Friday, July 20, 2018



The UK uses child spies

British police and intelligence agencies are using children as spies:

British police and intelligence agencies are using children as spies in covert operations against terrorists, gangs and drug dealers.

A committee of the House of Lords revealed the practice while raising the alarm over government plans to give law enforcement bodies more freedom over their use of children.

Some of the child spies are aged under 16, the committee says, adding that it was worried about proposals to extend from one month to four the period of time between each occasion that child spies go through a re-registration process.


This isn't using children as informants or witnesses - its actually using them as covert, undercover agents in a criminal or terrorist environment. Which raises obvious child welfare and legal issues. Pretty obviously, it raises questions about whether the UK is complying with its duty under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child to ensure that best interests of the child is the primary consideration in any decision about them. And in anti-terrorist operations, it raises questions about whether the UK is complying with its duties under UNCROC's First Optional Protocol on the recruitment of children in armed conflict.

More generally, the use of children as soldiers is a war crime. Shouldn't this also apply to using children as spies?

Fuck Australia

The Australians are pissed off at Andrew Little for calling them out on their deportation policy and treatment of kiwis. And Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton thinks Little should "reflect" on the NZ-Australia relationship before criticising our neighbours. I think we should reflect on it too, because there's a lot to criticise.

Where to start? Their shittiness to kiwis is the least of it. The Australian government is full of racists. Their political system is irredeemably corrupt, and their federal politicans refuse to try and clean it up out of fear they'll lose their slice of the pie. They spy on their neighbours, and prosecute those who blow the whistle on them. They have authoritarian espionage laws which in practice target journalists. Their treatment of their indigenous people is appalling. They stick refugees in concentration camps where they are abused and neglected.

Whenever our politicians meet, they talk a lot about how the relationship is built on "shared values". I don't see a lot that we share. Racism is not a kiwi value. Corruption is not a kiwi value. Authoritarianism and cruelty are not kiwi values. The values we take pride in - compassion, fairness, justice, honesty, democracy - are values Australia is walking away from. They're even walking away from their supposed "mateship". They're no longer the sort of country a modern democracy can or should count as a friend.

As their closest neighbour and oldest friend, this is something we should be speaking out against, not keeping silent on. And if they don't like that, then fuck Australia.

Also, if you don't like what Australia has become or the way it treats people, then vote with your wallet and don't buy Australian. Don't give your money to these arseholes until they change for the better.

Labour lied on refugees

When they were in opposition, Labour advocated for an increased refugee quota. When they were running for election, they explicitly promised to raise it to 1,500 a year. But now they're in government, they're saying that we're full:

The Government has stalled on plans to double New Zealand's refugee quota - and it's because of the housing crisis.

Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway says Aotearoa need to sort that before it thinks about welcoming more refugees.

[...]

"What we have to do is make sure we've got the capacity to take those extra people."

Translation: we just don't have enough homes.


For context, the promised increase in the refugee quota is less than one percent of net immigration, and it would be completely buried by this year's decrease. So Lees-Galloway's "justification" isn't especially convincing. But more importantly, there will always be problems in New Zealand, but that's no excuse to ignore the greater problems of the wider world. Refugees are in desperate need, and we are nowhere near to doing our bit for them (we take fewer refugees per capita than the much-reviled Australians, for example). Labour promised to move part of the way towards correcting that, to be a more compassionate government than their predecessors. Sadly, it looks like they were just fucking lying to us, as usual.

New Fisk

A Bosnian signs off weapons he says are going to Saudi Arabia – but how did his signature turn up in Aleppo?

A victory for European justice

A week ago, a German court rejected the extradition of exiled Catalan President Carles Puigdemont on "rebellion" charges. He could be extradited for "misuse of public funds", but not for "rebellion" as there was no equivalent offence in German law (Germany requires actual or planned violence, not peaceful protest and democratic advocacy. The idea of a peaceful "rebellion" is nonsensical). And now, as expected, Spain is having a legal temper-tantrum and has withdrawn the European Arrest Warrants against all the exiled Catalan politicians:

A Spanish judge has dropped the international arrest warrants issued for the former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont and five other pro-sovereignty politicians over their roles in last year’s illegal referendum and subsequent unilateral declaration of independence.

[...]

The dropping of the international warrant means Puigdemont and his former colleagues – currently in Belgium, Scotland and Switzerland – no longer face extradition proceedings. But domestic warrants remain in force, meaning the six will be arrested should they return to Spain.

In his ruling, published on Thursday, Llarena hit out at the court in Schleswig-Holstein, accusing it of “a lack of commitment” over acts that could have “broken Spain’s constitutional order”. The German court’s refusal to extradite Puigdemont on the rebellion charge – which prosecutors had argued could be equated to “high treason” in the German penal code – meant the deposed president could not be tried for the offence if sent back to Spain.


That offence - again, for purely democratic actions taken and backed by the Catalan Parliament - is really all Spain wants to charge him with. The "misuse of public funds" charge is a smokescreen, and even the Spanish government says it didn't happen. But now Spain is being denied its show trial. No wonder they're upset.

Unfortunately, Spain is still holding nine Catalan political leaders as political prisoners on similar trumped-up charges. And they'll probably take out their anger on them.

Thursday, July 19, 2018



Doomed?

Good news from Nelson: the Waimea dam project - the one National wants to pass a Muldoonist Enabling Act to rip land out of a forest park for - has escalated in price and looks doomed:

Updated costs for the proposed Waimea dam have added a whopping $26 million to its bottom line, putting the future of the controversial project in doubt.

"Unless a solution can be found to close the gap, the dam won't go ahead," Tasman district mayor Richard Kempthorne told a media briefing on Thursday morning. "There is no doubt this is a major setback and possibly the greatest challenge yet for the project."

A long-time supporter of the dam as the best option to augment the water supply for Waimea, Kempthorne said he was "gutted" by the updated figures, which represent a 35 per cent escalation in costs.


Good riddance. The conservation estate is for conservation, not building dams, while the resulting intensified farming (in part driven by the need to pay irrigation fees) will only lead to dirtier rivers. The sooner this project is cancelled, the better.

A curious absence

The Free Speech Coalition has filed its suit against Phil Goff and the Auckland Council over their cancellation of a Nazi event, seeking to have the decision overturned. But reading the statement of claim, there's an odd omission: while they cite a variety of administrative law reasons and breach of sections 14 - 17 (freedom of expression, religion, assembly and association) of the Bill of Rights Act as reasons to overturn the decision, for some reason they don't include their strongest case: breach of the right to freedom from discrimination on the basis of political opinion. Its alluded to in passing when suggesting that Goff unlawfully directed the decision, but not otherwise mentioned. I'm not sure whether this is because they felt it would be difficult to prove, or because several of the Coalition's backers (e.g. Stephen Franks) are ideologically opposed to anti-discrimination legislation, but given that they're throwing the kitchen sink at it elsewhere, its a curious absence.

They've requested an urgent hearing and interim orders allowing the event to proceed, though whether they get it is another question. Still, hopefully we'll have a ruling and some clarification on local authority powers and freedom of speech soon.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018



Another transparency failure

Last month, Regional Development Minister Shane Jones claimed he had received 365 text messages supporting his criticism of Fonterra. But surprisingly, he's refusing to release them under the OIA:

Self-styled "provincial champion" Jones launched a blistering attack on the long-serving dairy co-operative boss last month. Defending his remarks, Jones then claimed 365 people had sent messages supporting his stance.

But the NZ First Minister is now refusing to release those text messages. And that raises questions about the Government's official record-keeping processes.

"The messages I was referring to were received predominantly on my private phone and not in my capacity as a Minister. They therefore do not fall within the scope within the scope of the Official Information Act 1982," Jones said in a letter to Stuff.


As the article points out, that's bullshit. Its not the phone that matters, but the capacity the messages were received in. And when they are supposedly received in response to a statement made as a Minister, that capacity can only be as a Minister. Meaning that they are official information and covered by the Act.

Perhaps in recognition of this, Jones' office is now claiming that releasing them would require "substantial collation and research". Not really. Or rather, as Jones is claiming to have counted them, then he already knows which messages they are, which means most of the work is already done. While there will obviously be substantial work required to redact the identifying details from these messages, that is not part of the "collation and research" process and cannot be used as a reason for refusal.

Of course, the real reason for the request isn't so much the content of the texts, but that a response will show the public whether Jones actually received that level of public support, or whether he was just big-mouthing himself. And that's probably the reason for the refusal as well. But while relatively inconsequential, its another failure of transparency by this government, and another example of how they are all talk and no action on this issue.

When police investigate police

Another IPCA report is out today, this time into an officer's use of pepper spray in a police cell. The inquiry found that the officer's actions were unjustified, in breach of police policy, and unlawful. So there's the obvious question again: why wasn't the officer charged? Interestingly, his fellow police officers thought his actions were so beyond the pale that the police were forced to launch a criminal investigation. But rather than recommend prosecution, it decided the officer's actions were "commendable". As for the quality of that investigation, and a subsequent employment investigation, the IPCA had this to say:

The Authority considers that both Police investigations failed to critically and objectively analyse the evidence and, therefore, the findings (that Officer H’s actions were justified and lawful, and did not amount to misconduct) are unsustainable when measured against the provisions of sections 39 and 48 of the Crimes Act 1961 and Police policy.

In light of our findings, the Authority finds it particularly disturbing that the criminal investigation concluded that Officer H’s actions were commendable.


But that's what happens when police investigate police. And its precisely why we need to give the IPCA the ability to launch its own prosecutions: because even in egregious cases like this, the police are clearly incapable of enforcing the law against themselves.

UK drone pilots are criminals

That's the conclusion of a UK Parliamentary inquiry into drone strikes:

British military personnel could be prosecuted for killing civilians in drone strikes and risk becoming complicit in alleged war crimes committed by the US, an inquiry has found.

A two-year probe by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Drones revealed that the number of operations facilitated by the UK in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia has been growing without any public scrutiny.

As well as launching its own strikes, the Ministry of Defence is assisting operations by the US and other allies that could violate both national and international law, it said.

[...]

Because the use of force outside conflicts Britain is directly involved with is not protected by combatant immunity, British servicemen and women can be prosecuted for murder.


As can the Ministers who approve such strikes. And they should be. Because what the UK has is a state policy of murdering its political opponents (some of whom are UK citizens) outside of armed conflict. The only difference between them and Putin's polonium and novichok poisonings is that they do it in Syria rather than Salisbury, and they use even more indiscriminate methods.

The inquiry also found that because the US drone program "appears to be violating international law", and that assisting it was therefore illegal and similarly exposed UK military and intelligence personnel to prosecution for US war crimes. Unlike the US, the UK is a party to the International Criminal Court, so it has an obligation to prosecute these criminals - and the threat that the international community will do it if they won't. Which ought to incentivise the UK government to cease such cooperation.

It also ought to focus the minds of New Zealand's spies - because in 2014 the Prime Minister admitted that their data may have been used for drone murders. Which could put them on the legal hook for murder and war crimes, just as the UK is. Once the Inspector-General of Intelligence and security has finished their report on SIS and GCSB engagement with the CIA (and its torture and rendition program), maybe they could look into this?

Tuesday, July 17, 2018



New Zealand should ratify the Kampala Amendment

In 2010, the parties to the International Criminal Court agreed the Kampala Amendment, which finally gave a formal, legal definition to the crime of aggression (you know, the one they convicted the Nazis of), allowing the court to prosecute it. 35 states have since ratified the amendment, and it finally came into force today. But strangely, New Zealand wasn't one of them. Writing in Stuff, lawyer Roger Clark and former Green MP Kennedy Graham argue that we should ratify:

Should New Zealand join? Of course it should. If it is good enough for the German chancellor and the prime minister of Samoa to be accountable under law for aggression, it is good enough for our own leaders. New Zealand signed on to the Kampala Amendment back in 2010. Liechtenstein ratified in 2012, Germany in 2013. New Zealand could also have done so then. No reason to delay further.

In the New Zealand Parliament back in 2009, a member's bill making aggression a crime was given a first reading debate. The penalty for a New Zealand leader could stretch to 10 years in prison, a sobering consideration. The bill was voted down, but the vote was close – 64 to 58.

It is time for the Kampala Amendment to be brought into the House, and for that vote to be reversed.


And they're right. New Zealand's fundamental foreign policy position is for a peaceful, rules-based international order. But such an order is impossible where aggression is legal. As a small country, all we have is our voice. So if we want a peaceful, law-governed international order, we need to put our money where our mouth is, agree to be part of one, and do our bit to strengthen and spread those norms. I'm actually boggled we haven't done so already, but I guess that's what happens when you have a previous government obsessed with grovelling to the aggressive US...

Monday, July 16, 2018



Israel's new apartheid law

Israel is an apartheid state. But the pretence in Israel has always been that this is about the occupation and "security" against their victims, and that Arab citizens are equal in law. Now, a new law aims to allow formal, legal segregation:

Israel is in the throes of political upheaval as the country’s ruling party seeks to pass legislation that could allow for Jewish-only communities, which critics have condemned as the end of a democratic state.

For the past half-decade, politicians have been wrangling over the details of the bill that holds constitution-like status and that Benjamin Netanyahu wants passed this month.

The proposed legislation would allow the state to “authorise a community composed of people having the same faith and nationality to maintain the exclusive character of that community”.

In its current state, the draft would also permit Jewish religious law to be implemented in certain cases and remove Arabic as an official language.


This isn't some fringe party project, but official government policy. The good news is that it is being vigorously opposed by Israelis who recognise its naked racism and corrosive effect on the society they live in. But the fact that it has been proposed shows how sick Israel is as a society, and how the occupation is undermining its democracy.

New Fisk

The fisherman in Sarajevo told tales of past wars – and warned me of ones to come

Will Talleys get what they paid for?

Talleys is one of the country's largest political donors. Last year it dished out $49,000 to election candidates, including $10,000 to NZ First's Shane Jones. Talleys also hates the idea of the government properly regulating the criminal fishing industry, and has written to the government opposing plans to but cameras on fishing boats:

The fishing industry says a Government plan to put cameras aboard commercial fishing vessels has been "driven by a level of hysteria around discarding" fish.

Stuff has seen an industry letter sent to the Government this month expressing "real concerns about the use of cameras without understanding what their purpose is".

In June, Fisheries Minister Stuart Nash confirmed he would push ahead with plans to put cameras on commercial fishing boats.

He hoped to put a proposal to ministers this month, but needed to get agreement from NZ First and the Greens.


...and reportedly, the primary opponent of the proposal is the aforementioned Shane Jones. But I'm sure it has nothing to do with the $10,000 they gave him. Absolutely nothing.

Friday, July 13, 2018



The Minister for Open Government, yet again

Clare Curran attended a secret meeting with Google and refused to take notes about it:

At least two Cabinet ministers attended a dinner at an exclusive club hosted by Google's top lawyer under secretive "Chatham House" rules, but made no notes of what was discussed.

National open government spokesman Nick Smith blasted their attendance, accusing Labour of hypocrisy.

Google's chief counsel, Kent Walker, hosted the dinner at the capital's swanky Wellington Club for invited guests who included Justice Minister Andrew Little, Open Government Minister Clare Curran and top public servants and lawyers.

[...]

Walker's visit came at a time when the world's fifth largest company faces the possibility of additional regulation in the areas of tax, privacy and competition policy.

Little said in a letter sent in response to an Official Information Act request that he didn't generate any notes or memos from the event. A spokeswoman for Curran said she hadn't either.


In which case, they should have generated them in response to the request. The Ministers attended in an official capacity, so any information that resulted is official information. And that includes information in Ministers' heads. Their failure or refusal to take notes does not protect them from requests, only from poorly-worded ones (though arguably, that would violate the duty of assistance). As for the "Chatham House rule", the government can not contract out of the OIA. It may be able to withhold information provided to them under such an express obligation of confidence, if the interest in receiving such information in future is not outweighed by the public interest. But they cannot withhold information they provided to others simply by declaring it "confidential". The problem is that refusal to record gives deniability, so even if Smith successfully appeals this atrocity to the Ombudsman, Curran will be able to smile and say she remembers nothing - while providing Google with whatever secret backhanders it wants.

And that's why refusal to keep records is bad: because it enables the government to lie to us, and it enables them to behave corruptly. Ministers who deliberately do so (and Curran is a serial offender) need to be held to account.

Better news than it sounds

Last night, a German court ruled that exiled Catalan President Carles Puigdemont could be extradited to Spain - but only on charges of "misuse of public funds". The charge Spain really wants to stick him with - "rebellion" - was rejected. Which is better news than it sounds, because (thanks to EU law) it means he can not now be prosecuted for that offence if extradited. The German court found that there was no violence or criminal organisation in the independence referendum (or at least, not from the Catalan people. The Spanish state is another matter). This hands a ready-made legal argument to those facing extradition elsewhere, as well as to the nine Catalan political prisoners Spain is currently holding. Its so bad for Spain that they may themselves refuse to accept the extradition rather than live with the legal consequences (though its unclear whether they can then seek it again elsewhere on charges which have already been rejected).

There will be an appeals process, of course. But its a good sign for Puigdemont at least, and it puts pressure on the Spanish government to drop its ridiculous charges. And given that they've declared that no public money was spent on the referendum, they should drop the "misuse of public funds" ones as well.

Climate change: Getting rid of petrol cars

What does the government's target of zero net emissions by 2050 mean in practice? James Shaw states the obvious: no more petrol cars:

If New Zealand is to meet its zero carbon pledge, nearly all the country's cars will have to be zero-emission by 2050, Climate Change Minister James Shaw says.

As of June, roughly 8700 plug-in cars are on the road of a total fleet of more than four million.

Mr Shaw said achieving the country's commitment to be carbon neutral by 2050 was reliant on significantly boosting the uptake of plug-in vehicles.

"We can't get to the zero-emissions carbon goal without switching over the ground vehicle fleet to electrics. You just can't get there," he said.

"We think that means about 95 percent of vehicles in the year 2050 will be zero-emissions vehicles."


Which is obvious if you think about it. Road transport was responsible for 13.6 million tonnes of CO2 emissions in 2016 - 17.3% of our national total. And if we are to reach zero emissions, those emissions need to be eliminated or offset. Some of that can be done by mode-shifting - getting people out of cars and into electric-powered trains and buses in our major centres. But the car is unlikely to die, so that means getting people to use cars which don't ruin the climate. And on current technological trends, that looks like a massive switch to electric vehicles.

The good news is that its possible. Electric vehicles are a tiny chunk of the fleet at the moment - there are less than 9,000 on the road. But thirty years is a long time for technological change, and New Zealand imports more than 250,000 cars a year. There's about 3.4 million cars registered, and the entire fleet will turn over multiple times before 2050. And while electric vehicles are expensive at present, the price will drop as they become standard, and we'll see greater numbers showing up on the used market (which is where NZ gets about half its cars).

As for how to push that change, rather than ending up a dumping ground for the rest of the world's discarded dirty cars when they switch to electric, the obvious policy is to set a long-term cutoff date on the sale or import of petrol cars. Overseas, dates have been set between 2025 (for Norway) and 2040 (for the dirty UK), with 2030 as the average. For New Zealand, I'd suggest no later than 2035, giving plenty of time for petrol cars to age out of the fleet. The followup policy is to have a cutoff date for registering petrol cars, 5 - 10 years after the import ban, which would restrict them to historical display use only. Because by that stage they should all be in museums, or driven only by obsessive engineers who like tinkering with and restoring dead technology, like Model-T Fords and 1957 Chevys today.

It sounds hard, but remember that it took only thirty years for the petrol car to completely replace horses in city streets. We've got that much time, and the technological shift required is smaller. We can do this. The trick is to make sure that it happens sooner rather than later, and not just leave it to the market.

Thursday, July 12, 2018



Brexit as a natural disaster

Something bad is about to happen. The government has plans to stockpile food and medicine to ensure continued supplies, and to float thousands of generators on barges in the irish Sea to provide electricity to Northern Ireland. A hurricane, earthquake, or asteroid strike? No - all this is preparation for Brexit:

MINISTERS have drawn up secret plans to stockpile processed food in the event of EU divorce talks collapsing - to show Brussels that “no deal” is not a bluff.

Theresa May has ordered “no deal” planning “to step up” — with the government poised to start unveiling some of the 300 contingency measures in the coming weeks.

[...]

The Sun can reveal that includes emergency measures to keep Britain’s massive food and drinks industry afloat - including stockpiling ahead of exit day on 29 March next year.

More than £22 billion worth of processed food and drinks are imported in to the UK - 97 per cent from the EU - in an industry that keeps 400,000 workers employed in the UK.

Similar stockpiles are also being prepared for medical supplies amid fears of chaos at British ports next year.


Its as if the UK is preparing for a state of siege. Except it will be one entirely of their own making. And it really makes you think that the Brexiteers' insistence on leaving the common market is a really, really bad idea.

Time to fix renting

Renters United this morning launched The Plan to Fix Renting, a set of policy proposals building on last year's People's Review of Renting. Things like giving renters security of tenure by banning no-cause evictions and requiring landleeches to give reasons which can then be legally challenged. Reducing the degree to which landleeches or their property managers can intrude on their tenant's lives with inspections. Limiting rent increases to the CPI once a year, unless significant improvements are made. Requiring minimum standards for rental properties, and licences for property managers. And fixing the Tenancy Tribunal so tenants can actually use it without fear of being evicted and blacklisted.

These are all sensible proposals, and the government has already committed to implementing some of them (though that seems to be taking a while). Of course, the landleeches' union is outraged, and making their usual threat that they'll get out of the landlord business. Which is great - because one of the problems with our housing market is that there are too many greedy boomers hoarding houses so they can harvest tax-free capital gains, and playing landlord in between to pay the bills. If tighter regulation drives these parasites out of the market, we get a double benefit: the demise of bad landleeches, and more houses on the market, leading to a drop in prices. I fail to see any downside in this.

If you'd like to show your support for these proposals, ActionStation has a petition here.

We need to protect dolphins from mining

Correction: The Conservation Minister had no role in granting this permit. I had assumed that, as on land, exploration would require an access arrangement, which would have required her approval. But thanks to the Marine and Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Act 2011's "no-one owns the seabed" position, the Crown Minerals Act was amended so that you don't need an access arrangement to explore or mine in the common marine and coastal area. And thanks to Taranaki District Council's "drill, baby, drill" policy, exploration is a permitted activity despite the entire area being a marine mammal sanctuary, so there's no RMA process either. There will be an RMA process for actual mining at least, but that won't stop the disruption from exploration.

As for how to fix this, the Marine Mammals Protection Act allows activites within Marine Mammal Sanctuaries to be regulated, and this is already used to prohibit mining (but not oil drilling) in part of the West Coast North Island Sanctuary. That area could be expanded, and further oil drilling banned. But in the long term, there seems to be no reason to distinguish between onshore and offshore wildlife sanctuaries, so they need to be added to Schedule 4.


Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage MBIE appears to have quietly granted a permit to explore for ironsands in a Marine Mammal Sanctuary:

A mining exploration permit has been quietly granted inside a marine sanctuary set up to protect the endangered Māui dolphins.

The decision has shocked conservation groups who were unaware of the move and the Department of Conservation has “significant concerns” about the safety of the dolphins if mining were to go ahead.

[...]

In May, permission to explore a 220-square-kilometre section off the coast of New Plymouth that falls within the sanctuary was granted to a company that wants to dredge the ocean floor for minerals.

Ironsands Offshore Mining Ltd will now be able to carry out tests, including drilling, to assess the viability of the project.

Its an appalling decision, and a pointless one: while the impact of exploration may be low, it is difficult to imagine a full mining operation being approved. But like the Otakiri Springs water decision, it may be a case of the Minister's hands being tied: marine mammal sanctuaries enjoy no special protection from mining, while the law covering access arrangements requires the Minister to consider economic benefits but not environmental costs unless the land is specifically held for conservation purposes (because in theory that is dealt with at the RMA stage, not at the mining consent stage. Except where the local council short-circuits the entire process with a "drill, baby, drill" policy...)

As for how to stop this, hopefully Greenpeace will OIA the advice, and seek a judicial review if there is any doubt about the decision. And of course there's protests (though again, when will the government repeal the Anadarko Amendment?) But in the long term, if we want to prevent mining or prospecting in marine mammal sanctuaries, we need to change the law. And at this stage it is worth noting that sanctuaries for land-based wildlife enjoy the protection of Schedule 4, meaning mining is absolutely forbidden. Sanctuaries for marine mammals do not, despite serving an identical purpose at sea. It would be a very simple members bill to add them. Maybe a Green MP would like to put one in the ballot?

Wednesday, July 11, 2018



Taking on dirty dairying

Taranaki is one of the country's biggest dairying districts. And somewhat surprisingly, the Taranaki Regional Council appears to be taking on dirty dairying, with prosecutions and fines:

A dairy farmer collapsed in the dock and cried into her husband's arms after a judge slapped them with a $45,000 fine for illegally discharging untreated dairy effluent into a Taranaki creek.

John and Alison Vernon, who live and manage a 144-hectare Denbigh Rd dairy farm in Midhurst, admitted one charge each of discharging contaminants into water, a breach of the Resource Management Act.

[...]

Meanwhile, in a separate case, a husband and wife pair of company directors were fined $54,000 after admitting two charges of discharging contaminants into water.

Kevin and Diane Goble did not live at Block 8 Farm, on Block 8 Rd in Waverley, but had employed a contract milker on the site since 2016.


In both cases, farmers had let cowshit flow into streams, poisoning them. In most areas of the country, this simply isn't prosecuted: regional councils work for farmers, or view enforcement as too much work, and so take a passive role. Taranaki seems to be taking it seriously, and hopefully it will lead to an improvement in farmer behaviour.

No incentive

The UK Information Commissioner looks likely to fine Facebook £500,000 over its enabling of Cambridge Analytica:

Facebook is set to be fined £500,000 by the UK’s privacy watchdog after it concluded the social media giant broke data laws.

The California-headquartered company failed to protect users' information and then failed to be clear about how that information had been harvested by others. That was the conclusion of a major report into whether personal data had been misused by both sides during the EU referendum.

[...]

In a progress update to a parliamentary select committee, the ICO said it had served Facebook with a notice of intent to issue its maximum fine after it found the company had twice breached the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA). A final decision will be made after the social media giant has had a chance to respond.

While a fine of £500,000 is the biggest possible punishment available to the ICO, it is the same amount of money that Facebook makes in just a few minutes.


And that's the core problem: that the fines UK law enables are completely inadequate to provide any incentive whatsoever on a global company like Facebook. Still, they're better than New Zealand, which currently has a fine of a mere $2,000. The government's Privacy Bill (currently before select committee) will increase this to a whopping $10,000, which is still nothing like what is needed. The Privacy Commissioner wants to see that raised to $1 million, but that's less than the UK maximum, which is clearly inadequate. An EU-style cap set as a percentage of global turnover (not profit) would be far more effective at providing an incentive against multinational privacy abuse.

Make our Parliament accessible to parents

In addition to the Prime Minister, several other MPs have already become parents this term. And one of them is highlighting that Parliament's new travel rules pose a big barrier for new parents:

One of Parliament's new parents, Kiri Allen, has argued for a cap on taxpayer-funded travel for MPs' partners to be lifted for those with young babies.

While MPs' partners used to be allowed unlimited travel to be with the MP, the so-called "perk" was cut back in 2014 after excessive use by some.

The cap does not apply to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's partner Clarke Gayford, who will be primary caregiver for baby Neve, because the Prime Minister's partner gets unlimited travel.

However, the partners of ordinary MPs get 20 trips a year maximum while ministers' partners get 30 trips a year. The caps are set by the Remuneration Authority and can only be used to accompany MPs on work-related travel.


As Allen highlights, 20 trips a year isn't enough for new parents, and apparently works out to a visit every six weeks. Raising it would allow far better work-life balance, and allow these MP's to better participate in our democracy without unduly burdening their families. And she's absolutely right: it is an unreasonable burden - but one that is so easily fixed. And if we want our Parliament to look like New Zealand, and to include MP's at all stages of life, we need to raise that cap for them.

Priorities

Nurses are going on strike tomorrow for higher pay, after years of being underfunded. The government has condemned that underfunding, and says it wants to help, but also says that they have no more money to give. And meanwhile, their Defence Minister is wasting $2.3 billion on high-tech anti-submarine warfare aircraft their own defence policy says we don't need.

I guess that's where the nurses' pay-rise went: on pointless militaristic wank-toys, whose sole purpose is to make NZDF feel like they're a "real" defence force, and allow them to involve us in yet more American wars.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018



Doing the right thing for the wrong reasons

A "free speech coalition" is planning a judicial review of Auckland mayor Phil Goff's decision to ban a pair of visiting Nazis from speaking in a council venue. A judicial review is welcome: I think Goff has behaved illegally, and should be forced to obey the law. At the least, it will clarify the law on freedom of speech in New Zealand in a useful way. At the same time, this "free speech coalition" looks a little odd:

It was being supported by former Labour Party minister Dr Michael Bassett, former National Party and ACT leader Dr Don Brash and business leader and Property Institute chief executive Ashley Church.

Also in favour was Auckland University senior lecturer Dr David Cumin, Canterbury University academic Melissa Derby, lawyer Stephen Franks, AUT professor Paul Moon, broadcaster Lindsay Perigo, writer Rachel Poulain, political commentator Chris Trotter and Taxpayers' Union executive director Jordan Williams.


If you were wanting to run a principled free speech campaign, then simply as a matter of PR, it might be a good idea not to have so many outright racists in it. Or people who have been outright hostile to free speech in the past. And be led by someone who hasn't called for critics of the government to have their arts funding cut. And OTOH, at least this time they're doing the right thing, if almost certainly for the wrong reasons.

New Fisk

Nearly two decades on from Nato's deadly bombing of civilians at Varvarin in Serbia, the wait for justice continues

The pathway to an equal parliament

Helen Clark has called for political parties to put more women on their party lists:

Political parties need to promote more women on their lists, former Prime Minister Helen Clark says.

Clark was speaking on Tuesday on a panel at Parliament on efforts to make Parliament's more family friendly.

Parties are the gateways through which most people enter Parliament and need to be "the greatest champions" for equality, she said.

Lists are crucial because research shows fewer women make it into electorate seats.


Though largely that's because parties don't nominate them, or don't nominate them in winnable seats.

Kiwis want a parliament that looks like New Zealand. But we can only elect candidates parties put up. And the reason we don't have an equal parliament, bluntly, is because our two biggest parties are sexist institutions which systematically discriminate against women. And if they don't like that description, maybe they should fix their sexism problem, by ensuring that their party rules provide for equal representation.

Wedding cake bigotry is illegal

So, some Auckland bigots have decided to try their hand at US-style wedding cake bigotry, and refused to provide a wedding cake for a marriage:

A same-sex couple is "shocked and upset" that their request for a wedding cake was refused by a Warkworth baker who said marriage equality was against her beliefs.

Moe Barr and Sasha Patrick both live in Brisbane, but since Australia had not yet legalised same-sex marriage when they got engaged last year, they planned their wedding at Waipu in Northland for next January.

When they approached Kath's Devine Cakes in Warkworth to make the cake, "Kath" refused, saying despite the New Zealand government legalising same-sex marriage, she believed it was not correct and therefore she would not make the wedding cake.


This is pretty obviously illegal. The Human Rights Act 1993 prohibits discriminating in the provision of goods and services on the basis of sexual orientation, just as it prohibits it on the basis of race or disability. While this must be interpreted through the lens of the Bill of Rights Act, which affirms freedom of religion, the consensus when the Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill was passed was that people had no right to refuse to provide services to gay couples, any more than they would to interracial ones. For that reason, a National MP put up a bigot amendment which would have allowed his fellow bigots to refuse services in exactly this manner. It was voted down, 79-36.

As for what should happen, the Human Rights Commission should take these bigots to the Human Rights Review Tribunal, which should award damages for hurt and humiliation (and pour encourager les autres). And of course, no-one should buy cake from these bigots ever again. Because this sort of shit isn't acceptable, any more than refusing to serve Maori is.

TOP and the politics of impatience

Gareth Morgan has a post-TOP interview at The Spinoff, in which he makes explicit everything wrong with TOP and exactly why he is fundamentally unsuited for politics. There's the obvious constant slagging off of voters for valuing things different from himself, of course. But there's a top-down model of politics in which policies are offered "on a take-it or leave-it basis" and elections are bought so that they may be implemented. The problem of course is that people (and potential coalition partners) can just leave it, and (as we've seen in the case of Colin Craig and Kim Dotcom's respective vanity vehicles) elections in New Zealand are not just about money. But Morgan's biggest problem is that he is impatient:

That implies that to change the voting public’s political priorities requires a massive investment of time – time that individuals who have other options might more productively apply on other projects. While of course there is a body of politically active enthusiasts for TOP’s approach who would like to keep plugging away, the project needs money if it’s to realistically ever be more than a bit player like the Greens or NZ First and actually challenge the status quo of the two Establishment parties.

Morgan calls the Greens a "bit player", but if you look at the way policy flows in New Zealand - who introduces it, who advocates it, who adopts it, and who has to pretend to to avoid being offside with the public - they're a major influence. And they do it not by Morgan's (or rather, his hero Roger Douglas's) preferred methods of "crash through or crash", but by slow and patient advocacy. Why are we going to get a capital gains tax? Because the Greens advocated it, convinced the public (with the help of a housing crisis), and Labour and National had to follow (to the extent that National was forced to introduce the first steps). Why do we have a home-insulation scheme and a renewable energy target? Its the same story. Why are we going to clean up our waterways? Because the Greens have convinced the public, and the major parties are following their steer. As a small party, you can have an outsized effect.

(NZ First are a different story, because as a reactionary party they're about keeping things the same, or returning to some idealised past, rather than advocating for new policy. So their story is one of veto, not advocacy).

But its not just about introducing policy, but ensuring its survival. If TOP had won power and implemented its policies, it would still have had to do the hard work of building consensus behind them, or see their repeal at the next election. We want change. We want change now. But if we want it to stick, we need to convince people, either before or after the fact.

Max Weber called politics "a strong and slow boring of hard boards" - and that was said in an era when that was done with hand drills. Building consensus behind policy and changing political priorities requires time and patience. It requires convincing people. Morgan didn't have patience, either for the process or with the people he was trying to convince. And that is why he was doomed to failure.

Monday, July 09, 2018



TOP-less

The Opportunities Party has decided not to contest the 2020 election, and has asked the Electoral Commission to deregister it. Officially, they've recognised the reality that their policies just aren't popular enough, but Morgan couldn't do that without taking the opportunity to heap scorn on voters:

“The voting public demonstrated that best practice, evidence-informed policy is not of significant concern when deciding elections. When 20% of the vote moves in 48 hours simply on the back of a change of leader, with no improvement at all in policy being offered, what makes the New Zealand voter tick is clear.”

Hear that? We're all irrational and unworthy of Morgan's genius, so he's taking his ball and going home. Which I think demonstrates the problem with TOP in a nutshell: its hard to win the support of voters while displaying such utter contempt for us. And its hard to win elections when you clearly have no idea how politics works. Because despite what the self-proclaimed uber-rational TOP-men purport, politics is not just about policy. Among other things, its also about trust and credibility. And the reason Labour's vote shifted so dramatically simply with a change in leader was because Labour got a leader people could believe in, someone people could trust to do what Labour said it would do, and trust to do what a Labour party ought to do in response to all the events that will inevitably pop up over a three year term. No-one trusted the faceless Daves. And about the only thing you could ever trust TOP to do was for Morgan to throw a temper-tantrum while slagging off everyone who didn't agree absolutely with him. What's surprising is that 2.4% of voters went along with such an abusive relationship.

But while its clear that TOP has died a natural death, it means we'll be down to only 12 registered political parties (and only 5 in Parliament). Which isn't a lot of options for voters to choose from. One way of measuring the health of a democracy is by the number of registered political parties. And on that metric, ours seems to be in slow decline.

The cost of a free and democratic society II

On Friday, we learned that a pair of Canadian Nazis had tacked New Zealand on to an Australian (of course) speaking tour, and were planning on visiting New Zealand. Cue an immediate public outcry, which was cut short by Phil Goff apparently banning them from Auckland Council venues:



Auckland Council apparently acted on this and cancelled their booking, ostensibly for health and safety reasons. Which is about as credible as Donald Trump saying his anti-Muslim ban wasn't about religion. When the mayor of a city says they've given a direction, and what they want happens, I think we're entitled to take their word for it.

The problem, of course, is that this is all illegal. Auckland Council is a body performing a public function and so subject to the Bill of Rights Act. Which affirms, among other things, both the right to freedom of expression, and the right to freedom from discrimination on the basis of political opinion. The Auckland Council's actions are a prima facie violation of those rights and invite judicial review. And given Goff's tweet, the outcome of such a review is likely to be ratepayer's money spent on compensating Nazis for the breach of those rights, as well as an order that the council provide them with a venue (if they want one) on the same terms as any other customer.

Goff won't care. Like police officers who beat suspects, he will face no personal consequences for violating these rights, and there's no political downside for him because he's picking on someone everyone hates. But we should care. Because if we let the mayor of Auckland decide what speech is acceptable in public facilities, then a future mayor may decide that they don't like speech that we approve of. Like union meetings, or speeches in favour of reforming drug laws, or political movements against landlords and the rentier economy. Or speeches in favour of racial justice - because Pakeha New Zealand's neck seems to be pretty red these days, and there's votes in sticking it to "the Maoris".

That's why we need to stand up for freedom of speech, even for people whose views are repugnant. Not because we agree with those views, but because being able to express your views without interference from the government is the key to any democratic change, and giving away that principle gives politicians a veto on what we can demand from them. When push comes to shove, I'd rather put up with Nazis than trust politicians with a power so ripe for abuse.

(And, because some moron will need it to be explicitly said: threatening people is a crime and these people need to go to jail).

Mini-Muldoonism

Back in 1982, National Party Prime Minister Robert Muldoon wanted to build a big dam. But the courts said no: granting water rights to the dam was against the law. So Muldoon passed special legislation, the Clutha Development (Clyde Dam) Empowering Act 1982, in order to get his way and build his pet project.

Fast forward 36 years, and only the scale has changed:

Nelson MP Dr Nick Smith says he has secured the support of all 56 National MPs for a local bill that aims to secure land access for the proposed Waimea dam.

"My ambition is to secure the full support of all parties and MPs, and I will be working on this in the coming weeks in preparation for the first reading and vote, due in August," Smith said.

The local bill, which was notified by Tasman District Council this week, seeks to gain an inundation easement over 9.6 hectares of conservation land in the Mount Richmond State Forest Park, near Nelson. The easement is needed for the creation of the reservoir for the proposed dam in the Lee Valley. The bill would also secure a right to construct the dam on Crown riverbed.


Its a smaller dam, but the same issue: the law says National's friends can't do what they want - in this case, ruin part of a protected conservation park to line the pockets of local farmers. So rather than respect the law, National's solution is a special carve-out for its mates. The idea that conservation areas are for conservation seems to be beyond them, and it should make everyone worry about what they will do to our conservation areas and national parks next time they're in government.

The good news is that like most of the others, this dam project is financially marginal and will be cancelled if prices escalate. At which point its worth noting that its one of three dams the government is still funding. Cancelling that funding would seem to be an excellent way of ensuring this land stays protected.

Ripped off

Over the years, the high country tenure review process has privatised hundreds of thousands of hectares of government land. Like all privatisations, the process is corrupt, with farmers getting land for a pittance (or in some cases, being paid by the government to take it) - and then immediately selling it on for nearly a thousand times what they paid for it. The latest abuse? A farmer pocketing nearly $20 million from this corrupt process:

A sprawling lake-front farm in Central Otago has sold for $17.5m - not long after taxpayers paid more than $2m to get rid of it.

It is the latest in a string of farms once owned by the Crown that have been privatised then on-sold for substantial profit.

An academic says it is a "spectacular example" of the extraordinary capital gains made by on-selling valuable lake-front land the Crown privatised. The Government department responsible, however, said its original deal was a fair representation of the land's value, and it had secured access to an important walking trail for the public.


Its just the latest in a long line of privatisations which have enriched farmers while destroying the environment and driving unsustainable dairy intensification in places like the MacKenzie Country. And even if you think that perpetual leases should be privatised, the scale of the rip-off should make you furious. To point out the obvious, those hundreds of millions of dollars farmers have made from this process is money the government could have made instead, if it had valued the land properly (e.g. by taking potential future subdivision and development rights into account, as happens in the urban property market). The enrichment of a small clique of South Island farmers came at the direct expense of our schools and hospitals, and you're paying higher taxes to enable it.

But its also terrible for the environment (again: intensive dairying in the MacKenzie Country). It needs to stop, both for equity and environmental reasons. Apparently there's a review under way, but given the Environment Court ruling, a moratorium while that happens seems to be a good idea.

Friday, July 06, 2018



The cost of a free and democratic society

So, a pair of foreign racists want to visit New Zealand, and naturally some people want to have them banned to prevent them from speaking:

Pressure is mounting on Immigration New Zealand to deny entry to a controversial Canadian pair set to give a talk in Auckland next month.

Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux are best known for their far-right alternative views on everything from feminism, gender and immigration to Islam.

Earlier this year, Ms Southern was banned by from entering the UK on the grounds of her involvement "in the distribution of racist material in Luton", according to the BBC.

The Islamic community voiced their opposition to the visit last month.

New Zealand Federation of Islam Associations president Hazim Arafeh said it had written letters to the Immigration Minister, Minister for Ethnic Communities and the Human Rights Commission asking for Lauren Southern to be denied entry.

"[She] abuses her right of freedom of speech. She's just going to give a talk in which she's just going to insult all of us," Mr Arafeh said.


Unfortunately, being insulted is just something people have to put up with in a free and democratic society, and our Supreme Court is on record (in Brooker v Police) as saying so. We have a right to freedom of speech in New Zealand, which covers not just the right of these racists to speak, but also the right of their racist audience to listen. Restricting that right pre-emptively requires a very high test: basicly an announced intention on the part of the speaker to incite a riot. If that test isn't met, there's no justifiable reason to prevent them from speaking. And as I've said in other cases, the answer to speech you don't like is more speech, not less. If they're giving a speech, then protest outside, and make it damn clear to everyone that kiwis don't agree with their racism and Islamophobia.

New Fisk

With Serbia and Kosovo both vying for EU membership, the question remains: who won the war?

Immigration's explicit racism

Back in April, we learned that Immigration was doing Precrime, targeting people for deportation on the basis of race, gender, and prejudice. Immigration of course denied and tried to downplay it. But it turns out they were using explicit racial profiling:

Immigration New Zealand has scrapped data and predictive modelling work it did to prioritise deportations.

The Privacy Commissioner and Human Rights Commission said they would work with the agency it if it developed technology or a similar initiative to the data-modelling in the future.

Documents obtained under the Official Information Act show Immigration New Zealand (INZ) set up a pilot scheme which targeted Indian students for compliance action, while the other dealt with all nationalities and visa types.

[...]

Other documents showed Immigration New Zealand's Northern area compliance team used a points matrix at its weekly meeting to prioritise cases for action, using Indians as one of its criteria for deporting offenders.


Targeting people for deportation because they were Indian is simply Trump-style racial profiling. It is absolutely wrong, and I am glad to see it stop. But will it really stop? Because the core of the problem here is that immigration officers appear to be racists, and ending formal racism may simply see them acting informally instead. An easier solution would seem to be to fire the racists who designed and fed this system, as their values are clearly incompatible with those of the government they are meant to represent.

Thursday, July 05, 2018



More corruption

A couple of weeks ago we learned that MPI had referred itself to the SSC over issues raised by an OIA request into its dealings with Thompson & Clark. That's bad enough, but its suddenly got more serious: they've called in the Serious Fraud Office:

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) has referred evidence of potential serious staff misconduct to the Serious Fraud Office (SFO), the ministry says.

MPI said in a statement it has also referred the matter to the State Services Commission (SSC) and it is part of the SSC's inquiry into the use of external security consultants including Thompson & Clark.

However, MPI said the conduct of concern did not involve the contracting of Thompson & Clark by MPI.

It said information currently pointed to matters occurring prior to October 2013, and the staff involved no longer work for MPI.


I guess whoever was behaving unprofessionally around TCIL was also behaving dubiously in other areas. Hopefully the SFO will get to the bottom of it and prosecute any criminal behaviour. Meanwhile, it really makes you wonder how much corruption in government departments simply slides under the radar, because nobody bothers to look.

WINZ's war on the poor

Surprise, surprise! It turns out that 80% of complaints to WINZ are unsubstantiated:

Figures released to Checkpoint with John Campbell under the Official Information Act show 8968 allegations were made in the 2016/17 financial year, resulting in 5992 investigations.

However, an overpayment that needed to be paid back was only identified in 20 percent of cases - or 1829 of them - meaning 4163 people were needlessly subjected to an investigation.

"So many resources are being put into people with a gripe about anything, dobbing in these vulnerable people, and subjecting them to the misery of an MSD benefit fraud investigation," lawyer Frances Joychild QC said.


Joychild provides examples of allegations made by abusive ex-partners, or in retaliation for exposing sexual abuse. But WINZ doesn't care about the motive for complaints - instead, they're just looking for excuses to cut benefits. But it speaks volumes that two thirds of their investigations turn up nothing. And you really have to wonder about how many million dollars they're wasting on this vindictive war on the poor.

Cows ruin another swimming spot

Earlier in the year, contamination forced a popular Napier swimming spot to close. The reason? Cowshit:

Cow faeces have been identified as a contamination source for Napier's Pandora Pond over the summer.

On Wednesday, Hawke's Bay Regional Council's environment and services committee was presented with a report on the contamination, which resulted in locals falling violently ill.

Between February 12-19 this year the pond exceeded national water quality guidelines of 280 enterococci (bacteria) per 100 millilitres of water three times.

[...]

Regional council coastal quality scientist Anna Madarasz-Smith told the committee that faecal source tracking of the high February levels returned an "unknown" contamination source.

Tracking identified the high March reading as being from cow faeces on an incoming tide. This "may indicate" a distant source, Madarasz-Smith said.

However, the higher result at that site, compared with another upstream site, indicated it was "more likely than not" that the contamination originated from the Thames/Tyne St catchment area.


The culprit seems to be a local meatworks. Another example of how the farming industry poisons our waterways. Hopefully they'll be taking a very close look at its waste outflow and its resource consents, and tightening up both. Its simply not acceptable for our rivers, lakes and streams to make people sick, and the council needs to clean it up.

A public duty

The Christchurch City Council is ignoring an Ombudsman's ruling to release information under LGOIMA:

The Ombudsman is calling on the country's top law officer, the Attorney-General, to launch enforcement proceedings against the Christchurch City Council over its continued refusal to release the cost of a touch wall in its new library.

Despite the instructions of the Ombudsman more than a month ago, the council is still to make the cost public.

Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier said he was disappointed the council had failed to release the cost within the timeframe required under the law.

[...]

He said he has written asking that the Attorney-General, David Parker, consider issuing enforcement proceedings against the council.


The Council's behaviour is of course illegal. Once the Ombudsman issues a final opinion, they have 21 days in which to pass a veto resolution. After that, there is a public duty on every member, officer and employee of the Council to obey it. The problem is that while there's a public duty, there's no enforcement provision or offence clause. And this case seems to be another example of why we need one.

Meanwhile, there are problems with transparency in the Auckland Council, Christchurch City Council, and central government. What's the common factor in all of these bodies? Labour party hacks in charge. Despite talking up transparency in opposition, Labour are no friends of it when in power, and even willing to behave illegally to thwart it. Remember that next time you vote.

Wednesday, July 04, 2018



A colossal waste of money

That's the only way to describe the government's expected purchase of US sub-hunting aircraft:

The Government is expected to announce it is buying a new fleet of Boeing P-8A Poseidon maritime surveillance aircraft next week.

Cabinet will make its final decision on the purchase of up to four of the planes, estimated to cost up to $2 billion, to replace the ageing P-3 Orions on Monday. The announcement will follow the release of the strategic defence policy statement on Friday.

Defence Minister Ron Mark has strongly signalled the Government will go ahead with the purchase of the P-8s, which would give New Zealand increased reconnaissance capabilities, especially when it comes to hunting submarines.


New Zealand unquestionably needs maritime surveillance aircraft - we use them for maritime search & rescue, fisheries patrols, and damage assessment after tropical cyclones. But we don't need high-tech sub-hunters, for the simple reason that we are not threatened by submarines. Seriously, where are these mythical submarines they are expected to find? And if this fantasised threat is expected to exist not now, but a decade or two in the future, then that suggests that we get the hugely expensive sub-hunting electronics (which makes up a huge chunk of the inflated cost of these aircraft) in that decade or two, not now.

Basicly, high-end military equipment in the absence of any real threat is a vanity purchase. All it does is allow generals to feel like they're keeping up with the Aussies, while enabling them to get involved in more American wars. There are far better things we could be spending that money on, like schools, hospitals, and state houses, which will make far of a difference to the safety of New Zealanders than expensive, pointless sub-hunting electronics ever will. We should ditch this contract and buy something cheaper which actually serves our needs.

The GCSB spied on the Pacific

The Inspector-General of Intelligence and security has released her report on GCSB spying in the South Pacific. The short version: the GCSB spied (and almost certainly still spies) on our Pacific neighbours, this spying may have illegally captured the private communications of New Zealand citizens, but as they do not appear to have been retained, there's no finding. Its a deeply unsatisfactory report, in that GCSB appears to have been doing something illegal and escaped consequences for it (again), and it spends a lot of space talking about how the law has changed and the protections GCSB has in place, but the fact remains: if they are still spying on the Pacific, then they will still be intercepting the communications of kiwis living or holidaying there. They have legal cover now for such "incidentally obtained intelligence", but that shouldn't be any comfort. We're meant to be a free and democratic society, and free and democratic societies don't spy on their citizens without particularised suspicion and individual judicial authorisation. And yet, the GCSB's methods at least sometimes involve indiscriminate mass surveillance. And all the equivocation in the world over "collection", "selection" and "retention" can't hide that.

Plus of course, there's the discomfort of an official acknowledgement that our government was (and probably still is) spying on our closest neighbours, all of whom we consider to be friendly states. I wonder how that will go down at the Pacific Forum?

Meanwhile, there's an interesting admission in the report: pre-2013, the GCSB considered metadata interception and getting its Five Eyes partners to provide intelligence on kiwis to be entirely legal and not requiring authorisation. So, the entire critique of the GCSB was accurate. Post-2013 both of these activities required legal authorisation, but that might not be any comfort - because when the law changed, the number of access authorisations issued went through the roof, suggesting that Ministers simply signed off on the spying GCSB was doing anyway. And of course, no-one at GCSB was held accountable for its previous, highly dubious and self-serving interpretation of the law.

Tuesday, July 03, 2018



Still the obvious question

Another week, another IPCA report finding excessive and unjustified use of force by police:

An officer who "leg swept" an alleged Ashburton drunk driver during an arrest used excessive force, the Independent Police Conduct Authority has found.

IPCA chairman Judge Colin Doherty said kicking the handcuffed man's feet out from under him was neither justified nor in self defence.

[...]

The officer told the authority he feared for his safety so he leg-swept the handcuffed man off his feet, causing him to land face first on the ground.

On the way down, the man hit his face on a wall heater, making his face bleed heavily.

"The officer did not act in accordance with the law and police policy when dealing with Mr X in that the force he used against Mr X in the charge room was not in self-defence and was unjustified," Doherty said.

The authority said a delay in seeking medical attention for the man was also unacceptable.


If you or I did this, we'd be prosecuted for assault. This police officer at least faced an employment investigation, after which they were reinstated (assaulting prisoners apparently not being considered serious by police). But the police have not prosecuted him, and nor do they seem likely to.

If the law is to mean anything, it must apply to police as well as citizens. If it doesn't, we're quite entitled to regard police as simply a self-serving gang with fancier uniforms.

Calling out Australia over child imprisonment

For the past few years, Australia has had a policy of deporting as many kiwis as it can, and detaining them indefinitely if they try and appeal against deportation. Its a disgusting policy, but its gets worse: because now they're imprisoning kiwi children as well:

Acting Prime Minister Winston Peters has challenged the Australian Government to meet the obligations of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child over the detention of a 17-year-old New Zealander under its deportation policy.

The 17-year-old has been held in a Melbourne immigration detention centre for the past three months and is the first youth detained under hardline migration rules.

A decision on his visa status is expected soon.


UNCROC forbids separating children from their parents (unless it is in the best interests of the child), and imprisoning them with adults. Australia's actions are clearly in breach. Unfortunately, as Australia is not a party to the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on a Communications Procedure, all we can do is publicly shame them over their non-compliance. And while we're at it, we should point out that their actions in imprisoning childen on Nauru and Manus Island are in breach of the convention as well.

Meanwhile, in case you needed a reminder: don't buy Australian.

Sanity prevails

WINZ, in an effort to throw more people off benefits, has been arguing that loans were "income" and that if you borrowed money, your benefit could be reduced or cut. Now, the High Court has ruled that they were wrong:

A solo mother of two has won her seven-year fight against the Ministry of Social Development (MSD), which unlawfully tried to argue bank loans and credit cards constituted income.

[...]

But in a High Court appeal released today, Justice Paul Davison ruled MSD was wrong to classify those sources of money as income.

"The bank loans did not truly add to Ms F's resources as she was required to repay the funds she received," Justice Davison wrote.

"Bank borrowings by use of a credit card have the same essential characteristics as a bank loan, in that credit card expenditure is to be repaid. Credit card spending is therefore a loan, and is not properly treated as income."


Good. But it raises an obvious question: how many benefits did WINZ cut over this fictitious "income", and will they be repaying the money? Because that is what justice demands in this case: that WINZ apologise to everyone it has victimised under this spurious and unlawful practice, and repay every dollar that they were deprived of.

The bigger crime?

When the police appointed Wally Haumaha as Deputy Commissioner, there was a public outcry over his dirty past comments about police rape. But the National party aren't concerned about that. Instead, they've found a bigger scandal: that he was once a potential NZ First candidate:

National leader Simon Bridges says the inquiry the Government is setting up into the appointment of the deputy police commissioner is unsatisfactory and Tracey Martin should not oversee it.

Bridges said it should be broad enough to include whether proper disclosures were made to the Cabinet about Wally Haumaha's former association with New Zealand First.

Martin, the Minister of Internal Affairs, was a senior New Zealand First official and it was inappropriate that she be involved, he said.

"I think this is incredibly serious," said Bridges.


Really? Really? They have a situation with the police appointing a rape-apologist, and National are concerned about which party they didn't run for over a decade ago? I think there's a problem with perspective here. Not to mention values.

Meanwhile, in reality, police officers run for election all the time, and are subject to the same provisions as other state servants: if they're candidates, they get placed on a leave of absence, if they're successful they automatically resign, and if they are unsuccessful they go back to work. The law forbids discriminating against candidates for their political views, and their rights as a state servant "shall not be affected by his or her candidature". Trying to deny them a promotion ten years later on the basis of an aborted political candidacy seems to violate that.

I think Haumaha should be sacked. But he should be sacked for being a rape apologist, not for exercising his democratic rights. If there is a serious question whether he has acted politically in his role, then that's a question for his employer under the police code of conduct. But at the moment, it looks like national is desperately flailing around to find anything to comment on besides the elephant in the room.

Monday, July 02, 2018



The EU is dead

Remember the European dream? An ever closer union founded on respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights? Its dead: it is now official EU policy that refugees should be left to drown:

The European Union has condemned rescue boats picking up drowning refugees in the Mediterranean, in a dramatic hardening of the bloc’s border policy that brings it in line with the continent’s anti-immigration populists.

After a summit in Brussels EU leaders backed the approach of Italy’s new populist government to the boats, suggesting the vessels should stay away and could be breaking the law by picking up those in distress.

A communiqué issued by the European Council warns the vessels’ operators that they should defer to the Libyan coastguard, which NGOs say amounts to “deliberately condemning vulnerable people to be trapped in Libya, or die at sea”.


And even before it was announced, Italy was lying to rescue boats to kill refugees, at a cost of hundreds of lives. And if they make it ashore, the EU is now talking about Australian-style concentration camps: refugee gulags in a continent with a dirty history of sticking the Other in camps and exterminating them.

If you ever thought that the European project was worth believing in, its not any more. Their craven politicians gave in to racists and actual fascists rather than standing up for the values they were supposed to protect. The EU is now the sort of union decent countries should quit, rather than continue to belong to.

National's ripoff road

Stuff has a piece on the prospect of National's Transmission Gully project ending up as a toll road, i.e. one which real people don't get to use. But in addition to the pointlessness of spending government money to promote social apartheid in transport, there's also a buried lead in there: that thanks to National funding it through a PPP, that road is going to cost more than three times as much as it should:

Paying to use the Transmission Gully motorway is creeping closer to reality after the Transport Minister was warned the $852 million road north of Wellington could make driving too attractive.

A briefing document from the New Zealand Transport Agency to Transport Minister Phil Twyford, released to Stuff under the Official Information Act, recommended he green-light investigation of a Transmission Gully toll to "shape demand" for the new four-lane expressway, which will connect northern Wellington to the Kāpiti Coast when it opens in 2020.

[...]

The previous National Government inked a deal with a business consortium in 2014 to have the motorway built by the private sector. Once it is opens to traffic, the agency will begin paying it off, along with interest, maintenance and operating costs, in annual instalments of $125m over 25 years.


Doing the maths, that means we're paying $3.125 billion for a road which will cost only $852 million to build - 3.6 times as much. What are we getting for that extra money? National got to claim they weren't borrowing as much. That's right - National signed a deal to give a private company billions of dollars of public money for no purpose other than to make them look good.

And this is why we should never use PPPs. They are dishonest and wasteful and result in us paying far more than we need to. It is always cheaper for the government to simply borrow the money itself to pay for a major infrastructure project. But that would mean being honest with the public about what they're spending - and it seems that National at least will spend billions of other people's money to avoid that.

NZDF attempts to stop free speech

Shortly after Nicky Hager's book Hit and Run was released in March 2017, graffiti went up around Wellington accusing NZDF of war crimes and lying. And predictably, the SAS mafia running NZDF hit the roof and panicked over how to have it removed:

A series of emails released under the Official Information Act show staff swung into action after the slogans appeared overnight, in mid-March. One wrote: "They are prominent and are reported as being on there [sic] main gateways into the city centre."

Senior staff in the Office of Defence Force Chief, Lieutenant General Tim Keating, were directing moves to have the protests removed quickly. The email chain stretches over three days as staff tried to work out what to do. The chain shows them debating the nature of the signs and whether they constitute graffiti or handmade billboards.

Chris Hoey, Keating's director of co-ordination, wanted to lay a complaint with police. He requested staff photographers to be sent out to take photos of the "known sites" in Wellington "to support that complaint". Staff provided photos taken on their way to work instead.

But the military police advised they could only lay a vandalism complaint if the graffiti was on Defence Force property. An unnamed officer added: "I do not believe there is a complaint regarding the actual words."

Keating's chief of staff, Commodore Ross Smith, was also copied in the emails and on the second day of the graffiti blitz wrote: "It looks like the campaign has stepped up a notch ... Is there anything we can do?". Hoey forwarded it on adding: "Can we get rid of this one quickly?"

Only one staffer raises concerns, writing: "Dumb question, have we thought about the headline 'NZDF attempts to stop free speech' so is removal or attempted removal the organisation instruction?"

Hoey wrote back: "Yes it is".


For a bunch of people we trust with guns, they seem to be awfully thin-skinned. And for a bunch of people who supposedly "defend our freedoms", they seem to have no idea what those freedoms actually are. They seem to think that it is (or should be) a criminal offence to criticise them, and that its their function as people running the military to silence dissent and public criticism of their institution. Which is an awfully dangerous attitude for the military of a free and democratic country to have.

The good news is that Keating has now retired. Hopefully the new Chief of Defence Force will be establishing an organisational culture which shows greater respect for democratic norms.

Friday, June 29, 2018



Australia persecutes a whistleblower

Back in 2013, a former ASIS agent blew the whistle on how the Australian government had illegally bugged the leaders of East Timor in order to listen in on their negotiating position over oil and gas rights in the Timor Sea. When the issue was raised in the International Court of Justice, the Australian government raided the homes of both the whsitleblower and East Timor's Australian lawyer. And now, they're prosecuting both of them for revealing information about ASIO:

A Canberra lawyer whose client exposed a secret Australian spying operation in East Timor has described the prosecution against them both as an attack on freedom of speech.

On Thursday, using parliamentary privilege, independent MP Andrew Wilkie revealed the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions recently filed criminal charges against Bernard Collaery and his client, a former spy known only as "Witness K".

Witness K had raised concerns about a covert Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) operation he ran to bug East Timor's cabinet in 2004 during negotiations about an oil and gas treaty.

Mr Collaery, who once served as ACT attorney-general, described the move as a personal attack on him and his client, who cannot be named, and said it was a sad day for Australia.


So, they prosecuting a whistleblower for blowing the whistle on illegal and immoral behaviour, and a lawyer for representing their client, under a clause of the law which makes it illegal to reveal any information about government spying. It is simply persecution. And it highlights the danger of our own similar law, which has no public interest defence or protection for those who reveal illegal, but classified, activities here.

It gets worse. Because Australia has just passed an "espionage" law which would criminalise protests and which considers embarrassing the government or diminishing its international standing (e.g. by exposing poor policies) to be damage to "national security". Our nearest neighbour is turning into a nasty little authoritarian hellhole. I guess we've just got to hope that Australians wake up and stop it, before it is too late.