Friday, September 28, 2018



No credibility

Last week, Stuff Circuit revealed a long and dirty history of collusion between the police and New Zealand's most anti-democratic private investigation firm, Thompson & Clark. There were immediate calls for an inquiry. And now, one is going to be held. But rather than being run by an independent, outside body such as the ombudsman or even the "Independent" Police Conduct Authority, the police will be investigating themselves:

Police have launched an internal investigation into its use of external security consultants, including Thompson and Clark.

Earlier this year, the state services commissioner widened an inquiry into the use of outside security consultants by state services but police were exempt from this.

However, in a statement police commissioner Mike Bush said it was important police actions were also open to investigation.

[...]

A senior detective will lead the investigation, which will be completed by the end of October.


A whole month! I think this shows us exactly how seriously the police are taking this. Throw in the fact that they'll only be looking at whether any collusion breached the police code of conduct - not whether it was lawful or appropriate - and I think we can confidently conclude that it will be a whitewash from start to finish. We can write the final report now: "nothing to see here, move along". And all details will of course be kept secret "to avoid prejudice to the maintenance of the law" (which the police interpret as covering damage to their reputation).

Investigating your own case is a fundamental conflict of interest. We don't trust other agencies to do it. We shouldn't trust the police either. Their "self-investigation" simply has no credibility. We need a real inquiry, by someone independent of the police.

International Right to Know Day

Today, September 28, is International Right to Know Day, a day where we celebrate and promote freedom of information and open government. Our government is pretty open, and has recently announced major moves towards proactively releasing cabinet material which are pretty much unprecedented. Still, we could do better.

The Ombudsman and the Privacy Commissioner marked the day with the a public Q&A session on Wednesday. I wasn't able to attend, but I'm looking forward to watching it on YouTube here.

Meanwhile, if you'd like to mark the day, I can think of no better way of doing so than using the Official Information Act to ask the government something. If you're not sure how to do that, go to FYI, pick an agency (the list of popular agencies is always good, but you can search), decide on something you'd like to know, and ask them. If they obey the law, you should get your answer in 20 working days.

Climate change: Talk isn't enough

At the Paris climate conference in 2015, the world agreed to try and limit global warming to no more than 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels. The evidence is mounting that exceeding that limit would be disastrous, leading to positive feedback, famine, mass-migration, and war. But despite making a commitment, our governments are not even close to doing what is necessary to meet it:

The world’s governments are “nowhere near on track” to meet their commitment to avoid global warming of more than 1.5C above the pre-industrial period, according to an author of a key UN report that will outline the dangers of breaching this limit.

A massive, immediate transformation in the way the world’s population generates energy, uses transportation and grows food will be required to limit the global temperature rise to 1.5C and the forthcoming analysis is set to lay bare how remote this possibility is.

“It’s extraordinarily challenging to get to the 1.5C target and we are nowhere near on track to doing that,” said Drew Shindell, a Duke University climate scientist and a co-author of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, which will be unveiled in South Korea next month.

“While it’s technically possible, it’s extremely improbable, absent a real sea change in the way we evaluate risk. We are nowhere near that.”


To avoid catastrophe, we need a massive decarbonisation of the economy and a rapid switch from fossil fuels to clean energy for our electricity and transport systems. The good news is that the technology to do this is mostly there. The bad news is that we are simply not adopting it fast enough. Which is one of the reasons I'm so pissed off about Labour's sneaky, two-faced rollback of its tiptoe step towards decarbonisation: because we simply can not afford such bullshit. Fossil fuels need to be kept in the ground, not burned to warm the atmosphere. And we need to be doing more to make that happen, not less.

New Fisk

Here’s what I found out when I spent the day with Israel’s most controversial journalist, Gideon Levy

Finally

Our justice system isn't perfect. Whether by overzealousness, incompetence, or downright vindictiveness, our police sometimes prosecute innocent people or present evidence that isn't sufficient for a conviction. The in-built safeguards of the court and jury system don't always work. We all know the names of the victims: Teina Pora. David Bain. David Dougherty. Arthur Allan Thomas. Now, the government is doing something about it:

The Government has moved to establish an independent body tasked with addressing miscarriages of justice.

Justice Minister Andrew Little has introduced a bill to the House which would establish a Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) – an independent body for addressing miscarriages of justice.

The establishing of this commission was part of the Labour and New Zealand First Coalition agreement, signed in October last year.

The CCRC will review convictions and sentences where there is a suspected miscarriage of justice in a "timely, fair and independent", manner Little said.


Looking at the bill, the primary function of the Commission will be to investigate cases and refer them back to the courts for a fresh appeal. This is what the UK version does. Unlike the UK, which requires a "real possibility" of such an appeal being successful, the NZ version will have a far more flexible criteria: whenever it is in the interests of justice to do so. They will be required to consider the prospects of success and whether existing appeal rights have been exhausted, but these are merely issues they must have regard to, not conditions for referral. Of course, whether such an appeal will be successful is up to the relevant court - and in the past, they've proven reluctant to correct their own mistakes. But it will still be a massive improvement on the current situation, and one we should welcome.

Thursday, September 27, 2018



The Ombudsman's misleading guidance on drafts

The Ombudsman has released guidance today on The OIA and draft documents. Its part of their overall program of providing greater advice to ensure government agencies interpret and apply the law correctly. But is also part of the distressing recent trend of the Ombudsman collaborating in promoting greater secrecy and less openness from government.

Draft documents are a useful thing to request. If the government has released a controversial report or advice which seems to leave something out, the best thing to do is to request all drafts and communications around it. This may expose why omissions were made, how the final advice was shaped, and what policy forces helped shape it. Such requests inform the public and help hold the government and officials to account. They help ensure that advice and reports are of high quality and defensible, and that obvious omissions are subject to scrutiny. However, they've never been popular with public servants, who have had a long-standing myth that draft documents are (or at least should be) immune from such scrutiny, and that they couldn't possibly do their jobs if people looked every so often to see if they'd done them properly.

Sadly, the Ombudsman seems to be backing this view. The guidance is basicly a laundry list of how public servants can refuse requests for drafts, and seems to predetermine decisions about early-stage drafts by saying that the "Ombudsman position" is that it is more likely to be necessary to withhold them. But worse, the whole of the guidance, starting from the very first sentence, is that it is about withholding draft documents. There is no mention anywhere in the guidance of s17 of the OIA, which begins:

Where the information requested is comprised in a document and there is good reason for withholding some of the information contained in that document, the other information in that document may be made available by making a copy of that document available with such deletions or alterations as are necessary.
[Emphasis added]

I agree with the Ombudsman that they may be good reason to withhold some information in drafts. While I disagree with the Ombudsman on the scale of "free and frank" expressions of opinion and the damage release of them may do, I admit they can exist.1 However, the proper response under the law to a request for a document containing such material is to redact it, not to withhold the document in full. The Ombudsman's guidance misleads public servants about their legal duty and promotes unnecessary and unlawful secrecy. And by doing so, it both encourages unlawful decisions and the consequent complaints, and undermines confidence in the Ombudsman as a fair arbitrator of our official information system. It should be withdrawn and rewritten immediately.

1 Unlike the Ombudsman, I believe our public servants are professionals who will do their jobs properly and submit defensible advice which will withstand public scrutiny at all stages of the policy process - and that there is high public interest in exposing the cases where that does not happen and where Ministers were advised of problems and did it anyway. But as applied, the "free and frank" clause mostly serves to protect unprofessional and self-serving behaviour, rather than the public interest in accountability.

Not just unlawful, but a crime

Yesterday the High Court released its decision in Chief Executive of the Ministry of Social Development v L, ruling that MSD's practice of its Benefit Review Committee using false names and signatures was unequivocally unlawful. It was a pretty obvious case: the practice breaches the right to natural justice, in that it prevents people from challenging the potential biases of those judging their cases. Natural justice being absolutely fundamental to the legal system, such a breach would require a very explicit statutory authorisation, showing that Parliament really, really meant for it to happen. No such statutory authorisation exists, so case closed. But in ruling that the practice was unlawful, the court has also done something else: exposed the members of those committees and MSD chief executive Brendan Boyle to criminal prosecution.

Why? Because as we learned a few months ago in the police shakedown of Assignment4U, a document "of which the whole or any material part purports to be made by any person who did not make it, or by a fictitious person" is a "false document". Knowingly making a false document with the intent that it be acted on as genuine is forgery and carries a penalty of 3 years imprisonment. Using it, knowing it to be forged, is using forged documents, and carries a penalty of ten years in jail.

The members of the Benefit Review Committees who falsified their names created false documents. They did so knowingly, as part of an official MSD policy, and with the intention that they be acted on by MSD and the beneficiaries appealing to the Committee as genuine. They then acted on those documents, which they knew to be false, to deny people benefits, or caused other MSD staff and the Social Security Appeal Authority to do the same. They appear to have committed the crimes of forgery and using false documents, and should be prosecuted for it.

The fact that the policy was official does not help them - public servants enjoy immunity for their good faith actions only for civil claims, not criminal ones. All it does is make other people, the people who set and oversaw that policy, parties to their crimes. And arguably it puts MSD Chief Executive Brendan Boyle, who ignored repeated rulings from the Social Security Appeal Authority that the practice was illegal, and violated a personal undertaking that it would cease, squarely in the crosshairs. He appears to have directed this policy, and he needs to be held accountable for it.

Forgery and using false documents are serious criminal offences. Will the perpetrators of these crimes be held accountable, or is WINZ above the law?

Repealing National's constitutional outrage

Back in 2012, Peter Atkinson and Cliff Robinson won the right to be paid for caring for their disabled children, in the landmark Atkinson & Others v Ministry of Health. National's response was the New Zealand Public Health and Disability Amendment Act (No 2), rammed through under urgency, which removed the right of people to challenge such unlawful discrimination in court. The act was an affront to the rule of law and a direct attck on all our rights. Now, as part of a law change to provide proper payment to family caregivers, Labour is repealing it:

The Government will repeal a disability law described as a "shame on society" and overhaul its policy on paying families who care for their disabled loved ones.

Health Minister David Clark and associate minister James Shaw announced the decision today, after a long campaign by families and human rights groups for fairer treatment.

Clark said Cabinet had agreed to consider changes to the way it pays families - a policy known as Funded Family Care - with options and timeframes for changes to be presented to ministers later this year.

Ideally, that would mean spouses and parents could be paid for looking after their disabled family members -currently they are not - and payments would be fairer and easier to access.

It also agreed to repeal Part 4A of the NZ Public Health and Disability Act, which underpins the policy, and also bans families taking discrimination cases about it to court.


Good. As constitutional expert Andrew Geddis notes in the article, the law was constitutionally outrageous and needed to go. Denying people access to the courts because they keep winning is the sort of thing that happens in tyrannies, and has no place in New Zealand.

But while we're on the subject of repealing constitutional outrages, how about that prisoner voting ban?

Climate change: Words are wind

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is at the UN this week, and she took the opportunity to promise that New Zealand would be a leader on climate change:

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has recommitted to New Zealand being a leader rather than a follower on climate change mitigation in a speech to a major international conference.

Speaking at the One Planet Summit during the Bloomberg Global Business Forum in New York, Ardern said New Zealand was committed to playing a "significant role on the world stage" in climate change mitigation.

"Our country has always been a firm supporter of strong multilateral solutions to global challenges. We may be small but Kiwis take the attitude that no problem is too big to solve.

"We were the first country to give women the vote, the first to set up a welfare state to support the poor during the depths of the depression and the first to scale the imposing heights of Mt Everest. We intend to be with you on the forefront of this challenge too.

"I believe, as firmly as ever, that a global response is required to meet the global challenge of our generation. With unity, ingenuity and innovation, we will meet this challenge head on and we will succeed."


Pretty words. But words are wind. What matters is actions, and on that front Ardern's government is busy pandering to the oil industry and trying to give them more time to destroy the planet. And they've laid the groundwork to pander to farmers and let them destroy the planet too. If Ardern wants her speech to be anything more than another exercise in political hypocrisy, she needs to significantly change direction in both areas, and make sure we actually act, rather than coming up with endless excuses to let polluters keep on polluting.

Meka Whaitiri's workplace bullying

The inquiry report into former Minister Meka Whaitiri's bullying of a staff member has been leaked. And its not good:

The incident involving former Government minister Meka Whaitiri and a staff member allegedly left bruising to the upper right arm of the staffer and photos of bruises were produced to the inquiry, a draft report leaked to the Herald shows.

The incident occurred because Whaitiri was unhappy at not having been alerted to a photo opportunity at a media standup with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern during a lunch break at a function in Gisborne.

Other ministers were standing behind Ardern but Whaitiri wasn't because no one had told her it was happening.


And remember, this is the incident that was complained about. Allegedly she had a long history of bullying before that, but no-one had dared come forward...

This isn't acceptable behaviour in any workplace, and its good that Whaitiri has been sacked as a Minister. At the same time, someone who does this - and the inquiry found that on the balance of probabilities, she did - simply isn't fit to be an MP. While the Prime Minister can't sack her from that position, Ardern can suggest that she resign, and begin proceedings to throw her out of the Labour Party if she doesn't.

The biggest barrier to that is likely to be Labour's Māori caucus, who yesterday were backing Whaitiri despite not having seen the report, supposedly out of a sense of solidarity. Which speaks volumes about their personal values. Its the same approach we're seeing in the Kavanaugh hearings in the US, of party hacks backing their fellow hack, regardless of the evidence or moral questions involved, because to them its about teams and winning, not right and wrong. And that's not acceptable either. Workplace bullying and assault are wrong, regardless of who does it or what "team" they're on. And you'd expect representatives of a supposed worker's party to understand that.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018



A breach of faith

A further thought on Labour's two-faced attempt to roll back the offshore oil exploration ban by stealth. I've already said that this is where the Greens should put their foot down and threaten to topple the government, but there's another reason for why they need to do so: because Megan Woods' dirty little plan to keep the oil industry around rather than ending it has undermined the very basis of the coalition itself.

When the government said it was ending offshore exploration, it was very clear that current permit holders would keep their existing rights. That's the sort of compromise you get in coalitions, and its one that all three parties apparently agreed to. Woods' dirty little deal to grant polluters additional rights violates this agreement. And it represents a fundamental breach of faith with the Greens.

Workable coalitions depend on good faith between the parties, on a mutual trust that the other parties aren't going to go behind your back and undermine the agreed-upon policies. And that's recognised in the Labour-Green confidence and supply agreement with an explicit clause to "work together in good faith and with no surprises". Labour has just pissed on this. And in doing so, they've demonstrated that they cannot be trusted to keep their word on issues of fundamental importance to their partners.

There can be no trust under such circumstances. There can be no coalition under such circumstances. the Greens need to make that crystal clear to Labour, and tell them to reverse Woods' dirty little deal, or they will pull the plug.

New Fisk

Every time we witness genocide we say 'never again' – but human nature tells us something different

This is where the Greens should put their foot down

Yesterday we learned that the government was undermining its own climate change policy, trying to extend oil exploration permits by stealth so polluters could effectively circumvent the offshore drilling ban. As for why, Stuff's Hamish Rutherfod links it to a dodgy oil prospect off the South Island:

As it stands, the Barque prospect off the coast of Oamaru will be lost forever if New Zealand Oil and Gas (NZOG) does not find partners willing to commit to the major cost of drilling, by early 2019.

Although the odds of success are put at only one in five, NZOG has claimed that, if successful, Barque could transform New Zealand's energy outlook, with thousands of jobs and tens of billions of revenue.

Seen this way, Woods' gesture to the industry looks like a major contradiction of the Government's plan, to set New Zealand on a renewable future.

It now seems that Jacinda Ardern's Government wants to set New Zealand on a future without fossil fuels, but just in case we really should give the industry one last chance to see whether we can transform ourselves into the Saudi Arabia of the south.


Or, to put it another way, to give the alcoholic just one more drink. And we'll extend bar opening hours specially so they can have it.

I've said before that coalition parties get to dig their heels in against their partners without doing significant damage to the relationship, and so have to pick their battles. This is the battle the Greens should pick. Climate change is destroying the planet, destroying the future of your children and grandchildren. Ending our addiction to fossil fuels is critical to preventing that (or, more honestly, mitigating it, because our feckless, greedy parents have already fucked us). This fight is what the Greens stand for, so they need to put their foot down: say no, and threaten to withdraw confidence and supply if the government extends a single permit. It will burn their political capital with the government for the term. But for this issue, for the future, it will be worth it.

...and on rape victims

And speaking of bulk communications and personal data, it turns out that the UK also spies on rape victims, requiring "consent" for total access to their personal information if they want their complaint progressed:

Police are demanding almost unfettered access to highly personal records and data from potential rape victims before pressing ahead with their cases, the Guardian can reveal.

In some areas, complainants are being asked to disclose health, school and college records, counselling notes and all data from their electronic devices, documents obtained under freedom of information requests show.

In London, the Metropolitan police request access to social media, web browsing activity and content, instant messages, location data, emails, deleted data, images, videos, audio files, apps, contacts, documents, MMS and SMS messages – which can be kept for up to 100 years. The information provided can then be disclosed to the Crown Prosecution Service and the defence.

But in other parts of the UK no such information is required from complainants. The postcode lottery revealed by the documents has raised fears among campaigners that victims will be put off going to the police by the intrusion into their lives.


The amount and type of information demanded varies hugely around the UK. In some parts of the UK, they demand access to counselling notes and social services records - all of which are turned over to the defence to smear the victim. In other parts, they demand nothing. Strangely, they don't do this for other crimes - only for rape victims. Most of the information demanded is utterly irrelevant, but if a complaint is progressed, it all gets handed to the defence, who then get to use it to smear the victim, aided and enabled by this state prying. Its almost as if they want to discourage complaints, and prevent rapists from being prosecuted...

This is an appalling abuse of state power and control of the prosecution system, and it needs to stop. Now.

Britain spies on human rights groups

Two weeks ago the European Court of Human Rights ruled that GCHQ's mass interception regime violated human rights. But it gets worse - because a case before the Investigatory Powers Tribunal has discovered that they were spying on human rights group Privacy International:

The security service MI5 acted unlawfully by intercepting and accessing private communications data belonging to the campaigning group Privacy International, Britain's most secret court has ruled.

MI5, admitted today (25 September 2018) that it had captured and read private communications data belonging to non-governmental organisation (NGO) Privacy International at a hearing of the Investigatory Powers Tribunal.

It emerged that the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), or MI6, and GCHQ also unlawfully collected data on the activities of the pressure group, which has been campaigning for greater oversight of the security services.

The revelations came during a hearing today, as part of long-running legal challenge by Privacy International into the lawfulness of the intelligence agencies’ powers to collect bulk communications data (BCD) and bulk personal datasets (BPD) on citizens


["Bulk communications data" means phone, internet and email records. "Bulk personal datasets" means all other records about a person: births, addresses, contact details, and health records - effectively a giant dossier about a person].

Privacy International advocates for the right to privacy and are obviously opposed to the UK's mass-surveillance systems. In a democracy, that shouldn't get you spied on by the government. Targetting them is the sort of shit that happened in the Soviet Union, or in modern China, states we think of as undemocratic tyrannies. And the natural conclusion to draw from this revelation is that Britain is now also such a tyranny.

But we should also be asking questions of our own spy agencies down here in New Zealand. They're part of the "Five Eyes" along with the UK, and what does, they tend to do too. So we need to find out what sorts of bulk personal data they are collecting, and what safeguards (if any) there are on its access and use. Otherwise we may wake up one morning and discover that we're a tyranny too.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018



Abolishing urgency?

Speaker of the House Trevor Mallard has suggested an effective abolition of parliamentary urgency:

Speaker Trevor Mallard has suggested sweeping changes to the use of Parliamentary urgency, effectively abolishing the practice in all but the most extreme circumstances.

Currently, the Government can put the House into urgency with a simple Parliamentary majority. Mallard’s proposed changes would require a 75 percent majority before the House goes into urgency.

On top of that qualification, the bill under urgency would have to pass each stage of the legislative process with a 75 percent majority.

This would effectively abolish urgency in all but the most extreme cases, where there was some bipartisan consensus.


Such cases are rare, and happen maybe once or twice a year. The rest of the time urgency is used either to bypass public scrutiny and shut down the opposition, or to make up for past laziness. The former is obviously illegitimate, and is why the public hates urgency. As for the latter, Mallard is proposing greater use of extended sittings - effectively making MPs work harder - to pass all the non-controversial bills which are currently rammed through under urgency because MPs have been too busy flinging shit at one another and playing silly buggers on the public dime.

(All of this could of course be bypassed by a government moving to suspend standing orders, and then making up the rules as it goes along. But that has a political cost. Effectively this would increase the cost of using urgency for anything not truly urgent).

Its a good proposal, and in line with public expectations. There's a suggested exception for the first hundred days in office, where the public expect the government to be able to pass legislation they have run on, and that seems reasonable as well. And it would definitely improve scrutiny of legislation and Parliamentary behaviour during the rest of the year. So of course, National opposes it, because they want to be free to abuse the public trust in any way they see fit when next in power.

New Fisk

In the West Bank, some are unsure about whether Trump is a friend to Israel or not

Climate change: Two-faced

Back in April, the government put a bold stake in the ground for decarbonising New Zealand, by announcing that they would end offshore oil exploration. Now, they seem to be trying to roll that back:

Energy Minister Megan Woods has opened the door to giving oil companies more time to decide whether they "drill or drop", potentially breathing life into the sector.

Just hours before announcing a law change to give effect to the new offshore oil exploration ban on Monday, Woods met with oil industry figures to discuss their request for more leniency on the conditions of existing exploration permits.

Woods said she agreed that on a case-by-case basis, she will consider giving the oil companies more time to fulfil their commitments on the permits, describing it as "a little bit of a pause".

Although she did not put a time limit on the pauses or say under what conditions they might be granted, Woods said the pause was designed to give the industry time while the Government considered more wide-ranging changes to the Crown Minerals Act.


But why would we want to do that? The whole point of the offshore exploration ban is to kill off a destructive industry whose environmental costs vastly exceed its benefits. This is something which needs to happen if we want to mitigate the climate crisis into something merely horrific rather than absolutely catastrophic, and the only question is how fast we can do it. Interestingly, drill or surrender obligations put the speed of that phase-down in the oil industry's hands: if they want their industry to last a bit longer, they can gamble on finding something and drill. If they don't, they can surrender their permit and fuck off. Its entirely up to them. So this special pleading is... special. And Woods giving in to it is simply two-faced, a blatant undermining of the ban her government so proudly announced. But I guess that's Labour for you: two-faced, dishonest, and moronic enough to try to bargain with people who will never be its friends.

Meanwhile, Woods' Ministry is busy showing how badly it has been captured, with advice on the cost of the ban which ignores the costs of climate change and assumes no other country will do anything. Which is what happens when they base their advice on talking points sent to them by New Zealand Oil & Gas. Its also worth remembering that the demise of the oil industry will also mean that its regulator will no longer be necessary, so the people who wrote this advice are basicly arguing for their own jobs. Their "advice" should be viewed accordingly.

Monday, September 24, 2018



Climate change: Toned down

North Carolina is flooded with animal corpses, pigshit, and toxic coal ash after a hurricane. A hundred people have died in the Philippines due to Typhoon Mangkhut. Extreme wildfires have ravaged California. And the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is toning down its reports to keep denier-states happy:

Warnings about the dangers of global warming are being watered down in the final version of a key climate report for a major international meeting next month, according to reviewers who have studied earlier versions of the report and its summary.

They say scientists working on the final draft of the summary are censoring their own warnings and “pulling their punches” to make policy recommendations seem more palatable to countries – such as the US, Saudi Arabia and Australia – that are reluctant to cut fossil-fuel emissions, a key cause of global warming. “Downplaying the worst impacts of climate change has led the scientific authors to omit crucial information from the summary for policymakers,” said one reviewer, Bob Ward, policy director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment.

“However, if governments do not recognise the full scale and urgency of the risks, they may underestimate how critical it is to meet the goal of the Paris agreement on climate change. And that could have very serious knock-on effects in the battle to limit the impact of global warming.”


This is partly a consequence of how the IPCC works: it does everything by consensus, so the final language has to be acceptable to the representatives of states which deny climate change. The solution is obvious: leak. Leak the drafts, say which deniers vetoed them, and run the conversation around them. This is too important to let the self-interest of polluters censor the truth. The fate of the world is literally at stake.

NZDF's contempt for democracy

The government's "inquiry" into SAS war crimes in Afghanistan is to be heard almost entirely in secret:

Almost the entire inquiry into allegations of a deadly "revenge" raid in Afghanistan by the NZSAS is to be held in secret, with evidence and testimony withheld from the public.

There will be almost no public airing of evidence for or against claims the NZSAS raid led to six dead civilians and 15 others wounded, according to rules of the inquiry, released today.

The memo from the inquiry heads - retired Supreme Court judge Sir Terence Arnold and former Prime Minister Sir Geoffrey Palmer - calls for submissions on its plans.

But it has stated it believes a "non-public evidence-gathering process is likely to enhance our ability to get at the truth".


Reading the article, what that actually means is that the agencies the inquiry is investigating - NZDF, SAS and GCSB - and who are alleged to have committed war crimes have refused to cooperate with it unless they get to keep everything secret and are protected from public embarrassment and accountability. Remember, these are agencies who we pay for and who supposedly act in our name. And here, they're trying to dictate to the democratically elected government about how and even whether they are to be held accountable for their actions.

This isn't acceptable. These agencies work for us. Anybody in them who isn't willing to accept that should resign now. Its not appropriate for them to behave like hostile witnesses. As for the inquiry, it should demand cooperation, and if it is not forthcoming, compel attendance and the production of documents as it is empowered to do under the Inquiries Act.

New Fisk

After meeting Bedouins whose homes are being destroyed, I can't see how a Palestinian state can ever happen

A burglary

What is it with Otago University's proctor? First, they steal and destroy hundreds of copies of Critic because they didn't like the cover. And now, they're committing theft and burglary:

A Leith Street flat says University Proctor Dave Scott trespassed and stole their property when he entered their house while they were out and took several bongs/water pipes.

About three weeks ago, the proctor was visiting flats on Castle Street and Leith Street North to deliver letters about initiations. The entire flat was away, apart from one person who was asleep upstairs. The flatmates said the proctor let himself in through the unlocked back door, where he found several water pipes sitting out on a table and took them.

Because they weren’t home, the flatmates didn’t know what had happened to the pipes and assumed they had been robbed. They estimated the pipes were worth $400.

[...]

The proctor returned the next day, and told them that he had gone into their flat and confiscated the pipes. According to the flatmates, he told them that as long as they cleaned up the flat, he would let them off with a warning and wouldn’t take it to the police.


He wouldn't take it to police. In other words in addition to theft and burglary, he also tried to blackmail his victims into silence.

This isn't acceptable. A university proctor is not a police officer, and has no legal powers to enter property or seize people's possessions. He's simply a common criminal. And he should be prosecuted for his crimes and sacked. As for the university, they're meant to be providing an education, not running a police state. They should get out of their students lives, and stay out of them.

Friday, September 21, 2018



Victory!

Back in 2017, Greenpeace activists Russel Norman and Sara Howell protested against a foreign seismic survey ship as it explored for oil. The protest violated National's "Anadarko amendment", a law specifically outlawing protest against the oil industry at sea. But today, despite MBIE's efforts to persecute them, they were discharged without conviction:

Two Greenpeace activists who disrupted an oil exploration vessel have been discharged without conviction.

Greenpeace executive director Russel Norman and fellow activist Sara Howell appeared in Napier District Court in July to apply for a discharge without conviction after admitting a charge of interfering with an oil exploration vessel.

[...]

Judge Tompkins said if Norman and Howell were convicted they would receive a more serious penalty than Mulvay [who had been given diversion] "when all three were equally involved in exactly the same sequence of events".

The Judge said the gravity of the offending was low and the effect of convictions for the pair would be out of all proportion to the gravity of the offence.


But while this is an obvious victory, there's still a lot which needs to be done. Firstly, there's the matter of Thompson & Clark's involvement in the case, where they seem to have spied on Greenpeace for MBIE, acting as a Stasi-for-hire for the government - something which should not be legal in a democracy. Secondly, there's the Anadarko amendment itself. Its still on the books, but now that the case is over the government should repeal it immediately. Laws banning protest have no place in a free and democratic society.

Open Government: Business as usual

The SSC has released its draft Third National Action Plan for the Open Government Partnership. The idea of the OGP is that countries make concrete commitments of policies which advance the OGP's values of transparency, participation, and accountability, but New Zealand has always been half-hearted about that, preferring to offer business-as-usual policy or ambitionless pap. And unfortunately, the change of government doesn't seem to have changed this in the slightest.

There are twelve concrete commitments, grouped into three themes: participation in democracy; public participation to develop policy and services; and transparency and accountability. But about ten of those commitments are pretty obviously business as usual, or indistinguishable from it. So in the "participation in democracy" theme, the government wants to "improve engagement with Parliament", which is really just the ongoing work ParliamentTV is doing to expand its coverage. Its important work, and it matters, but its both stuff which is already happening, and not exactly ambitious. Its a similar story with their plans for an improved youth parliament, and for improved accessibility of secondary legislation: something we do anyway, with a few minor tweaks. The "school leaver's toolkit" could be novel, but is basicly a pilot, and we know its going to boil down to giving people an election enrolment form, kiwisaver form, and IRD number form and forgetting about them. Comprehensive civics education as part of the curriculum would have been a real commitment. This is just trivia.

The public participation theme is similarly a pilot, and if the OGP "participation" is anything to go by, all it promises is new ways to waste people's time. Trialing new participation models is all well and good, but at the end of the day there needs to be a willingness to actually set policy based on what the public says. Absent that, it is simply a scam and a waste of everybody's time, which undermines rather than enhances faith in government.

The transparency theme had the most ideas submitted, and the clearest public demand: what people want is reform of the OIA. What we're getting is a "commitment" to "test the merits" of a review (and as we've seen from the material around proactive release, this is going to be focused on covering politicians' arses rather than actually producing more transparency). They've also "committed" to proactively publish Cabinet papers - something they have been working on since February and which they announced on Tuesday, so its not really a commitment at all. There's a review of the government use of algorithms - announced in May, so business as usual; more transparency around government data stewardship (again, an existing process); and an "authoritative dataset" of government organisations and data (which has had a website for ten years, so its hardly new). Oh, and open procurement data, which actually means changing the licence and format on GETS.

There is nothing ambitious here. There is nothing remotely approaching the OGP gold standard of a star commitment. As for the Independent Reporting Mechanism's recommendations, they've pretty much been chucked in the trashcan. its just the same old business-as-usual bullshit we always get from the government on this. As for the 800 people who participated in this process and submitted ideas to it in good faith, it looks like they wasted their time. Again.

New Fisk

I asked Israel's only journalist in Palestine to show me something shocking – and this is what I saw

Fuck tax cuts

The government's Tax Working Group released its interim report yesterday, which supported some form of capital gains tax. But Finance Minister Grant Robertson today wouldn't commit to taxing capital gains, with the usual "not ruling it out, not ruling it in" bullshit. He wouldn't even say whether he supported it personally. But he did take the time to tease the rich with the prospect of tax cuts:

Tax cuts in the election year are possible, Finance Minister Grant Robertson said this morning.

While not committing to reducing income tax in 2020, Robertson didn't rule out the move in an interview with Newstalk ZB's Mike Hosking.

Oh for fuck's sake. Robertson is meant to be a Labour MP. And Labour is meant to stand for ordinary kiwis. You know how you make ordinary kiwis better off? Raising wages (which Labour is doing, by increasing the minimum wage and improvements to employment law). You know how else you make ordinary kiwis better off? By providing decent public services which save them money and protect them from poverty. Schools. Hospitals. Housing. Childcare. Universities. Parental leave. Public transport. ACC. Pensions. You know what makes all of that impossible? Fucking tax cuts.

Like local body politics with its "low rates" mantra, our politics is cursed with a party which explicitly wants to shrink the state and destroy all those public services which make our lives easier, and a party which supposedly advocates better services, but in reality has no spine and won't stand up for them. And as a result, every time the government has been doing well financially and has some money it could do something useful with, it has given it away in tax cuts to the rich, rather than investing it in our people. Every fucking time. No matter who is in government. And that's why we have shitty schools and shitty hospitals and not enough state houses and starvation-level benefits and crippling university fees, rather than being a Nordic paradise.

Tax cuts are why we have shit public services. Tax cuts - particularly Labour's 1987 raid which slashed taxes on the rich - are why we have inequality. Tax cuts are good only for the rich. So why the fuck is a "Labour" Minister making noises about them? Maybe it's something to do with his $250,000 salary, which gives him a completely different perspective on life from the other 99% of New Zealanders.

Thursday, September 20, 2018



Good riddance

Meka Whaitiri has been sacked as a Minister for bullying her staff. Good riddance - there should be no place for bullies in cabinet. But there shouldn't be any place for them in the House either. While the Prime Minister cannot sack an MP, the Labour Party can throw people out. And given that all witnesses agree that Whaitiri "got physical" while yelling at her staff member, that's exactly what a party which purports to believe in workers' rights should do.

Better than expected

When the news emerged two weeks ago that the Tax Working Group had backed away from recommending a capital gains tax, I was angry. After all, producing such a recommendation was the purpose of the group, and imposing such a tax the purpose of this government. But the Working Group released its interim report today, and it turns out that they do support a capital gains tax - they just haven't worked out what it should look like yet:

Two ways of taxing capital have been proposed by the Tax Working Group, including extending the current income tax regime.

[...]

The group is proposing two options for taxing capital gain: any gain from the sale of assets taxed at roughly the marginal income tax rate, and the second a regime under which a portion of the value of certain assets would be subject to tax, for example rental properties, to be paid each year.

However, Sir Michael said neither of these options were actual recommendations.


Delving into the report, they're doing detailed design of the two options to work out which will work best, and it looks like they will in fact produce a recommendation at the end of it. Of course, the government (which is composed purely of rich people who will have to pay this tax) might still chicken out or put their own interests first, but its looking a lot more hopeful for progressive change than it was.

In the meantime, we can no doubt expect more wailing and piteous whining from the rich and the business community, who find the thought of paying their fair share for once erodes their "confidence". Which says rather a lot about their lack of ethics. Taxes are what pay for the safe society which allows them to do business. And if they want to dump the costs of that on other people, then they're simply parasites, and we're better off without them.

Doing the right thing

Back in May, the Prime Minister's Chief Science Adviser revealed that the meth-testing industry was a scam, and that hundreds of Housing NZ tenants had been evicted from their homes under false pretences. Now, Housing NZ will be compensating its victims:

A report by Housing NZ into its response to methamphetamine contamination shows the organisation accepts its approach was wrong and had far reaching consequences for hundreds of people, Housing and Urban Development Minister Phil Twyford said.

“Housing NZ acknowledges that around 800 tenants suffered by either losing their tenancies, losing their possessions, being suspended from the public housing waiting list, negative effects on their credit ratings or, in the worst cases, being made homeless.

“Housing NZ is committed to redressing the hardship these tenants faced. This will be done on a case by case basis and the organisation will look to reimburse costs tenants incurred, and make discretionary grants to cover expenses such as moving costs and furniture replacement.

“They will also receive a formal apology from Housing NZ.


Good. The previous government intentionally made people homeless on poor evidence and fake science. They have an obligation to put things right. But I don't think it stops with Housing NZ. Private landlords also evicted people for meth "contamination". They should be forced to compensate their victims too. And then there's the meth-testing industry itself, which has turned out to be nothing more than a giant scam used to justify a vicious war on the poor. It would be good if they could be held accountable in some way.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018



An open and shut case

When Massey University Vice-Chancellor Professor Jan Thomas vetoed a speech by Don Brash on the Massey campus, she claimed it was due to "security". Now, an OIA request from David Farrar has revealed that she lied:

Thomas started discussing Brash's speech with colleagues on July 9 where she asked about options to not allow Brash to speak on campus and mentioned the "racist behaviour of Brash. She ended the email with, "would be good if we can cut off at the pass some how".

On July 10, Thomas sent another email saying the subject was on her mind.

"I would like to know what are our options re [regarding] not allowing politics clubs to hold event on campus - free to hold any event but not with any inference of support by university.

"Will hit the fan in the media if we go this way. However, racist behaviour of Brash - given te reo is a official language of NZ and we are a tiriti led university - can't be ignored."

On July 11, a Massey University staff member said there weren't grounds to say no to Brash speaking on campus and noted to Thomas that declining him "would present a very real risk of us being accused restricting free speech etc."

The vice-chancellor then replied, saying she was still "deeply concerned" about the matter asking if there was any mechanism the university could use to stop the event.


Which looks like an open and shut case that the cancellation wasn't really about security, but about Thomas simply not liking Brash's views. Those views are disgusting - Brash is a dirty old racist crank, a relic of the nineteenth century - but as a government institution, Massey is bound by the Bill of Rights Act and its affirmation of freedom of speech. It simply can not behave like this. As for what to do about it, Massey academic staff may wish to consider whether someone with such views is really appropriate to head an institution supposedly dedicated to free academic debate. And the politics club should be using this evidence to seek damages for the infringement of their right to receive information. And on the basis that bureaucrats don't learn unless you beat them, they should be seeking those damages from Thomas personally.

Grudging progress

After months of back-pedalling, the government has finally agreed to keep its promise and raise the refugee quota to 1500. But not until 2020:

New Zealand will lift the refugee quota from 1000 to 1500 within this political term, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced today.

“I’m proud that the Coalition Government has today agreed to make such a significant and historic increase to the annual quota of refugees,” Jacinda Ardern said.

“This is the right thing to do. It fulfils New Zealand’s obligation to do our bit and provide a small number of people, displaced by war and disaster each year, a place to call home.

“The quota increase will take place from July 2020. In the meantime, we will work to increase the number and spread of refugee resettlement and support services. We need to make sure we’re prepared for this change in policy.”


So, grudgingly and leaving it as late as they possibly can. While I'm pleased, this is something the government had to be dragged into doing. Which the opposite of the impression they gave during the election campaign.

So, what's the next step to push for? 3000? Which would still be less than half of Australia's per-capita contribution, and less than 5% of Sweden's. In other words: we can do much better, and we should.

Member's Day

Today is a Member's day. First up there is a local bill: the Muldoonist Tasman District Council (Waimea Water Augmentation Scheme) Bill to enable the Waimea dam. This has the support of everyone by the Greens, so unless it is found to violate Standing Orders, it will progress to select committee.

Following that there's a couple of second readings: Jan Tinetti's Education (National Education and Learning Priorities) Amendment Bill and Gareth Hughes' Consumers’ Right to Know (Country of Origin of Food) Bill (which despite the name, has been gutted in select committee so it won't actually do what's on the label). The House will almost certainly wrap up Alastair Scott's Land Transport (Random Oral Fluid Testing) Amendment Bill, and will probably make a start on Darroch Ball's Protection for First Responders and Prison Officers Bill. If that happens, there will be a ballot for one bill tomorrow.

Another OIA review

Yesterday's announcement that the government would be proactively releasing Cabinet papers had a buried lead: the government may be planning another review of the Official Information Act:

The documents revealed the existence of a Cabinet business committee paper produced last month which noted Little “intends to carry out targeted engagement to inform a decision on whether to progress a formal review of the OIA”.

Speaking to Newsroom, Little confirmed he was considering whether a full review of the OIA legislation was needed, or whether improvements could be made through non-legislative changes to departmental guidelines and policies.

“It wasn’t top of the priority list at the beginning of the year, but as we get to now embarking on a programme of proactive release then these things have come into sharper relief.”


But do they really need to? The OIA has been reviewed twice in recent years: by the Law Commission in 2012, by the Office of the Ombudsman in 2015, and by the NZ Council for Civil Liberties earlier this year. While none of them is perfect, these reviews contained useful proposals for reform, particularly around eligibility, oversight, coverage, and penalties. But despite public support by users of the Act, these recommendations have been ignored by successive governments. And now, instead of implementing them, Little is proposing another review.

Little's proposed review is a waste of our time. We already know what is wrong with the OIA regime and how to fix it. Rather than dragging his feet with yet another review, Little should actually do something to fix the Act. Otherwise, people might get the impression that he was trying to thwart change rather than enable it...

125 years

125 years ago today, the Electoral Act 1893 became law. The law allowed women to vote for the first time - back then a world first. Here's how it was reported in the Auckland Star:
SuffrageStar

[Auckland Star, 19 September 1893, via Papers Past].

It wasn't a full victory - women got to vote, but not to stand for Parliament - but it was a start, a start which made other change possible. There's still obviously a hell of a lot more to do around equality, the gender pay gap, and ending sexual harassment and violence, but all of that work would be much harder without basic electoral rights and the power that comes with them.

The anniversary is being celebrated around New Zealand today, as it is every year. Its something which has defined us as a nation and which kiwis are justifiably proud of. But on the 125th anniversary, its time to do more than that: we should make Suffrage Day a public holiday.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018



Netsafe defends freedom of the press

Last week, rich prick Ray Avery tried to use the Harmful Digital Communicatins Act to suppress media coverage about him. But approved agency Netsafe has rejected his complaint:

Internet regulator Netsafe has declined to pursue a complaint by entrepreneur Sir Ray Avery that Newsroom stories about him amounted to digital harm and harassment.

The publicly-funded agency, which is charged with mediating complaints of online bullying and harassment under the Harmful Digital Communications Act, told Newsroom today: "This complaint has now been closed at Netsafe."

It said the law was "not clear about how to treat HDC complaints as they apply to media, and there is limited case law from which to form our advice.

"Therefore we are not recommending you take any further action. We have recommended to Sir Ray Avery that if he wishes to pursue this complaint he has the option of applying to the District Court."

But this isn't over yet, because Avery has indicated from the start that that using the courts to suppress public-interest journalism is exactly what he intends to do. And while we can hope that the court will look at s14 of the Bill of Rights Act and interpret the law so as to be consistent with the right to free speech and freedom of the press and exclude public interest journalism, I would feel far safer if there was explicit protection. That would at least prevent rich pricks like Avery from trying it on, and forcing media organisations to rack up enormous legal bills defending themselves.

There is obvious scope for a member's bill here. I wonder if any of the "free speech loving" MPs in the opposition will take it - or whether the only speech they want to protect is that of racists and Nazis.

Belgium stands up for freedom of speech in Spain

Back in February, Spain sentenced rapper Valtonyc to three and a half years in prison for insulting the monarch. He promptly fled the country. Now, a Belgian court has refused to extradite him:

A Belgian court on Monday ruled that Spanish rapper Valtonyc should not be sent back to Spain, where he was sentenced to prison accused of writing lyrics that praise terror groups and insult the royal family.

The rapper, whose real name is Jose Miguel Arenas Beltran, was supposed to turn himself in voluntarily in May to authorities in Spain, where he faces prison sentences totaling three and a half years, but instead fled to Belgium.

"The judge has decided there will be no extradition and discarded all three charges," his lawyer, Simon Bekaert, told reporters near the court in the city of Ghent.

Bekaert said the judge ruled "there is no terrorism involved, there is no incitement of terrorism, so there is no question of a crime according to Belgian law." He said the judge also found that there is no crime to answer to over insulting the Spanish king and that no threat was made that could warrant extradition.


The Spanish government can still appeal, but success looks unlikely. Unfortunately, rather than accept that their laws are increasingly out of step with fundamental human rights, and will no longer be upheld or respected by other European courts (including the ECHR), Spain will probably double down on them and try and make them even more oppressive.

Proactive release

In a major victory for transparency, the government will start proactively releasing Cabinet papers:

Cabinet papers will be proactively released, Minister of State Services Chris Hipkins announced today.

The move is part of the Government’s wider plan to improve openness and reflects its commitment to the international Open Government Partnership.

The Cabinet papers will be released no later than 30 business days after a Cabinet decision. This process will be in place for Cabinet papers lodged from 1 January 2019, Chris Hipkins – who is also responsible for Open Government – said.

“This change is about being an open and accountable government.


On the one hand, this isn't that big a change - we already routinely have such releases when policy is announced. On the other hand, it is a huge step forward. In other parts of the world Cabinet material is tightly guarded (and this is then abused to hide other material), so we're displaying clear global leadership here. It would obviously be better if the timeline for release was aligned to the OIA's statutory 20 days, and I'll be interested in seeing the advice on why that wasn't done.

Of course, the problem with proactive release is that its grace and favour and cannot be contested except by filing another OIA making it clear that you want an unredacted copy (which may then be refused as the material "is already publicly available", even though the bits that you want are not). And this is clearly abused to hide material and steer the public conversation through selective release. One of the changes that needs to happen to the official information regime is bringing proactive disclosures under the Act and under the oversight of the Ombudsman, to prevent such abuses.

Monday, September 17, 2018



Bring them home

In 2016, Labour promised that they would withdraw kiwi troops from Iraq if elected. They lied:

New Zealand will extend its military presence in Iraq until June 2019, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced.

Cabinet signed off on five military deployments on Monday.

The deployment in Afghanistan has also been extended to September 2019 alongside three smaller peacekeeping missions.


Our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are neither moral nor necessary. In Iraq, kiwi troops have been directly assisting the Iraqi army in a murderous war. The Iraqi government has declared its enemies defeated. So why are we still there? And in Afghanistan, Kiwi troops have been directly implicated in war crimes, which are now the subject of an inquiry here in New Zealand. In both cases, all our presence does is directly support the corrupt, murderous regimes in Baghdad, Kabul, and Washington. Instead of doing that, we should bring them home - now.

Predator-free Waiheke?

Over the weekend the government announced an ambitious plan to make Waiheke Island predator-free:

Waiheke Island is set to become the world's largest predator-free urban island under a bold new $11 million plan to rid the Hauraki Gulf Island of rats and stoats.

Millions of passengers visit the Auckland tourist destination each year and the head of Fullers ferry company says it will be extremely difficult to introduce biosecurity measures similar to those imposed on other pest-free islands which involve checking visitors' gear, ensuring food is in sealed bags and cleaning footwear.

Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage will today announce plans to make the island, which is already free of possums, free of other pests by 2025.

This would enable North Island kākā, kākāriki, kererū, tūī, korimako or bellbird, piwakawaka or fantail, tūturiwhatu or New Zealand dotterel, ōi or grey-faced petrel and kororā or little blue penguins to breed safely and increase in number on Waiheke, she said.


While there's not a lot of money involved, this is a big, ambitious policy. It will also be a field-test for the wider goal of a predator-free New Zealand, and how to prevent rats spreading from urban areas into protected ones. But even if its not ultimately successful, and they end up merely vastly reducing predator numbers on Waiheke or restricting them to urban spaces, it will still have huge conservation benefits. And they can then take the lessons they learn and apply them to Stewart Island or the Coromandel.

No more charter schools

National's charter schools are now officially dead:

All 12 of New Zealand's charter schools have been approved for transition to state integrated schools.

It marks the end to a rather short era.

[...]

"We have worked with the charter schools to find a way forward for them within the state system and no existing charter schools are closing their doors," Education Minister Chris Hipkins said.

The last two schools to be approved for transition were Tūranga Tangata Rite in Gisborne and Waatea School in Auckland.

Te Kura Māori o Waatea will open as a year 1-8 state integrated school in 2019, and Tūranga Tangata Rite, which was not yet up and running, will open as a state-integrated school in 2020.


And that's that. No more second-rate, for-profit schools to exploit the poor with unqualified teachers and quack curriculums. Instead, they'll be required to have qualified staff, teach a proper curriculum, and be subject to the normal oversight of the Official Information and Ombudsman's Acts, just like any other school.

The police owe us some answers on Thompson & Clark

Back in March, the State Services Commission began an inquiry into government departments' use of Stasi-as-a-service firm Thompson & Clark. But there's one significant group which appears to have a deep and disturbing collaboration with TCIL which isn't covered by the inquiry: the Police:

There are calls for the inquiry into government agency links with controversial private investigation firm Thompson & Clark to be expanded to also take in the police, after a Stuff Circuit investigation exposed a long history of contact between police and the company.

"It's completely extraordinary that the police are not covered by the inquiry into Thompson & Clark," said Greenpeace executive director Russel Norman.

[...]

When police undertake surveillance there is oversight, from the judicial warrant system, for instance.

"Thompson & Clark don't go through any of those processes," says Norman. "They pay people who then turn up at groups and pretend to care about whatever the issue is and then if they're passing that information on to the New Zealand police without ever getting any proper judicial oversight of what the police are up to, that is very problematic."


The Stuff Circuit investigation makes a strong case that the police used Thompson & Clark to spy on animal rights activists, and has an admission from a police source that they shared a paid informant with them. And from reading the article, the police may also have lied on a search warrant application - a sworn statement to a judge - to hide the source of their intelligence. All of which is completely unacceptable. An investigation is necessary to uncover any police wrongdoing, as well as restore public confidence in the police. As for who should be tasked with getting to the bottom of it, it seems to fall within the ambit of the Independent Police Conduct Authority, and if it doesn't, then its covered by the Ombudsmen (the police being a specified organisation). But the IPCA would require someone to make a complaint, and may be reluctant to look at general matters of police policy - something the Ombudsman is generally far more willing to do. And I think people would be far more willing to trust the Ombudsman than the police's patsy "investigators".

Amnesty International has a petition demanding an inquiry. You can sign it here.

Friday, September 14, 2018



New Fisk

A murder in Aleppo shows the Syrian war is not over yet

The "hostile environment" claims a life

One of the fundamental rules of refugee law is that you do not deport people to be murdered. Guess what the UK is doing?

An Afghan man who sought refuge from the Taliban in the UK has been shot dead in his home town after being deported by the British government.

Zainadin Fazlie had lived in London with his wife, who had refugee status, and their four British-born children. But after committing a number of minor offences, the 47-year-old was sent back to Afghanistan after 16 years in Britain, despite threats to his life.

Last Friday, his wife Samira Fazlie found out he had been shot by Taliban forces after seeing an image of his dead body on Facebook.


Fazlie was deported under the tories' "hostile environment" policy, under which Britain uses whatever pretext it can to throw out anyone non-white. Supposedly, that policy is subject to humanitarian safeguards. Clearly, it is not. Instead, it involves deporting people to be murdered, in clear contravention of the refugee convention and the ECHR.

By deporting him in the face of known threats to his life, the British government effectively killed this man. And the people who signed the papers should be prosecuted as accessories.

Thursday, September 13, 2018



More Australian refoulement

Australia is sending refugees back to persecution again:

At least a dozen Sri Lankan asylum seekers have been forcibly deported back to Sri Lanka, having been put on a specially chartered jet that left Perth at 2am on Tuesday.

Some of the men deported had been in detention for more than six years in Australia, while others still had challenges before Australian courts pending. The majority were Tamil, but at least one was Sinhalese.

Guardian Australia has been provided with details of some of those returned but has chosen not to name them out of concern for their safety. Several had reported to Australian authorities they had previously been abducted and tortured by security forces in Sri Lanka.

The asylum seekers were transported from detention centres across Australia and taken to Perth, from where they were flown out on a charter flight run by Skytraders. The flight left at 1.57am.

The group landed in Colombo on Tuesday but has not made contact with family or legal representatives. Returned asylum seekers are, without previous exception, interviewed, arrested and charged by Sri Lanka police on arrival.


Deporting people when they still have challenges before the courts seems to violate the rule of law. But more importantly, deporting people to persecution is illegal under international law. As noted above, Sri Lanka persecutes people who have fled, and tortures its opponents. But I guess Australia doesn't care about that anymore. All they care about is preserving a white Australia by throwing out brown people.

Why does Parliamentary Services need spies?

Parliamentary Services is currently advertising for a pair of "security intelligence officers":

Reporting to the Security Enablement Manager, this role will collect information of intelligence value, conduct analysis of the information collected and prepare standardised intelligence product, in order to inform and influence the security and risk posture of Parliamentary Service.
Why the hell does Parliamentary Services need this? Who will they be collecting intelligence on? Because ATM it looks like it will be spying on protesters and petitioners to Parliament, which doesn't fit well with the House's role as a place which is meant to be accessible to all. Throw in the complete lack of oversight - Parliamentary services is not covered by the Official Information Act or the Privacy Act - and it seems to be a recipe for abuse.

But I guess they decided that hiring Thompson & Clark would just look too bad.

No freedom of speech in Spain

How backwards is Spain? They don't just have a sedition law, but also a law against blasphemous libel:

A Spanish actor accused of ridiculing God and the Virgin Mary has been detained for questioning by a judge, police have said, in the latest high-profile case to raise freedom of speech fears in the country.

Willy Toledo, a cinema and television actor who is facing a complaint over a social media post last year criticising the blasphemy prosecution of three women, has twice failed to show up for questioning.

He will be questioned by a judge on Thursday, a police spokeswoman told AFP, adding that the police acted on the orders of a Madrid court.


This is simply medieval, and not the sort of thing which should happen in a supposedly modern democracy. And the natural conclusion to be drawn from Spain's continued use of these laws is that it is neither modern or democratic.

The EU acts on Hungary

Over the past few years, Hungary has been transforming itself into an authoritarian state. The government of Viktor Orbán has undermined human rights and the rule of law, attacked judicial independence, and shut down independent media. Not to mention being virulently Islamophobic. This is all a violation of European democratic norms, and its finally grown too much for the EU, which has voted to pursue disciplinary action against them:

The European parliament has voted to trigger the EU’s most serious disciplinary procedure against Hungary, saying the country’s government poses a “systematic threat” to democracy and the rule of law.

The vote was carried with the support of 448 MEPs, narrowly clearing the required two-thirds majority, after Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orbán, was abandoned by many of his allies in the centre-right European People’s party (EPP).

[...]

It is the first time the legislature has triggered an article 7 procedure against an EU member state. The most severe punishment under article 7 is stripping a country of its voting rights in the EU.


Naturally the UK tories voted in support of Orbán, on the basis that the EU standing up for democratic norms would be a "dangerous precedent".

This is good news, and hopefully it will see the EU use these sanctions more widely against those members who are heading in an undemocratic direction. As for Hungary, ultimately Hungarians have to stand up for their own democracy. If they prefer to live in a dictatorship, there's not a lot the EU can really do, other than throw them out of the club until they've decided to be civilised again.

Priorities

Last month, Newsroom revealed that the bright-line test for taxing property speculators had a compliance rate of just two-thirds. But despite widespread tax cheating by wealthy property speculators, IRD isn't actually doing anything about the problem:

In spite of the bright-line test having an incredibly low compliance rate, Inland Revenue has no full-time staff chasing property investors who fail to pay what they owe.

[...]

Nearly one in three eligible property investors fails to comply with the test and documents released to Newsroom under the Official Information Act show the compliance rate is worsening. A report given to Revenue Minister Stuart Nash in May estimated bright-line test compliance could be lower than 50 percent.

Despite this, the IRD has not, in the three years since the bright-line test was implemented, established a team for chasing non-compliance and recovery.

Information released under the OIA to Newsroom said the IRD did not have dedicated teams for bright-line recovery nor did it have a separate budget for bright-line recovery activity. Instead existing staff were used to track down people who had not filed a return for possible tax due under the bright-line test.


Instead, they're targeting overseas student loan borrowers. Which tells us everything we need to know about IRD and the government's priorities.

But its worth noting that student loan debt is just that: debt. Whereas failing to comply with the bright-line test is a serious crime. IRD's refusal to enforce the bright-line test undermines both government policy and the rule of law, while setting clear incentives encouraging further tax-cheating by property speculators. And that is not something we should tolerate.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018



A revenge eviction

Last month, Checkpoint carried the story of an Auckland renter living in a house so poorly maintained that there was a literal swamp underneath it. Following the stories, the landleech was ordered to fix the house or face a $200,000 fine. The good news is that they've done that. The bad news is that they've evicted their tenant:

The tenants of an Auckland 'swamp house', which the Housing Minister labelled "third world", are being evicted after forcing their landlord to fix their home's issues.

After seeing the property on Checkpoint, Auckland Council deemed it insanitary and therefore unliveable on 31 August, meaning the landlord, Aven Raj, had 10 days to resolve the property's issues or face a $200,000 fine and an extra $20,000 every day the issues continued.

Those included uncompliant stormwater pipes, poor drainage, and mould.

Two business days later, on 4 September, the tenants were issued with a 90 day eviction notice. They weren't given a reason for the eviction.


As the article notes, retaliatory eviction notices are illegal. The Tenancy Tribunal can declare that they are of no effect, order that they not be repeated, and impose up to $4,000 in exemplary damages. The problem is that getting those orders, and the basic justice they represent, will likely see the tenant blacklisted by other landleeches and rental agencies.

And this is why our tenancy laws need to change. We need to make no-cause evictions illegal, protect the privacy of tenants at the Tribunal so they can't be blacklisted or punished for standing up for their rights, and make such discrimination illegal. We also need to make retaliatory evictions like this an actual criminal offence, since it shows an utter contempt for the law.

Labour is at least doing some of this. But they need to do more. Unfortunately half of them are landleeches too, so like tax rates, its another case where they have a huge conflict of interest over the law.

Labour isn't delivering

Writing in Stuff, Hamish Rutherford highlights the governments apparent backdowns over electricity prices and a capital gains tax and asks what is Labour for?

But beneath the pragmatism are more fundamental questions. Where the Government has promised intervention, the signs so far appear to be little more than tinkering.

If it isn't for tilting the scales of the tax system towards income earners, or simply intervening to lower electricity bills for all, what exactly is Labour for?


Its a good question. Labour was elected on a platform of hope and change. But in office it doesn't seem to be delivering much of either. In addition to the two backdowns highlighted above, its also refusing to eliminate 90 day trial periods and may not even abolish youth rates. Its dawdling on doubling the refugee quota and looks like it will keep on grovelling to farmers on climate change. But if they're not going to change anything, then people might just decide to vote for the other lot - because at least that way they won't suffer the bitter taste of disappointment.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018



We told you so

When Parliament passed the Harmful Digital Communications Act 2015, people warned them that it threatened journalism. The lack of a public interest defence or explicit protection for media activities meant that:

If a current affairs investigation into a dodgy finance company offends that financier or his family... if a Fair Go report distresses some con man... or if a cartoon emotionally harms a pious soul, they now can use the law to ask for the offending item to be taken offline.

And now its happened, with rich prick Ray Avery seeking to suppress Newsroom's reports on his "background, products and promises":
Avery has told Netsafe, the legal agent for considering complaints under the Act, the reports have caused him serious emotional distress and amount to a form of digital harm - and wants Newsroom to consider removing them and to agree not to write further news stories about him.

"Ray believes these are written with the purpose of harassing him and contain false allegations," Netsafe has told Newsroom.


MP's who voted for the law are shocked, shocked! by this. But they were explicitly warned about it in submissions, and they explicitly rejected. And now the public are paying the price, with an attempted threat to our free press.

People are generally comfortable with the use of the law to prevent and punish actual online bullying. But this is too far. Parliament needs to take urgent steps to protect press freedoms by enacting a public interest defence. Otherwise, we can conclude that like Tracey Martin, they want the law to be used in this fashion, perhaps in an effort to protect themselves.

Good news for transparency

Good news for transparency: former Minister Clare Curran is being forced to archive all the official information she had tried to hide in Gmail:

Former government minister Clare Curran has assured Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern she is archiving all emails she sent using her personal Gmail account.

Ms Curran resigned as a minister last week after being unable to answer questions about what official work she had carried out on her personal email.

[...]

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said today work-related emails on Ms Curran's G-mail account would be saved as official records and be discoverable under the Official Information Act.

Ms Curran said she was working with the prime minister's office to archive the information.

"I've given the prime minister an assurance that I'm archiving all of my Gmails, and I'm working through all of that at the moment, and they will be publicly discoverable."


Of course, this means that we're trusting Curran to decide what was held in a Ministerial rather than personal capacity, which is an obvious conflict of interest which may also deprive the government of its records. It would be far safer if it was under the supervision of the Ombudsman's office. But sadly, they have no general jurisdiction over Ministers.

New Fisk

After warnings of mass murder and catastrophe in Idlib, I prowled the front lines for two days. I didn't find what I'd expected

Contempt for international justice

The International Criminal Court is the primary enforcer of international human rights law and norms against war crimes and crimes against humanity. So naturally, the United States is threatening its judges:

John Bolton, the hawkish US national security adviser, has threatened the international criminal court (ICC) with sanctions and made an excoriating attack on the institution in a speech in Washington.

Bolton pushed for sanctions over an ICC investigation into alleged American war crimes in Afghanistan. He also announced on Monday the closure of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) office in Washington because of its calls for an ICC inquiry into Israel.

[...]

He said the Trump administration would “fight back” and impose sanctions – even seeking to criminally prosecute ICC officials – if the court formally proceeded with opening an investigation into alleged war crimes committed by US military and intelligence staff during the war in Afghanistan or pursued any investigation into Israel or other US allies.

Bolton vowed that the United States would retaliate by banning ICC judges and prosecutors from entering the US, imposing sanctions on any funds they had in the States and prosecuting them in the American court system.

“If the court comes after us, Israel, or other US allies we will not sit quietly,” he said, also threatening to impose the same sanctions on any country that aided the investigation.


Afghanistan has been a party to the ICC since 2003, and any crimes against humanity that happen on its territory can be investigated or prosecuted by the court. The actions of US soldiers in Afghanistan are within the court's jurisdiction.

This is a clear attempt to interfere with the court's work and deter its investigation. If this happened in New Zealand, we'd call it contempt of court and perversion of the course of justice. But there are no similar powers on the international stage, nothing that signals to states that threatening international judges is beyond the pale. Clearly, we need to create some. As for the US, it is behaving more and more like a rogue state, and the international community needs to act to bring it back within the international legal order. Sanctions against US government officials like Bolton would be a good start...