 'loopy rules' report.

[...]

Half the taskforce members were appointed by the Local Government Minister at the time, Paula Bennett, and had clear ties to the National Party.

On the taskforce were former National MPs Tau Henare and John Carter, former party candidate Mark Thomas and Ian Tulloch who helped fund a National MP's campaign.

Documents released to RNZ under the Official Information Act show they were each paid $500 a day to take part.

In total they were paid more than $25,000 in fees.


Using a bullshit project to channel cash into supporters' pockets is a perfect example of the corruption that has festered under this government, and why they need to be de-elected. As to the corrupt cronies who accepted this bullshit project, they should be forced to pay the money back.

Sack Kevin Lavery!

Who runs Wellington? Its elected council, or its unelected CEO? Its a question raised by the latter's spending of $800,000 a year on corporate welfare for a wealthy foreign company in secret and without any paper trail - and by his defence of it:

Councillors did not sign-off on the spending - something Lavery said was needed because of a history of leaks.

"Once you expose commercial details at a committee level it gets into the public domain and you lose your competitive edge," Lavery told Radio New Zealand, adding that any suggestion there was insufficient paperwork on the deal was "nonsense".

"I think the current debacle in the press illustrates perfectly why it's not appropriate to have it in the political domain. It gets politicised, and I think a lot of organisations wouldn't touch us with a barge pole if that happened."


Because Cthulhu forbid that the public or their representatives should want to have a say on how their money is spent...

This is not acceptable. The CEO is supposed to work for the council. Instead, he's hiding significant decisions from them and refusing to keep records precisely to prevent democratic oversight. And he should be sacked for it.

New Fisk

Shimon Peres was no peacemaker. I’ll never forget the sight of pouring blood and burning bodies at Qana

Against student debt-slavery

What is it with the right and debt-peonage? Not content with turning ex-pats into permanent exiles with their border arrest scheme, they now want to turn them into debt-slaves by reintroducing interest on student loans:

A proposal to reintroduce interest on student loans has been shot down by the Government before it reached final report stage.

The proposal is one of a raft of recommendations put forward in a draft report by the Productivity Commission, released this morning, which is heavily critical of the current model of tertiary education and how it's funded.

[...]

The funding model also comes in for criticism. The commission says the Government should charge interest on future loans at a rate that covers the cost of the Student Loan Scheme.

The Government currently writes off about $600 million of student debt every year, it said - or around 39 cents for each dollar lent.


As noted, the government has already said "no" (because it knows it will be de-elected if it tries). Good. Because student debt is odious debt. It is pushed on students on false promises of economic gain, and students are effectively forced to take it if they want any hope of not being a burger-flipper for the rest of their lives. Charging interest magnifies that crime; there are former students today who still carry the burden of illegitimately charged interest from the 90's, last time the right got its way.

Restoring interest on student loans would be exactly the wrong direction to take. At the moment, student debt is a huge burden, causing people to defer children, locking them out of the housing market, and preventing them from starting businesses or pursuing employment overseas (at least if they ever want to see their families again). It is the root of many of our current social problems. We should be forgiving it, not making it worse.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016



Clearing out the gulag

Back in April, Papua New Guinea's Supreme Court ruled that Australia's concentration camp on Manus Island was illegal and ordered Australia to come up with a plan for resettling its victims. Instead, Australia appears to be planning to clear out the gulag and dump its refugees in Papua New Guinea with nothing, while starving out those who refuse to move:

Australia and Papua New Guinea are escalating efforts to clear the Manus Island detention centre, telling refugees they must settle elsewhere in PNG, while warning they are preparing to deport asylum seekers whose protection claims fail.

“There is no future for you here,” detainees have been told by PNG immigration officials. Processing at the detention centre “will end soon” and all those held within forced out. The police will be sent in to forcibly move those who refuse to cooperate.

[...]

The document hints at “changes to the services and conditions” for the different groups.

Those inside the detention believe those found not to be refugees will have their conditions significantly worsened in an effort to encourage them to leave. Their rights to limited movement, and their ability to access cigarettes, phone credit at the internal store, are expected to be cut.

“We will give you further information about these changes soon,” the document says.


Why wouldn't people want to move elsewhere? Because Papua New Guinea is not safe for refugees. Refugees who have left the camp have been beaten and abused; others have been left destitute and homeless due to the lack of any real planning or support for them. Australia's plan seems to be to ignore all this, dump them on the streets of PNG, and let them be brutalised and die. Its just another example of their callous and inhumane approach.

But the refugees are Australia's responsibility, and Australia should be providing a home for them. They can not be allowed to refuse to do so.

Climate change: Why are we subsidising polluters?

How much does climate change cost? According to a new study from the OECD, almost $50 per ton of carbon dioxide:

The price put on 90 percent of all all greenhouse gas emissions does not come close to paying for their real cost, according to a new study by the OECD.

Several countries put prices on greenhouse gas emissions via a carbon tax, or in New Zealand's case, an emissions trading scheme, to offset their climate change cost.

The OECD has conservatively set the cost of future climate disasters caused by emissions at €30 ($NZ47) a tonne of CO2 or other greenhouse gases with an equivalent impact.

But it says only 10 percent of all emissions from 41 mainly developed countries are at that price or above.

The OECD adds most carbon emissions incur no price at all and those which do incur a price get it very cheaply.


New Zealand is a perfect example of this. Almost half of our emissions - those from agricultural sources, usch as our polluting dairy industry - are completely free (and so they keep growing). And even in those sectors which are subject to a carbon price through the Emissions Trading Scheme, the price is statutorily capped at NZ$25 / ton - about half the price of the damage caused.

Polluters should pay the full cost of their emissions. If the market underprices them, then that suggests that the market is broken. Either we need to fix the market by radically cutting supply (thus forcing emissions to drop), or we need to replace it with a non-market mechanism such as a carbon tax.

New Fisk

Watching Trump and Clinton debate Isis from my home in the Middle East was as predictable as it was absurd

And hopefully she'll be the last...

Today the political elite has been at Parliament for the swearing in of Patsy Reddy as New Zealand's new Governor-General. As appropriate for this illegitimate representative of a foreign inbred, the ceremony was full of the militaristic trappings of our former colonial masters: soldiers, trumpets, a 21-gun salute to frighten the natives, and of course their national anthem, "God Save the Queen". She might as well have been wearing a wig and a frock coat and sneering "do you have a flag?"

And this is why we need a republic: because "our" head of state isn't ours, and the ceremonies which accompany their appointment are a reminder of what we've struggled (and are still struggling) to overcome as a country. And the best way to mark our transition to a peaceful, modern, democratic nation would be to kick out the queen and her local proxy and declare a republic.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016



Why people won't work on farms

Farmers are constantly complaining about they "can't find workers" anymore and how kiwi workers are "hopeless" (so they need to bring in foreign migrants to pay minimum wage to). Quite apart from the fact that nobody wants to live in rural dipshitville or work their crazy, inhuman, cow cultist hours, maybe this has something to do with it?

A Taranaki dairy farmer who paid his workers less than minimum wage has been ordered to pay out more than $87,000.

The Employment Relations Authority found Allan Marx and Paul Roberts of the Vintage Farm Trust, which operates a couple of farms in South Taranaki, had failed to keep nearly any records of his staff's contracts, working hours, public holidays, leave and pay.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) said the trust would pay at least $87,000, including $64,000 in arrears and a $23,000 penalty issued by the ERA, for the serious employment law breaches following an investigation.

The ERA has also directed discussions between the employees and Marx to continue after he accepted further arrears were owed as a result of his failure to pay minimum wage or for public holidays.


Yeah, you can see why a profession which regularly has stories about unlawfully low pay and poor conditions might have problems finding workers.

The market solution to this is for farmers to pay decent wages and ease their demands for insane work hours. It speaks volumes that instead they demand to be subsidised by migrant labour.

Our abusive police

How abusive are the New Zealand Police? The Independent Police Conduct authority has just found that they engaged in false arrest, arbitrary detention, inhumane treatment and denial of the rights to bail and legal advice on the West Coast:

In the early morning of 2 May 2015, Police arrested a woman and two men at an address in Greymouth and took them to Greymouth Police Station. One man was arrested for assault, and the woman and the second man were arrested for possession of cannabis. The Authority conducted an independent investigation after Police notified the Authority of issues relating to the detention of these three people.

The Authority has found that, while Police lawfully detained the man arrested for assault, they were not justified in keeping him handcuffed for a prolonged period while he was alone in a cell. The actions of Police breached his right to be treated with humanity and respect for his inherent dignity while deprived of liberty under section 23(5) of the New Zealand Bill Of Rights Act 1990.

In relation to the man and woman arrested for possession of cannabis, the Authority has found that Police were not justified in arresting and charging the man, and consequently breached his right not to be arbitrarily arrested under section 22 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act.

Additionally, after the officers had taken both of them back to the station, Police continued to arbitrarily detain them in breach of their rights under sections 22, 23(2) and 23(3) of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act. Police did not take them to appear at court on the morning of their arrests; instead a sergeant directed that they be kept in custody while he was off duty so that he could interview them when he returned to the Police station at 10pm that evening.

From the time of their arrests, the woman was detained by Police for over 19 hours and the man for over 15 hours. Police did not have the power to detain these people for questioning and should have released them, either without charge or on bail, after their opportunity to appear at court had passed.


The IPCA normally ignores substantive abuses as judgement calls. But on the procedural stuff they have no wiggle room. And in this case, it appears to have been a fairly significant abuse. The Stuff version of the story notes that police are "undertaking an employment relations process" with one officer, and hopefully the abusive fuck will be sacked. Meanwhile, his victims are due compensation - unless Judith Collins legislates against that too...

Full and accurate?

When your local authority makes a decision to spend millions of dollars of your money, you'd like to know that its been properly thought through. A budget, a business case, some considered advice on the pros and cons. But when Wellington City Council made such a decision earlier this year, they apparently didn't do any of that:

A decision to subsidise Singapore Airlines new Wellington flights for the next decade saw virtually nothing put in writing.

Documents released by the Wellington City Council show that apart from a presentation made to councillors after the decision was made, the council generated a single two page document, which refers to the subsidy only in passing.

[...]

The Ombudsman, the authority appointed to monitor the official information disclosures of government agencies, has investigated the council on the information it released, and concluded that no other written documents exist.

The release suggests Lavery neither sent nor received a single piece of correspondence on the request, commissioned no analysis on Wellington Airport and Singapore Airlines' claims about the route, or had any written contact with Singapore Airlines on the payment whatsoever.


This decision effectively spent $8 million of ratepayer's money - $800,000 a year for ten years. And they appear to have done this without any formal process whatsoever. Meaning its impossible to determine in retrospect whether the spending is achieving its objectives - or even what those objectives actually were.

But apart from being a terrible process, it also appears to be a criminal one. Section 17 of the Public Records Act requires local authorities to to "create and maintain full and accurate records of its affairs, in accordance with normal, prudent business practice". Clearly Wellington City Council did not do that. And that's a criminal offence. While the penalty is derisory, a criminal conviction may encourage Mr Lavery to do his job in future.

Monday, September 26, 2016



A welcome sight

One of the problems with our election laws is that who is funding a campaign is only disclosed after the fact, when it is obviously relevant information which could change voters' perceptions. But in the Palmerston North local body elections, it looks like several candidates are proactively disclosing both how much they're spending, and who is funding them:

[PN Green candidate Brent] Barrett said he was pleased to shed light on what had historically been "a shadowed corner of local politics in Palmerston North".

More than 200 local supporters had contributed to his campaign, with Barrett himself the largest single contributor of $4459, and underwriting the full cost.

The local Green Party branch contributed $2500 from its funds and through fundraising and donations.

There was $6420 from campaign fundraising events, $2271 from online campaign donations, $1350 from other local campaign donations.

[...]

The Labour Party's four candidates, Zulfiqar Butt, David Chisholm, Sheryll Hoera and Lorna Johnson worked together to pay for a campaign, likely to work out around $5250 apiece.

Johnson said they supported transparency and were happy to provide as much detail as they could. Each candidate has contributed $2000. The rest is from local fundraising ($2000 each) and donations from supporters, most under $100 ($1250 a candidate).


It would be good if there was an actual list of donors accompanying the story (rather than having it filtered by the candidates and the media), but any movement in this area is a welcome sight. And hopefully, we can make it a legal requirement in future.

Australia's backwards politicians

In New Zealand, we resolved the question of same-sex marriage through an (overwhelmingly supportive) vote in Parliament. Meanwhile, in Australia, politicians are dragging their feet, with the ruling "Liberal" party (which isn't) demanding that progress can only be by referendum - in other words, LGBT people can only have their fundamental right to marry recognised if politicians can't be held responsible for it, and if bigots get to mount a giant public hatefest first. But it turns out that the public they're so afraid of are overwhelmingly supportive of gay rights, and a referendum would lose in only a single rural electorate:

Just one electorate in the country has a majority of voters opposed to same-sex marriage, according to new research that suggests MPs and public debate significantly trail voters in backing change.

The University of Melbourne-led study found opposition to changing the Marriage Act ranges from 40 to just over 50 per cent in a handful of rural Queensland and northern NSW seats to less than 10 per cent in inner-city electorates in Sydney and Melbourne.

Maranoa, in outback south-western Queensland and held by the Coalition's David Littleproud, has just over 50 per cent of voters who do not want a change to allow same-sex couples to wed.

A small collection of seats – Groom, Flynn and Hinkler in Queensland and Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce's base in New England – could oppose same-sex marriage if undecided voters opted for the status quo.


And that's pretty much it. Australians support same-sex marriage. So why are their "representatives" against it?

Investigating Key's dirt machine

Back in 2014, John Key admitted that his staff were "briefing the bloggers" and using them as a backchannel to plant stories in the media. A number of people (including myself) were interested in this and lodged OIA requests for the details. The PM rejected these requests by playing the "hat game": the information was held in his capacity as the leader of the National Party, not his capacity as a Minister. But now, two years after my complaint was lodged, the Ombudsman is finally investigating it, along with an earlier request from NewstalkZB:

The Chief Ombudsman will investigate the Prime Minister over his refusal to release details regarding his, and his office's contact with right-wing bloggers David Farrar and Cameron Slater.

Back in early 2014 Newstalk ZB requested records of all such contacts that had occurred over a two year period.

John Key's office declined to release details, saying to do so would require substantial research and collation and also that some communications may have been made in Mr Key's capacity as an MP and leader of the National Party.


(I'd requested communications from a specific month, precisely to avoid "substantial research and collation").

When I originally complained, I had argued that the PM had not established that the briefings were not given in an official capacity:
While the PM's office is correct that he wears multiple hats, and information held in the capacity as leader of the National party or as an MP is not "official information" under the Act, he has not established that the information is held in such a capacity. One of the key allegations of Nicky Hager's "Dirty Politics" (which given your investigation into OIA processes I'm sure you're aware of) is that bloggers were being briefed by staff employed by Ministerial Services - that is, paid by the public. If that is the case, then that would make them definitively official information. In the case of the Prime Minister personally, the status of any briefing would have to be judged from the context in which it was given e.g. whether it was given on a day normally reserved for constituency or personal business, or during his "normal" office hours as Prime Minister. It can also be judged from the content e.g. if it is regarding official information or any OIA request then it must clearly be given in the capacity as Prime Minister, because the leader of the National Party or John Key MP do not "hold" such information and do not process such requests.

In the two years since, the OIA ground has shifted. Information held by the PM is now official by default, and he has to show it is held in another capacity. Whether that is actually the case will depend on the facts, but I think there's a good chance that they won't support a private capacity in every case, and that we'll see an official view of the heart of the PM's dirt machine.

Take that, British establishment!

The result of the UK Labour leadership election was announced on Sunday, and against expectations and despite a membership purge and universal hostility from the establishment media, Jeremy Corbyn won another landslide. Take that, British establishment!

Corbyn didn't just win - he increased his mandate (and from a larger party too). But, as with the previous leadership vote, this won't settle the issue. That won't happen until the Blairite "moderates" (Thatcherites who voted for war, privatisation and cuts) accept that parties belong to their members, not the establishment. And that looks about as likely to happen as Tony Blair admitting he was wrong to invade Iraq. Which means it'll be more backbiting, sniping and undermining, until their local electorate committees get tired of the bullshit and de-select them.

Friday, September 23, 2016



"Cluttering the internet"

In New Zealand the right of access to official information is well-established, and the introduction of FYI, an online service to make it easy, was uncontroversial. While a few agencies - notably the NZ Police - waste everyone's time by being dicks about the OIA's outdated eligibility rule, most are happy to accept requests from it. But in Australia, its a different story:

The Australian Tax Office has escalated a row with a website that facilitates freedom of information requests, claiming it "clutters the internet".

[...]

Last month, the ATO announced it would not cooperate with the [RightToKnow] website claiming it published the names of department staff and exposed abuse, stress, anxiety and damage to professional reputation.

Correspondence released under FOI laws reveal the ATO considered launching a court injunction to remove "offending material on the grounds it was defamatory, or threatening in a criminal sense".


RightToKnow publishes exactly and only what the ATO release. So if they publish the names of ATO staff members, it is because the ATO did not redact them (and I'm assuming that, as in NZ, names can be redacted for privacy purposes). But more generally, it exposes a deep unease in the Australian public service about freedom of information, and FOIA requests being public and publicly available. Its a toxic mindset, and one they will need to fix if they wish to be a modern democracy.

Good news on local government

Back in June, National introduced the Local Government Act 2002 Amendment Bill (No 2). The bill was yet another attack on local body democracy, allowing central government to effectively force mergers, force councils to divest services to council-controlled organisations, and (particularly disturbing in light of the Canterbury experience) create extended unitary authorities which could control water and air quality decisions in other districts (without those districts getting a say). But now its been delayed for a rewrite:

The Government has bowed to pressure from the country's mayors, putting changes to local government law on the backburner and signalling it may could rejig the most contentious measure.

Local Government Minister Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga has told the select committee considering the changes to postpone its report back from the scheduled October 28 until the end of next March.

He said the delay would "allow for further policy consideration and drafting changes" to the Local Government Act 2002 Amendment Bill (No 2).

"This will enable more rigorous analysis of submissions and more constructive dialogue with the local government sector," Lotu-Iiga said.


Hopefully this will result in the anti-democratic provisions of the bill being pulled. And if not, Peter Dunne has withdrawn his support, so the government may no longer have a majority for it.

Climate change: Its us or the fossil fuel industry

We always knew that dealing with climate change and preventing the oceans from drowning Bangladesh and the Netherlands and Tuvalu would mean having to wean our civilisation off fossil fuels in favour of cleaner energy sources. But a new analysis of the global carbon budget - how much carbon we can emit before we are likely to cause dangerous levels of climate change - shows if we are to survive, we need to kill the fossil fuel industry off urgently:

Scientists say that to have even a two-thirds chance of staying below a global increase of two degrees Celsius, we can release 800 gigatons more CO2 into the atmosphere. But the Rystad data shows coal mines and oil and gas wells currently in operation worldwide contain 942 gigatons worth of CO2. So the math problem is simple, and it goes like this:

942 > 800

“What we found is that if you burn up all the carbon that’s in the currently operating fields and mines, you’re already above two degrees,” says Stephen Kretzmann, OCI’s executive director. It’s not that if we keep eating like this for a few more decades we’ll be morbidly obese. It’s that if we eat what’s already in the refrigerator we’ll be morbidly obese.

And its worse than that, because two degrees isn't the target anymore - its 1.5 degrees. Which makes our total carbon budget to have even a 50-50 chance of meeting it only 353 gigatons. Which means that instead of the fossil fuel industry having the lifetime of their current fields to adapt, they've got only a third of that. Basicly, we need to put them out of business as quickly as possible, or we fry.

The good news is that we have the technology. A decarbonised economy is demonstrably feasible, and growing within the fossil economy as I write. With wind and solar and electric cars, we can eliminate carbon from the bulk of the energy chain, and use it only where we really need to. The bad news is that pushing this sort of crash transformation will require serious policy from the government - policy that will be fought tooth and nail by the fossil fuel dinosaurs, because it literally means their extinction. But its basicly us or them now, and we need to make sure that those rich polluting pricks don't destroy our future.

New Fisk

For the first time, Saudi Arabia is being attacked by both Sunni and Shia leaders

We know where this is going to end

Yesterday we heard that the Supreme Court had ruled that Corrections had made a mistake in calculating the release dates of two prisoners, imprisoning them for months after they should have been released. That's bad, and the state needs to make it right with compensation and a formal apology. But this mornign it got worse, with news that up to 500 serving prisoners may be affected by Corrections' bad maths:

More than 500 prisoners have had their prison sentences calculated wrongly, the Corrections Department has confirmed.

Twenty-one will be freed today after the Supreme Court ruled yesterday that Corrections had miscalculated the release dates for two inmates.

The ruling is expected to have a much wider impact, and could lead to compensation payments for those affected.

This morning, Corrections chief executive Ray Smith said the department had "solid plans" in place to ensure the release of the 21 prisoners today were well managed from a public safety and reintegration perspective.

"Around 500 serving prisoners out of the prisoner population of approximately 9800 are also affected, and will have their release dates brought forward. In most cases this will only be by a matter of a few days or weeks rather than a significant period of time."


Most significantly, that number does not include ex-prisoners. And that's where this is going to get expensive. Because if Corrections has calculated release dates wrongly for 5% of serving prisoners, they've probably done it incorrectly for those who have completed their sentences as well. Which means there could be thousands of victims. And while the average oversentencing seems to be a few months (suggesting compensation in the order of tends of thousands of dollars), that's very obviously going to get very expensive very quickly. And so it should: if the government imprisons you illegally, they should damn well pay through the nose for it.

Except they won't. Based on this government's past behaviour, they'll probably ram through a law under urgency to limit their exposure (and score some "tough on crime" votes) by removing the right to compensation for this false imprisonment by the state. Because that's how Judith Collins and friends roll...

meanwhile, you really have to question the basic competence of Corrections if they can't calculate a release date properly, and it really makes you wonder what else they're doing wrong.

Thursday, September 22, 2016



Standing for something

In his valedictory speech on Tuesday, departing Green MP Kevin Hague urged political parties not to dodge important issues like death with dignity, adoption reform, and drug decriminalisation, but to be brave and stand for something. Today, the Greens are just that, releasing a medically assisted dying policy:

“Adults with a terminal illness should have the right to choose a medically assisted death,” Green Party health spokesperson Kevin Hague said.

“The Green Party does not support extending assisted dying to people who aren't terminally ill because we can’t be confident that this won't further marginalise the lives of people with disabilities.

“This policy outlines the medical and ethical safeguards that need to be put in place to ensure that people who choose a medically-assisted death are making that choice freely and of their own accord.


The full policy is here, and its exactly what you'd expect from the Greens: sensible and in step with modern New Zealand. The question now is whether any other parties will follow suit, or whether they will continue to be chickenshits for fear of offending a dying fundamentalist minority.

Drawn

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

  • Private International Law (Choice of Law in Tort) Bill (David Bennett)

Its not the most interesting of bills, but at least its not spam - unlike the last two National bills drawn, it actually does something non-trivial which couldn't have been passed via a Statutes Amendment Bill.

Against restoring aid to Nauru

In 2015, New Zealand suspended all aid to Nauru after the country sacked its chief justice and suspended opposition MPs from Parliament. Now, Murray McCully is apparently thinking of restoring it:

New Zealand is considering whether to restore its aid spending to Nauru.

[...]


The New Zealand Prime Minister John Key met with Nauru President Baron Waqa during the recent Pacific Islands Forum summit in Pohnpei.

Mr Waqa said Mr Key indicated New Zealand would look to restore some of the $US878,000 in aid that had been suspended.

An official with the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs said they were exploring whether the unspent justice funding could be redirected to other projects in Nauru.


To which the obvious question is "why?" Nothing has changed - Nauru's judiciary is still not independent, and opponents of the government still face persecution for their views. Most recently, the Nauruan government is attempting to murder an opposition MP by arbitrarily cancelling their passport, preventing them from travelling for life-saving medical treatment. And of course they're still hosting an Australian concentration camp...

Nauru is not a regime we should be supporting in any way. We should not be restoring aid.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016



Against more gas

One of the first things National did on entering office in 2008 was to repeal Labour's ban on new thermal electricity generation. They've got away with it so far because their stagnant economy and worries about the potential shutdown of Tiwai Point has flattened electricity demand, meaning that old fossil fuel stations like New Plymouth and Huntly A & B haven't needed to be replaced as they shut down. But now it is under threat, with plans by Nova Energy to build a new 360MW gas-fired power plant in Otorohanga.

This will be a disaster for the environment. The new power plant will emit rougly half a million tons of carbon dioxide a year, reversing a decade of declining electricity sector emissions. Worse, that pollution will be locked in for the lifetime of the asset, twenty to thirty years. And given the current state of the climate, those are the exact twenty to thirty years we need to be reducing emissions, not increasing them.

We should not be building this plant, or any other fossil-fuelled power plants in future. We have excellent renewable energy resources, and it would be perfectly possible to meet that demand with geothermal or wind instead. National's repeal of the thermal ban and its support of more pollution is condemning us to a future of drought and floods. But they don't care, because the greedy old wankers will be dead by then.

The Greens are running a petition campaign on this issue; you can sign it here.

Justice for Iraq

In 2003, British soldiers threw Iraqi teenager Said Shabram off a jetty into a Basra canal. Now, they may finally face justice for their crime:

Three British soldiers could be taken to court over the death of an Iraqi teenager who died in military custody 13 years ago despite having been cleared of any wrongdoing in a 2006 inquiry.

Said Shabram,19, drowned in the Shatt al-Arab river after allegedly being forced into the water by British troops in a practice known as “wetting”.

The soldiers, including a decorated major as well as two current serving personnel, were originally cleared by an internal military investigation in 2006 with the family of Said Shabram later receiving £100,000 in compensation from the Ministry of Defence in 2011 in an out-of-court settlement.

However, The Iraq Historic Allegations Team (Ihat) which was set up by the Labour Government in 2010 to investigate allegations of murder, torture and abuse by British servicemen against Iraqi civilians has since reviewed the case and recommended prosecution of the soldiers to the Director of Service Prosecutions.


[Links added for context]

Pretty obviously, that 2006 internal investigation was a whitewash and cannot be trusted. And yet, a Conservative MP is calling the potential prosecution a "betrayal". To the contrary, it is attempting to shield people who extrajudicially murder civilians from justice that is a betrayal, of the values the UK purports to stand for. But I guess he's just worried that if war criminals are held accountable for war crimes, they might stop committing them or something.

Member's Day

Its another Member's Day, and it promises to be a fiery one - though not because of the member's bills. Instead, its a local bill, the New Plymouth District Council (Waitara Lands) Bill, which is likely to be contentious. The bill allows leaseholders of stolen Maori land in Waitara, the nexus of the land wars, to buy the land their ancestors stole. While some local hapu have agreed to this, others have not, and so it is likely to be highly contentious.

Following on from that we have the first reading of Catherine Delahunty's Public Works (Prohibition of Compulsory Acquisition of Māori Land) Amendment Bill, which aims to prevent a common source of Treaty of Waitangi breaches. The House should also make a start on Shane Reti's Consumer Guarantees (Removal of Unrelated Party Lender Responsibility) Amendment Bill, and if it moves quickly, might get to Chris Hipkins' Education (Charter Schools Abolition) Amendment Bill. There should be a ballot for at least one bill tomorrow.

Earning that reputation again

Today's "big" political news is a spat between New Zealand First and National over the House's extended sittings this week. Originally the Business Committee had agreed to hold a special sitting on Friday to finish off some Treaty settlement bills. National had also apparently received agreement for a voice vote on those bills. However, NZ First wanted its opposition to Treaty settlements to be on the public record, so have said they will not allow a voice vote - and in a supreme act of petulance, Gerry Brownlee has now cancelled the entire thing, with much finger-pointing and public blaming.

But this isn't just a case of MPs being petulant little brats, there's an underlying issue: having a party vote rather than a voice vote means that MPs actually have to turn up for work instead of skiving off and relying on a procedural trick to cover their absence. But instead of disrupting the weekend plans of a single government MP, Brownlee would rather throw a public tantrum and disrupt the travel plans of hundreds of Maori instead.

...and then politicians wonder why the public think they're lazy, self-interested wankers. In this case, as in so many others, they have no-one but themselves to blame.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016



Monstrous

Between 2012 and 2014, Brian Balzer raped and sexually exploited a female prisoner at the prison he worked as a guard at. Unlike many victims of sexual violence in US prisons, she complained about it on her release. And as a result, she's back in prison, detained indefinitely as a "material witness":

A former guard at Oregon's only women's prison is awaiting trial on accusations that he had sex with an inmate – but it's the alleged victim in the case who's in jail.

Washington County Circuit Judge Charles Bailey this week ordered that the 41-year-old woman remain in custody on a material witness hold because of the state's fear that she won't show up to testify at the Oct. 4 trial.

Jail records show she's been held since Aug. 16.


And a Guardian article yesterday shows that she is still being detained.

Jailing a victim is simply monstrous, and seems calculated to discourage future complaints. And I can't think of a better way to guarantee unhelpful testimony from an uncooperative witness than that.

Defending the indefensible

Last week the government released a damning review of MPI's decision not to prosecute fishers for illegal fish dumping, high-grading and under-reporting of catches. Today, unbelievably, Minister for Primary Industries Nathan Guy is defending their failure:

"In this one particular case I am disappointed. The director general is now making a raft of changes within MPI in terms of different processes and procedures to ensure this doesn't happen again."

Despite the changes - including fast-tracking more electronic monitoring equipment on boats - Guy said MPI did a very good job and the public could have full confidence in their fisheries enforcement.

"I have trust in MPI because, by and large, they do a good job as the regulator. But you need to understand...dumping and discards has been an issue [they] have been grappling with for a long period of time."


A good job as regulator? Yeah, right. MPI is completely captured by the industry it is supposed to be policing. Guy should be working to eradicate that culture, not defending it.

Another camp-guard quits

A third organisation has decided that it no longer wants to help Australia to run concentration camps for refugees:

A company contracted to provide support for refugees and asylum seekers on Nauru is pulling out, after deciding it would not re-tender for the contract.

The Guardian reports sources on Nauru saying Connect Settlement Services told workers and refugees at a meeting on Monday it would be gone by Christmas.

The agency, which took over after Save the Children pulled out last year, is believed to have consistently raised concerns about poor mental healthcare and child protection services on Nauru.

CSS is the third major contractor to announce a pull out in recent weeks after the security contractor, Wilson Security, and the main contractor, Ferrovial, which took over Broadspectrum, announced they would not seek to renew contracts.


Which means Australia either needs to find new gulag guards, or run the camps itself. Or shut them down. And they're clearly anticipating the latter by moving to ban any former gulag inmate from ever entering Australia - a move which would allow New Zealand to take these refugees, and protect Australia from the implausible scenario that, having built a new life here, they might choose the society which rejected, abused and tortured them over the one which welcomed them. Its an illuminating illustration of just how titanic Australia's ego is - they seriously think that, having tortured people, their victims will still be trying to join their putrid, racist country.

As for how we should respond, banning any Australian who has worked in the camps, or (more importantly) voted for them would be a good start. But you'd expect them to fail the "good character" test in any case.

Who to vote for in Palmerston North

My local body voting papers arrived yesterday, meaning that I need to decide who I'm voting for. So, here's my take on Palmerston North local body politics.

The mayoral race is a waste of time. On the one hand, we have a rugby meathead who thinks stadiums are more important than social housing. And on the other, a convicted child-beater who "claimed to be God, to be emperor and land lord, and said he could print money", who sounds like a character from "The Repairer of Reputations". Neither of those is a good choice; fortunately the ballot paper includes an "informal" option you can circle.

City Council is interesting, with 28 candidates competing for 15 spots in an STV election. That's a big field, and there's some easy ways of winnowing it down: first, exclude anyone who voted for at-large election rather than wards, which gets rid of Baty, Broad, Dennison, Findlay and Jefferies. Second, exclude anyone who voted for the (now dumped) plan to hire thugs to intimidate beggars, which eliminates Baty, Findlay, Hapeta and Meehan. Scrubbing anyone who promises low rates (i.e. to underfund council services) gets rid of Bowen, Egan, McLaughlin and Naylor as well. I recommended Duncan McCann last election, but him being in bed with the meathead doesn't make him appeal. Which has almost reduced us to a manageable number.

Of the rest, we have a Green candidate, Brent Barrett, and four Labour candidates - Zulfiqar Butt, David Chisholm, Sheryll Hoera and Lorna Johnson. Sue Pugmire and Aleisha Rutherford are also left-wing candidates. Abi Symes might be worth it if you want a youth voice, but scores poorly on the Generation Zero scorecard. Tangi Utikere and Elizabeth Paine are people I'd rank lowly (but at least rank). Joseph Poff supports wind fams, but sadly the wrong one (PNCC's corrupt little deal with Mighty River to put one in the Turitea Reserve) - he might be OK in another year, but not while the Turitea windfarm is on the table (looking back I also see he was a farmer candidate for Horizons last time. Which suggests he's an anti-green candidate and a definite "no"). I haven't worked out my exact ordering yet - do I do the obvious and go Barrett 1 because he's the candidate I want to see elected, or do I try and be tactical and give Symes my top vote in the hope that it saves her from early elimination? - but ranking women before men seems to be a good way to help address the monoculture of dead white men in local government.

(If you're looking for material on the candidates, NZ Election Ads has a good collection of stuff from the PN election this time, including every newspaper ad and flyer I could scan in).

Which brings us to Horizons. The state of the river is still the key issue (and is overflowing into city council politics because of PNCC's poor sewage arrangements). Unfortunately they still use the block vote, so its tick up to four boxes from a choice of six candidates. At this stage I should make an embarrassing admission: last election I recommended Rachel Keedwell as a clean water candidate. Turns out she's an anti-flouride nutter. Sorry, and I won't be making that mistake again.

Of the remaining candidates, I don't like the incumbents (Kelly and Rieger), because they clearly haven't been cleaning shit up. I don't like political nepotism and dynasties, so I won't vote for Amey Bell-Booth. Which leaves me with two candidates to support: Ralph Pugmire and Wiremu Kingi Te Awe Awe.

Finally, there's DHB - which is a waste of time because those elected don't control their budget, and have to work for central government, not for us. As usual I'll rank about five or six people (usually doctors) and screw the rest.

Monday, September 19, 2016



More horror-stories from Nauru

Another week, another leak containing more horror stories from Australia's refugee concentration camp on Nauru:

Child and adult refugees held on Nauru under Australia’s offshore detention regime are continuing to report allegations of sexual abuse and engage in self-harm, new leaked documents reveal.

The new incident reports, seen by the Guardian, include a harrowing account of the alleged rape of a refugee, who refused to report the encounter to Nauruan police. The reports also tell of children stubbing out cigarettes on their arms, trying to jump off buildings and attempting suicide by other means.

The reports make reference to “ongoing, significant risks” to children held on Nauru between January and March this year. The leak follows the Guardian’s publication of the Nauru files, incident reports revealing the trauma and abuse inflicted on children held by Australia in offshore detention.


There's full (and unpleasant) details in the article. One of the things it makes clear is that the refugees do not feel they will receive justice from the Nauruan police. This of course is then used by the Nauruan and Australian governments to dismiss all claims of abuse and victimisation as fabricated, when really its just another example of how they are victimised.

This abuse and victimisation of refugees by Australia and Nauru constitutes an ongoing crime against humanity. It has to stop. And those responsible for it need to be held to account for it in The Hague.

The Quota Management System is broken

New Zealand's Quota Management System is often held up as a gold standard of sustainable fisheries management. But it turns out that that's only true if you ignore massive, pervasive cheating of the system by our criminal fishing industry. MPI thinks the problem is so bad that if they enforced the rules, they would put half the industry out of business:

The Ministry for Primary Industries has admitted that illegal fish dumping is so widespread that if the rules were properly enforced over half of inshore fishers would go out of business.

The suggestion is made in an email between two top MPI managers, which forms part of a damning report, released on Friday, into its failure to prosecute fish dumping.

The email was sent as MPI debated whether to prosecute the illegal dumping of tonnes of fish by five of six boats it was monitoring in 2012.

In it, director of fisheries management David Turner said fish dumping was systemic and something MPI had never been able to get on top of.

"Fisheries Management can't quantify the tonnages involved but we suspect they are significant to the point that they are impacting on stocks.

"We estimate that if we found the golden bullet to stop discarding, we would probably put over half of the inshore fleet out of business overnight..."


Which invites the obvious question: why don't they? It would be better for the environment, and better for the long-term future of the industry if these criminals were shut down and locked out, and their quota taken up by honest participants. The fact that MPI is refusing to do this tells us that they have been completely captured, not just by the industry, but by its current criminal incumbents. And that simply is not acceptable.

As with dirty dairying, the law should be enforced. And if this puts cheating fishers out of business, that's a benefit, not a loss.

The effects of dairy intensification

Over the past two decades Canterbury has been taken over by the dairy industry. Dry, drought-prone planes have been covered in massive pivot irrigators, sucking the rivers and aquifers dry to feed to thirsty cows to produce milk powder for export. The cows, of course, produce shit, which goes straight into the local rivers, turning them into toxic sewers. What does this mean in practice? Places where people used to swim can no longer be used. And holiday communities are being abandoned as a result:

A tiny, century-old community built around a river can no longer swim in it because it has become too polluted.

A rope swing dangling uselessly by Canterbury's Selwyn River is a reminder of a better time in the tiny community of Selwyn Huts – when families spent long summers in the river, before it became too polluted for swimming.

The lower stretches of the river have become toxic and shallow. The water is so green it glows in the sun.

For about a century, people swam and boated in the river, southwest of Christchurch, but doing so now could make you sick.

[...]

Last Christmas, for the first time, the river was empty. Families stayed out of the river and played games on a nearby tennis court instead.


You can't swim, you can't fish, and its only safe to kayak if you decontaminate afterwards. Dairy farmers have destroyed all the other possible uses for the river, effectively stealing it for themselves.

This is the legacy National's pandering to the dairy industry has left us - and what is at stake in this year's local body elections. Dairy pollution and intensification is happening in regions all over the country - in Hastings, in Manawatu, in Marlborough and in Christchurch. Who you elect to regional councils will make a difference to whether your children can use the rivers in the same way you did. Remember that when you get your voting papers, and vote to clean up the mess and shut down the farmers.

You shouldn't have to go to court to get the law enforced

Two years ago, the Manawatu-Whanganui Regional Council finally approved its "One Plan" after a 10 year struggle. The new regional plan imposed tough controls on nutrient leaching - cowshit - and required resource consent for intensive farming. The aim was simple: less shit would mean cleaner waterways, particularly the Manawatu River. But instead of enforcing its plan, Horizons then turned around and helped farmers to evade it, rubber-stamping consents allowing them to keep on polluting (and then trying to cover up the fact). And now, they're being taken to court in an effort to get them to enforce the law:

Legal proceedings are being filed against Horizons Regional Council over the implementation of its One Plan.

The council will be challenged in the Environment Court by the Environmental Defence Society and Fish & Game.

"We are concerned Horizons hasn't been implementing its regional plan lawfully, particularly when dealing with resource consent applications for intensive farming and dairy conversions," EDS chief executive Gary Taylor said.

[...]

The court will be asked to make a declaration on "legal questions" about the implementation of the plan in relation to [the] Resource Management Act, the National Policy Statement on Freshwater Management and the One Plan.


The EDS should not have to do this. There's effectively a law on the books, and Horizons' job is to enforce it. Their refusal to do so to pander to a large sector group is frankly corrupt, and the idea that they're wasting ratepayer's money arguing that they should be allowed to do so utterly perverse. And with an election coming up, it will be fascinating to see where the various candidates stand on it.

Friday, September 16, 2016



We should do the right thing on Nauru

At the moment Australia is detaining and torturing thousands of refugees in its Pacific concentration camps on Nauru and Manus Island. Apparently, they'd like us to help end their human rights abuse by taking refugees directly from Nauru. But our government is apparently refusing:

The New Zealand government won't be extending its offer to re-settle 150 refugees in Nauru to the Pacific Island, saying it's proposal was only for Australia.

The comment comes after Australia's Immigration Minister Peter Dutton suggested New Zealand could take refugees held in its detention centre on Nauru.

In 2013, New Zealand offered to take in 150 refugees off Australia's hands - an offer that was never taken up.

Mr Dutton has said any deal to take refugees "was an issue between Nauru and New Zealand".

[...]

New Zealand Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse said the offer made was in relation to those who had been approved as convention refugees.

In a statement, he said the Government is "not considering entering into a separate arrangement directly with Nauru".


Which is a stupid response. Yes, these people are ultimately Australia's responsibility: they applied for asylum in Australia, and rather than meet its obligations under the Refugee Convention, Australia rendered them to a Pacific gulag to be tortured as a "deterrent" to others. But in this situation, the most important thing is to end the torture - not quibble over who is responsible. The New Zealand government should stop pissing around, and open those spaces directly to refugees from the camps. It's the humanitarian thing to do.

(And remember: don't buy Australian)

New Fisk

They called the War on Terror a new world war – and then forgot all about it

Damning

That's the conclusion of an independent review into the Ministry of Primary Industries' decision not to prosecute fishers for illegal fish dumping, high-grading and under-reporting of catches:

The inquiry, led by QC Michael Heron and released today, said the Ministry of Primary Industries obstructed the prosecution process, that its decision process was "confused", and that it failed to follow up and "draw a clear line in the sand" with regard to fish dumping.

However, the inquiry says the limitation period for prosecution has now passed. And the ministry, while accepting the "regrettable" findings, says no one will be disciplined as a result of the inquiry.

[...]

The prosecution decision was influenced by "considerations which were not relevant", including "potential embarrassment to MPI or officials", he said.

The process was "confused, not well documented, and not well communicated", and MPI created hurdles to the prosecution, which Heron said were inappropriate "or at least unhelpful".


No-one being disciplined is the most-damning thing about this entire debacle. MPI officials helped the people it was supposed to police laugh at the law - and yet no-one will be held accountable. Which just invites them to keep on doing it. But I guess prosecution decisions aren't the only ones being influenced by irrelevant considerations of embarrassment to MPI or officials...

MPI has said it will clean up its act. But in the absence of clear accountability, there's no reason for their staff to change their behaviour, and therefore no reason for us to believe that it will happen. Instead it'll be business as usual, with MPI being the loyal servant of a criminal, unsustainable fishing industry.

Thursday, September 15, 2016



Climate change: Beaten by Brazil

Last year the government announced a climate change target of a 30% reduction on 2005 emissions by 2030. It was an unambitious target, puffing up a pathetic 11% cut from 1990 emissions behind the baseline shift, and worse, would commit us to failure on our 50% by 2050 target (which is against the 1990 baseline). And as a sign of just how unambitious it is, its just been trumped by Brazil:

The Brazilian government has ratified its participation in the Paris agreement on climate change, a significant step by Latin America’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases that could spur other countries to follow suit.

[...]

Countries set their own targets for reducing emissions. The targets are not legally binding, but nations must update them every five years. Using 2005 levels as the baseline, Brazil committed to cutting emissions 37% by 2025 and an “intended reduction” of 43% by 2030.


So there you have it: we're dragging our feet so badly on climate change that even developing nations are setting targets substantially more ambitious than ours. But I guess that's what you get when you have a government stuffed with (barely) closeted deniers and working for polluters.

Open Government: A dishonest assessment

Last night, I learned that the government had released its draft Final Self-Assessment Report on its First OGP National Action Plan. As usual for OGP issues, I learned about it second-hand, via a tweet from Engage2; there's been no official announcement from SSC, and at time of posting no mention of it whatsoever on SSC's official OGP page. Which is odd, given that the draft is supposed to being released for consultation. Again, you'd almost get the impression that SSC didn't want us to see or comment on this.

And reading the report, you can see why: there's absolutely no acknowledgement of the very real issues with the action plan revealed by the Independent Reporting Mechanism and no recognition of the failures in developing and implementing it. There's also ongoing confusion about what the OGP commitments actually are, particularly around the "Better Public Services" reporting and IT strategy refresh commitments. But I guess if they only reported against what they'd said in the published Action Plan, it would be a very short document indeed. They're also claiming to have completed commitment 3, responding to Transparency International's recommendations from their National Integrity System Assessment - on the basis of a report which hasn't yet been published, and only will be after the action plan has concluded. While I appreciate that they've actually, finally done the extremely weak thing they promised to do - and "responding" to a report with no commitment to actually implement any of its suggestions is a pretty weak commitment - claiming credit for doing it late is a definite "yeah, nah". As for the "Lessons learnt, next steps, [and] conclusion" section, this is it in its entirety:

New Zealand’s first action plan, covering 2014-16, contained commitments that were multi-faceted and delivered improvements in public services, increased public integrity, and more effectively managing public resources. There has been significant progress against the plan, and this reflects New Zealand’s ongoing commitment to the values inherent in OGP. However there remain many opportunities for improvement in the development and implementation of New Zealand’s second action plan.

Civil society and the IRM assessment noted clear scope to explore new initiatives as commitments, and to show measurable year-on-year advancements in meeting OGP’s ‘grand challenges’.

Expanding consultation using online technologies enables participation by those outside the main centres and those otherwise unable to have a dialogue with government.

Co-creating the commitments between government, civil society and the New Zealand public, will enable a broader range of voices to help shape New Zealand’s open government.


While there seems to be a recongition that things need to be done differently, it remains to be seen whether SSC has paid it anything more than lip-service in practice (and every indication that we were wasting our time engaging with them).

In short, its a dishonest assessment from a dishonest organisation. If we want to see the real story of how New Zealand has done with its first action plan, we'll just have to wait for the IRM's take on it at the end of the month.

Nauru's corrupt justice minister

Last year, when Australia's ABC revealed evidence that Nauru's President and justice minister had received tens of thousands of dollars in bribes from a phosphate company, Nauruan justice minister David Adeang denied the allegations. But its now undeniable. Why? Because ABC has the bank records to prove it:

New documents have emerged detailing tens of thousands of dollars being paid by an Australian company to the family of Nauru's Justice Minister, David Adeang.

The bank records reveal monthly transactions from the account of the phosphate company Getax, which was formerly based on the Gold Coast.

[...]

Amounts of $10,000 were transferred on several occasions from Getax's Westpac account into the ANZ bank account of Madelyn Adeang, the late wife of Minister David Adeang.

The payments were described as "Consultancy fees", or "Fees for Adeang".


And no doubt Adeang will deny this too. But the evidence is clear: he accepted bribes. He should be prosecuted for it, but with police and a court system totally under the thumb of the government, that looks unlikely.

Cui Bono?

Economic stats are out, showing a significant increase in GDP growth. The government is crowing, of course, but they're avoiding the obvious question: who is actually benefiting from this "growth"?

And the answer to that clearly isn't ordinary kiwis. Unemployment is still high and wages are stagnant. In other words, while the economy is growing overall, the majority of people are locked out, with the benefits flowing to the rich. Which means that this "growth" just makes us worse off, by increasing inequality and all the problems of health and crime that go with it. And that's nothing to crow about...

Wednesday, September 14, 2016



Our racist police

In entirely unsurprising news, the police exhibit racial bias in their use of pre-charge warnings:

Pākehā are nearly twice as likely to be let off by police for minor offences than Māori, a new report by the Independent Police Conduct Authority has shown.

Figures between February and April 2015 showed 40 percent of New Zealand European offenders were given a pre-charge warning in Northland, compared to 25 percent of Māori.

In the Waikato, 55 percent of Pākehā were let off, compared to 24 percent of Māori.

An offender can get a pre-charge warning if they commit a crime with a penalty of less than six months imprisonment, such as trespassing or cannabis use.


Naturally, the "Independent" Police Conduct Authority says that this isn't racism, citing differences in previous criminal convictions. Of course, one of the reasons Māori are more likely to have criminal convictions is because they get prosecuted rather than receiving pre-charge warning. So racism perversely becomes its own defence.

This isn't acceptable. Police discrimination against Māori must end.

National's arrogance bites it in the arse

Back in March, National introduced legislation to establish an Ocean Sanctuary around the Kermadec Islands, banning mining and fishing within the entire Kermadec's EEZ. The legislation has an obvious impact on iwi fishing rights and the Sealord settlement. Unfortunately, in typically arrogant fashion, National refused to consult with iwi first. Now, that lack of consultation is coming back to bite it in the arse - not just with court action, but a potential coalition collapse:

A battle between iwi and the Government over the proposed Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary is set for court after attempts to find a compromise failed.

The failure to reach an agreement on the matter prompted Maori Fisheries Commission (Te Ohu Kaimoana) chair Jamie Tuuta to send a strong warning to the Government today, saying the Kermadecs issue was "this Government's foreshore and seabed".

Te Ohu said the breach of iwi fishing rights was so serious that the the Maori Party should now consider severing its ties with the National-led Government.

The Maori Party's executive is holding a meeting this evening to discuss its relationship with National.


It didn't have to be this way, and a compromise could have been found which respected existing Treaty settlements while enabling the Ocean sanctuary (this probably would have involved not just the co-management on offer, but also buying out the settlement quota. Which isn't a great precedent, but we want these settlements to stick). National's arrogance has prevented that from happening. Worse, they've poisoned the ground for future marine sanctuaries as well, and turned a group who should support kaitiakitanga into bitter opponents of it - while putting the entire Treaty settlement process in danger.

I can't see the Maori Party supporting the bill, and with ACT pulling its support they now don't have the numbers unless they rely on the opposition. Who are likely to be wary of risking a Treaty settlement. Which means the entire thing now looks unlikely to pass, thanks to National's arrogance.

Heckuva job, you're doing there, National. Way to go with fucking up our most important national relationship.

(And just to reiterate: I want to see a Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary (in fact, I want there to be other ocean sanctuaries too). But I want the government to obey the Treaty, keep its word, and treat its Treaty partners with respect too. These aren't incompatible goals, and I would expect a competent government committed to the Treaty to work hard to keep them aligned).

Cows and rivers don't mix

Another day, another case of farmers letting their animals foul our rivers. And this time, DoC seems to be to blame:

Cows - and cow faeces - have been seen in or near a river next to a popular kayaking and fishing spot in North Canterbury, a tourist operator says.

RNZ documented the cows and cow faeces right next to the Hurunui River.

The Department of Conservation (DOC) allows 80 cattle within the Lake Sumner Forest Park as long as farmers fulfil certain conditions.

That includes not letting them linger in the river, where there is a greater chance of their faeces entering the water.


In practice, those "conditions" seem to amount to diddly-squat. Rather than letting cows pollute a river within a conservation area, DoC should evict them. Cows and rivers just don't mix.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016



A fair point

The UK Labour Party is currently in the middle of a leadership vote, and the (Blairite) party apparatus is conducting a vigorous purge of the membership in an effort to prevent the popular Jeremy Corbyn from winning. People are being kicked out of the party for expressing support for left-wing policies of other parties. Meanwhile, in the Independent, Mark Steel points out the logical consequence of that action:

This could get even more complicated soon, because most Labour MPs supported Tory party policies on welfare and immigration and war, so when the General Secretary gets round to banning them, there will end up being a minus figure of members, meaning any candidate who wins nought votes will be the clear winner.

It is kindof weird that members get ejected for supporting left-wing policies, but MPs are safe despite actually voting to cut benefits, bomb children, and lock people up without charge. But its always been clear what the purpose of the Purge is, and it isn't punishing those who vote for Thatcherism. But I guess that's what re-selection battles are for.

Parliamentary Services is spying on MPs

At the start of Question Time today, Labour whip Chris Hipkins raised a very serious matter: Parliamentary Services is spying on MP's emails, and blocking them on the basis of whether the content is classified by the government.

If true, this is a significant breach of privilege, and a betrayal of trust by an organisation which is supposed to serve and assist MPs. The freedom of speech and freedom to receive information of MPs is fundamental to their role and protected by Parliamentary Privilege. In this case, Parliamentary services was caught preventing an MP from passing on to a journalist information they had lawfully received under the Official Information Act. But it would also intercept leaks made to MPs, undermining a fundamental safeguard in our democracy. More importantly, any spying on MPs and their communications is simply unacceptable and a threat to our democracy.

Parliamentary services owes us all an explanation as to who came up with this idea and how much they've spied on, intercepted and blocked. But more importantly, they need to stop fucking doing it. The communications of MPs are sacrosanct. And having a bunch of bureaucrats censoring them for the convenience of the unelected Deep State is simply unacceptable.

Not credible

Back in May, the Ministry for Primary Industries announced the winner of a contract to monitor surveillance cameras on fishing boats. The problem? The contractor was wholly-owned by the New Zelaand fishing industry. And as pointed out in the Herald today, that's simply not credible:

New Zealand's decision to monitor fishing practices with a watchdog owned by the industry would not be acceptable in the United States, Canada or Australia, an international monitoring company has told the Government.

The criticism was made in a letter to the Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy obtained by the Herald.

Howard McElderry, vice-president of Archipelago Marine Research, said appointment of a company owned by the industry it was policing would create a problem proving objectivity any time the data looked questionable.


The company which wrote the letter failed to win the contract themselves, but at the same time, they have a point: this is setting the fox to guard the henhouse. The incentives on Trident are to cover up rather than expose wrongdoing - and with MPI completely in the pocket of the fishing industry, they'll be happy to look the other way on it.

Onboard video surveillance is a good solution to the problem of pervasive criminality in the fishing industry. But it needs to be independent and credible. And this simply isn't.

Frank Bainimarama should not be welcome in New Zealand

Over the weekend Fiji took another step back towards dictatorship with the arrest of the leaders of all opposition political parties, apparently for taking part in a forum which discussed Fiji's constitution. They have since been released, after being detained without charge for 48 hours, but it casts Fiji's status as a democracy in grave doubt. To point out the obvious, in a democracy people should be able to discuss changing the constitution by peaceful, democratic means without fear of arrest or prosecution. Clearly, that is not true in Fiji.

Coincidentally, Fijian Prime Minister (and former dictator) Frank Bainimarama is scheduled for a state visit to New Zealand next week. Labour's David Shearer suggests that this visit should be cancelled, and he's right. Given Fiji's questionable democratic status, we should not be rewarding its leadership with state visits - and if the persecution of the opposition increases, we should be re-imposing sanctions and travel bans.

Friday, September 09, 2016



Climate change: No path to lower emissions under National

In 2011 the National government set a long-term climate change target of a 50% reduction on 1990 emissions by 2050. So how will they achieve it? In 2014, as part of the planning for seting our (patheticly weak) 2030 target, the Ministry for the Environment prepared a report on Potential long-term pathways to a low carbon economy for New Zealand. A copy of that report has just become available through FYI, the public OIA request site, and its interesting reading.

The first thing to note is that there are some comments on how our goal stacks up globally, against a contraction and convergence scenario (which Treasury thinks is "unfair" - kiwis apparently being somehow special and entitled to pollute more than everyone else or something). According to MfE, the 50% by 2050 goal is only consistent with the 90th percentile contraction and convergence target - that is, if permitted per capita global emissions were at the absolute upper limit of risking dangerous levels of global climate change. The target is not consistent with the median scenario, which would require something like a 90% cut. The clear implication: we will not be "pulling our weight" in reducing emissions.

Secondly, MfE looks at how we might actually achieve even this minimal cut. There's some good news here: it requires emissions reduction rates of 3-4% a year (compared with 7% for the median scenario), which is a good match for asset turnover rates in the New Zealand economy. In English, that means that the goal is achievable without paying too much just through the normal asset replacement cycle. Coal plants get replaced with windfarms and cars with electric vehicles as they wear out, and the cost is pretty much zero.

But - and there's a big but - this critically depends on the government having strong incentives in place to ensure that the appropriate replacements happen:

If it were desired to increase the certainty of achieving such an emissions pathway to 2050 then it would be urgent to put in place now policies which incentivise relevant investments by asset owners. The relevant sectors whose assets turn over at less than the critical 7% per annum rate (implied by the media budget) are boilers, power plants, forests (some crops), transport infrastructure and buildings. If action were delayed, then accelerated asset turn-over rates, and higher costs, would be required to stay within a given emissions budget for CO2.

And pretty obviously, that's not happening. In fact, the opposite has happened: National has repealed the ban on new thermal electricity generation, cancelled the biofuels obligation (which would have reduced our transport emissions by 5% by now), and gutted the ETS to prevent the plantation of new forests, while doing SFA to ensure the uptake of electric vehicles. Confronted with a pressing global challenge, they've done the exact opposite of what we need to do.

Finally, MfE presents two pathways to achieving the required level of emissions reduction. In both, electric vehicles and new forest plantings play a crucial role. And to be blunt, that is simply not going to happen under current policy settings. If we want to solve this problem, we need a government which will actually engage with it, rather than retreating into denial while trying to leave it all to the market. And we're not going to get that under National.