Friday, April 28, 2017



Fuck Jenny Shipley

The latest episode of The 9th Floor is out, in which Jenny Shipley opposes "middle class welfare":

During the day we spent with Shipley she said New Zealand needs to take the "blowtorch" to middle class welfare, with student allowances and healthcare areas where middle and higher income earners should pay more.

She finds it "morally bankrupt" that the country doesn't have an honest discussion about this and that she personally feels "sick" that on her income she can't opt out of subsidised health care.

Firstly, I think many people would disagree with her contention that subsidised healthcare (and universal superannuation, and free education and so on) is "welfare" rather than the basics of a decent society. And they'd be appalled to hear her belief (in the Radio New Zealand version) that "the middle class has assets and they should be using those first before they put their hand in the pocket of someone else, such as the state." Or, in English, if you get sick you should sell your house. There's a name for that country, and it's not "New Zealand", but "the USA" - and kiwis are very clear that we don't want to live in that shithole.

But secondly, even if we restrict the idea of "middle class welfare" to things like Working For Families, the reason we have it is because the NeoLiberal "reforms" which Shipley championed - and still champions - drove down incomes and made it impossible for the middle class to earn a decent living, while demanding that they pay more. And that simply was not politically sustainable (and this was before the housing bubble really began to bite). If Shipley wanted to eliminate it, she'd be advocating for higher wages, more secure employment, better conditions - but she's not. Which tells us that what she really stands for is driving the middle class into poverty and reducing us to a tenuous, insecure existence. Fortunately, that idea is as politically acceptable now as it was in 1999 when we de-elected her. But it is nice of her to remind us in an election year of what National really stands for.

High country tenure review is a corrupt privatisation

Last week, in a decision on irrigation in the Mackenzie Country, the Environment Court said there were strong ecological reasons to end the process of high country tenure review. But there's another reason to end it: the process is corrupt:

In 25 years, the Crown has purchased leasehold rights to more than 330,000 hectares for about $117 million; and leaseholders have purchased freehold rights to more than 370,000 hectares with higher production potential for about $62 million.

On average, the Crown price to purchase leasehold rights is about 3.5 times the runholders' price to purchase freehold. This translates to large payouts to runholders at the end of tenure review – more than $50 million so far.


This is a classic case of a corrupt privatisation: government assets sold at hugely undervalued prices. To see how undervalued they are, simply look at what the same land goes for when the former leaseholders inevitably subdivide and onsell it: the median price multiplier is 992. In other words, they buy something (or, more likely, are effectively paid to take it) from the government, and sell it for a thousand times more money.

If this happened in Africa or Russia we would call it what it is: corruption. And we would want those responsible for this criminal undervaluing, and those who profited from it, to be put in jail and their corruptly obtained profits repaid to the state. And that is what should happen here.

New Fisk

Christians are under attack in the Middle East – and not even a visit from the Pope can convince them to stay

National undermines freedom of the press

The Reports Without Borders 2017 World Press Freedom Index was released this week, and the good news is that we're rated as one of the few countries in the world (along with the core EU and Nordic countries) which still rates as "good". The bad news is that we've dropped 8 places since last year, and RSF is pretty clear about the reasons:

The media continue to demand changes to the Official Information Act, which obstructs the work of journalists by allowing government agencies a long period of time to respond to information requests and even makes journalists pay several hundred dollars for the information. In August 2016, the government revealed a grim future for whistleblowers, announcing a bill that would criminalize leaking government information to the media and would dramatically increase the surveillance powers of the intelligence services. Journalists, bloggers, and civil society representatives would be among the potential targets of the proposed law, which could be adopted in 2017.

National's culture of secrecy and grovelling to the spies is undermining freedom of the press, one of our core values and a vital safeguard for our democracy. Its time we threw the fuckers out and got a government which will respect our democratic freedoms.

Thursday, April 27, 2017



No freedom of religion in Saudi Arabia

In New Zealand, we take the right to speak freely on religion for granted. But in Saudi Arabia, they execute people for it:

A man in Saudi Arabia has reportedly been sentenced to death on charges of apostasy after losing two appeals.

Several local media reports identified the man as Ahmad Al Shamri, in his 20s, from the town of Hafar al-Batin, who first came to the authorities’ attention in 2014 after allegedly uploading videos to social media in which he renounced Islam and the Prophet Mohammed.

He was arrested on charges of atheism and blasphemy and held in prison before being convicted by a local court and sentenced to death in February 2015.

This is utterly barbaric. But its also utterly stupid. To point out the obvious: when the only way people can practice their religion (or simply live in peace) is to overthrow the state, then that's what they try and do. Freedom of religion isn't just recognising a fundamental right - its also a pragmatic response to diversity.

We must end the use of seclusion

We've been hearing a lot about seculision and abuse by solitary confinement recently, thanks to the reporting on the case of Ashley Peacock and investigations by the Ombudsman. And now the United Nations has told us loudly and clearly to stop abusing people this way:

A scathing report has slammed New Zealand for its overuse of solitary confinement - found to be four times higher than in English prisons and in breach of international standards.

Children, disabled people and the mentally unwell were also isolated at high rates, and in conditions considered "stark" and "impoverished", according to Dr Sharon Shalev, an international human rights expert.

[...]

Her report highlights a raft of issues, the most serious being the continued use of seclusion on mentally unwell prisoners; and the solitary confinement of children - both against international standards.

[...]

Corrections' data showed there were 16,370 recorded instances of segregation in New Zealand in the year to Nov 2016, four times that of England and Wales. Maori and women were both overrepresented.


Its deeply disturbing reading, and it makes it clear that we are failing to abide by basic international human rights standards in our prisons, mental instutitons, and youth justice system. We're also failing to provide basic medical and mental health carein our prisons, which exacerbates the problem. And we desperately need to clean our act up, and stop locking people away in isolation like this.

Sadly, from Corrections' response, we're not going to. Just as they did when they were caught torturing prisoners, they're claiming that seclusion and restraint saves lives. Except that when they were torturing prisoners, that was a lie - they do it not out of any real concern for the welfare of those in their care, but because it is cheaper to do so. Which tells us that if we want to solve this problem, we need a good purge of Corrections officials, so that basic human rights decisions are not affected by economic considerations and National's austerity.

National is ruining our rivers

Today the Ministry for the Environment and Statistics New Zealand released Our fresh water 2017, a statutory report under the Environmental Reporting Act. And it is damning:

Another major stocktake has painted a grim picture of New Zealand's freshwater environment, showing that nitrogen levels are rising and three-quarters of monitored native fish species are nearing extinction.

The 100-page report, published today by the Ministry for the Environment and Statistics New Zealand, has been described as "damning" by the country's largest independent environmental organisation, which is calling for a dramatic reduction in cow numbers.

The report, measuring a range of indicators including water quality and quantity, and the welfare of biodiversity, confirmed that urban waterways were the most polluted, but declining trends in pastoral areas were just as concerning.


The trends around nitrogen, E. Coli, and biodiversity are dismal. And while river degradation is a long-term problem, the present government has done nothing to prevent it. Instead, they've done the opposite, promoting irrigation while deposing the elected Environment Canterbury and replacing it with a dictatorship (and now a "guided democracy") to ensure that Canterbury's farmers can keep on sucking the rivers dry and their cows can keep on shitting. Oh, they're promising "standards" - pathetically weak ones, which won't apply for 30 years. Which shows their level of "commitment".

We can not allow our lakes and rivers to be polluted like this. The government needs to clean them up: reduce both water use and farm effluent to sustainable levels. And if this government won't do it, we should elect one that will.

"No-one owns water"

That's the government mantra whenever iwi demand their property back, or whenever people raise the prospect of permitting systems to restrict use. But it turns out that someone does effectively own the water: farmers:

But in the absence of a Government price tag, the market has put a value on water in some of our driest regions: between 70c and $1.60 for a thousand litres - a cubic metre - and most recently about $1.

That's about a tenth of 1 cent per litre, but the real price is less because buyers pay once for permits giving them annual rights lasting years, or decades.

The money is going to farmers selling surplus water permits they no longer need for tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars (sometimes more).

And the trading is happening in catchments where councils say streams and rivers are already stretched beyond capacity.


And the real kicker is that farmers pay nothing for the water they're selling to each other. A public resource is effectively privatised by allocating resource consents for it and allowing their transfer between parties. And the revenue from that resource is captured privately, rather than benefiting the public.

Its time to end this legalised theft by farmers. Its time to end our primitive "first come, first served" system of water allocation, which has resulted in overallocation, polluted rivers, and legal theft. Instead, we need to reassess allocations to a sustainable level, and make farmers and commercial users pay for the water they use. This will require acknowledging original Maori ownership, and reaching a settlement with iwi over it, but that's not beyond the wit of our government. If they could do it for fish, for aquaculture space, and for the radio spectrum, they can do it for water.

Mission creep

When the government introduced facial recognition technology in passports back in 2006, they assured us that it was about border control and visa processing and that our biometric information would be protected. But fast forward a decade, and we get this:

DIA is a world leader in identity verification and issuing secure passports. Facial Recognition (FR) is a cornerstone of the automated rules processing in the Passports System. DIA is now seeking to replace the current FR solution and look more broadly at its usage across DIA.

DIA is looking to take advantage of industry improvements both now and for the future and move to a service delivery model as an operational cost rather than ongoing capital investment. DIA is therefore taking an as a service approach to procuring a FR capability.

DIA recognises that other New Zealand Government agencies may currently or in the future wish to utilise a DIA Lead FR Service. On this basis, DIA wish to proceed with an Open Syndicated Contract. This will allow any other Government agency to use the contract. DIA will act as the Lead Agency and deal with all aspects of the contract development and management.


[Emphasis added]

Facial recognition as a service means inevitably that the contractor will have to be given a copy of DIA's RealMe and passport photo databases so they can check images against them. Some of our most sensitive personal information will be handed over to a foreign company and stored int he cloud where it can be accessed by hackers and foreign intelligence services - without asking our permission.

Meanwhile, the "open syndicated contract" suggests wider use of facial recognition by the government. At the moment, its mostly used by Immigration for passport control purposes (for NZ citizens, this basicly means Smartgate, which throws your photo after confirming your identity). But DIA seems to expect it to be more widely used, perhaps by police, WINZ, and CYFS (and probably by the spies as well). And again, they're doing this in secret, without asking our permission.

Two of our most basic privacy principles are that our information will only be used for the purposes for which it is collected, and that it will not be shared without our permission. DIA seems to be pissing on that. No wonder they're trying to keep this quiet.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017



Climate change: who's serious?

One of the more odious things about the US (other than their habit of bombing children all over the world) is their belief that everyone else in the world is a slacker and a cheat. And it's on perfect display with Energy Secretary Rick Perry's comments on the Paris Agreement:

During a speech in New York, Mr Perry also criticised Germany, which has mothballed nuclear plants leaving it more reliant on dirty coal, saying: “Don’t sign an agreement and expect us to stay in if you’re not really going to participate and be a part of it.

“We need to renegotiate it. They need to get serious.”


Here's some facts: the US's Paris target - which they will fail to meet - is a 28% reduction from 2005 emissions levels by 2025 (or about 10% from 1990 in honest numbers). Germany's targets - which they have a credible plan to meet - are 40% by 2020 and 95% by 2050, both relative to 1990 emissions levels. I think its pretty obvious which one of these countries is serious about climate change, and it isn't the USA.

New Fisk

Will Donald Trump have the guts to call the Armenian genocide what it was?
Donald Trump's first 100 days: The madder he gets, the more seriously the world takes him
It is not just Bashar al-Assad who is 'responsible' for the rise of Isis

Spying for the whales

Japan is a country with whom we have generally positive relations. So naturally, the GCSB has been spying on them to help the US at the International Whaling Commission:

New Zealand spied on Japan to help the United States at an international whaling meeting in 2007, according to a classified National Security Agency document.

The Intercept website published the paper, received from US whistleblower Edward Snowden, as part of an article on Japan's secretive relationship with the National Security Agency.

The document, marked top secret, outlined a mission where GCSB spies collected information on Japan and passed it on to the NSA ahead of a key vote.

[...]

New Zealand spies were collecting "insightful" intelligence that "laid out the lobbying efforts of the Japanese and the response of countries whose votes were so coveted", the document said.


Japan probably wasn't the only target - GCSB's area of operations includes the South American and Pacific island states whose votes Japan was hoping to buy - most of whom are our friends. And while New Zealanders disapprove of whaling and want to support the IWC moratorium, I think many of us would also be deeply uncomfortable with the idea that we would spy on people and tap their phones to do that. Its invasive, underhanded, two-faced - the exact opposite of the values we want our foreign policy to express.

And that's the core problem: spies are corrosive of our values. Its one thing to spy in wartime, out of military necessity. Its quite another to do it in peace, on your friends, for self-advantage. If an actual person did that sort of thing, most people wouldn't want to know them. And now that we're known to do it as a country, many of our friends won't want to know us either.

Friday, April 21, 2017



Places to go, people to be

Nothing from me today - I'm off to Dunedin to attend its first ever larp convention. Normal service will return on Tuesday.

Thursday, April 20, 2017



100% renewable electricity is achieveable

The Greens have launched a new electricity policy today, and the key component is a target for 100% renewable electricity generation (under average hydrological conditions) by 2030. The obvious question is "is it achieveable"? The good news is that the answer is "yes".

That answer is in MBIE's Electricity Demand and Supply Generation Scenarios 2016 (see sheet 13), which show that almost all of our current thermal generation capacity is scheduled to be decommissioned due to age between 2020 and 2027 (the exception is the relatively new Huntly E3P plant, but that seems fine as a dry year backup). The challenge for meeting the target then isn't how to shut the existing generation down, but how to ensure that it is replaced by renewables rather than thermal generation. The Greens don't actually say how, but the obvious answer is to restore the thermal ban passed in 2008. With flat demand, plenty of already-consented wind waiting to be built, and untapped geothermal resources, it seems perfectly achieveable, at minimal cost. We're going to be replacing this generation anyway, so we might as well be clean rather than dirty.

What if demand isn't flat? The long-term risk here is electric cars, which will mean that the energy they currently get from burning petrol will have to come from the electricity grid. Over the term of this policy that's not a big effect - there are currently only 2000 electric vehicles in New Zealand and while the government wants that to double every year, we'd just build extra wind. In the long run, we seem to be heading for cheaper photovoltaics and battery storage which will allow them to be charged from daytime peak, so policy is a matter of positioning to enable that future. On the other side, if Tiwai Point shuts down, then those thermal plants will close earlier, and we'll chieve the target that much faster.

Basicly, its do-able, and with climate change getting worse, seems like its worth doing. we're not going to make things better by continuing to burn coal and gas.

(There's also some other stuff in the policy: a "winter warm up" payment for low-income households to ease winter electricity costs. Funded by government electricity SOE dividends, but should have significant health benefits. And the usual tinkering with electricity market structures and regulation, but that's less interesting than the headline target).

Wednesday, April 19, 2017



The company they keep

"PM announces Sir Edmund Hillary Fellowship", NZ Government, 30 June 2011:

Prime Minister John Key announced today that Indian businessman and Member of Parliament Vijay Mallya will be the next recipient of the Sir Edmund Hillary Fellowship.

Mr Key made the announcement in Mumbai while on a four day state visit to India.

[...]

Mr Key says, "Vijay Mallya is an outstanding businessman with a great affection for New Zealand. He is a worthy recipient of the Fellowship and will be a great asset in strengthening the longstanding and friendly ties between the two countries."


"Force India F1 team boss Vijay Mallya arrested in London", Guardian, 18 April 2017:
Vijay Mallya, the multimillionaire co-owner of the Force India Formula One team, has been arrested in London on behalf of Indian authorities investigating allegations of fraud in connection with the collapse of Kingfisher Airlines.

Scotland Yard said Mallya, who fled to the UK from India to avoid arrest in relation to £1bn of unpaid debts, was arrested on an extradition warrant on Tuesday. Mallya was “arrested on behalf of the Indian authorities in relation to accusations of fraud”, the police said.


Well, that's embarassing. sadly, Key has now resigned, so we don't get to ask him about his poor character judgement, or what exactly New Zealand (or the National Party) got out of this.

So much for fixed-term parliaments in the UK

Back in 2011, the UK passed the Fixed-term Parliaments Act. While born of distrust between the then-government's coalition partners, it for once moved the UK's constitution in a more democratic direction, by stripping the Prime Minister of the prerogarive power to call an election whenever they felt the polls were in their favour. But naturally, it had an escape clause: an election can be called if a government votes itself out of office, or if Parliament votes to hold one by a two-thirds majority. And just five years after being enacted, that clause is being abused to allow the government to call an early election when the polls are in its favour...

Theresa May has stunned Westminster by demanding a snap general election on 8 June that she hopes will turn her party’s clear lead in the opinion polls into a healthy parliamentary majority and secure her Conservative vision for Brexit.

The prime minister made an unscheduled statement on Tuesday morning from behind a lectern outside 10 Downing Street, in which she recanted her repeated promise not to go to the polls before 2020.


Supposedly this is about Brexit. Bullshit. Its the dirty old trick of calling a snap election when the opposition is on the rocks, in the hope of gaining a few more years. But regardless of the reason, it has also made it clear that British governments can not be trusted to behave constitutionally, and that establishment promises of better democracy are simply lies. Again, if you're a UK voter who believes in democracy, I suggest that you get out, while you still can.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017



New Fisk

Lebanon’s efficient security services are stepping up their watch over Islamist supporters in Beirut and beyond
If Trump cares so much about Syrian babies, why is he not condemning the rebels who slaughtered children?

A victory for women

In 2014 Kristine Bartlett won a huge victory in the Court of Appeal over pay equity. Now, it looks like that victory is about to pay off, with the government about to approve a huge pay settlement for underpaid women:

A historic pay equity settlement could lead to hefty pay rises for about 55,000 low-paid, mainly female workers as part of a deal between unions and the Government.

Cabinet will discuss the settlement later on Tuesday, with Prime Minister Bill English saying ministers do not want to leave the issue for the courts to decide.

NZME reported the deal would lead to significant pay increases from July for workers in aged residential care, home support, and disability services, all state-funded service sectors with low pay rates and predominantly female employees.

Kristine Bartlett, the aged care worker whose court case kickstarted the pay equity negotiations, would have her salary increase from about $16 an hour to about $23 an hour.


This is great news. And while progress might be slower than if it was gained by a court order, its more certain. Government agencies introducing equal pay should also put more pressure on the private sector to provide it and help drag wages up across the board. And if not, the changes negotiated to the Equal Pay and Employment Relations Acts will allow women to fight for equality and win.

Thursday, April 13, 2017



Secret court hearings violate the right to justice

Over the past decade we've seen a push by governments around the world to allow them to present "classified information" (AKA the paranoid ravings of spies) to the courts in secret while denying the opposing parties the right to contest it, or even know what is being claimed. We saw this procedure used in the persecution of Ahmed Zaoui, and since then its been encoded in law in the Passports Act 1992, Immigration Act 2009 and even the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015. More generally, National wants to allow this procedure to be used in all civil and criminal trials, just in case the government wants to put its finger on the scales of justice.

Meanwhile, in a decision on judicial review of a passport cancellation, the High Court has just ruled that such provisions violate the Bill of Rights Act:

A statutory provision that material and potentially decisive evidence in a court proceeding is to be presented to the Court and considered in the absence of the party adversely affected is as flagrant a breach of the fundamental right recognised in s27 of NZBORA as could be contemplated...

The whole of our common law tradition, as bolstered by the rights and protections recognised by NZBORA, render the procedure under s29AB an anathema to the fundamental concepts of fairness. However, the reality is that Parliament has recognised the justification for the use of that procedure in defined circumstances.


And because Parliament is supreme, rather than the Bill of Rights Act, they get to get away with this violation.

In passing, the court also criticises the Attorney-General's apparent failure to warn Parliament of what it was doing, citing the lack of a s7 report on the provisions when they were passed. Which doesn't build confidence in Parliament as the guardian of our human rights. As with National's Anadarko Amendment and prisoner voting restrictions, it instead suggests that its time we took the job off them, and gave it to a body which can be trusted to do the job properly: the courts.

The same question

Another month, another formal finding from the Independent Police Conduct Authority that a police officer unjustifiably used a taser to "induce compliance" (torture someone into obeying them):

A police officer's second use of a Taser on a Christchurch man was unjustified, the Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) has found.

[...]

The IPCA found the officer's first use of the Taser was justified, but that the weapon could not be used on an uncooperative, non-aggressive person to induce compliance.

Authority chairman Judge Sir David Carruthers said the second Taser use "when the man was on the ground and clearly still affected by the first use" was unjustified.

"While the man did not immediately roll over, there was no immediate threat of harm to anybody.

"The second use of the Taser was for compliance and should not have been used. It amounted to a breach of police policy, was disproportionate in the circumstances and an unjustified use of force."


There's a name for "unjustified use of force": assault (in this case, with a weapon). And I'm left asking the same question as I was last month: will this officer be prosecuted? And if not, why not?

New Fisk

Donald Trump, who doesn't read books, is ignorant of history – and so is his pet chump Sean Spicer

Drawn

A ballot for four member's bills was held today, and the following bills were drawn:

  • Friendly Societies and Credit Unions (Regulatory Improvements) Amendment Bill (Stuart Smith)
  • Electoral (Registration by Special Vote) Amendment Bill (Meka Whaitiri)
  • International Transparent Treaties Bill (Fletcher Tabuteau)
  • Marriage (Court Consent to Marriage of Minors) Amendment Bill (Joanne Hayes)
So, a couple of National spam-bills, a useful change to our electoral administration, and a bill to require that Parliament vote on the signing (rather than implementation) of treaties. That ought to shake things up a bit. There were 70 bills in the ballot this time, a decrease from the last few ballots. The full list can be viewed here.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017



Utterly vexatious

That's the only way to describe Lani Hagaman's decision to continue her vindictive defamation suit against Labour leader Andrew Little. But I guess that's what happens when National feels it can't beat a Labour leader at the ballot box: their get their wealthy proxies to try and bankrupt them instead.

But if the aim is to defend dying Earl Hagaman's reputation, it has backfired. Since the original decision, a number of voices (including Stuff and Andrew Geddis) have spoken up strongly in defence of the right of politicians to raise concerns about apparently corrupt behaviour (and, prior the Auditor-General's report, the coincidence of a political donation and the award of a contract looked exactly that). By continuing the suit, the Hagamans now look not only like vindictive tools, but anti-democratic defenders of corruption.

Climate change: The UK drags its feet

Earlier this week, Generation Zero proposed a "Zero Carbon Act", an ambitious plan to force the government to set emissions reductions targets and meet them. The proposal is based on the UK Climate Change Act, which has so far worked rather well. But now it seems the UK government is violating its own law, and is on the verge of being sued to force it to comply:

ClientEarth – the team of environmental lawyers that has twice taken Ministers to court and won – has given the Government 21 days to explain why it has failed to produce a plan setting out how the UK will fight climate change as required by law.

Under the terms of Britain’s Climate Change Act, the Government must come up with a way to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 57 per cent by 2032.

[...]

The Government’s Emissions Reduction Plan is supposed to set out how this will be achieved and was due to be published at the end of last year, but has been repeatedly delayed.

It is thought further significant cuts could involve policies that are too radical for the current Government, particularly during the upheaval caused by Brexit. For example, as part of its efforts, Norway has pledged to ban petrol-powered cars by 2025. Such a move is not considered likely in the UK.


The Tories are full of climate change deniers, and they now seem to want to "scale down" their climate change obligations to promote trade in the wake of the self-inflicted disaster of Brexit. But the law's the law. If they don't want to obey it, then the correct thing to do is repeal it (and face the public and international opprobium for doign so), not to simply ignore it.

But what this does point out is another benefit of a "Zero Carbon Act" in New Zealand: legal enforceability. A New Zealand government which similarly ignored the law could likewise be sued to force it to obey. Which would be a useful check on the denier-stuffed National party in the future.

Past the tipping point

How bad are our rivers and lakes? Past the tipping point, according to the Prime Minister's chief scientist:

The state of some of the country's waterways have gone beyond a tipping point, according to a report from the Prime Minister's chief scientist.

Some will take more than 50 years to recover, and even then they will never get back to their original state.

The report said the science was clear: New Zealand's fresh waters were under stress because of what we did in and around them.


There's more in the Herald, and the big culprits are urban expansion (from stormwater and industrial waste), and intensive agriculture (from cowshit and fertiliser runoff). Given that agriculture employs only 6% of the workforce, I think its clear who is having a disproportionate effect here.

We need to clean up our rivers. Towns and cities have a role to play, but the primary cause of contamination is farmers, and that's where the burden should lie. And if it drives dirty farmers out of business, so much the better for our environment.

Member's Day

Today is a Member's Day, though a relatively boring one. First up is the vote on Clayton Mitchell's Broadcasting (Games of National Significance) Amendment Bill, which apparently didn't happen last time. Following that there's a succession of minor bills: Jami-Lee Ross' Land Transport (Vehicle User Safety) Amendment Bill (which bans washing cars on the road), Steffan Browning's Consumers’ Right to Know (Country of Origin of Food) Bill (does what it says on the label, and its inexplicible why anyone would oppose it), Ruth Dyson's Education (Teachers’ Code of Ethics) Amendment Bill, and Paul Foster-Bell's Arbitration Amendment Bill (another National spam-bill). There will likely be a ballot for four bills tomorrow, which should give a chance for something more interesting to be drawn.

A betrayal of public service values

Back in January, The Press reported that three former CERA staff had been running a property development business on the side in an apparent effort to profit from their jobs. Yesterday the State Services Commissioner reported back on an investigation into them, and made it clear that their actions were completely unacceptable:

Mr Gallagher and Mr Nikoloff were found to have been using a private company (PIML) to attempt to participate in a business deal for personal gain, relating to the same property (273 Manchester St) and with the same parties they were engaging with in their public capacity as CERA employees. They did not disclose their personal interest to parties involved in the potential transaction or to their employer.

This created a clear conflict of interest which they were aware of and should have disclosed to CERA, however they did not do so.

“I consider their actions to be serious misconduct that is unacceptable in the New Zealand Public Service,” Mr Hughes said.

“If these two individuals were still employed by CERA I believe there would be strong grounds for terminating their employment,” he said.

“I am unable to direct State sector employers when making employment decisions, however based on what I have seen in Mr Heron’s report, if it were up to me I would not employ these individuals,” Mr Hughes said.


This behaviour apparently continued when they moved to Otakaro Ltd, National's secret, corporatised development company. They've been referred to the Serious Fraud Office as a result, presumably on charges of corrupt use of official information. And apparently they're now looking at another group of CERA employees for similar behaviour. The rot appears to go deep.

One of the three, Murray Cleverley, wasn't involved in the apparent corruption around PIML, but the report makes it clear that he had behaved unacceptably in his position as chair of the Canterbury DHB by refusing to properly manage a conflict of interest around leasing them property. He's resigned as a result, and good riddance. While less serious than his friends, he too has betrayed the core values of the New Zealand public service.

Gallagher and Nikoloff appear completely unrepenant and have sought to minimise their behaviour. They've also tried to explain it because they come from a business background. And that is exactly the problem: the corrupt values of the New Zealand business community are completely at odds with those expected from public servants. If we want a clean public service, we shouldn't hire from business.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017



New Fisk

Isis has finally reached central Egypt – but that's not even al-Sisi's biggest problem

Bullying the Ombudsman

In December last year the Ombudsman's Quarterly Review mentioned that DPMC was planning a discussion on revising the rules around withholding "free and frank" advice. Naturally, I fired off an OIA, and learned that the discussion was confined to the government - they were talking to themselves about secrecy and how much we should be allowed to know, with no input for the OIA's users. I received the followup to that request yesterday, with more information. Naturally, DPMC has withheld their actual views as "free and frank" - apparently, they can only talk about secrecy in secret, presumably for fear of public outrage. But what they have released is bad enough.

It turns out that in September last year, Gerry Brownlee called the Ombudsman into his office to "better explain this Office's project on proper compliance with the [OIA]". From the Ombudsman's email summarising the meeting, Brownlee was concerned about the Ombudsman's defence of transparency and had

a genuine perception that the rules have changed and that we are pushing for a wider range of Ministerial advice and briefings to be released.

Or, to put it another way: Gerry Brownlee tried to bully the Ombudsman about transparency. Which is absolutely outrageous.

It gets worse. Because in response to this bullying and as part of these secret discussions about secrecy, the Office of the Ombudsman is "revising" its guidance on sections 9(2)(f)(iv) and 9(2)(g)(i) covering confidential and "free and frank" advice to Ministers. So, Brownlee may get what he wants. And if he does, we all lose.

Denying the obvious

Currently we have a housing crisis, with homes becoming unaffordable to young New Zealanders. Labour says it wants to do something about this - but not if it results in lower property prices in Auckland:

Labour wants to see more affordable houses built, but is steering clear of suggesting it would welcome a fall in prices, even in Auckland.

After a week focused on his successful defence of a defamation claim, Labour leader Andrew Little was back on message today with a 20 minute press conference dominated by housing issues and Labour's plan to build houses and crack down on speculators.

[...]

But asked if he welcomed signs Auckland house prices were falling, Little said no.

"Falling house prices doesn't add a single extra house to a market that is at least 60,000 houses short," he said.

"Just trying to manipulate the prices of existing houses isn't going to provide the 60,000 houses needed. There is only one answer to the housing crisis and that is build more bloody houses and that's what we are going to do."


Except that building more houses would reduce prices - its simply supply and demand. More generally, if the problem is unaffordable houses there are only two ways of making them more affordable: lower prices or raise incomes. And given the huge disparity between incomes and prices, the latter is not a credible option. Which means the only real solution to the housing crisis is to crash prices with capital gains taxes, limits on speculation, and a massive government house-building program with sales restricted to first-home buyers.

This will obviously make wealthy Boomers in Auckland worse off, as their paper wealth evaporates. Fuck them. Speculators who have leveraged that wealth in an effort to bleed us even more will go to the wall. Fuck them too. There will be some real victims - young Aucklanders who paid too much for houses during the bubble who will be left with negative equity. I'd welcome policies to ameliorate that, but I'm more interested in making houses affordable for all than in the handful of young home buyers featured on the front page of the Herald.

As for Labour, this is not a thing you can finesse away. Either you want to solve this problem, or you don't. And if you don't, people can and should vote for someone who will, rather than a party which talks big but in the end wants to defend the inequalities of the status quo.

National's New Zealand

What does National mean for New Zealand? Families sleeping in cars over winter:

Emergency housing providers are predicting more families will sleep rough this winter because of a lack of affordable accommodation.

The issue is further complicated by tens of thousands of players and supporters due to descend on Auckland later this month for the World Masters Games.

The Games, combined with another mass arrival in June and July for the Lions Rugby Tour, means even motels currently being used by the Government to house the homeless will be chocker with overseas guests.

[...]

Currently about 370 families a week rely on motels for emergency housing in Auckland.

Mangere Budgeting Services spokesman Darryl Evans told TVNZ a number of people will end up in cars this winter and some will end up in shipping containers.


This is simply indecent. Making sure everyone has a roof over their heada is a core purpose of government in this country, and National isn't doing it. Instead of fixing this crisis, they're simply making it worse by flogging off state houses.

Clearly, we're not going to get a solution from National. If we want everyone to have a home, we have to vote for a party which will deliver it. Fortunately we'll get a chance to do that in September.

Monday, April 10, 2017



National's proxy attack fails

The jury has come back in the Little-Hagaman defamation case, with a majority verdict that Little did not defame Lani Hagaman, a majority verdict that he might have defamed Earl Hagaman on one occasion, but a hung jury on whether he had a defence of qualified immunity. The jury was also undecided on whether other statements about Earl Hagaman were defamatory. Which means a) that Little is entitled to costs from Lani Hagaman; and b) that any real motivation for a retrial on the undecided issues will be ended by Hagaman's inevitable death (he is reportedly on his deathbed). At this stage, it looks like a win for Little: the case will probably end, and if it doesn't, it will be clear that it is a purely political exercise, aimed at distracting and possibly bankrupting Little in an election year.

Chipping away at legal privilege

I had an email from the Ombudsman today, announcing that they would be requiring the Ministry of Primary Industries to release a summary of the (flawed) legal advice which led to a refusal to prosecute over Operation Achilles. I haven't got the summary itself yet, but it'll be coming, likely in the next two weeks.

Its a victory for freedom of information, but its also a sign of the changing view around legal professional privilege and the application of s9(2)(h). Once legal advice was sacrosanct and you would never get it. Agencies treated it like a conclusive withholding ground rather than one which had to be matched against the public interest. But in the last few years a series of decisions has chipped away at that. We now have a right to know what the government thinks the law means so we can understand it. And in cases where there is significant public interest in accountability, such as contentious decisions on prosecution, we now effectively have a right to a summary. The MPI decision simply confirms this trend.

New Fisk

The US air strikes say more about the Vladimir Putin-Donald Trump relationship than the Middle East

Climate change: Breaking our cycle of failure



The picture above shows New Zealand's cycle of failure on climate change. For the past 30 years the government has been talking about action, and yet never seems to actually get there. National's "50% by 2050" target is simply the latest example of this: while they have a target, they have no plan to meet it, and no policies which seem like they might get us there. Instead of action, we get half-measures and wheel-spinning, policies designed to produce the appearance of action (though headlines) while actually changing nothing. And meanwhile, the planet burns...

Generation Zero, the youth movement against climate change, wants to change that. They've released a proposal for a Zero Carbon Act, aimed at breaking that cycle of failure. The proposal follows the model of the UK Climate Change Act: a legislated long-term target (in this case net zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2050 or earlier), a pathway of five-yearly carbon budgets set by an independent Climate Commission to get us there, and a requirement for the government to produce plans to meet them. The whole thing is backed by independent reporting, so the success or failure of those plans will be publicly announced - providing a strong incentive for the politicians to aim for actual emissions reductions rather than just the appearance of action.

In the UK, this model has produced significant reductions in emissions. Apparently, if you watch the politicians like hawks, they actually do the job. Who'd have thunk it?

There's some new features. The Act would set seperate budgets and targets for long-lived and short-lived greenhouse cases - meaning that we would simply have to reduce methane emissions to a "sustainable" level. And it applies only to domestic emissions, meaning no cheating with fraudulent Ukranian credits. I'm not sure about the first, in that it seems to provide too much wiggle-room for farmers; OTOH we may find that a sustainable level of methane is a lot lower than they think. The second is obviously a good idea. While international carbon trading is great in theory, in practice its just fraud and bullshit, and we're better off without encouraging that.

Generation Zero has a petition in support of the Act here. Please sign it, and send a message to the politicians that you want real action on New Zealand's greatest threat.

Friday, April 07, 2017



A problem of privatisation

For decades, successive New Zealand governments have used privatisation to cut costs in the social services sector, contracting out services then grinding down contracts to demand more and more for less and less. It works, for the government, but there's a big risk: that the contractor might decide its had enough and simply walk away. This has just happened with IDEA Services over disability support - and the Minister is not taking it well:

Disability Issues Minister Nicky Wagner has strongly condemned a national disability support provider over a contract dispute - saying Idea Services has been "totally irresponsible" and let down vulnerable clients.

Wagner was responding to questions from Labour MP Poto Williams in question time today. Williams tabled a letter from Idea, the operational arm of IHC New Zealand, informing families they were unable to provide any Autism Spectrum Disorder services because of underfunding.

Wagner, also Associate Health Minister, said she had been told by the Ministry of Health that it was only advised last week that Idea did not intend to renew its contract, after the service had previously indicated they would renew.


Firstly, reading the story, it appears that the Ministry has misinformed their Minister. IDEA Services have been discussing their systematic underfunding and trying to negotiate a transition arrangement for months. But the Ministry has refused to budge, which is why they have this problem.

But more importantly, the Minister seems to be under the delusion that contractors are under some sort of obligation to accept the governments shitty contracts and accept perpetual losses. They're not, any more than Wagner is required to accept my money if I offer her twenty bucks to eat a plate of dogshit. That's inherent in the contracting out model. But when you're contracting out a vital service, its a serious problem.

To point out the obvious: this problem doesn't occur if you don't contract out. But then I guess the government would have to pay what these services really cost, rather than expecting other people to effectively subsidise them out of the goodness of their hearts.

New Fisk

Assad has forced his secret police into the army to fight for Syria – and it will bring him closer to Trump

Israel is turning into a tyranny

That's the diagnosis of two former heads of their intelligence service:

Two former heads of Israel’s powerful domestic intelligence service, the Shin Bet, have made an impassioned and powerful intervention ahead of events to mark the 50th anniversary of the country’s occupation of the Palestinian territories in June.

One of the pair warned that the country’s political system was sunk in the process of “incremental tyranny”.

Ami Ayalon and Carmi Gillon were speaking ahead of a public meeting at a Jerusalem gallery which is threatened with closure for hosting a meeting organised by the military whistleblowing group Breaking the Silence, one of the main targets of the rightwing government of Benjamin Netanyahu.

[...]

“Incremental tyranny [is a process] which means you live in a democracy and suddenly you understand it is not a democracy any more,” Ayalon told a small group of journalists, including the Guardian, ahead of the event. “This is what we are seeing in Israel. The tragedy of this process is that you only know it when it is too late.”

Ayalon cited recent moves by ministers in the Netanyahu government to change the laws to hit groups such as Breaking the Silence by banning them from events in schools and targeting their funding, while also taking aim at the country’s supreme court and independence of the media.


Israel likes to call itself "the only democracy in the Middle East". That is fast ceasing to be true. They may retain the trappings, but when they criminalise opposition to the government and its apartheid policies, they cease to be democratic. Hopefully they'll pull themselves back from the brink. If not, well, a tyranny is not exactly the sort of country anyone wants to call a friend - or give a shit about when it has trouble.

Thursday, April 06, 2017



Climate change: You're soaking in it

As I write this New Zealand is recovering from a storm which has caused slips and flooding nationwide, and Edgecumbe is underwater. And of course, its the result of climate change:

This week's extreme weather is just a small taste of things to come as the intensity of storms increases because of climate change, a scientist says.

Victoria University climate scientist Professor James Renwick said heavy rain events like cyclone Debbie and last month's 'Tasman tempest', which brought flooding in Auckland, had a clear human footprint.

The risk of seeing such storms was increasing as time went on, he said.


Bigger storms. More moisture. More fires. Worse droughts. Scientists have been warning us about these consequences for decades, so its not like we weren't warned. But successive governments have decided to dump the costs of emissions on the wider public, rather than where they belong: on polluters. And now we're all paying for it.

Illusory wealth

Good news! The government says we have a $1.4 billion surplus! Roll out the tax-cuts!

Except of course we still have 295,000 children in poverty, a homelessness crisis, huge unmet health needs, and schools forced to discriminate against disabled kids due to underfunding. And in that context, the "surplus" isn't. Instead, its illusory wealth, constructed out of service cuts and the suffering of the poor. Its nothing to celebrate; instead its a $1.4 billion reminder of the services the government should be providing, but isn't. And the idea of using it for tax cuts - effectively, sacrificing those vital government services for the needy so a handful of rich pricks can enjoy another holiday and add more to their overflowing money piles - is simply obscene.

Coal is dead

Two good-news stories about coal today. Firstly, most of the EU has committed to no more new coal plants:

Europe’s energy utilities have rung a death knell for coal, with a historic pledge that no new coal-fired plants will be built in the EU after 2020.

[...]

A press release from Eurelectric, which represents 3,500 utilities with a combined value of over €200bn, reaffirmed a pledge to deliver on the Paris climate agreement, and vowed a moratorium on new investments in coal plants after 2020.

“26 of 28 member states have stated that they will not invest in new coal plants after 2020” said Kristian Ruby, Eurelectric’s secretary-general. “History will judge this message we are bringing here today. It is a clear message that speaks for itself, and should be seen in close relation to the Paris agreement and our commitment to provide 100% carbon-neutral electricity by 2050.”


Greece and Poland are the only holdouts. But I expect they'll eventually come round. So we're looking at a coal-free Europe in the long-term.

Secondly, the USA is going coal-free, despite the Trump regime's best efforts to destroy the planet:
When President Donald Trump signed an executive order last week to sweep away Obama-era climate change regulations, he said it would end America's “war on coal”, usher in a new era of energy production and put miners back to work.

But the biggest consumers of US coal - power generating companies - remain unconvinced.

Reuters surveyed 32 utilities with operations in the 26 states that sued former President Barack Obama's administration to block its Clean Power Plan, the main target of Trump's executive order. The bulk of them have no plans to alter their multi-billion dollar, years-long shift away from coal, suggesting demand for the fuel will keep falling despite Trump's efforts.


While some companies simply don't believe Trump's policies will last, the key reason is that coal has simply become uneconomic compared to gas and renewables. And when that happens, no amount of presidential posturing can save it.

Of course, there's still a long lag on this - coal plants have a long lifetime, and letting them be built for the next 3 years means they could still be running as late as 2050 or 2060. But it does mean that it is going to be phased out, and that old plants will be replaced with cleaner alternatives. And that's a vital way of reducing emissions and stopping us all from melting.

An unnecessary intrusion

That's the Privacy Commissioner's view of the Ministry of Social Development's plan to require community agencies to hand over highly personal information on their clients in exchange for funding:

The Government's policy of requiring community groups to give up data about their clients if they want state funding is excessive and breaches privacy rules, the Privacy Commissioner says.

The commissioner John Edwards said today there was a risk that the new funding arrangement between the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) and non-government organisations (NGO) could deter some people who were in need of support.

"Not only could that put those people further at risk, and increases pressure on the NGOs, the ultimate result could be that those individuals become 'invisible' to Government and policy-makers," he said.


Reading through the full report, they find that it is not clear that universal collection meets the necessity test of privacy principle 1, and that unclear purposes for collection threaten serious problems for both agencies and WINZ around informed consent, accuracy, and future use. From the policy development trail they give, its clear that WINZ has no real idea what they want to use this for (except maybe budget cuts) or who they will share it with, and seems to regard big data as magic: if they collect everything and throw it in a pile, then somehow policy solutions will magically emerge. Its also clear that they don't give a shit about the privacy of their victims: they never completed a privacy impact assessment of the policy, and still haven't, despite serious concerns being raised.

Given the serious problems identified by the Privacy Commissioner, this is not a policy that should continue. WINZ needs to end it, now. If they want proper data to enhance their policies, they should go back to the drawing board and find some way to get it legally and without deterring people from accessing services, rather than creeping on people with intrusive data surveillance.

Wednesday, April 05, 2017



Headdesk

Last year the Ministry of Social Development started imposing new contracts on community agencies requiring them to hand over highly personal information on their clients in exchange for funding. The decision had massive privacy implications. So did they consult the Privacy Commissioner first to ensure they weren't violating the Privacy Act? Of course not:

CARMEL SEPULONI to the Minister for Social Development: What advice did she receive from the Privacy Commissioner during the development of the private client data-sharing requirements for contracted social services?

Anne Tolley: I did not directly receive any advice from the Privacy Commissioner during the development of the proposal to collect individual, client-level data. I did however receive a letter from the Privacy Commissioner on the 10th of March this year regarding his provisional conclusion of his inquiry into the proposal to collect individual, client-level data...


In other words, she only talked to the Privacy Commissioner six months after the decision had been made, once it was being investigated as a complaint.

This is a serious and basic failure of governance at MSD. The decision obviously had serious privacy implications, and that means that they should have checked whether it was OK. I'd ask how it happened, except we already know: WINZ's systematic dehumanisation on beneficiaries and attitude that they have no rights. This attitude is completely inappropriate for a government department (or indeed, a decent human being), and it needs to be stamped out.

NYPD spied on peaceful protestors

In 2014 NYPD officers murdered Eric Garner. People took to the streets to protest both the killing and subsequent decisions not to prosecute the killers. And naturally, the NYPD was spying on them:

Undercover officers in the New York police department infiltrated small groups of Black Lives Matter activists and gained access to their text messages, according to newly released NYPD documents obtained by the Guardian.

The records, produced in response to a freedom of information lawsuit led by New York law firm Stecklow & Thompson, provide the most detailed picture yet of the sweeping scope of NYPD surveillance during mass protests over the death of Eric Garner in 2014 and 2015. Lawyers said the new documents raised questions about NYPD compliance with city rules.

[...]

Emails show that undercover officers were able to pose as protesters even within small groups, giving them extensive access to details about protesters’ whereabouts and plans. In one email, an official notes that an undercover officer is embedded within a group of seven protesters on their way to Grand Central Station. This intimate access appears to have helped police pass as trusted organizers and extract information about demonstrations. In other emails, officers share the locations of individual protesters at particular times. The NYPD emails also include pictures of organizers’ group text exchanges with information about protests, suggesting that undercover officials were either trusted enough to be allowed to take photos of activists’ phones or were themselves members of a private planning group text.


Spying on peaceful protesters is grossly anti-democratic. Police spying on people peacefully protesting against an abuse of police power is itself an abuse of power. But I guess that's just what America is now: a state that lets its police run amok and abuse their power to ensure they can keep doing so.

Tuesday, April 04, 2017



National's creepy eugenics plan fails

Back in 2012, the National government decided that right-wing extremists fantasies of the poor "breeding for business" were a sound basis for policy, and decided to use WINZ to do something about it, by making free long-term contraception available to beneficiaries. At the time I called this "creepy eugenics", as it was about enabling state control of fertility than enabling people to control their own. The good news is that it the policy is a complete failure:

When introducing the fund, the Government estimated that up to 16,000 women would access the grant, and $500,000 was budgeted for the first four years of the fund.

But in briefing documents released under the Official Information Act, the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) show only 795 grants were made from the fund in its first four years.

In total, just $143,325 was spent over that time, at an annual cost of $35,000.


The report cites a number of barriers to adoption, including WINZ's controlling bureaucracy and a reluctance of doctors to impose long-term contraception on teenagers, but its hard to escape the conclusion that people just didn't want their fertility controlled by WINZ (or indeed, for WINZ to know anything about it. Because really, who the fuck wants to talk about that with them?)

As noted in my earlier post, contraception is a great thing, and it lets people control their own lives. And it should be freely available to all via the public health system, rather than pushed by WINZ to stop some people (but not others) from having kids.

A victory for clean rivers

Last year, we learned that the Manawatu-Whanganui Regional Council had been colluding with farmers to enable them to evade regional plan restrictions on nitrogen leeching. In response, Fish & Game took them to court to force the regional plan to be enforced properly. And today, they won:

Fish & Game and EDS have welcomed the release of the Environment Court’s favourable decision on implementation of the Horizons Regional Council’s One Plan.

[...]

“The Court has agreed with our concerns and its findings in issuing the declarations confirm that Horizons has not been interpreting and implementing its One Plan in conformity with the law. The Council has not been working within freshwater limits.”

[...]

“The Court found that Horizons’ implementation has been unlawful and its decisions fundamentally deficient and that raises questions about what it is going to do about it,” continued Mr Johnson.


Hopefully this means the unlawful consents will be reviewed and those farmers forced to clean up their acts. And hopefully it will also dissuade other regional councils from pulling similar stunts. If a council passes a regional plan for cleaner rivers, they have to enforce it - regardless of special pleading from the dirty dairying lobby.

The OpenOwnership Project

A year ago the Panama Papers were released, giving us the ugly truth about how lawyers and accountants play corporate shell games to hide money for criminals, terrorists, tax evaders, and corrupt officials. In the wake of it, there's been a push for open-access beneficial ownership registers, so that we can see who really owns a particular company. Open-access is vital because the public has more eyeballs than the government, and it enables NGOs to monitor things that the government might not want to (e.g. who really owns the companies getting government contracts).

Today, a group of NGOs has launched the OpenOwnership Project, an attempt to make a global beneficial ownership register. Currently it has information on nearly 2 million companies, sourced from national registers, development bodies, and sector-specific transparency projects such as the Extractives Industry Transparency Initiative. And they expect it to grow. There's a push to use the Open Government Partnership to open up beneficial ownership information and to enable it to be shared. There's a similar push to open up government procurement information as well. Link the two, and the scope for government corrption narrows dramatically.

The New Zealand government is considering setting up a beneficial ownership register. I hope they will, and that they'll link it with OpenOwnership so that it can be examined globally. While I expect there's few New Zealand officials using corporate shells for corruption, we're a well-known link in the global dirty money laundromat, and that's not a business we should want to be in as a country. A public beneficial ownership register would help us put these crooks out of business and restore our reputation as a good global citizen. And surely that's something we want?

Monday, April 03, 2017



The coverup continues

So, Bill English has ruled out an inquiry into SAS war crimes. I'm disappointed, but not surprised. At noted in Hit & Run, NZDF is a closed shop, hostile to civilian oversight - and the SAS even more so. They were always going to oppose any investigation into what had really happened.

The question is why the Prime Minister listened solely to them. Shouldn't he also have consulted Crown Law and MFAT, or indeed his own lawyer, before ruling anything out? After all, New Zealand is a party to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which permits investigation and prosecution of New Zealand troops and officials if our own government fails to do so. And by collaborating in NZDF's coverup, English has effectively just made himself a party to the crime, and opened himself up to prosecution in The Hague...

A conflict of interest

We've known for a while that the Ministry of Primary Industries has been captured by the industries it is supposed to regulate. But how bad is it? They effectively allow the fishing industry to "monitor" itself:

Greenpeace will take a complaint to the Auditor General after discovering the company responsible for monitoring large chunks of the fishing industry is wholly owned by the industry's biggest lobby group.

The company, named FishServe, has been contracted by the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) for the past 20 years to monitor overfishing, take catch reports, manage quotas and decide on licences.

A Greenpeace investigation found the company is not only owned by the industry group Seafood New Zealand, but it operates from the same office and shares staff.

[...]

Greenpeace New Zealand executive director Russel Norman said he believed the situation was an example of "regulatory capture", borne from a "web of complex relationships" between MPI and industry.

"What it means in practice is that, in order to prosecute fishing companies for legal breaches, the government regulator, MPI, has to rely on data collected and provided by a company owned by the fishing companies themselves, FishServe," he said.

It gets worse: FishServe also has regulatory powers around licensing and overfishing - which MPI has effectively devolved to the industry's largest lobby group.

This is an obvious conflict-of-interest and it needs to be ended immediately. MPI should do its fucking job of regulating the fishing industry. And if they're unwilling to do that, we should sack them and get people who are.

New Fisk

Revealed: How Isis turns normal towns and villages into theatres and factories of death

A good problem to have

The Green released their preliminary party list over the weekend, pending rearrangement by the members. It looks pretty good, but the commentary around it is whether they've made enough space for new blood in the expected "winnable" spots. They haven't done too badly at that, but they're in a bind because of their underlying problem: as a party they simply have too many talented people.

Seriously. When I look at the Parliamentary caucuses, the Greens have the star lineup. They have active and vocal spokespeople who are able to effectively push their policy arguments and put Labour to shame. There's only one who I think isn't quite up to it, and they're retiring; one more who is merely as hard-working as the average major-party backbencher. The rest are effectively the front-bench of a major party, crammed into one a third the size. Throw in a flood of high-profile, talented candidates wanting to represent the party, and they were always going to have tough decisions. And that's a good problem to have - far better than Labour's one of dealing with back-biting, treacherous, talentless time-servers in safe electorate seats, let alone NZ First's one of pointless non-entities.

(Labour of course has some excellent people. But hell do they have a useless tail dragging on them...)

In the case of the Greens, those hard decisions are ultimately going to be up to the members. It'd be nice if they pushed Chloe Swarbrick or Golriz Ghahraman up a few notches, just to cement that brand as the party of young talent and make sure they get more new blood in if the party polls badly on election day. But that's up to them. And if you really care, I guess you can always just join them and vote...

Friday, March 31, 2017



Good riddance to Serco

Serco has finally been evicted from Mt Eden Prison:

Serco will end its management of Mt Eden Prison today after four years riddled with allegations of fight clubs, poor supervision and understaffing.

The government handed over management of the prison to the UK-based company in 2011 but took it back in 2015 after the allegations were made public.

Since then Serco has only been involved in a labour supply agreement, which finishes today, leaving Corrections back in control.


Good. Our prisons should never have been privatised, and what happened to Mt Eden prisoners under Serco's management proves that conclusively. But while they're no longer sucking money from us for mismanaging mt Eden, they're still mismanaging Wiri. The quicker we can kick them out of there, the better.

New Fisk

Can reconciliation ever heal a country with conflict wounds as deep as Syria?

The obvious question

The US has designated a kiwi as a "global terrorist":

An expat New Zealander who has spent years fighting for Islamic State (Isis) has been declared a "global terrorist" by the US government.

Mark John Taylor, 42, is known as the "bumbling jihadi" after accidentally revealing his locations in the Middle East on social media during at least three years involved with Isis.

Taylor, originally from Hamilton, is believed to now be in Raqqa, Syria. He has previously urged Kiwis to carry out terrorist attacks.

On Friday morning (NZ time), the US State Department declared him a "Specially Designated Global Terrorist" alongside four other men.


Which raise the obvious question: is he on a US kill-list? And if so, is the New Zealand government going to stand by and let one of our "allies" extrajudicially murder a New Zealand citizen?

It also raises questions about what information the New Zealand government has provided to the US about him, and whether by doing so they have violated Taylor's right not to be deprived of life. If he is murdered by a US drone strike, the question of their collusion is going to become a serious issue.

When it comes to spies, refusal to deny is an admission of guilt

According the Newstalk ZB, the SIS is refusing to confirm or deny whether it has spied on journalists:

The Security Intelligence Service can neither confirm nor deny whether it's sought domestic intelligence warrants for the surveillance of New Zealand journalists and authors.

Newstalk ZB sought clarification from the spy agency after its Australian counterpart, ASIO, confirmed in Parliamentary hearings earlier this year that it had sought, and been granted journalist information warrants to access reporters' metadata.

However the SIS won't give any details beyond the basic information disclosed in its annual reports.

Director Rebecca Kitteridge said the agency doesn't release other information about intelligence warrants, as it could potentially jeopardise investigations.


How could it "jeopardise investigations"? Spies like to play up the need for secrecy and the idea that giving any idea of what they do or don't do gives information to their imaginary "enemies". But the real reason is more obvious than that: if they told us they had been spying on journalists, there would be public outrage at their anti-democratic actions and an immediate push to limit their powers and functions to prevent them from ever doing it again. Excessive secrecy is thus a defence against proper democratic oversight.

Yes, this assumes they have been spying on journalists. This is an allegation so damaging to their social licence to operate that the SIS would deny it publicly if they possibly could. Their refusal to do so effectively tells us that they have been - and we can all think of two obvious targets who are in the news right now.

Thursday, March 30, 2017



Even Wayne Mapp thinks we need an inquiry

Wayne Mapp, who was Defence Minister at the time, thinks we need an inquiry into their actions:

The man who as Defence Minister approved SAS raids in Afghanistan says further investigation is needed to find out if civilians died and to acknowledge those deaths properly if they are confirmed.

[...]

In a lengthy post on the Pundit website today, Mapp said he had no doubt New Zealand soldiers acted to the highest ethical standards.

However, from briefings provided to him after the 2010 raids he knew the operation, called Operation Burnham, had not achieved its stated aims of arresting or "otherwise dealing with" the insurgents leading Taliban operations against the provincial reconstruction team.


He also claims that he "also knew that other people had been killed", but that he had been told by NZDF that they had been "acting as insurgents" (which is American for "being a civilian in a country the US invades"). But even if you take that at face value, its hard to reconcile with reports that a 3 year old girl was killed, and Mapp is rightly upset about that - hence the call for an inquiry.

When the Minister at the time calls for an inquiry into what went on, that seems like a good reason to hold one. And it makes NZDF's refusal even more untenable. The natural conclusion is that they - or rather, the mafia of ex-SAS officers who currently run it - have something to hide.

New Fisk

In northern Syria, defeated Isis fighters leave behind only scorched earth, trenches – and a crucifixion stand

Climate change: America's climate censorship

How bad is the Trump regime's climate denialism? They've just banned the Energy Department's climate office from even talking about it:

A supervisor at the Energy Department's international climate office told staff this week not to use the phrases "climate change," "emissions reduction" or "Paris Agreement" in written memos, briefings or other written communication, sources have told POLITICO.

Employees of DOE’s Office of International Climate and Clean Energy learned of the ban at a meeting Tuesday, the same day President Donald Trump signed an executive order at EPA headquarters to reverse most of former President Barack Obama's climate regulatory initiatives. Officials at the State Department and in other DOE offices said they had not been given a banned words list, but they had started avoiding climate-related terms in their memos and briefings given the new administration's direction on climate change.


But while censorship may bring peace of mind to Donald Trump and his fellow deniers, who will no longer have to hear about climate change, it won't actually solve the problem. The climate will still change, even if rich Americans refuse to talk about it. But what they are making clear is that they are now effectively waging war on the rest of the world, with a conscious policy of destroying the global climate - and everyone's food supply - for the profit of a tiny American elite. I'm wondering how long the rest of the world will put up with that.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017



Climate change: The US walks away

The Trump regime has effectively walked away from the Paris Agreement by repealing Obama's emissions reduction policies:

Donald Trump launched an all-out assault on Barack Obama’s climate change legacy on Tuesday with a sweeping executive order that undermines America’s commitment to the Paris agreement.

Watched by coalminers at a ceremony at the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, the president signed an order to trigger a review of the clean power plan, Obama’s flagship policy to curb carbon emissions, and rescind a moratorium on the sale of coalmining leases on federal lands.

But the move was swiftly condemned by environmentalists as a “dangerous” and “embarrassing” attempt to turn back the clock that would do little to revive the US coal industry while threatening cooperation with major polluters such as China and India.


The latter is important: China and India agreed to cut emissions because the US acted. Now the US has welched and the agreement has been broken. And while China has strong domestic reasons to reduce coal use (its people don't like air pollution - something US politicians may soon have to re-learn), politically its going to have consequences far beyond climate change policy. After all, if the US can't be trusted to keep its word on emissions reduction, it can't be trusted to keep it on trade, disarmament, or anything else.

New Fisk

Syria: Final evacuation of Homs begins under close Russian supervision

The first step on the road to Scoxit

The Scottish Parliament has formally voted to request powers to hold a second independence referendum:

Nicola Sturgeon has won a key Holyrood vote on her plans for a second independence referendum, triggering accusations from UK ministers that her demands are premature.

Sturgeon won by a 10-vote majority after the Scottish Greens backed her proposals to formally request from the UK government the powers to stage a fresh independence vote at around the time Britain leaves the EU, in spring 2019.

She is due to write to Theresa May later this week, asking for Westminster to hand Holyrood the temporary powers to stage the referendum under a section 30 order. She said she would avoid writing until the prime minister had invoked article 50 to trigger the Brexit process, which she is expected to do on Wednesday.


Its basicly unconstitutional for Westminster to refuse such a request, but the Tories will try. But by doing so, they'll make it crystal clear that they think England should be in charge of Scotland, strengthening the case for independence even further.

Monday, March 27, 2017



New Fisk

Tanks, suicide bombs and bayonets: On the front line in the battles around Damascus
'We see them as monsters. At least Israel makes normal, typical war': As Isis caliphate shrinks, Syrian anger grows

Tripling down on war crimes

So, NZDF's response to the allegations in Hit and Run that SAS soldiers committed war crimes in Afghanistan is that none of it happened and that they were blowing up a completely different (but nearby) village at the time, guv. And based on this, Bill English has decided that there will be no inquiry. And if you believe either, then I have a round building in Wellington to sell you. Instead, it seems like NZDF is producing yet more self-serving lies to continue its coverup - and compounding its crimes by lying to its political masters. When that's exposed, there'll be a bureaucratic bloodbath at Defence Force HQ, because it is simply not acceptable for soldiers to lie to Ministers.

Meanwhile, the Herald this morning has a piece about NZDF's suppression of an internal report into their failures in Afghanistan, which shows how such coverups happen:

Inquiries by the Herald have found the commander who shelved the report was in part criticised in its findings.

[...]

The Commander Joint Forces until March 2014 was Air Vice-Marshal Kevin Short, currently Vice Chief of Defence Force, commander of Crib 9 of the PRT in Bamiyan from July 2006 for six months.

His experience there would have given him a keen understanding of the issues raised in the report but also placed him directly in the command structure criticised by it.

He was succeeded by the current Commander Joint Forces, Major-General Tim Gall, who was the Land Component Commander at the time the review was "drafted" and directly responsible for our deployment to Bamiyan.


Yes, its all about personal arse-covering from the people who failed. In the case of the report, it led them to bury a report, then ignore a recommendation from the Ombudsman to release it - something which should result in instant dismissal. In the case of the SAS, it has led to a systematic coverup of war crimes and repeated lies to Ministers. That too should result in instant dismissal.

Finally, Graeme Edgeler points out that its not an inquory we need, but a criminal investigation, potentially leading to prosecutions. The core problem here is that the police are no more capable of conducting such an investigation properly than they are of investigating electoral offences by political parties - they know who they work for and will produce the result which pleases their masters. But on the gripping hand, when the police inevitably fail, the International Criminal Court can step in and maybe then get some real justice - from The Hague, not Wellington.

Friday, March 24, 2017



Places to go, people to be

Nothing from me today - I'm off to Hydra, Wellington's annual larp convention.

Normal bloggage should resume on Monday, unless I am eaten by Shoggoths.

Thursday, March 23, 2017



Drawn

A ballot for three member's bills was held today, and the following bills were drawn:

  • Ombudsmen (Cost Recovery) Amendment Bill (David Parker)
  • Equal Pay Amendment Bill (Jan Logie)
  • Crown Minerals (Protecting World Heritage Sites) Amendment Bill (Ruth Dyson)
That's a pretty good lineup, and all three of them deserve to pass. And hopefully we'll see National forced to support at least two of them by public opinion. A full list of the bills is here.