Wednesday, May 24, 2017



"Social investment" is just another word for cuts

The Spinoff interviews economist Simon Chapple on the government's new craze for "social investment". The core problem? It's just a disguise for cuts:

Bill English learned from that episode [the "Mother of all Budgets"]. In a sense the ‘social investment approach’ is pursuing the same goal – smaller government – but in a more subtle way. English’s claim is that social investment is a win-win by reducing the size of government while simultaneously enhancing people’s outcomes. However, when the nuts and bolts are examined, the principal win that government is measuring and incentivising is fewer fiscal dollars, not the secondary win which is better outcomes for people.

[Emphasis added]

That misplaced focus fundamentally undermines the entire exercise. It means for example that WINZ sets goals around throwing people off benefits, not getting them jobs, or making them better off. Meanwhile, its grossly invasive of privacy, while not really solving the problem of false negatives. What it will leave us with is social assistance that focuses on denying people the help they need, rather than helping them, solely in order to save money.

This obviously suits National, who care more about tax cuts for the rich and drowning government in the bathtub than they do about the poor. But it doesn't suit ordinary kiwis, who use and need those services. But since when has National ever cared about us?

Sucking us dry

Its official: a foreign water-bottling company will get to suck the Canterbury Plains dry:

A consent allowing more than 1.5 billion litres of water to be extracted from aquifers beneath Christchurch each year will likely be used for water bottling, documents show.

[...]

Official records show the valuable water consent has been transferred to Cloud Ocean Water Ltd, a company registered in March. It was registered with the business classification for manufacturing mineral water.

It raises the prospect that a little-used water allocation may soon be fully realised: If the entire allocation is used, the plant will use more water each day than the suburb of Riccarton, the city's largest.

Cloud Ocean Water is majority owned by Ling Hai Group, a China-based company with broad interests, including the Castlebrae farm in Marlborough, which it converted to a winery focused on exporting to China.


1.5 billion litres a year is also roughly 1.5 billion dollars a year. And Cloud Ocean will be getting it from us for free. Meanwhile, streams are drying up around Christchurch because the aquifers are low, while Christchurch residents were asked to conserve water last summer. And if that happens again, Cloud Ocean will keep right on pumping, stealing the water we need, and selling it offshore. It is simple pillage.

This is why we need commercial water users to pay a resource rental: to stop this theft and ensure the public benefits from the use of a public resource.

New Fisk

Donald Trump is trying to stick to the script – but he's about to really mess up in the Middle East

English lied about blasphemy repeal

Earlier in the month, after Ireland investigated Stephen Fry for blasphemy, Prime Minister Bill English said that it was time for the law to go. So you would have expected that when Chris Hipkins' amendment to add Blasphemous Libel to the Statutes Repeal Bill came before the House last night, National would have voted for it and condemned this archaic law to the dustbin of history, right?

Wrong. They voted against it, along with the Maori Party - and as a result blasphemous libel is still illegal in New Zealand.

The Statutes Repeal Bill process was reportedly supported by both National and Labour, but it had been questioned by some who thought that the change should go to select committee. That's a perfectly defensible position, but its not why National opposed repeal. Instead, they reverted to the "let sleeping dogs lie" position and decided to leave the law on the books because it wasn't being used - despite the past example of sedition which showed that such laws could be revived in an instant by an over-enthusiastic police force. And in the process, they made a liar out of their Prime Minister.

Hopefully we'll see a member's bill on the subject in the next ballot (and if anyone needs one, there's a bill to do it here). But based on last night's performance, I'm not sure that National will support it. Which means that if we want to repeal this archaic, ridiculous, theocratic law, we need to change the government.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017



Intentional discrimination

The Secular Education Network is currently taking the Ministry of Education to the Human Rights Review Tribunal over religious indoctrination in schools. SEN argues that this is discriminatory against non-christians. And it turns out, the Ministry has known this for a long, long time:

The Ministry of Education identified that religious instruction in state schools might be discriminatory more than 16 years ago, but chose to take no action.

The identification was included in a 2001 confidential internal report to then Education Minister Trevor Mallard, on inconsistencies between the Human Rights Act and Education Act.

The ministry fought for nearly two years to keep parts of the report referring to religious instruction secret, citing legal privilege, but was forced to release the full version by the Ombudsman.

Forcing atheist and non-Christian students to either attend classes that were against their beliefs, or exclude themselves, could be "indirect discrimination", the ministry's legal department said in the report.

The ministry could argue there was "good reason" for indirect discrimination, the report said, but that defence would not work if someone was to argue "direct discrimination".


When you're told that something is discriminatory and you keep doing it, that makes it intentional. The idea that the Ministry knowingly discriminated on the basis of religion for years after being warned is simply sickening - not to mention a flagrant violation of their obligations under the Bill of Rights Act. And hopefully they'll be taken to the cleaners for it.

White, male privilege

You compete for a position. You're new and inexperienced, with no track record and no idea how it works. So you get a trial spot, somewhere you can prove yourself and work your way up. So naturally, you throw a hissy fit and quit because you weren't given the top spot on the first day:

Being a "white, middle-class male" meant Rohan Lord had no future in the Labour Party, the former East Coast Bays candidate says.

Mr Lord withdrew from the race yesterday, after being placed 72 on the party list.

He told Morning Report he was very appreciative Labour considered him and he fully supported the party's platform and policy, but the message he got from his 72nd placement was that he was probably not for them.

"Wrapping it all up really, there's probably limited future prospects."

"I'm white, middle class, male, I couldn't really see a long term future."


Lord is a perfect illustration of white, male privilege in action - imagine, having to actually work for a top spot rather than just having it handed to you! The horror! The insult! But he's also a perfect illustration of the sort of person political parties - and most organisations - are simply better off without: entitled arseholes. Labour is well rid of him.

Corrections cooks the books on privatisation

When National started privatising prisons, they wanted the policy to appear to be successful. So, they set deliberately soft targets, allowing private prisons to "succeed" where a publicly-owned prison would fail. But even that wasn't enough - now it appears that Corrections actually cooked the books to award Serco a pass mark:

The Corrections Department broke its own rules by giving high marks to private prison operator Serco shortly after a near-fatal attack on an inmate in Mt Eden jail.

Guards left Benjamin Lightbody lying in his cell with brain injuries while they filed paperwork and ate afternoon tea in mid-2013.

Corrections' inspectors failed the prison for security and safety, but the department then gave it a pass.

It has refused to explain why.


Corrections owes us an explanation on this, and its hard to see how there can be a good one. The least disturbing - that the people rating prisons weren't paying any attention to inspector's reports - paints them as complete muppets who shouldn't have a job. But its also easy to see how Ministerial pressure over a flagship policy could have played a role. And either way, it suggests that prison rating is something that shouldn't be done in-house, but by an independent, external body.

Climate change: The cost of inaction

For the past nine years National has dragged its feet on climate change, gutting the ETS, letting farmers off the hook, and generally doing everything possible to avoid domestic emissions reductions. But now, the bill for that is coming due:

Newshub can reveal the cost to the New Zealand economy to meet Paris Agreement targets will be $1 billion every year for a decade

But that money won't be spent on reducing New Zealand's domestic emissions, it’ll go towards paying other countries to reduce their emissions.

In documents released under the Official Information Act, a briefing to Judith Collins on her first day as energy minister says the cost to the economy of buying international carbon units to offset our own emissions will be $14.2 billion over ten years.

[...]

In the documents, officials say "this represents a significant transfer of wealth overseas", and also warn “ an over reliance on overseas purchasing at the expense of domestic reductions could also leave New Zealand exposed in the face of increasing global carbon prices beyond 2030”.


(Unmentioned is the risk that the units National has committed us to buying will turn out to be as dodgy and fraudulent as those we used to "pay" our Kyoto bill...)

$1.4 billion a year is just a tad under what we spend annually on police. Or its twice what we spend on the courts, or three times what we spend on conservation. In policy terms, its paid parental leave, a massive state house-building program, or the elimination of child poverty. If you're on the right, it's your tax cuts. And National has effectively committed us to pissing this money away because when faced with the biggest policy challenge our government has ever seen, they protected established interests rather than the public.

Obviously, the more we manage to reduce emissions, the less we will actually have to pay. A sensible government would be pushing that hard, making polluters pay to reduce public liability and effective subsidy for emissions. But on this issue, National simply isn't sensible.

Monday, May 22, 2017



NZ Navy looking the other way on fraud?

The US Navy is currently prosecuting over twenty officers over a corruption scandal which saw them overpaying for port services in exchange for bribes and prostitutes. But there's a local angle on this: the New Zealand Navy used the same firm that was overcharging the Americans. But despite having been informed of the US corruption cases, they have no plans to investigate to see whether they were also overcharged:

The Royal New Zealand Navy paid hundreds of thousands of dollars over four years to a ship services company run by a man now imprisoned in the US for an enormous corruption and sex scandal, the Guardian has learned.

US prosecutors say Leonard Glenn Francis, known as Fat Leonard for his wide girth, had cheated its navy out of nearly US $34m — mostly through overcharging port services and providing gifts to personnel, including arranging sex parties.

The New Zealand navy has told the Guardian it paid a total of NZ$710,235.04 (around £370,000) to Francis’ company, Glenn Defence Marine Asia (GDMA), between May 2007 to December 2011 “for specific ship visits in South East Asia.”

The navy told the Guardian in previous correspondence that it had used a “range of services” in Singapore from bus hire to tug provision.

Responding to a freedom of information request, it added it had “not conducted an investigation into its relationship with GDMA based on the results of the US corruption investigation, nor is there an intention to do so.”


Of course not. Because if they investigated, they might find something, and that might damage the navy's reputation. Better to just stick their head in the sand. After all, its only public money at stake...

This attitude is simply negligent. It is also shameful. The New Zealand Navy has an obligation to the public to obey the law and be good custodians of public money. And that includes investigating where there is a suspicion of corruption and fraud. By refusing to investigate, they're telling us clearly that they're putting their interests ahead of ours. And that is simply not acceptable.

New Fisk

US air strikes in Syria: Why America really attacked pro-Assad militia convoy
Rouhani’s victory is good news for Iran, but bad news for Trump and his Sunni allies
Donald Trump’s speech to the Muslim world was filled with hypocrisy and condescension

Spy city

Wellington's latest plan to stamp out beggars: spy on everyone:

A 'big brother' camera and sensor network, used to tackle begging on Wellington's Cuba St, is set to be rolled out across the city.

[...]

The project focused on begging, rough sleeping, alcohol and psychoactive substance abuse.

An analytics platform collected data from new sensor technology and combined it with data held by agencies such as police, fire, emergency departments, ACC and the council.

This was then fed into a computer system that created a map with insights into day-to-day street level trends and patterns.

It also highlighted hotspots and provided real-time information to alert agencies to respond.

Video and acoustic sensors were used to count instances of begging, particularity at ATMs on Cuba St.

The information was fed to agencies that sent someone to remove and help beggars with social issues they may also have.


"Acoustic sensors" are what real people call "microphones". So what they're proposing is eavesdropping on street conversation, then having a computer pick out the conversations of interest. It's ECHELON for facespace! And while in this case the target conversations happen to be people asking for or giving money, it could equally be people complaining about politicians, or talking about their private lives, or discussing financial information - the platform allows all of that. And of course, because the system exists, then its accessible to the police in case they want to use it for investigative purposes as well (next step: using it to find drug users maybe?)

The idea that whereever you go in Wellington the council will be listening is simply creepy. And setting up their own total surveillance network (and providing guinea-pigs for foreign companies who probably want to onsell this tech to oppressive regimes) is well outside what most kiwis think local government is for.

Meanwhile, there are a limited number of homeless people and beggars in Wellington. The $125,000 they spent on the trial system would have made a huge difference to their lives. The fully operational system would make an even bigger one. But instead of actually helping these people, the council would waste money on spying on them (and on everyone else). Typical.

We are being ripped off on water

How badly are kiwis being ripped off on water? This badly:

Water bottling companies are paying an average 500 times less than ratepayers for each litre of water they're allowed to use.

A Herald investigation into water fees set by every regional council around the country found bottlers were charged an average $0.003 - or one third of a cent - per cubic metre of water.

Comparatively, in Auckland, Watercare charges $1.40 per cubic metre (1000 litres) for water piped to houses, while the rest of the country paid an average $1.60 per cubic metre.


This is, as the article points out, grossly unfair. A resource we get charged for is provided to foreign-owned bottling companies for free (unmentioned: farmers get it even cheaper). Who then sell it back to us for 300,000 times what they pay for it. I don't think we can get a clearer demonstration of how badly we are being ripped off than that.

This isn't acceptable. And the obvious solution is to charge commercial water users exactly what residential ones pay. Its not as if they can't afford it, or that it would destroy their business - paying the residential price for water would add all of 0.2 cents to a 1.5 litre bottle, which would be unnoticeable to the end user. But the revenue it would bring in to local councils and iwi would make a huge difference.

But the last thing National wants is for farmers to have to actually pay their way rather than freeloading on the rest of us. And so water companies will be able to continue ripping us off and price gouging for something they got for free as long as this government is in office.

Friday, May 19, 2017



A fundamental failure in the duty of care

Serco prison guards fundamentally failed to exercise a proper duty of care towards a prisoner, according to a report from the prison inspector. First, they didn't notice a serious assault for two hours. And then they ignored it:

A guard then checked on Mr Lightbody and found him totally unresponsive despite shaking him and shouting at him.

Both guards did nothing else initially. They sat at their base for 20 minutes, with one continuing to file while the other made himself a hot drink and ate a sandwich.

During this time, the prison wing's manager and supervisor left the unit. The supervisor told the guards that he was off for the next week and that it was up to them to "sort it out", the report said.

The supervisor denied being told of the assault.

Nurses were finally called, but the first arrived without an emergency first aid kit.

An ambulance was eventually called at 5.02pm, more than 2 hours 30 minutes after the attack, arriving 11 minutes later.


The victim ended up with brain damage and is suing Corrections for failing to exercise a proper duty of care. I think they've got a good case. But the report is also clear in blaming Serco's understaffing for the incident, and I'd hope that they're required to pay any eventual damages.

Meanwhile, its also a warning against the dangers or prison privatisation. Privatised prisons are inherently understaffed - its how they make their profits - and combined with prisons' inherent culture of neglect towards prisoners, its basicly a recipe for this sort of failure.

New Fisk

This is the aim of Donald Trump's visit to Saudi Arabia – and it isn't good for Shia communities

Wellington City Council's LGOIMA fail

Wellington City Council is so bad at handling requests under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act that it has been ordered by the Ombudsman to review its processes:

An independent public watchdog has ordered Wellington's mayor to review his council's procedures for sharing information with ratepayers.

This week, Ombudsman Leo Donnelly told Wellington City Council to review the way it responded to requests for information made under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act (LGOIMA), and to remind its staff of their obligations.

The Ombudsman's ruling coincides with the council's formal review into its LGOIMA resources, which Wellington Mayor Justin Lester is keen to see.


The review comes after repeated failures to comply with the law and complaints that they were ignoring requests. Hopefully it will result in WCC getting its act together and treating LGOIMA as a fundamental obligation rather than "non-core business" or an irritant.

Thursday, May 18, 2017



This is what happens when you invite dictators to your country

Turkish dictator Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is currently visiting the USA. This being the USA, Land Of Free Speech, naturally there are protests. Which get suppressed brutally by Erdoğan's security detail:

The United States has said it was voicing its “strongest possible” concern to Turkey over a street brawl that erupted between protesters and Turkish security personnel during Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s visit to Washington.

Police said the fighting outside the Turkish ambassador’s residence on Tuesday injured 11 people, including a Washington police officer, and led to two arrests for assault. At least one of those arrested was a protester.

“We are communicating our concern to the Turkish government in the strongest possible terms,” state department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement.

Video of the incident showed men in dark suits chasing anti-government protesters and punching and kicking them as police intervened. Two men were bloodied from head wounds as bystanders assisted dazed protesters.

[...]

Turkey’s official Anadolu state news agency reported that protesters were chanting anti-Erdoğan slogans as the president entered the residence after meeting Donald Trump to discuss the fight against Islamic State militants.

“Police did not heed Turkish demands to intervene,” the news agency said, and Erdoğan’s security team and Turkish citizens moved in and “dispersed them”.


Which is exactly what would happen in Turkey (or some shitty post-Soviet kleptocracy). But the US isn't Turkey, and people there still (in theory) have rights. Erdoğan's thugs appear to have committed a number of crimes, and they need to be arrested and prosecuted for them. If they have diplomatic immunity, they need to be deported immediately. Either way, the USA needs to send a clear message that visiting dictators can't behave like they do at home.

Harsh treatment

Australia's entire refugee policy is predicated on harsh treatment. By imprisoning refugees indefinitely and torturing them in island camps, they hope to deter others from seeking refuge in Australia. But the same mindset applies within the camps as well, with the Australian government deliberately imposing harsh living conditions in its Manus Island gulag in an attempt to force refugees to leave:

For more than a year, camp managers and security staff have waged a campaign to make Australia’s detention centre for refugees and asylum seekers on Manus Island as inhospitable as possible, leaked documents reveal.

A plan drafted in early 2016 outlines moves to coerce those recognised as refugees into leaving the detention centre and accepting resettlement in Papua New Guinea, while pushing asylum seekers to abandon their protection claims and return home.

[...]

One plan mooted was to forcibly remove refugees and asylum seekers from the detention centre into the transit centre in a single day.

Planning documents that proposed “moving residents into accommodation with less amenity than they currently have” forecast the forced removal raised an “extreme” risk of violence and protests, and warned of the potentially “catastrophic consequences” of using the PNG police, whom Australian authorities describe as “not trained” for the relevant tasks.


The Australian government seems to be on the verge on implementing those plans. And the result will likely be a riot. The core problem is that the refugees do not feel safe in Papua New Guinea. Those who have left the camp have been beaten and assaulted by locals. The camp has been stormed and shot at. Refugees have been murdered. Against that background, Australia's plan to just throw people out by force looks like a deliberate policy to expose people in its care to ongoing persecution and endanger their lives. And that is simply immoral.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017



A self-inflicted "shortage"

The Bus and Coach Association is concerned about the lack of bus drivers:

There's concern a shortage of bus drivers across the country is set to reach an all-time high.

The Bus and Coach Association says it's struggling to find drivers, and it's meaning managers and workshop staff are getting behind the wheel.

Ritchies transport director Andrew Ritchie is normally behind the desk, but even he's been getting behind the wheel.

"At the moment it's sort of starting to hit a peak, it's just getting very very difficult," Mr Ritchie says.


Hmm. I wonder if this has anything to do with it? Or this? Driving a bus is badly paid and has poor conditions - and its getting worse due to the grasping bus companies underbidding on contracts and keeping their profits by driving down wages. Which hardly encourages people to become drivers.

In short, this is a "shortage" entirely of the bus companies' own making. They have the power to fix it themselves, and they should, rather than whining about it.

How it works in America

We think National's Alfred Ngaro is bad for openly threatening to cut funding if NGOs criticise the government? Here's how it works in the country National wants us to imitate, the USA: if the opposition opposes, the government cuts funding to public services in their electorates:

N.C. Senate Republicans were visibly upset with Democrats for prolonging the budget debate with amendments during an after-midnight session Friday morning.

As the clock approached 1 a.m., Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue was summoned to the front of the chamber to talk privately with Senate leader Phil Berger. The Senate had rejected five amendments from Democrats to fund their spending priorities, but each time one proposal was shot down, another one was filed.

Senate Rules Chairman Bill Rabon abruptly called for a recess, stopping the proceedings for nearly two hours. GOP leaders headed to a conference room with legislative budget staff, while Democrats – some surprised by the lengthy delay – passed the time with an impromptu dance party in the hall.

The session finally resumed around 3 a.m., and Republican Sen. Brent Jackson introduced a new budget amendment that he explained would fund more pilot programs combating the opioid epidemic. He cited “a great deal of discussion” about the need for more opioid treatment funding.

Jackson didn’t mention where the additional $1 million would come from: directly from education programs in Senate Democrats’ districts and other initiatives the minority party sought.


This is pretty obviously a gross abuse of state power. But that's just how it is in the USA, where government is a political weapon to be used by one party against another.

New Fisk

Even when wars end in the Middle East, superbugs and aggressive cancers caused by conflict attack

A bad deal

Bill English is in Japan at the moment to talk about reviving the TPPA. Meanwhile, his government has confirmed the worst: that they want to revive the deal-as-signed, complete with US IP bullshit:

The Government has confirmed that countries not signed up to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, including the United States, will be able to reap the benefit of concessions New Zealand has made on pharmaceuticals.

Yet New Zealand will not benefit from better access to the US market in return, because president Donald Trump pulled it out of the pact.

Ironically, the concessions on the way drug agency Pharmac operates were made to make the 12-nation trade deal more palatable to the US.


So, we pay all of the costs, and get none of the benefits, of a deal that was pretty marginal to begin with. So why are we doing this? It makes no sense at all. This is a bad deal, and one we should be rejecting.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017



The usual story

National is finally promising to tackle the housing crisis by building some houses, with plans to "build 34,000 new Auckland houses". Except that when you scratch the surface, its not all its cracked up to be. Firstly, those houses are being built by demolishing 8,300 existing homes, so the total is only 26,000. Secondly, it includes already announced and underway (and in some cases, built) projects in Tamaki, Northcote and Point England - so they're back to re-announcing old news to get a new headline. Thirdly, two thirds of those houses will be sold to speculators rather than being state houses - so we're looking at a program to bulldoze and sell off state homes. And finally, its over ten years, with a deadline on the never-never so National can avoid accountability - just as with their climate change, renewable electricity, and water quality promises. In short, its the usual story: PR as a substitute for policy, spin as a substitute for action. Because the goal isn't to fix the bloody problem, but simply to generate positive headlines.

And all of that said: every little bit helps, even National's pathetic spin-based half-measures. And by announcing this and conceding the principle that the government must build houses, they've enabled other parties to announce that they will build more of them, and keep them under state ownership. So its not a bad announcement - just too little, and too bloody late.

Starving students

The latest indecency due to tertiary education cuts: students are starving":

Tertiary students are "regularly going without food or other necessities" because they cannot afford them, according to a survey.

It found of the almost 2000 students at Unitec in Auckland, 17 percent are going hungry as they struggle to pay the bills.

More than half of all students and two thirds of Māori students said at some stage in the last year their income was not enough to cover their living costs.


The core problem here is that student allowances are unavailable, and student loan living cost components (under which students can borrow in order to simply eat: a perfect example of the student loan scheme's system of odious debt) are insufficient. Meanwhile, full-time study - something the government has encouraged by penalising part-timers - makes it difficult to hold down a part-time job. The net result is that students without rich parents in Remuera are struggling. Some will be failing because of that struggle - which is a huge waste of talent.

But hey, taxes on those rich parents in Remuera are low, right? And that's all National apparently cares about.

New Zealand is failing on children's rights

That's the conclusion of the 2017 KidsRights Index, which ranks us 158th out of 165 countries. The index is based on data compiled from UNICEF and under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (to which New Zealand is a party). Unlike other indexes, its scaling system doesn't allow good performance in some areas to compensate for poor performance in others. And looking at the data, the problem is that we do absolutely abysmally on legal recognition of children's rights, getting the minimum score in all six indicators for which data was available:

New Zealand’s record in the 2016 Concluding Observations shows six times the lowest score (on non-discrimination, best interests of the child, respect for the views of the child, enabling legislation, budget, and data). No maximum or average scores are on record. On three indicators the scores of 2016 stayed the same as they were in 2011 (respect for the views of the child, enabling legislation and state-civil society cooperation). On two indicators (best interests of the child and data) New Zealand’s scores improved from non-available to the lowest score. The scores on non-discrimination and budget dropped from an average to the lowest score. With no score available on state-civil society cooperation, which was also not present in 2011, the scores of New Zealand remain incomplete.

This isn't a good performance, and at least part of it is due to National's austerity. Hopefully the next government will be improving on it.

Monday, May 15, 2017



Market failure

New Zealand has a housing crisis. The government is in denial about this because it is ideologically wedded to a theory that the market perfectly matches supply to demand. Meanwhile, in reality, things are a bit different:

Only 7200 new residences were built in Auckland last year, barely half the number needed and only slightly up on the last two years, an expert says.

[...]

Freeman requested Auckland Council data on new residences completed based on code compliance certificates issued solely by the council and she said she discovered building numbers were falling far short of requirements.

"The numbers being completed are far less than those consented. Statistics from Auckland Council show that last year 7200 houses were built and 6520 and 5550 were completed for year end 2015 and 2014 respectively," she said.

Yet Auckland needed about 14,000 new residences annually, made up of houses, apartments, townhouses and terraced dwellings.

"Despite all the focus on housing in the last nine years, we are barely completing half the number we need," she complained.


There is a name for this: "market failure". And the solution is obvious to all: build more bloody houses. Its something the government has done before when the housing market has failed, and which was effective. But instead of doing that, National has been tinkering around the edges and trying to find ways to further enrich the useless property developers and landbankers responsible for this failure, rather than stepping in and fixing it.

But I forget: they're a government of landlords. And to them, people living in tents and caravans isn't a fundamental indecency, but a further opportunity for them or their donors and cronies to profit from our misery.

Time to end negative gearing

New Zealand has a housing bubble. One of the things driving this bubble is the ability of landlords to offset the losses of owning a property against their income, while collecting tax-free capital gains when they sell. Now Labour is promising to end that:

Labour is lining up property speculators by clamping down on tax loopholes to even the playing field in favour of first home buyers.

In a hard hitting speech to Labour's election year congress, leader Andrew Little said the loophole that let property speculators offset losses from their rentals against other income for tax purposes would be closed.

"Labour will close the tax loophole that allows speculators to claim taxpayer subsidies for their property portfolio," Little said.

"Right now, speculators can take losses from their rentals and offset that against their personal income. It allows them to avoid paying tax. This loophole is effectively a hand-out from taxpayers to speculators. It gives them an unfair advantage over Kiwi families."


Its about time. This tax break benefits speculators and rich landlords, while helping lock ordinary kiwis out of the housing market. While ending it won't solve the problem in and of itself - its a big problem and it needs to be attacked from multiple directions - it will help. And its something the government should have done years ago.

But I forget: National MP's own an average of 3.4 houses each, with Ministers owning 3.8. They're the people profiting from this rort. No wonder they want to keep it in place.

National: Party of bullies

Over the weekend National showed its true colours, with Associate Housing Minister Alfred Ngaro openly threatening to cut government funding for political purposes:

He even suggested Labour list candidate Willie Jackson could expect to lose Government support for his Manukau Urban Māori Authority interest in a second charter school, and its Whānau Ora contract should he "bag us" on the campaign trail.

"We are not happy about people taking with one hand and throwing with the other," Ngaro said.

"Do not play politics with us. If you get up on the campaign trail and start bagging us, then all the things you are doing are off the table. They will not happen."


He's since apologised (for being caught), but its worth remembering that National has form on this. John Key threatened to cut the Human Rights Commission's funding when they criticised his increased spy powers. Backbencher Shane Reti threatened to cut roading funding to critics during the Northland by-election. And of course there's this little gem from then-MP Tau Henare:


It seems to be a deep-seated belief in National that government funding is for donors and cronies, and that it should be deployed as a weapon to silence and bully critics. This isn't just deeply undemocratic - as Andrew Geddis points out, it is also illegal. And the fact that such statements have been made gives every critical organisation denied funding a prima facie case to have the decision overturned. But the existence of a theoretical remedy doesn't really help if your organisation will go bankrupt or have to lay off skilled staff in the interim, and so National will probably get away with its American-style threats. Unless we vote the bullying pricks out of office in September.

Friday, May 12, 2017



Cui Bono?

'Brexit boom' gives Britain record 134 billionaires, fuelling inequality fears, Guardian, 7 May 2017:

Britain has more billionaires than ever in what equality campaigners said was a clear sign the UK economy is only working for the few at the top.

There are now 134 billionaires based in the UK according to this year’s Sunday Times Rich List, 14 more than the previous highest total, as the super-rich reap the benefits of a “Brexit boom”. Fifteen years ago, there were 21.

The annual rich list showed that the wealthiest 1,000 individuals and families in Britain have combined wealth of £658bn, up from £575bn last year, despite fears that the Brexit vote last June would plunge the economy into a fresh turmoil.

“While many of us worried about the outcome of the EU referendum, many of Britain’s richest people just kept calm and carried on making billions,” said Robert Watts, the compiler of the rich list.


Brexit is already starting to make families poorer, Bank of England warns, Independent, 11 May 2017:
The impact of Brexit will contribute to a dramatic drop in real-terms pay this year, the Bank of England has warned, with average workers due to be left hundreds of pounds out of pocket.

Inflation will be higher than pay growth, the Bank’s Governor Mark Carney predicted – marking the first year since 2013 that workers have been hit by a real-terms cut in take-home pay.

Salaries will be almost £1,000 lower than forecast before the Brexit vote, ministers have been warned, and £320 down on predictions just three months ago.

The grim outlook, delivered four weeks before the general election, was “another sign of the Brexit squeeze”, the Liberal Democrats warned.


Brexit just seems to be another way to impoverish the many while transferring their wealth to the few. But I guess that's just how politics works in the UK now.

New Fisk

Can Syria ever be repaired when its long civil war finally comes to an end?

Open Government: How do we measure progress?

The Open Government partnership is about making government more transparent and responsive. But how do we measure that? There's the obvious way of checking whether governments are meeting their commitments, but that assumes that those commitments actually improve things meaningfully. As a way of addressing this, Mexico has developed an all-of-government Open Government Metric:

What is this metric? It is a quantitative instrument that measures the levels of transparency and citizen participation in over 900 federal and local agencies from the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches.The metric answers the following questions both from the governmental and citizen perspectives: how much do agencies publish useful information to account for their decisions and actions, and how much do they implement mechanisms to include citizen opinions or proposals into public matters. Not only were the legal and institutional frameworks evaluated, but a “secret shopper” technique was used to assess citizens’ ability to influence the public agenda.

The full details and weightings of the metric are here. While it will have its limits, the metric will let Mexico establish a baseline, and it can then track whether its OGP commitments are having any effect.

Meanwhile in New Zealand we're still doing stuff on a per-commitment basis, with no real examination of the impact. Though the Expert Advisory Panel is at least publishing minutes now, which is an improvement on having to extract them using the OIA. Still, rather than leading on this, we seem to be well behind - as usual.

Thursday, May 11, 2017



New Fisk

You can’t erase imperialism from Lebanon’s history – no matter how hard some people try

Drawn

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

  • Local Electoral (Equitable Process for Establishing Māori Wards and Māori Constituencies) Amendment Bill (Marama Davidson)
  • Newborn Enrolment with General Practice Bill (Parmjeet Parmar)
  • Employment Relations (Restoring Kiwis’ Right to a Break at Work) Amendment Bill (Sue Moroney)
  • Education (Public Good not Profit from Charter Schools) Amendment Bill (David Clark)
Despite the big talk from earlier in the week, there was no bill to repeal blasphemy in the ballot today. Instead, Chris Hipkins has offered it as an amendment to the Statutes Amendment Repeal Bill. This isn't really constitutional - the Statutes Amendment Bill is designed for amendments which are technical, short, and non-controversial. While this is undoubtedly short, its not technical, and despite the widespread agreement I don't think its non-controversial either (in that there will be people who will object, strongly). OTOH, amendments to Statutes Amendment Bills require the unanimous support of the House, so if anyone disagrees it fails.

Correction: I didn't pay enough attention to the bill Hipkins is trying to amend. Using the Statutes Repeal Bill - a bill designed to get old laws off the books - is absolutely constitutional and requires simple majority support. Which I have no doubt they'll get. So, hopefully the "crime" of blasphemy will be rapidly consigned to the dustbin of history.

National: The sexist party

Women have been fighting for over a century for pay equity. Yesterday, Parliament had an opportunity to do something to advance that struggle, via Jan Logie's Equal Pay Amendment Bill. The bill would have implemented recommendations of the Human Rights Commission for greater information and transparency around gender and pay, allowing discrimination to be uncovered and corrected. Instead, National voted it down:

A private member's bill that would have provided greater evidence with which to fight gender pay discrimination in New Zealand was lost in Parliament tonight by 59 votes to 60.

Green MP Jan Logie, said the Equal Pay Amendment Bill had been supported by a large number of women and women's organisations.

[...]

But it was opposed by National, Act, and United Future on the grounds it would add greater compliance to businesses and that it could compromise privacy.


And there we have it: the fundamental right of women to equal pay has been shut down because it might slightly inconvenience (mostly old male) business owners. Its a telling illustration of National's priorities, and of how we'll never get any real progress on this issue voluntarily (remember: the huge pay equity settlement was forced by court action, and National fought it all the way).

National is the sexist party. If you want equality, vote for someone else.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017



Australian racism

On Monday Bill English highlighted the underlying issue in our relationship with Australia: the Australians consider us to be a "soft entry point". And today, former Immigration Minister Aussie Malcolm was crystal clear about the reason for this: Australian racism:

Former immigration minister Aussie Malcolm says racism is behind Australia's attitude to this country, and New Zealand should treat Australians the same way as Australia treats Kiwis.

Minister from 1981-1984, Malcolm told Radio NZ on Wednesday that Australian ministers would tell him "on the down low" that New Zealanders were different because they included Maori and Pacific Islanders.

"Australians say look at these people coming into Australia. They're not New Zealanders. They got in by the backdoor, but you and I would look at them and say they are New Zealanders, mate.


Absolutely they're New Zealanders. Maori are indigenous and predate Pakeha settlement. And most of those Pacific Islanders were born here and have lived here all their lives. Unlike Australia, we don't tie our national identity to skin-colour, or regard it as exclusive. And if the Australian government doesn't like that, then fuck them.

The party of cruelty

Fox hunting is the perfect example of pointless aristocratic cruelty. Its banning in the UK was a huge advance for animal welfare. Now Theresa May wants to bring it back:

Theresa May has announced she hopes to bring back fox hunting.

The Conservatives will renew a pledge to hold a free vote on overturning 2004 ban on the blood sport, Ms May said.

During a visit to a factory in Leeds, the Prime Minister said: “This is a situation on which individuals will have one view or the other, either pro or against.

“As it happens, personally I have always been in favour of fox hunting, and we maintain our commitment, we have had a commitment previously as a Conservative Party, to allow a free vote.


Another example of how the UK Conservatives are the party of cruelty. They'd probably bring back serfdom if they thought they could get away with it.

Member's Day

Today is a Member's Day, and it looks like we're finally approaching some interesting business. First there's the vote on Paul Foster-Bell's Arbitration Amendment Bill and the first reading of Darroch Ball's (misnamed) Youth Employment Training and Education Bill (its about boot camps, of course, scratching that perennial old person itch of "stick 'em in the army"). After that there's Dvid Parker's Ombudsmen (Cost Recovery) Amendment Bill, which is back for a second try having failed to pass a couple of years ago. Then we have Jan Logie's Equal Pay Amendment Bill, which would implement Human Rights Commission recommendations for transparency of pay equity statistics. And if the House moves fast, it will make a start on Ruth Dyson's Crown Minerals (Protection of World Heritage Sites) Amendment Bill, which seems suddenly topical in light of National's renewed desire to turn the conservation estate into an open-cast coal mine.

Somewhere in there there will also be an attempt to introduce a bill to repeal the crime of blasphemous libel. Hopefully it succeeds. If not, hopefully it'll show up in tomorrow's ballot.

An unrepresentative Parliament

One of the big improvements that has come from MMP is that we now have a Parliament that looks much more like New Zealand. Where once upon a time we had a monoculture of drunk old white men, we now have a diversity of representation: women, Maori, Pacific peoples, New Zealand Chinese and Indian. While there is still scope for improvement, particularly around gender and age, our Parliament reflects the population far better than it once did.

Except in one area: wealth. As the Herald's Barry Soper points out, the annual Register of Pecuniary Interests shows that our MPs are a well-heeled lot:

One thing that is clear though is that most of them are a fairly well heeled lot and all but ten of them are well housed with many of them having multiple properties.

Take Parmjeet Parmar who was willing to take a hiding to nothing for the Nats in the Mt Roskill by election late last year. She doesn't seem to have a great deal of commitment to the area anyway, with an interest in at least seven properties in the million dollar city, both residential and commercial, but not one in the electorate she was standing for.

And if she ever falls out of favour with the Nats she can always fall back on one of her numerous business interests, including a lolly factory no less.

The new Government whip Jami-Lee Ross, who railed against socialism in his maiden speech, telling us it was a failed experiment and quoting Maggie Thatcher who said the trouble with it is you run out of other people's money to spend. Yeah well, he's still got a student loan along with a couple of properties in Auckland and an apartment in Wellington!


The average National MP apparently owns 2.2 houses, whereas only 63 percent of us live in our own homes. Its no wonder that they seem divorced from the reality of the housing crisis - they're the pricks profiting from it! Throw in their (deservedly) high salaries and the fact that they're showered with gifts (AKA bribes), and our "representatives" are living in a completely different world from the rest of us. One where things are fine, thanks, and the biggest problem is working out how to hide your conflicts of interest in a trust.

Not very representative, is it?

Tuesday, May 09, 2017



No future for charter schools

There's an election coming up, and Labour is reminding everyone that there is no future for charter schools:

The Labour Party remains opposed to charter schools and supporters like Willie Jackson don't have the ability to "change party policy".

For five years Labour has been against charter schools, introduced by the National government under a confidence and supply agreement with the ACT party.

Jackson, who announced he was running for the Labour Party in February, is heavily involved with Te Kura Maori o Waatea, a charter school based at Nga Whare Waatea Marae in South Auckland.

Labour's policy on charter schools has been under the spotlight since Jackson joined the party but leader Andrew Little says nothing has changed and the legislation that allows for the schools would still be repealed.

Chris Hipkins, education spokesman for Labour, said charter schools would face a range of options under a Labour government from closure to integration into the state school system.


Charter school operators and potential investors take note: you have no future. Your profiteering will end if Labour forms the next government. And even if they lose, that at best buys only three years. Your business model is doomed, and you should get out while you still can.

The UK's toxic secrecy

How bad is the UK's proposed new Espionage Act? It would see people jailed for publishing information freely obtainable under freedom of information laws:

Campaigners have warned that proposed reforms to the Official Secrets Act – dubbed the “Espionage Act” – would put it on a “collision course” with existing freedom of information powers.

If approved, the Law Commission reforms could leave journalists facing criminal charges for publishing leaked information, even if it could have been obtained under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act.

[...]

Under the proposals, journalists would only have a defence if the information had been both lawfully disclosed earlier (e.g. through a freedom of information request) and widely disseminated.

Campaign for Freedom of Information director Maurice Frankel said: “These proposals are not only oppressive but unworkable. It is beyond common sense to make it an Official Secrets offence to leak information which anyone could obtain under FoI.


At present the UK Official Secrets Act and Freedom of Information Act thresholds are identical, at information "likely" to cause harm to their respective interests. However, the Espionage Act would lowe that threshold to "capable of causing harm". This is obviously a much lower threshold, and it makes the law absurd. But its not just the prospect of punishing journalists for receiving leaks of freely available information - it will also discourage public servants from discussing that information, and almost certainly raise release thresholds by stealth to to FUD.

But this is what happens in tyrannies. And there's no doubt the UK is giving up the pretence of democracy to go back to its autocratic, dictatorial roots. Again, if you live in the UK, the best thing you can do is leave. Because with an unfair electoral system, there's simply no chance of fixing this by democratic means.

As for New Zealand, we've just made it a criminal offence for anyone who has ever had a security clearance to communicate "classified information", even if they're no longer employed by the government or hold such a clearance, even if the information has nothing to do with any job they ever held, and even if it would be releasable under the OIA. These laws are catching on across the Five Eyes, and they're another example of how being allied with foreign surveillance tyrannies undermines our democracy. We should tell them to fuck off ASAP.

Good news from Ireland

The blasphemy investigation against Stephen Fry has been dropped:

An Irish police investigation into allegedly blasphemous comments made by Stephen Fry has been dropped after detectives decided there were not enough people who had been outraged by the remarks.

[...]

After initial inquiries, officers decided that not enough people had been outraged by Mr Fry's remarks to warrant further investigation, according to the Irish Independent.

A source told the paper: "This man was simply a witness and not an injured party. Gardaí (Irish police) were unable to find a substantial number of outraged people.

"For this reason the investigation has been concluded."


So much for that. But it could happen again, here as well as there. The sooner countries repeal their blasphemy laws, the better.

Scrapping blasphemy

Ireland's investigation of Stephen Fry for blasphemy has had at least one positive result: it has drawn attention to our own archaic blasphemy law, and resulted in politicians calling for it to be scrapped:

New Zealand still has an anti-blasphemy law, though neither the prime minister nor the Anglican archbishop was aware of the fact.

The law – which appears not to have been used since 1922 – came to light after reports British entertainer Stephen Fry faced police investigation in the Republic of Ireland for comments he made about "a capricious, mean-minded, stupid God".

New Zealand has laws covering crimes against religion, morality, and public welfare. And blasphemous libel – though vaguely defined – remains an offence punishable by up to 12 months' jail.

Now a range of people, including Prime Minister Bill English and Anglican Archbishop and Primate Philip Richardson, say it's time to get rid of the arbitrary and archaic law.

English said on Monday that he did not previously know the blasphemy laws existed, but "we could get rid of them".


Good. David Seymour will be trying to introduce a bill by leave at the start of Member's Day tomorrow, and I'd encourage all MPs to support it (or rather, not oppose it, because that's how leave works). Otherwise, it would be nice of National to replace one of its spam bills - bills enacting minor government policies - with something substantive and useful like this.

While this law is largely forgotten, it is still a threat. It crops up every decade or so when some domineering christian objects to a TV show or piece of art (in the only case to come to trial, in 1922, it was a poem). And as a law on our books, its effectively a statement about what sort of country we are. The message it sends is one of bigotry, intolerance, and fanaticism. If we want to change that message, we must repeal it.

Monday, May 08, 2017



Must-read: the great British Brexit robbery

An article from the Observer is currently doing the rounds. The great British Brexit robbery: how our democracy was hijacked by Carole Cadwalladr explores Cambridge Analytica, the "data analytics" firm which helped out both the Trump and Brexit campaigns. Its a deeply disturbing article for what it exposes about this firm and the people who back it. For me, the most disturbing bit was this:

What’s been lost in the US coverage of this “data analytics” firm is the understanding of where the firm came from: deep within the military-industrial complex. A weird British corner of it populated, as the military establishment in Britain is, by old-school Tories. Geoffrey Pattie, a former parliamentary under-secretary of state for defence procurement and director of Marconi Defence Systems, used to be on the board, and Lord Marland, David Cameron’s pro-Brexit former trade envoy, a shareholder.

Steve Tatham was the head of psychological operations for British forces in Afghanistan. The
Observer has seen letters endorsing him from the UK Ministry of Defence, the Foreign Office and Nato.

SCL/Cambridge Analytica was not some startup created by a couple of guys with a Mac PowerBook. It’s effectively part of the British defence establishment. And, now, too, the American defence establishment. An ex-commanding officer of the US Marine Corps operations centre, Chris Naler, has recently joined Iota Global, a partner of the SCL group.

This is not just a story about social psychology and data analytics. It has to be understood in terms of a military contractor using military strategies on a civilian population. Us.

[Emphasis added]

The idea of the British defence establishment conspiring to subvert democracy, set government policy, and fix elections is absolutely scandalous. Its the sort of thing you expect to happen in shitty sham democracies like Russia and Turkey, not in an ostensible part of the democratic core like the UK. The UK Parliament needs to investigate this and find out exactly what SCL/Cambridge Analytica did and who was paying them. They also need to ensure that this sort of manipulation doesn't happen again.

But then I think of the sort of people at the top of the British government, and find myself ask: "why on earth would they want to do that"?

Lawless Corrections

Its appears that Corrections has been unlawfully bugging prisoners and staff:

An investigation into security issues at Christchurch Men's Prison was launched following allegations staff and inmates were bugged, prison sources say.

If the allegations are found to be correct and the bugging was unauthorised, the privacy rights of those who have been targeted may have been breached, a prominent lawyer says.

The Department of Corrections announced on Thursday it had launched an investigation into the potential "non compliance" with "security procedures", but did not give further information.

The prison's director, John Roper, who is on a final warning, and two senior staff are on "special leave" while the investigation is carried out.

Several independent sources said allegations had been made about methods being used to gather information about inmates and staff at the prison. It is understood phone calls may have been tapped and listening devices placed in cells.


Obviously this needs to be investigated, but if substantiated, those responsible should be facing criminal charges as well as employment consequences. Unauthorised use of interception devices is a serious crime, and that law applies to Corrections as well as the Police, SIS and GCSB. The problem here seems to be that our "law enforcement" agencies believe they can ignore the law whenever it suits them.

Also in passing, one of the suspended managers is apparently Doug Smith. Given his past history of unlawful behaviour and brutalising prisoners, I am utterly boggled that this man still has a job with Corrections, let alone a management position. He should have been removed more than a decade ago, following the Duffy inquiry. But I guess holding people to account is something Corrections thinks only applies to others.

A colossal waste of time and money

Radio New Zealand has been keeping an eye of National's program to drug-test beneficiaries. The results are unsurprising:

In the last six months of 2016, more than 18,000 beneficiaries were sent for drug tests and 80 failed.

The Ministry of Social Development said the number of failed tests included cases where beneficiaries didn't turn up to be tested.

It said only 54 sanctions were applied to peoples' benefits for failing the test.

Over the previous three years, nearly 95,000 beneficiaries were drug tested - and only 450 failed or didn't turn up.

That's a failure rate of one in every 200.


At what stage do we admit that this has been a colossal waste of time and money and just end it? Or is National happy to waste public money subsidising its cronies in the drug-tsting industry?

New Fisk

Donald Trump hasn’t quite thought through his first foreign trip to Saudi Arabia, Israel and the Vatican

No freedom of speech in Ireland

Just when we thought Ireland was getting better and dragging itself into the twentieth century, they're investigating Stephen Fry for "blasphemy":

Stephen Fry is being investigated by Irish police over blasphemy claims more than two years after his outspoken comments about God on RTE's The Meaning of Life went viral.

Mr Fry described a hypothetical creator as “stupid” and an “utter maniac” for designing a world filled with undue suffering.

Asked in 2015 by the programme's host, Gay Byrne, what he would say to God if he arrived at the pearly gates of heaven, the actor and author replied: “I’d say, bone cancer in children? What’s that about?”

The committed atheist added: “How dare you? How dare you create a world to which there is such misery that is not our fault? It’s not right, it’s utterly, utterly evil.


And for saying this, Fry could face a fine of €25,000. But not under some archaic law still on the statute books from a bygone era - the law was updated in 2009!

But bfore we feel too mug, remember: "blasphemous libel" is still a criminal offence in New Zealand, and Fry could conceivably be prosecuted here for those words as well. He would be unlikely to, given the failure of the only prosecution and the environment set by the BORA, but as long as the law is on the books it is still a possibility. If any MP wants to repeal that obscenity, there's a bill to do it here.

Friday, May 05, 2017



National's New Zealand

Welcome to National's New Zealand, where an immoral government creates a homelessness problem, and immoral businesses respond by installing anti-homeless sprayers in their doorways:

At least one school and several businesses in Auckland's CBD have installed overnight sprinkler systems in their doorways to deter rough sleepers.

The Chamber of Commerce said it was the wrong response, but it was an expression of frustration from business owners that the council was not doing more to deal with the issue of homelessness.

Nine to Noon understands that the private school ACG Senior College in Lorne Street, as well as buildings on Queen Street and Fort Lane, have the sprinkler systems, which run periodically through the night.


Or, they could demand the government ensure that everyone has a home. But that would probably be too ethical for them.

It would be useful to know which businesses have done this, so the public can judge them accordingly.

A zombie trade agreement

The US election campaign and election of Donald Trump killed off the TPPA. But now Japan is trying to raise it from the dead:

The ambitious trans-Pacific trade plan scuppered after the United States withdrew under its new president could be salvaged under a deal suggested by Japan.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) could be created with at least five nations on board, including New Zealand, Japan and Australia, instead of 12, sources involved in the negotiations told Kyodo News.

[...]

However, at a meeting of top negotiators from the 11 parties, Tokyo pushed the argument for a TPPA without the US by changing the original agreement, the sources said.


A trade deal without the US - and without US intellectual property and corporate power bullshit - might be worth doing. Or it might not. But if its just the same deal, on the same terms, its not even worth considering. The TPPA was marginal even on MFAT's optimistic assumptions; with all the costs and fewer benefits, its a deal we should refuse.

New Fisk

Egyptian President al-Sisi is employing militia in the Sinai – a sign of how desperate his war against Isis has become

This is why we can't have nice things

Writing in the Herald, Brian Fallow examines National's new net debt target of 10 - 15% of GDP - and specifically, what it will cost us:

We are not talking about trivial amounts of money here. Right now, 1 per cent of GDP is about $2.6 billion.

Say you wanted to keep net debt at 20 per cent of GDP. That is, after all, an extremely low level by international standards.

And let's assume nominal GDP grows by 4.5 per cent a year, which is what it has averaged over the past 12 years. Nominal GDP growth is the combined effect of real growth and inflation and is a rough proxy for growth in the tax base.

In that case, as a matter of arithmetic, a Government would be able to run a (cash) deficit of 0.9 per cent of GDP and still keep the debt ratio at 20 per cent.

Instead, the Government's fiscal priority is to reduce net debt by between 1 and 2 per cent of GDP a year over the next eight years. That will drive the target for the operating balance and limit the scope for capital expenditure.

Now, 0.9 per cent doesn't sound like much. But it is about what the Government spends on defence, or twice the annual cost of the accommodation supplement. That calibrates the scale of the opportunity cost here.


Or, its a massive housebuilding program, paid parental leave, ending child poverty, and stacking money away in the Cullen Fund to ease against the inevitable retirement of the Boomers (and its all of those things because its 0.9% extra GDP every year). And National is sacrificing this in pursuit of a debt target which is entirely arbitrary and self-imposed. Its austerity for the sake of austerity! But when we have enormous social and physical deficits from National's past cost-cutting excesses, it is entirely the wrong policy response.

This is why we as a country can't have nice things: because one of our major parties is committed to a government which simply can not afford them. But its entirely a matter of choice. If we want a government which actually can provide the services we expect, we can vote for one in September.

Thursday, May 04, 2017



A shift in power

Last year's annual returns of political party donations are out, and apart from the obvious "coincidences", the big news is that the Greens once again out fund-raised Labour, $860,746 to $563,915. This is the third year in a row they've done this, and it looks to be becoming a trend. Of course, election year may change that - or it may not. Either way, it looks like a significant shift in the balance of power of the two parties, which will flow on to their organisational ability (and maybe into their election results eventually).

Of course, National sucked in more than both parties combined, with a massive $1.9 million. Fortunately, we have election spending limits to counteract this imbalance.

An amazing coincidence!

In 2014 the National government gave Tauranga businessman Paul Adams a gong. And in an amazing coincidence, he features in this year's return of national party donations:
PaulAdamsDonations

But it gets better - because in addition to donating $20,430 unde rhis own name, he also appears to have donated another $18,000 through his company, Seventh City Finance. So, he gets a gong, and he gives the party that gave it to him nearly $40,000.

I guess that's just what they call "giving back".

Inflation and poverty

The CPI is out today, and it shows that the poor are getting poorer:

A recent jump in the cost of living hit the lowest paid Kiwis much harder than the big spenders, new figures show.

In the first three months of the year, inflation for all households jumped one per cent, bringing annual inflation to 2.2 per cent, the highest since 2011.

On Thursday Statistics New Zealand released the household living-costs price indexes, giving a breakdown of how price increases hit different groups.

The figures showed that the rise hit the lowest earners the hardest. Beneficiaries saw their overall costs rise by 1.4 per cent, almost three times the increase faced by the 20 per cent of households with the highest spending.


This is a long-term trend. Since National took office, inflation for poor households has been nearly twice that of rich households. Meanwhile, benefits are indexed to the CPI, but since that's lower than the actual inflation rate for people at that income, beneficiaries are legally forced to fall further and further behind.

That's unfair, and its easily fixed. Graeme Edgeler has drafted a bill to fix it, and the sooner an MP takes it and it is drawn from the ballot and passed, the better.

Religion in schools and the BORA

Its finally happened: the secular Education Network is taking the government before the Human Rights Review Tribunal seeking a declaration that religious instruction in schools is inconsistent with the Bill of Rights Act:

The Secular Education Network has filed a case with the Human Rights Review Tribunal, saying the Education Act allows religious favoritism in state schools, which it says is prohibited under the Bill of Rights.

Its spokesman, David Hines, a retired journalist and lay preacher, said Section 78 of the Education Act allowed a school to hold religious instruction for up to an hour a week or 20 hours a year.

But he believed all religions should be taught in an academic way - the Christian religion should not be given preferential treatment - and the impact could be damaging for other people.


In theory, s78 of the Education Act 1964 is religion neutral - schools can close for any sort of religious instruction. What happens in practice is that school boards of trustees get in a bunch of evangelical christians who teach that their brand of christianity is superior and create a discriminatory atmosphere in the school as a whole. And that's simply not acceptable. Schools should be a welcoming environment regardless of religion. And the best way to ensure that seems to be not to offer religious instruction at all, but instead leave it to parents to do at home.

Tories mean inequality

Brexit and a Tory government means the UK is now facing the biggest rise in inequality since Thatcher:

Pressure on the government to help struggling Britons has intensified after a leading thinktank warned that falling living standards for the poor threatened the biggest rise in inequality since Margaret Thatcher was prime minister.

The Resolution Foundation said Theresa May would need to make good on her pledge to support “just about managing” households as it released a report showing that rising inflation and an end to recent strong jobs growth would hit the least well-off hardest.

Its warnings chime with other forecasts for a squeeze on family budgets on the back of sluggish wage growth, welfare cuts, rising global oil prices and the pound’s sharp fall since the Brexit vote. The drop in sterling has made imports more expensive and there are already signs that is being passed on to consumers, with inflation hitting its highest level for more than two years in December.

The Resolution Foundation’s study found that the current parliament would be the worst for living standards for the poorest half of households since comparable records began in the mid-1960s and the worst since the early years of Thatcher’s 1979-90 premiership for inequality.


The graphs in that article are truly horrifying. The rich have made out like bandits in the Tory years, while others have been driven to the wall by austerity. But with an unfair electoral system, there really seems to be nothing peaceful UKanians can do about it other than leave.

Wednesday, May 03, 2017



Incompetent, trust-abusing muppets II

A little over a year ago, the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security exposed the SIS as incompetent, trust-abusing muppets who had failed to safeguard the security and privacy of highly-sensitive vetting information. This wasn't just an abuse of the trust public servants applying for a security clearance placed in them - it was also a fundamental compromise of national security, in that that information could have been stolen and used to blackmail people.

Today, IGIS released the long-awaited second part of that report, which exposes just how bad SIS was. The short version:

  • The computer systems SIS used for storing and accessing vetting information were not accredited or certified, in direct contravention of their own Information Security Manual.
  • The systems had multiple security vulnerabilities.
  • Most systems had no logging, meaning it was impossible to tell who had accessed what and detect unauthorised or improper access. They still have no idea whether this occurred before the security holes were plugged.
  • Attempts to investigate why this had happened were thwarted by poor record-keeping (which seems to be a violation of the Public Records Act).

Apparently, all of this has been corrected now. But it doesn't exactly inspire confidence. And if you're asked by SIS to provide blackmail on yourself for security vetting purposes, then you should think very carefully about whether you can trust them with it.

Climate change: But why would we want to do that?

Newsroom has a big piece on climate change and coastal property, highlighting the risks that such property could become rapidly uninsurable and turn into a toxic stranded asset:

The report points out that there are nearly 44,000 homes less than 1.5 metres above the current average spring high tide. Over 8,000 of those are less than 50cm above the spring high tide mark. With sea levels predicted to rise 30cm by 2065 and increasing storm surges and king tides expected, many of those homes are at risk of frequent inundation or being completely washed away. By 2100, global average sea levels are predicted to rise 1 metre if current carbon emissions levels continue.

If insurers pull out from providing cover for homes deemed high risk, homeowners will no longer have any protection from the risk that they may lose their major financial asset – which will, in any case, be slashed in value and potentially unmarketable.

They may look to the government to provide alternative cover (as has happened in some places overseas), or expect the government to step in should their home be destroyed or rendered uninhabitable.


But why would we want to do that? It's one thing to help people after a disaster, an unforseeable natural event. But this is both long foreseen and certain. Government insurance - effectively a bailout for wealthy property-owners who have engaged in dangerous behaviour - is not an appropriate response to such circumstances. Especially when those property owners have organised to deny the problem in order to protect their property values.

27,000 unemployed under National

The Labour Market Statistics were released today, showing that unemployment has dropped below 5% for only the third time in National's nine long years in office. But there are still 132,000 unemployed - 27,000 more than when they took office.

This is the core failure of the National government: they simply don't consider unemployment a policy priority, but instead leave it to the market. And even at their most successful, they're still far worse than Labour ever was. Clearly, if we want better policy, we need to elect a better government.

Tuesday, May 02, 2017



Fiji: Going backwards

When Fiji was openly a military dictatorship, they banned criticism of the regime through formal censorship. Now they're supposedly a democracy, they're planning to ban criticism of parliament:

Under clause 24 of the [Parliamentary Powers and Privileges] Bill, any person whose words or actions defames, demean or undermine the sanctity of Parliament, the Speaker or a committee commits an offence and is liable upon conviction to a fine not exceeding $30,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years or to both, and in the case of a body corporate, to a fine not exceeding $100,000 or to imprisonment for each director and manager for a term not exceeding five years, or to both.

The purported power to prevent criticism of parliament is inconsistent with democracy. The penalties are simply draconian. The entire bill is an affront to the right of free expression affirmed in Fiji's constitution. But since when has Frank Bainamarama ever cared about that?

Return of the Orcs

Since being elected in 2008, National has been eager to dig up our conservation estate for private (and foreign) profit. In 2010 they wanted to allow mining in national parks. When the public made it clear we wouldn't tolerate that, they resorted to conducting mineral surveys of World Heritage Areas and issuing exploration permits for schedule 4 protected land. And now they're back again, with plans to turn some of the most valuable parts of the conservation estate into open-cast coal mines:

A secret coal mining plan will carve up "unique and outstanding landscapes", Forest & Bird says.

The affected areas included crucially important biodiversity hotspots in the South Island's Buller Plateau, near Westport, the organisation said on Monday.

The plans were developed for multiple ministers to identify areas for coal mining and areas for protection, Forest & Bird chief executive Kevin Hague said.

"The problem is, they're planning to take the highest value conservation land for coal mining."

An area known as Whareatea West, on the Denniston Plateau, was proposed for open cast coal mining, he said.

"This is public conservation land, and the most ecologically valuable area on the plateau – without Whareatea West the integrity of the whole plateau is lost."

The "spectacular" Deep Creek area was proposed for protection from open cast mining, but not necessarily from underground mining.

The plans were developed for the Ministers of Conservation, Energy and Resources, and Economic Development, he said.


As with their previous plans, this is unacceptable. Firstly, because the conservation estate is for conservation, not mining. The government needs to protect it, not destroy it. And secondly, because climate change means we can not and should not dig up more coal (well, not unless we want to drown Petone and South Dunedin).

Once again we've been reminded that the National Party are Orcs, whose only interest in the environment is in destroying it. The good news is that we can fix that: there's an election in less than six months. If we want to change this policy, then the best way of doing it is to change the government...

Labour's list

After yesterday's clusterfuck, the Labour Party has finally released its list. The most obvious feature is the generational shift within Labour - the old guard time servers are out, retired or shoved down, while MPs elected at the end of the Clark years are firmly in charge. There's also a greater emphasis on new blood rather than incumbent protection, which should help overcome the stale feeling of the party. And with more women in winnable slots, Labour should make real progress towards the balanced caucus required by its constitution. At the same time, some of the decisions are truly boggling - its hard to see what Stuart Nash has done to warrant his high ranking, given that he has undermined the party at every turn. But it's their circus and their monkeys, and its not like people have to vote for them...

Here's the usual table, for those who are interested in the rises and falls:

2017 RankName2014 RankDifference
1Andrew Little11+10
2Jacinda Ardern5+3
3Grant Robertson3--
4Phil Twyford7+3
5Megan Woods20+15
6Chris Hipkins9+3
7Carmel Sepuloni29+22
8David Clark26+18
9David Parker2-7
10Stuart Nash----
11Priyanca Radhakrishnan23+12
12Raymond Huo21+9
13Iain Lees-Galloway24+11
14Jan Tinetti----
15Aupito William Sio14-1
16Willow-Jean Prime34+18
17Damien O'Connor22+5
18Jenny Salesa31+13
19Kris Faafoi----
20Kiri Allan----
21Willie Jackson----
22Clare Curran----
23Ruth Dyson----
24Poto Williams28+4
25Louisa Wall12-13
26Michael Wood39+13
27Ginny Andersen----
28Jo Luxton----
29Deborah Russell33+4
30Liz Craig32+2
31Marja Lubeck----
32Trevor Mallard----
33Paul Eagle----
34Tamati Coffey30-4
35Jamie Strange54+19
36Anahila Kanongata'a-Suisuiki49+13
37Kieran McAnulty----
38Angie Warren-Clark----
39Helen White----
40Greg O'Connor----
41Steph Lewis----
42Duncan Webb----
43Lemauga Lydia Sosene----
44Janette Walker46+2
45Anna Lorck----
46Romy Udanga----
47Rachel Boyack----
48Sarb Johal----
49Naisi Chen----
50Shanan Halbert48-2