Thursday, June 21, 2018

The EU needs to stand up against its racists

The European Union is founded on values of "respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities". Those values are under threat from several of its members. In Spain, the government has unleashed state violence against those who peacefully advocate secession. In Italy, the government wants to deport Roma, an ethnic minority who were targeted for extermination by the Nazis. And in Hungary, the racist government has just made it illegal for lawyers and NGOs to help refugees claim asylum.

These actions clearly contravene the EU's fundamental values. They may also explicitly contravene European law and the European Convention on Human Rights, and look likely to result in court cases. But more than that, they require political action from other EU nations to enforce the Eu's values. These are not things civilised, democratic countries which respect human rights should be doing. And insofar as a government by its actions consistently fails to meet that standard, the EU should be looking at suspending or even revoking membership. If Hungary and Italy want to go back to being 30's racist shitholes, then they can do it without belonging to the EU.

A childish tantrum

That's the only way to describe events in Parliament last night. Faced with the opposition filibustering two time-sensitive bills, the government moved urgency, then attempted to amend the instruction to the committee to prevent any debate on what was being voted on. The urgency isn't problematic - the bills are time-sensitive, and need to be passed this week if they are to come into force on time on July 1. They could have been completed under urgency with the budget, but the government unusually didn't take that opportunity at the time (something which I was happy to see, but it did set them up for this problem later). But the motion to forbid debate was an affront to our democracy. While it was withdrawn this morning - saner heads having prevailed - the fact that it was moved at all is obscene.

Oppositions exist to oppose. This will be inconvenient to the government, and that's the point. The way governments respond under this pressure illustrates their character. And Labour has exposed itself as authoritarian and intolerant of dissent (who'd have thunk it) - not values I want to see in a government. Chris Hipkins' childish tantrum actively undermined our democracy and the stature of our Parliament. And someone who does that is not fit to be Leader of the House.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

NZ must speak out for its values

At the moment, the USA is separating children from their parents and putting them in concentration camps. This is utterly abhorrent to most New Zealanders. So what is our government saying about it? Nothing:

Winston Peters is coming under pressure from the Government's support partner, the Green Party, to speak out about the United States' separating children at its southern border from their non-documented migrant parents.

The Greens want Peters, the Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, to protest to US ambassador Scott Brown about the treatment of children.

Labour deputy leader Kelvin Davis and National leader Simon Bridges yesterday joined an international chorus of opposition to the current practice, saying it was cruel and inhumane.

The closest Peters got to criticism was saying New Zealand would not do what the US did but said he wanted focus on what was happening in New Zealand, while he deputises for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on maternity leave, not other countries.

This silence isn't acceptable. Kiwis expect our government to represent our values, and criticise the powerful where necessary. The fact that even National, who are normally craven little US vassals, recognises this shows how utterly unacceptable America's conduct is. The government needs to speak out about it. Alternatively, we can get a government who will at the next election.

Sanity in Canada

Canada has taken a major step towards ending America's insane "war on drugs", by legalising recreational cannabis use:

Recreational cannabis use in Canada is to become legal after the Senate approved the legislation.

The measure is expected to come into effect in two or three months, with the exact official date to be set by the government. Prime minister Justin Trudeau has previously emphasised that the Cannabis Act will be implemented without delay.

The landmark agreement, making Canada the first G20 country to legalise recreational use, came to pass after the Senate voted 52 to 29 to approve the legislation.

It means adults will soon be allowed to carry up to 30g of dried cannabis (or its equivalent) in a “public space”, which includes personal vehicles. Those caught with more than 30g could face up to five years in prison. It will remain illegal for one adult to sell cannabis to another, unless they are a licensed retailer.

Exactly what that means will vary from province to province, but one thing which is guaranteed is far fewer arrests, far less police time wasted on how people choose to entertain themselves, and far fewer lives ruined.

Meanwhile in New Zealand, the government has promised to give us a vote, but not to be bound by the result. Which shows us how deceitful and dishonest they are on this issue, and how committed they are to perpetuating the persecution of recreational drug users.

One way of fixing it

The USA - which is currently kidnapping the children of refugees and sticking them in concentration camps - has consistently complained that the UN Human Rights Council is not fit for purpose. For a start, it criticises Israeli human rights abuses - something a human rights organisation should apparently never do. But the US is also annoyed that countries which persistently abuse human rights are regularly elected to the council. So they're quitting it.

I guess they're finally admitting they're a human rights abuser, and being the change they want to see in the world.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Cosy corruption

Since Thompson and Clark have been in the news over their undemocratic and bullying behaviour around Southern Response, people have been looking hard at what parts of government they've been doing business with and what exactly they're doing. And the picture exposed is... not good. First, there was their dubious manipulation of DoC to cover up public domain information. But they've now been exposed as having dubious dealings with MPI and the SIS which have resulted in the State Services Commissions' inquiry into them being broadened to cover the entire state service.

The dubious behaviour was apparently revealed by OIA requests to those agencies. I haven't seen the MPI one, though they have a press release here about it. But the SIS one is on FYI, and it is... disturbing. The SIS's Protective Security Engagement Manger, responsible for making sure government agencies handle information securely, had a very chummy relationship with someone from Thompson and Clark, and steered business their way. They provided them with information to help bids, got them into classified meetings, arranged for them to do a bug sweep for someone who had contacted SIS for assistance. The head of the SIS notes in response to this:

In light of this correspondence, I have asked for several matters to be looked into. The emails raise questions in relation to conduct and possible bias in favour of Thompson and Clark. These questions are the subject of an internal investigation. I have also asked for our internal processes, policies and guidance to be reviewed to ensure that our (necessary and important) engagement with private sector providers is professional, appropriate and even-handed.
And, as noted, the SSC is now investigating as well. as they should - because this is basicly a case of cosy corruption, mates helping mates, and at the heart of an agency (the SIS) we trust to be above such things.

This relationship is far too cosy. The best thing the government can do is amputate it.

Time for the government to pay up

Yesterday, the New Zealand Nurses Organisation voted to take strike action. While they'd been offered a half billion dollar pay package by DHBs, this was mostly focused on divide and rule and raising salaries for those already at the top of the pay scale, with only crumbs for the overworked and underpaid masses at the bottom. And clearly, their membership felt that this was unacceptable, that after nine long years of austerity under National, they deserved more.

And they're right. They do deserve more. And the government has to pay up. Pleading poverty won't help - everyone knows that their "poverty" is entirely self-inflicted, a voluntary adherence to National's budget targets in a vain effort to please the business community (who will never be pleased, so there's no point). But people elected this government to fix the social infrastructure National had eroded, to make sure we had schools and hospitals which actually work. The bill for that is now due. Either they can pay up and promise more money, or they can see those hospitals stop working and pay the political price for that.

Let's do this

Westpac has been modelling the effects of the government's proposed capital gains tax, and concluded that it would be effective in lowering house prices:

House prices would fall, rents would rise but home ownership would improve if a capital gains or some other type of property tax was brought in according to a new study.

Westpac Bank has looked at six possible changes to the tax system, ranging from a capital gains, property or land taxes through to a new way of taxing rental income.

A 10 percent capital gains tax, a 1 percent land tax or 0.5 percent property tax would result in house prices falling 10 or 11 percent.

A deemed rate of return, which would tax landlords on an assumed rate of return, say 5 percent on their properties, could see prices fall by 20 percent.

In all cases, the tax changes would boost home ownership rates as investing became less attractive, but would also cause rents to rise.

Rents would rise because landleeches would have to actually make a (taxed) profit from their houses, rather than using rent as a loss-leader for untaxed capital gains. OTOH, the drop in house prices will make it far easier for people to own their own home, as well as removing some of the unearned, paper wealth of those who have benefited from the bubble, so it'll reduce inequality as well. The task for the government will be to ensure that there's a good supply of new houses, so that people can buy, rather than being trapped paying rent to some greedy Boomer forever.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Not achieved

Back in 2010, the then-National government sacked the elected Canterbury Regional Council and replaced it with a group of unelected dictators. One of the key tasks of National's dictators was to implement the Canterbury Water Management Strategy, a collaboratively developed plan to improve Canterbury's water. But it turns out that the strategy has been a failure:

A report looking into the 10th anniversary of the Canterbury Water Management Strategy (CWMS) suggests it has failed numerous goals to protect the health of rivers and the environment.

But an Environment Canterbury councillor is pouring cold water on the concern, saying it was not an official report.

The report, presented to CWMS's regional committee, gives marks out of 10 against the strategy's initial goals, and how it was meeting them.

Some goals, such as maintaining rural community viability, and "ensuring high levels of audited self-management", received good marks. However, protecting "ecosystems, habitats and landscapes and indigenous biodiversity received a zero out of 10.

And really, that's not surprising: the strategy's use of regional "zone committees" in practice means turning over control of water to farmers, who unsurprisingly give it to themselves. The committees are so conflicted and corrupt and unwilling to consider environmental issues that environmental organisations have simply walked away from them rather than lend them legitimacy. Which is a huge failure for a strategy supposedly based on "collaboration".

The only way we will get proper management of Canterbury's water is with a fully elected council which gives a full voice to Canterbury's people. Fortunately that will be happening next year.

The RMA and deterrence

Our environment is under threat. We have farmers polluting our rivers and sucking aquifers dry. Our own "defence" force is poisoning people's drinking water. Greedy property developers cut down protected native trees. And that's just a few recent examples. In theory, all of this should be prevented by the RMA: environmentally damaging activities require resource consent, and there are hefty fines or even prison terms to deter people who don't bother. But the problem is that none of that is enforced: local councils just don't prosecute:

Fewer than a hundred prosecutions are being carried out under New Zealand's main environmental law each year, despite thousands of breaches.

Now a legal researcher is investigating whether the 27-year-old Resource Management Act (RMA) is having the deterrent effect that any law including criminal offences should.


"There is a difference between the law itself and how it works in practice," he said.

"There are thousands – if not tens of thousands – of breaches of the RMA every year, yet under 100 prosecutions a year."

Many of those breaches are minor, and better resolved by an infringement offence and bringing them into compliance. But local councils are looking the other way on major environmental crimes with irreversible effects. And the effect is obvious: people keep on committing those crimes, because there is no penalty for them, not even one as simple as having to stop. And that's just not good enough.

Our environmental laws need to be enforced. If local councillors are unwilling to direct their councils to do that, then we should elect ones who are. Local government elections are just over a year away, so making sure your council knows that you will be judging them on their prosecution rate is probably a good idea.

Stopping the orcs in their tracks

When the government was elected, they promised to end mining on conservation land. And they're delivering:

An application to mine coal on public conservation land near Te Kuha in the Buller District has been declined, Minister of Conservation Eugenie Sage and Minister of Energy Resources Megan Woods announced today.

Rangitira Developments Ltd had applied for an access arrangement under the Crown Minerals Act to mine 12 hectares of public conservation land in the Mt Rochfort Conservation Area, near Te Kuha, as part of a large opencast coal mine.

The 12 ha area is part of the company‘s 116 ha mining proposal and compromises approximately 10 per cent of the planned mine site and open cast pit. Most of land which the company seeks to mine is within the Westport Water Conservation Reserve vested in, and managed by, the Buller District Council. The Council is the decision-maker for mining access to that area.

The Ministers declined the application to mine 12 hectares of conservation land because it was not considered that the mine’s potential economic benefits were large enough to outweigh the irreparable damage to an area with very high, unique and nationally significant conservation values.

This decision was made under the existing law, and was made possible simply by having a different Minister who listened to DoC's views on ecological significance rather than ignoring them as National had done. Obviously, we want a safer framework so we don't have to rely on that happy coincidence in future, but for the moment it'll do. The orcs have been stopped in their tracks!

The Minister has saved a whole mountain from being dug up and turned into a scar. But she's also sent a clear message to the coal industry that they have no future in New Zealand (or at least, no future on conservation land, which is pretty much the same thing, because that's where most of the coal is). If it has a chilling effect on future coal investment, so much the better: this is not an industry we want or can afford to have in New Zealand anymore. The sooner it dies, the better.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Farmers covering up their epidemic

The government is currently trying to eradicate Mycoplasma Bovis, at huge expense to the taxpayer. But there's a problem: farmers are refusing to cooperate:

A crucial part of the puzzle in working out how far the cow disease has spread is establishing who has received calves from the Southland farm believed to have had it first in late 2015.


MPI's Geoff Gwyn said this had been made more difficult by a lack of co-operation from farmers.

"After 10 months we've not had one scenario, and many of these names are in the public domain, who have come to us and said 'oh by the way I got animals from a property down south'.

"We have even gone out down in Invercargill and put advertisements in the newspaper with the farmer's consent and people are not coming forward and saying I traded with them."

Mr Gwyn said MPI has had to trace every farmer itself or find them through some form of testing.

Not mentioned: the mass non-cooperation with NAIT, which would allow the sources of disease to be pinpointed and quarantined.

So why aren't farmers co-operating to fight this disease? Because if they say they're infected, then they can't sell their animals. So instead, they keep it secret and spread it to others, making the problem worse. Which is a serious crime. But the chances of farmers being held responsible for their actions is about zero.

Climate Change: National's forked tongue

So, National says it wants to work with the government on climate change:

National leader Simon Bridges has offered bipartisan support to the Government on climate change.

Bridges wrote to the prime minister on Friday saying he wants to help find cross-party support for a non-political Climate Change Commission.

"In order to drive long-lasting change, broad and enduring political support is needed for New Zealand's climate change framework - on the institutional arrangements we put in place," Bridges wrote.

"I am confident that we can work constructively together to establish an enduring non-political framework for future governments and parliaments when considering climate change issues."

Which sounds great. Except there'll be a price - and that price will be to water down policy to make it virtually pointless.

Don't believe me? Just look at their record. In the 90's, when in government, National repeatedly delayed and prevaricated, in the end producing two climate change policies and then refusing to implement either of them. Then when in opposition from 1999 to 2008, they opposed any action whatsoever, no matter how mild, even driving a tractor up Parliament's steps to oppose farmers paying a small contribution towards researching ways to reduce the pollution they caused. And their first action on winning power in 2008 was to repeal a bunch of climate change policy and gut the ETS to turn it into a pollution subsidy scheme. So no, I don't think they can be taken at face value, or trusted in the least on this issue. Their only interest in it is to delay or prevent action and ensure a free ride for their farmer cronies.

The government wants effective action. National doesn't. There is no middle ground here - ineffective action is pretty much the same as no action at all. As for what to do, National's support would be welcome, but the government shouldn't compromise one iota to win it. At that price, their support is not worth having.

A living wage for public servants

The government will be paying all public servants a living wage:

All core public service employees are being given a pay rise to at least the living wage of $20.55.

The new hourly rate, which works out to an annual salary of $42,744, will apply to full-time, part-time and casual employees.

It will be implemented on September 1.


ASB chief economist Nick Tuffley said it could put pressure on other businesses to match the increase.

"It does have the potential to spill over and influence what other people may need to pay to attract and retain people."

Which is the point: not just for the government to be a decent employer itself, but to create pressure on other employers to do the same. Which is why employers groups hate this: because its a direct attack on their cosy low-pay cartel, and on the unjust profits they extract by underpaying their staff.

Hopefully this is just the beginning. The next step is for the government to require a living wage for all crown entity staff, and all contractors as a condition of doing business with them. But that's probably one for next budget cycle.

New Fisk

I spoke to Palestinians who still hold the keys to homes they fled decades ago – many are still determined to return

More lies from NZDF

When NZDF was first forced to admit that their firefighting foam was poisoning water around their bases, they said it was a historical problem and that the foams hadn't been used for many years. They lied about that. Then when they were banned from using foam at all, they said everything was fine because they hadn't used it since 2016. But it turns out that they lied about that too:

The Defence Force (NZDF) has changed tack, just three days after saying it had stopped using potentially damaging firefighting foam for training at all its bases in 2016.

The military did not stop in Auckland until a few months ago, and it remains unclear whether it has stopped at all in Taranaki.


"Our previous response that we stopped training with foams 'at all of our bases' referred to 'air bases'," it told RNZ.

"We apologise that this was not clear in the initial response.

Once again, their response to a problem has not been to come clean and help other government agencies solve it, but to spin and lie in an attempt to reveal as little as possible and minimise their exposure. Its another example of their systematic culture of deceit. It appears we can not believe anything NZDF says unless there is documentary evidence backing it up (and even then, they lie in that too).

This culture of deceit is not acceptable from a public agency. The New Zealand public deserves a defence force we can trust (and we deserve a defence force that doesn't fucking poison us). We deserve a defence force with integrity. And that means firing those responsible for this strategy of deceit.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

"Shared values"

Whenever New Zealand leaps to join Australia in another foreign war, the politicians always talk about our countries' 'shared values". Well, this is an example of the Australian values we are supposed to "share":

That's an Australian SAS truck in Afghanistan, flying a Nazi flag:

Australian soldiers have been photographed flying a Nazi swastika flag from their vehicle while on operations in Afghanistan.

The photo, obtained exclusively by the ABC, was taken in August 2007.

The photograph shows the large swastika emblem hoisted over an Australian military vehicle.

Two separate Defence sources have identified a particular soldier as the individual who took the flag to Afghanistan.

Because that's who Australia lets into its military: Nazis. Not surprising when you remember that for the last decade they've been sticking refugees in concentration camps and torturing them until they kill themselves of "voluntarily" leave.

We should have nothing to do with a country with a military like this, with policies like this.

Climate change: Melting faster

Bad news on the climate change front: Antarctica is melting much faster than we expected, and the rate of melting has tripled in the last five years:

Ice in the Antarctic is melting at a record-breaking rate and the subsequent sea rises could have catastrophic consequences for cities around the world, according to two new studies.

A report led by scientists in the UK and US found the rate of melting from the Antarctic ice sheet has accelerated threefold in the last five years and is now vanishing faster than at any previously recorded time.

A separate study warns that unless urgent action is taken in the next decade the melting ice could contribute more than 25cm to a total global sea level rise of more than a metre by 2070. This could lead eventually to the collapse of the entire west Antarctic ice sheet, and around 3.5m of sea-level rise.

This is bad enough as it is. New Zealand has $19 billion worth of property, and billions more of infrastructure, under threat from sea-level rise. Its already a half-billion dollar a year crisis, and that's on the old estimates. A higher rate of sea-level rise will blow that out even further.

And meanwhile, the government is still sticking its fingers in its ears and trying to pander to farmers by letting them off for their pollution (again). Despite calling this "my generation's nuclear-free moment", I don't think they've really grasped either the urgency or the magnitude of the problem. Sea-level rise is going to impose huge costs on New Zealand. Changes in climate are going to impose even more. This is not something we can piss about on any longer. The crisis is here, and we need to stop it. Or learn to fucking swim.

An "investigation"

Last year, Stuff published The Valley, an in-depth investigation into NZDF's actions on Afghanistan. It alleged that, among other things, SAS soldiers had deliberately abused civilians in order to provoke "insurgents" into combat, and that a "very senior officer" had given illegal orders to set booby-traps, and then had the resulting prosecution quashed by the top brass. The allegations were disturbing and criminal. And now, it seems, NZDF is finally investigating them. But not openly or transparently, of course:

Outgoing Defence Force Chief Tim Keating has revealed there is an investigation under way into allegations made in The Valley documentary.

The Stuff Circuit series looked into the 2004 SAS raid in Afghanistan which led to the awarding of a Victoria Cross to Willie Apiata.

In 2017, Keating said he would respond publicly but had failed to do so.

On Thursday morning, when asked by Stuff Circuit why he hadn't, he said because of the seriousness of the claims, there was a legal investigation under way and he would not give a timeframe.

The "investigation" is being done in secret, and kept tightly in the hands of Keating. Which suggests that its not an actual investigation, but the usual NZDF coverup. Its clear by now that we can't trust NZDF to investigate itself. As with the Hit and Run allegations, we need a full independent inquiry into NZDF's actions.

A terrible idea

When the then-Labour government first advocated American-style asset forfeiture laws way back in 2004, I highlighted the danger that they would begin to see it as a way of raising revenue - effectively incentivising police to make dubious seizures in order to meet revenue targets. And sadly, that's exactly what the government is doing:

A new police target aiming to seize $500 million from gangs may only serve to further marginalise a hard-to-reach community, those on the inside say.

A Cabinet paper seen by Stuff shows Police Minister Stuart Nash and Police Commissioner Mike Bush have set four new "high-level outcome targets", while also retaining most of the previous government's nine performance targets at an operational level.

The targets include $500m in cash and assets seized from gangs and criminals by 2021.

We're not yet in the horrific US situation where police can profit directly from forfeiture, encouraging them to engage in outright banditry or target people so they can seize their homes. But having a government-set target is bad enough, and it will undoubtedly shift enforcement action in order to meet it. So instead of investigating burglaries, they'll be targeting petty drug dealers because they're more likely to have money. Or going after people who enable university cheats so they can seize their $4.6 million...

Police enforcement should be based on the severity of the crime, not the profit motive. Nash's asset forfeiture target is a terrible idea, and it needs to be reversed.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Members' Day

Today is a Members' Day. Unfortunately it looks to be a boring one. First up is a two-hour debate on the government's investment strategy in place of the usual general debate, which will take an extra hour out of members' time. And following that there's a committee stage and second readings on Stuart Smith's Friendly Societies and Credit Unions (Regulatory Improvements) Amendment Bill, Jan Logie's Domestic Violence—Victims’ Protection Bill, and Jo Hayes' Marriage (Court Consent to Marriage of Minors) Amendment Bill. Of these, only Logie's bill has any real chance of serious disagreement (National as usual seeing no reason why employers should be decent people). As there's unlikely to be any first readings, there's unlikely to be a ballot tomorrow, or in the near future - these bills will clog up the Order Paper for the foreseeable future.

The harsh reality of government

Yesterday Land Information Minister Eugenie Sage granted a consent under the Overseas Investment Act for a Chinese water bottling company to buy land near Whakatane, effectively allowing them to suck the Otakiri Springs dry for foreign profit. Green Party members are naturally upset because the consent flies in the face of local Treaty claims and is contrary to party policies aimed at ending foreign water-theft, or at least charging a fair resource rental for it. Unfortunately here they're up against the harsh reality of government - namely that being in government doesn't mean you get to do what you want. Our Ministers are not despots, and have to obey the law - and the law on granting foreign companies consent to purchase sensitive land is very specific and doesn't let the Minister refuse consent just because her party wants her to. And because the law does not include a Treaty clause (or any respect for Maori rights), she couldn't refuse on those grounds either. Basicly, Sage had no choice but to grant the consent - and if she had refused it, the decision would likely have been overturned by judicial review.

If the Greens want this to change, they need to change the law - and that means negotiating with their coalition partners, both to obtain the necessary parliamentary majority to make it happen, and to get space in the legislative calendar against all the other things the government wants to do. Until that happens, the Minister just has to obey the law. This will no doubt mean making decisions she doesn't agree with, but that's the reality of government for you.

New Fisk

For once in the Middle East, a single Arab nation is solely responsible for the destruction of its land and heritage

DoC covers up for corporate spies

Thompson and Clark Investigations, New Zealand's most evil private spy agency, is in the news again - this time for getting DoC to cover up official information for it:

The Department of Conservation (DOC) withheld official information after demands from security firm Thompson and Clark, internal emails show.

Thompson and Clark spied on anti-1080 activists for DOC, sharing intelligence through what it called its "Fusion Centre" - locked, hidden chat channels on messaging app Slack.

The work cost nearly $4000 a month - several government departments are signed up to similar packages - and also included a weekly phone briefing involving senior staff from both organisations.

But DOC withheld all material from the Slack channels when asked for correspondence between its staff and Thompson and Clark under the Official Information Act (OIA), saying releasing it "may prevent the supply of such information in the future".

Initially DoC had decided to release everything. They reversed that decision after a serious lobbying effort from Thompson and Clark. The decision has now gone to the Ombudsman, where it is almost certain to be overturned. Why? Because firstly the clause relied on - s9(2)(ba)(i) - requires that "it is in the public interest that such information should continue to be supplied" - something which is highly debatable given Thompson and Clark's corrosive effect on our democracy. But more importantly, "the intelligence shared through Slack was all publicly available, drawn from the Internet". And the Ombudsman's guidelines are quite clear that such information can not be regarded as "confidential":
No obligation of confidence will arise where the information is generally known or is readily available to the public, for example where it can be obtained in a public register or other document open to inspection by the public.

Which pretty obviously applies if its publicly available on a news media or other internet site.

So why is Thompson and Clark so desperate to keep this information secret? Partly its pure hostility to democratic oversight, but I suspect also to protect their lucrative government contracts. After all, if the public saw that public agencies were paying them $4,000 a month to read the newspaper, we'd quite rightly question whether that was value for money, whether it was really necessary, or whether it couldn't be done cheaper. And then Thompson and Clark's government gravy-train would end.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

More dirty dairying

Oh look, its a Federated Farmers official convicted of spewing shit into a waterway:

A hefty fine has been handed down to former Southland Federated Farmers president Allan Baird, whose inaction on his dairy farm was "careless".

Baird and his two companies, Benlyon Ltd and Vendale Ltd, were fined a total of $39,600 when he appeared for sentencing in the Invercargill District Court on Monday.

He had earlier pleaded guilty to the three charges of discharging dairy effluent onto land on October 20, 2016, in circumstances that may result in the effluent entering a waterway.

Environment Court judge Brian Dwyer denied Baird's application for a discharge without conviction.

Baird had informed Environment Southland staff on the day in question that dairy shed effluent from his farm's irrigation system had discharged into a tributary of the Winton Stream.

Council officers found significant effluent ponding from the stationary irrigator and it was flowing overland into the waterway.

Despite this, he's trying to play the victim here. Which shows us exactly how much contempt his organisation has for basic environmental legislation.


Winston Peters is set to become acting Prime Minister this weekend. And he's chosen this moment to launch a new lawsuit against senior public servants who will in effect be working for him over breaching his privacy during the 2017 election campaign:

Peters has begun new legal action seeking $450,000 for alleged breach of privacy in relation to the leaking of details of his superannuation overpayment.

Ardern told RNZ today that she found about her deputy's latest action yesterday.

Peters is going after the Ministry of Social Development chief executive Brendan Boyle, State Services Commissioner Peter Hughes, the Attorney-General on behalf of the Ministry of Social Development and former ministers in the previous National government Paula Bennett and Anne Tolley.

These people need to be held to account. Passing on private information about a politician to their political rivals (who immediately and inevitably leaked it for political gain) is something that simply should not happen. Arguably, there's no reason whatsoever for Ministers to know anything about any individual's welfare payments unless they're sacking someone for fucking them up - its a purely operational matter, and none of any minister's business. Meanwhile, the obvious and significant risks of a privacy breach should have ruled out any disclosure. At the same time, its obviously awkward for Peters, who is now a Minister, to be suing people who effectively work for him (and with whom he will have to continue to work in future), not to mention his own government. While Cabinet conflict of interest provisions are robust enough to handle it, it's still going to be very awkward indeed.

Justice for Nicky Hager

In October 2014, as part of a political investigation into the book Dirty Politics, police raided and searched the home of journalist Nicky Hager. The raid has spawned a series of ongoing court cases which have in turn exposed illegal behaviour by the police: they deliberately misled the judge to get the search warrant, and unlawfully obtained 10 months of Hager's banking records. And now, finally, they've admitted the entire thing was wrong and paid damages:

Investigative journalist Nicky Hager has accepted a police apology and payment of "substantial damages" after the unlawful search of his home during the investigation into the hacking that led to the Dirty Politics book.

The settlement revealed police had sought information claiming Hager was suspected of criminal behaviour, including fraud.

"Police accept that they had no basis for such allegations," the settlement document read.

"Police apologise unreservedly for these breaches of his rights and have agreed to pay Mr Hager substantial damages and a contribution towards his legal costs."

The settlement also included police making a key admission around accessing Hager's banking data - a police practice used to get people's personal financial information without any legal order.

The full police apology is here.

Its good that they've settled and admitted their wrongdoing. But the real question is whether it will lead to any change of behaviour, or whether the police will continue raiding journalists whenever one offends the government of the day. And as no individual police officer seems to have been held to account, despite lying to a judge and systematically abusing their powers, I think we all know the answer to that.

Monday, June 11, 2018

This is what happens when you rely on reactionaries

Last month, the government indicated that it planned to repeal National's "three strikes" law in the first phase of its justice reforms. Now, their coalition-partners NZ First have said "no":

New Zealand First has put the brakes on Labour's plan to repeal the three strikes law - effectively hauling it off Cabinet's agenda.

Justice Minister Andrew Little planned to bring the matter before Cabinet this morning, but now says that won't happen.


Mr Little said New Zealand First had concerns about the repeal and indicated they'd be unlikely to support it.

He said further work on a criminal justice reform package will be progressed in August.

Damn. "Three strikes" is a reactionary law which has been found to be manifestly unjust by judges every time it might have applied. Its sole purpose was to make the then-government look tough and appeal to the arsehole vote. Sadly, that vote is NZ First's core support base, so its not surprising that they think this unjust law should stay. And unfortunately, as NZ First's votes are needed for any repeal, that means we're going to have to lump it. If we want change, we're going to have to vote for a better government at the next election - one which does not include reactionaries.

New Fisk

Lebanon's mountains are being wiped from the map – but does anyone care?

Time to deal with this criminal industry

Surprise, surprise! It turns out that the fishing industry - a pervasively criminal industry which has been caught time and time again lying about how much fish it is catching - has been resisting proper oversight:

Newshub can reveal that in just the past year-and-a-half, 50 skippers have refused to have government fishing observers on their vessels.

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) says since 2009, it's had to take 10 skippers to court for saying no.

Most refusals were due to skippers claiming there were issues with "maritime manning limits", meaning there wasn't enough room on board.

Other cases include a skipper simply not responding to MPI's phone calls, a skipper refusing to take an observer because of the extra food costs, and another case where despite being under "placement notice" orders not to sail without an observer, the vessel left port anyway.

This is of course illegal. The observer programme is statutorily authorised to collect proper information on catches and on safety. Its a crime to put to sea without a notified observer if one is required, its a crime to refuse to provide food and accommodation, and its a crime to obstruct them in their duties. The penalty for each of those crimes is a fine of up to $250,000, and it is severe enough that the court may order quota to be forfeited as well. Which makes sense: accepting observation is effectively a condition of holding quota, and fishers who refuse or obstruct it in order to hide their illegal practices shouldn't be in the business. And if we want to end this problem, actually seeking that penalty would go a long way towards bringing this criminal industry into compliance and making it sustainable (as is required by the law).

Friday, June 08, 2018

More spying from Thompson and Clark

New Zealand's most evil private security agency has been at it again - this time abusing their access to the Motor Vehicle Register to spy on protestors:

The MVR contains details of every vehicle and its owner. Details can be obtained by quoting a registration number plate.

1 NEWS has obtained figures from the NZTA under the Official Information Act that show a striking pattern. A spike in requests from Thompson and Clark to access the register coincides clearly with heightened activity from Greenpeace and other environmental groups.

For example in Jan/Feb 2013, the Rainbow Warrior was visiting New Zealand. In January 2014 there were extensive protests mounted when oil company Anadarko's drilling ship was in New Zealand waters.

Mr Norman says: "It's pretty plain that Thompson and Clark are using their access to the register as a kind of trawling tool to identify people who were involved in protest action".

This is illegal: TCIL was granted access to the register for a number of very limited purposes, and "spying on protesters" was not one of them. Access was also on the basis that information was not passed to third parties. Interestingly, they've since had their access removed - something NZTA says is common where there has been inappropriate use. Apparently there's a $50,000 fine for abuse of this information, but we can be certain the police will never prosecute: Thompson and Clark are on their side, and so the police will simply look the other way on their crimes, just as they do for crimes committed by their own officers. If Greenpeace wants justice, they'll need to seek it themselves by civil action or private prosecution.

Climate change: Why we need to worry about methane

In its Our Climate Your Say discussion document released yesterday, the government attempted to back away from its previous promises of net-zero emissions by 2050. Instead, they'd like to ignore methane - basicly so they can keep giving farmers, our largest polluters, a free ride. The proposal breaks faith with their supporters and doesn't stack up economically, in that the additional cost of going all the way to net-zero emissions is next to nothing. But in addition, its just a bad idea. Why? Well, for a start, atmospheric methane levels are still increasing:

This isn't a natural increase: two-thirds of atmospheric methane comes from human sources. So, this isn't a greenhouse gas we can just ignore.

Secondly, much is made of methane's short lifespan - it lasts less than ten years in the atmosphere before being broken down. Unfortunately, what it breaks down into is carbon dioxide, the very long-lived gas that the government says it wants to focus on. So, every "shot-lived" methane source is effectively a source of long-lived carbon-dioxide as well, and if we want to solve the latter problem, we need to solve the former.

Basicly, trying to take the focus off short-lived greenhouse gases is just more special pleading from polluters to allow them to keep on destroying the world. And that's not something we should let them do.

Same as the old boss

When they were in power, National exploited public office for its own profit, selling access to its Ministers at its corrupt "Cabinet Club". Sadly, Labour is no different:

Finance Minister Grant Robertson gave a post-Budget speech at a $600-a-head Labour fundraiser at the exclusive Wellington Club, drawing comparisons to the previous National Government's "Cabinet club" scandal.

According to several attendees, about 40 people, including party supporters, business figures and corporate lobbyists, attended the dinner hosted by Labour president Nigel Haworth on Wednesday, at which Robertson was the key attraction.

A similar dinner is due to be hosted at the even more exclusive Northern Club in Auckland on Thursday night.

National leader Simon Bridges has accused the Government of hypocrisy, after Labour once described National's events, which appear similar to the one attended by Robertson, as "cash-for-access".

Labour is claiming that Robertson was attending solely as an MP. Except that he's listed in the advertising as a Minister, and clearly speaking as one at the event. So, they're selling access, exploiting office for private gain, just like National. No doubt they'll trot out the Politician's Excuse: "it was within the rules". But that doesn't change the fundamental truth here: this is corrupt, and the only reason it is not criminal is because politicians write the laws to suit themselves.

Thursday, June 07, 2018

Climate Change: Ambition is cheap

One of the annoying things about the government backing away from its net-zero emissions target is that its so obvious about it. They're not just cheating us and breaking their promises, but they're also taking us for complete morons who won't notice them doing it. Quite apart from their shady linguistic games about trying to introduce ambiguity into "net zero emissions" where there was none before, they're also being blatantly transparent about it in their discussion document. The oldest trick in the bureaucratic book, seen in countless Cabinet papers and Regulatory Impact Statements, is that you present three options: do nothing, the option you want to select, and the salmonella option, one pitched as extreme or otherwise obviously bad. Because doing nothing is not an option, it devolves into a decision between the option you want chosen, and salmonella. To make it even easier, you sandwich the option you want chosen between the other two, presenting it automatically as the sensible "middle ground". What were the options the government was offering us again? Oh yeah:

Pretty obvious what they want chosen then.

Except when you look at the detailed economic modelling, a real net-zero emissions target isn't exactly salmonella. The economic difference between full ambition and their half-arsed broken promise (modelled as "75%" in the table below) is sweet fuck-all:

Yes, that's right: real ambition has next to no impact on economic growth, and "costs" us only a billion dollars a year, insofar as you consider being less rich than you otherwise might have been to be a real cost. Which is less than the effect of currency fluctuations, and certainly less than the effect of the enormous floods or droughts refusing to act is setting us up for. In government terms, it is basicly nothing. Distributionally, its a different story - the impact of that policy shift will fall on the sources of methane, which means farmers (and predominantly dairy farmers), so we can expect a hell of a lot of whining and special pleading from them. But bluntly, they've had a free ride for a decade now. They need to stop expecting to be carried by the rest of us, and start paying their own fucking way, like everybody else. And if they don't like it, they're welcome to take their stinking, polluting cows, and try and find a jurisdiction without a climate change policy to shit in.

Basicly, being ambitious here is cheap. The economic case for less ambition is shit. So why be less ambitious?

Climate change: Backing away from net-zero

When Labour ran for election in 2017, it was very clear about climate change. It promised to

set a target of net zero for greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, with legally binding emissions reduction targets, and carbon budgets to keep New Zealand on track to this goal.

Jacinda Ardern backed this up by saying that climate change was "my generation's nuclear free moment" - something she was absolutely right about. In the 1980's, nuclear weapons threatened global destruction. Now its our own shit. Climate change is the most important problem facing humanity, which threatens to cause global devastation - not in one single destructive spasm, like a nuclear war, but in a long, slow catastrophe of famine, war, and death.

So I was appalled this morning to read the government's Our Climate Your Say discussion document [PDF], which seems to be backing away from that promise. How? By offering targets affecting only some gases:
We explore three target options that could replace our current target of 50 per cent reduction below 1990 levels by 2050:
  • net zero carbon dioxide: reducing net carbon dioxide emissions to zero by 2050
  • net zero long-lived gases and stabilised short-lived gases: reduce emissions of long-lived gases to net zero by 2050, while also stabilising emissions of short-lived gases
  • net zero emissions: net zero emissions across all greenhouse gases
Its obviously a response to the latest tactic from farmers - to argue that methane doesn't matter because its short-lived. Which has some truth behind it, but pretty obviously if you just keep pumping it out, then it effectively becomes a permanent stock in the atmosphere, with a permanent effect on the climate. And as methane is a powerful greenhouse gas that effect is worse than for carbon dioxide. The suggestion that we restrict our goal to "net zero carbon dioxide" is a betrayal of labour's promise and Ardern's rhetoric. Its also very obviously just another way to keep giving farmers - our major greenhouse gas polluters - a continued free ride, and to make the rest of us continue to subsidise their polluting industry. Something I am frankly getting fucking sick of. The rest of New Zealand should not have to bear the burden of supporting this destructive, dirty industry while it continues to destroy our climate and destroy our water. Instead, they should clean up their act, rather than sticking their hands out again and again for subsidies, then for assistance when the consequences of their subsidised pollution (droughts and floods) come back to bite them. As for the consultation document, to borrow a slogan, "net zero emissions means net zero emissions". We should not let them cheat us, or the world, by backing away from their promise. In the face of a deteriorating global climate, we have to do our bit.

When agencies lie

In New Zealand, we expect our government to be straight with us and tell the truth if asked. And as a result, we accept their answers as truthful. Unfortunately, government officials frequently exploit our credulity to shut down criticism. This appears to be what happened when NZTA blatantly lied to the public about unsafe Chinese steel in highway projects:

A major steel failure on a Waikato highway has come to light two years after the Transport Agency publicly denied there was any problem.

Documents that the agency has been forced to release to RNZ by the Ombudsman have revealed the extra problems on the Huntly section of the new Waikato Expressway.

They also show the agency had no requirement for independent steel testing at the Transmission Gully highway being built near quake-prone Wellington, and a general lack of oversight of steel buying for the country's major highway projects.


The newly-released emails between agency managers and Huntly's contractors show that shortly before the Fulton Hogan-HEB joint venture discovered the bridge pile casings were substandard, they'd also had 600 huge steel rods fail.


The agency did not mention these failed rods when RNZ asked it nine days later if the bridge casings were the only problem; instead, the agency told RNZ "there have been no similar problems identified with steel used in
other state highway projects".

[Emphasis added]

That answer is strictly true - there were no problems with other projects - but hideously misleading, in that it elided the additional problems discovered on the Waikato Expressway. And of course, the reason there were no problems identified with other projects was because they simply weren't looking for them. It was thus a calculated attempt to mislead the public to protect NZTA officials from the natural result of their own incompetence. Those officials then conspired to block further OIA requests which would have uncovered their deceit.

It is unclear from the story whether they have suffered any employment consequences for this, but they need to. The officials responsible for this need to be fired.. We simply can not tolerate deceitful government in this country. It is corrosive of public trust, corrosive of legitimacy, and ultimately, corrosive of our democracy.

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

(Not) Privilege and contempt

See update below

Back in February, dirty old racist Bob Jones wrote a column so racist that the National Business Review - hardly a bastion of liberalism - pulled it from their website. In response, Renae Maihi organised a petition to Parliament calling for Jones to be stripped of his knighthood. Now, Jones has sued her for defamation over it:

Sir Bob Jones has filed defamation papers against a filmmaker behind a petition to have his knighthood revoked after a controversial newspaper column.

More than 68,000 people signed the petition, which was delivered to Parliament in March, in response to Jones' February 2 column in the National Business Review calling for a Māori "Gratitude Day" instead of Waitangi Day.

Filmmaker Renae Maihi started the petition and presented it to Labour MP Kiritapu Allan with the support of Waikato University Professor Pou Temara, an expert in te reo and tikanga.

The petition read: "In signing this petition we urge you, our Prime Minister the Rt. Hon. Jacinda Ardern, to take his knighthood away from him. It is in your power. Set a precedent for the country and a message that this will not be tolerated and hate speech of this type is not welcome here."

Jones is obviously being a bullying arsehole here. But his case also seems to be doomed. The reason? A petition to Parliament is very clearly a "proceeding in Parliament" under the Parliamentary Privilege Act 2014, and therefore no case can be brought about it. And as telling people about the petition to get them to sign it is an act done for the purpose of transacting that business, that's covered too.

But that's not Jones' only problem with Parliamentary Privilege. Because pretty obviously what he is trying to do here is punish someone for petitioning the House about him, and incidentally discourage others from doing so. And that seems to be contempt of Parliament, in the same way and for the same reasons that punishing or threatening a select committee witness is. Hopefully someone will be informing the Privileges Committee of this...

Meanwhile, this simply confirms that Jones is not the sort of person kiwis should ever have given a knighthood to. I'm in favour of abolishing all feudal "honours", but starting with his would be richly deserved.

Update: So, it turns out that while the petition was presented at Parliament, it wasn't a petition to Parliament, which means Parliamentary Privilege and associated protections do not apply. The lesson in this is clear: protect yourself from bullying arseholes like Bob Jones, and always petition the House rather than the PM.

A victory for equality in the EU

Western Europe has led the way on marriage equality, with same-sex marriage laws being passed in virtually all former NATO states. But eastern Europe has lagged behind, and some states such as Poland are virulently homophobic. But today, thanks to a European Court of Justice decision, things got a little better:

EU countries that have not legalised gay marriage must respect the residency rights of same-sex spouses who want to live together in their territory, the European court of justice has ruled, in a move hailed as a victory for human dignity.

The ECJ said member states must recognise the rights of all married couples to free movement, no matter their gender or sexual orientation.

The ruling came in response to a case in which Romanian authorities were accused of discriminating against Adrian Coman, who wanted to be able to live in his home country with his American husband, Claibourn Robert Hamilton, with whom he had been living for four years in the US before they married in Brussels in 2010.

Romanian authorities refused to grant Hamilton a right of residence on the grounds that he could not be classified in Romania as the spouse of an EU citizen. The men had appealed to Romania’s constitutional court, which referred the case to Luxembourg.

Effectively, the EU's bigot-bloc will now have to recognise same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions, at least in immigration decisions. And that in turn is likely to feed in to other government discrimination as well. It's not an ECHR decision declaring bans on same-sex marriage to be discriminatory and unlawful, but its still progress.

A tiny start

When the government's Chief Science Adviser revealed that the meth-testing industry was a scam, and that thousands of people had been evicted from their homes under false pretences, Housing New Zealand's initial reaction was to stonewall and pretend it was nothing to do with them. Now, they've taken a tiny first step towards admitting responsibility:

Housing New Zealand chief executive Andrew McKenzie has apologised to state housing tenants whose lives were disrupted by evictions based on bogus methamphetamine levels.

He also said Housing New Zealand's (HNZ's) blacklist of tenants banned from going into state houses has been wiped clean, and tenants who incurred costs should be paid back.

"We really regret the way this has played out and we certainly apologise to all those people who had their lives disputed as we've shifted them out of their homes," McKenzie told Radio New Zealand today.

Which sounds good, but note what he's not doing: promising that those debts will be wiped, and promising to compensate victims for the additional costs (and hurt and humiliation) Housing New Zealand's evictions imposed on them. People were literally left homeless, many were forced into debt to WINZ for emergency housing, one was forced to destroy all her possessions. And Housing New Zealand owes them a little more than minimising talk of "disruption" and that they're not going to pursue them for bogus and odious "debt".

What it does owe them is Andrew McKenzie's head on a spike. Because he presided over all of this, he implemented the harsh and oppressive policy of evictions, and he needs to be held accountable for that. A mere sacking doesn't even begin to compare to making someone intentionally homeless - but it would be a tiny start.

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

The offshore exploration ban advice

The documents on the government's supposed ban on new offshore oil exploration have been released. A few thoughts:

  • The issue of the decision bypassing Cabinet (which prompted this from me this morning) may have been oversold a little. The initial briefing on the issue notes that "officials have previously recommended that prior to any decision, an oral item is tabled with Cabinet". The Minister followed this procedure (Minute). The problem of course is that deciding not to offer any offshore space is a major policy change, which you'd think would trigger the Cabinet Manual's consultation requirements. But even when that change becomes apparent, officials do not recommend a full Cabinet process. So, the Minister was in that respect doing exactly what she was advised to by the people who ought to know.
  • Officials warned that the ban could have a chilling effect on the sector. Good. That's the point: to make it clear to the fossil fuel industry that their days are numbered and that they had better start planning to be much smaller in twenty years time.
  • One of the main effects of the ban is to screw the seismic survey firms, by massively devaluing their data. What's the value of information that will never lead to a drilling permit? Nothing. So the large and controversial surveys National promoted over the last five years are basicly wasted. This should have its own chilling effect on future exploration activity.
  • MBIE tries to claim that ending exploration will have a negligible effect on domestic carbon emissions. At the same time, they raise the threat of Methanex shutting down its production due to "uncertainty" - something that appears to be in train anyway given the current state of gas reserves. Methanex produces ~2.4 million tons of methanol - a bulk commodity which MBIE calls a "high technology, high value export" along with milk powder - and that in turn produces approximately 1.6 million tons of carbon dioxide, or about 2% of our total national emissions. So, its shutdown would result in significant and immediate emissions reductions. Incidentally, thanks to a sweetheart deal from National, we pay for those emissions, so ending it is a double benefit: we end pollution, and we stop paying for it. I'd call that a win.
  • MBIE also worries a lot about "carbon leakage" as a result of the above. This of course is predicated on China doing nothing to limit its emissions, a proposition which is looking increasingly ludicrous.
  • MBIE's initial paper bears a strange resemblance to talking points sent to them by New Zealand Oil & Gas, a polluter company. Funny that. I guess MPI isn't the only regulatory agency captured by those it is supposed to regulate.
  • But in addition to capture, there's another issue: if the government's program to gradually down-size and strangle the oil industry is successful, then the government bodies which regulate it, including MBIE and NZPAM, will face a similar downsizing. After all, you don't need a regulator when there's nothing to regulate. So those MBIE officials arguing against decarbonisation are effectively arguing to keep their own jobs, and their advice should be viewed accordingly.

One country at a time

Burkina Faso has abolished the death penalty:

Burkina Faso's parliament has abolished the death penalty by adopting a new penal code that strikes it as a possible sentence.

Justice Minister Rene Bagoro said on Thursday that the revised document paves the way for "more credible, equitable, accessible and effective justice in the application of criminal law".

The death penalty was kept in the version of the criminal code adopted in 1996, but Burkina Faso has not imposed capital punishment recently.

At a rate of one or two countries a year, it will take fifty years to eliminate the death penalty. But this is how we change things: one country at a time.

Government by press conference

Back in April, the government announced that they were banning future offshore oil exploration. Like many, I welcomed this decision - we need to decarbonise, and slowly shutting down the oil industry is a necessary step to that. But the process they followed to do it all seems a bit Mickey Mouse:

The Cabinet has made no decision on ending oil exploration, documents being released today will show, with April's announcement made on the basis of a political agreement between the coalition parties.


"There was no Cabinet decision," a spokesman for Energy Minister Megan Woods said.

"The decision not to offer future offshore oil and gas exploration permits was made between the three coalition parties, and the Minister [Woods] was simply notifying Cabinet of that decision as well as noting that future cabinet decisions would be required to implement that decision."

The spokesman added that there was no requirement for the Cabinet to make a decision, but a Cabinet paper would be developed on implementing the decision.

Which is technically true - it is entirely up to the Minister which areas they choose to offer for public tender and which tenders they accept. At the same time, this is both a significant and controversial decision, and the Cabinet Manual is clear that such issues must go to Cabinet and be consulted with other relevant departments. The government would no doubt argue that their coalition process met the consultation requirements and that everyone was happy with the decision, and they'd probably be right - the purpose of Cabinet consultation is to ensure that everyone is kept in the loop and knows what decisions they are collectively responsible for, and that's certainly been done. And yet, fundamentally, this is not how decisions are supposed to be made in our system of government. And it raises the question of exactly why the government chose to sidestep Cabinet in this manner. And if it was to avoid their obligations under the Public Records Act and Official Information Act, then that is looking very dubious indeed.

But it also raises the question of whether the decision has any legal meaning. Sure, the Minister has chosen not to offer offshore areas in this year's block offer, but that's not the only way permits are assigned. Anyone can apply for a permit, anywhere (they can even do it online), and nothing is stopping oil companies from doing that to offshore areas not offered. And if they did, the Minister would have to assess it according to the statutory criteria, and would not be able to decline it simply on the basis of the government's announcement. There is a process by which the government can legally ban exploration for certain minerals in certain areas, but a quick check of Gazette notices shows that the government has not done this. And that's what's most appalling of all: we have a "decision", but it appears not to actually have been implemented in any way. It exists in PR and public consciousness, but not apparently in law. And the latter is a betrayal of the government's voters who supported it. I don't think its too much to expect that when the government says it will do something, it actually fucking does it, rather than simply pretending to. The government needs to follow up this decision with an actual legal implementation, and as quickly as possible, before the petroleum industry simply bypasses it.

Friday, June 01, 2018

Some justice for torture

Between 2003 and 2006, Romania and Lithuania hosted CIA "black sites", secret extrajudicial prisons where alleged terrorists were rendered and tortured by America. Today, the European Court of Human Rights declared unequivocally that those prisons were illegal, and ordered their host governments to pay damages to two of their victims:

European judges have ruled that Lithuania and Romania violated the rights of two terror suspects by allowing the CIA to torture them in secret prisons within their borders.

The terror suspects — both said to be affiliated with al-Qaeda — were captured following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and they are now being held by the US at the Guantanamo Bay prison facility in Cuba.

At the time of the torture of Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, the CIA was operating secret prisons in several locations, including within Lithuania and Romania.

Lithuania and Romania have both been ordered by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) to pay €100,000 (£88,000; $117,000) in damages to the two men. The court was unable to gain access to speak with the two men at Guantanamo.

Which is good, so far as it goes. But firstly, an EU government should not need the ECHR to know that hosting a secret CIA torture centre is illegal. And secondly, the officials and politicians who approved that hosting have not been prosecuted or held to account in any way. Which means there is no incentive for them or their successors not to do it again in future. And of course the US torturers and the officials who enabled them are all still walking free as well.

If we want to end torture, we need to prosecute these people. Until we've done that, there's no real justice.

New Fisk

Assad's new housing law is a veiled attempt to displace tens of thousands of Syrians – but even that won't help him win the war

What's Catalan for "revenge"?

Last week, a Spanish court jailed senior figures of the ruling People's Party for a widespread corruption scheme. And today, there's the inevitable sequel: Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy looks likely to lose a confidence vote in the Spanish Parliament:

Mariano Rajoy’s controversial and scandal-mired tenure as Spanish prime minister seemed all but certain to be entering its final hours on Thursday afternoon when a small Basque party threw its weight behind a no-confidence motion tabled after Rajoy’s party was found to have profited from a huge corruption racket.

After hours of suspense, the Basque Nationalist party (PNV) revealed it had decided to back the motion proposed by the opposition socialist party, PSOE, delivering the handful of votes required to oust Rajoy of the People’s party (PP) and replace him with the PSOE leader, Pedro Sánchez.

The PNV’s five votes – together with the support of groupings including the anti-austerity Podemos party, the two Catalan pro-independence parties and another Basque party – gave the PSOE 180 votes in Spain’s 350-seat congress, four more than were needed.

Good riddance - corrupt governments should be rolled. And there's a delightful justice in the Basques and Catalans being key to that. While the support of the Catalan parties was gained with a promise of dialogue on independence, even if it changes nothing rolling Rajoy would still be worthwhile purely as an act of political revenge against the Prime Minister who pushed for the beatings of 1 October and the subsequent imposition of colonial rule.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Struck out

The new government is planning to repeal the "three strikes" law. Good. The law was a largely symbolic effort to pander to the "tough on crime" brigade, red meat for the arsehole vote. And every time it actually came into play, the sentencing it required was found to be manifestly unjust by judges. Which pretty much describes the entire law: manifestly unjust. While it didn't affect many people, I will be glad to see it go, because a manifestly unjust society is not one I want to live in.

Labour's other proposal is for greater use of home detention to counter the moral and fiscal failure of National's mass-incarceration regime. Again, that's good. Prison doesn't help anyone, and frequently results in people being denied the help they need. Using home detention for the vast majority of non-violent offenders will help ensure they are integrated in their communities and reduce re-offending, while also avoiding both the cruelty and the massive cost of Judith Collins' prison-fetish. While there will undoubtedly be people who abscond from it, just as there are escapes from prison, they'll inevitably be caught and then sentenced to a higher-security regime. And we should accept that as the cost of having a corrections regime, rather than trying to design one which protects the Minister from bad headlines at the cost of actively harming the public.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

No right to privacy in Australia

Like most civilised countries, Australia has a Privacy Act purportedly protecting people's privacy. Except it turns out that in cases of serious abuse, its not worth the paper it is written on:

The government acted “reasonably” when it released a Centrelink recipient’s personal information to counter her public criticism of the robodebt program, the privacy commissioner has found.

The acting privacy and information commissioner, Angelene Falk, released the findings of a long-running investigation into the government’s release last year of personal information about the blogger Andie Fox.

Fox had written a piece for Fairfax Media critical of Centrelink’s controversial debt recovery program. She had detailed her own experience of attempting to resolve a debt, which she likened to throwing herself into a “vortex of humiliating and frustrating bureaucratic procedures”.

In response, the federal government released details of her interactions with Centrelink and her claims history to another Fairfax Media journalist, who subsequently published an article countering Fox’s claims.

The office of the former human services minister Alan Tudge also sent an internal document marked “for official use only” to journalists, which disclosed additional details of Fox’s relationship and tax history.


Late on Tuesday it found in the government’s favour. The ruling said the department was permitted to disclose personal information for a secondary purpose if the individual “would reasonably expect it to do so”.

Or, to put it another way: Australians should expect the government to weaponise personal information they have been forced to provide if they ever criticise government policy. And no matter what way you look at it, that is simply unreasonable, and counter to the very interests privacy legislation is supposed to protect.

New Fisk

In the Middle East, Putin has a lot to thank Trump for right now

Pervasive criminality III

Another day, another leaked MPI report into criminal behaviour in the fishing industry. This time its systematic under-reporting in the Southern Blue Whiting fishery:

A leaked Government report has revealed under-reporting and massive waste in another high-value New Zealand fishery.

The MPI compliance report targeted 13 trawlers in the Southern Blue Whiting fishery, which brings in around $26 million a year for New Zealand.

It found almost 3000 tonnes went unreported due to poor practice when cutting fish.


Up to 2678 tonnes was misreported as a result - that's almost 10 percent of all fish landed by the vessels being monitored.

And 10% under-reporting means they're effectively catching 10% more fish than they should be, with flow-on effects for the sustainability of the fishery. But the culprits weren't prosecuted, and the quota wasn't reduced to take actual industry practice into account. Instead, the report ended up with all the other ones: filed and ignored. Because MPI is totally captured by the fishing industry, and not actually interested in regulating it properly.

Greenpeace is right: we need a full and independent review of MPI's oversight and the effects of its capture on sustainability. But more importantly, we need a government agency willing to enforce the law. It is clear that MPI's internal culture prevents any chance of that. So if we want fishers regulated properly, we will need a new agency, and it will need to start from scratch and never hire anyone tainted by MPI's institutional corruption.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

There is no corruption in New Zealand

We like to think of ourselves as a non-corrupt nation. The sorts of self-enriching abuses of public power that we read about happening in places like China or Africa or Australia just don't happen here. Except they do:

A former Automobile Association worker has admitted taking bribes in exchange for drivers' licenses.


According to court documents, Brar kept more than $56,000 worth of bribes.

The 25-year-old worked for the Automobile Association with the title "customer service consultant" in the Meadowlands branch in east Auckland.

He processed paperwork and took money from people who wanted to sit their practical driver's licence test.

And he wasn't the only one - there was an entire ring of them, taking bribes to allow unsafe drivers on our roads.

The good news is that we caught these ones. But how many other corrupt officials are going undetected, because of our complacent attitude?

The EU trumps democracy in Italy

Back in March Italians went to the polls to elect a new government, and delivered an indecisive result with no clear winner. After months of wrangling and failed talks, it looked like an alliance of the populist Five Star Movement and the racist League would finally be able to form a government. But it was effectively vetoed at the last minute by Italy's President, when he refused to appoint someone who had voiced doubts about the EU as finance minister.

No matter which way you look at it, this is grossly undemocratic. The two parties ran on an anti-EU platform. They won a majority, both of the popular vote and in parliament. No matter what you think of their policies, this gives them an unquestioned right to form a government of their choosing. That right has clearly been violated. Worse, by doing this, the president has sent a clear message that he believes that the European Union trumps democracy and that he is just a local satrap for Brussels (a message strengthened by the support he is receiving from major EU governments). You don't need to support or like M5S or the League to think that that is an extremely dubious position.

The president has now appointed an interim prime minister - a former IMF budget-slasher, no less - who has no support and will fall at the first confidence vote. New elections are inevitable. And the president has just ensured that they will be fought on the question of Italy's membership of the EU and the EU's toxic effect on the democracy of its member states (not to mention constitutional reform to prevent the president from ever pulling a stunt like this again). If he was trying to protect Italy's place in the EU, he couldn't have picked a worse way to go about it.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Only guilty states do this

Two weeks ago, the Israeli Defence Force massacred over 50 Palestinians and wounded 1,200 more when they slowly and methodically shot people protesting against their border fence. Like other Israeli war crimes, the shootings were filmed, providing both potential evidence against the criminals and bad PR for the IDF. But Israeli nationalists have a solution to this: ban anyone from filming their heroic military!

Israel’s parliament is to consider a law banning the photographing or filming of soldiers, in what critics claim is a “dangerous” attempt to undermine scrutiny of the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF).

Under the proposed legislation, entitled the “Prohibition against photocopying and documenting IDF Soldiers”, those found photographing troops “with the intention of undermining the spirit” of the army can be punished by up to 10 years in prison.

“Anyone who filmed, photographed, and/or recorded soldiers in the course of their duties, with the intention of undermining the spirit of IDF soldiers and residents of Israel, shall be liable to five years imprisonment,” says the bill, proposed by Robert Ilatov, a member of the Knesset and the chairman of the right-wing nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party.

“Anyone intending to harm state security will be sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment.”

So, propaganda photos and videos will be fine. But showing the IDF doing its actual job of terrorising and murdering Palestinians so as to keep them under subjugation and steal their land will result in a jail sentence. And the intent of the law is clearly to hide the evidence of those crimes.

Only guilty states do this. But its been clear for quite some time that that is exactly what Israel is: a criminal state, built on and sustained by systematic human rights abuses. The one positive thing in this is that they seem to still at least have a sense of shame about them.

Abortion wins in Ireland

Over the weekend, Irish voters went to the polls in a referendum on their country's constitutional ban on abortion - and overturned it by a massive margin. While all the vote does is remove the constitutional prohibition, it is being interpreted correctly as a vote for change, and the Irish government is promising to pass a sane abortion law which doesn't kill women by the end of the year. Which will leave Northern Ireland as the only place in the British isles where abortion is still illegal.

This has put pressure on the UK government to Do Something about its backward colony, for example by legislating to allow for their own referendum. But that would be constitutionally improper. Northern Ireland is a devolved region, with its own government (though not at the moment) and laws. It is as inappropriate for Westminster to legislate for them as it would be for them to legislate for Scotland. They can only do so with consent. Unfortunately, due to the sectarian nature of Northern Irish politics, which sees bigot unionist parties holding a veto on government (which is why they don't have one ATM), that consent is unlikely to be granted. The only way to fix this problem is for Northern Irish voters to vote out the bigots and vote for people who will change the law. In other words, they have to solve this problem themselves.

Its also raised questions about why New Zealand is dragging its feet on removing abortion from the Crimes Act. Despite a clear promise from Labour, the issue has been parked with the Law Commission in an effort to gain political cover for change. Except that anti-abortionists won't care what the Law Commission says in its report, and will MPs will face a torrent of hate regardless. Which means the entire exercise is pointless - they might as well have simply cut out the middle man and introduced the law they wanted themselves.