Monday, March 18, 2019



The Aftermath

I was expecting to spend today blogging about climate change, building on the enormous message of hope sent by the school strike on Friday. Instead, like everyone else, I'm struggling to deal with the aftermath of a horrific act of terrorism which targeted one of New Zealand's most vulnerable communities. According to Radio New Zealand, the terrorist talked in their manifesto about his victims "assault[ing] my civilisation". The real assault on civilisation is murdering people because of their religion, murdering children, spreading this sort of hate. The good news is that he's been arrested and will be prosecuted, and given that he videoed the thing, probably convicted. That won't bring back the dead, but it will stop him from killing anyone else. The other good news is that we're going to get better gun laws, which should make it vastly more difficult for people to engage in mass-murder in the future. And hopefully people are going to be a lot less tolerant of racism in future, now its been rammed home in blood what it leads to.

Obviously there has been a huge intelligence failure here, and I hope some very pointy questions are being asked about why police and the SIS have spent the last two decades spying on Muslims, Maori, environmentalists and the left, while ignoring Nazis. Or why the police were tapping the phones of human rights activists while handing out gun licences to militant racists. Given the scale of the failure, I am shocked that no-one has offered to resign over this. While I wouldn't expect such an offer to be accepted (at least, not immediately), I would have expected it at least to have been made. And it casts serious doubts on SIS director Rebecca Kitteridge's professionalism and integrity that she didn't.

I expect the government to be feeling quite uncomfortable as well. While the Prime Minister has shown us all why she is PM, and expressed the best of New Zealand, her deputy is a racist xenophobe who has repeatedly campaigned on Islamophobia and exploited it for political profit. He's wisely kept out of sight all weekend, but when he slinks back into the light, people are rightly going to ask why he is still in government, or indeed, in Parliament. And since he is unlikely to resign in shame, we're just going to have to de-elect him and his racist party at the next election.

Friday, March 15, 2019



Striking for a future

Thousands of schoolkids around New Zealand have walked out of class today in a school strike for the climate. They're part of a global movement, sparked by Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, which is sacrificing a day of education to demand real action on climate change. The people in power now won't live long enough to be badly affected by the disaster they have made. These kids will. They are striking to make their parents care. They are striking for their future.

As it stands, that future is grim. The decisions their parents and grandparents have made - to knowingly keep spewing carbon into the atmosphere and warm the planet so a few people could keep on making money - have had terrible consequences. On current projections, we are heading for between three and four degrees of warming by 2100 - enough to destroy our food crops, spread tropical diseases, make significant chunks of the world uninhabitable, and cause widespread drought, mass-migration, and conflict. And that's just to 2100. Temperatures will continue to rise after that, making things even worse. This isn't extinction, not yet, but things will be very, very bad, with a huge amount of pain and suffering.

Unless we change. Another future is possible: one where we decarbonise the economy, stop polluting the atmosphere, and live within our ecological means. The schoolkids are striking for that future. And we should listen to them - because it is their future. We should not let the dead hand of the old destroy it.

No justice for Bloody Sunday

On 30 January 1972, British soldiers shot 28 unarmed civilians in Derry in Northern Ireland, killing thirteen people. The usual official whitewash followed, and the leader of the murderers was awarded an OBE for his services. But a second inquiry in the 2000's called the crime what it was: murder. The Police Service of Northern Ireland finally began a murder investigation, and now one former soldier has been charged with murder. But only one. As for the rest, the men who pumped bullets into a crowd, shot those trying to flee, and murdered those trying to help the wounded, they all get away with it. But it gets worse - because the reaction of the British government to this was not an acknowledgement of its past crimes and a desire that a prosecution might finally bring some justice, however imperfect, to its victims, but this:

Responding to the PPS decisions, the defence secretary, Gavin Williamson, said: “We are indebted to those soldiers who served with courage and distinction to bring peace to Northern Ireland. The welfare of our former service personnel is of the utmost importance and we will offer full legal and pastoral support to the individual affected by today’s decision. This includes funding all his legal costs and providing welfare support.

“The Ministry of Defence is working across government to drive through a new package of safeguards to ensure our armed forces are not unfairly treated.

“And the government will urgently reform the system for dealing with legacy issues. Our serving and former personnel cannot live in constant fear of prosecution.”


No, Cthulhu forbid murderers living in fear that they might finally face justice! Won't someone think of the poor, oppressed killers?

In case anyone needs reminding, the dead of Bloody Sunday were UK citizens, killed by their own government for daring to demand human rights. They deserve justice. But they will never get it from Britain.

Thursday, March 14, 2019



How MBIE spies on people

Back in January, we learned that MBIE staff were being trained in using fake social media profiles to spy on people. This raised a number of issues around surveillance, freedom of expression, unreasonable searches and human rights, and so I sent an OIA request to MBIE seeking copies of this training material. They refused to provided it, but they did provide a copy of their social media guidelines, which are disturbing enough. MBIE staff will use Google to stalk you. They will log on to Facebook or LinkedIn to access information not shared with the general public, which is beginning to get intrusive. Worse, they will use false personas to perform passive searches, or even for "active engagement" (talking to people), suggesting they are not just accessing private, friends-locked or closed group information for which there is a reasonable expectation of privacy, but also raising the possibility that they are attempting to manipulate public opinion or group actions. Which pretty heavily engages both the freedom of expression and freedom from unreasonable search issues the Law Commission expressed concern about.

Looking at a similar request sent via FYI, MBIE won't say who in their organisation is receiving this training or what it is being used for. Nor will they say whether they seek warrants or production orders to access this private information. Which is pretty dubious. The use of search warrants is the exercise of a statutory power, and there can be no justification for refusing such an abstract query. But the fact that they don't want to tell us tells us what the answer is: they don't, meaning any use of information harvested by such methods is potentially unlawful.

(And yes, in accordance with the "if in doubt, complain" principle, I am complaining about the response on a number of grounds, and have advised the FYI requester on some arguments for their request as well).

If in doubt, complain

Today Stuff launched Redacted, a series of articles on the Official Information Act and how it is abused, to raise awareness about the government's public consultation. Today's big piece is about how public servants circumvent and manipulate the Act to keep information secret and undermine accountability. Its an appalling read, but probably nothing new to regular OIA users familiar with these tactics. So what can we do about it?

Simple: complain to the Ombudsman. Public servants use these tactics because they get away with it, and they get away with it because no-one pulls them up on it. They also use these tactics because it is less work than obeying the law, and again, they get away with it because no-one makes it more work. If we want them to obey the law, then we need to reverse that calculation: make it more work to refuse, and make it likely that bad behaviour will be detected and called out. And the way to do that is by complaining.

Public servants hate Ombudsman's complaints. They are a shit-ton of work, and unlike requests from us peasants, they can't just ignore them, refuse them to meet deadlines, or give bullshit responses. Making complaints is a direct way of incentivising the public servants handling OIA requests to do their job properly and obey the law. At the minimum, they make it clear that someone is watching, and that bad behaviour may be caught.

So, if there is anything dodgy about a response, complain. If material has been withheld as "confidential" or "free and frank opinion" (the most frequently-abused withholding clauses), complain. If the public interest in release has not been considered, complain. If they are late, complain. If they dick you around in any way, complain. Anything less lets the fuckers get away with it.

As for what you should put in your complaint, simply say that you are not satisfied with the response and ask that it be reconsidered. If there's a clear violation of the law - lateness, an illegal second extension, failure to consider the public interest, or hyper-literalism and perverse interpretation of the request (a failure in the duty to assist), point that out. I find it useful to ground my complaints in the Ombudsman's guidelines, providing reasons why any cited withholding grounds do not apply, and this is usually an effective tactic. As the Stuff article points out, most public servants handling requests are poorly trained and unfamiliar with the guidelines, so frequently make mistakes.

The statistics are on your side. Complaints get remedies. Even when there's no formal finding, the fact that the Ombudsman is asking questions usually forces an agency to reconsider a response, and maybe you'll get something. And again: it incentivises public servants to make good decisions and lets them know they're being watched. Which means the public benefits as well.

Public servants will probably hate me posting this. Fuck them. If they don't want complaints, then they need to make obviously sound decisions. If they don't, they have no-one to blame but themselves if someone asks for it to be checked.

Juking the stats

The State Services Commission released its six-monthly OIA statistics yesterday, reporting basic information on volume and timeliness (but nothing on outcome or quality of response). But while the official press release crows about improved timeliness, there's a twist:

As signalled late last year, the non-Public Service departments subject to the Official Information Act, New Zealand Police and New Zealand Defence Force, are not included in the latest numbers. They are now reported separately to focus attention on the results of public service agencies and better reflect the Commissioner’s mandate.

And of course its just a pure coincidence that these are two of the largest and worst-performing agencies, the inclusion of which would have ruined SSC's narrative of ever-improving performance. Hell, the police are so crap that they couldn't even report timeliness for the last six months.

OIA statistics are an important performance metric: you can't manage what you can't measure. But they need to be honest. SSC's exclusion of two of the largest and worst-performing agencies means that that is simply not the case. Its another unpleasant example of how the government is trying to lie to us and pretend that the transparency status quo is fine and nothing needs to change.

Meanwhile, the Ombudsman has also released complaints data. Complaints have risen again, so I guess the Ombudsman was wrong in attributing the last increase to "the electoral cycle". The proportion of resolved complaints which resulted in a remedy - in other words, which found poor decision-making - continued to increase, from 66.2% to 73.3%. The other trend identified from the last stats - an increase in the proportion of complaints for full rather than partial refusals - has continued, suggesting even more strongly that agencies are meeting SSC's timeliness criteria by simply refusing requests to clear them off the books. The upshot: if your request is refused in full, complain. Public servants hate Ombudsman's investigations, so if you make it more work to refuse, then maybe you'll get them to obey the law.

(Analysis of the last batch of statistics is here).

Wednesday, March 13, 2019



Growing the conservation estate

A decade ago, the public fought a battle with Meridian Energy over the Mokihinui hydro scheme - a plan to build a dam on conservation land, flooding a scenic river gorge. Now the area has been protected forever by adding it to Kahurangi National park:

A wild and remote river gorge that was nearly dammed for power generation will be part of the largest piece of land ever added to an existing national park.

Nearly 65,000 hectares of land north of Westport will become part of the Kahurangi National Park, expanding the country's second largest national park by 14 per cent, the Government announced on Wednesday.

The added area is slightly larger than Christchurch and about half the size of Auckland.

Its the largest addition to a national park ever, and a huge victory for conservation. But its worth remembering that DoC still controls approximately 2.5 million hectares of unprotected stewardship land, which still needs to be assessed and then assigned protected status according to its value. Hopefully this is jut the first step in that process.

A British-style whitewash

Last year, the government announced that they would hold an inquiry into Operation Burnham, the SAS operation in which six Afghan civilians were killed, including a child. But now, it looks as if the "inquiry" is instead becoming a British-style whitewash:

"The ultimate objective is to get to the truth."

Sir Terence Arnold made this commitment as he opened the only hearing of his Operation Burnham inquiry so far held in public.

After hearing arguments on whether proceedings should be held in secret, Arnold and his co-chair Sir Geoffrey Palmer retreated behind closed doors. And that is where they have stayed.

The inquiry was due to finish in April. Instead, key witnesses have walked away, and some of its core participants are disillusioned, with one understood to be on the verge of taking legal action.


The core problem is secrecy, who gets it and who doesn't. Everything NZDF says will be secret, its witnesses protected from scrutiny and challenge. Meanwhile, the whistleblowers who provided information to Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson, the journalists who exposed this crime, will be expected to give evidence in public and so be exposed to official and unofficial retaliation. And so unsurprisingly, they've decided that the cost of participation is too high. The result will be a one-sided inquiry which makes no effort to get at the truth - basicly an official whitewash for the NZDF. But the result is that whatever the inquiry concludes will simply not be seen as credible, and the taint will linger.

The lesson is clear: the New Zealand political system is incapable of providing justice by official inquiries, at least where the defence and security establishment is concerned. People who want it will have to use leaks and direct court cases instead.

The latest Brexit clusterfuckery

So, having rejected Theresa May's shit Brexit deal, UK MP's were told to vote until they got it right - and rejected it again. Which means that the UK is now just 16 days from Brexit and has no plan whatsoever.

Tomorrow the UK parliament will vote on whether to leave the EU without a deal. They will reject that (again). The day after they will vote on asking the EU for an extension, so they can flail around and fail to make up their minds some more. But with no prospect of any change to the deadlock, there is little point to an extension. The EU may grant it, simply to give the UK every possible chance, but ultimately the deal they have offered is the only deal on the table, and the UK can take it or leave it.

The real problem here is the dysfunction and delusion of the UK political class. Faced with the biggest political crisis in a century, they are unable to agree on anything, unable to even accept their negotiating position. So we have delusional absurdities like the EU just giving them whatever they want if they whine loudly enough, or that they can ignore their binding international legal commitments to the Irish peace agreement because they're Britain and they Rule The Waves. Or their imperialist delusions that Ireland would leave the EU and "re"-join their colonial oppressors for the convenience of the latter - or that threatening them with food shortages would change their minds (I guess they don't teach about the potato famine at Eton or Oxford...)

Given this utter failure, there is really only one solution: parliament can't make up its mind, so kick it back to the people in a second referendum. But that would involve the UK political class admitting its failures and yielding a smidgen of power (not to mention the risk that the people might then want to address the fundamental causes of an unfair electoral system and an intellectually inbred elite which produced this clusterfuck), so it will never happen. So instead they'll just continue the cannibalistic orgy all the way to the bottom of the cliff.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019



Climate change: Time for divestment

We are facing a climate crisis. If greenhouse gas emissions continue, the earth will become uninhabitable. Even if we're lucky, things are going to get very, very bad, with famine, plague, mass-migration and war. And currently, the new Zealand Superannuation Fund is helping push us towards that future, by investing in the companies which are causing it:

According to data from the NZ Super Fund – New Zealand's Sovereign Wealth Fund owned by the Government – as of June 30 last year the fund had a stake roughly 130 oil and gas companies.

The total value of those stocks at the time was $555 million. The value of the fund as a whole is more than $40 billion, meaning oil and gas stock make up just 1.4 per cent of the total fund.


This is madness. On a moral level, we should not be investing in companies whose business plan is the destruction of human civilisation. And on a financial level, these companies do not have a future, and therefore are simply bad investments. Greenpeace has called for the NZSF to divest from fossil fuels, and its a call we should all support. Norway is doign it, and if we want a future, so should we.

Not a good look

Thanks to the dodgy dealings exposed by former MP Jami-Lee Ross, the National Party appears to have become the first New Zealand political party to be investigated by the Serious Fraud Office:

Police have referred Jami-Lee Ross' complaint about National's election donations to the Serious Fraud Office.

Ross, who was kicked out of the National Party last year, lodged a complaint with police in October.

A police statement today did not refer to Ross by name but said:

"Police have referred to the Serious Fraud Office a complaint received in October last year in relation to the disclosure of political donations under the Electoral Act.

"The complaint has been referred to the SFO as they hold the appropriate mandate to look further into matters raised by the investigation to date.


The mandate of the SFO is to investigate serious or complex fraud. Being investigated by it is a big deal, and (in NZ political jargon) Not A Good Look. Hopefully they'll get to the bottom of any financial shennanigans and efforts to evade the transparency requirements of the Electoral Act and bring anyone who has committed a crime to justice.

Monday, March 11, 2019



New Fisk

Trump is trying to pay his way to an annihilation of Palestinian statehood, and an erasure of Israel’s crimes

Cimate change: Locked in

If we are to avoid the earth becoming unihabitable, we need to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions to virtually nothing by 2050. Which means eliminating coal, natural gas and other fossil fuels from our economy. But as Stuff highlights, a lot of our dirties emissions are locked in for decades to come, with long-duration resource consents giving a right to burn coal for a further twenty or thirty years:

It will be another 30 years before some of Canterbury's biggest consented burners of coal, including milk-powder processing companies, food and beverage manufacturers, a hospital and a university are forced to stop.

An Environment Canterbury (ECan) list of consented coal consumers shows Fonterra's Clandeboye plant in South Canterbury is allowed to burn up to 64 tonnes of coal an hour – the rough equivalent quantity-wise of bringing in every 60 minutes about 128 trailers of firewood.

Clandeboye is the region's biggest consented burner of coal. Its resource consent to use seven boilers to generate a maximum of 203.4 megawatts (MW) of electricity remains valid until June 30, 2039, during which time it is not allowed to discharge more than 463 kilograms of sulphur dioxide each hour.


Doing the maths using default emissions factors shows that this one dairy factory is up to a million tons of CO2 a year. Shutting it down would make a noticeable difference to our national emissions. But Clandeboye is just one source in Canterbury, and Canterbury is just one province. There are filthy, coal-burning factories all over the South Island contributing to this problem.

Fonterra won't shut them down until they become unprofitable. So, if we want to save the world, we need to make that happen. High carbon prices are one answer: if it costs too much to burn coal, then Fonterra will be forced to use cleaner sources of energy. But ultimately, we can't rely on those methods - we need to actually ban coal, and completely prohibit its importation, extraction, export and use. While we need a lead-time to give existing businesses time to switch fuels, the quicker we ban new coal infrastructure, the better off we'll be.

Taxing water

Two thousand people marched in Christchurch over the weekend to protest against a local water bottling plant threatening their water supply. And the government seems to be getting the message, suggesting that they may move to tax bottled water by the end of the term:

On Monday, Trade and Export Growth Minister David Parker said water bottling companies should be paying something.

Asked on The AM Show if foreign water bottling companies were likely to be charged a royalty or tax this term, Parker said: "Yes it's likely.

"It's not guaranteed, it's likely but the amount of it, well that depends on whether it's an export only charge - which has to be very low - or whether you charge, you know, a cent a litre for everyone," Parker said.

"Maybe a cent or two on every litre of bottled water would be fair too, again it might kick up a bit of extra money for councils and they could reduce their rates, or put it toward cleaning up our rivers for example."


Good. This is a hugely profitable industry built on a natural resource it is given for free. It is only right that the public receive a share of the revenue for use of that resource. But it shouldn't stop at bottled water: dairy farmers are the biggest users around, and they need to pay their fair share. And obviously the government needs to reach a settlement with iwi first, because fundamentally, its their water.

The solution is obvious

Another day, another employer whining about a "labour shortage". This time its rest homes:

Resthomes say they are exhausted by the constant struggle to find nurses to replace those they lose to better paid jobs in public hospitals.

[...]

Aged Care Association chief executive Simon Wallace said last year's district health boards' pay rise for nurses continues to strip resthomes of nurses.

"When you've got pay in the public hospitals at sometimes $5 or $6 an hour on average more, it is very difficult to hold onto our nurses."


Well, maybe they could increase wages by $5 or $6 an hour then. Its not as if they can't afford to: rest home companies are hugely profitable. If they build those profits on gouging their workers, and then find themselves with no-one to gouge, then that's no-one's fault but their own. And if they claim that they are unable to operate profitably while paying their workers what they're worth, then that seems to be an argument for nationalising the sector, to remove the wasted money that their profit represents.

Friday, March 08, 2019



No freedom of speech in Indonesia

Robertus Robet is an Indonesian human rights activist. On wednesday he was arrested and faces two years in prison for "hate speech" for singing a protest song:

Robet was arrested in relation to a song delivered at an event called Kamisan, a weekly human rights demonstration held in front of the state palace in Jakarta every Thursday.

The national police spokesman Dedi Prasetyo said on Thursday that Robet is being investigated for hate speech and faces up to two years in prison if convicted.

At the event on 28 February, Robet sang a song that was popular among student protestors in 1998, when massive demonstrations led to the fall of authoritarian dictator Suharto, who ruled Indonesia for more than three decades.

Robet’s song was meant as a criticism of the government’s recent plan to move unemployed military generals into civil institutions to address an institutional surplus.


His prosecution proves his point: that Indonesia is returning to an authoritarian state where people are not free to say what they think or criticise the government. And if that happens, countries like New Zealand should be reconsidering our diplomatic relations. We should not be friends with a dictatorship.

Why we need to tax landlords

How unfair is our current tax system, which exempts capital income? This unfair:

According to our model, a $600,000 investment property with a $200,000 deposit would pay around 12.1 per cent in taxes and rates over 25 years. If we only include taxes, this falls to 5.7 per cent.

Why is it so low? The property in our example would earn $694,000 in capital gains and $670,000 in rent (after expenses) over its lifetime, while costing $456,000 in mortgage interest. In principle, the property has earned $908,000. But capital gains are not taxed at present, so the mortgage interest is deducted entirely against the rental income, leaving a taxable income of $156,000.

The total tax bill is $51,000 over 25 years, or 5.7 per cent of the $908,000 earned.


Landleeches are rorting us, and laughing all the way to the bank while doing so. Its time they paid their fair share.

Time for pay transparency

Its International Women's Day, and Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner Saunoamaali'i Dr Karanina Sumeo is taking the opportunity to call for pay transparency. We lag behind the world on this: Australia, the UK, Iceland, Denmark, and even the USA all have legislation requiring large employers to report on gender pay gaps and voiding NDAs where they prevent discussions of pay to expose discrimination. And they're effective:

Shedding light on how much people earn significantly reduces the gender pay gap, research has found.

But not for the reasons you think.

A study into the salary transparency regulations in Denmark found a seven per cent drop in pay disparities when companies had to reveal wages by gender.

Researchers said the drop had more to do with a reduction in pay rises for men than an increase in pay rises for women.


Or to turn that around: it stops men from getting undeserved pay rises solely on the basis of having a penis. Which sounds like success to me.

Sumeo suggests that the government amend its Equal Pay Amendment Bill (currently before a select committee) to include a pay transparency clause for large employers. I agree. Inequality is a disease, and sunlight is the best disinfectant.

A public review

Last year, we learned that the government was planning a secret review of the OIA, taking the form of a "targeted engagement" with OIA experts, bloggers and commentators (all of whom were secret). As of two weeks ago, they were still planning to do that, starting once the Privacy Bill had been reported back in mid-March. But something must have changed, because today they began a public consultation as the first step towards a real review:

The Ministry of Justice wants to hear your views on how the Official Information Act 1982 (OIA) is working in practice, and whether a review of this legislation is warranted. Your feedback will help inform a decision by Government on whether to review it, or whether instead to keep the focus on practice improvements.
The consultation asks three simple questions:
  • In your view, what are the key issues with the OIA?
  • Do you think these issues relate to the legislation or practice?
  • What reforms to the legislation do you think would make the biggest difference?
Responses are due by 18 April 2019.

Thursday, March 07, 2019



Climate change: Denier mayors

Last month we learned that Thames-Coromandel Mayor (and former National Party MP) Sandra Goudie is a climate change denier. In the wake of that revelation, Stuff has done some followup work on councils which (like Thames-Coromandel) have failed to sign the Local Government Leaders' Climate Change Declaration. The good news is that some of them have now done so. But there's a number of holdouts, who seem to be climate change deniers (or desperately trying to hide the fact):

Several New Zealand mayors are still reluctant to say they agree with the scientific consensus that human activities have an impact on climate change.

[...]

Tauranga Mayor Greg Brownless said he believed that human industry had an impact on climate, but that it was overstated.

"Some of it has been exaggerated - I'm not sure about sea level rises and all that. I don't think people need to get too alarmed."

[...]

Central Hawkes Bay Mayor Alex Walker was also somewhat sceptical. "There is some evidence to suggest that [humans have an impact on climate change], but it's hard to pinpoint."

West Coast Regional Council Chair Andrew Robb refused to speak to Stuff.


...and so on. There's a table in the article showing everyone's response (or lack thereof), but spot the similarity: overwhelmingly dead white males.

Again: we have local body elections in October. If you live in one of these districts, and you don't want your home to burn down, flood, or fall into the sea, then I suggest you take the opportunity to get a better mayor.

A victory for privacy

In 2014, Westpac bank invaded Nicky Hager's privacy, handing over ten months of transaction records to police without a warrant or a remotely credible justification. The Privacy Commissioner subsequently found that this was a breach of privacy. And now, to avoid a formal ruling to that effect from the Human Rights Review Tribunal, they've finally admitted it, paid compensation, and agreed to change their terms of service to preclude such releases in future:

Westpac has reached a settlement with journalist Nicky Hager, admitting it was wrong to give his bank account information to police.

[...]

In a statement, Westpac said it now requires a court order before it will release customer information to the police and is changing its privacy policy to reflect that.

"Westpac's practice at that time was to comply with such requests in the belief that it was entitled to do so under the Privacy Act. However, in the light of the public discussion of Mr Hager's and other cases, it is clear that bank customers reasonably expect that in similar circumstances such data will be kept private."

The company has apologised to Mr Hager for distress caused to him and his family, and agreed to make a payment to him and a contribution to his costs.

Mr Hager's lawyer Felix Geiringer said Westpac had made a contractual promise to its customers it would never act in this way again.


Which is a huge benefit to Westpac's customers. And hopefully other banks will be forced to follow suit as well. But while police will now likely require production orders to obtain this information in future, there's still the problem that there's no public reporting on them whatsoever, and they seem to be used for all sorts of abuses (e.g. grabbing their critics' phone metadata and text messages). Ultimately, protecting our privacy means protecting it from the police, which means putting more checks on them. Until we do this, abusive police behaviour will continue.

Wednesday, March 06, 2019



Members' Day

Today is a Members' Day, the first of the new year, and its full of second readings. First up is Andrew Bayly's Arbitration Amendment Bill, followed by Scott Simpson's Litter (Increased Infringement Fee) Amendment Bill, both of which should pass without problems. The House should then make a start on Harete Hipango's Health and Safety at Work (Volunteer Associations) Amendment Bill. If the House moves really quickly they might even get to Kieran McAnulty's Employment Relations (Triangular Employment) Amendment Bill, but that seems unlikely.

There won't be a ballot tomorrow, and with the inevitable third readings, there's unlikely to be one for another month at least.

Wage-theft should be a crime

Yesterday had another appalling story of wage-theft, with shitty employer Ravinder Arora exploiting his workers to steal tens of thousands of dollars a year. Writing in Stuff, Debrin Foxcroft argues that this should be a criminal offence:

The Crimes Act defines theft as "dishonestly and without claim of right, taking any property with intent to deprive any owner permanently of that property or of any interest in that property".

Somehow, this doesn't apply to employers under paying or taking advantage of workers.

At most, wage theft is often met with a slap on the wrist with the wet bus ticket.

To be perfectly honest, I am at a lost to understand why.

Theft is theft, is theft.


And they're right. Employers who underpay or hold back wages are stealing, and need to be treated like the criminals they are. Employees who steal can get seven years for "theft as a servant". Bosses who steal should be subject to the same penalty.

America's unrepresentative "democracy"

The idea behind representative democracy is that the people get what they vote for, and hold their representatives accountable at the ballot box if they don't. But in America - land of guns, low wages, and unaffordable healthcare - that system appears to have broken down completely:

About 75 percent of Americans favor higher taxes for the ultrawealthy. The idea of a federal law that would guarantee paid maternity leave attracts 67 percent support. Eighty-three percent favor strong net neutrality rules for broadband, and more than 60 percent want stronger privacy laws. Seventy-one percent think we should be able to buy drugs imported from Canada, and 92 percent want Medicare to negotiate for lower drug prices. The list goes on.

The defining political fact of our time is not polarization. It’s the inability of even large bipartisan majorities to get what they want on issues like these. Call it the oppression of the supermajority. Ignoring what most of the country wants — as much as demagogy and political divisiveness — is what is making the public so angry.


The problem is that running for public office costs so much that the candidates are all owned by billionaires, and so reflect their values rather than those of the people who elect them. Anyone who refuses to play ball gets de-funded, or primaried by a well-funded and more compliant candidate. And so Americans, who overwhelmingly want progressive taxation, universal healthcare, and decent public services, get tax cuts for the rich and a starvation state which funds only war instead - no matter who they vote for.

This isn't democratic. It's just a plutocracy in disguise.

Tuesday, March 05, 2019



Passed

The Crimes Amendment Bill passed its third reading unanimously tonight. While the government is crowing about tougher penalties for livestock rustling (which in fact seem to be tougher penalties for exposing animal cruelty), the bill does something much more important than that piece of farmer bullshit: it repeals the archaic offence of blasphemous libel from New Zealand law. Meaning we no longer need fear prosecution (in these days, private prosecution) for offending bigots, and it will no longer arguably be a crime to publish Siegfried Sassoon's poetry. So, good riddance to theocratic colonial law. And now we can join the civilised world...

Good riddance

Back in December Environment Canterbury introduced the Canterbury Regional Council (Ngāi Tahu Representation) Bill to Parliament. Its a local bill, which would do what it says on the label: guarantee ECan representation to Ngāi Tahu by allowing them to appoint two members to the regional council. Apart from the obvious conflict of interest issues this would create - Ngāi Tahu has major investments in the dairy industry which it is expanding - this is also undemocratic. Not only would the members be appointed rather than elected, but they would also massively over-represent Ngāi Tahu, giving them two councillers (12.5% of representation) for 15,375 people (3% of the population at the 2013 census). So I'm not unhappy to see that the bill lacks support and is unlikely to progress:

A bill which would guarantee Ngāi Tahu two seats on future Environment Canterbury (ECan) councils is struggling to gain support in Parliament.

Labour says it is doing the numbers this week to see if it can get the apparently faltering Canterbury Regional Council (Ngāi Tahu Representation) Bill across the line for its first reading in the House.

However, the local bill will not get NZ First backing.

Neither is it likely to get the support that ECan chairman Steve Lowndes hoped would come from Canterbury National Party MPs, according to shadow leader of the House Gerry Brownlee.


I support guaranteed Māori representation on regional councils, but it must be democratic: elected and proportionate. ECan could have achieved that by choosing to have Māori wards under the Local Electoral Act. Instead, they chose to put forward a blatantly undemocratic proposal. It deserves to fail.

More undemocratic colonialism

If you're looking for a list of villains in the early 21st century, the British dependencies of Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man are somewhere on it. They're notorious tax havens, vehicles for tax cheats, corrupt officials and other criminals to launder their money, and so responsible for a decent whack of international evil. UK MP's decided to fix this by requiring them to introduce public beneficial ownership registers - which forced the government to withdraw the key Brexit bill they were using for this purpose:

Ministers have pulled a financial services bill from the House of Commons, fearing the government was almost certain to be defeated on an amendment requiring Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man to clamp down on money laundering.

The Conservative MP Andrew Mitchell and Labour’s Margaret Hodge want the crown dependencies to introduce public share ownership records by December 2020, which the three territories resist.

Mitchell said the government had pulled the bill “in face of certain defeat” because it was backed by a group of rebel Tories as well as Labour and the other opposition parties. The former cabinet minister added, however, that the amendment would be put to a vote whenever the bill was resubmitted.

Hodge said the government had taken an “outrageous step” in pulling the bill because “they knew we commanded a majority. I hope the government will accept our proposals, but if not, we will continue to campaign for public registers.”


I support public beneficial ownerhsip registers. But as with efforts to legislate for former British colonies, this oversteps the constitutional mark. These dependencies are self-governing, with their own elected legislatures, and the UK government has agreed not to legislate on their domestic affairs without their consent. But I guess that's the problem with former imperial powers: they don't recognise where their country stops and someone else's begins.

So what should the UK do about its criminal statelets? Economically blockade them. The selling point of these tax havens is that they have privileged access to the UK and EU economies. And that's something the UK parliament does have power over. Making that access contingent on adopting proper anti-money-laundering standards, including a public beneficial ownership register, is both reasonable and formally respects the dependencies' control over their own domestic affairs. And if the dependencies don't like it, they can always find some other outlet for their laundered cash.

"The most transparent government ever" - yet again

Shortly after being elected, Labour promised to be "the most open, most transparent Government that New Zealand has ever had". Now they're being criticised by the Ombudsman for excessive secrecy:

The Ombudsman is warning government departments not to use the Official Information Act as a way of dragging their feet in response to media enquiries.

The National Party said there was an increasing tendency for government agencies to treat straightforward media queries as OIA requests, which then gave them 20 working days to respond.

[...]

Ombudsman Peter Boshier agreed.

"For things to be delayed is not acceptable, public debate now is very current on issues and we need to enhance that and support it."

The speed of digital news meant demand for information was quite different to 10 or 15 years ago, he said.

"And I think government departments have to accept that this is the requirement of the modern era."


Technically, every request for information from a government agency is an OIA request. But most are handled informally by just giving out the information, and that's the way it should be. Agency PR flacks treating routine inquiries as requests requiring a formal process with the intent of delaying them for twenty days defeats the purpose of the Act.

Agencies do what they think the Ministers want them to do, so if they're being more secretive, the responsibility for that lies with Ministers. And it is up to Ministers to make it clear that they expect their agencies to be open and transparent, provide information to the public on request, and comply fully with the law where they have to handle a request formally. The refusal of Labour Ministers to do so makes it clear that they are not truly interested in transparency.

Monday, March 04, 2019



A convenient information gap

Last week, Christchurch turned into an armed police state after the Christchurch police paniced over an armed offender and decided to carry guns at all times until they were caught. How often does this happen? As The Press points out in an editorial this morning, we don't know, because the police don't bother to keep records of it:

We don't know how often every frontline police officer carries a gun, largely because these orders are not usually announced and because police headquarters does not keep records of this sort. Why not?

Its a good question. Whether to arm police is an important policy decision and one which requires the highest level of public scrutiny. A refusal to keep records (or the keeping of records in a haphazard, distributed fashion so they cannot be recovered) frustrates this scrutiny. Which is, I suspect, the point. But while it is convenient for the police, it does not appear consistent with the duty under the Public Records Act for public offices (explicitly including the police) to "create and maintain full and accurate records of its affairs, in accordance with normal, prudent business practice" is left as an exercise for the reader. Failing to obey this requirement is a criminal offence. So maybe someone should lodge a criminal complaint and see whether the police actually obey the law, or place themselves above it?

New Fisk

Israel is playing a big role in India’s escalating conflict with Pakistan

A naked land-grab

Reserves are meant to be there for the general enjoyment and benefit of the public. So why the hell are DoC allowing a foreign billionaire to effectively enclose and privatise part of one?

When it’s finished, the new house of US billionaire and Tara Iti Golf Course owner Ric Kayne’s will have spectacular views over the dunes of Mangawhai.

Those views won’t be built out. Just 12m from his pool and 25m from his future house is the Mangawhai Wildlife Reserve.

Go for a stroll in the reserve and it’s unlikely you’ll realise you could get within eyeballing distance of a bathing billionaire. A sturdy, eight-string fence built by Tara Iti Holdings, extends - in places - up to 90m into the public reserve.

In total, 2.62 hectares of public land lies within the fence. Confusion over what is and isn’t public land has resulted in members of the media and public being told they were trespassing on at least two separate occasions.


Effectivley, its a naked land grab, and a theft of public property. The fence should be torn down. But just make sure you get the permisison of DoC first - because otherwise its a crime.

Strengthening our democracy?

Over the weekend the Greens introduced a Member's Bill with an assortment of changes to the Electoral Act to strengthen our democracy. The one that seems to be getting the most attnetion is overturning National's repulsive (and unconstitutional) prisoner voting ban, but it would also enable Māori voters to change rolls whenever they want (as recommended by the Electoral Commission), strengthen transparency and disclosure of electoral donations, and lower the MMP threshold and eliminate the one-seat rule (as recommended by the 2012 Electoral Commission review of MMP).

I support most of these changes. The prisoner voting ban is a stain on our democracy. It is inconsistent with the Bill of Rights Act, and it has to go. And it is shameful that the response of our political class to the court ruling saying so has been a giant "meh", rather than urgently bringing the law into consistency with our constitution. The changes to the Māori roll seem like a good idea, though the Greens' drafting means that they are amending entrenched provisions in s35 of the Act. Not substantively, but it does mean that those changes (and the bill itself) would need a 75% supermajority to pass. Which National will use to defeat the very necessary changes to the transparency regime, which would throw open the books on who is trying to buy influence with our political parties.

The one area I don't support is the move to eliminate the one-seat rule. As I noted at the time, the Electoral Commission blew it by recommending a change which would actually make our voting system less representative than it is at present. I support eliminating the threshold entirely, and any reduction in it is a step towards this. But until the threshold is reduced to the level required to win two seats, then removing the one-seat rule will reduce proportionality, and damage our democracy rather than strengthening it. So oddly, I'm hoping that this bill is never drawn, and that the other changes in it are advanced by other bills instead.

Friday, March 01, 2019



Climate change: Truants

When UK school students went on strike last month over climate change, Prime Minister Theresa May called them truants and said they were wasting valuable lesson time. So you'd expect the UK government to be diligently goign about its duties, right? Of course not: when parliament held a debate on climate change in response to the school strike, only a handful of government members turned up:

In the week that the UK experienced its hottest ever winter day, just a handful of government MPs attended a debate on climate change in parliament on Thursday.

Layla Moran, the Liberal Democrat MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, said she had secured the discussion after being inspired by the thousands of UK schoolchildren who went on strike over climate change this month and wanted to thank them for forcing MPs into action.

Moran said climate change had not been debated in the main chamber of the House of Commons for two years. She spoke, however, to a chamber where the seats were predominantly empty. At points, as few as 10 MPs sat on government benches, although the opposition side was more occupied. The lacklustre response to the debate from the government was in stark contrast to the condemnation by Downing Street to the thousands of children involved in the strike for climate change, calling it “truancy”.

For the record, there are currently 314 conservative party MPs, so only one in thirty of them bothered to show up to discuss the most important issue facing the planet today. As for the rest, I guess they had just decided to take the day off. So who are the "truants" again? At least the schoolkids know what's important - unlike the Tories.

More Israeli war crimes

During 2018, Israel murdered 189 people and injured more than six thousand when they repeatedly gunned down protestors at their border fence. Now, the UN has said it was a war crime:

UN investigators have accused Israeli soldiers of intentionally firing on civilians and said they may have committed war crimes in their lethal response to Palestinian demonstrations in Gaza.

The independent Commission of Inquiry, set up last year by the UN’s human rights council, said Israeli forces killed 189 people and shot more than 6,100 others with live ammunition near the fence that divides the two territories.

The panel said in a statement that it had found “reasonable grounds to believe that Israeli snipers shot at journalists, health workers, children and persons with disabilities, knowing they were clearly recognisable as such”.

Thirty-five of those killed were children, three were clearly identifiable paramedics and two were clearly marked journalists, the report said.


Israel regards protests by Palestinians as a military attack or "terrorism". The UN dismisses that view. The protestors were not a military force and "were neither directly participating in hostilities, nor posing an imminent threat". Which makes shooting them simple murder. As for what happens next, hopefully it will result in a formal investigation by the International Criminal Court and war crimes charges.

Protecting their mates

Back in December, the SSC's inquiry into the state sector's use of outside security consultants exposed potentially serious criminal behaviour on the part of Thompson and Clark Investigations. SSC properly referred these matters to the police. Who promptly "forgot" about them:

A police investigation into spying on earthquake victims has been delayed after a top cop "forgot" to progress it.

State Services Commissioner Peter Hughes laid a complaint with police in December after private investigators Thompson & Clark were found to have covertly recorded Southern Response clients.

An SSC inquiry found an unlicensed investigator had posed as a victim and attended meetings.

On Friday, Police Deputy Commissioner National Operations Mike Clement admitted to Stuff the inquiry hadn't progressed, following an Official Information Act request.

"I didn't action it," he admitted. "I've gone back through my correspondence and found that I didn't task it on the 18th December when it came through.

"It is completely my fault. I can't undo history.

Stuff reporter Andrea Vance is "inclined to give the benefit of the doubt" over this. But its just so convenient. The most serious allegations against Thompson and Clark is that they unlawfully recorded a meeting of Southern Response claimants on 13 March 2014. The relevant offence there is unlawful use of an interception device, which carries a penalty of two years in prison. That penalty means that charges must be brought within five years of the offence. So, Clement's "forgetfulness" means that in all likelihood that will now be impossible, and Thompson and Clark's crime will go unpunished. And when you consider that Thompson and Clark works for the police, helps them spy on protest groups and undermine freedom of speech and assembly, and is run by ex-cops, it smacks of the police helping out their mates. Again.

Update: Oh look! Northland police also "forgot" to contact the victim of one of their own, until the IPCA kicked them. Its almost as if this is a habit...

A threat to public safety

So, after shooting someone on Tuesday night, Christchurch police have decided unilaterally to carry guns at all times until further notice. And in doing so, they've done something which is both dangerous, and utterly corrosive of public trust.

In New Zealand, policing is nominally based on the Peelian Principles and the idea of "policing by consent" - broadly, that the police rely on public consent and cooperation to do their jobs. They win and maintain this consent and cooperation by demonstrating impartiality, using minimum force, and respecting the limits of their power. But guns change all that. They dramatically increase the consequences of police intervention, while changing the relationship with the public from one of trust to one of fear. And that in turn reduces public cooperation. Some people will be reluctant to report crime or provide information when the consequences may very well be someone getting shot and killed. Some will simply refuse to talk with an officer carrying a weapon under any circumstances. They don't even have to wave them around - its just that people carrying guns are automatically threatening, and people will avoid them.

We know our police are racist: their own use-of-force reports show they are six times more likely to beat a Maori than a Pakeha, and ten times more likely to pull a gun on them. We know they regularly use inappropriate force - you just have to skim the IPCA reports to see that. We know they're ill-disciplined and don't care who they kill - their mad dog approach to police chases shows that. And all of this suggests that routinely arming them will inevitably lead to them threatening and shooting people with guns. And that makes them not protectors, but a threat to public safety.

Thursday, February 28, 2019



New Fisk

What should be done in the Middle East? Ask the Romans

Want a reason to support a capital gains tax?

Since the Tax Working Group released its report recommending taxing capital income, the right have been relentless in opposing it. They've even dug Roger Douglas out of his crypt to speak up for the rich. Which simply brings to mind Murray Ball's classic cartoon about MMP: if you want a reason to support it, just look at the people who are telling you not to:

WalCGT

[With apologies to Murray Ball].

Who opposes a capital gains tax? The people who will be paying it: the tiny fraction of rich pricks who hoard houses and own shares and huge tracts of land - in fact, the same people who are taking up the top six floors of inequality tower. These are the parasites whose greed has ruined New Zealand, giving us run-down public services, a corrupt business culture, and a housing crisis. Taxing capital income will finally make them pay their fair share, just like the rest of us do. No wonder they hate the idea.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019



Less than open III

Heard the details of the government's open government strategy? Of course you haven't - because its secret. And from a recent OIA, it sounds as if it will stay that way for the forseeable future:

The development of an Open Government Strategy was initiated in late 2017, with a View to consulting on it in parallel with the 2018-20 OGP National Action Plan (as noted in the 29 November 2017 document Open Government Strategy Update). This work was led by the Minister of State Services (Open Government) until August 2018, when Open Government initiatives reverted to the Minister of State Services.

Since that time the focus of the Open Government work has been on progressing the OGP Plan 2018-20, reviewing the implementation of the 2016-28 [sic] Plan, and delivering the policy on the proactive release of Cabinet papers. SSC has engaged with the Minister of State Services on a re-focused Open Government Strategy, and this work will continue in 2019.

With the change of responsible Minister, and the re-focus of the Open Government Strategy, we consider that the Strategy remains under active consideration. We have therefore decided to decline your request for unredacted versions of the documents below under [s9(2)(f)(iv).]


Its worth noting here that while they supposedly planned to consult on the strategy in parallel with the OGP consultation, they never bothered. The entire thing has been done in secret, without any input from the public. And as with Andrew Little's secret OIA review (now delayed until after the Privacy Bill is reported back), it gives the impression that Labour thinks that "open government" is something best kept out of public hands entirely.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019



The obvious question

The High Court today found former Prime Minister Jenny Shipley and the other directors of Mainzeal liable to pay a total of $36 million in damages to liquidators over the company's collapse. In the process, it found that the company had been trading while insolvent and that the directors had breached their duties in allowing it to continue to do so. Which seems to be a straight-up violation of s380(4) of the Companies Act, carrying a penalty of 5 years imprisonment. Which invites the question: why weren't Shipley and the others prosecuted? Or do those laws against corporate fraud mean nothing?

Obviously its not ideal for a civil trial to happen before a criminal one, and for potential defendants to be forced to disclose evidence and their defences before possibly facing prosecution - but at the same time, given what has emerged, its also very much not ideal to let such an egregious breach of the law go unpunished. And if the Financial Markets Authority is so crap that they've got to learn about this sort of criminality from liquidators suing people, then you really have to ask if they're fit for the purpose of enforcing our laws at all.

Meanwhile there's another curious feature, and that is the amount owed by the Mainzeal directors will apparently be mostly covered by liability insurance. Which seems... odd. Most insurance policies for us dirty peasants include a clause saying that they won't pay out for intentional, reckless or criminal behaviour - so they won't pay out if you burn your own house down, or if you crash your car while drunk driving or robbing a bank. Are the rules different for rich corporate directors? If so, it seems to be a perfect case of moral hazard, not to mention a terrible business decision on the part of the insurer. We have enough problems with corporate sociopaths engaging in reckless and criminal behaviour, without insurance companies encouraging them to commit further ones by covering their costs if they are caught.

In support of gender self-identification

Yesterday, in a shock move, the government deferred the Births, Deaths, Marriages, and Relationships Registration Bill. The Bill updates our archaic practices for changing gender on a birth certificate from having to go to court and provide evidence of (often unavailable) surgery to a simple statutory declaration. It would have brought the law into the 21st century, made it consistent with existing practice around passports and driver's licences, and most importantly, respected the basic dignity of trans- and intersex people by ensuring their records reflected their gender. But that apparently was too much for the reactionary bigots in NZ First, so instead we have another round of "public consultation", which means another round of hate.

As the Privacy Commissioner has pointed out, this is about dignity. People shouldn't have to be humiliated and misgendered if they want to open a bank account, apply for a student loan, or apply for a job. It is that simple. Anyone who thinks we don't need to change this law is simply an arsehole.

Its unclear at this stage whether NZ First will ever vote for the bill, and National are (as usual) keeping silent on a key issue of dignity (which is better than opposing it, I suppose - but its also a telling silence). The Right to Self ID campaign is encouraging people to write to their MPs (or to NZ First MPs) to tell them why the bill matters. That might do some good, and at least it might provide them a contrast from the flood of mail they're no doubt receiving from bigots. But ultimately, if we want change, we need to vote for it. If we want better laws, we need better MPs. Again, its that simple.

Justice for the Chagosians?

In 1965 the UK forced its colony Mauritius to hand over the Chagos Archipelago, a cluster of islands in the Indian Ocean. They then ethnicly cleansed it to make space for a US military base. Now, the International Court of Justice has ruled that those actions violated international law and that the islands must be returned:

The UK has been ordered to hand back the Chagos Islands to Mauritius “as rapidly as possible” after the United Nations’ highest court ruled that continued British occupation of the remote Indian Ocean archipelago is illegal.

Although the majority decision by the international court of justice in The Hague is only advisory, the unambiguous clarity of the judges’ pronouncement is a humiliating blow to Britain’s prestige on the world stage.

[...]

Delivering judgment, the president of the ICJ, Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf, said the detachment of the Chagos archipelago in 1965 from Mauritius had not been based on a “free and genuine expression of the people concerned”.

“This continued administration constitutes a wrongful act,” he added. “The UK has an obligation to bring to an end its administration of the Chagos archipelago as rapidly as possible and that all member states must co-operate with the United Nations to complete the decolonization of Mauritius.”


That duty of cooperation is binding upon the US, who are the current occupiers of the islands.

Its a victory for justice, and a solid statement of the principles of international law. Unfortunately, it is only an advisory opinion, with shame and the desire to be seen as good international citizens as the only enforcement mechanisms. But the UK makes a lot of noise about its commitment to international law and its desire for a proper international legal order (even saying that post-Brexit they will be more willing to use military force to enforce that order). So, they have a choice about whether to obey the principles they profess, or be international criminals.

Sadly, I think we all know what they will choose.

Monday, February 25, 2019



Will Tasman choose STV?

There are local body elections later this year, which will give us an opportunity to vote on our local councils and their climate change and fresh water policies. But in Tasman, they may be voting on their electoral system as well:

Tasman district voters look set to be asked to make an extra decision in the local body elections this year.

Organisers of a petition for a binding poll of voters on two voting systems believe they have the required number of signatures but want to collect more to be sure.

"We think we have the numbers but we need to have a buffer," said petition initiator Liz Thomas.


Tasman currently uses the archaic FPP system (as seen in the NZ parliament before MMP). If the referendum is successful, it will give voters the opportunity to choose to use Single Transferable Vote (STV) instead. I hope they do - STV is a much more democratic system, which gives voters much more choice. While its not widely used - only 11 local authorities use it at present - its use seems to be growing as the old FPP generation dies off. And if we want better governance from our councils, then the first step is to move to a better election system, one which requires every councillor to have majority support, rather than allowing a small plurality to exercise unbridled power.

New Fisk

This new history of the Christian genocide during the Ottoman Empire sounds a dark warning for the future

Making rental homes safe

Cold houses kill. 30,000 children are hospitalised every year from preventable, housing-related diseases. Ten die. National did nothing about this while in government, content to let children die from entirely preventable diseases to avoid inconveniencing the greedy landleeches who rented them unsafe homes. Now, Labour is fixing it:

The government has announced a raft of new rules for rental properties, with a strong focus on heating and insulation.

Housing Minister Phil Twyford said nearly 600,000 households in New Zealand rent, and rental stock is of poorer quality than owner-occupied homes.

[...]

Under the new rules, rental properties will be required to have ceiling and underfloor insulation that meets the Building Code standard or has a minimum thickness of 120 millimetres.

Heaters that can heat a living-room to 18 degrees Celsius will also be required, plus rangehoods or extraction fans in kitchens and bathrooms.

All rentals will have to meet the standard by 1 July 2024, or face penalties.


Good. For virtually every other product, the goods you buy or rent are required to be of "acceptable quality": fit for purpose, free from defects, durable and above all, safe. Its long past time that standard was applied to houses. We should not let greedy landlords murder ten children a year because they're too cheap or lazy to provide a safe product.

(Meanwhile, the landleeches are repeating their usual mantras of "rents will rise" and "landlords will quit". On the first, rents rise anyway, and at least now tenants will be getting something for that increase beyond the joy of imagining their landlord's new boat or holiday home. On the latter, the more landlords who sell out and stop hoarding houses, the better. The houses won't go away, and they'll either be bought by better landlords, or by people who actually want to live in them. And either way, removing a shit landlord from the market makes us all better off).

Ignoring the elephants in the room

The National Party held it's "BlueGreen" forum over the weekend, and released a discussion document on environmental policy. So what does it say? Ultimately, not a lot of substance. Our two biggest environmental challenges are climate change and water quality. And on those, National has nothing useful to say. On climate change, its the usual business-as-usual bullshit, committing to emissions reductions which minimise economic impacts and "on pace with our global trading partners". Which is National for "do nothing". It is telling that where other parts of the document actually propose policies, this section simply asks questions - the same questions National's discussion documents have been asking for the last 20 years. And no doubt, they'll still be asking questions in an effort to avoid action in 20 years time.

On water quality, they have actual proposals - but nothing useful. They're practically silent on the key issue of farmers poisoning our lakes and rivers. Instead, they try and move the water quality issue to beaches and urban waterways, promising a fund to upgrade sewers, and new water quality standards for coastal waters. Oh, and they want a new collaborative process to talk about "efficient allocation", and want to start funding irrigation schemes to subsidise pollution again.

So what do they have? A new national park in the Catlins, cameras on fishing boats, a bottle deposit scheme. These are all very useful and welcome proposals. But they really do seem to be ignoring the elephants in the room. And if that's what National calls "leadership on environmental issues", they're leaders we can live without.

Thursday, February 21, 2019



For a capital gains tax

The Tax Working Group has reported back, and (as expected) recommended taxing capital income. And they make the point that this is fundamentally about fairness:

The Tax Working Group has confirmed its support for a broad-based tax on capital gains, suggesting handing back much of the $8.3 billion it might raise over five years through income tax cuts for almost all workers.

Some have criticised the proposed tax as "envy tax", but working group chairman Sir Michael Cullen said it was wrong that wage-earners were taxed on their full income while "you can earn income from gains on assets and not be taxed at all".


At the moment we have a situation where ordinary New Zealanders are taxed on every dollar they earn, while the rich are not. And that is simply wrong. Income should be treated equally and taxed no matter what the source - and that means taxing capital income. If it has the side effect of removing distortions in our economy - the housing bubble, or farmers farming for capital gains - then that is a bonus, but fundamentally it is about fairness and making the leeches pay their fair share for once.

As for what to do with it, the Working Group recommends recycling the revenue into a broad income tax cut, by raising the lowest threshold. Which is fine, as far as it goes. But we don't just need to shift the tax burden back onto the rich where it belongs - we also need to end the cycle of underinvestment in and by government. Our health and education systems are tottering due to lack of money, and there are countless necessary things the government "can't afford", so we should take this opportunity to reset the size of the state and fund it properly for once. Kiwis expect decent public services. And the government should use the tax system to raise enough revenue to meet that expectation. Doing it by taxing capital income has the advantage that most people will never notice the cost - but we'll all see the benefit.

Their own fault

Another day, another employer whining about "worker shortages". This time, its Wellington's public transport operators, NZ Bus and Transdev:

Six Wellington train services have been scrapped indefinitely, while bus commuters can expect cancellations for at least the next six months as an "unprecedented" driver shortage continues to wreak havoc on the capital's public transport system.

[...]

Many of Tranzdev's drivers had left to join KiwiRail, which paid more and was expanding its operations, [Transdev chief operating officer Mike] Fenton said. It also gave drivers a change from driving electric trains.

Metlink spokeswoman Emily Liddell said Tranzdev expected to lose 12 per cent of its 100-plus drivers this year, up from its average annual turnover of 3.5 per cent.

[...]

Meanwhile, NZ Bus, which has been cancelling up to 30 buses a day in the morning peak in recent days, said it was 20 drivers short and was struggling to attract any applicants at all.


According to a Radio New Zealand report, NZ Bus wants the government to declare a skills shortage, allowing them to bring in foreign drivers. But once again, this "shortage" is a shortage at the price employers want to pay. Transdev pays less than KiwiRail (and less than Australian operators). NZBus lowballed their contract bid and took their profit margin out of their workers' wages - with the result that most of them simply left and those that remained went on strike. So its not really surprising that people no longer want to work for them. As for the solution, it seems obvious: better pay and conditions. But that might mean the operators make lower profits, so its apparently completely off the table, and instead they're asking for a regulatory subsidy.

As for how to force this, both companies now seem to be in breach of their contract, and unwilling to deliver the services they are contracted to provide. GWRC needs to make it clear to them that either they deliver those services or be replaced. They should not tolerate lowball operators destroying public infrastructure with low wages.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019



A vested interest

Why are National squealing so loudly about a capital gains tax? Look at how many houses they own, says Newsroom. Their article details the blatant conflict of interest of most National MPs, who are loaded with hoarded houses and business investments - all of which would be subject to a capital gains tax. So it seems a bit... self-interested of them to be speaking out against it, neh?

Unfortunately, what's obvious to the public is not obvious to Parliament: its Standing Orders define financial interests only in terms of benefits (rather than avoided costs). Further, they explicitly exclude "any interest held by a member or any other person as one of a class of persons who belong to a profession, vocation, or other calling, or who hold public offices or an interest held in common with the public", and do not require interests declared in the Register of Pecuniary Interests to be specifically declared to the House before voting. The net result: Standing Orders think it is fine for MPs to vote to keep taxes on themselves low, despite the fact that they could be benefitting by tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars from the vote.

There's a word for this: corruption. And our parliament has institutionalised it.

More dirty dairying

Another Waikato farmer has been convicted of dirty dairying:

Nagra Farms Limited and director Naginder Singh received five convictions each from Judge Melanie Harland in the Hamilton District Court on Monday.

The Waikato farming company that supplied Fonterra has been fined $116,000 for unlawfully discharging dairy effluent into the environment.

At the time of the offending, in late 2017 and early 2018, the firm owned five Fonterra-supply farms at Gordonton, near Hamilton. Offending was identified on two of the farms by Waikato Regional Council staff inspecting the farm's effluent systems for compliance with environmental regulations, Waikato Regional Council said in a statement.

A farm manager on one of the farms, Nikolai van den Einden, was also convicted for breaches of the Resource Management Act. He was sentenced to 12 months' supervision and ordered to attend a dairy effluent management course.


Two farms out of five failing to handle their shit properly suggests that the farmer simply didn't care about it. Hopefully the fine an convictions will help change their mind, as well as put other farmers on notice to clean their act up.

Climate change: Local governments in denial

Thames is on the front line of climate change. The town already suffers from coastal flooding, and in the event of even modest sea-level rise, half of it will be underwater every spring. And just this week they were in the news for (finally) sticking a flood warning notice on a coastal development they should never have allowed in the first place. So its a bit shocking to see this morning's news that the local council is refusing to sign up to a local government climate change declaration:

A push to get local authorities to sign up to a declaration on climate change is "politically charged and driven", the Thames-Coromandel mayor says.

Fifty-five councils have signed up to the Local Government Leaders' Climate Change Declaration. It states there is an urgent need to address the threats of climate change.

It states councils will commit to plans to reduce greenhouse gases, promote walking, public transport, increase resource efficiency, and commit to renewable energy and electric vehicles.

Yesterday members of the public presented to the Thames Coromandel District Council meeting, urging it to sign up to the declaration. It will be voted on by councillors at a later meeting.

However, mayor Sandra Goudie said she did not support it and most other councillors were cautious.


Goudie refuses to give a straight answer on whether she recognises climate change is happening - which sounds like the weaseling of a Denier not wanting to admit it. And meanwhile, the waters keep rising. And no doubt, having stuck her fingers in her ears and refused to do anything, she'll expect the rest of the country to bail her shitty little council out of the problem exacerbated by their own stupidity.

Goudie isn't alone. According to Radio New Zealand, 23 local authorities plus the West Coast Regional Council have refused to sign up to the declaration. And by refusing to act, they are imposing long-term costs on their residents, and potentially on the rest of the New Zealand as well. The good news is that there are local body elections coming up in October. If you want action on climate change, you should vote accordingly.

(The Denier councils are the Far North, Whangarei, Kaipara, Thames-Coromandel, Otorohanga, Taupo, Opotiki, Wairoa, Stratford, South Taranaki, Manawatu, Tararua, Horowhenua, Buller, Westland, Hurunui, Ashburton, Timaru, Mackenzie, Waimate, Waitaki, and Queenstown-Lakes districts, Hamilton City, and the West Coast Regional Council).

Tuesday, February 19, 2019



New Fisk

The West is encouraging a vicious war between Sunnis and Shias — that's the real truth about Iran and Saudi Arabia

They can't take it with them when they go

Simon Bridges, leader of the party of the rich, is spreading the usual scare stories about how taxing capital income will see people leaving New Zealand. Its supposed to suggest that the tax will be ineffective, that people will leave the country to avoid it. Except that most of these assets - investment properties, farms, small businesses - are immobile. So whether they sell up when they move, or keep their assets and remain as foreign absentee landlords, it doesn't matter: the asset is still here and can still be taxed, regardless of who owns it or which foreign country they hide in. They simply can't take it with them when they go. Which is why Bridges and his rich masters are so upset by the idea: finally, they won't be able to hide, and will have to pay their fair share.

As for the idea that an exodus would be some sort of loss to New Zealand, I doubt it. Someone who flees the country to avoid paying their fair share is someone we were better off without. Let Australia have them - they'll fit right in with the corrupt arseholes over the Tasman.

But while a capital gains tax is a great idea, its not enough: we should be going further, and taxing the wealth of the ultrarich directly, as suggested in the US by Elizabeth Warren. The rich have leeched off our government and society for too long. Time to make them pay their way.