Wednesday, February 22, 2017



Australia returns refugees to persecution

In 2015 Tran Thi Lua fled Vietnam to avoid persecution over a land dispute. The Australian Navy intercepted the boat she was on, denied her asylum, and forcibly returned her to Vietnam. Where, of course, she was detained and beaten:

A Vietnamese asylum seeker has said she faced three months of detention and beatings after being returned by Australian immigration officials.

Tran Thi Lua fled a second time, trying to reach Australia this month, but her boat broke down off the Indonesian coast.

Now she is stranded in Indonesia with her three children and two other Vietnamese families, hoping for an interview with the United Nations refugee agency this week.

The other two mothers on the recent boat trip were also returned by Australia in 2015 and faced punishment from the communist Vietnamese Government.


At the least, this shows that she had a well-founded fear of persecution, and should have been granted refugee status. And it shows that Australia broke its own laws by refouling her to persecution. But clearly, Australia no longer cares about its obligations under the Refugee Convention.

(And remember: Don't Buy Australian until Australia revokes its anti-refugee policies and frees everyone on Nauru and Manus Island)

New Fisk

Victory over Isis in Mosul could mean defeat in Syria's Deir Ezzor 250 miles west

No justice in Israel

On 24 March 2016, Elor Azaria, an Israeli soldier, executed Abdul Fatah al-Sharif. Al-Sharif had been shot and incapacitated after stabbing another soldier and was lying wounded on the ground. He posed no threat. Despite this, Azaria shot him in the head and killed him, in a clear violation of the laws of war. Eventually, Azaria was charged - with manslaughter rather than murder - and convicted. Last night he received his sentence: a laughable 18 months in prison:

An Israeli military medic who was filmed killing an incapacitated Palestinian attacker last year has been sentenced to 18 months in prison.

Elor Azaria’s sentence was handed down by a panel of three judges sitting in a military court in Tel Aviv. Prosecutors had demanded a sentence of between three and five years, while Azaria had asked the court to be “merciful” and sentence him to open detention.

Human rights groups argued that the sentence was too lenient, while Azaria’s supporters, including some ministers, said he should not have been sentenced to prison at all.


I'm very definitely with the former. 18 months for a cold-blooded murder by a soldier? Its very clear that there is no justice in Israel, at least where Palestinians are the victims. Its another example of how Israel has turned into an apartheid state, where some lives are valued more than others (see also: US military sentences for murders and torture in Iraq, where they exist at all).

But it gets worse, because there is intense political pressure to pardon this killer. And if that happens, it sends a clear message: Palestinian lives don't matter, and soldiers can murder with (even more) impunity. It will also make it clear that Israeli soldiers will need to be prosecuted for their crimes before international tribunals, because the Israeli state won't hold its own to account.

Monday, February 20, 2017



The Dotcom extradition decision

The High Court has ruled that Kim Dotcom can be extradited to the USA. But not for copyright infringement. Instead, he'll be extradited for conspiracy and money laundering:

After five months of deliberation, Gilbert found that Dotcom remained eligible for extradition to the US - but not on copyright charges.

The judge found in favour of arguments put by Dotcom's legal team, led by Ron Mansfield, that there was no equivalent "copyright" crime in New Zealand that would activate the extradition treaty.

However, the ruling also saw Justice Gilbert finding in favour of the US argument that Dotcom - and his three co-accused - could be extradited because it was at essence a "fraud" case and there was such a crime in the extradition treaty.

Except that what the US is calling "fraud" relies fundamentally on the idea that Dotcom's copyright infringement was criminal (likewise, "money laundering" requires that the money being laundered be criminally obtained). So we have a situation where a man can't be extradited for one "offence", because its not illegal here, but can be extradited for subsidiary offences which depend on the illegality of the first. Which doesn't really make sense. He could never be charged with those things in New Zealand, so why are we extraditing on them?

And it raises an obvious question: if we can't extradite on copyright infringement, will we require the US to drop those charges before extradition? If not, then isn't what is forbidden in law effectively allowed in practice, provided a foreign state can find another charge to stick on the docket?

The judgement is being appealed, of course. So hopefully we'll get some more clarity on this. Meanwhile, given the US government's role as the enforcement arm of the copyright mafia, I think its time we revisited our extradition laws, to make it clear that we will not under any circumstances extradite for such pretend "crimes". If Hollywood thinks Dotcom cost them money, they can sue. But if its not an offence in New Zealand law, our courts shouldn't collude in allowing a foreign state to jail a New Zealand citizen resident.

Correction: Kim Dotcom is an NZ resident, not a citizen.

Unwarranted and unreasonable

Back in 2015, we learned that the police had demanded (and received) Nicky Hager's bank records from Westpac bank during their political investigation of an embarrassing anti-government leak. They had done this without a warrant, production order, or any statutory grounds at all.

Today, the Privacy Commissioner ruled that Westpac had breached Hager's privacy by complying with the police request:

Nicky Hager’s complaint against Westpac has been upheld by the Privacy Commissioner. The Privacy Commissioner found that Westpac had breached Mr Hager’s privacy by releasing his personal information to the Police without a warrant. This is part of the continuing fallout from the Police’s unlawful raid on Mr Hager’s home in 2014.

[...]

Under the Privacy Act, Westpac may release personal information if it reasonably believes it is necessary to assist the Police investigation. When releasing this information, the Police and Westpac asserted that this exception applied. However, the Police provided Westpac with no information to support the claim that this information was needed and Westpac did not ask for any. Westpac conducted no inquiry of its own.

[...]

Westpac tried to argue that its terms and conditions allowed it to release Mr Hager’s personal information. This relied on a different exception to the Privacy Act than the one asserted at the time of release.

The Privacy Commissioner rejected Westpac’s arguments. He found that a reasonable person would not have understood those terms to have authorised this release. He also rejected an argument that the Police investigation exception applied.


While the case was about Westpac, it affects a hell of a lot more. The police make thousands of warrantless requests for information a year to banks alone, and major companies - banks and phone providers among them - have cut secret deals with police to turn over your private personal information on request, no questions asked. The Privacy Commissioner has basicly just said that those deals are illegal. Absent actual evidence from police, companies can not rely on the law enforcement exception when providing data. The result is that companies will have to start demanding production orders. And that's a good thing - because police shouldn't just be able to get your private information just by "asking". As shown in this case, that simply invites them to abuse their power.

But the ruling isn't enough. The big problem with both warrantless "requests" and production orders is that they happen in total secrecy. Companies aren't required to report on them, and neither are police. This has to change. For companies, we've seen how annual transparency reports improve privacy outcomes by creating customer pressure against disclosure, and it would be a simple matter to legislate to require them to publish. As for the police, they're required to publish annual statistics on search and interception warrants and how effective they are as a way of providing oversight. Production orders should also be included in this. That way we'll at least be able to see whether this really is a vital investigative tool, or a giant fishing expedition.

As for Westpac, hopefully Hager will take them to the Human Rights Review Tribunal and extract damages for their abuse of his privacy. And doing so should hopefully encourage other companies to be more careful about complying with police requests in future.

This bill should not proceed

Over the past week the Maori Affairs select committee has been hearing submissions on the New Plymouth District Council (Waitara Lands) Bill. The bill is supposedly an attempt to heal the oozing sore of the theft and confiscation of land at Waitara, the nexus of the land wars. It does this by effectively legitimising and making permanent those confiscations by giving stolen land to leaseholders. Te Atiawa, the iwi the land was stolen from, initially supported the bill, but after opposition from its grassroots has now rejected it. So we have a bill which would ostensibly settle a Treaty grievance being opposed by the people it is purportedly settling with. In fact, the only people who benefit from this bill are the descendent of land thieves, who would get to keep what was stolen (as opposed to merely paying peppercorn rents for it).

Fuck that. Its not just wrong, its a constitutional outrage, a one-sided, unilaterally imposed "settlement" that the iwi don't want. Rather than healing a Treaty breach, it instead perpetuates it and creates a new one. This bill should not proceed. The select committee should dump it.

New Fisk

Donald Trump's abandonment of the two-state solution descended into dark comedy very quickly
How will we get over the Trump addiction?

Two ideas to get rid of electorate deals

Last week, the Greens announced they were standing aside for (spit) Greg O'Connor in Ohariu. Today, the Maori Party cut a deal with Mana to split the Maori seats. And sometime in the next six months we will no doubt see National cut a similar deal in Epsom to ensure David Seymour continues to receive a Parliamentary salary.

These deals are incentivised by the rules of MMP, as the one electorate rule magnifies the effect of certain seats by making full representation of smaller parties dependent on them - thus encouraging parties to either step aside to allow an ally to be represented, or gang up to prevent the representation of an enemy. Lots of (mostly older) voters hate them, seeing them as a perversion of democracy (apparently all parties are obligated to run in all seats or something, regardless of whether its in their interests or they can afford it or not). Their response is to remove the incentive by revoking the one-electorate rule. But this would have a negative effect on proportionality, by arbitarirly denying parties their full representation. Fortunately, there are other ways of doing it.

The first, and most obvious, is to completely remove the 5% threshold. Its an arbitrary limit, put in place by the big parties to limit competition, under the guise of "Keeping extremists out". Except New Zealand has no extremists, and in the historic case it is supposedly there to prevent - Nazi Germany - those extremists won 30% of the vote. The 5% threshold undermines proportionality for no good purpose. What it does do is incentivise electorate deals in order to sidestep it. So, remove the threshold, give every party its full allocation of seats according to the modified Sainte-Lague formula, and electorate deals (and indeed electorates) simply cease to be relevant. Problem solved.

Another solution is to introduce preferential voting in electorate seats. This is something we should be doing anyway to ensure that every electorate candidate has majority support, but it would have the bonus of removing any incentive for the sorts of deals we are seeing in Ohariu or the Maori seats, by removing "vote splitting" from the electoral calculus. Parties would be free to stand (and compete for the party vote) without fear that by doing so they might be advantaging or disadvantaging some other party. Instead, the preferences can flow where they may.

Either of these would remove, or strongly reduce the incentives for electorate deals. Either would be a far better change to our electorate system than removing the one-electorate rule, in that they would improve proportionality and/or return power to the voters rather than the parties. The question is whether the big parties will support them, rather than trying to distort the system to their own advantage. Sadly, given their response to the Law Commission review, I suspect it will be the latter.

Thursday, February 16, 2017



Drug-testing trigger-happy cops is a good idea

The police are now requiring every officer who fires a shot on duty to undergo mandatory drug and alcohol testing. Good. Its such an obvious safeguard against police misbehaviour that I'm surprised they didn't start doing it decades ago. In fact, its so obvious that even the Police Association agrees with it (though they're not happy with the method, and they're right - blood testing is invasive and requires serious probable cause; urine testing should be enough).

So naturally, Labour's Stuart Nash is opposing it:

Labour police spokesman Stuart Nash said the approach was "very heavy handed".

"It almost seems as if they don't trust the police to use good judgement.


Well no, we don't - not when they're killing people. That's simply not something we can take on trust - every time the police use lethal force against someone, they need to prove to the public that it was justified, otherwise we will take their toys away. We do this with drivers: drug and alcohol testing after car accidents is utterly routine, and rightly so. We damn well should do it when someone points a firearm at another human being. An MP who opposes this is basicly saying that the police should be allowed to kill with impunity, no questions asked. And if that's their view, I really don't want them anywhere near the levers of power.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017



Justice for Canada's stolen generations

Between 1965 and 1984, Canadian authorities stole thousands of First Nations children from their parents in an attempt to eradicate their culture. Today, the victims of that attempted genocide finally won the right to compensation:

After a bitter legal battle that has lasted nearly a decade, a Canadian judge has ruled that the government is liable for the harm inflicted on thousands of First Nations children who were forcibly removed from their families and adopted by non-indigenous families.

Between 1965 and 1984, around 16,000 indigenous children were fostered or put up for adoption in an episode which became known as the “Sixties Scoop”.

Ontario superior court justice Edward Belobaba’s ruling Tuesday found in favour of survivors of the operation and their families, who argued that the forced removal robbed the children of their cultural identity and caused emotional damage that has resonated for generations.

“There is … no dispute that great harm was done,” Belobaba wrote. “The ‘scooped’ children lost contact with their families. They lost their aboriginal language, culture and identity. Neither the children nor their foster or adoptive parents were given information about the children’s aboriginal heritage or about the various educational and other benefits that they were entitled to receive. The removed children vanished ‘scarcely without a trace’.”


The victims are aiming for C$1.3 billion in compensation. Hopefully they get it. But that's not enough. There's a name for "forcibly transferring the children of a group to another group in order to destroy it, in whole or in part": genocide. Canada is a party to the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, and the surviving architects and footsoldiers of this policy need to be prosecuted for it.

Climate change: Ignoring the elephant in the room

Minister for Climate Change Paula Bennett is celebrating polluters being on the way to paying their full costs:

Emitters are now on their way to paying the full cost of their carbon emissions in New Zealand, says Climate Change Minister Paula Bennett.

“As part of our ongoing work programme to reduce domestic emissions we have started the three-year phase out of the one-for-two emissions trading scheme subsidy,” says Mrs Bennett.

“This subsidy allowed some businesses to pay one emissions unit for every two tonnes of pollution they emit. Last year the Government announced we are phasing the measure out over three years to give businesses time to plan and adjust.”

Which is better than nothing, as far as National's weak climate change policy goes. But it ignores the elephant in the room: that not all polluters are covered. In particular, farmers, our largest source of climate pollution, are completely exempted. Which means that their pollution is effectively subsidised by the rest of us, to the tune of over $700 million a year (39.6 MT x a current carbon price of $18).

When polluting farmers start paying their way, then the Minister can start talking about polluters paying their full costs.

A ludicrous law

Stuff, covering the select committee hearings into the Outer Space and High-altitude Activities Bill, has finally called attention to the violence it does to our freedom of expression:

New Zealand is one step closer to entering the space race, but a proposed new law to regulate rocket launches could spell a leap backward for freedom of information, opponents say.

A clause in the Outer Space and High-altitude Activities Bill would makes it an offence to take a photo or make any record of a space craft that crashes. Government approval would be needed to take photos or record what happened.

Head of Journalism at Massey University James Hollings said: "It's a completely ludicrous clause because what it means is, if some company screws up and is careless and drops something on a city, we're not allowed to talk about it. It's just silly."


I called attention to this "feature" of the law back when the consultation draft of the bill was released last year, and its much worse than Hollings suggests. This odious clause doesn't just prevent taking photos of rocket debris, but of anything in a debris recovery area. So, if a rocket (or just a US satellite) happens to fall nearby, and your house is part of the "debris recovery area", then you can go to jail if you take photos of yourself. Or your cat. You could even go to jail for making a video call. Which is simply absurd.

(At this stage I think its worth pointing out that debris recovery areas are likely to be large. The debris field for the Columbia disaster was 240 miles long. So people are going to be in these areas, and their rights are going to be infringed).

Rocket Lab says this clause is required to protect their intellectual property rights. That's bullshit. As I pointed out last year, we don't assign this level of legal protection to the government: it is not a crime as such merely to photograph things inside the heart of the Waihopai spy base (it may be a crime if you do so with intent to harm "national security", but the mere act of taking a photo is not in itself criminal). And that's the way it should be. There may be harms which can come from photographing rocket debris after an accident - but they need a tighter law than this. And protecting the intellectual property interests of a foreign company (or the "national security" interests of a hostile foreign power) is an insufficient justification for this level of infringement.

National gives up on energy efficiency II

Back in December the government released its draft New Zealand Energy Efficiency and Conservation Strategy 2017 - 2022 for consultation. The draft was an ambitionless document practically devoid of targets (and hence accountability). So how did it end up that way?

Today I received the background policy advice on the development of the NZEECS. It shows that the strategy was weak from the start, with an aversion to specifics on which the government might be held accountable. The scary thing is that it got even weaker during its development. Most notably, the version circulated for stakeholder consultation last year included a climate change objective that:

Activities promoted through this strategy contribute to New Zealand meeting its international commitments to reduce emissions while supporting economic growth.

Despite support from stakeholders, this vanished from the final draft. There is no record of why, but the obvious reason is National's strong tendency towards climate change denial.

Its not just climate change which was removed. From Cabinet documents the early versions proposed a range of actions on passenger transport and separating out the polluting and inefficient road freight transport system out for special action. None of this happened. Instead we got a business-as-usual electric vehicle target, no action on general car fuel efficiency, and nothing specific for freight. I guess the Road Transport Forum and Mainfreight are getting value for money for their donations.

What's disappointing is that it could have been so much better. The release includes a report prepared by MBIE on National energy efficiency policies: a global context, which examines policies is places like Japan, California, Germany, Finland, Norway, Italy, Iceland and Quebec. Its basicly a shopping list of all the stuff we could be doing, but aren't: higher road-user charges for dirty trucks, solar subsidies to promote distributed renewable generation, fuel diversification, and feed-in tariffs for wind. Instead, we're committed to electric vehicles because the Minister has one (sorry, two) and a vague business-as-usual target for industrial heat with no specific policies to bring it about. Heckuva job, National! That'll really help us quickly decarbonise the energy system to prevent climate change!

Tuesday, February 14, 2017



Judith Collins is to blame for this rape

When Judith Collins introduced double-bunking into New Zealand prisons, she was warned that it would lead to more rapes. She didn't care. The news today reports that a prisoner has been raped due to double-bunking - a rape made possible by the policy Collins introduced. I don't think that it was a desired outcome of the policy, but it was a likely one, and Collins has showed depraved indifference to it. And that makes her criminally culpable. She should be in the dock too.

This is just wrong

New Zealand has a housing crisis. Thousands of people are on waiting lists for state houses, forced to sleep in cars or put up at horrific expense by WINZ while they wait. Meanwhile, National is letting state houses lie empty because it wants to sell them:

Despite the housing shortage, more than 250 state houses have been sitting empty for over a year as Bill English tries to sell them, says Leader of the Opposition Andrew Little.

Housing New Zealand documents obtained under the Official Information Act show that there are nearly 2,500 empty state houses, more than 500 of which have been empty for over a year. Of those long-term vacant state houses, 254 are empty pending sale. Others are in need of repairs or upgrades.

“In the middle of a housing shortage, why on Earth is Bill English leaving state houses empty why he tries to sell them? We should be building houses, not leaving the ones we do have vacant.


Houses empty pending repair is one thing. But empty pending sale? It's not just waste, its conscious neglect of HNZC's function. But clearly National isn't interested in making sure every kiwi has a roof over their heads - otherwise they'd be building state houses, not selling them.

Australia reported to the ICC over refugees

Australia runs concentration camps on remote Pacific islands where refugees are systematically brutalised and tortured (and sometimes murdered by neglect) in order to discourage others from claiming refugee status. And now they've been formally reported to the International Criminal Court over it:

Australia’s offshore immigration detention regime could constitute a crime against humanity, a petition before the International Criminal Court from a coalition of legal experts has alleged.

On Monday morning, GMT, a 108-page legal submission from the Global Legal Action Network (Glan) and the Stanford International Human Rights Clinic was submitted to the court, detailing what the network describes as the “harrowing practices of the Australian state and corporations towards asylum seekers”. The petition submits the office of the prosecutor of the ICC should open an investigation into possible “crimes against humanity committed by individuals and corporate actors”.

“As recent leaks reveal, these privatised facilities entail long-term detention in inhumane conditions, often including physical and sexual abuse of adults and children,” Glan said in a statement.

“The conditions and resulting hopelessness have caused what experts describe as ‘epidemic levels’ of self-harm among those held on these islands. Based on original research, the communication is the most comprehensive submission on crimes against humanity perpetrated outside of context of war.”


Its hard to see how the ICC can reject this - Australia is running concentration camps to explicitly torture people, FFS. If they get away with it, it will effectively be a death knell for international justice.

As for who might be subject to prosecution, the list is long: every Australian Prime Minister since John Howard, ever Immigration Minister over the same period, their departmental heads of immigration and border control who actually enacted the policies, and the CEOS and senior officials of the various private companies (Broadspectrum, Wilson Security and Ferrovial) who actually carried them out. I can't imagine Australia ever agreeing to turn over any of these people to The Hague. But none of them will be visiting New Zealand (or anywhere else civilised) ever again.

New Fisk

There's a reason why not a single Arab dictator has called out Donald Trump so far

Cowardice from the Greens

On Sunday Labour selected former Police Association president Greg O'Connor as their candidate for Ohariu. Today the Greens have announced that they will not contest the seat to give him a clear run at unseating Peter Dunne:

The Green Party has decided not to run a candidate in Ohariu to give Labour a better chance at unseating United Future leader Peter Dunne.

That is despite the Green Party previously expressing concerns about the Labour candidate Greg O'Connor's position on several issues.

Green co-leader James Shaw said his party's national executive decided against running a candidate in Ohariu "because it increases our chances of changing the Government".

Dunne won the seat by just 710 votes in 2014, while the Green Party candidate Tane Woodley received 2764 votes.


News hub's Patrick Gower is doing his usual frothing about "dirty deals", showing that he doesn't understand MMP. But its not the idea of a deal that offends me but rather this particular one. O'Connor is a jackbooted fascist who is one of the biggest dangers to New Zealand's civil liberties. Obviously, the Greens can't control who Labour selects as candidates. But they can control whether they approve of them. And faced with a candidate like O'Connor, their response should be to say "not on my watch". This is a man who should not be in Parliament, and the Greens should do their bit to keeping him out. Instead, they've rolled over in the name of good relations with Labour under the spurious guise of "changing the government". So instead of having a National constrained by Dunne, they'd rather have a Labour with Greg O'Connor as police Minister and able to arm the police at will.

Yeah, fuck that shit.

If you're a Green voter in Ohariu, it looks very much as if Dunne is the lesser evil. At least he doesn't support the "right" of police to beat or even shoot you with utter impunity. At least he's not a rape apologist (in fact, on civil liberties, including intelligence oversight, Dunne is pretty good. Certainly better than the average National MP). If I still lived in Ohariu, he'd be getting my electorate vote. Because civil liberties are more important than whether Andrew Little gets a bigger salary.

Monday, February 13, 2017



Britain to criminalise journalism

The British government is reviewing the Official Secrets Act. Naturally, they're using this to criminalise journalism:

Campaigners have expressed outrage at new proposals that could lead to journalists being jailed for up to 14 years for obtaining leaked official documents.

The major overhaul of the Official Secrets Act – to be replaced by an updated Espionage Act – would give courts the power to increase jail terms against journalists receiving official material.

The new law, should it get approval, would see documents containing “sensitive information” about the economy fall foul of national security laws for the first time.

In theory a journalist leaked Brexit documents deemed harmful to the UK economy could be jailed as a consequence.

One legal expert said the new changes would see the maximum jail sentence increase from two years to 14 years; make it an offence to “obtain or gather” rather than simply share official secrets; and to extend the scope of the law to cover information that damages “economic well-being”.


These are the sorts of laws you expect in a C19th despotism, or Putin's Russia - not in a supposedly modern democracy. But the UK has been moving away from democracy for a long time, to the extent that they're now basicly a tyranny. Putinesque secrecy laws criminalising journalists, whistleblowers and those who expose government deceit simply makes that overt.

Another river destroyed

Intensive dairy farming is sucking the Canterbury plains dry. The cost of that? Coes Ford:

A dying Canterbury swimming hole has almost dried up after its flow plummeted to the lowest point in its recorded history.

Coes Ford on the Selwyn River, a once popular camping spot now too polluted for swimming, has hit rock bottom.

The river's flow has dropped by 90 per cent in two months, falling to 9 litres per second on February 6, according to Environment Canterbury (ECan) data.

ECan confirmed it was the lowest flow recorded at the site since records began in 1987.


Canterbury is in a drought at the moment, but it has also had vast quantities of ground water (which the lower Selwyn relies on) sucked out by greedy farmers. Coes Ford shows the cost of that. As for what to do about it, its the Regional Council's job to protect the rivers. But last time they tried, National dissolved them and replaced them with unelected dictators. Now they have a sham democracy with an inbuilt government-appointed farmer majority explicitly designed to prevent any action. And again, the only way of changing that is to change the government...

60,000 houses

That's the size of National's housing market failure:

New Zealand is up to 60,000 houses short, with Auckland needing as many as 35,000 homes, estimates in a Treasury document suggest.

The figures are part of housing supply and demand forecast produced in September of 2016 and released in January as part of an Official Information Act request.

Using their own metrics, Treasury estimate that the "cumulative shortfall" houses in Auckland was at between 30,000 and 35,000 in June of 2016.

That figure is estimated to get slightly worse in 2018, as the population continues to increase, before improving.


According to free market ideology, the market always provides just the right amount of goods. Clearly in the cases of homes it doesn't. Land-hoarding by developers, capital constraints - whatever the cause, the market has failed.

There is an obvious solution to this market failure: a massive, government-run home-building program like we had in the 1930's. But National won't do it, because they are ideologically opposed to government doing anything (except for handing out free money to foreign billionaires). Which means that people will keep on sleeping in cars and garages because there just aren't enough houses to go round.

As with climate change, water quality and child poverty, if we want any chance of fixing this we need to change the government. Fortunately we'll have a chance to do that in September.

Friday, February 10, 2017



Whitewashing Australian torture

Last year, horrific footage emerged of the systematic brutalisation and torture of children in Australia's youth detention centres. As a result, Australia has been forced to act by ratifying the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture (OPCAT), which provides for regular independent inspection of places of detention. But in a nasty surprise, it won't be applied to Australia's offshore concentration camps:

Australia has promised to ratify an international treaty that will bring all its detention sites – including juvenile justice centres such as Don Dale and its onshore immigration detention centres – under independent scrutiny to stop abuses.

However, Australia’s offshore detention islands of Manus and Nauru – blighted by systemic human rights abuses – will be outside the remit of Australia’s independent oversight body because they are not on Australian territory.


Which is convenient, because those concentration camps constitute torture under international law. It's as if Assad invited the UN to inspect his prisons, but not his torture chambers. While it'll obviously help, refusing to allow oversight of the biggest abuses allows them to continue, and creates the perception that the UN is being used to whitewash Australian crimes against humanity.

New Fisk

Despite appearances, Israel is in for a rough ride under Donald Trump

Outright corruption in the US

How corrupt is the US? So corrupt you can apparently buy yourself a cabinet position:

Donald Trump's new Education Secretary reportedly donated nearly $900,000 over the years to the Senators who confirmed her into the job.

Betsy DeVos was a controversial choice for the role and was criticised for her performance before the Senate confirmation committee.

She has previously spoken of her desire to “advance God's kingdom” though the education system. She also candidly admitted that she “expects something in return” for her money when it came to political donations.


In civilised democracies this simply wouldn't be acceptable. Making a decision on someone who has given you large donations in the past is clearly a conflict of interest and should cause recusal. But in the US, its apparently not a problem - which leads to the perception that DeVos has outright bought her cabinet spot.

The US really needs to clean out its political sewer. And the first step is eliminating money from politics.

Thursday, February 09, 2017



About fucking time

After dithering for years pretending it was all too hard, the government is finally going to get around to following the lead of the UK and pardoning victims of past discrimination against homosexuals:

Historic convictions for sex between men in New Zealand will be quashed, Justice Minister Amy Adams has announced this afternoon.

In a significant victory for campaigners, the move will allow nearly 200 people convicted before homosexual law reform in 1986 to have their convictions erased.

It will not be an automatic or blanket pardon. Instead, the Government will consider pardons on a case-by-case basis.


Good. Its not enough, of course - this legislated bigotry destroyed lives and literally killed people. But this is a small start towards making amends.

Sweeping failure under the carpet

From 2001 to 2010 the Ministry of Social Development published an annual Social Report, a collection of time-series data on various social indicators. But in 2010, national decided that it contained too much bad news about the effects of their policies, so they shitcanned it. Supposedly, it was moving to triennial publication, but the 2013 report never appeared. But now I've learned that they quietly published a 2016 Social Report in June last year. I've checked the Beehive website, and unlike past reports there's no accompanying PR. It's almost as if the Minister didn't want people to notice it or something...

And no wonder. Because the report shows things are going badly. Inequality is rising, as is poverty. Suicide rates among young people and Maori have increased significantly, as has psychological distress. These are national's problems, they own them. But rather than admitting that, they seem to be trying to sweep them under the carpet.

(See also: Gerry Brownlee in parliament yesterday objecting to a question about child poverty. They do not want to talk about these issues).

I'm glad to see the Social Report back. But its return highlights how necessary it is. It should be published annually, not every three years under cover of darkness. And if the Minister won't do that, then Parliament should legislate to force them to.

UK Ministers knowingly ignored the law on arms sales to Saudi Arabia

UK law prohibits arms sales where there is a clear risk that the weapons will be used to commit war crimes. Despite this, the UK exports weapons to Saudi Arabia, where they are used to murder Yemani civilians. Those exports are currently being challenged in court, and it turns out that Ministers ignored clear warnings that they were illegal:

Sajid Javid refused to halt weapons exports to Saudi Arabia last year despite being warned by a senior civil servant that the sales should be suspended over human rights concerns.

The then business secretary was told a year ago about concerns that weapons could be used to kill civilians in Yemen, according to ministerial correspondence that emerged on the first day of a judicial review into UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

Edward Bell, head of the Export Control Organisation, wrote in an email about the decision: “To be honest, and I was very direct and honest with the secretary of state, my gut tells me we should suspend [weapons exports to the country].”

[...]

Javid, however, upheld the weapons licences even though he acknowledged to cabinet colleagues there was “uncertainty and gaps in the knowledge available” of how they would be used, a London court heard.


The government's defence? That it's a "political" decision in which the courts should not interfere. Except that parliament has passed a law saying that its not and that they must. But in the corrupt UK apparently the law means nothing - what's important is showing support for traditional allies, no matter how evil they are, and protecting "British jobs" (by which they mean business profits) in the immoral weapons industry.

I'm not sure what the penalty is for knowingly allowing illegal arms exports, but I'd hope that those responsible face jail. Instead, this being the UK, they'll probably get knighthoods or something.

Why is basic equality so hard for Labour?

Vernon Small has a piece in Stuff this morning about Labour's efforts to get a more representative caucus, and how they're finding it "too hard":

It may come as a surprise to some that Labour is still committed to its aim of achieving a a gender-balanced caucus after the next election.

Because in light of recent events – not least leader Andrew Little's shoulder-tapping of Willie Jackson, the recruitment of former police union boss Greg O'Connor and Paul Eagle's unopposed selection in Rongotai – you might be forgiven for thinking it is being honoured and breached at the same time.

In fact, it is also being not-so-subtly redefined. The aim when the policy was announced in 2013 was to target balance at certain key polling points, since anything more nuanced would be impossible without knowing a vast number of variables in advance –who won what seats, for instance.

But there is an acknowledgment now that it simply cannot be achieved at 25 per cent (without sacking a whole lot of male MPs), is near impossible at 30 per cent and could be in view at 35 per cent, though by no means assured even then.


Why is Labour finding this so hard? The Greens don't - they simply alternate genders along their list, woman, man, woman, man. They're imbalanced if they get an odd number of MP's, or if there's a mid-term replacement, but its a clear commitment. Electorate seats complicate this somewhat, but an equal list would be a great first step - and its not as if Labour has a problem selecting great woman candidates for winnable seats.

The problem comes down to the issue Small highlights: the reluctance to "sack" (or rather, give lower list priority to) those underperforming, stale male MPs. People like Trevor Mallard and Clayton Cosgrove, who are simply being a parliamentary waste of space. These are not people who are earning high list placements - hell, last election they campaigned on winning their electorates rather than the all-important party vote, effectively shafting their party (and now Mallard can't even be bothered doing that). So why are they being rewarded? Labour is not short of talented women, and they shouldn't be excluded just for fear of offending dead white incumbent males.

Wednesday, February 08, 2017



National lies on housing

Last year, Bill English promised to build 30,000 new houses in Auckland to ease the city's housing crisis. But the reality turns out to be a little different:

Housing NZ has revealed it will only add an extra 722 state houses in Auckland over the next three years, leading Labour to accuse the Government of "smoke and mirrors" over its promises to address the housing crisis.

[...]

Speaking to Parliament's social services committee on Wednesday, Housing NZ chief executive Andrew McKenzie said the Crown agency intended to build 4900 new homes in Auckland over the next three years.

However, when the demolition of existing state houses was taken into account, McKenzie said there would only be a net increase of 722 houses - just over 240 each year.


Which is better than nothing, but not even a drop in the bucket compared to the thousands of people on Housing NZ waitlists in Auckland, let alone the thousands more who can't even get onto a waitlist because it would make the stats look bad.

It is clear that National is not committed to solving the housing crisis. They don't believe in state action, so they're fundamentally incapable of doing what is necessary to resolve this massive market failure. If we want housing fixed, we need a new government.

Open Government: Assessing participation and co-creation

The Open Government Partnership has released new standards for participation and co-creation. So how does New Zealand measure up? Badly. Here's a quick look through the basic requirements for "throughout the OGP cycle":

  • National OGP website: Pass. There is one, at http://www.ogp.org.nz/.
  • Lead agency clearly identified: Fail. There's a buried note that the Minister of State Services is the responsible Minister, but nothing about agencies. Contact details are hidden behind a form and there is no hint at where they go.
  • Documents published in all administrative languages: Mixed. OGP documents are published only in English, which is normal for the NZ government. But Maori is an official language of New Zealand, and publication in Maori seems to be what is required.
  • Document repository of OGP documents: Fail. The official site contains nothing beyond the current Action Plan. There is some older material at the SSC's site, but it is far from complete. Old consultation documents and IRM reports are notable by their absence.
  • Information communication to stakeholders in advance: Fail. The NZ government has extremely poor consultation practices, despite a "commitment" in the previous Action Plan to improve them.
  • Multi-stakeholder forum: Mixed. There is such a forum - the Expert Advisory Panel - but it does not meet regularly (and indeed, apparently has not met since the Action Plan was developed in the middle of last year).
  • Multi-stakeholder forum accepts inputs from civil society: Unknown, as it no longer appears to meet. Base don passed practice it is unlikely though.
  • Remote participation in multi-stakeholder forum: Unknown, as there is no information on whether it even accepts outside input.
  • Direct communication with stakeholders on NAP process questions? Fail. Based on past Action Plan processes, SSC is not interested in hearing from us.
  • Outreach and awareness raising? Fail. Other than a passive website, the government does nothing to promote knowledge of the OGP or encourage participation except during Action Plan development.
  • Multi-stakeholder forum is independent of government: Fail. The EAP is controlled by SSC, meets at its demand, and considers its agenda. It does not set its own agenda, choose its own membership, or meet independently of SSC.
  • Multi-stakeholder forum includes even balance of government and non-government representatives: Technical fail. In fact, the membership is entirely non-government.
  • Non-government members are selected via a fair and transparent process: Fail. They're selected in secret by SSC.
  • Multi-stakeholder forum proactively communicates with public: Fail. Apart from the lack of meetings, they do not issue statements, and minutes are controlled by SSC.
  • Multi-stakeholder forum includes Minister: Fail.

This certainly doesn't look very good. And while its a new standard, its base don best practice, things our government should have been doing anyway. The government is going to have to significantly improve if it wants to avoid further criticism from the OGP Independent Reporting Mechanism on this issue.

Scotland rejects Brexit

The Scottish Parliament has formally voted to reject Brexit:

The Scottish Parliament has formally rejected Theresa May’s plans to begin the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, with politicians from every party except the Conservatives uniting to vote against the triggering of Article 50.
A clear majority of MSPs supported the Scottish Government’s motion that the Prime Minister’s Bill giving the green light to the EU withdrawal process “should not proceed”, passing it by 90 votes to 34.

More than 62 per cent of Scots voted to remain part of the EU at last June’s referendum and only one of the nation’s 59 MPs, the Scottish Secretary David Mundell, supported the Bill at Westminster.


Its symbolic only: the courts have said Scotland's consent is not required, and for some reason the SNP decided not to do this as a formal Legislative Consent Motion. But it lays the groundwork for another independence referendum should England decide to force Scotland out of the EU.

Tuesday, February 07, 2017



Labour doesn't need more bigots

What is up with Labour? First there was their backing of former Police Association spokesperson and jackbooted fascist Greg O'Connor, and now over the weekend Andrew Little has lent his support and promised a high list placing to serial rape apologist and homophobic bigot Willie Jackson. Little says he was "aware of the risk" of backing someone so at odds with Labour's values, but I'm not sure that he is. There's the obvious damage to Labour's brand of course, and to its support among women (who may be less willing to vote for a party which openly promotes this sort of scumbag). But Young Labour is also angry. And they're the people who actually do the work on Labour's election campaign and make intense ground campaigns like Mount Roskill and Mount Albert possible.

To point out the obvious, if Labour insists on making Jackson a candidate, all those Young Labour volunteers could simply withdraw their labour, or apply it elsewhere to candidates and parties more in line with their values. And IMHO they should do so if the party isn't interested in what they think.

As for Little, if the Jackson decision is an example of his leadership, then Labour needs a new leader. It is that simple. Someone with such poor judgement is not suitable to be a party leader, let alone Prime Minister.

We need more young MP's

One of the benefits of MMP is that it has given us a Parliament which looks far more like New Zealand. Not nearly enough - it still under-represents women and ethnic groups other than Pakeha and Maori - but our House is a far more diverse place than it was in the Bad Old Days of FPP where you could count the number of MPs who weren't dead white males on the fingers of one hand.

One of the areas we still do very badly in is representing younger people. The problem is apparent from this graph, stolen from Bryce Edward's article on the demographics of the 51st Parliament:
51stparliament-age

As you can see, we over-represent the middle-aged, while there are very few people representing the under-30's.

This is a problem. It undermines our democracy, and it has significant effects on policy. You can't help but feel that if decisions on the environment and child poverty were being made by people who will actually have to live with the consequences, they would end up in a very different place.

All of which is background to this morning's comment by (middle-aged) political commentator Bryce Edwards opposing the Greens selecting younger candidates that "I just don't think we want a parliament full of 20 and 30 year olds". Obviously, we don't want a Parliament full of one demographic to the exclusion of all others - that would be unrepresentative. Equally obviously, we don't have that, and the Greens selecting younger candidates won't result in that outcome (it might increase 20-30 representation from the current ~2% to maybe 4% if they're wildly successful). But most importantly: we clearly need more young MPs, and the Greens are on the right path from a representational point of view. As for Edwards, his comments just come across simply as Trotteresque privileged whining, identical to those who whine about "too many" women on party lists (hint: anything less than 50% is not "too many").

We need more young MP's, so our Parliament looks like New Zealand and the interests of the young are properly represented. And clearly, we need more young political commentators as well, so that we're not constantly swamped with the opinions of privileged old white dudes.

"Better economic management"

So, it turns out that not only did National give billionaire vampire capitalist Peter Thiel NZ citizenship because he was rich - they also gave him tens of millions of dollars of public money because they couldn't write a contract properly:

A scheme funded by New Zealand taxpayers netted billionaire Peter Thiel tens of millions of dollars while his publicly funded investment partner barely broke even.

The partnering of Thiel's Valar Ventures and the Government-owned New Zealand Venture Investment Fund (NZVIF) was launched by minister Steven Joyce in March 2012, nine months after Thiel took his oath of citizenship at the New Zealand consulate in Santa Monica.

Joyce said at the time the venture was "part of the Government's comprehensive business growth agenda", but a Herald investigation has discovered the arrangement was quietly ended in October when Thiel activated a generous buyback option allowing him and his private partners to claim all profits from the venture by cheaply buying out his public co-investor.


Basicly, NZVIF's investment contract was written to privatise gains while socialising losses, and Thiel took us to the cleaners using it. Its been changed now, but it should never have happened in the first place. But that's what happens when your policy is focused on producing positive headlines like "billionaire invests in NZ!" rather than on protecting the public interest.

National purports to be better economic managers. Instead, they focus on enriching the rich and looting the state for the benefit of their donors and cronies. Isn't it time we had a government which cared about us, rather than National's tiny clique of friends?

Farmers are stealing our rivers

Agricultural intensification has led to an environmental crisis in New Zealand, with irrigation and farm waste effectively privatising our rivers into sewers for greedy farmers. But its not just our water the farmers are stealing - in Canterbury, they're stealing our land as well:

The fringes of some Canterbury rivers have been absorbed into expanding farms, resulting in the loss of thousands of hectares of public land to private development.

The issue – known as "agricultural encroachment" – has happened incrementally over several decades, and is adding to the many pressures facing the region's internationally significant braided rivers and the rare ecosystems they host.

Environment Canterbury (ECan) research found that nearly 12,000 hectares of Canterbury's river margins had been taken over by intensive farming between 1990 and 2012.

About 60 per cent of that land was developed through private land sales, but nearly one-quarter was public reserve land effectively privatised and developed.

Authorities in charge of public land all acknowledged that land had been taken and developed without permission.

None of them were able to quantify how much, and in some cases, the encroacher was allowed to keep the land after meeting certain conditions.


These land thefts have prevented public recreational use of rivers, destroyed local ecosystems and threatened rare indigenous species. And by permitting the thieves to normalise their tenure, government agencies have been rewarding and encouraging this theft.

This isn't acceptable. This is public land and it should stay public. Farmers who try and steal it should not be rewarded. Instead, they should be prosecuted and jailed, just as you or I would be if we stole part of someone's backyard.

Friday, February 03, 2017



National's "growth"

When he announced the election date earlier in the week, Prime Minister Bill English said that the election would be about "growth". but in Palmerston North, the only "growth" we're seeing is a massive growth in foodbank demand:

Palmerston North free food store Just Zilch is dealing with unprecedented demand as almost 300 people stop in daily.

Since reopening in January after the Christmas - New Year break, the store's founder Rebecca Culver said they'd noticed an increase in people from all walks of life through the doors.

"The average has crept up to just over 200 a day. Some days we're dealing with 260 - 270 people. On Monday there were 264. It's crazy - numbers that we've never experienced before," Culver said.


This is what National's "growth" means in practice: people too poor to eat queuing hours for free food. But I guess they just don't see that in Karori.

NZDF should not be allowed to recruit children

There was a disturbing article in the Independent a few weeks ago about the UK's recruitment of child soldiers. The UK is one of the few countries which allows people under 18 to join the armed forces, and the British Army specifically targets schools for recruits. Under-18's make up a quarter of their total recruits, and as they lack formal qualifications, end up being assigned to the infantry. Where they end up as cannon-fodder in America's imperial wars:

Sharrocks joined the Army in 2006, aged 17. He left in 2013 and has since suffered mental health problems. The UK is the only country in Europe – and one of only a handful in the world – that recruits under-18s into its Armed Forces. Groups campaigning against the practice argue that the youngest recruits are most susceptible to developing mental health problems such as PTSD – and dying in action.

[...]

From 2015 to 2016, the Army enlisted 8,020 soldiers of whom 1,790 were aged under 18, according to CSI. Even though the latter will not see battle until they come of age, the organisation’s study of Afghanistan suggests they will remain twice as likely to be killed once they do.


Like Britain, New Zealand also allows the recruitment of minors (though like Britain, they are forbidden from serving on active service). According to an OIA I lodged last week, roughly an eighth of New Zealand army recruits are children. Unlike the UK, we don't fight for America, so the effects aren't nearly as bad. Still, its disturbing - especially when New Zealand was one of the lead campaigners for the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict. We're consistent with its wording - no children in combat - but not its spirit, in that we still train children to be killers.

This isn't something we should do. Instead, we should follow civilised countries and prohibit minors from enlisting. It would be an easy amendment - simply replace section 36 of the Defence Act with a statement that "a person under 18 years of age shall not be eligible to enlist or be accepted for service in the Armed Forces". The question is whether MP's want to behave like a civilised country or not.

New Fisk

What the history of Greece can tell us about the fight against Isis

But why would we want that?

Radio New Zealand warns that a post-TPPA trade deal with the USA would lead to higher pharamceutical prices, as the US enforces the "right" of Big Pharma to price gouge:

New Zealand may have to swallow higher drug prices if it wants a trade deal with the United States.

US President Donald Trump had already set out one bottom line for a bilateral trade deal with prospective suitors: a 30-day break clause in agreements, which New Zealand Prime Minister Bill English called unattractive.

This week Mr Trump told American pharmaceutical executives that other countries had not paid their fair share, and US trade policy would change to ensure that happens.

"We're going to be ending global freeloading. Foreign price controls reduce the resources of American drug companies to finance drug and R&D innovation. I think you people know very well, it's very unfair to this country," Mr Trump said.

"Our trade policy will prioritize that foreign countries pay their fair share for US-manufactured drugs."


But why would we sign up for that? The TPPA was so loaded with American bullshit (longer copyright terms, regulatory subsidies to Big Pharma, and of course the investor-state disputes clause) that there was basicly nothing in it for New Zealand. It was a deal not worth doing. This would be even worse. So why would we even open negotiations, let alone agree to such a deal?

Thursday, February 02, 2017



This smells II

Yesterday the Department of Internal Affairs finally released the documentation on vampire capitalist Peter Thiel's citizenship. And lo and behold, it turns out that the "exceptional circumstances" relied upon by the Minister in approving Thiel's citizenship despite his never having lived in New Zealand was that he was rich:

"Given the investment Mr Thiel has made in New Zealand companies and the support and contacts he is able to provide, the Department is of the view that granting Mr Thiel's citizenship would be in the public interest due to his exceptional circumstances," the report concluded.

And there you have it: under National, if you wave enough money around, they'll give you citizenship. They sell it to the highest bidder, just like Tonga.

As for what to do about it, increased transparency seems to be in order, both around "exceptional" grants of citizenship, and (to ease our minds) political donations. Because currently we have no way of knowing who National has been selling to - or what they have been given in return. If we want to be non-corrupt, lets be non-corrupt - and scrutinise our government and politicians properly so that we can be seen to be clean.

Wednesday, February 01, 2017



National pisses on another Treaty settlement

In 2014, Parliament passed the Ngāti Kōata, Ngāti Rārua, Ngāti Tama ki Te Tau Ihu, and Te Ātiawa o Te Waka-a-Māui Claims Settlement Act 2014, which settled the outstanding Treaty claims of those iwi. During the settlement negotiations, the iwi had quite rightly demanded their share of aquaculture space in the Marlborough Sounds (itself guaranteed by the 2004 commercial aquaculture claims settlement), only to be told that there was no free space to give. But now, the government seems to be unravelling both those settlements with a proposal to move a group of salmon farms to new sites:

The chairman of an iwi fisheries forum has lashed out against a plan to relocate up to six salmon farms in the Marlborough Sounds, accusing the Government of dealing in bad faith.

The Ministry for Primary Industries wants to relocate five New Zealand King Salmon farms in Pelorus Sound and one salmon farm in Tory Channel, and claims the changes would bring economic and environmental benefits.

Te Tau Ihu customary fisheries forum chairman Richard Bradley said the plan was "not honourable".


And he's right. The government's position, pretending that these spaces aren't new, effectively says that space is available for aquaculture by Pakeha but not for Maori. And that's not just dishonourable - its deeply racist.

It also continues National's disturbing trend of ignoring the settlements it has worked so hard to complete, which in turn threatens the entire settlement process. After all, if the government doesn't regard settlements as binding, why should Maori? Again, if the government wants Treaty settlements to stick, it needs to obey them.

Pardoned

For several years now the UK has had a process allowing those convicted of consensual homosexual acts under outdated, bigoted laws to have their convictions expunged. Today, they went a step further and issued a blanket pardon to the deceased victims of past bigotry:

Thousands of men convicted of offences that once criminalised homosexuality but are no longer on the statute book have been posthumously pardoned under a new law.

A clause in the policing and crime bill, which received royal assent on Tuesday, extends to those who are dead the existing process of purging past criminal records.

[...]

Welcoming the legislation, the justice minister Sam Gyimah said: “This is a truly momentous day. We can never undo the hurt caused, but we have apologised and taken action to right these wrongs. I am immensely proud that ‘Turing’s law’ has become a reality under this government.”


Meanwhile in "progressive" New Zealand we're still dragging our feet on this, with the Justice Minister only just having got around to getting her officials to look at it. And while it will go to Cabinet, National's inner circle is stuffed with unrepentent bigots: seven of their top ten, including the prime Minister, voted against marriage equality. So its chances probably aren't great.

We can, and should do better. This is something we should be leading the world on. Instead National has made us a slow and reluctant follower.

34,000 unemployed under National

The Labour Market Statistics were released today, showing that unemployment has risen again to 5.2%. There are now 139,000 unemployed - 34,000 more than when National took office.

This is where National has left us after 9 years of government. Persistent high unemployment, stagnant wages, and widespread poverty. The difference from the Cullen years, when unemployment was kept low by manipulating fiscal policy, while wages were pushed upwards by the labour shortage and large and regular increase to the minimum wage, couldn't be any clearer. And the reason for that is obvious: National cares for people at the top, not people at the bottom. They're interested in tax cuts, service cuts, and destroying the environment for private profit, not making sure that ordinary kiwis can enjoy a decent life. The sooner we're rid of them, the better.