Wednesday, October 17, 2018



Will Labour vote to weaken workers' rights?

Labour's Film Industry Working Group has reported back on National's "Hobbit law", which arbitrarily excluded film industry workers from basic employment protections. But rather than recommending that it be repealed, they have recommended massively expanding it to cover all "screen production work", including local TV and internet video and computer games. And while they have recommended repealing the ban on contract workers in those industries collectively organising, and allowing the negotiation of collective agreements with minimum standards, they propose an explicit ban on any form of industrial action - meaning such "negotiation" will be one-sided, favouring bosses, with workers limited to basicly asking nicely. Which is basicly the situation we had in the C19th, before the union movement.

The "justification" for this is that the foreign film industry is "unique" and "internationally mobile". But as we've seen with climate change, every industry makes these sorts of self-serving claims in an effort to gain regulatory subsidies. The foreign film industry also "needs certainty", but they can have that whenever they want it by employing their workers as employees rather than trying to treat them as disposable serfs.

These are not recommendations the government should accept. Weakening workers' rights in one industry undermines them for everyone (as we're seeing with the attempt to expand the law: local TV producers have looked at the foreign film exemption and decided they'd like to be able to legally treat their workers like serfs too please). Rather than enacting these recommendations, the government should repeal the Hobbit law, and then restore the right to strike to contractors. And if the foreign film industry doesn't like the prospect of having to treat their workers with basic dignity, then can fuck right off.

Time to fix electoral donations

Jami-Lee Ross' explosive allegations that National Party leader Simon Bridges criminally laundered donations to hide their origin has put the issue of electoral donations and transparency back int he spotlight again. In a background piece, Stuff highlights the horrific fact that the 'least corrupt country in the world" has virtually no transparency at all in this area, with 80% of donations to parties happening in total secrecy:

In 2017, it was reported at least four out of every $5 donated to the two big parties is given secretly.

More than $31 million has been donated to registered political parties in the past six years, most of that to National.

Smaller parties like the Greens publicly disclose who provided most of their funding, but the big parties are secretive. 83 per cent ($8.7m over six years) of the money donated to National is from anonymous donors, and 80 per cent ($2.8m) of that donated to Labour.

[...]

The worst offender is NZ First: Most years, it allows every single one of its donors to remain secret.


The reason? Because self-serving politicians set the disclosure threshold at a level where they would hardly have to declare anything, and then launder donations to flal under it to boot.

As for how to fix it, the answer is simple: align both the party and candidate disclosure thresholds (to prevent Bridges' trick of laundering candidate donations through his party), and significantly lower them to a level where we actually get transparency. $500 seems about right - more than any normal person would give a party, but small enough that splitting becomes too much damn work. Plus of course we need to actually enforce the law, and prosecute any party or politician who attempts to evade disclosure.

But of course, we have the fundamental problem: why would those corrupt, self-serving hypocrites in Wellington ever vote for any curb on their own behaviour?

Member's Day

Today is a Member's Day, and the long slog through later stages of bills continues. First up is the committee stage of Jan Tinetti's Education (National Education and Learning Priorities) Amendment Bill. Following that, there's the second readings of Gareth Hughes' Consumers’ Right to Know (Country of Origin of Food) Bill and Simeon Brown's Psychoactive Substances (Increasing Penalty for Supply and Distribution) Amendment Bill. If they finish that, then its more law and order bullshit with Alastair Scott's Land Transport (Random Oral Fluid Testing) Amendment Bill. As the House is unlikely to get any further, there probably won't be a ballot tomorrow.

Climate Change: More bad faith from Labour

Remember when Jacinda Ardern called climate change "my generation's nuclear-free moment"? It turns out that she didn't really mean it. At least, that's the impression you'd get from the government's actions in granting foreign oil giant OMV a two year extension on its exploration permit for the Great Southern basin:

The Government has just granted oil giant OMV a two-year extension to drill in the Great South Basin, despite issuing a ban on new oil and gas exploration permits in April.

Greenpeace climate campaigner, Kate Simcock, says the decision by the Ministry for Business, Employment and Innovation (MBIE) to grant the extension is essentially a way to give the oil company a new permit.

“The Government is breathing new life into this permit, and the extra two years could be the difference between finding and drilling for new oil and gas reserves, or not,” she says.


And drilling for that oil means more emissions at a time when the IPCC is ringing the final warning bell.

If we are to avoid catastrophic climate change and the famine, war and death it entails, we need to end the oil industry - not in twenty of fifty year's time, but now. If the government had refused this extension, that is exactly what would have happened: the permit would have expired in a few months, and (if you take OMV's rhetoric seriously), they would have left the country in a huff, dropping a bunch of other permits in the process. That is exactly what needed to happen. Instead, the government has given them time to organise a drilling campaign, and increased the chance of them finding, exploiting, and most importantly, burning oil and gas - and burning the planet at the same time.

As for what to do about it, MBIE's decision seems prima facie unreasonable given the climate change context, and could potentially be judicially reviewed as such. And if it is upheld, I suspect there will be protests on the water if there is any effort to drill. Because unlike the government, the environmental movement is taking this problem seriously, and will do what they can to stop it.

What a coincidence!

Yesterday, ex-National MP Jami-Lee Ross made a series of explosive allegations against National Party leader Simon Bridges, alleging that he had asked him to hide a $100,000 donation from a Chinese businessman in violation of the Electoral Act. But it gets worse - because this businessman was awarded a major honour by National on their way out of office:

Chinese multi-millionaire Yikun Zhang was put forward for a Queen's Birthday honour by the National Party.

[...]

The Herald has learned Yikun Zhang of Remuera - who Ross said had done nothing wrong - was among those put forward by the National Party on its way out of office.

Inquiries have revealed the nomination carried the names of current National MP Jian Yang, former National MP Eric Roy and Auckland mayor Phil Goff.

Zhang, who owns $40 million in Auckland property, was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the Queen's Birthday Honours list.

[...]

Normal practice general sees the incoming administration sign off those nominated by the previous government. It is understood most of those under National went through in the New Year's Honours but a number - including the nomination for Zhang - didn't go through until the Queen's Birthday Honours.


This looks ugly, because there are a number of other such astounding coincidences, where people who made significant donations to the National Party are awarded honours. If we didn't know that MPs were all by definition "honourable", you might be left with the impression that they were selling the things to line the party's pockets, and wanted to avoid the obvious link a major donation would cause.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018



British police spied on democracy

The Guardian last night had a horrifying piece on the extent of the British police's anti-democratic spying, showing they had infiltrated at least 124 green, anti-racist, and leftwing groups over four decades:

Police deployed 24 undercover officers to infiltrate a small leftwing political party over a 37-year period, the Guardian can reveal.

The police spies infiltrated the Socialist Workers party (SWP) almost continuously between 1970 and 2007, often with more than one undercover officer embedded within the party.

[...]

Undercover officers spied on 22 leftwing groups, 10 environmental groups, nine anti-racist campaigns and nine anarchist groups, according to the database.

They also spied on campaigns against apartheid, the arms trade, nuclear weapons and the monarchy, as well as trade unions. Among those spied on were 16 campaigns run by families or their supporters seeking justice over alleged police misconduct.

According to the database, police spied on 12 animal rights groups and eight organisations related to the Irish conflict.


And of course, they deceived women into sexual relationships and fathered children during this campaign of infiltration.

The police supposedly exist to fight crime. The conclusion to draw from this is that they think that leftwing, environmental, pacifist, anti-racist, republican and trade union political activity is inherently criminal, as is campaigning for justice from police. Alternatively, they're not really about fighting crime at all, but keeping a corrupt political system in power. And if its the latter, then the entire institution needs to be torn down.

This will get people to care about climate change

Danyl Mclauchlan thinks that people will never care about climate change, because its all so abstract. Here's something that will make them care: its goign to fuck up the global beer supply:

Trouble is brewing for the world’s beer drinkers, with climate change set to cause “dramatic” price spikes and supply shortages, according to new research.

Extreme heatwaves and droughts will increasingly damage the global barley crop, meaning a common ingredient of the world’s favourite alcoholic beverage will become scarcer. Key brewing nations are forecast to be among the worst hit, including Belgium, the Czech Republic and Ireland.

The researchers said that compared with life-threatening impacts of global warming such as the floods and storms faced by millions, a beer shortage may seem relatively unimportant. But they said it would affect the quality of life of many people.


And if you're not a beer fan, it will also do the same to coffee. And probably other types of food as well. Which is the real threat here: famine, and the consequent mass-migration and war it causes. And all because arseholes in America want to keep profiting by burning coal.

National's corrupt electoral practices

The National Party mess has just gone thermonuclear, with Jami-Lee Ross making public allegations that party leader simon Bridges repeatedly engaged in corrupt electoral practices. In his unscheduled press standup, he specifically accused Bridges of knowingly falsifying the identity of the "Cathedral Club" donor on his electorate donation return, in violation of s207G of the Electoral Act, and of instructing him to split a $100,000 donation from a "Chinese businessman" in order to avoid disclosure, in violation of s207LA. He says he has recordings and photographs, and will be going to the police tomorrow to make a statement.

(He also says he's been accused of multiple cases of sexual harassment by National Party staffers, which he portrays as a political stitch-up. We can treat that denial with the contempt it deserves)

This is an allegation of serious criminal behaviour. Both of these are corrupt electoral practices, and if convicted, both Bridges and Ross (because he's a self-admitted party to at least one of the offences) would be automatically removed from Parliament. Of course, that assumes the police will bother to investigate. And as we've seen, they are only interested in prosecuting electoral offences by small parties outside Parliament, not by those who might one day set their budget. So, I fully expect that nothing will legally come of this, no matter how compelling Ross' evidence. But if what Ross says is true, it should taint Bridges permanently, and renders him utterly unfit to be in Parliament, let alone a party leader.

Monday, October 15, 2018



Leaks, dirt, and ethics

So, National leader Simon Bridges thinks he has found his leaker: the same MP he granted leave to a few weeks ago for "embarassing" personal health reasons. Given that the leaker supposedly sent text messages to Bridges and the Speaker claiming to be mentally fragile, I'm not sure how much I really want to go near this. But earlier today Jami-Lee Ross tried to pre-empt things with a series of tweets claiming he was being stitched up, including this one:



Which is presumably related to this morning's revelations about a "clerical error" around donations. But if its more than that, and Ross does in fact have such recordings, he should release them. Because sitting on solid evidence of unlawful activities and corrupt electoral practices by a politician, presumably as "insurance" or "leverage", is not just unethical, but also being an accessory after the fact.

Our racist health system

When Don Brash and his ilk talk about "Māori advantage", they're ignoring a hell of a lot of empirical data showing that Māori are in fact disadvantaged. And now there's another data point for the pile: our health system is less likely to try and save the lives of non-white babies, and this is being explicitly blamed on racism:

Babies close to death are less likely to get life saving treatment if they're Māori, Pacific or Indian - and experts partly blame racial bias.

A Weekend Herald investigation can reveal the ethnic divide in resuscitation attempts on very premature infants.

[...]

Resuscitation was tried on 92 per cent of Māori babies, 89 per cent of Pacific and 86 per cent of Indian.

That compared to 95 per cent for "other" - mostly Pākehā and non-Indian Asians - which medical experts say is a statistically significant difference.

"Institutional bias or implicit biases are likely to play at least some part," concluded the Perinatal and Maternal Mortality Review Committee, a taxpayer-funded panel tasked with reviewing deaths of babies and mothers.


The Mortality Review Committee is now calling for training to minimise the impact of that bias, and that seems like a good idea. Because this should not be happening. The quality of health care you receive should not depend on the colour of your skin.

The "solution" that wasn't

In 2013, National introduced its "solution" to housing unaffordability. Its "Special Housing Areas" were basicly a developer's charter, with fast-tracked resource consents and lax oversight. The aim, as stated in the bill's purpose clause, was to "enhance housing affordability by facilitating an increase in land and housing supply in certain regions or districts". Higher supply (via lower standards) was supposed to lead to lower prices. Instead, it raised them:

The previous government's solution to the housing crisis in Auckland actually made homes less affordable, research has found.

Special Housing Areas (SHAs) were created in 2013 and touted as "crucial" in "enabling young Kiwi families to get into their own home".

Developers were offered fast-tracked consents on the proviso a portion of the development would be "affordable".

But the creation of Auckland's SHAs have now been found to have pushed up prices by 5 per cent within the area.

[...]

"The SHA programme simply allowed developers to offer new homes with an additional attribute (a shorter delivery time), which allowed developers to set higher prices," the researchers said.


So, National lowered consent standards, and their greedy developer mates made out like bandits. Why am I not surprised?

The market is not going to provide affordable housing, because there's just no profit in it for them (or rather, less profit than building palazzos for foreign immigrants). The only way it is going to happen is if the government builds those houses for us (and enough of them to crash the market). The current government, at least, is taking the first few timid steps towards this.

NZDF decorated a war criminal

Nicky Hager has a new piece in North & South today, with new dirt on the defence force, including drunkenness in the field in Afghanistan, and a systematic failure to investigate a sexual assault. But the worst of it is that they decorated a war criminal:

Investigative writer Nicky Hager says sources from the Defence Force have exposed a culture of bullying, sexual violence, drinking and cover-ups in the military.

In Mr Hager's 12-page investigation, published in the North & South magazine today, he details how a source revealed that an SAS soldier - known as Corporal B for privacy reasons - was awarded the second-highest military honour despite previously being considered for court-martial action for killing two children in Afghanistan.

"The Americans asked the SAS commander if they could take one of the New Zealand medical staff, a medic, on a raid they were doing on a Afghanistan compound," said Mr Hager.

[...]

Mr Hager said the soldier got involved in a firefight and later found he had shot two young boys, who joined the adults in defending the compound.

"And then when he got back to base he became a very unhappy and confused person, because the SAS commander was saying 'well hang on a moment, you've broken all the rules here, we're gonna court-martial you'.


But instead, for PR purposes, they gave him a medal, relying on secrecy to cover up the circumstances (its mentioned as a footnote in Willie Apiata's press release). In this, they're behaving exactly like the NZ Police: rewarding staff who have behaved criminally rather than punishing them. And in both institutions the cause is the same: a secretive institution which believes itself to be above the law.

NZDF and its soldiers need to be held accountable for their actions in Afghanistan. The first part of that is cleaning out the command staff who ran that war and who believe themselves to be unaccountable to the New Zealand public. But there also needs to be a full investigation, followed where necessary by prosecutions. And needless to say, the latter can not and should not be run by NZDF, and probably can't even be run by the police (because their natural instinct is to grovel to power and not rock the boat). Instead, we will probably need a special purpose authority to handle it, independent of NZDF, the police, and the national security state. Its the only way we will be able to get any form of justice.

Friday, October 12, 2018



Cuts kill

Another example of how austerity kills. A couple of years ago, when National was looking for things to penny-pinch on so it could pay for its tax cuts for the rich, NZTA cut the number of checks it made on heavy vehicle certifiers. And suddenly, there was a spate of crashes involving heavy vehicles:

Newly-released information shows checks on engineers who inspect big trucks plunged at the same time as the number of large rigs on the road jumped.

[...]

The agency cut its heavy vehicle compliance staff numbers in half in 2014. Figures released under the Official Information Act show that led to the number of audits it was doing on truck-certifying engineers - who both check and design things such as towing connections and brakes - plunging from 70 a year before 2014, to just 30 a year since then.

The discovery of a mass of poor certifications, and a spate of cracked or weak towing connections, has massively disrupted the industry this year.


NZTA denies any link between its cuts and higher crash rates, but they would, wouldn't they? Meanwhile, it seems pretty intuitive that failing to check the work of the people checking safety allows them to do a sloppier job, and that these may in turn have contributed to crashes. Unfortunately - and conveniently - police record-keeping is inadequate to show any link. But there's a reasonable case here that National's penny-pinching led to unsafe vehicles - and killed people on the roads.

New Fisk

A hundred years ago a ship sunk in the Irish Sea, causing more than 500 deaths – here's what its legacy can teach us about Brexit

One state at a time

While America is looking like a pretty horrible place at the moment, there's some progess: the Washington state supreme court just abolished the state's death penalty:

The Washington state Supreme Court on Thursday unanimously struck down the death penalty there as unconstitutional and “racially biased,” a ruling that makes it the latest in a string of states to abandon capital punishment in recent years.

The order will not stop any scheduled executions because Washington state has already frozen its death penalty under a moratorium by Gov. Jay Inslee (D) in 2014. But the court’s order, which declares that death sentences in the state should be converted to life in prison, is a sweeping rejection of capital punishment at a time when it is being used less nationwide and as states are struggling to obtain the drugs needed for lethal injections.

In their opinion, the justices focused on what they said was the unequal use of the death penalty, describing it as a punishment meted out haphazardly depending on little more than geography or timing.

“The death penalty is invalid because it is imposed in an arbitrary and racially biased manner,” the justices wrote. “While this particular case provides an opportunity to specifically address racial disproportionality, the underlying issues that underpin our holding are rooted in the arbitrary manner in which the death penalty is generally administered.”


This is a state decision rooted in state law, so Republicans can't overturn it with their stacked federal supreme court. And while its not the rejection on principle any decent court would have made - the death penalty is cruel, unusual, inhumane, and contrary to international human rights norms - anything which stops the killing is good.

Thursday, October 11, 2018



Submission on the Crown Minerals (Petroleum) Amendment Bill

  1. I support the Crown Minerals (Petroleum) Amendment Bill and ask that it be passed with the amendments suggested below.

  2. As this week's IPCC report shows, humanity needs to move rapidly away from fossil fuels if we are to have any hope of avoiding catastrophic climate change. Our global carbon budget does not allow humanity to burn the fossil fuels we have already discovered. Therefore, looking for more is both pointless, and insofar as it encourages the burning of fossil carbon and the pollution of the atmosphere with greenhouse gases, actively dangerous.

  3. Banning offshore oil exploration is a small step towards making that necessary shift, but it is a step in the right direction, and I support it. Banning exploration will gradually strangle the oil industry in New Zealand, and so reduce our contribution to global climate change. Obviously it needs to be followed up with further action: banning onshore exploration, banning fossil fuel extraction, banning fossil fuel vehicles, and ultimately banning fossil fuel use entirely. But those (and measures combating other greenhouse gases) are topics for other legislation.

  4. The bill however does not go far enough. There are two obvious flaws which limit its effectiveness:

  5. Holders of exploration permits have a statutory right to convert their permit to a mining permit if they make a discovery. If the government is serious about calling time on offshore oil, then it needs to remove that right, or put a sunset clause on it. Given the urgency of the global situation, I recommend eliminating it entirely for any petroleum permit outside of onshore Taranaki. Alternatively, a five year sunset clause seems more than generous, keeping in mind that any mining permit means another twenty years of dangerous emissions.

  6. Holders of exploration permits can also have them changed to change the area covered, the minerals to which they relate, extend their duration or change their conditions. Section 7 of the bill partially addresses this by forbidding petroleum permits from being extended to areas outside the onshore Taranaki region. However, this would still allow a holder of an existing permit to have it extended or have its conditions modified to remove "drill or drop" or surrender conditions, which is contrary to the intent of this bill. It also allows the holders of permits for other minerals - for example, ironsands - to have their permits changed to allow them to explore for or mine petroleum. The bill needs to be amended to ensure that no existing offshore petroleum permit can have any change to its conditions, and that no permit of any form can be changed in any way so as to allow the prospecting or exploration for or mining of petroleum outside the onshore Taranaki region. Failing to do this will invite game-playing by the fossil fuel industry, and will directly undermine the purposes of the bill.

  7. I do not wish to appear in person before the committee.

Benefit sanctions don't work

The Greens are currently campaigning to end benefit sanctions, under which people have their benefits cut and are left to starve if they refuse an arbitrary and demeaning drug test, or fail to take the first shit job they are offered. its a sensible policy, because the evidence shows tha tthese sanctions just don't work. Locally, MSD has concluded that the sanctions regime does not help people find secure and meaningful employment: those forced into shit jobs or into low-level training through the sanctions regime simply end up back on benefits again, with no increase in their financial security. And its the same story in the UK:

There is “no evidence” that benefit sanctions encourage claimants to get into work or increase their earnings, according to a government report published last month.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has been accused of “sneaking out” the findings, which cast doubt on the effectiveness of a key element of its flagship universal credit system.

The report, published with no ministerial announcement on 12 September, shows docking benefits as a punishment for alleged failures to comply with Jobcentre Plus rules does not encourage claimants to apply for additional work, and in some cases “damages the relationship between the work coach and the claimant”.


But then, in both countries you get the feeling that sanctions regimes aren't actually about helping people. Instead, they're about punishing the poor for being poor, and finding some ways to chisel "savings" for the government (while ignoring long-term costs, of course). sanctions regimes are there to fulfil the vindictiveness of people like Paula Bennett and Judith Collins - not to actually do any good for beneficiaries, the government, or society.

They're cruel. They're ineffective. They're pointless. So why continue with it? Or are we really just into pointless sadism?

Wednesday, October 10, 2018



"Surplus"

So, the government thinks its in surplus, to the tune of $5.5 billion. Of course, its nothing of the sort. As I noted last time, when there are queues for basic healthcare, people without homes, underpaid public servants, and kids going to school hungry, the government having cash on hand isn't really a surplus, any more than I'm rich if I have $1000 in my wallet and a $10,000 overdraft. What we have is deep-rooted social and infrastructural debt caused by decades of austerity and NeoLiberalism - debt that isn't recorded anywhere on the government's books. But the fact that its not recorded doesn't mean it doesn't exist or doesn't cause problems - merely that its not properly managed. And the government needs to manage it, by paying off that debt and investing in hospitals, homes, and yes, teacher's salaries, before it makes any moves to gives it themselves as tax cuts.

Bigotry loses in Romania

Romanians went to the polls over the weekend to vote in a constitutional referendum to ban same-sex marriage. Or rather, they didn't - because the referendum failed due to miserably low turnout:

A referendum to establish a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage in Romania has failed - after only a fifth of voters bothered to turn out.

Romanians were being asked whether they wanted the constitution changed to specify that marriage can only be between a man and a woman.

But just 20.4% of eligible voters cast ballots - short of the 30% needed.


The referendum appears to have been a plot by the government to distract from ongoing corruption scandals by appealing to bigotry. Fortunately it didn't work. Those who opposed the change boycotted the poll, holding boycott parties instead. Unfortunately Romania still doesn't recognise equal marriage in law - but at least there's not a constitutional prohibition on it. Meaning that that failure to recognise can easily be overturned by the European Court on Human Rights when it catches up with the rest of society and recognises such legal bigotry as fundamentally incompatible with the ECHR's affirmations of equality and non-discrimination.

Tuesday, October 09, 2018



Australia wants to destroy the world

Australia's response to the IPCC's dire climate warning yesterday? Full denial:

The Australian government has rejected the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report’s call to phase out coal power by 2050, claiming renewable energy cannot replace baseload coal power.

The deputy prime minister, Michael McCormack, said Australia should “absolutely” continue to use and exploit its coal reserves, despite the IPCC’s dire warnings the world has just 12 years to avoid climate change catastrophe.

He said the government would not change policy “just because somebody might suggest that some sort of report is the way we need to follow and everything that we should do”.


In other words, they plan to destroy the world. They're as immoral as the oil companies. On the plus side, we'll all be able to say they deserve it when their continent dries up and blows away and they're left without drinking water - but by then it'll probably be too late for the rest of us as well.

Don't let OMV destroy the planet

Last month, we learned that Labour's "commitment" to end offshore oil drilling wasn't. In an act of bad faith with their coalition parner, and total, two-faced dishonesty, they were quietly planning to extend existing offshore drilling permits, giving polluters more time to drill. And now, thanks to Greenpeace, we know who they plan to help out this way: Australian polluter OMV:

Greenpeace has today revealed that Austrian oil giant OMV has requested an extension to its upcoming drill commitment in the Great South Basin.

Greenpeace Climate Campaigner, Kate Simcock, says an Official Information Act (OIA) request has uncovered OMV’s application for the permit extension, which otherwise required it to drill an exploration well before July 2019.

“Six months ago the Coalition Government announced it would not grant any new oil exploration permits because of climate change. Today we learn that Austrian oil giant OMV is going to test the Government’s commitment to action on climate change by demanding more time to drill for oil,” Simcock says.

“Any extension of an existing permit is essentially granting a new permit. In banning new oil exploration permits, the Government responded to a clear desire by New Zealanders for climate action. Now they must to stand strong on that principle – extending permits is not consistent with that.”


Looking at the documents, OMV wants to extend their drilling deadlines for two years each. Supposedly, this is about geophysics (though all the details are redacted as "commercially sensitive", of course). But realisticly, its about playing for time and gambling on a change of government to reverse the exploration ban. Because the cost-benefit analysis of whether drill in any particular spot looks very different if its the last one you're ever going to get.

Meanwhile, as yesterday's IPCC report shows, even if there is oil in the Great South Basin, we can't ever burn it, which means there is no point even looking anymore. Obviously that's not something the oil industry is ever going to accept: they profit by destroying the planet, and their "response" to climate change is to buy lobbyists to deny it. Meanwhile, in the real world, the planet is melting, and the course of action is clear: if we are to live, the oil industry has to die.

As for what to do about it, the government is currently seeking submissions on its legislation to implement the offshore drilling ban. As part of this, they're proposing a minor tweak to the law on changes to permits, to prevent them from being extend to land outside Taranaki. A second tweak forbidding any change to any permit to explore for petroleum on any land outside of onshore Taranaki seems to be required. And if the government doesn't introduce such a change, we'll know that they are two-faced liars, and can vote accordingly.

Unnecessary intrusion

One of the aims of the Privacy Act was to regulate government use of information matching. The Act prevents unauthorised disclosure, so any government use for (for example) seeing if people on the electoral roll are citizens or residents and so qualified to vote requires specific statutory authorisation. There's a lot of statutory authorisations littering the books, and the Privacy Commissioner is required to review them every five years to see if they're still necessary. And it turns out that a pile of them aren't just unnecessary, but have never been used:

Privacy Commissioner John Edwards is recommending the repeal of 22 government information matching provisions, after a report showed many of them were never used.

Mr Edwards says information matching provisions are enacted by Parliament to allow the sharing of information in ways that would otherwise breach the Privacy Act’s information privacy principles.

“I am concerned these exceptional powers have been sought by officials, agreed to by Ministers, enacted by Parliament, and then never used. It shows up a weakness in the system and demonstrates the importance of having robust policy development procedures in advance of enacting such provisions.”

Mr Edwards says the unused information matching provisions did not deliver their intended benefits to society and continuing Parliamentary authorisation of these privacy intrusive measures was unjustified.


It seems that government agencies have a bad habit of demanding statutory authorisation for intrusive database trawls, making big claims about how vital it is and how the sky will fall if they don't get these powers, and then never using them. Which undermines not just privacy, but also trust in government. The Commissioner is right: these intrusive and entirely unnecessary provisions need to be repealed. But beyond that, Parliament needs to provide much greater scrutiny of such demands in future, and only grant them where there is a clear and urgent requirement for information sharing. MP's giving agencies intrusive powers "just in case" is not fulfilling their basic duty to protect the privacy and human rights of New Zealanders.

The Commissioner's full report can be read here.

Cruel and barbaric

Over the weekend, Nauru threw out NGO Médecins Sans Frontières, which had been providing mental health services to the suicidal inmates of australia's concentration camp there. So what is the Nauruan regime going to do about suicidal refugees now that it has removed their only source of support? Arrest them:

Refugee advocates say police in Nauru have arrested a 36-year-old Iranian refugee for attempting suicide.

The Refugee Action Coaltion said the refugee swallowed washing powder at the Anibare camp on Monday afternoon.

The Coalition's Ian Rintoul said although the man was in obvious distress, police arrested him rather than calling an ambulance.

It follows a government edict made last week that any refugee who threatens or attempts suicide be arrested.


And its unclear whether they even gave him medical treatment.

This is simply cruel and barbaric. There's a reason civilised countries don't criminalise attempted suicide: because it doesn't work. Mental health issues are exactly that - health issues - and need to be dealt with by appropriate treatment, not the criminal justice system. Of course, the best way of dealing with these issues would be to remove the underlying cause: being detained for years without hope in an Australian concentration camp. But with Nauru being paid tens of thousands of dollars per refugee to torture them, why would they want to do that?

Monday, October 08, 2018



We should be trying to raise petrol prices, not lower them

Today the IPCC released a devastating report showing that we have only a decade or less to deal with climate change, and that we need to cut emissions to zero by 2050 if we want to avoid catastrophe. Meanwhile, at the PM's post-cabinet press conference this afternoon, the focus was firmly on... petrol prices. Apparently they're too high, so our political establishment wants to lower them. Labour wants to take it out of the petrol companies' end, by cutting their margins. National meanwhile wants to take it out on us, by cutting fuel taxes (which means less money to pay for roads and crash victims. So National wants us either to not have those things, or they believe there is a magic money tree they can use to pay for them). But by focusing on cutting prices, both are effectively saying they want to increase the use of petrol, increase emissions, and increase global temperatures. Or to put it another way: both parties want to destroy the world.

From a climate change perspective, high petrol prices are good, insofar as they discourage inefficient transport use, push people to alternatives, and reduce emissions (and past evidence is that they do). So rather than trying to lower petrol prices, a government which actually cared about climate change would be welcome this - and be planning to make them higher. Obviously, this has social impacts, so they'd need policies to deal with that: cheaper and more efficient public transport, low-cost loans to get people into more efficient cars, subsidies for certain users utterly reliant on vehicles. Obviously, it would be better if they had planned to put those policies in place beforehand, rather than being hit by a sudden market shift. But in general, they should treat high prices as what they are: a market signal to burn less petrol, and stop destroying the world.

Climate change: A line in the sand for our species

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has released its special report on limiting warming to 1.5 degrees, and argued strongly that the current two degree target is too dangerous:

At 1.5C the proportion of the global population exposed to water stress could be 50% lower than at 2C, it notes. Food scarcity would be less of a problem and hundreds of millions fewer people, particularly in poor countries, would be at risk of climate-related poverty.

At 2C extremely hot days, such as those experienced in the northern hemisphere this summer, would become more severe and common, increasing heat-related deaths and causing more forest fires.

But the greatest difference would be to nature. Insects, which are vital for pollination of crops, and plants are almost twice as likely to lose half their habitat at 2C compared with 1.5C. Corals would be 99% lost at the higher of the two temperatures, but more than 10% have a chance of surviving if the lower target is reached.

Sea-level rise would affect 10 million more people by 2100 if the half-degree extra warming brought a forecast 10cm additional pressure on coastlines. The number affected would increase substantially in the following centuries due to locked-in ice melt.

Oceans are already suffering from elevated acidity and lower levels of oxygen as a result of climate change. One model shows marine fisheries would lose 3m tonnes at 2C, twice the decline at 1.5C.


Or, to put this in very small words so politicians can understand it: a lot of people are going to die or have their lives made miserable unless you sort this out. The insect result is the worst, and they're basicly saying that two degrees commits us to global famine, and all the instability that brings. Sea-level rise means involuntary migration, and more instability. This is not a pretty future the Olds are building for us, and we need to fight for a better one.

How do we stop it? The report is clear: we need a 45% cut in emissions by 2030, and a reduction to zero by 2050. Which puts James Shaw's wibbling about everyone being "equally unhappy" with his climate change targets on Saturday in perspective: we can't afford his bullshit. Anything other than a target of net zero across all gases is committing to burning the planet. And if a Green climate minister commits to that, he and his party can kiss their jobs goodbye at the next election. I will not vote for any party which promises to destroy the world, and I strongly suspect that feeling will be shared by a significant number of Green supporters.

Debra Roberts, one of the IPCC working group co-chairs, called the report a line in the sand for our species. It needs to be a line in the sand for our politicians as well. They need to decide whose side they are on: humanity's, or that of the polluters. And if its the latter, we need to vote them out as quickly as possible.

The exception that proves the rule

On Friday, the police announced they were charging the secretary of the People's Party with failing to declare donations on time. Great! Parliament has made it clear that they regard this as a crime, and its good to see the police finally enforcing electoral law for once. At the same time, you have to ask: why only the People's Party?

In case anyone has forgotten, the secretary of ACT, Garry Mallett, committed exactly the same offence in 2014, and was duly referred to the police over it. Who then did... nothing. Its as if they have one standard for cimes by people who are in power, and one for people who aren't.

(In case anyone was wondering, its too late to prosecute Mallett now, because politicians wrote themselves a self-serving little time-limit. if the normal rules applied, then it would be a category 2 offence with a 5 year limit for filing charges. its almost as if politicians don't want to be subject to the law like the rest of us dirty peasants...)

Australia wants refugees to die

Australia is currently detaining hundreds of refugees in a concentration camp on Nauru. Being detained indefinitely without hope pretty obviously causes mental health issues, and self-harm and attempts at suicide are regular occurances. To some extent, this problem is mitigated by NGO Médecins Sans Frontières, which provides counselling to Australia's gulag victims. But now, the Nauruan regime has ordered them to leave:

Nauru’s government has ordered Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) to stop work there immediately, despite a physical and mental health crisis in the country.

The medical NGO has been providing psychological and psychiatric services to residents, asylum seekers and refugees on the island since late 2017.

MSF staff wrote to its clients on Saturday to tell them it could no longer offer them treatment because of an order from Nauru’s health minister, who said the its services were “no longer required on the island”.

MSF said in its letter that the order meant its “mental health activities in Nauru must stop, effective today, Saturday, 6th of October”.


The Nauruan regime has not given a reason for this decision, but its pretty obvious: because Australia wants them to. MSF referrals are key to refugees winning cases in Australian courts to be transferred there for urgent medical care (which cannot be provided by Nauru's inadequate medical system). No more doctors means no more referrals, and no more refugees entering Australia. As with "Nauru's" decision to ban the media, we will no doubt find Australia's sticky fingers all over this.

Of course, kicking out MSF effectively means prohibiting refugees from receiving proper medical care, a decision which will inevitably cost lives. But Australia and its puppet regime in Nauru don't care about that. They want refugees to kill themselves, or die miserable deaths due to inadequate care, pour encourager les autres.

This decision is pure, unmitigated evil. And both the Australian and Nauruan governments should go to The Hague for it.

Friday, October 05, 2018



Looking into it

So, Callaghan Innovation's treatment of OIA requests from the Taxpayer's Onion and its wrongful release of personal information about them seems to have backfired badly, with the Ombudsman announcing that they may launch an investigation. And they should. Because apart from the concerns about differential treatment, Callaghan chair Pete Hodgson's admissions this morning about the wrongful release - effectively, that he believed it to be justified by the "abuse of process" the Taxpayer's Union had carried out by exercising their statutory right to information to embarrass his agency - should give cause for concern. In case anyone has forgotten, this was exactly the reasoning used by Paula Bennett in exposing personal information about beneficiaries who criticised publicly criticised her, and its as unacceptable from Hodgson as it was from her. When we entrust government agencies with our personal information, whether voluntarily as when making an OIA request or by coercion, we expect them to be a proper and ethical custodian of it. This means not just adhering to the requirements of the Privacy Act and only using it for its specified purpose and not disclosing it without lawful authority to others, but also not using it to mount political vendettas against people. Callaghan Innovation's actions, and Hodgson's endorsement of them, are contrary to that principle, and suggest an element of vindictiveness which is inappropriate in a government agency and which undermines public trust in government. And that damn well needs to be investigated and stamped out.

As for the Ombudsman, though, his comment that "if there are abuses, by either requesters or agencies, I want to look into it and report on it" is cause for concern. He should not need to be reminded, but it is no part of the jurisdiction of the Ombudsman to "look into" the actions of requesters. It is not part of their functions under the OIA, and neither is it part of their functions under the Ombudsmen's Act. In both cases, those functions are limited to investigating the decisions of government, of Ministers, agencies and officials. Any action therefore to "look into" the "abuses" of requesters would be unlawful. If the Ombudsman wants to eliminate subterfuge from requesters, the way to do it is by restoring public confidence in the OIA system and protection of personal information so that it is unnecessary.

MI5 supports criminals

One of the functions of Britain's MI5 is to support law enforcement agencies in the prevention and detection of serious crime. But it turns out they're doing the opposite, with an official policy of ignoring serious crimes by their agents and informants:

MI5 grants its informants legal cover to participate in crimes that may extend to murder, torture and sexual assaults, a tribunal has heard.

The policy, in existence since the early 1990s, is likely to have enabled the Security Service to conceal wide ranging illegal activity, Ben Jaffey QC, representing an alliance of human rights group, told the investigatory powers tribunal (IPT) on Thursday.

The policy was so secret that even judicial oversight of the practice, introduced in 2012, was not initially acknowledged. Sir Mark Waller, a retired judge appointed to oversee the policy, was instructed by the prime minister at the time, David Cameron, not to comment on its legality.

[...]

The document shows that MI5 sought to give its agents even greater freedom to commit criminal offences than that usually proffered to police informers. “The service has established its own procedure for authorising the use of agents participating in crime,” it states.

It says any authorisation to commit crimes “has no legal effect and does not confer on either agent or those involved in the authorisation process any immunity from prosecution. Rather, the authorisation will be the service’s explanation and justification of its decisions” should the police investigate.


Cameron's direction shows the utter toothlessness of the UK's intelligence "oversight". If "watchdogs" can be instructed to ignore unlawful activity, then they're not "watchdogs", but PR scams. It remains to be seen whether the investigatory powers tribunal falls into that category as well, or whether it will uphold the UK's legal ban on soliciting torture and other serious crime.

An unrepentant bully

The Department of Internal Affairs has released the redacted investigation report into the allegations of bullying against former Minister Meka Whaitiri, showing that the investigator David Patten found it probable that Whaitiri grabbed (that is, assaulted) her staffer and yelled at them. DIA also released a letter from Whaitiri's lawyer, showing that she vigorously contested the allegations and the report's conclusions, and even alleged that they were politically motivated. But the clincher is Whaitiri's press release, the core of which is this:

I am disappointed my behaviour led to a complaint.

Not disappointed in the behaviour, but that someone had complained about it. Which is what you'd expect from a bully.

Whaitiri's responses simply confirm the allegations of the report and show that she is completely unrepentant to boot. Faced with a complaint of bullying, she's tried to bully her way out of it. I'm glad she failed, and glad she's no longer a Minister. While she can't be sacked as an MP, the sooner she leaves Parliament, the better. There should be no place for bullies in our Parliament.

As for the Maori caucus, their backing for this unrepentant bully reflects poorly upon them all. They need to take a long, hard look at themselves, the behaviour they are supporting, and the political standards they accept. Supporting a bully to keep on bullying is never right, and they need to acknowledge this.

New Fisk

I watched a Palestinian family lose their land 25 years ago – and this week I returned to find them

Contractors, public records, and the OIA

One of the big shifts in government over the last 30 years has been the move to contracting out of services. Budget cuts, staff caps, and the pressure to "do more with less" has seen agencies contract out core operations, sometimes to low-cost providers, sometimes to the very people they've just sacked. But this raises issues around official information, public records, and our right to access them. Are agencies protecting our rights and complying with their statutory obligations?

The answer, according to an OIA filed through FYI, the public OIA system, is "partly". The requester asked for information on MPI's contractor email records policy, and specifically how Public Records Act compliance is managed. MPI's response includes the relevant contract templates for each of the three types of arrangement contractors are hired under. Contractors employed under a Work Authorization agree to turn over all information and intellectual property to MPI at termination. Those employed under an all-of-government recruitment agreement are merely required to conform to New Zealand law and to MPI policies (which includes adhering to the OIA). Only the government's Model Contract for Services includes a specific OIA / Public Records Act clause, requiring contractors to keep records, turn them over immediately if required to perform a statutory duty (and in a reasonable timeframe otherwise), and store them for seven years after termination. Which neatly covers OIA responsibilities during the contract, but unless MPI and other agencies demand a full turnover at the end of a contract, means this official information effectively disappears from government control (and public access) the moment a contract ends.

Whether they do in fact ask for such a turnover seems like a good subject for a followup request, perhaps to multiple agencies. But if they don't, then with increasing use of contractors, we run the risk of an increasing chunk of our public records disappearing from the public record.

Thursday, October 04, 2018



Australia undermined freedom of the press in Nauru

When Nauru effectively banned journalists five years ago, it was very convenient for Australia, silencing all sorts of awkward questions about their concentration camp on the island and what was going on there. Except it wasn't merely "convenient": it turns out that Australia had conspired with Nauru to make it happen:

The Australian government is jointly responsible for Nauru’s media access policy for the immigration detention centre, departmental documents reveal, despite claims for years that it is solely an issue for Nauru.

The Australian government has repeatedly claimed it has no involvement in Nauru’s decisions around media access and specifically its repeated refusal to Australian outlets.

But the previously unpublished official arrangements, tendered to federal court as part of an affidavit in a Nauruan medical transfer case, reveal the notoriously restrictive media policy to be a joint effort.

“The governments of Australia and Nauru will agree to a media and visitor access policy and conditions of entry,” the document said. “Media seeking access to centre will be required to obtain permission from the [Nauruan] secretary for justice and to sign a media agreement.”


The Australian government then claimed it had nothing to do with the media ban, and that it was entirely up to Nauru. It turns out they were lying. Who'd have thunk it?

This isn't ethical, and its not acceptable. Australian voters should hold their government to account for it.

A wrongful release

Yesterday the Herald carried a story about the Taxpayer's Onion using fake names to lodge OIA requests. They uncovered this by learning the names and emails of people who had made OIA requests to Callaghan Innovation, then hitting the "password reset" button on those accounts - a crude form of hacking - to uncover the recovery addresses. So how did they get the requester emails in the first place? Callaghan Innovation provided them in response to an OIA request.

This is... unusual, to say the least. And it seems to me to be a prima facie case of wrongful release. Someone's contact information and the fact that they made a particular OIA request is personal information about them. The privacy withholding ground is then immediately engaged. That withholding ground must always be balanced against the public interest, but it usually requires an extremely good reason to overturn where contact information is concerned. Most public interest factors are concerned with official actions, not private ones. Where personal information of members of the public are released (e.g. Peter Thiel's immigration files), the justification is around ensuring the accountability of officials for their decision-making, not the accountability of private individuals.

("But the identities were fake!" you say. That doesn't really change the issue. Whether a person used a false identity to lodge an OIA request is itself personally identifying information about that individual, and so the privacy ground is still engaged. Except arguably, more strongly, because the potential for embarrassment from release is higher)

I've done a lot of OIA requests over the years, and the identities (let alone contact details) of low-level staff and members of the public are almost always withheld (and where they're not, its usually due to error, not deliberate). And you can see that Callaghan does exactly that with its staff. Obviously, the Herald specifically requested names and contact details, but there are serious questions to be asked about why they were released, and whether a proper process around the decision was followed. I've filed an OIA to get to the bottom of that; we'll see what it turns up in 20 working days.

Meanwhile, there is one takeaway lesson from this: you should always use a false identity when requesting information from Callaghan Innovation. Because they have just demonstrated that they will not respect your privacy, and therefore can not be trusted with your personal information.

Blasphemy repeal advances

Something I missed: the Justice Committee reported back on the Crimes Amendment Bill last Friday. The bill contains a few minor tweaks to the Crimes Act, including repeal of the archaic offence of "blasphemous libel", and the committee recommended unanimously that it be passed:

We heard concerns that the repeal would encourage hate speech against God, incite violence, and remove a safeguard for religious freedom. It was suggested that the repeal would disrupt the maintenance of wholesome boundaries in the media, and would insult God and the Christian foundations of New Zealand.

We consider it highly unlikely that the repeal of this little-known provision would result in any of these issues.


I'd also note that many of those issues are simply not the legitimate concern of government in a free and democratic society. what people think of other people's imaginary friends is simply no concern whatsoever of government.

Now that its back from committee, the bill should hopefully be passed by the end of the year.

Wednesday, October 03, 2018



Climate change: $840 million

That's how much climate change cost us between 2007 and 2017, according to a recent report from VUW and NIWA:

A report by Victoria University and NIWA commissioned by The Treasury, which draws on international scientific peer reviewed evidence, has found that climate change related floods and droughts has cost the New Zealand economy at least $120M for privately-insured damages from floods and $720M for economic losses from droughts over the last 1
0 years. This is expected to be a conservative estimate due to the inclusion of only two weather-related hazards, the choices made regarding the attribution of droughts, the neglect of nonfinancial losses, and the use of insured
damages rather than full economic losses for some events.


Which doesn't sound like very much - a mere $84 million a year. Sure. But remember, this is going to get much worse. And the big driver - drought - is going to become an annual event. A decent drought costs the economy ~$1.5 - $2 billion, which the model currently attributes 20% of to climate change. But as we move further and further from historic weather patterns, that percentage is going to increase significantly, at the same time as drought frequency increases. By 2050, we're easily going to be looking at a billion dollars a year in costs from drought alone.

Which puts all of that whining from farmers about having to pay the cost of their emissions into perspective. They're the primary beneficiary of action to reduce climate change, in that drought costs fall primarily on them, but they're also the biggest objectors to actually doing anything about it. Effectively, they're expecting the rest of us to pay to save them - and pay them for the damage they suffer due to their own selfishness as well. But supporting self-interested, environmentally destructive leeches is not something the public is going to put up with for long. If farmers want our assistance, they need to show they're working on the problem, by paying the full cost of their emissions.

An ordinary practice

Shock! Horror! Someone is using false names to make OIA reqeusts!

False identities were used by a right-wing lobby group to make Official Information Act requests of a government agency.

The Herald uncovered evidence showing people seeking information for the NZ Taxpayers' Union did not actually exist - and that numerous email addresses from its purported members were actually directly linked to its head office.

One single Taxpayers' Union email address was linked to nine ghost people who filed OIAs seeking information, including details later used by the lobby group to seek publicity.

The Herald approached the Taxpayers' Union for comment. It refused to talk for two days then issued a statement admitting it used bogus identities to make OIA requests.

Of course they do. So does every serious requester. In fact, I would be extremely surprised if the Herald's David Fisher, who produced this article, hadn't done it himself. As for why, the reason is simple: because there is a well-founded perception that agencies treat requesters differently based on who they are and the reason they believe they are requesting information. A request from a journalist or advocacy group may be delayed, transferred, or see as much information withheld as possible, while a request for exactly the same information from a random member of the public will see it speedily released. So regular requesters often pretend to be other people to get the information they are seeking.

Its a practice as old as the OIA itself. I recall reading an ancient article about the toxic days of the Fourth Labour Government, where people in one Minister's office were having to make pseudonymous OIA requests to find out what other Ministers were doing. Nowdays, with email and FYI, its trivially easy. Make a throwaway account, file OIA request, wait 20 working days. Its only problematic if the agency is one which uses eligibility requirements as a barrier, or if you want to complain to the Ombudsman later.

Is it legal? The Law Commission noted in its 2012 review of the Act that there's no requirement for requesters to provide their real name, and agencies would have no way of knowing if they did anyway. It therefore made no recommendation on the matter. The Ombudsman is on record (in their submission to that review (Q45)) that there should be no requirement for requesters to state their real name. So its certainly not seen as a problem by those responsible for upholding the OIA regime.

In other words, rather than some weird and underhand practice, its a common OIA tactic, and likely used by the journalists themselves. Rather than investigating it, maybe the Herald should be looking at why it is necessary, and campaigning for a better freedom of information regime, rather than persecuting those struggling to make it work.

(Meanwhile, the Herald's investigation seems pretty dubious itself. They obtained the email addresses of requesters, though its not clear how, and then attempted to hack the accounts to learn their password reset emails. FYI is on record as saying they did not provide the addresses, and I think there's interesting questions to be asked about how the Herald did it...)

Edit (4/10/18): David Fisher has got in contact to assure me that he has never made a pseudonymous OIA request. I guess I get to be surprised then.

Tuesday, October 02, 2018



Vexing bullshit

That's the only way to see the High Court's decision The Attorney-General v Dotcom, released today. In the context of ongoing litigation, Kim Dotcom had filed urgent Privacy Act requests to multiple agencies requesting everything they held about him. The agencies had responded by transferring the requests to the Attourny-General, his opponent in the litigation, who then refused them as "vexatious". The Human Rights Review Tribunal had previously held that both the transfer and refusal unlawful: that the transfer to an agency which did not in fact hold the information being sought was contrary to the Act, and that the bar to vexatiousness being very high - previous rulings had said that it required a request to be such that no-one could make it in good faith - the refusal was also unlawful. The High Court has refused this. Its reason? Because Dotcom had requested information in the context of litigation, and he had had the temerity to demand it urgently.

This, simply speaking, is bullshit. Information held by an agency about you does not become "more closely connected" with another agency simply because you are involved in litigation with the government. And requesting urgency does not make a request inherently vexatious. To the contrary, under the traditional legal interpretation, being involved in litigation with an agency is a good reason to seek information held by that agency, and a strong indication that a request is not vexatious. Insofar as the request for urgent treatment of a request is seen as unreasonable, the appropriate action for an agency to take is simply to process it in normal timeframes - not refuse it.

The High Court has turned the law on its head. It has given licence to government agencies to play that games with each other and transfer requests to agencies which do not hold the information sought, while dramatically expanding the definition of vexatious to allow any request from someone the government labels an "enemy" to be refused. And this affects more than just the Privacy Act, because the Official Information Act shares these provisions. Secretive government agencies will use this decision to refuse requests.

With this decision, a subservient and authoritarian High Court has undermined official information rights for us all. We can only hope that it will be appealed and overturned, or the freedom of information and privacy regimes are in real trouble.

Teachers to government: pay up

Last week, primary school teachers rejected the government's pay offer. Today, the PPTA recommended that secondary teachers do the same. The government is now looking at the scenario of a joint teacher's strike:

The possibility of secondary educators joining their primary school colleagues in sector-wide industrial action in the future isn't being ruled out.

The measure, which would send a powerful message about the level of industry dissatisfaction over pay and conditions offered by the Ministry of Education, has been raised as primary educators prepare to vote on national strikes next month.

If New Zealand Educational Institute (NZEI) Te Riu Roa members vote yes, a week of rolling strikes will take place region-by-region starting with Auckland on Monday, November 12.


The government will no doubt plead poverty, but when they're spending billions on pointless war toys, it rings a bit hollow. The blunt fact is that teachers have been underpaid and understaffed for years. Now, its time for the government to pay up. Or they can teach their own damn kids.

Winston and MMP

Winston Peters says he wants to hack around with the electoral system:

Changes to the MMP electoral system could be back on the table including the controversial coat-tailing provision, Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters has indicated.

[...]

Peters told TV1's Q + A he would be open to the last MMP review being revisited.

The previous Government had thrown the last review "in the rubbish bin."

Asked if he would be open to the review being reconsidered, he said that was a "marvellous suggestion."

"I might put that to my cabinet colleagues and after consultation, if they agree, we might do that."


The problem? Changes to the electoral system traditionally require supermajority support, but there's no consensus in Parliament for any change. National (and NZ First) oppose any move to make the electoral system more democratic by lowering or removing the threshhold. And Labour, who do want to do that, won't do it unless it also gets to remove the electorate lifeboat - making the system less representative in the process. On both sides, the positions are driven by naked self-interest and an effort to fuck over each other's potential coalition partners for electoral advantage. The interests of voters in being able to cast a vote for the party they prefer and be represented without distortion are ignored by our self-interested political elite.

If the government makes these changes without supermajority support, they will both lack legitimacy, and open the door to a future National government doing the same (and on that front, remember that undemocratic National hates MMP, and that the system is not entrenched). Given the parliamentary deadlock, the only legitimate way to change the system is to put specific questions to voters in a referendum. But given the scale of the changes, people may very well ask why they're voting on them, rather than MPs sorting it out.

Monday, October 01, 2018



Priorities again

Newsroom this morning has an interesting piece on IRD's enforcement priorities:

IRD collected just $10,000 in unpaid tax from people living in Australia last year, but netted $1.7 million in student loan repayments from Australia.

The IRD made just eight requests for assistance from the Australian Tax Office (ATO) in the 2017/18 tax year to net the $10,777.44 in unpaid tax, according to information released under the Official Information Act.

A 1995 tax treaty with Australia, updated in 2009, allows the IRD and ATO to share information and request assistance in collecting tax.

The low take is especially surprising the IRD collected $1.7 million in student loan debts and $45.2 million in child support debts over the same period.

Terry Baucher, director of tax consultancy Baucher Consulting, filed the OIA request and told Newsroom he was “shocked” at the tiny amount of unpaid tax collected from Australia, especially given how many New Zealanders live there — including some who move to escape tax owed here.


As with the previous piece on the different levels of enforcement for students and property speculators, the message is clear: IRD is tough on students, but soft on tax cheats. Given that student debtors are just that - debtors, a civil matter - while tax cheats are actual criminals who undermine the integrity of the tax system, surely it should be the other way round?

NZ First vs NZ values

NZ First held its annual conference over the weekend, and in addition to drivel like saying we need to buy back Kiwibank (its wholly government-owned), they also passed a remit requiring immigrants to respect "New Zealand values":

A remit to introduce a Respecting New Zealand Values Bill for migrants and refugees was passed by party members despite some opposition, and will now go to the caucus for policy consideration.

These values would include respect for gender equality, legal sexual preferences, freedom of religion and a commitment not to campaign against alcohol consumption.


As others have already pointed out, Winston Peters voted against the Bill of Rights Act (which enshrined freedom of religion and forbade the government from discriminating on the basis of gender), against homosexual law reform, civil unions and marriage equality, against easter Sunday trading, and for raising the drinking age. These positions are generally shared by his party. So, those values NZ First wants to force migrants to "respect" are not values they respect themselves.

So who would NZ First ban? In addition to a couple of their own bigoted MPs (Dail Jones and Peter Brown), they would also have rejected that notorious immigrant anti-alcohol campaigner, Kate Sheppard. Except of course they wouldn't think of any of those people as "immigrants", because they're white.

NZ First's "values test" isn't really about values at all - values NZ First has shown it despises. Like other, similar proposals in places like Australia and the Netherlands, its really about race and discriminating against migrants due to the colour of their skin. Which, fundamentally, is what NZ First has always been about.