Thursday, November 23, 2017

A bribe's a bribe

In 2010, Peter Whittall killed 29 men at Pike River Mine by running an unsafe mining operation. In 2013 he bribed his way out of prosecution by demanding (and receiving) a plea bargain in which the serious charges he faced under the Health Safety and Employment Act would be dropped in exchange for making a compensation payment to his victims' families. Now, the Supreme Court has ruled that the decision to drop the charges was unlawful:

The Supreme Court says a deal not to pursue a prosecution against Pike River boss Peter Whittall was unlawful.

Two families of miners killed in the Pike River mine disaster had asked the Supreme Court to overturn a Court of Appeal ruling that upheld a WorkSafe NZ decision to drop charges against Whittall. Families were paid $3.4 million in the deal.


The Supreme Court on Thursday said Worksafe dropping the charges against Whittall was "an unlawful agreement to stifle prosecution". It said the deal was "struck in return for a $3.41m payment".


The Supreme Court said it was irrelevant WorkSafe took account of other factors in deciding not to prosecute.

And that's basicly what it comes down to: a bribe's a bribe, and the fact that one was discussed and paid taints everything else. Even when its disguised as a "plea-bargain".

But this raises an obvious question: will the charges be reinstated? Or if not, will Whitall and those who conspired with him in this unlawful conspiracy be charged with conspiring to defeat justice? Because you can be damn sure that a gang member who paid a prosecutor to drop charges would be back in court when it was discovered, and the same rule should apply to the rich as well as the poor.

Justice for Srebrenica

In July 1995, a Bosnian Serb army under the command of Ratko Mladić murdered more than 8,000 people around the town of Srebrenica. It was an act of genocide, and the worst human rights abuse in Europe since the Nazis. Today, Mladić was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment for those crimes:

The former Bosnian Serb commander Ratko Mladić, nicknamed the ‘butcher of Bosnia’, has been sentenced to life imprisonment after being convicted of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

More than 20 years after the Srebrenica massacre, Mladic was found guilty at the United Nations-backed international criminal tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague of 10 offences involving extermination, murder and persecution of civilian populations.


The one-time fugitive from international justice faced 11 charges, two of genocide, five of crimes against humanity and four of violations of the laws or customs of war. He was cleared of one count of genocide, but found guilty of all other charges. The separate counts related to “ethnic cleansing” operations in Bosnia, sniping and shelling attacks on besieged civilians in Sarajevo, the massacre of Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica and taking UN personnel hostage in an attempt to deter Nato airstrikes.

Good. The Bosnian genocide was a crime against humanity, and those responsible needed to be held to account. The good news is that they largely have been. Mladić was the last person awaiting trial befre the ICTY. While there are a handful of appeals remaining, its work is basicly done. Unfortunately, there are plenty of other crimes against humanity crying out for justice - most notably Iraq. We need to see justice for those too. But that will be the job of another court, not the ICTY.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

No tears for Mugabe

So, Robert Mugabe has finally resigned as president of Zimbabwe. Good riddance. He was an authoritarian dictator who fixed elections, looted his country, and tortured and murdered his opponents, so I'm glad to see him go. At the same time, its a shame that it was the army, rather than the people, who removed him. At least nobody was killed, but it looks more like an internal power struggle in an authoritarian government than the transition to democracy Zimbabwe desperately needs. One dictator replacing another is hardly progress, and the new boss may simply turn out to be the same as the old boss. All we can do is hope that its not going to be like that, and that the new regime will actually respect democracy and human rights, rather than just changing the names of the abusers.

Climate change: Fudging on trees

So, it turns out that the government's "billion trees" policy isn't a billion extra trees, but maybe only half a billion:

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is denying that the Government is backtracking over its goal to plant 1 billion trees over 10 years, saying it was always going to be in partnership with the private sector.

Forestry and Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones told the National Business Review today that the Government was going to plant about half of the 1 billion trees, while the private sector would plant the rest.

"[The one billion goal] is not something that is going to be pursued in isolation from the industry. If we work together, if they continue with their 50 million [a year] over 10 years and we continue with 50 million [a year] over 10 years, you get to a billion."

Partnership with the private sector is one thing, but misleading the public about the ambition of the policy is another. Because the 50 million trees a year private industry currently plants is almost entirely replanting, replacing trees which they've already cut down. In other words, that's just planting to stand still. Worse, the required replanting rate is going to soar over the next decade, as the forests that were planted in the 1990's are harvested. If private industry wants to avoid deforesting land (and paying the carbon costs for doing so), it will probably end up planting that billion trees itself.

Meanwhile, if we want to get the emissions benefits, we need to plant additional trees, not just replant harvested land. The billion trees policy looked like it was an ambitious target to do this, and bring our emissions under control. Instead, it looks like it is just more bureaucratic fudging, designed to give the impression of action while deliberately avoiding achieving anything substantive.

Against the Te Kuha mine

The orcs are at it again, wanting to rip the top off a mountain on the West Coast to dig an open cast coal mine. Part of the area they want to mine is DoC stewardship land, so the Minister of Conservation has to decide whether to grant them access. That's bad enough, especially when the area in question is a rare ecosystem of an unusual type and home to threatened and protected species. But its actually worse than that, because the rest of the mine is also on public land - specifically, a water conservation reserve under the Reserves Act 1977. The Buller District Council had already granted access, then rescinded it after the decision was challenged in court. The case was heard in October, and if the judicial review fails, it will effectively gut the Reserves Act and open all local reserves to mining.

If that happens, there will need to be a law change, because I don't think that's remotely acceptable to the New Zealand public. Just as conservation land is for conservation, reserves are for preserving and protecting. That's why we have them. Opening them up for an inherently destructive activity like mining would defeat that purpose.

As for the DoC land, the Minister will have to make a decision. Thanks to National, the Minister of Energy will also be involved, and they will have to consider economic benefit as well as environmental factors (because, apparently, that's what's important about conservation land: how it can be exploited. Again, that's something else that needs to go). But they'll also have to consider the purpose the land is held for, and any recommendation from the Director-General of Conservation. And if their significance report is anything to go by, that's unlikely to be favourable to the miners. So, we may get the right decision; it'll just take a while to get there. And if the judicial review against mining in reserves succeeds, the entire point will be moot anyway.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Climate change: Eliminating coal

Last week, at the climate talks in Bonn, New Zealand joined an alliance to eliminate coal-fired power stations:

New Zealand has joined an international alliance - including Britain and Canada - to phase out coal from power generation before 2030.

The Powering Past Coal Alliance was unveiled at the COP23 climate talks in Bonn, Germany, working out implementation of the 2015 Paris Agreement.


Since signing the Paris Agreement, several countries had already made national plans to phase out coal from their power supply mix.

The Powering Past Coal Alliance also involves sharing technology to reduce emissions, such as carbon capture and storage, and encouraging the rest of the world to cut usage.

For us, this is largely a business-as-usual goal, in that the government has already committed to a 100% renewables target, which includes the elimination of coal. The country's sole coal-fired power station, Huntly, usually runs on gas at the moment, and the older dual-fuel turbines are scheduled to shut down in the next five years anyway. At the same time, its an important sign of international solidarity to help shift the balance away from and de-legitimise dirty electricity, and it turns a domestic commitment into an international one, raising the cost if a future National government welches on it. It also lays the groundwork for a future agreement to eliminate coal from industry (e.g. from Fonterra). So, worth doing, even if it doesn't mean much for us immediately in practice.

Restoring democracy to the RMA

One of National's primary policy goals during its time in power was to remove democracy from the RMA by removing notification and appeal rights while allowing Ministers to dictate local plans from their office in Wellington. This agenda was so extreme that they were unable to gain the votes for it for years, despite reliable footstools as coalition partners. But finally, earlier this year, the Maori Party sold out and let them do it. The changes only came into effect a month ago, so their impact hasn't yet been felt. But they're bad enough that Environment Minister David Parker has promised to roll them back and restore democracy:

The Government will attempt to reverse a National-led law change that has removed the public's right to participate in discretionary resource consent processes, Environment Minister David Parker says.

The Resource Legislation Amendment Act 2017 also removed the right for applicants and submitters to appeal discretionary resource consent decisions made by district councils.


Parker told Stuff this week removing public notification and appeal rights was going "a step too far" for applicants and submitters.

"We still think that was wrong. We are intending to have some reform of the Resource Management Act and that would be one of the things that we would fix," he said.

Sadly, it'll take a while, because the RMA is a complicated piece of legislation. On the other hand, there's usually at least a bill a year tinkering with it in one way or another, so it should be easy enough to put the changes in the next one. But unlike National, Labour won't be ramming it through under urgency.

Meanwhile, while they're restoring democracy, maybe they could do something about ECan as well? Apparently they can't hold an immediate election because National's dictatorship dragged its feet on setting electoral boundaries (which were set before the earthquakes and will not take subsequent population shifts into account). But they have nearly complete discretion to sack the appointees, or to appoint new people to replace them. Removing National's dictators from office ought to be a priority. As for their replacements, if they can't yet hold a proper election, holding some sort of poll and appointing the winners would seem to be a more democratic solution. Because its simply unacceptable for Cantabrians to have an illegitimate local government where half the members have no democratic mandate and were specifically appointed to thwart the will of the people.

Unnatural partnerships

Post-election, there was a sustained campaign in the media from National supporters for the Greens to support National to cling to power for another term. One of their arguments was to point to Germany, where Green - Christian Democrat coalitions have been tried at a regional level, and such an arrangement looked like the only possible outcome in the wake of the German elections. Except that hasn't worked out so well...

Exploratory talks to form Germany’s next coalition government were on the verge of collapse on Sunday night after the four parties involved missed their own deadline to resolve differences on migration and energy policy.

Chancellor Angela Merkel has been trying to forge a coalition between her Christian Democratic Union (CDU), its Bavarian sister party the Christian Social Union (CSU), the pro-business Free Democratic Party (FDP) and the Green party following federal elections at the end of September.

A so-called “Jamaica” coalition – so nicknamed because the parties’ traditional colours mirror that of the Jamaican flag – represents new ground even for Germany’s experienced leader, and has only previously been tested at regional level.

The key sticking points are immigration and climate change, with the parties unable to find common ground on either. And this in a country where the political mainstream is greener than ours. In Germany, they're in a four party situation (thanks in part to the CDU maintaining a regional partner party), but in New Zealand some of those parties are effectively factions within the National Party. And its hard to imagine National's farmer-yokels or climate change refuseniks accepting Green demands for real action on water or the climate, let alone allowing them to be implemented effectively.

Basicly, unnatural political partnerships are difficult and likely to fail. In Germany, they've been forced to explore the option because successive grand coalitions turned voters against the political establishment. And even then, it looks to have failed. In New Zealand, where there's no such pressure, there's no reason for parties with choices to take the risk. National's long-term problem of course is that now it has no friends, it has no choices, so it will be perpetually begging for such an unnatural partnership - and is likely to be perpetually rejected if there's any credible alternative.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Farmers ruin another river

The Kaiapoi River is turning salty, and irrigation is to blame:

A freshwater Canterbury river is on the brink of turning into a saltwater estuary, in part due to water abstraction, new data shows.

It has blindsided some in the community and would permanently alter the river's character if the trend continued.

"The prospect of that river turning to a smelly, scum-filled seawater estuary is just totally unacceptable," Waimakariri District councillor Sandra Stewart said.

The problem is caused by farmers taking too much water from the Waimakariri River, meaning that its flow is too weak to prevent salty tidal flows from entering the Kaiapoi. The solution is obvious: reduce irrigation flows. But that means reducing farmers' profits, which was unacceptable under National. Hopefully with a different government (and a soon-to-be elected ECan) they'll be able to stop the farmers poisoning this river before its too late.

New Fisk

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri accepts exile in France as Saudi Arabia no longer feels like a home away from home

Democracy wins in Tonga

Back in August, Tonga's king dissolved the country's parliament, because he and the noble caste did not like the elected government. Yesterday, Tongans went to the polls, and re-elected Prime Minister 'Akilisi Pohiva in a landslide. Pohiva's Democratic Party won 14 of the 17 "commoner seats", giving them an absolute majority in parliament and the ability to elect a government unchallenged.

You'd hope that the king gets the message: that it is for the people, not the monarch or the nobles, to choose governments. And hopefully Pohiva will be able to use this mandate to push for further constitutional change, such as the elimination of the noble seats and the restriction of monarchical power. Because the current situation, where a third of parliament is elected by just 33 inbred nobles, is simply unsustainable. The sooner this undemocratic power is removed, the better.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Horse trading

In their coalition agreement, Labour and New Zealand First agreed to pass a "waka jumping" law, preventing MPs from switching parties. Now, it looks like the Greens will support it to keep the coalition peace. But naturally, they want something in return:

The Green Party is considering opposing NZ First's "Waka Jumping" bill - a deal struck in coalition talks - unless Labour gives it a national "Parihaka Day".

Green Party justice spokesperson Golriz Ghahraman, in an internal email obtained by Stuff, suggested some horse trading with Labour to acknowledge the fact the party has long opposed waka jumping legislation.

Ghahraman's suggested her colleague Marama Davidson's bill, which recognises the anniversary of the invasion of Parihaka by making it a National Day, be put on the table for Government support.

Waka-jumping laws are undemocratic, prevent the natural formation and evolution of parties, and give too much power to parties and their leadership to stifle dissent. At the same time, I don't think this is worth dying in a ditch over. It sounds as if there's been some additional limits on the ability of parties to throw out members, and if they sunset clause it for the end of the Parliamentary term, then its something that can be accepted in the name of getting along. And that said, the Greens should not let themselves be taken for granted, and its entirely right that they ask for something in exchange. If Labour and NZ First don't like that, then they're welcome to seek National's support instead.

Austerity kills

Tory austerity has murdered 120,000 people in the UK since 2010:

The Conservatives have been accused of “economic murder” for austerity policies which a new study suggests have caused 120,000 deaths.

The paper found that there were 45,000 more deaths in the first four years of Tory-led efficiencies than would have been expected if funding had stayed at pre-election levels.

On this trajectory that could rise to nearly 200,000 excess deaths by the end of 2020, even with the extra funding that has been earmarked for public sector services this year.

The study attributes this to cuts in health and social spending. It attributes 10% of the death toll to cuts in the number of nurses. And those cuts have led directly to the deaths of people. Just as the Grenfell Tower fire was social murder, a result of "cutting red tape", this is economic murder, a result of cutting the vital services people depend upon to protect their lives. And in both cases, the architects of that murder, the policy-makers who cruelly cut those vital protections, need to be held criminally accountable for it.

Meanwhile, here in New Zealand National pursued a similar strategy of health cuts. How many people have they murdered?

The same question, again

The Independent Police Conduct authority has found that police used unjustified force, including pepper spray, to effect an unlawful arrest:

A Lower Hutt man who was pepper sprayed by officers trying to serve a trespass notice on him was within his rights to stop them entering his home and should never have been arrested, the police watchdog says.

The man complained to the Independent Police Conduct Authority that the officer who pepper sprayed him in his apartment complex on 23 December 2015 also kicked him and deliberately forced his arm up behind his back while he was being led away.

The authority has determined the officer did not kick the man and the force used to escort him from the building was not excessive - but it was unjustified.

Its chairman, Judge Colin Doherty, said the complainant, who was trying to close the door on the officers, had clearly revoked permission for them to be there, which meant they were trespassing and the arrest was unlawful.

The police could simply have served the notice on the victim by dropping it at his feet. Instead, they invaded his home, assaulted him with a weapon, and kidnapped him. If you or I did that, we would be prosecuted and would be facing up to 14 years in jail. So, to ask the obvious question again, why aren't the police? Or does the law simply not apply to them?

If the law is to mean anything, it must apply to those who enforce it as well as those they enforce it on. As long as police officers feel they are above the law, they will continue misbehaving and treating New Zealanders with contempt. These officers must be prosecuted, pour encourager les autres.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

We need to do more than this

Jacinda Ardern has again approached Australia with New Zealand's offer to save refugees from their concentration camp on Manus Island - and again been rejected. So instead, we're giving aid to Papua New Guinea to help them:

New Zealand will give Papua New Guinea and aid agencies up to $3 million to help care for Manus Island refugees.


"We intend to work with PNG and other agencies like the International Red Cross to financially support them with any additional needs that may need to be met while those refugees remain on the island."

Its better than nothing, but we must do more. We cannot allow people to be tortured in concentration camps. If Australia opposes them coming to New Zealand, then fuck them - we should talk directly to Papua New Guinea. The New Guineans don't want them, we do, so it should be easy to negotiate a deal. Especially as the refugees have already been assessed.

Meanwhile, while we're all celebrating Australia's vote against bigotry today, lets also remember that they are currently detaining people who fled countries where they fear persecution on the basis of their sexuality in a country which will persecute them on the basis of their sexuality. And that is blatantly failing to meet their obligations under the Refugee Convention.

Australia votes for equality

The results of the Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey were released today, showing a 61.6% majority in favour of marriage equality. Good. And now maybe Australia can join the civilised world and actually legislate, rather than trying to remain a bigoted backwater? But before it does, I suppose we'll have to watch another orgy of autophagy from the Australian "Liberal" Party, as its bigots desperately try to pretend they're still living in the C19th. Not to mention attempts to roll back basic anti-discrimination laws to enable bigotry. This people would be justifiably outraged if shops refused to serve them on the basis of their bigoted religious views, but they think the same protections shouldn't apply to gay people. Which just shows how hypocritical the bigots are.

Meanwhile, while Australians are in a progressive mood, maybe they could release the refugees they are currently torturing in concentration camps as well?

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

"Daddy leave" and the parental leave bill

Labour's Parental Leave and Employment Protection Amendment Bill will be going through its committee stage this afternoon, having been introduced and taken to second reading under urgency last week. The bill essentially duplicates Sue Moroney's Parental Leave and Employment Protection (Six Months’ Paid Leave and Work Contact Hours) Amendment Bill. That bill had already been through the select committee process and had the support of the House, but National subjected it to an unconstitutional financial veto earlier in the year. So naturally, having now lost an election over the issue, National are trying to wreck the bill with an amendment allowing the parental leave allocation to be split between parents - effectively halving its length.

They do have a point. The best overseas parental leave schemes include provisions requiring leave to be split (or rather, that no parent can take the full allocation). In Sweden, this "daddy leave" has levelled expectations around parental leave, leading to greater equality in the workplace. Employers have come to expect employees to take leave irrespective of gender, and this has a levelling effect on both pay and promotions. In 2007, the Families Commission recommended [PDF] that the then 14 weeks of parental leave be extended progressively and include a specific "partner leave" allocation. So, this is clearly something New Zealand should do at some stage. At the same time, what we're doing really badly on at the moment is duration and pay rates. I'm perfectly comfortable for the government to prioritise fixing that first - especially when that's the bit that's already been examined by select committee. When a bill is introduced in this way, under urgency, then I'd prefer to keep the scope to what's already been approved, thanks.

In the longer term, I think its likely that further extensions to the paid parental leave scheme will feature in future Labour-NZ First budgets. So we'll hopefully see a move to a split allocation in the future, in a way that doesn't effectively reduce existing entitlements.

Opening the floodgates

One of Labour's first decisions in government was to respect the ruling of the High Court and inflation adjust Teina Pora's compensation payment for the more than twenty years of wrongful imprisonment he suffered. Now, National's "justice" spokesperson Amy Adams is warning that this move will "open the floodgates":

National's justice spokeswoman Amy Adams is warning the Government may have opened up a can of worms in awarding Teina Pora almost an extra $1 million for his two decades of wrongful imprisonment.


How the new calculation for Pora's settlement will affect "everyone else who has had compensation that wasn't inflation adjusted" remains to be seen, Adams said.

"The way the decision is written, it now throws in to question every sort of payment of any sort the Government might make that isn't specifically provided to be inflation-adjusted."

"There will be others now looking at whether they should be inflation-adjusted."

And so they should. Because the High Court has effectively ruled that National's penny-pinching policy of screwing over people shown to be innocent was wrong. And that means the current government may have to clean up National's mess. But the proper response to that is to clean the fucking mess up, not stick your fingers in your ears and deny that you ever did anything wrong.

So, let the "floodgates" open. The worst that will happen is that we'll have to treat people fairly, like we should have done in the first place. And only an arsehole from a party of arseholes which grubs for votes from other arseholes would see any problem with that.

New Fisk

This isn't the first time Saudi Arabia has threatened the stability of Lebanon

Climate change: Not good news

Back in September, we had some apparent good news about climate change for once, with reports that emissions had peaked. Sadly, those reports were incorrect:

Scientists’ predictions that carbon emissions had peaked were actually far too optimistic and they will continue to rise this year, according to a major new study.

After claims that world CO2 emissions could soon start falling, new research has been presented at a UN meeting that says they will rise by 2 per cent this year to hit a new record.

Emissions had been roughly flat between 2014 and 2016, leading to hopes that one of the leading drivers of climate change would stay that way. But they are up this year in large part because of an increase in China, where emissions have fallen over the last couple of years.

Damn. Climate change is the world's most urgent problem, and one we desperately need to see progress on. But hopefully this will encourage parties to the UNFCCC to do more, rather than fiddling while the planet burns.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Bring them here

Last week, Jacinda Ardern rolled over for Australia on refugees, accepting their bullshit story that Donald Trump would somehow take them. Now, she's going to use the East Asia Summit in Manila to offer them a new home in New Zealand:

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull faces further pressure from Jacinda Ardern as the New Zealand leader repeats her offer to take 150 refugees from Papua New Guinea's Manus Island and Nauru.


"I will be raising with Prime Minister Turnbull, as I have consistently done, that we have great concerns over the situation on Manus Island but also for the refugees on Nauru."

She saw no difference in principle between the cases on the two islands.

"Our hope is to lend a hand as far as we are able in helping resolve this situation."

Good. Because what Australia and its PNG proxies are doing here is horrific: torturing people for years, then abandoning them to starve to death in the jungle or be murdered by hostile locals. Its a human rights disaster, contra Gerry Brownlee, we need to help.

The good news is that, in theory (and explicitly in PNG, because they Are Not Being Detained), the refugees are free to leave to any country which wishes to take them. We should call Australia on that. And if they don't like us offering a new home to 150 people, then we should offer one to 500. If they don't like that, we should offer one to all of them, whether on Manus or Nauru. And if they still don't like that, it should be "fine, you're a citizen. The next Australian PM will give us what we want, or get the same".

Because ultimately, this is about who decides who gets to come to New Zealand. And the answer to that question can only be "New Zealand". Not "Australia", and certainly not Malcolm Turnbull or Peter Dutton. To riff on John Howard, we will decide who comes to New Zealand, and the circumstances in which they come - and we will be far less arseholey about it than our racist arsehole neighbours.

And remember, as long as Australia is torturing refugees in concentration camps, don't buy Australian.

New Fisk

The resignation of Lebanon’s Prime Minister, Saad Hariri, has not gone as smoothly as the Saudis wanted

Saved by Canada

APEC was held over the weekend, during which various countries were expected to make a final push to resurrect the Trans-Pacific Partnership. On Friday night, it looked like it was dead, and that Canada had saved us from a shitty US trade deal. By Sunday morning, it was alive again - but Canada has still probably saved us.

There were three bits of the TPPA that most people objected to: the anti-democratic Investor-State Dispute clause, under which multinational (US) corporations could sue countries for regulations which affected their (real or imagined) profits; US patent pork which threatened Pharmac; and general US copyright bullshit, including a mandatory copyright term extension to protect Mickey Mouse, along with various attacks on fair use and file sharing. But thanks to Canada, all of that shit is gone. Technically, its only "suspended", and could be back in if the US ever rejoins the agreement, but that's about as likely as Trump not sticking his foot in his mouth next time he opens it, so for all practical purposes these provisions are dead. So, we've got an FTA shorn of its most objectionable parts. Whether the deal is still worth it for New Zealand without US market access remains to be seen, but in the previous analysis the US bullshit was a significant cost, so it might be (whether you trust MFAT's analysts to do a fair analysis when institutionally their prestige rests on the deal being accepted is another question, of course).

The government has been clear that the new TPPA will have to go back to Parliament - that is, that it is a different deal from the "Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, done at Auckland on 4 February 2016", so National's TPPA law can never come into effect. While they're now part of the government which has agreed to this, I don't expect NZ First and the Greens to give it an easy ride through select committee, and I expect the numbers to be heavily scrutinised. If they don't like it, then I guess Labour will just have to ask National for support instead.

Meanwhile, if this experience has shown us anything, its how badly National sold us out on this issue. A better deal was possible the moment the US walked away, but National was perfectly happy to sign the TPPA as written, complete with US IP bullshit. Its also shown us how undemocratic our foreign policy is, and how secret negotiations do nothing but enable our politicians to lie to us. This isn't good enough. In order for such agreements to be legitimate, they need the consent of the people - and that means full transparency during negotiations, and explicit Parliamentary approval not just for ratification, but for signing. Anything less is buying into the arrogant ideology that foreign policy is for kings, and something us dirty peasants must be kept in the dark about, because we couldn't possibly know what we want. And that is simply undemocratic monarchical bullshit.

Friday, November 10, 2017

New Fisk

Saad Hariri’s resignation as Prime Minister of Lebanon is not all it seems

Freedom of information declines in the UK

The UK publishes comprehensive statistics on the operation of its Freedom of Information Act, covering request volumes, timeliness, and success rates. An article in The Economist highlights the disappointing trend in the latter, with more refusals:

Attempts to obtain the Brexit studies under freedom of information (FOI) requests, which are used by the public to access information from roughly 100,000 public bodies, were rejected. That is increasingly the norm. Between 2010 and 2016 the share of FOI requests that were granted in full by the central government fell from 57% to 46% (see chart).

One often-cited explanation is the increasing complexity of requests. When the FOI law came into force in 2005, the thinking goes, requesters sought the low-hanging fruit, such as details of MPs’ travel expenses. Over time they made trickier demands, which met refusal. Yet if this were so, one would expect a rise in the proportion of rejections that were attributed to excessive cost (departments can refuse requests that would cost more than £600—$785—or take more than 24 hours, to complete). In fact it has barely budged.

A likelier reason is that civil servants have become more wary. Almost every department is refusing requests more often. And they are clamming up in other ways, says Gavin Freeguard of the Institute for Government, a think-tank. Departments are supposed to publish monthly figures on their costs over £25,000. In 2010 roughly half of them published these data on time. By late 2016, only a quarter did. Biannual releases detailing civil servants’ pay and rank have become similarly tardy.

The Economist lays this clearly at the feet of the UK's politicians, who have consistently attacked the FOIA as being somehow "bad" for "good government" (meaning: "inconvenient for corrupt, secretive, incompetent politicians). The UK's public servants are clearly getting this message loud and clear.

Sadly, we won't be able to get any similar story about New Zealand. While SSC has finally started collecting statistics on OIA requests, it only covers volumes and timeliness, not outcomes. Which means we won't get to see whether National's similar opposition to the OIA has had a similar effect on decisions in New Zealand. But we have a new government now, one which has a specific Associate Minister for Open Government. So maybe they could walk the talk and start actually measuring how open we really are?

Thursday, November 09, 2017

Are there too many farmers?

As if poisoning our rivers wasn't enough, farmers are now asking whether we have too many native birds:

Agricultural experts are pointing to an unusual problem lying just over the horizon for New Zealand - too many native birds.

They acknowledge that it sounds like a pleasant problem to have.

But they also warn of a downside if a rampant bird population comes to depend on agricultural crops for food because its natural habitat is too small.

But why is the natural habitat of native birds too small? Because greedy farmers cut it all down. And now they're using that past destruction to problematise and oppose attempts to remedy it.

Perhaps the real environmental problem we face here is not too many native birds, but too many farmers.


Parliament's opening prayer has been changed to drop references to Jesus and the foreign monarch. Here's the new version:

Almighty God, we give thanks for the blessings which have been bestowed on New Zealand.

Laying aside all personal interests, we pray for guidance in our deliberations, that we may conduct the affairs of this House with wisdom and humility, for the public welfare and peace of New Zealand.

Well, that's some progress at least. But its still not appropriate for a Parliament which respects freedom of religion to open with a religious statement, which asks for the guidance of an imaginary being. This is both nonsensical, and sends a message to the huge number of irreligious New Zealanders that they're not real citizens. But progress is made of small steps, and this is certainly better than what we had.

Speaking of progress, the Speaker opened Question Time today by reciting the prayer in te reo. He was bad at at, but the symbolism is important, and I am glad he is making the effort.

Britain supports tax cheats

Hot on the tail of the news that British tax-cheating and corruption goes right to the top, the Independent reports that the UK is trying to get the EU to water down its anti-tax haven rules:

The British government pushed to water down key parts of an EU crackdown on corporate tax havens at a European Council meeting this week, days after the Paradise Papers leak revealed more evidence of tax dodging in UK overseas territories.

Ahead of Tuesday’s ECOFIN meeting of European finance ministers, EU commissioner Pierre Moscovici had called for countries to “rapidly adopt a European tax haven list” in light of the revelations, as well as arguing that such a list should be enforced with “credible and meaningful” sanctions.

The UK, however, is reported by Politico to have teamed up Luxembourg and Malta to push back against the inclusion of such sanctions, which would likely include British territories such as Bermuda and the Cayman Islands, which were implicated in the Paradise Papers.

Which obviously makes sense to the corrupt British establishment wanting to hide its ill-gotten gains. But they've forgotten something: they're leaving the EU. So why the hell would the EU give a shit what they think about anything anymore?

Orcs not welcome

National began its government by trying to open our national parks to mining. While that failed, they still consistently pushed for mining on conservation land, and dragged their feet on re-classification of stewardship land to enable it. But the new government is putting an end to all that:

The government has announced it will block all new mining on conservation land.

Minister of Conservation Eugenie Sage said public conservation lands were there for nature to thrive and for New Zealanders and visitors to enjoy.

"Mining, especially open-cast mining runs counter to that.

"It destroys indigenous vegetation and habitats, permanently changes natural landscapes and can create sizeable waste rock dumps with a risk of acid mine drainage polluting waterways.

"New Zealanders expect to see our conservation lands and their wild landscapes and indigenous plants and wildlife protected from being dug up by bulldozers and diggers."

And I expect there'll be a law change in due course to unravel National's changes to the Conservation Act and remove the Minister of Energy from any decision-making role on mining on conservation land, as well as to the Crown Minerals Act to strengthen Schedule 4.

Sorry, miners - our natural taonga are off limits. Fuck off back to Australia if you want to pillage the earth.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

The corrupt monarchy

There's been another mass leak of data from tax havens, this time exposing two "offshore service providers" and 19 company registries from tax-havens. And among the usual parade of corrupt politicians, tax-cheating businesses, "socially conscious" but tax-cheating entertainment personalities, and organised crime, there's also the news that Britian's monarchy is in this up to its neck. Britain's queen hides her money overseas like a mafia boss. And its heir to the throne hid his money offshore, then lobbied to increase its value, without declaring any financial interest in the outcome.

This behaviour is simply corrupt. There is no other word for it. And it demonstrates that the rot in the British establishment goes right to the top. The best thing UK citizens can do is sweep the entire rotten edifice away: sack the elites, and start from scratch.

More good riddance

National's privacy-invading social investment approach is now "under review":

The big-data, intricate-detail approach to lifting vulnerable families out of poverty is up for review, with the new Labour Government confirming it would be "repackaged".

That would likely include reducing the level of data collected, so vulnerable people could not be identified at an individual level and removing the reporting on welfare liability dependency, the new Social Development Minister has confirmed.


Carmel Sepuloni said the former Government's social investment strategy would undergo significant changes. Work to overhaul the toolkit that guided nearly every social spend the National Government made was already underway.

"We don't agree with New Zealanders being deemed potential liabilities for the state. With that negative stigma put on New Zealand citizens, with them being deemed potential risks and predictive risk modelling used to assess risk," said Sepuloni.

Good. Because while there's obvious merit in thinking long-term and analysing policy outcomes, National's approach was intrusive and viewed people as costs, not citizens. Not to mention founded on quack. It also involved combining information that should never be combined into one awful Big Brother database so they could mine it for new ways to fuck people over and deny them services - naturally, without seeking anyone's consent. And then setting up a dedicated propaganda agency to try and convince us that it was all OK (sorry: build "social licence" for data-sharing). Hopefully we'll be seeing changes in both those areas: less information in the IDI, more restrictions on access, legal prohibitions on access by police or intelligence agencies, and the disestablishment of the Data Futures Forum, alongside the shift away from National's penny-pinching "actuarial approach".

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

The triennial reminder

Parliament was formally opened today, providing us with the triennial reminder that we are not yet a proper democracy. Rather than committing to serve the people who elected them, our representatives were forced to swear allegiance to a foreign monarch, a person who was not elected, is not a New Zealand citizen, and doesn't even live here. The Speaker they elected was then forced to go and grovel to the unelected foreign monarch's unelected representative to be confirmed in their office - as if the support of the Parliament we elected wasn't enough in and of itself.

Its a potent message about who is really in charge, and of where they think power flows from: down, not up.

This has to change. We are a democracy, and democratic values are deeply embedded in our culture and psyche. Power and legitimacy reside in the people and nowhere else. It is simply not appropriate for our political structures and ceremonies to ape those of a foreign hereditary despotism.

Obviously, the big change we need to make is the move to a republic. That will take time, but I'd like to see this parliament lay the groundwork. But there are also little changes it can make, ones which will make our politics ours, rather than reflecting archaic and undemocratic values. Those oaths would be a damn good place to start.

Good riddance

One of National's nastier ideas in government was the mass-privacy-invasion of anyone using government-funded social services, so it could data-mine them, find out who was expensive, and cook up new ways to cut off their support. The good news is that the new government is shitcanning that:

The government has confirmed it is dumping National's controversial data-for-funding plan that would have forced groups like Women's Refuge to hand over personal client details.

Minister for Social Development Carmel Sepuloni said she was scrapping the plan because it was dangerous and unnecessary.


"It wasn't working and there were issues with security around information, they had been advised by the NGOs and by the Privacy Commissioner and by the opposition political parties and a whole lot of other people that they shouldn't be doing it, so of course we're not going ahead with that."

Good riddance. National's privacy invasion had a real chance of deterring people from using these services. For National, that was a feature, not a bug, another way of saving money. But when the services are things like women's refuges, rape crisis centres, and counselling services, such an attitude is not only vicious, but also likely trades short-term savings for long-term costs. Not to mention just not treating people with the basic dignity they deserve. I'm glad the new government has a more respectful approach.

Monday, November 06, 2017

About time too

Labour isn't wasting any time: they've just announced that they'll be introducing legislation on Wednesday to extend paid parental leave:

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced paid parental leave will be increased to 26 weeks by 2020.

Ardern said Cabinet had today approved the policy to increase paid parental leave to 22 weeks by July 1, 2018, and 26 weeks by July 1, 2020.

"The evidence is clear, it is well supported it is a policy we are incredibly proud to be introducing at this early stage of the Government."

Ardern said legislation will be introduced into the House on Wednesday.

Good. National's abuse of the financial veto to ignore and effectively overturn a parliamentary majority for paid parental leave extension was one of the great abuses of their last term, and I'm glad to see it being fixed with some rapidity. As for the policy itself, its a sensible but also quite modest internationally. Still, it lays the groundwork for further extensions in the future.

Rolling over for Australia

Currently, the Australian government has abandoned the inmates of its Manus island concentration camp without food, water, or power in a tropical hellhole. Their minions the PNG Army are preventing people from delivering food to those in need. The intention is clear: to starve them into leaving and force them into even worse conditions in a new concentration camp or in the PNG community.

This is a clear human rights abuse and humanitarian emergency, and the natural instinct of many New Zealanders is to step in, help out, and offer a home to those Australia is trying to murder. Jacinda Ardern went to Australia over the weekend promising to raise the issue again. Instead, she rolled over for the Aussies:

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has ruled out negotiating directly with Papua New Guinea over taking Manus Island detainees, despite New Zealand's offer to Australia to take 150 refugees being turned down.


Mr Turnbull said Australia was concentrating on an agreement to resettle 1250 people in the United States, an agreement that would cover hundreds more people than New Zealand was offering to take.

But he did not shut the door completely, saying "in the wake" of that, Australia could then "consider other ones".

Ms Ardern said she considered the deal very much still on the table, while acknowledging Australia clearly was not going to act on it anytime soon.

She was asked whether she'd put the offer to PNG instead.

"No, no, because the offer is still under active consideration by Australia so there is no need to do so."

Except Australia isn't "actively considering" anything. Instead it is literally trying to starve refugees to death to force them to give up their claims. Donald Trump is not going to rescue Australia's victims. So we have to. And if that means going around Australia and negotiating directly with PNG, then so be it - because people are going to die if we don't.

That's what's at stake here. A leader with a clear moral vision would see that. Instead, Ardern is giving us mealy-mouthed bullshit. So much for her and her government's principles.

Hypocrisy all round

Why do the public think politicians are unprincipled scumbags? Because they seem to take every opportunity to prove us right.

Today's example is National's complaints over the drop in the number of select committee positions. "Undemocratic!" cries National. Except that the shift was approved unanimously by the Standing Orders Committee, introduced by the very National MP who is now complaining about it, and passed unanimously by the House, including by every National MP. In other words, he voted for it, so why is he complaining?

I don't know enough about the workings of Parliament to judge whether 12 or 13 select committees is optimal. But when the change gets such universal support at the time, including from everyone who speaks to the issue, then I'm willing to defer to their judgement. Unlike National, I don't believe that the merits of the case change depending on whether their party is in government or opposition.

Also unedifying: Labour's response. Because while the reallocation of committees was widely approved, National's refusal to allocate their chairs proportionately was not. Here's Trevor Mallard - Labour's likely Speaker candidate - complaining about it:

Under Labour, select committees will go back to being creatures of the Parliament and not rubber stamps for the executive. There will be many more Opposition majorities and Opposition chairs of committees so that they can work through the legislation and give a proper parliamentary opinion rather than being a place for people who are greasing up to the executive in order to try to be Ministers going forward. We have had too much of a history of that recently—people who do not do their jobs as chairs of select committees because they want to become Ministers—

In the Review of Standing Orders, Labour, the Greens, and NZ First all supported a proportional allocation of select committee chairs (meaning more opposition-chaired committees and reduced government ability to pervert the committee process). But today, Chris Hipkins is saying "fuck that", essentially because they're now the government and National is now the opposition. Meanwhile, the actual principle that they previously supposedly supported - an independent legislature which works for all its members rather than simply being a rubber-stamp for the government - is forgotten. Hopefully the Greens and NZ First will be better than Labour.

Friday, November 03, 2017

New Fisk

Everything wrong with Theresa May's ridiculous assertion that we should feel proud of the Balfour Declaration

More political prisoners in Spain

The Spanish regime has just jailed most of Catalonia's elected government:

A judge in Madrid has ordered eight members of the deposed Catalan government to be remanded in custody pending possible charges over last week’s declaration of independence, and Spanish prosecutors are seeking a European arrest warrant for the region’s ousted president, Carles Puigdemont.

Carmen Lamela, sitting in Spain’s national court, jailed the eight former ministers – including Puigdemont’s deputy, Oriol Junqueras – on Thursday while they are investigated on possible charges of sedition, rebellion and misuse of public funds.

...for organising a referendum so Catalonians could peacefully vote on a topic Spain doesn't want to talk about. A referendum Spain then tried (unsuccessfully) to disrupt with armoured thugs and public beatings.

Democracies don't jail elected representatives. Democracies don't keep political prisoners. But its clear now that Spain isn't a democracy anymore, at least for Catalans. And that in itself is a good reason for them to leave.

Thursday, November 02, 2017

Climate change: Reviewed

Earlier in the year, law student Sarah Thompson took the government to court over its climate change targets. The High Court has finally released its judgement, and ruled that National should have reviewed its 2050 target to match scientific reality:

The previous National-led government failed to take appropriate action over some of its climate change emissions targets, according to the High Court, but it won't face any consequences because it's no longer in power.

Justice Jillian Mallon released her decision on Thursday after Waikato law student Sarah Thomson took former Environment Minister Paula Bennett to court in June over alleged inadequate action to address emissions targets.

The High Court dismissed the judicial review. But in her written decision, Justice Mallon acknowledged that when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its fifth assessment reports in 2014, the Government failed to undertake a satisfactory review of its 2050 emissions targets.

"However this cause of action has been overtaken by subsequent events," Justice Mallon said.

Because National lost power at the last election, and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's new Labour-led government had already announced its intention to set a new 2050 target, court-ordered relief was ruled unnecessary.

So, that's a victory. And there's also a partial victory on the 2030 target, in that while the court didn't find that it was irrational or needed review, it did find that it was reviewable - meaning that future international targets can be challenged in court for unreasonableness if they fail to reflect scientific reality.

The full judgement is here.

One way of fixing it

What will Brexit mean for the UK? The British government doesn't want to say, out of fear that if voters knew the impact, they might change their minds. But now, the UK Parliament has ordered them to release the information to a select committee:

MPs have passed a motion ordering Theresa May to release 58 secret studies into the economic damage from Brexit, triggering a huge political row.

Ministers provoked fury by refusing to say they will abide by what independent parliamentary clerks advised would be a “binding” decision.

But pretty obviously if they don't, they'll be in contempt of Parliament. What that means is uncertain - while there are archaic powers to expel members, or even lock them in a clocktower, that hasn't been done for well over a century. But at the least, non-cooperation from Ministers will result in non-cooperation from Parliament. Which will mean a much harder time passing their Brexit legislation, or even a loss of confidence forcing new elections.

Good riddance

When aged care workers won a court case and a huge legal settlement for equal pay, the then-National government responded by introducing legislation to stop anyone from doing that ever again. Now, the new government has scrapped that shit:

The government is throwing out pay equity legislation introduced by National, saying it makes it harder for people to make a claim for fair wages.

Minister for Women Julie Anne Genter said the legislation was deliberately designed to put barriers in the way of women who wanted to make a pay equity claim, and would be replaced.


The government will start work on new legislation to adhere to principles agreed by the Joint Working Group on Pay Equity - a group made up of business, union and government representatives.

Ms Genter is confident improving the legislation will be straightforward.

"We already have the agreed principles from the joint working group and I don't think it will be too difficult to go back, to take those barriers out of the bill, replace them with something that truly reflects those agreed principles, and is going to make it easier for women to have a process and a pathway to equal pay."

Good. National's bill responded to inequality by entrenching it (for the profit of its sexist business cronies, of course). Now they're gone, hopefully we'll see some real progress towards closing the gender pay gap and ensuring that there is equal pay for work of equal value.

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Will Catalonia be allowed a free vote?

Catalonia declared independence over the weekend, and Spain responded by immediately suspending their regional autonomy, dissolving their government, and calling elections. Surprisingly, the Catalan political establishment seems to be going along with elections called for them by what is now supposedly a foreign country, but I guess they thought they couldn't resist, and some of them clearly like the idea of another de facto independence referendum. So the question is whether the election will be free and fair, or whether the Spanish occupation will fix the outcome.

Sadly, the signs aren't good. Key independence leaders are facing sedition and rebellion charges, with the clear intention of keeping them in jail and preventing them from standing for election. The Spanish establishment has talked openly about banning pro-independence parties. And to cap it all off, they've also said that if such parties win, they'll simply suspend autonomy again - effectively ignoring the result.

At its heart, the Catalan independence struggle is about democracy: the right of a people to determine their own rulers. Free and fair elections are at the core of that. And if Spain won't respect those, then it is no longer a civilised nation.

National's final score: 21,000 unemployed

The labour market statistics are out, and with the change of government, we can finally see National's final score. Unemployment is now at 4.6%, exactly where it was when they came into power. But nine years of population growth means that there are 21,000 more unemployed people. So much for making New Zealand a better place. Instead, they did nothing and let people rot for nine years, inflicting tremendous suffering, and then only ended up back where they started by pure luck. Its a perfect example of how National's "better economic management" actively harms people while achieving nothing.

I expect better things from the new government. And hopefully once they've made some policy changes, we'll see that unemployment rate get back down to the levels it was under Helen Clark.

The end of "three strikes"

Another day, another sign that the new government is going to shake things up, with Justice Minister Andrew Little promising to end National's "three strikes" law:

The three strikes law is "silly", doesn't work, and will be dismantled next year, Justice Minister Andrew Little says.

"It's been on the statute books for eight years now," Little told the Herald. "Our serious offending rate is rising, our prison population is rising. Throwing people into prison for longer and longer just isn't working."

However, repealing it was not in the Government's 100-day plan.

"It will be some time next year, I imagine. It's a silly law anyway, but I want to make sure when we do get rid of it, we can say, 'Here is our plan to reduce serious offending rates'."

Good. This law is manifestly unjust and imposes perverse and disproportionate sentences - just as it did in California. It has no place whatsoever in our justice system. The question is whether its victims, those who have suffered unjust sentences due to it, will be compensated. If they are, then we should send the bill to National and ACT.